First Encounters of the Zen Kind

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  • Keishin
    • Jun 2007
    • 471

    First Encounters of the Zen Kind

    Hellos to all:

    I am fascinated by how people 'fall' into zen buddhism as a practice. Just because, in my growing up, it was very scarce. When I was in college, and working at a vegetarian restaurant (these were the early days of vegetarianism and we were called vegetarian because we served no red meat, but did serve fish and chicken--there was only one other vegetarian restaurant in all of Rhode Island at the time and they were macrobiotic and had an extensive garden... But let me not stray from my zen beginnings: the dishwasher at the restaurant I worked at liked how I stacked my bus tubs--he lived at the Providence Zen Center, and invited me to his wedding, so I got to see a zendo for the first time. I didn't quite know what to make of it all. Later, he gave me my first 'zen' bookropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn. It took a long time from point A to point B--first exposure to actually attending a zendo, practicing zazen, becoming part of a sangha--about 10 years--and one thing has led to another ... but I credit that dishwasher, David, at Amara's Restaurant, for starting me on what I will never come to the end of!

    I'd love to hear other Treeleafer's stories of how it all began..., and of didn't begin then, it begins now, and now and now and now...but you know what I mean!

  • Smoggyrob

    Hi everyone:

    I "fell into" Buddhism over about thirty years.

    I was raised agnostic and was curious about religion from a young age. I became an atheist when I was 11, after I asked an elderly Christian woman (who loved me), "What will happen to me after I die if I lead a perfectly virtuous life but never accept Christ as my savior?" She told me I would burn in Hell for all eternity, and that just didn't jibe with what I'd been taught about a good God.

    I hung out in libraries and read a lot, often about different religions and more and more often about Buddhism. I had some cool insights, but never took up the practice. Grew up, started working on cars, got married. I read a lot of Buddhist books and promptly forgot 99.99% of it. When I was about 40 I read Hardcore Zen and started sitting weekly, quite sporadically at first. I had a lot of eye problems. Like, it would be time to go to zazen class but eye couldn't see actually doing it. I've sat more regularly as the last 2 or so years have passed, though I've yet to establish a daily practice. I start sitting daily now and then, but it never lasts longer than a couple of weeks. I feel like I'm avoiding it.



    • Jundo
      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
      • Apr 2006
      • 39474

      ... we were introduced to 'Guru Yoga' which was basically the practice of viewing the group's guru as a living Buddha, seeing him as perfect in every way, we were taught to visualise streams of energy flowing into us from his magnifigance etc. etc.
      Gee, and I was going to introduce this Practice around Treeleaf, starting this week. Maybe some of our members would like to do it??

      Gassho, Jundo the Magnificent


      • will
        • Jun 2007
        • 2331

        Quite a trip Harry whew. Too bad yo.

        How did I start. I was so dillusional at the time. Well, I mean. In and out of relationship after relationship. Bouts of depression crying etc... for no reason. Wanting to be good and normal. I was a "songwriter" you know the emotional type. hehe. Over the years I've hung out or met people who were somewhat "spiritual" ie. burnt incense and crystals and stuff. I guess after having another breakup with a girlfriend, I didn't know how to cope with it. Every relationship I was in it was: break up, cry, feel terrible, think of the person etc... Well that girlfirend that I broke up with didn't take any of my shit. "Stop romanticizing" she said. She was smart. hehe. Anyway, so I didn't know what to do. I asked her what she did to cope with a breakup. She said "Try breathing or something" So... haha. I bought a meditation book. Then I bought another. Then another. Still felt like crap hehe. So eventually one day I looked in the phonebook for meditation centers in Ottawa. By this time I had about, maybe, 20 books. Tibetan book of the dead. Dzog-chen (Rama Suria Das)(spelling)Picked up Philip Kapleau's Famous book (whatever it's called) so, anyway I found some addresses for meditation centers. Went to one. There was nobody there. Stopped by the White Wind Zen Monastery. It was open. (I forget his name) Opened the door. Gave me a card. Everything was like sooo neww. What is this place etc...

        The WWZM deals with students online first. Then has you go to a introduction sitting. Eventually I became a formal student and sat a 4 day retreat before leaving for China. While in China, I sent emails back and forth with a teacher there. Anyway, I stop for a bit. Tried this. Tried that. Did this. Did that. Got myself into more trouble and now here I am. What a trip. Haha.

