Growing up, my mother would take my brother and I to Chinese Buddhist Temples scattered around the Bay Area on a very sporadic basis. Usually, just a few times a hour, if that. I wouldn’t say that I was introduced to the dharma per se then, but it does have a place in the memories of my childhood as an introduction to traditions and ritual. It was not until I encountered a sitting group at the San Francisco Zen Center in November of 2013 that I would say that the dharma touched me. I was drawn to SFZC by an interest in mindfulness and in particular, meditation. What began as a simple curiosity to simply explore a practice of sitting, has over the years, grown and deepened. I would say these seeds were planted with a light, soft touch with curiosity as my guidepoint. I grew up attending Catholic Schools in my youth and though I was not Catholic, I did attend mass. I also attended friends Christian churches from time to time – more from a social interest than a spiritual one. Buddhism resonated with me very differently. For me, I experienced a lightness and an allowing in the dharma that I wasn’t exposed to in other forms of spirituality. An acceptance of all things. I wouldn’t say that I picked ‘Buddhism.’ In fact, as a self-proclaimed atheist for most of my life, there was a bit of discomfort whenever I would ask myself, “Am I a Buddhist?” Rather, I felt able to walk alongside the dharma in a spacious, open way that felt natural. I felt able to continue my exploration of spirituality, to continue my own style of curious questioning, and nurturing of a practice. And just one day, I felt like I was on the Path, somewhat suddenly. I continue to feel nourished by that.
OK, so so I had grown up in the Bay Area, I was born and raised in San Mateo, California, which is just south of San Francisco. And my mother and I would go to Buddhist temples in the Bay Area once a year and also into in Taipei whenever we visited friends or family there. My spiritual, I guess, introduction was more in the study of probably Catholicism because I had attended a private school, which was a school called St Simons, which is a Catholic school. Even though my family nor I were, were Catholic and I was one of the only non-Catholic, my brother and I were one of the only non-Catholic boys in the entire school, which was an interesting experience. Also being one of the very few Asian people in that school as well. So I never really felt like I belonged to those religions of although I found an interest to them. I love the stories of of all the biblical stories and, you know, had to take quizzes on those and had whole classes and mass attendance required for being part of that school, which I never saw as I just saw that it was interesting and kind of enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t a let’s say it integrated into that. I mean, of course, I was integrated, but not a practicing Catholic. And after that high school junior high, I never really had. After I left, the Catholic school system never had a um a, I would say, a direct interaction with with other sports, the types of spirituality. And it wasn’t until after college when I began in 2013 to attend the San Francisco Zen Center, primarily based out of my interest in meditation and mindfulness. And I saw meditation as a very interesting area to explore, to cultivate, you know, inner peace, joy, you know, reduction of stress and kind of the, I would say, the the practical uses of meditation. Um, and that really opened my eyes into sitting practice. And I and I immediately remember my first said it was about a 20 minute said with a group of about 50 people being very nice and soothing, and I just enjoyed that. And it became a practice that that really resonated with me, and I decided I wanted to continue. And so from that first set, I began going back to the San Francisco Zen Center three days a week. And and that progressed over months to, you know, more than three days a week. And then in 2015, I decided as part of a New Year’s resolution that I would start a daily sitting practice, and that’s where I really feel like my practice shifted in another way. All the while, while I was in this meditation group from the from the very beginning, you know, when I was sitting three days a week , we were exploring Zen Buddhism. Cons We were exploring Zen Buddhism literature and reading books, and I started to get just very interesting, interested in the lineage of Soto Zen, as well as the philosophy and and practices about them. And so I guess there was a sort of a budding interest that began to flower. And about two years into that practice in 2015, it became very apparent to me that I was going to dedicate parts of my myself to that practice that became less of a hobby and more of a dedication.
