First Encounters of the Zen Kind

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39474

    #16
    Well, who still believes that folks can't share deeply, and come to see each other, through an "online Sangha"? There are many ways to look right in each others' eyes.

    This is a good chance for me to think about history too. Sorry if this runs on a bit, but I think I should go into detail (since I claim to be the bus driver on this bus).

    Okay, I was a pretty messed up teenager. Years of deep depression and anti-depressants, home rather rocky, I missed a year of high school. Got back on the school track though, and even did well gradewise ... but the depression stayed with me right into law school (dropped out of law school for a year too, but got back to that somehow). During college, starting reading on Taoism and Buddhism ... It did not yet 'click', but I could not get away from it either. Always hung around 'mind expanding' people, questioning people, who challenged accepted ideas. Pretty mind expanding college experience too (mind expanding in all meanings of that word), studied and worked in Spain for a year. Started to realize that much of my depression was 'overthinking' things, that so much of my perception of the world was mind created.

    Got to a tough law school, taught how to analyze and argue about anything, reason about the world down to its atoms ... that is what law school is, learning how to argue angels on the head of a pin (and from any side of the argument ... depending who is paying the bill :-) ) I was in training to be a professional 'hired gun' (a briefcase carrying assassin), plus the whole power and greed thing about planning for one's 'career'. I was still really depressed, stressed, getting counseling ... starting sitting with a Zen sitting group at school, very informal. But I stayed with it this time, and sat often. It became the quiet at the eye of a hurricane. I am not from a rich family, and mom and dad were struggling with the bills, Dad dies during this time, family savings running out. A lot of pressure.

    Happened to move into a house with roommates from China, some of the first exchange students to the US (this was like 1984). They suggest I go to China to study and teach (the school needed people to go the other way). I don't know why my family agreed, or how I swung it ... (we had no money and it was an exprensive affair). Everyone else in my class could not wait to get onto 'Wall Street' with big salaries, and to start raking it in. Nobody in those days was particularly anxious to go to China. I start studying Chinese. I learned again, in additional ways, how much the the mind creates reality (both inside and outside the courtroom ... and about greed and ignorance).

    Get to China. Speak broken Chinese. Mind blowing. Depression gone. Find a few English books on Buddhism in the school library (somehow not purged from the stacks, probably because they were in English). No internet then. Meet old guy at a local Buddhist temple, turns out to be a Chan priest who had been banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution (his temple was seized and he was forced to marry a nun, become a pig farmer. At least, I think so ... my Chinese was pretty hit and miss, lots of miss.). He was trying to rebuild his temple. But, I sat Zazen with him once a week. Sat on my own each day too. Accidently, I was 'just sitting', because I really could not understand the finer points of what he said. So I just sat and tried to feel peaceful ... and I did.

    Back to America, big law firm, greed, power, win at all costs, sex, money ... After awhile, invited my Japanese girlfriend to join me (I had met her in China and we started dating there, now she is my wife Mina). Not sure why I asked her to come to America, glad I did. After a couple of years of law firm life (I was a corporate lawyer, doing 'deals'), I am tired, stressed, smoking, often depressed again. Another ten years, and maybe I will be a 'partner'. Still sitting though (this is about 20 years ago). Attended some local groups, but my hours were so bad ... who had the time? Idea comes up that I can head to Japan, and I learn there are ways to do it without starving (like working as a lawyer or teaching). It feels right.

    Soon, I am in Japan. Doing some legal work to pay the bills, studying Japanese intensively. Not a lot of money, but food and rent was not a problem. First month in Japan, find out about a Zen temple close by offering Zen sittings. By coincidence (I did not know this at the time), it is Sojiji, one of the Head Temples of Soto Zen (like the Vatican of Soto Zen, a role shared with Eiheiji). It is a Japanese group, but the teacher (Ikuo Azuma Roshi) speaks some English. Sojiji is a pretty amazing place, everything done the traditional way as a training school for the young monks, and I rarely missed a sitting for the next 10 years. I was the only foreigner sitting there regularly in those days, so became the foreign 'aide' to Azuma, writing his English letters and such. Saw him for tea and to 'practice English' once a week ... a great chance to sit and talk about everything and anything. Even after my image of 'Zen' and 'Japan' came down to earth (you know what I mean ... after reality replaced the version of Zen and Japan in books), I found it still ... no words can say or need to say it. Tried some of the local English speaking Zazen groups in Tokyo too, and that means Nishijima Roshi (this is around 1989). I was not a regular with Nishijima's group though.