        To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
        To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
        To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
        To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.


        • will
          • Jun 2007
          • 2331

          What? Lama? Dude I can't remember anything that I read at that time.

          I also remember going to this introduction meditation thing where these girls were talking about meditation and they seemed really strange. Doped out kind of. Never went back. I remember another guy "Chris". He was a nice guy. He gave me this meditation to do. I did once, when he showed me, and that was about it. hehe. My concentration was somewhat lacking at that time. woops.


          Gee, and I was going to introduce this Practice around Treeleaf, starting this week. Maybe some of our members would like to do it??
          Hey! Mr. Magnificant. Try somewhere else. Getoutta Here!!!

          Gasshhoow me the money
          To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
          To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
          To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
          To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.


          • will
            • Jun 2007
            • 2331

            Sorry Harry. Yes. "Lama" Suria Das.

            Still don't remember anything though.

            To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
            To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
            To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
            To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.


            • Dainin
              • Sep 2007
              • 389

              Hey All,

              Good topic, Keishin!

              For many years, I considered myself a "searcher." I was looking for some "higher truth" etc. I was raised Roman Catholic, but it didn't hold much meaning for me as a young adult. My good friend Chris from CT first exposed me to Zen. It was around 1988 or so. I was in college studying Drama in NYC and writing angst-ridden poetry in cafes. I also looked into every form of Christianity, Judaism, Quakerism, Universalism, etc. I loved reading Zen stuff, and I read so much for many years but never really practiced. Oh, sure, I sat a few times at the New York Zendo, and was enchanted by the exoticism of it all. But, everything I was reading at the time ("3 Pillars of Zen" was a big one at that time) just made it all seem so otherworldly and unattainable. So, over the years I just kept on searching and not really committing to any path. In graduate school, I even went back to the Catholic Church and contemplated joining the priesthood. Both the Jesuits and Franciscans were really interested - taking me to dinner, saying they'd pay off all my student loans, etc. (that's a story for another thread!).

              In the meantime, I kept reading all kinds of stuff, and I was always pulled back to Zen. Then in 2003, I think, I came across "Hardcore Zen" in a Boston bookstore, and it really spoke to me (excluding the whole punk rock/monster movie stuff - not really interested in either). It just rang true and spoke of a no BS, down-to-earth Zen. I finally started practicing. As I wrote elsewhere, I moved to FL, looked for a group, met Jundo, and here I am! Besides a brief foray into a group affiliated with the Kwan Um School of Zen (founded by Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn), the Soto way - as taught by Master Dogen, Kodo Sawaki Roshi, Nishijima Roshi, Brad Warner, and my teacher Jundo Cohen - has been my practice.

              Yeah baby!



              • Martin
                • Jun 2007
                • 216

                Interesting stories, thank you.

                I'm not entirely sure how I ended up "here". There are so many small causes and effects. But I think it's something like this.

                I grew up with Quakers; my mum took me to meetings. Although they are Christian, some aspects of their practice are not entirely unlike Zen meditation: they sit quietly, though on hard benches, not zafus. And they wait for the "inner light" to prompt them to speak out at Meetings.

                I liked their tolerance, their pacifism, their quiet sitting, but never the less drifted away. For one thing, the benches were seriously uncomfortable. More seriously, the "inner light" never prompted me to say anything. Which wouldn't have mattered, save that in a community where the "inner light" is prompting others to speak out, I felt that something ought to be "happening" to me when sitting quietly so that I too would see or be touched by said inner light, and all that happened was that my mind wondered. "Just sitting" wasn't an option, you were supposed to be looking for the inner light and in my case the light was off. Even then I had a dim sense that the looking for the inner light was what prevented me finding it, but how to stop looking for something when you're supposed to find it? And even amid the Quakers' tolerance, they are still Christian, and I still struggled with the whole Christian "belief" thing. Not just with the things that I felt I ought to believe, like the fact that the creator of the universe had dictated a book setting out how he wants us to behave, or that 2,000 years ago a man was born without a father who then cam alive again after being killed, but with the whole idea of belief. I mean, what's so great about "believing" things that sound (based on my experience) unlikely and for which I have no evidence? And even if it were great, how do I generate the "belief" if it's just not there?

