Saturday, February 26, 2011

Barry Magid, "There is No Zen, Only Zen Teachers"

Barry Magid, a successor of Charlotte Joko Beck, wrote a thoughtful piece about Zen that is well worth reading.  In the context of the current discussions which attempt to separate teacher "misconduct" from Zen, he suggests that there is no separating Zen from Zen teachers, and no separating the good from the bad in teachers.  They are to be taken whole, like life.  We cannot expect Zen without any harming because Zen is a human artifact;  we should not anticipate an "Enlightenment" that will free us from our human existential dilemma.

His piece rings true to me.  Wanting Zen teachers to be magicians will not make them so, but it will certainly make the students seeking an escape disappointed when the curtain is inevitably pulled back.  And wanting the impossible may seduce both the teacher and the student in the process.  See


Thursday, February 24, 2011

History and the White Plum Asanga

George Santayana said, "Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it".   To avoid repeating history, one has to know it first.  The current situation surrounding Genpo Roshi suggests that the Salt Lake City Kanzeon Zen Center community did not know its history, through the fault of no one in particular.  That lack is being cured, if painfully.

There has been much fervent commentary on the web following Genpo's public revelation, some of it obviously the settling of old scores that are obscure.  To me, the most sober and helpful exchange, one that brings the lessons of history crisply into focus, is that between Chozen Roshi and the eldest daughter of Maezumi Roshi, Mimi. Their exchange is posted at  It started with Mimi's initial letter to Chozen, detailing how the open sexual atmosphere at Zen Center of Los Angeles in the 70's affected her family.  (In the most recent Genpo Roshi situation, Chozen was a prime mover behind the letter to Kanzeon's board from 44 Zen teachers, which together with the board's reply is posted at  Chozen then responds, and Mimi rejoins.  I recommend a reading of these exchanges as well as the letter from the 44 Zen teachers and Kanzeon's response.

If we are going to develop a healthy sangha at The Boulder Mountain Zendo along the lines that I wrote of in my Ameland Reflections, then we have to know our history and learn from it.  We cannot flinch when confronted with our lineage's past.


Friday, February 18, 2011

New book to read--Stephen Batchelor, "Buddhism Without Beliefs"


At our last Tuesday night group, we discussed Steven Hagen's "Meditation--Now or Never".  Most people there seemed to like the clean quality of his emphasis on simply following the breath and letting things arise and pass away.  Straight Soto sitting meditation.  No bells, whistles, no big deal about openings, about kensho.  Just gradually transforming as we see more clearly what arises and passes away, as we experience the one who sees.  While quite different in praxis that the modern version of Theravadan practice described in "Unlimiting Mind", the feeling is much the same.  The intensity of attention, the rigor of the mental and emotional awareness, the focus on non-judgment, and the importance of others.

For the next book, I have settled on Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs".  This is a book I first read in 1997, shortly after it came out.  It made a big impression on me then.  Here was a modern Buddhism, a "liberal" Buddhism with which I could feel comfortable.  In the years since, I have attended two retreats with Stephen at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe.  I enjoy him personally, and I enjoy his skeptical, his "agnostic" Buddhism.

I selected this book because as I browsed my bookshelf and paged through it, I noticed in it some of the same rigor, the same precision of thought and expression, the same emphasis on the simplicity of practice that I found in Hagen and in Olendzki.  Here is someone from yet another part of the Buddhist tradition who can help us triangulate in on the soul of the Buddhadharma--not its ideas, but its enactment.  Hagen is Soto Zen,  Olendzki is Theravadan, and Batchelor spent years in the Tibetan and then Korean Zen traditions.  While all three have different perspectives on the practice, and nominally different praxis, their approach feels quite similar.  What I come away with from all three is a comfortable feeling that we are all on the same path, even if we describe it in different terms.

We'll discuss this book on the evening of March 15th.  Join us.



Thursday, February 17, 2011

The broader issues raised by the Genpo Roshi controversy


I have refrained from directly commenting on recent events surrounding Genpo Roshi's separation from the White Plum Asanga, an affinity group for teachers in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi, and his "disrobing" as a Zen teacher.  I am a member of the Board of the White Plum Asanga and do not think it appropriate for me to speak out here on this matter.  Instead, I have put my energy into working with the Board in its effort to help all those affected navigate these difficult waters.  It has been both emotionally challenging and extraordinarily time consuming.