    This continues about like that for the next 15 years. Had a wife and starting (late) our family, plus my own small business now (law related translations, and a small school for lawyers). Thinking monk dreams too, but to be ordained did not seem an option. There is a big glass ceiling for foreigners wanting to be ordained in Japan (a subject for another day, but basically the system is not set up for foreigners, or for "Zazen teachers" as much as young Japanese priests who will take over their father's temple to perform funerals and other rituals for parishioners, and who need to learn the arcane ceremonies required. Not really my interest). Moreover, with my wife's cooperation, I could leave for retreats and such for a week or two, or even a month, at Sojiji and other places ... but not for the solid year or two required for those young Japanese priests under the "system" of priest training in Japan.

    Went to see Nishijima, known to care about Zazen Zazen and Zazen (ceremonies and such ... not to care so much about those), known to train foreigners in Japan in English, and to do it the 'old fashioned' way (through personal training, face to face). That meant carrying his bags on teaching trips, attending retreats and weekly sittings, and ... maybe most importantly, working on the translation projects he does. I translated one of his books over a couple of years, I watched what he does. That is how I learned.

    Much about actual "priestcraft" I learned more in America (sometimes Nishijima forgets to teach things not directly related to Zazen .. which explains a little about the atmosphere at Dogen Sangha. Nishijima only taught me about certain things because I asked him to, and kept pestering him). Because my mother was sick, I started to come back to America for three or four months at a time a few years ago, and became the assisting priest in Florida to Mitch Doshin Cantor in Maezumi Roshi's lineage. Mitch taught me how to run a Western style Sangha (much of what we are doing at Treeleaf is borrowed from my experiences at Doshin's Sangha), a lot about bowing and incense lighting and basic ceremonies (even an iconoclast like me needs such skills ... don't reject or seek to adapt something before you actually know how to do it). Doshin gave me my first chance to lead groups and give Zen Talks after Nishijima gave me Transmission. Furthermore, he introduced me to something very much present in Western Buddhism but sorely lacking in Japan ... immersion in the diverse ideas of Buddhism. A Soto teacher in Japan would likely have little knowledge or interest in what the Rinzai fellow is doing down the street, let alone in the Vipassana school or Lama Suria Das and Dzogchen. That is not the case in the West).

    Anyway, to bring this ramble to a close ... I actually have had 4 Soto Zen teachers who I consider my teachers, 4 wheels on the car, (just like Nishijima considers "Homeless" Kodo his first teacher, even though Nishijima was formally ordained and received Transmission from Renpo Niwa Roshi, the former abbot of Eiheiji). There was Azuma Ikuo, who just shared tea with me, week after week, for so many years at Sojiji ( the Vatican, where things are done the "Orthodox" way). There is Nishijima, who gave me Transmission and has taught me about Zazen Zazen and Zazen ... and knows things about Soto Zen that have sometimes been forgotten by those priests with their ceremonies ... there is Doshin Cantor who knows what a Western priest needs to know ... and there is Jiho Sargent, a tough old bird who was one of the few Western women to go through priest training in Japan 100% the Japanese way (she would not want me to call her my teacher, but she was).

    Oh, then there is my wife ... who teaches me every day.

    Sorry if I went on too long.

    Gassho, Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • will
      Member
      • Jun 2007
      • 2331

      #17
      Jundo
      subject for another day, but basically the system is not set up for foreigners, or for "Zazen teachers" as much as young Japanese priests who will take over their father's temple to perform funerals and other rituals for parishioners, and who need to learn the arcane ceremonies required.
      I bet you Keizan Zenji would have a few things to say about that.

      Gassho
      [size=85:z6oilzbt]
      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.
      [/size:z6oilzbt]

      Comment

      • Jundo
        Treeleaf Founder and Priest
        • Apr 2006
        • 39474

        #18
        Historically, Keizan Zenji is one of the reasons things started to head in that direction. He started to introduce a lot of ceremonies (good luck, childbirth, funeral, etc.) to attract lay folk support to the monasteries. He was more into ceremony and Esoteric Buddhism than Dogen.