                So I stopped going to Quaker meetings, and with a job with very unpredictable hours and three kids I would have found it increasingly difficult anyway. But I suppose there was a gap in my life where the Quakers had been. I had always felt vaguely drawn to or interested in Buddhism (Quakers and Buddhists seemed to end up together on various peace marches etc) and one day I surprised myself by calling in at the local Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. I found that very interesting, and went to a couple of their courses and read everything I could get my hands on and discovered from that, rather contrary to the impression that FWBO do tend to give, that there were a lot of different strands in Buddhism. A friend recommended that I try the Soto Zen Abbey at Thrussel Hole in the UK and I went for a weekend retreat there and immediately felt more at home than I’d felt previously anywhere. But my local Soto group sits at 7.00pm on a Wednesday and my work / family means that I get to be free then about once in six months, and Throssel Hole is a six hour drive one way. So what I needed was a fairy godmother to set up an on line Soto Zen sangha. And guess what… I am.

                Thanks Jundo.




                • Fuken
                  • Sep 2006
                  • 435

                  When I was a child, my father had a little statue of a meditating Buddha in a terrarium.
                  I was fascinated by it. Drawn to it. I wanted to understand who, what, where, and why it was. I held to the picture of this in my head until I was old enough to read. When I had learned how to read I went from the Cat In The Hat to the Dhammapada. My mother even made me a cushion to sit on.

                  I knew it was important. But I did not understand it. How could I? I had a relatively comfortable life. What was suffering? What was attachment? What were Greed, anger, and delusion?

                  My father encouraged this study though and eventually I read “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”

                  I really did not get it. Not grasping the core concepts by the time I was a teenager I moved on. I examined other ancient religions and even explored some aspects of Christianity. Going so far to be confirmed as a Lutheran. This did not hold with my undisciplined mind very long either and soon I began to experience suffering without even knowing it. I embraced the “burnouts” and dead ender’s who had no beliefs but chasing after their next pleasure. I now think of this point in space in time as my life as a hungry ghost.
                  Always wanting more. More pleasure, more friends, more money, more to drink, more girls, more music, more, more, more, more. Never being fulfilled. This time caused a lot of trouble for my parents and I. Eventually, and luckily, I got caught doing something stupid. I had to change my paradigm. I resolved to clean myself up.

                  I was sixteen. I shaved my head and had decided to join the Marines. Early influences here were likely a pair of grand uncles whom I worshipped, and to many war movies on television. I had a need to show a change, to myself and to my family. I called the Marine Corps recruiting office and was told they would not accept me as I was too young and was not on track to graduate high school with my senior class. I redoubled my efforts on my schoolwork, and began studying for the Marines. General orders, the code of conduct, rank structure, excreta. I graduated high school on time and four months later was at Marine Corps recruit Depot San Diego. Boot camp was not as challenging as I thought it would be, but there was a war on and I was ready to serve. On training day ten of Marine Combat Training my heart was shook. The war had ended and I ended up a cook. Not only had I lost my chance at redemption by going to war and being a “Hero”, I was made a “basic burger burner.” I was devastated. Picking myself back up took time. I became nihilistic. Getting Tattoos and drinking myself into a stupor when ever I could. On duty, I would excel as a Marine. I continued to study doctrine; the way of the warrior was still in my heart. This led me into studying everything from the Small Wars Manuel to Sun Tsu to Musashi.

                  Musashi had a profound effect on me. I harbored a desire to go to Japan. I requested orders to get overseas as soon as I was eligible. Within a few short months I was there. I quickly linked up with a friend from stateside and forgot all about Musashi for the time being. I fell in love with Japan and met my current wife. Visited Castles and temples and mountains and Shinto shrines. My warrior spirit rested, I got physically soft, mentally lazy. Having extended once in Japan I was not allowed to stay any longer. I got orders to Parris Island, often called “the land that god forgot.” Past performance saw me promoted to Staff Sergeant in May of 1999. Only eight years after I had went to boot camp. Shortly after that promotion I received orders to recruiting duty and after a successful but loathed tour there I went back to Camp Pendleton.

