Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Koun Franz

                 Koun Franz is an American born Soto priest who spent many years studying Zen in Japan training both at Zuioji and Shogoji monasteries. Currently he is the resident teacher at Zen Nova Scotia in Halifax.
                In his blog, Nyohō Zen, he confessed, “I don’t know what zazen means . . . but I used to think I did. I knew what I wanted from it and what it meant about me. And I thought it was something I did—there was a subject and an object. But after twenty-five years of it, more than anything, it just feels honest. There’s something we recognize in that posture—we know it when we see it, and we know it when we do it. There’s peace and power and poise of a kind we intuitively grasp, and that all adds up to—something. Something I want to express. And the best way I know is to simply do it.
                “At the heart of Zen practice is the notion of doing something—anything, but especially zazen—for its own sake. Not for gain, not as preparation for something else, but as a complete activity.”

Monday, 7 November 2016

Dosho Port

                “People, Americans especially, do seem to be interested in the fast and easy way,” Dosho Port told me as we sat in a park in Portland, Maine. “And even though Zen is the ‘sudden school,’ a lot of times it’s not so fast and not so easy. When I met Joseph, one of the teachers at the yoga center here, I said, ‘We’re going to start at 5:30 in the morning.’ He said, ‘Wow. That’s kind of inconvenient.’ And I said, ‘Yeah—you know—Zen is inconvenient, uncomfortable, repetitive, and uncompromising. Do you want to try it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah. I think so.’”

[Dosho Port – Cypress Trees in the Garden: 118, 207, 409-21, 468-69, 476-77]
[See also: Dosho Port and Great Tides Zen]

Friday, 4 November 2016

Albert Low

                When I asked Albert Low of the Montreal Zen Center what the function of Zen was, he replied without hesitation: “Oh, there’s no function of Zen.”
                “So why do people come here?”
                “Because they think there is a function of Zen.”
                “And they discover?”
                “There is no function of Zen. If they work long enough.”

[Albert Low - Cypress Trees in the Garden: 165. My memorial tribute to Albert can be found at:]
[See also: Montreal Zen Center]

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Mitra Bishop

                Mitra Bishop’s Mountain Gate is located in Ojo Sarco, New Mexico, a community so small that it isn’t noted on state road maps – although my GPS manages to find it.
                “For people willing to pick up the ball,” she told me, “Zen can lead to nothing short of total freedom, total liberation. And by total liberation, what I mean is liberation from your hang-ups, your conditioning, liberation from places where you’re stuck. In other words, if you take it far enough, you’re able to freely move in concert with life in effective, positive ways. We have the sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts in Japanese Zen. What ‘total liberation’ means is that your behavior naturally accords with those precepts. And there is an incredible sense of freedom and joy that runs akin to a quiet river within. That is your potential. But it’s not anything instantaneous. It takes a lot of hard work.”
                When I asked why, then, this doesn’t seem to have been the case with certain American teachers, she told me she had asked Shodo Harada the same question and he’d said that those people essentially failed to complete their training.
                “People—pretty much everywhere—assume that there is a finish point in Zen practice,” Mitra said. “That they do their ten years, fifteen years, twenty years, and they’re home free. This may or may not be the case. It’s usually not the case. I think we need to take Joshu Jushin as a practice model; he trained for long decades before he ever began teaching and is known to have said, ‘If a child of three can teach me, I will learn from that child.’
                “Having a kensho experience allows one to see a bit more clearly. At the same time, it can take the lid off inhibitions. And unless we integrate what we experience through that kensho into our daily life we’re quite liable to act in inappropriate ways; that’s part of what’s happened in these cases of abuse. Essentially, these people that we’re seeing now receiving some karmic come-uppance haven’t really trained sufficiently.”

[Mitra Bishop - Cypress Trees in the Garden: 54-55, 117, 146, 369-83, 389, 470]
[See also: Mitra Bishop]

Monday, 31 October 2016

Taigen Henderson

                Although Taigen Henderson of the Toronto Zen Center has been declared a roshi in his own right, he continues to work with his teacher, Sunyana Graef. I asked him if he believed it was important for an authorized teacher to continue to work with another in this way.
                “Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely. You know, people think teachers are on some kind of other level, that all of a sudden you’ve reach some level of enlightenment and that the same rules don’t apply. And it’s a misconception. A lot of people started their training young. They didn’t get out in the world. They didn’t have experience in the world. Then all of a sudden they’re in the world again because you have to be in the world when you’re teaching. You’re not cloistered any more. Nobody is watching you, so you have to watch yourself. You know? Zuigan. ‘Be awake. Be awake. Yes. Yes. Don’t be fooled by others. No. No.’ So training with a teacher gives you that ability to communicate with somebody senior and to open up and to share problems with. Because—you know—there’s all kinds of problems you just never had to deal with before.”

[Taigen Henderson - Cypress Trees in the Garden: 346, 353-67, 369, 387, 389]
[See also: Toronto Zen Center]