Not many people find a connection between Zen and Platonism. I do, though these themes are more implicit than explicit in my book about the Neoplatonist philosopher, Plotinus.
So it was a pleasure to hear from someone who resonates with a Greek'ish blend of rationality and mysticism. That would be Nicholas Coleman, head of religious education at Wesley College in Melbourne, who wrote to me recently.
He had kind things to say about "Return to the One," which attracted me to him right off the bat.
Thank you very much for writing Return to the One. The margins of my copy are filling rapidly with affirmations of points well made. Admittedly I'm only up to p.249, but I can no longer resist jotting of this e-mail.
Nicholas went on to talk about his own spiritual approach.
I teach a philosophy of life called "Platonic Zen" which draws together what I've learnt of Perennial Philosophy from combing through the traditions of the West (Plato, Philo, Plotinus (!), Ps-Dionysius, Eckhart, Cudworth, Jung, Schumacher, Schuon, etc) and the East (Gautama, Lao-Tzu, Nagajuna, Shankara, Padmasambhava, Ramana, Chogyam Trungpa, etc) in order to find ideas that help make sense of my own spiritual experience.
The goal of Platonic Zen is for practitioners to attain God-realisation themselves. To that end I've devised five spiritual exercises, the second of which I see clearly echoed in your notion from Sara Rappe (p.30) that a distinction can be realised between the transient contents of consciousness and the consistent container of consciousness (again, that's my adaption of what you actually write).
I asked him to tell me more about Platonic Zen. In a second message Nicholas said:
If I may speak on behalf of the whole of humanity, I think we've generally got the wrong idea about ourselves. Instead of realising what we are, we think we're something that we're not. The ordinary empirical ego convinces us that it's real and in charge of what's happening in the material world. We let it get away with that pretense, although it isn't real and isn't in charge.
Why do we believe its false claims? Because it's easy and attractive to believe them. For they're accompanied by the (equally false) promise of enduring life. We can feel that something unborn in us will live forever and the empirical ego claims to be that unborn something. By believing ourselves to be the ego we think we might live on, not physically but in some kind of essentially ego-centric after-life.
Interesting. And pretty close to how I see things. I asked Nicholas if he'd be willing to share his Platonic Zen exercises. He kindly sent me the first three.
Here they are, in a Word file. Download 123_platonic_zen_exercises.doc
Nicholas asked for feedback on them, so comment away if you feel the spirit. Usually I'm not big on exercises – always skip them when I come across them in a spiritual book – but these are more intriguing than most.