        Scholars debate the degree (see below)

        Gassho, Jundo

        A theme that recurs in a number of modern histories is the idea that the Zen initially established in Japan by the founder Dogen was a pure form that the Soto school failed to preserve in subsequent generations. According to one version of this story, Dogen's "pure Zen" (junsui zen) was brought by him from Sung China." A somewhat different version has it that the Zen Dogen encountered in China was already compromised by an admixture of Confucian and Taoist elements, rituals that pandered to aristocratic patronage, and a preoccupation with economic and cultural (as opposed to properly spiritual) pursuits. In this view, Dogen rejected the secularized, "syncretic Zen" (kenshu zen) of the Sung: what he actually established in Japan was the style of pure Zen that had originally existed in China during the T'ang dynasty (618-906)!"

        Both versions of this modern myth of origins agree, in any case, that Dogen's pure Zen consisted of three main elements: first, the rigorous practice of zazen in a sangha hall (sodo); second, the instructions of a Zen master, either in the context of public sermons and debates (mondo) in a dharma hall (hatto) or individual meetings in an abbots quarters (hojo); and third, productive work, including the duties of monastic officers such as the cook (tenzo) and the communal labor (fushin samu) that involved officers and ordinary monks alike.

        Dogen's pure Zen, however, is said to have become diluted in the generations following Keizan Jokin (1264-1325) by extraneous elements of Japanese esoteric Buddhist (mikkyo) ritual, folk religion, and various other concessions to popular demand, such as the performance of funerals and memorial services for lay patrons." Here we find not only the motif of the golden age (the time of Dogen), but the narrative form of the epic tragedy, in which the hero (the Soto school) squanders its precious spiritual heritage in exchange for worldly success.

        http://scbs.stanford.edu/calendar/1999- ... foulk.html
        ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

        Comment

        • will
          Member
          • Jun 2007
          • 2331

          #19
          I see. However from what I have read he was also responsible for the wide spread of Soto Zen in Japan. In addition, he took a lot of his teachings from Dogen

          In drawing up this tight schedule, Keizan Zenji relied on Dogen Zenji's Bendoho. Fushuku Hanpo, and Shuryo Shingi. For details about training attitudes and etiquette too, he referred to the teachings of Dogen Zenji, which he took great pains to explain in accessible ways.

          http://www.sotozen-net.or.jp/kokusai/fr ... 3_01_5.htm
          Also, he was a firm believer in equality of the sexes and equality of ethincity.

          And in one of his written works, he said that, as long as they understand Buddhism, men and women alike can became choro, or nobly virtuous members of the clergy. Enzu-in, which he established for his grandmother's sake, was an institution for guiding and educating nuns.

          Believing that the Buddha nature and living beings are synonymous, Keizan Zenji stressed the equality not only of the sexes, but also of all ethnic groups and races. If embraced by everyone, this view could become the driving force for eliminating discrimination.

          http://www.sotozen-net.or.jp/kokusai/fr ... 3_01_5.htm
          I do agree however that some of his teachings are rather out there. The whole thing about the dreams and past lives. But I haven't been practicing as long as him, so whatever.

          Frankly, I haven't read a lot on him. just studied the Denkoroku from Anzan Hoshin Roshi, and a couple websites.

          My impression was that of the above quotes.

          Gassho
          [size=85:z6oilzbt]
          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.
          [/size:z6oilzbt]

          Comment

          • PapaDoc
            Member
            • Sep 2007
            • 45

            #20
            I have recently been studying Buddhism, mostly from a Tibetan tradition throught the Loseling Institute here at Emory University. Prior to that I had lived at a Trappist monastery and was introduced to Centering Prayer, practicing that method for 25 years. Ordained as an Anglican priest, I served in a variety of positions, beginning with working with the homeless of Atlanta and strangely climbing the ecclesial corporate ladder to become a CEO of a church/school. After some time of raising funds and running board meetings, I realized I had sold my soul to the religious institutuional store. I resigned my position and began a personal sabbatical in which I was led to explore Buddhism, which seems to fit my own sense of the lay of the land of being human. To be honest, I am quite confused by the Tibetan tradition but am attracted by the truth I recognize. I was pleased to find this site and hope to continue to explore this life by continuing my sitting in a new way. I am also working as a consultant with hospitals throughout the US and now in Turkey. The gift is to spend little time with great financial compensation, as opposed to what I had done before.
            As one kid is at UGA and the other is a senior in high school, I have some new freedom that I plan to enjoy.
            Glad to be here with you.