If I were to think back about what it felt like for it to be a kind of a hobby like biking is a hobby. You know, I would feel the benefits of meditation being, Oh wow, I feel I feel calmer. Oh wow. I feel a little bit less stressed out. I’m I’m more easily for me to go to sleep, things like that. And it wasn’t until I started attending retreats where I would have. three day, four days away and really immersed in practice where there were mantras and prayers recited, you know, throughout the day there was meditation . Every day there were Dharma talks. There were, you know, Temple Soji cleanings and work associated with that. And just that’s when I think there was an immersion that was missing. Or maybe, perhaps just I hadn’t access yet that I really became. Very, let’s say a very just hit me in a deeper with a deep record. And as I started to go to retreats, that’s when my relationships with teachers with Sangha also started to flourish. And I think it’s really just a matter of my showing up and being there as a regular practice and seeing it not just in terms of the sitting practice, but in terms of this whole philosophy on life, on my soul, on love, on purpose. And that’s when I think it, you know, of course, these things are sort of a little bit gray. There’s not really a, you know, a switch that happens. It’s it’s a very much a flowering over time. And that’s sort of when I began to see that.
Definitely. Uh, so maybe I can give a little bit more color around the Sangha that I that I feel that I’m in. So at the San Francisco Zen Center, there was a group called Young Urban Zen, which was a meditation group of usually 20 or 3030 year old folks in the city that were laypeople. And they had, you know, jobs, some of them tech jobs and interested in meditation and exploring that together and the interest and interest in Zen in particular. And so that’s where I first started to find community, and I just really enjoyed learning the philosophy of Zen sitting with people my age and a lot of the themes that were coming up that people were having issues with or difficulty, for example, that you find, you know, a lot of young adults and even, you know, more mature adults. But you know, around relationships, around love, around, you know, finding purpose in life and finances, you know, a lot of these areas that are a little sticky. We’re able to come out in the support of the Sangha and and very candidly so and then in investigating them with the principles of of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen and also just, you know, in relationships of people talking to each other and wasn’t, you know, it was just kind of all of that mixed together. And that was incredibly supportive for me because I saw this, this conversation being implemented not just between the teacher and myself, but a teacher and myself and myself among the Sangha. And it was an open container and forum for that for those types of conversations. My I don’t have a strict teacher relationship right now, although I have a lot of folks that influence me that I I sit with and I attend group meetings with and I attend these meditation groups with as well. one of whom is Shindo David Hayes, who, um, you’ll meet later. And um, you know, I think just having a small group currently, we have a four person group of folks that have been practicing for for some time and being able to investigate different subjects, check in with each other and hold space for each other. And that’s been very, very helpful. And in that we do it every two weeks. So I kind of have these interspaced practices where I have my personal practice going to Dharma talks every week, you know, pod every other two weeks. Sitting in other Sangha is, you know, maybe on a monthly basis. And it’s it’s more fluid than than anything. Although there are some very there are some ways I’ve kind of created a structure that supports my practice. Yeah.
Yeah, that’s a great question, philosophically and intellectually, I was very drawn by by impermanence, by the concept of impermanence, and I think when I was first interacting with the concept of impermanence, there was a a little bit of a grasping associated with impermanence in that everything is only there for for the moment that it’s there. And that experience is there for a moment. But then I saw this other side of impermanence, which was this constant arising and interdependent interdependency of impermanence. And those concepts really allow me to see life. All the things that are happening around me, all the communities I was in, you know, my work life and just seeing it under that that lens of. Well, I get to experience this experience as it’s unfolding. And there’s a universal part of that experience that is, you know, totally above me. And then there’s my own personal experience, which is within me that I can recognize as being in. And so there’s this, you know, lovely dance that I that I kind of was very attracted to and just impassioned by in that in that mystery as well as well as as that is that concept which was, you know, coming from a, you know, Chinese family. But growing up in the West, you know, that’s that’s not a concept that I was ever introduced to. And I was very I was very struck by that. I also really resonated with emptiness, you know, and so I see emptiness and impermanence and interdependent core rising and those those concepts as as really opening the door for me in a big way as I was reading and chatting and having talks with Dharma, teachers and Sangha, those those are the things that that exposed me to have a branch of existence that I didn’t know was possible. And I was. Frankly relieved and confused and excited about. Yeah.