                  After nearly eleven years of trying to get out of Food service I finally got a break.
                  I was able to get a “high speed” job in the Communications field. I knew nothing about it. After a short class in how to do this job I was assigned to Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 15 (MSSG-15) and I started to go back to embracing my warrior heart. I had a lot of work to do. Reading Musashi again, I found myself attracted to a different character in the book, Takuan Soho, A Rinzai Monk. I began studding Buddhism again with vigor. Starting with The D.T. Suzuki books, moving on to Shunryu SuZuki, Uchiyama, and eventually Master Dogen. But I still did not “get it.”

                  In December of 2004 I left my pregnant wife and two-year-old daughter behind to deploy with the 15th MEU. We sailed from San Diego to Hawaii, and from Hawaii to Guam. As we laid anchor in Guam disaster struck. A Tsunami had washed over several coastal areas in South East Asia. After a four-hour re-supply we made for Sumatra, Indonesia and southern Sri Lanka.

                  Imagery of the destruction came to us over the Internet; plans were formed on how we could help. Negotiations were made with the governments as to how many people we could send ashore.

                  I was running on the flight deck when I saw the first casualty of the tsunami. I felt a strange emotion come over me that I had not felt since a child. Empathy, compassion things the angry demon I was did not recognize. I felt for this victim, did he have family? Did he leave behind children? Was he Married?

                  For the first time in my life I recognized the First Noble Truth.

                  My part in the relief efforts were small.
                  Just a Marine in a line passing supplies.
                  But the effects of just being there will last a lifetime.
                  I became a human being.

                  After leaving South East Asia and making for the Persian Gulf the MSSG disembarked in Kuwait. After a short time there we headed directly to an Army Forward Operating Base just south of Baghdad.

                  Not having a “job” to do there as my mission was being fulfilled by higher headquarters I worked as an “Watch Chief “ in the Combat Service Support Operations Center”, a very fancy name for a dispatcher of trucks and supplies. Little sleep, the best food I had had on the deployment, fear of mortars, escorting a high profile detainee, and occasional gunfire were the only things that were noteworthy for me. The MEU did a lot of great things over there though.
                  "During that period, the 15th MEU conducted security checkpoints, completed numerous raids, captured key high-value targets and gained the trust of the Iraqi citizens by providing medical and dental care at local schools."

                  Source: ... th_meu.htm

                  Leaving Iraq through Kuwait, then a harrowing helicopter ride back to the “Boat” felt surreal to me. I was still far from letting go of attachment to desire. After a quick stop in Diego Garcia we were off to Australia. We spent a few days in Cairns and then made for Hawaii. I felt as if I was living a dream as we left Hawaii and headed home.

                  A ride on a landing craft to the beach at Camp Pendleton and a buss ride back to the Headquarters building seemed to take an eternity. When I got off the bus I could not see my family, I ran through the building, around the building until finally I found them.

                  Meeting my Wife and children,
                  One for the first time.
                  After six months deployed.
                  Places some would describe as hell.
                  Peace, Joy.

                  Before I had even returned to Camp Pendleton I had begun looking for a place to share my practice with others. This turned out to be much more challenging then I had thought it would be. Or at least I had made it a challenge. Finding the correct Sangha (for me) would turn out to be a challenge for me for over a year. This was complicated shortly after my return “stateside,” by a permanent change of station from Camp Pendleton, California to inspector instructor duty in Portland, Oregon.

                  Further complications had me traveling around the country to visit several remote sites around the country. It was during this time that I came across Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen. While my “view” of Brad has changed over time, it was his book that really got me serious about putting myself on a cushion. His book said a lot of the same things I had already been familiar with from reading Master Dogen, and Master Uchyama’s Works, but the “punk rock” angle seemed to be a scalpel to pierce my own thick skull. My practice went from trying to sit for 20 or 30 minutes a day when I had time and was not to drunk, to the eventual cessation from alcohol all together and sitting at least an hour a day, morning and night regularly.

                  Moving to the Pacific North West, I found a several “Zen Centers” and found flaws that I could not seem to bend my ego around. I went to quite a few “introductions to Zen Meditation" classes just seeking the right place, only to find out things that disturbed me later. For example one center had a “membership Level” that depended not on the level of your practice but the measure of your monetary contribution to the center. Another had a class who’s “Soto Zen Priest and monk” was not familiar with Master Dogen’s Work, even pronouncing the masters name as “Dojen.” I found this a bit outrageous at the time. Persevering had benefits, and I found a place to practice (that almost seems perfect {for Me.})

                  For a while I went to the Priory for practice during my lunch breaks on Wednesdays. But recently a heavier work load due to personnel shortages, combine with a renewed enforcement of uniform policies for Marines (meaning I cant go out in town in the camouflage utility uniform) keep me from making my weekly visits. So here I am at Treeleaf.

