Book Review: Who Can Stop the Wind?: Travels in the Borderland Between East and West

In my ongoing, haphazard, unsystematic and un-academic exploration of meditation and (by extension) Buddhism, I stumbled across this quiet, lovely little book by the Norwegian theologian Notto R. Thelle.

The book is written in a rare spirit: expansive, exploratory, and meditative – perhaps exactly the spirit you would expect from a Christian theologian who has spent 16 years in Japan studying Buddhism. The book does not present an argument for any specific type of inter-religious or comparative theology; nor does it offer any practical advice for meditating, encountering Buddhism, or integrating aspects of another faith into one’s own, “home” faith. But what is does do is invite the reader to soak in thoughtful reflections and various anecdotes and texts from the two traditions and thereby decide for himself or herself how Buddhism might expand and enrich one’s own faith. Encouraged is a life lived “in the borderland” – the place “where faith meets faith.”

Buddhist and Christian texts are set side-by-side at the beginning of each chapter, accompanied by a calligraphic Japanese character and a poem of the author, defining the tone for the explorations to follow. “Who can stop the wind?” a line from Kobo Dashi, a wandering Japanese monk of the 8th century, is thus presented in the good company of John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

I will end my quoting at length my favorite anecdote of the book, which will stay with me for a while:

I shall never forget my first meeting with a Zen master in Kyoto.

“Why have you come here?” he asked. “You Christians too have meditation and prayer!”

I answered that we did indeed possess these things, but that I wanted to see Buddhism from within; and Buddhism surely had something to teach us Christians too.

“But why on earth are you so keen to learn about Buddhism – or indeed about Christianity?”

I must admit I no longer felt so self-assured…

“It is raining outside tonight,” continued the master.

We sat in silence and listened. The rain fell gently on the moss and herbs in the monastery garden. Then, suddenly, there came the impossible question: “Is it Buddhism or Christianity that is raining?”

My thoughts darted around in the silence. But the rain gave me no answer.

“It is quite simply raining,” he observed. “This is a question of being. All your theoretical thoughts about Buddhism and Christianity are separating you from the simple and fundamental matter: to be.”

(Excerpted from: Thelle, Notto R. Who Can Stop the Wind? Travels in the Borderland Between East and West. Liturgical Press, 2010. p. 12.)


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