"The people who come to Zen retreats (sesshins) are most often rather traditional in the practice of their religion. This does not mean that they are not confronted by the same difficulties faced by many of the adherents of the main line churches in our American culture. Nor does it mean that they are entirely happy with their religious experience. One of the most common remarks I hear when they speak of their religious practice is that they do not find much satisfaction going to their respective churches or synagogues. Many will say that Judaism or Christianity has no tradition of meditation. Their most common difficulty is that they feel drawn to an experience of meditation, but they cannot find any support or resources in their churches. When they ask to be taught to pray or to meditate, the response they often receive is 'Well, just pray.' Some will say that any inquiry about meditation is met with indifference or even hostility. While it is true that some traditions of Christianity or Judaism have a certain fear of meditation, such fears are usually traceable to particular historical circumstances.
"Even those who have had some experience in meditation remark that their efforts are unsatisfactory: 'I just don't get anywhere,' or 'It doesn't click with me.' Many Catholic religious and priests say that they were taught to meditate according to traditional Catholic methods (for example, those of Saint Ignatius of Loyola or Saint Francis de Sales) or by doing 'spiritual reading,' but they never felt they were growing spiritually.
"Others have heard about Zen practice and want to learn more. 'It quiets the mind.' 'Enlightenment sounds really cool.' For some it appears to be a way of getting high without drugs.
"I sometimes think that our culture today leads many to nonconceptual meditation. In today's society we are continually overstimulated. Our imaginations and emotions are subjected to bombardment by advertising, our reason is often fatigued at work, and the result is that a certain atrophy sets in. There is a sense of being continually manipulated. This feeling often spills over into the way people react to what is happening or not happening in their church or synagogue. They begin to distrust their own experience: How can I interpret what I am experiencing or what I am not experiencing? If I even knew what it is that I experience in my religious practice, could I trust it?
"The result is that many people cannot find any satisfaction in traditional Western forms of prayer and meditation. There is an inability to identify with traditional forms of piety and the ways in which religious experience is formulated. This longing for an experience of the Absolute leads to a search for ways of prayer/meditation different from those they have known. Sometimes this leads to experimentation in different forms of religion and religious practice. It is not unusual for me to encounter people who had attempted to practice a religion different from the one in which they were raised. Their desire to change their religion is not always the expression of mere curiosity but a sincere searching for a religious practice that is satisfying or promises to answer a deep yearning within. Sometimes people will say that they are spiritual but not religious. What they mean by this is that they do not practice any particular religion. The abandonment of traditional forms of religious practice is fairly widespread.
"There are also individuals who are attempting to return to the religious practice of their childhood. Such a return is not simply a 'return to the womb,' but an adult realization that their earliest religious practices are in many ways still the most fulfilling. Yet still there is that yearning for something more.
"I believe that the coincidence of the arrival of Zen practice in the West, a resurgence of interest in the meditative experience in the West, and the cultural interplay taking place throughout the world will result in the bridging of religious differences unknown in former generations. Call it divine providence or good karma, the result will be wonderful."