East meets West in Switzerland

by Terence MacNamee

I was just in Menzingen in rural central Switzerland, spending several days at the Lassalle House. This house is a training centre belonging to the Jesuit order; what is unusual about it is that it is devoted to East-West encounter. Here you will find people studying Zen, Yoga, Japanese Zen arts, as well as Christian meditation and other courses.

Lassalle house is a very Japanese place, with spare modern architecture and a tranquil pond with koi fish in it. At the moment the buildings are being renovated, which is why the operation has moved temporarily to the convent in nearby Menzingen.

Hugo Lassalle was a 20th-century German Jesuit who spent his working life in Japan. He went there as a Catholic missionary, but stayed to immerse himself in the study of Zen, and became a master. He was actually in Hiroshima when the atom bomb dropped, but he survived.

I talked to Lassalle’s pupil Niklaus Brantschen, another Jesuit who founded the Lassalle House in 1993. He has maintained the vision of his mentor, pursuing inter-religious dialogue and the synergy of spiritual traditions both here in Switzerland and on regular visits to Japan.

This was an inspiring few days for me, where I could draw strength from some unforgettable people devoted to bringing together the minds – and spirits – of Asia and Europe.