Recently, I came upon a blog of another Zen teacher whom I do not know personally but who appears to have taken a considered approach to the matter.  In a recent post he reflects on the larger issues that this controversy presents for American Zen in specific, and Zen in general.  I encourage you to read it.  It is entitled "A Little About Genpo, Zen Teachers, and Sex."  The issues discussed are ones that every conscious sangha should consider calmly and reflectively, without excessive piety but with eyes wide open to the problems to which our practice can give rise. 



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

First night in Jerusalem--Steven Hagen's "Meditation--Now or Never"

Last night we held the Tuesday night group in the new City Center space for the first time.  As seems always the case with construction projects, nothing but a deadline gets the contractor close to finished.  The day felt harried.  The glass contractor hanging glass panels over the windows, Sears employees replacing the dented refrigerator door, Becky Colwell and her sister unloading zafus and zabutons and ritual objects from the Torrey zendo and shopping for cleaning supplies, me running between the law office and stores buying last minute items for the kitchen, Jim Bilski and I mopping the floor, wiping the tables and chairs, and laying the grass rugs that define the meditation area, then early-arrivers vacuuming dusty zafus and zabutons and setting up the zendo.

Finally, in place of the yet-to-be-completed altar, under a spotlight that needs adjusting, a small table from home upon which I placed a vase with Diane's Valentine's Day roses and lilies, a small buddha with a tiny golden bundle of sticks which had been Diane's when we first met, and a candle and incense bowl from my personal make-shift altar/bookshelf.  

People arrived.  They became very quiet as they sat down.  Far less chatting than in our living room.  The space seemed to absorb their energy.  They felt calmed by the space, made reverent; the space made reverent by their calm.  Jim served as my jisha.  For the first time the space heard an inkin, a gong, smelled offered incense, held a community.

I remarked on the feelings that come with change, good or bad, of transition.  The feeling of being at sea, unmoored.  Grasping for the familiar, and finding that what is there is not the same, that the familiar is unfamiliar, and that the new is foreign.  My teacher is the same yet not; my practice place is lovely, yet strange.  And lacking familiar, comfortable referents, I am not the same.  I cannot find the self to which I am accustomed.  Around me the whole sangha seems to manifest the same feelings.  To each of them, "we"are not who we were, so they each are not who they were.  Disorientation reigns.  Each of us wants to blame someone for this discomfort.  Whom?  First another, then ourselves, then the teachings.  But then our practice settles in.

There is no comfort in that which is sought-after.  As Steven Hagen says in the book for the evening's discussion, from a meta-perspective, everything is permanently perfect in its constant change.  Meditation, practice, reveals this slowly as we are transformed by it.  I exhale and feel present in my breath even as it is constantly different, a moving space of calm that is the hub of the wheel of existence.  We mutually exhale and we are jointly comforted by our constantly changing interrelationships.  Buddha is found.  Sangha is reestablished.  The Dharma is known.  Then we move on.

A night in a rented space in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011-Next Year in Jerusalem/ Welcome, Taido Sensei

There is an old Jewish parting, "Next year in Jerusalem".  Well, that is in effect what we said last night at the conclusion of our last Tuesday Night Group meeting in our living room.  I have been teaching in the living room since I left Kanzeon in July.  Next week we will gather not in Jerusalem, but in the new Boulder Mountain Zendo City Center space.  Diane, Musho, will inaugurate the space this coming Saturday with a Lotus Lounge gathering.  And my group will meet there on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.  Come a bit early if you would like a cup of coffee or tea and some conversation.  (We still need a coffee pot and tea kettle and cups, but they'll materialize.)  I am sure you will like the space Diane designed.  Urban, a bit hip, and intimate.  Intimate is most important.

Our subject will be Steven Hagen's book, Meditation--Now or Never.  You can check it out on my "Books" tab under "Teachers" at the BMZ website.  It is a wonderfully accessible primer on Zen meditation, meditation that is your practice each moment of your life.

Finally, in this transitional moment in the lives of so many Salt Lake City Zen practitioners, I want to welcome the news that Rich Taido Christofferson, Sensei will be returning to what was and I believe will once again be Kanzeon Zen Center.  With Genpo's announcement of his intention to disrobe and step back from teaching, Taido will be assuming the responsibility for the center and the sangha.  He was a steady practitioner long before I walked into Kanzeon, and his return will bring a much needed sense of stability to that community.  Diane and I look forward to working with him as we broaden the reach of Zen in Utah.  Deep bows, Rich.

Thank you all for your support in this bardo.