                  If you have read all of this you know more about me than my mom.

                  Yours in practice,
                  Jordan ("Fu Ken" translates to "Wind Sword", Dharma name givin to me by Jundo, I am so glad he did not name me Wind bag.)


                  • Eika
                    • Sep 2007
                    • 806

                    It's cool reading all of your stories. I thought Jordan's was a particularly tough act to follow. (Thanks for the post Jordan). I first encountered Buddhism in a comparative religions course in 1992. When we got to the unit on Buddhism, I felt a real connection with the worldview it presented. So, that summer I began buying books about all of the different schools of Buddhism. I was always drawn to the less ritualistic forms of Buddhism, but there was a Tibetan group in town so I started going there. It was there that I learned breath-oriented meditation (1993ish). I feel I learned a lot from that year or so, but I never really 'connected' with the approach. All of the dieties and ritual (many held over from the Bon religion that predates Buddhism in Tibet) were more than my spiritual stomach could take. I simply could not make those rituals 'real' for me. Relatedly, I felt like there were many ideas that I was supposed to accept as truth without experiential truth. So in my readings I kept coming back to Zen teachings because, I felt, they didn't fall into these traps very often. Until I found Treeleaf, I had not had contact with other Zen folks (in Tennessee there simply aren't many). I am certainly glad that this is where am I in my journey.

                    [size=150:m8cet5u6]??[/size:m8cet5u6] We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life---John Cage


                    • helena
                      • Oct 2007
                      • 43

                      Good question, and interesting to read your stories.

                      Jordan, your story was especially moving. I read a book from a sailor who happened to be in Thailand during the Tsunami. He helped the local people rebuild their restaurant on the beach and wrote about how strange it was. He knew that it was a big natural disaster, headlines in the entire world, but on the other hand, they were just cleaning up garbage from a beach. He also got some flack about how he used the money he raised to help build a restaurant, when there were also people without drinking water in other areas (far away from him). He said that he was just doing what he could, to help the people within 100 feet of where he was, right now. The author was not religious and the book was just a book about sailing around the world, but I found that his experience made some concepts clearer than zen teachers do. I am sure the lesson is even much, much more profound if you are actually there.

                      My "story":
                      I used to be Roman Catholic. I was even interested in monastic life at some point (but nobody ever offered to pay my loans!) but then I lost my faith in a personal God, got married, and had a child.

                      A year ago, I got an Amazon gift certificate, totally out of the blue from a stranger. I was really happy with it and decided that I could use this on books for me, instead of the "useful" books that I usually wanted to buy. Back then I used to read a few personal development blogs and one of the "in-books" was The Power of Now. I thought that the premise sounded interesting and went on to read the reviews on Amazon. Being the skeptic that I am, I always read the negative reviews first. One of the negative reviews said that this book was just a rehash of age old zen concepts, and that people should read Hardcore Zen or To meet the real Dragon. So I checked out Hardcore Zen, the reviews were good, and bought it. The book struck a chord with me and I started to read other books about Zen and Buddhism. I was quite surprised that Buddhism was (or at the very least could be) so entirely different than I thought it was. I thought it was about chanting and reincarnation.


                      • Rev R
                        • Jul 2007
                        • 457

                        Perhaps we better start at the beginning...

                        When I was 16 I asked the "wrong girl" to a homecoming dance. Of course it got to her then boyfriend and word spread that I was going to get jumped at the dance (of course I was the last person to hear about this). A very good friend of mine came to me and said "I'm going to teach you how to fight." Soon thereafter my training in a quick and dirty form of muay Thai began.

                        Martial arts became an obsession with me and I threw myself into reading books and magazines, talking to other folks I knew that trained. Learning and adapting movements and theories into what I had already been taught.

                        Needless to say that one can't study martial arts without a mention of Buddhism somewhere. I blew it off initially being a "take your god and shove it" kind of atheist and having no real interest in religion.

                        As a high school senior my last period was taken up by "working" in the library. One day I stumbled across a book on world religions and flipped through it to see what it had to say. I liked the description of Buddhism and felt that it spoke to a lot of things that I was beginning to discover about ethics. I blew it off, however.

