“Kenosis” (κένωσις) is an ancient Greek term meaning “the act of emptying”, or “emptying out”. It is often used in the Christian Bible to describe a quality of Jesus, “the self-emptying” of Jesus. In Philippians 2:7: “[Jesus] made himself nothing” (NIV). Theologians struggle through text after text to describe or characterise properties of this “emptying out,” but because they rely on words and terms alone (logos), they can never help us to be delivered to the experience itself. It all just becomes a beautiful word-salad that does exceedingly little to nothing for our own spiritual experience.
Zen meditation is, in its teaching and in its carrying out, always and everywhere a radical and complete practice of kenosis. Zen is not done “for” this kenosis, since that implies a goal or an aim or an action done “for” something, which Zen is definitely not, in its purest form. Even if you are practicing Zen “for” getting closer to Jesus or God or Zeus, you are engaged in a dualism, a “teleology” of results which has nothing to do with the pure state of ultimate reality (which might be called “Jesus” or “God”, True Self or Buddha-nature).
In this fresh new talk, delivered to a group of retreatants engaged in a three-day intensive silent retreat at Zen Center Regensburg in December 2022, I point to the fundamental “emptying out” that is happening for them, as they sit with the breath and lightly bring up the Great Question: “What am I?”