Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Rinzan Pechovnik is an Osho in the Rinzai tradition who, in October 2019, will formally be recognized as the Dharma heir of Genjo Marinello. He tells me that when he opened the No Rank Zendo in Portland, Oregon, he was unsure anyone would actually show up at the door.
“But I’ve always admired the abbots in Japan who hold temples and continue the rituals even though they’re not populated. What they’re saying is, ‘This is important. No matter what, I’m honoring this. This bright shining presence. I’m honoring it. I’m giving it attention. And I’ll hold space, and we’ll just see what happens.”
I ask what he means by “bright shining presence,” and he tells me it’s something that can’t put it in words. When I press him, he says, “What can you say beyond ‘great shining presence’? You know, in preparation for this interview, I asked myself, ‘What’s the use of Zen? Why are we doing Zen? What’s going forward from Zen?’ And I will tell you, in all honesty, there’s one part of my mind that has no idea. It has absolutely no agenda for it. None whatsoever. There’s another part of my mind that very much wants to help relieve suffering. And I want to give people who are seeking something the opportunity to practice and train in the way I’ve practiced and trained.
“From that place of ‘I don’t know’, all words poison it, but I’ll stumble around them. In the hara, in the pit of my belly, there’s a deep knowing in this ‘not knowing.’ Even ‘unification’ misses it. Everything is shining and sparkling and speaking to us. Always. And we forget it. We are just held by it. Continually. And we always forget; I forget; everyone forgets. So what is going to bring us back, what is going remind us and bring us back to this place? Many times, when I tap very deeply into it, it’s just like, ‘Oh! I remember. This is where you are. This is where you’re supposed to be.’ To say that the trees, and the rocks, and the earth all speak to me is a distortion because there’s a division that takes place. And to say ‘I’m held’ doesn’t feel quite right. And yet it has that quality of being in relationship. But whatever it is is beyond us. It is so beyond us, that I don’t have an agenda for it. All I’m trying to do is connect with it and give it the regard that it deserves. And in the end of my days, I’ll disappear, and probably not more than half a generation of people will continue to remember me. Then I’ll be completely obliterated from this earth, never to be seen, never to be heard of again. And it doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t matter in quite a lovely way. There are other places where I connect with the Dharma, and it has to do with it brings me peace, it also makes me more caring in the world, opens a tender heart, I’m a better husband. All these are part of it. But from this core part, it’s just simply that I don’t matter, and it’s completely all right. It’s completely all right.”
Monday, 15 October 2018
Jeff Shore leads Zen retreats throughout North America and Europe, recently at the Montreal Zen Center where I practiced for a long time. He is also the sole non-Japanese full-time professor at Hanazono University in Kyoto, the only Rinzai University in the world. He tells me that he teaches what he calls “Blue-eyed Zen.” Formal Zen training in Japan is arduous, and many of the students at the university are bewildered by why Americans and Europeans have any interest in it.
“Westerners, when we’re looking at Zen,” he says, “we’re looking at it in a very peculiar way. Whereas for the average Japanese priest, who – for the last hundred years could be married and have a son, and then his son would enter the monastery whether he wanted to or not – it’s a very different system. And a lot of them have a chip on their shoulder. They don’t want to be a priest, but they have to be. And then here’s people like us coming half way around the world. We’re not even going to become priests; we’re not going to have a temple. And yet we’re putting ourselves through this. Why? So that’s how I try to interest the students, because the Japanese students are not interested.”
To make sure I understand what he’s saying, I paraphrase him: “So you’re teaching Japanese students how westerners see Zen?”
“More or less, yes. What do we see that they don’t? Otherwise they’d just fall asleep in class.”
Wednesday, 3 October 2018
Geraldo Gally is the teacher at Casa Zen in Mexico City, established by Philip Kapleau in the 1970s. It is a small group of about forty members. Those numbers, Gally tells me, have been fairly consistent over the decades. I mention that during one of my trips to Mexico I had found a copy of La Enseñaza de Buda [The Teachings of the Buddha] placed in my hotel by a Japanese missionary society. “I was surprised because there can’t be a lot of Buddhists in Mexico.”
“No,” he admits. “Optimistically we’re about 100,000. And that’s all the denominations, all the people who have gone to a little workshop. Anything. We’re very small groups.” And yet, he notes, “There’s an exhibit right now in Mexico City called ‘Following the Path of the Buddha.’ [Las Huella de Buda] It’s a temporary exhibit at the National Museum of Anthropology which is very surprising that they would have something about Buddhism. I’ve gone a couple of days, and it was mobbed by young people in their 20s. There were just a few middle-aged people and the rest all young people. And I asked security, ‘Has this been like this?’ And they said, ‘Yeah. It’s been a surprise for us as well. Every day during the school holidays it’s been surprisingly full of young people.’ So, there’s an interest there.”
Friday, 21 September 2018
Valerie Forstman is a Dharma heir of Ruben Habito and teaches with him in the Sanbo Zen tradition. When I ask her what distinguishes Zen from other spiritual paths, she begins by telling me that she has not practiced in those traditions so cannot compare them. Then she says, “I have such love and confidence in this inheritance of the Sanbo Zen tradition. It’s this rich well that goes back to Dogen, of course to Shakyamuni Buddha, and comes down to us. The richness of that boggles my mind over and over and over again. And even in my own sometimes very failing efforts – words fail – it still comes through. It comes through. For Sanbo Zen, in a way different from mindfulness, there is this invitation to stop and see. To have for yourself – although ‘have’ isn’t the right word – that moment that Dogen calls ‘body and mind dropping away.’ When I look at some of the other possibilities, it’s easier to think of self-help. That I’m here to improve myself. That I’m going to gain something through this practice. And Sanbo Zen – Zen itself, but particularly in this incarnation of it – is not self-help. There’s nothing to gain if you come to it. It’s just this. But ‘just this’ has not the slightest trace of separation. There is a coming home that is life-giving and liberating.”
Sunday, 16 September 2018
Chimyo Atkinson is the Head of Practice at the Great Tree Zen Women’s Temple in Alexander, North Carolina. I ask her what people coming to the temple tend to be looking for, and she tells me, “I think they’re looking for compassion and empathy. I think they’re looking for a place where they feel comfortable and safe in doing their spiritual practice, whatever that is. Because for many it’s not exactly the same practice that we’re doing here.”
When I ask what the temple offers these individuals, she laughs, then, after a moment, says, “What do we offer? We offer you a cushion and a room to sit in. That’s it. I mean, what else can we say? We offer you a cushion in a room and our support in doing this, our support and empathy in doing this practice. We offer the guidance that comes from our experience, which is just our experience. Nothing that is magical or scientific or any of those things. Just our experience. And a little faith in the Buddha’s word that there is a way beyond suffering.”