            David

            Comment

            • Jundo
              Treeleaf Founder and Priest
              • Apr 2006
              • 39474

              #21
              Welcome again, David

              Jundo
              ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

              Comment

              • will
                Member
                • Jun 2007
                • 2331

                #22
                Welcome David.
                [size=85:z6oilzbt]
                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.
                [/size:z6oilzbt]

                Comment

                • Gregor
                  Member
                  • Apr 2007
                  • 638

                  #23
                  Great Thread! Still reading up on everyone's stories. I have a short attention span and can only read a few at a time.

                  I'd love to share my little personal story too, but alas I think it may be to melodramatic.

                  Let's just say I am generally a messed up human, who turned to the dharma out of desperation because of being in a very dark and unhappy place.

                  I have some issues with depression --- I won't hash out all the details cause' I don't want to revisit it. But let's say it surrounded failed relationships, dissatisfaction with my career choice, drugs, sex, alcohol, shame, low self esteem, and a slew of other issues carried over from god knows when.

                  But it's been bad in the past, even at the point where I was seriously planning suicide, thankfully the state I was living in at the time had a seven day waiting period to purchase a firearm, without that I'm pretty sure I would not have made it past twenty two.

                  Not that I'm special or had it worse than anybody, but I was gravely dissatisfied with life, even after cleaning things up and getting myself in a healthier place I still had a lot of anger, frustration, and sadness.

                  First exposure was from reading a book on depression/how to be a happier person and it recommended some ideas about Buddhism. I think I was grabbed by the concept that, "life is suffering" and here is a way to deal with it.

                  After that I did some internet reasearch, read some books and it was a life changing epiphany. Eureka. . here is something that aligns with the way I see things, and gives me the tools I need to get out of my own way.

                  Originally I participated with a Tibetan group (Shambala), but found them to be a little too. . . materialistic and hocus-pocus for me. From there I turned to Theravada and the Insight traditions. . . doing a lot of reading of the pali cannon, practicing some meditation, and just getting my head around the intellectual side of the dharma. But, my meditation practice was never very solid. After studying and trying different techniques and finding some assistance through email with a monk from Zen Mountain Monastery, I found Zazen to be the best "practice" for me --- although I still have a soft spot for Theravada/Insight dogma.

                  I found Jundo just about the time he was starting tree leaf through a blogging buddy's recommendation and viola, I guess I'm Zen or something.

                  Lately I've been feeling a bit unsure as to how "Zen" I am, I frankly think I'm having one of those moments of great doubt. Not so much a doubt in Buddhism, or the dharma --- but a doubt about Zen, I think I've been attached to such an intellectual focus around Buddhisms I'm encountering a lot of resistance when it comes down to just killing those Buddhas. Part of me hates the idea that there is nothing to it but just sitting, it feels so unrewarding, but at the same time I have no belief in anything else anymore.

                  Sorry I don't mean to whine or sound like I'm looking for help, I'm not. I'm just fine and I will keep working at this and getting into the posture each day. Not out of duty, but because this is something I want to work through.

                  *** To quote Jordan, "If you've read all this, you know more about me than my mom ***
                  Jukai '09 Dharma Name: Shinko 慎重(Prudent Calm)

                  Comment

                  • Keishin
                    Member
                    • Jun 2007
                    • 471

                    #24
                    first encounters of the zen kind

                    Well.....well....I just don't know what to say, it is so wonderful to hear all these different stories--like Gregor, I couldn't read all in one sitting, but wow!!
                    It's been a long day, so I won't post much here now, just to say thank you to all of you for sharing. And I hope other's add their stories as they come on board!

                    gassho
                    keishin

                    Comment

                    • Hans
                      Member
                      • Mar 2007
                      • 1853

                      #25
                      Hello fellow Trealeaves!

                      A big THANK YOU to all those of you who dared to share so much of your personal "way" that led you here to the Treeleaf sangha.
                      Since I will only be able to see my wife for a few more hours before I have to head back to the place where I work during the week, please excuse my not writing down my story at this point....I don't want to rush a post such as this and if I stay online any longer my bodhisattva wife is probably gonna murder me....there, she is standing right behind me....aaaaaarggghhhhhhh....

                      Big Gassho,


                      Hans

                      Comment

                      • Gregor
                        Member
                        • Apr 2007
                        • 638

                        #26
                        I've finished reading everybody's story. . . wow, I feel so much closer to each of you now. It's amazing how this sangha keeps evolving and becoming more and more "real" everyday.

                        May you all be happy --

                        Gassho,

                        Greg
                        Jukai '09 Dharma Name: Shinko 慎重(Prudent Calm)

                        Comment

                        • paige
                          Member
                          • Apr 2007
                          • 234

                          #27
                          Well, my introduction to Zen isn't anywhere near as interesting a story as the other ones posted here!