There are so many things to say about that, because. For me, it’s it’s a constantly evolving intention. So when I when I started Mantra Bio, I decided that what I really wanted to create was a place where. People felt safe. People felt they were their well-being was of highest priority and that the company was doing something that was top to bottom positive in the world. And for me, I think about that not just in, you know, maybe the products or services or what the company does to maybe stay, stay alive and generate revenue. But I think about that in terms of everyone the company potentially touches. You know, even I thought of the model of the San Francisco, then senator or other monasteries or or practice centers as a model after doing retreats, for example, a Green Gulch Farm, Zen Center and also at the Insight Meditation Center in Santa Cruz, led by by Gil Frantz Dale. I just found these collectives, these conscious communities that had, you know, there are different and there are different flavors of them, but they have this BS in a beehive, kind of. That’s the best way I can describe it. This piece in a beehive kind of flow to them where everyone has a job and everyone might have, you know, is practicing with their job and and is paying attention. And, you know, at the end of the day is practicing together in these communities. And I just love that. And actually, before I decided to start the company, I was seriously considering going into monastery and monastic living for an undefined amount of time. And I asked myself. What is the best way you know what? What are the best ways that I can contribute to society right now? Is it to go and sit in a monastic setting? Or is it to become a therapist? I was actually thinking about doing complete career change after being in biotech for for nearly 15 years. I was thinking about becoming a therapist and then and the third was, well, I have all these skills in biotechnology and understanding, you know, how to to bring groups together and how to, you know, do something in the business sense. How can I shift that into something that is a benefit to the world and and aligns with my as my spiritual values and my core values as a human being? And so that’s that’s really the question posed that my company came out of. And so so our mantra at Mantra bio that that I coined was well-being for all. And you know, there are many things that I try to practice and I try to do it, you know, in a non secular way. Um uh. And and that is one no one, you know, caring about people respect trust. Number two, communication. So, you know, being able to have very candid communication. Uh, very, uh, you know, feeling heard, I think is a really important thing that I think a lot of American corporations don’t value that I that I think is allows people to be themselves to be authentic and and still not, you know, not to interfere with, you know, getting things done right. And the third is actually around leaning into difficulty. So leaning into what’s not comfortable. So, you know, those are kind of the three sample principles that that I think we at as a company now. We’re about 15 people now are practicing. And in addition to all the science and research that we’re doing and, you know, drug drug development that we’re doing here, here at the company, yeah, there were there were many things that I that I thought of carrying over and it is a challenging thing to um. To bring in some of those concepts into the workplace, it is something that I’ve had to think about and feel into to to really understand whether or not it’s the right time. You know, I would say earlier in the development of the company, there might have been things that I have been, you know, more found more motivated and kind of more passionate about bringing in. And for example, those would be where we had everyone meditating every day. Uh, when we started the company, first thing you do, we all sit in a room before we start the day and we sit together, no matter whether or not you liked it. And, you know, over time, I realized that that wasn’t something that was going to be able to grow very well as a company got larger just because it needs to be it. There’s a line between as an organization, something that you instituted as a requirement and something you institute as a, you know, we invite you to do something like this. Right. And and the invitation, you have to be very, very, very careful about what is an invitation and what is a policy because there are all these indirect views of what is an invitation to what actually isn’t an invitation. When you think about the workplace, you know, for example, your boss tells you to do something and and you always think you have to do it, you know, just as an example, or even if the boss says something lightly, you think you have to do it right? And so being in the position that I am in as a founder and the leader of the organization, I have to be very careful about how, how I do that and even, you know, even how how I elevate Buddhism in general, because there are we have a variety of spiritual backgrounds in our company, you know, Hindi, Jew Judaism, Christian Catholic atheists, you know, and it’s, you know, I have to be careful about how the word even lands on on the other. So I’ve really been having to think about intent and impact. And I think that that is one of the things that. I’ve introduced in my co-founder of introduced in terms of communication and and being able to say this is how I feel. And framing everything in terms of one’s personality or one’s one’s character or one’s ideas or thoughts and feelings versus impact. Right. And so this this this this difference between intent and impact. So I think there is a Buddhist concept within intent and impact, of course, of being aware and conscious of how something you do or say or your actions might land on another person and how they might impact them. But that’s one thing that we try to be. We have some specific coaching on and communication that we try to model that I try to model.