                        When I started college, I fell into the whole new agey/ neo-pagan thing. Fancied myself quite the sorceror too. I also fell into some heavy drinking and recreational drug use. Smoking pot led me to meet this cat named Rob, a half Sioux hippie artist type. He was a pagan as well, called himself an eclectic shaman. I learned about totems and herbs (medicinal and otherwise), runic magic, that sort of stuff. There were five of us living in the house and on nights where Rob's wife would go to work the rest of us would sit down and talk about the "mysteries of the universe". One night we were high and talking and I said something that caused Rob to leave the room. He returned a few minutes later with a hardcover notebook. "You might be interested in this," was all he said. Inside the book was a handwritten copy of a translation of Dammapada. I didn't really get it at first, but it started to make more sense as time went on.

                        Midsummer 1996 was when it all changed. For three days prior to the holiday I had been fasting and sitting in the rudimentary form of meditation that I had been shown in preparation for my first shamanic journey (that's fancy talk for an LSD trip to those playing the home game). Once the drugs kicked in I walked into the kitchen where Rob was making a cup of coffee (man he loved his coffee). The conversation went something like this:
                        Rob: How are you feeling?
                        Me: Not bad.
                        Rob: Who are you and how do you know it's you?
                        Me: huh?

                        The question slipped my mind until later when I wrote a spontaneous verse. I don't remember the first lines but the last four are:
                        I am everything
                        and everything I be.
                        I am everything
                        and everything is me.
                        (ok Hui Neng I'm not :P)

                        Those lines reverberate in my head from time to time. It put my whole life in a new perspective. I continued wearing the shaman hat for a time, but when my wife and i moved out of the house because the group dynamic become a little hostle, I began the process of full conversion. I read and analysed anything I could get my hands on concerning Buddhism. My emphasis was making it work in the real world. Never even considered joining a group or finding a teacher. Buddha had done it on his own and my life provided all the lessons I could ever use.

                        A couple of years back I came home from work and my wife started talking about this site she found called "Harcore Zen". I checked it out and found it entertaining, but I wasn't hooked. I discovered Brad's book in the local library and gave it a read. Once again entertaining but not life changing.

                        I had started talking to Junpei on another forum (in fact the first fellow Buddhist I had spoken to at any length about Buddhism). Googling some of the things we discussed led me back to Brad's blog and the little link to Nishijima Roshi's blog. In the comments section of one of the posts was a note from Keishin with a link to Treeleaf. I followed the link, lurked for a few days, figured "what the hell. I might learn something," and joined.

                        So that's the story of your non-sectatian brother.


                        P.S. In case you are wondering the Rev comes from the Universal Life Church and the Church of Spiritual Humanism. Take from that what you will.

                        PPS: I'm still a "take your god and shove it" atheist on occasion. Been working on being more polite.


                        • Smoggyrob

                          Hi everyone:

                          Great topic, Keishin. I'm loving everyone's stories, it seems (from my POV) to make all of you a little more real. Jordan, you didn't almost make me cry, but you /almost/ almost made me cry. And, thank you for your service with the Corps.

                          I'm surprised at how many people mentioned Hardcore Zen, I would have expected fewer. Ya'll seem way too nice to be reading that trash. 8^D

                          So, all you lurkers out there (even you spam robots), how did you get here? Jundo, how did /you/ get here?



                          • Justin
                            • Jul 2007
                            • 97

                            Hello all,

                            I've written a bit of my "story" on the introductions thread, so if no one minds I'll repost it (with additions) here:

                            I can't remember what sparked the initial interest in Zen. All I know for sure is that I five years ago I found myself reading Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." After figuring out (a few hundred pages in) that this book had pretty much nothing to do with Zen Buddhism, I went back to the bookstore and picked up Kapleau's "Three Pillars."

                            I devoured it, fascinated by the idea of Enlightenment and making tentative stabs at sitting zazen based on the diagrams in the book. As I'm sure happened with many other "diagram-sitters," I quickly became frustrated and (without a teacher to encourage me or the discipline to continue it alone) abandoned the practice.

                            I did the typical college student philosophical tourism after that: "paganism," snot-nosed Superiority Complex atheism, existential cynicism, etc etc.

