Zen Contemplation: A Bridge of Living Water

Author: Elaine MacInnes

Publisher: Ottawa: Novalis

Publication date: 2001

Number of pages: 244

Reviewed by: Roshi Patrick


For those who don’t know her already, let me briefly introduce Sister Elaine MacInnes to you.  She was born in Canada in 1924 and after her school studies which included the Juilliard School of Music she entered Our Lady’s Missionaries in 1953.   She was sent on an assignment to Japan in 1961 where she became interested in Zen Buddhism and began to practice Zazen.  She trained under Yamada Koun Roshi of Kamakura.  In 1980, along with Father Enomiya-Lassalle S.J.,  she was installed as a Zen Roshi.  They were the first Roman Catholics to receive this accreditation.  She was transferred to the Philippines where she established a Zen Centre.  In 1992 she came to Oxford, England where she became the director of the Prison Phoenix Trust which encourages long term prisoners to practice meditation.  She retired and returned to Canada in 1999 and in 2001 she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada which honours Canadians for exemplary achievement.

This book published in 2001 is an autobiography describing her spiritual journey while in that context giving some reliable and solid teaching on Zen Practice.  She makes some very important connections between Buddhist teachings, contemporary science and the ancient tradition of contemplative prayer.  Set within the context of her personal life the material presented does not come across as remote or esoteric.  The writing style makes the book easy to read yet it clearly makes some important challenges to Christians who are drawn to a silent prayer with an interest in inter-faith dialogue.  There are of course some elements when she discusses health, dietary and other social issues that one may find questionable but even what she says here is thought provoking.

Altogether I commend this book on two levels; for the interest in the journey of a remarkably talented woman open to today’s challenges in life and also for her encouraging words on the practice of Zen.
Sensei Patrick