TOKYO — Former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. says he has been studying Zen Buddhism during his five months in Japan in accord with his own spiritual needs and with Pope John Paul II's admonition during a recent visit to India that the world--and Roman Catholics--ought to look to the East for spirituality.
Abandoning, after several days of hesitation, his refusal in an interview Monday to discuss his private religious practices and studies, Brown traveled from the Buddhist temple city of Kamakura by train to Tokyo and was interviewed Friday afternoon in a Times reporter's room in the Imperial Hotel here.
It was the first time he has spoken publicly about the spiritual aspects of his stay in Japan, and was one of the most outspoken interviews he has ever given about the spiritual side of his life--ranging from his four years in a Jesuit seminary as a youth to his present participation in several hours a week of Zen meditation and consultation.
In the interview, he also disclosed that after he leaves Japan, perhaps in about a month, he is "giving serious consideration to going to India and working with Mother Teresa for a while." She is the Catholic nun who was awarded the Nobel Prize for her work with the poor in the Calcutta area for many years.
"The reason for that is I feel the need. . . having the sheltered perspective of California affluence," Brown explained. "I don't think I understand well enough the suffering that is going on in the world."
There are realities, he added, "that are very far from Los Angeles political dinners at the Beverly Wilshire, and the rich and the powerful, which seem to be more and more dominating American politics."
Brown said his religious interests diminished after he left the seminary in 1960 at the age of 22. After an extended period of preoccupation with secular and political matters and during his years as governor, Brown said, those interests began to reawaken.
He said that while he was governor he had a number of common spiritual interests with such colleagues as Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whom he had appointed to head the California Arts Council; Rusty Schweikart, the former astronaut who was on the state Energy Commission, and Jacques Barzaghi, director of administration in the governor's office. Barzaghi and his family are with Brown here in Japan and also are studying Zen.
(Zen, which developed most fully in Japan, is said to emphasize quiet, disciplined meditation to discover one's true, spontaneous nature beneath the level of impulse and self-consciousness.)
Many other gubernatorial aides had little interest in spiritual matters, the former governor remarked.
Brown emphasized that he has undertaken his Zen studies in Japan under the advice of Jesuit priests and in accord with "a very small strain or tendency within the larger Roman Catholic world" to practice Zen meditation.
He said that he and about 100 people at a time, many from Europe, are meeting in a Kamakura home under the guidance of Kyozo Yamada, whom he described as "the only Buddhist teacher who has these contacts in the Catholic world."
As Brown talked in this interview, in contrast with last Monday when he had seemed somewhat nervous, he spoke with confidence and real vibrancy. It was reminiscent of a younger Brown, in the years just before and after he became governor, when he almost always appeared incisive and committed.
Saying that he had visited a site in Nagasaki where Japanese Christians were massacred for their beliefs in the 17th Century--within a few years of Roman Catholics burning Protestants, Jews and Catholic "heretics" at the stake in other parts of the world--Brown declared:
"It strikes me that if antagonists in the religious domain can, through time, learn to coexist, I don't see any reason why antagonists such as the Soviet Union and America, capitalists and communists, can't find some new synthesis, some way of coexisting.
"In my personal quest and in my interest in how to come to grips with the antagonisms in the world, I think the experience of clashing religions has something to tell us."
In contrast with "a certain emptiness in contemporary American politics, even world politics" and "in the West, so much materialism, so much secularism that we lost something," the East hasn't lost its "nonmaterial essence . . . its spirituality," Brown said.
Writing a Book
He added that he also hopes that his Zen studies will help him in the writing of the book he has been engaged in here.
"I think techniques (in Zen) of concentration and opening up the mind and freeing the imagination can be very useful to improve the quality of one's writing, to be able to really speak in your own language and not in the cliches that often just rattle around your head," he said.
Brown said that when he began trying to write his book, while still in Los Angeles, he was having difficulty "in writing anything that I thought was interesting."