Fr. Thomas G. Hand, S.J, (1920-2005), a Jesuit priest and meditation teacher, was among the first Western Catholic religious to offer Zen meditation in a Christian context. Fr. Hand spent 29 years in Japan teaching high school and leading retreats. After his return to the U.S., he became the resident teacher at Mercy Center, Burlingame, California, where he led retreats and workshops for twenty years. He was known to his friends by the affectionate name Hando, a Japanese term that means “crossing over together”.
In the latter part of his time in Japan, Fr. Hand studied Zen with Hakuun Yasutani, the founder of the Sanbō Kyōdan school. After Yasutani’s retirement, Hand’s main teacher was Yasutani’s successor, Yamada Koun Roshi. Fr. Hand found that Zen training enriched his understanding of the Scriptures, of the sacramental life, of the whole Christian life. Though he trained for seven years, he avoided becoming an authorized Zen teacher, as he felt this allowed him to share his insights with a broader community of meditation practitioners. After Fr. Hand’s retirement, Fr. Greg Mayers, C.Ss.R became the resident teacher of meditation and retreat leader at Mercy Center Burlingame.
A collection of Fr. Hand’s talks, edited by Judy Howe Hayes, “Crossing Over Together,” can be read online: Crossing Over Together (PDF opens in new tab). Please do not repost without prior permission from Empty Cloud West.
In 1990, Fr. Hand co-authored with Sr. Chwen Jiuan A. Lee “A Taste of Water”, published by Paulist Press. A review from Library Journal:
“[T]his book combines autobiographical and theological reflection in a marvelous account of how classical Taoist and Mahayana Buddhist studies have “more than any other element in our spiritual quest . . . assisted” the authors “to become better Christians.” Hand explains how his Christianity became freed from overdependence on canon law, dogmatic definition, and personalization of God; for both, issues of human selfhood and no-self emerge as they recount their experience-centered reading of Christian scripture from a Taoist-Buddhist consciousness. Highly recommended as an excellent book of interfaith dialog and a guide to developing one’s spirituality.”
In 2004, Fr. Hand published “Always a Pilgrim: Walking the Zen Christian Path”, in which he shared his own spiritual pilgrimage, experientially and from a philosophical-theological perspective.
Fr. Hand’s last book, “When No Wind Stirs”, was published in 2006 and is available through the bookstore at Mercy Center Burlingame.
In 1999, Fr. Hand participated in the filming of a video, “Walking the Zen Christian Path”, about his spiritual path as a Jesuit and a practitioner of meditation.
Hando’s commitment to leading meditation retreats and teaching about enlightenment experiences from different religious traditions provided a legacy which is cherished by his students, friends, and colleagues.