                            I can't point to a single event that triggered it, but one day about 6 months ago it hit me like a brick to the face that Soto Zen was what I'd sought all along. I poked around online and saw that Brad Warner was stirring up a lot of shit in the Buddhist world, so I thought I'd try his new book. Eventually I checked out his blog, which led me here.

                            That's my story and I'm sticking to it.



                            • Mensch
                              • Jun 2007
                              • 77

                              Wow! Thanks for the interesting topic and the exciting stories. Mine is more philosophical than biographical, so I hope to still entertain you with my bad English.

                              I am a Buddhist because of a malfunctioning cigarette vending machine. Really! I am serious.

                              Actually it was three of them on the streets in my neighborhood, many years ago. I was pissed off already when I left my apartment in the middle of the night to get some lousy cigarettes. 20 minutes and three broken cigarette machines later I felt like killing someone. I had been "robbed" by a gang of evil metal bricks disguised as cigarette machines, by a conspiracy of tobacco wholesalers. I was a "victim"! I wanted justice, I wanted my money back, I wanted people who cared, I wanted a planet that worked, I wanted a smoke, I...

                              This little incident seemed like a perfect scaled-down model, almost a mean parody of my frustrating and angry life in a western society. A society full of hypocrisy and broken promises. "Mother", "justice", "girlfriend", "family", "therapist", "cigarette machine". None of which "delivered". Lies! Total bullshit!

                              Back then I only knew that what had happened to me is called "Dukkha" which apparently was zenish for "out of order". So I considered it worth exploring. I virtually dissected the precious little mishap, First I tried to establish a firm sense of reality by "childish" questions like "Is an inoperative cigarette machine still a cigarette machine"? By mere logical deduction I figured out step by step

                              • that a broken cigarette machine cannot reasonably be called a cigarette machine,
                              • that even a functional cigarette machine isn't "real" because it depends on permanent maintenance to not rot away immediately and become the truer "scrap",
                              • that, strictly speaking, there are no "genuine" cigarette machines at all,
                              • that the "non cigarette machine" had actually worked beautifully and to my expectations by not dispensing any cigarettes,
                              • that any remaining "problem" was thus not mechanical. What EXACTLY was the "problem"?

                              • I finally located the "defect" in the huge label on the machine's casing: "CIGARETTES". It's wrong!
                              • I figured that each and every phenomenon of the "real" world bears such a (mental) label that guides our expectations, judgments and actions. And no matter what it says – it is always plain wrong!

                              That was a breakthrough! From that moment latest I was a Buddhist. But I didn't notice. Instead I was left with a sort of blurred, ghostlike, faint "cigarette machine" and the question "What is real?" It took another decade until various "experiences" slowly sank in, like:

                              • My lifelong distant orbiting of zen philosophy (starting with practising Taekwondo at age 13)
                              • The stunning discovery during several lonely vacations that the beauty and mystery of the Scottish Highlands or a French cathedral are the exact same beauty and mystery as that of hardware store or a rest stop lavatory.
                              • An increasing inexplicable sensation of "resonance" or "symmetry" or "intimacy"(some would say love) while experiencing nature.
                              • At least one so-called "mystical" experience,
                              • My lifelong deep disgust with religious hypocrisy,
                              • The learnings from my advertising profession, that people tend to mix up experiences and symbols ("eat the menu instead of the meal" as Allan Watts phrased it) which is the essence of marketing – and of religion. It seems the fundamental error of human existence.
                              • The rise of the internet which provided access to authentic buddhist teaching rather than its western misinterpretations.
                              • The learning that "Zen" is "Buddhism". And Buddhism is not about being right or being smart – it's about caring. It's much more ethical than it is philosophical.
                              • The sheer horror of having grown up (hardly) in a family with a record of all kinds of criminal abuse – and my total unconcern with what people "believe" or consider "realistic" (seems to drive many "zennies" like Barry Graham Sensei for example.)

                              It took another minor crisis of being fired from a job that I actually hated until I finally gave up resistance and started practicing. At age 42. It solved 90% of my problems immediately, in a second – as if flicking a switch. I only wish I had started about 20 years earlier.

                              Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming. It's the path that all paths lead to, the only box big enough to comprise all boxes. It really stinks of truth. And the question I'm dealing with now is: How do I really REALLY devote my life to that?

                              Oh, and I quit smoking too.