                          I started meditating as a teenager. It was some sort of "mindfulness training" programme recommended to me as a way to deal with the terrible headaches I sometimes get. I was living in Ottawa at the time, I never became a formal student of the White Wind Zen Community but I did get some practice advice there. They were really nice to me - I was an insufferable pain in the ass kid whose main interests in life were 1)punk/grunge music and 2)smashing the state. Haha. When I lost a button from the cuff of my favourite flannel shirt, I replaced it with an anarchy pin! lol A few of the Zen centre's students were old hippies who thought I was pretty funny and let me drop in and pester them.

                          I don't remember being particularly interested in Buddhism at the time (I only wanted to learn meditation). I had to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for an English class, but I despised it about as much as I despised every other assigned book!

                          I moved away for university, had some sporadic e-mail contact with a couple of Zen teachers, sat zazen alone with varying regularity, made some friends in the local Tibetan sitting group (but didn't meditate with them). I don't really remember ever 'falling in love with the Dharma' or putting a great deal of effort into learning about Buddhism - it's a bit surprising how much just sort of rubbed off on me. A testament to my teachers, I think, that even someone as lazy as me couldn't help but pick up some fundamentals.

                          I remember being very interested in the Heart Sutra and Lankavatara Sutra, I had several months of questions and dialogue there... but no life-changing revelatory breakthrough. I don't know why not, I guess I'm boring!

                          These days, well I moved again after graduation, to bigger city, but one also without a zendo. I am taking some lessons with a Shin priest who is also a Buddhist studies professor (and another old hippie, yay!). I also attend a Chinese temple, I go to meditation classes and some events but not a lot to services (I don't know Chinese).

                          Comment

                          • Dainin
                            Member
                            • Sep 2007
                            • 389

                            #28
                            Hi All,

                            I just want to echo others' sentiments regarding how heartening it is to read all your stories. While I didn't write as much detail as some of you, I certainly can realte to so much of your experiences (i.e., with relationships, sex, therapy, depression, health, jobs, and general angst).

                            Many times I get caught up in my own self-centered life, but I find all of this heartening because it shows me that I am not alone in my experiences. Thank you all for being so candid.

                            Gassho,
                            Keith

                            Comment

                            • Kelly M.
                              Member
                              • Sep 2007
                              • 225

                              #29
                              Wow, there is a lot to read here :shock: , but all very interesting.

                              I too was raised Roman Catholic but began slowly loosing faith throughout high school. It seemed that the more I understood of that faith, the more it contradicted with my own views. After high school I entered University, majoring in Biology, which revolutionized my outlook on the world. I quickly became Atheist, and began to resent religion for ‘duping’ me for so long. But as others have mentioned above, the renunciation of my prior faith left a void. I realised how comforting it use to be to have an omniscient and all powerful being on my side in times of elevated stress and trouble. So I eventually became a ‘seeker’, reading into many philosophies and spiritualities with an open, yet sceptical mind. I grew spiritually along the way, became agnostic, and even more open to the ideas of others, including those of my former faith. But none felt like home. Eventually, nearly a year ago, I came across Buddhism. I have been reading as much material as I can find on it ever since, and applying it to my daily life. It finally feels like home.

                              I have yet to completely stabilize myself in the practice, and learning is a little tough, especially given my remote location. By my discovery of Treeleaf is very promising, and I have enjoyed it so far.

                              It is hard to believe that it has only been a year of practice as it has integrated so centrally into my sense of Self. And yes, I say sense of Self, as Buddhism still seems to have that New Religion smell to me, which I hope to get over soon :roll: . But one step at a time!

                              Cheers,
                              Kelly
                              Live in joy and love, even among those who hate
                              Live in joy and health, even among the afflicted
                              Live in joy and peace, even among the troubled
                              Look within and be still; free from fear and grasping
                              Know the sweet joy of living in the way.

                              Comment

                              • Ryan
                                Member
                                • Aug 2007
                                • 27

                                #30
                                It is hard to believe that it has only been a year of practice as it has integrated so centrally into my sense of Self. And yes, I say sense of Self, as Buddhism still seems to have that New Religion smell to me, which I hope to get over soon Rolling Eyes . But one step at a time!
                                Kelly, I think you just coined the term New Religion Smell... Is that like incense or something? :lol:

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