Being Lineage Holder
Well, I’m so I have been a huge beneficiary of the Dharma and my practices and my lineage. And um, you know, that is something I’m very confident in. There’s there’s absolutely no possibility of where I am today without all of my practices and also the outlook that I have and just this this feeling of being on the path and that the path is the one I wouldn’t ever want to to trade. Let’s see if I have a choice. But but um, I. The confidence of sharing that and being open about it is is one that I think while in some respects I want to share that I also, uh. Are not going to trade conferences, biotechnology trade conferences and telling everyone, you know, and they say, Oh Montre bio what? I got Typekit i a question, why is it called mantra? And I say, Well, because our mantra is well-being for all, and we believe in the well-being of all the patients that we seek to treat, as well as our as our employees and our company. And that kind of stops there, right? I don’t I don’t say I’m a I’m a zen practitioner and I don’t go out to that limb. And part of that is, I guess I’m inviting more curiosity to come in and say, you know, um, because I think there’s among practitioners when they see the word mantra, they immediately I started when I talked to a practitioner about mantra about, they immediately asked me a ton of other questions because they understand what that word is, and it’s not really a sensationalized word that you see in the media and so forth. Right. So, um yeah, there’s a balance of of a question for me is how. What benefit is it for me to get up on a speaking platform or some sort of elevated, you know, exposure and and talk about my values and talk about the company? I’m sure there is some value. And how do I balance that with the ego? And how do I balance that with being being skillful about it? Right. And you know, I’ve. I have kind of taken the approach of focusing on my practice and focusing on my practice and focusing on my practice and doing the work and doing the work and doing the work. And so those two things have have been have worked for me. I feel very nourished by them. I’m not grasping for trying to be on the cover of Buddha CEO or whatever that is and, you know, and so anyhow, that’s that’s my response to that question. And yeah, I’m also remain curious to how can I be? Is there is there something that’s that’s that I can be that where I can be a benefit if I’m if I’m opening up more and talking about this more? And I have seen that in the past, you know, with the venture capital with gusto that I saw and I saw him, it wasn’t, you know, and he gave me inspiration from that, just from that talk. Right. And so, yeah, there there’s there’s I think there there’s definitely something to be said about, you know, holding the torch . And I think in. In the lineage that I am participating in, you know, the traditions get passed from from warm hand to warm hand.
How has the path manifest in your daily experience? Does it reflect in your work and relationships?
The path is the core pillar of all decisions on livelihood for me. The dharma is typically where I turn for consultation or as a guide. And I practice with the brahma-vihara’s and the eightfold path as a daily contemplation. It has guided my foray’s in work, such as recently starting a Healthcare company with it’s mantra, “well Being for all.” I am nourished by the purpose I’ve discovered through my exploration of the Path and it manifests in every relationship that touches me.
I am nourished by the purpose I’ve discovered through my exploration of the Path and it manifests in every relationship that touches me.
Who is your teacher(s)?
I started at the San Francisco Zen Center and thus, Soto Zen in the Mahayana tradition, has been the lineage that I have been most seated in. I appreciate the ritual and forms of Zen; as well as the attention paid to zazen posture. The sitting group I began attending at SFZC, Young Urban Zen, quickly became my Sangha and again, it felt natural to continue deepening in this lineage. I have explored Vippasana through the Insight Meditation Center as well, which has continued to be an increasing part of my practice as well.
I do not have a formal teacher, but have received many influential teachings from Shundo David Haye, who I met through SFZC, as well as Gil Fronsdale at the Insight Meditation Center (Redwood City).
How long/often do you mediate?
I began in 2013 fall with one weekly sit with a sitting group. In 2014, it evolved into twice a week; in 2015, it evolved into 3-5 times a week; and starting in 2016,
I established a daily sit (typically 20-25 minutes), which I carry forward now, every morning.
Which sangha do you normally attend?
I think it would have been impossible for me to develop my spiritual practice where it not for the safe container, resources, teachers, physical space, and community @ SFZC. In particular, the sitting group that I began with, Young Urban Zen, allowed me to open myself up and reveal my vulnerabilities as well as my curiosities to 20-something to 30-something community that was also experiencing a lot of the challenges of finding your way in this age range. We sit, we listen, we learn, we encourage, we support, we celebrate, and we cry together. Without my Sangha, I believe self-love would take on an entirely new meaning for me. I am deeply grateful.
What is your primarily profession?
I am an entrepreneur in the biotech sector. In 2016, I started a cancer therapeutics company, ‘Mantra Bio’, directly inspired from my practice. After working at corporate jobs, I was frustrated by my inability to bring my spiritual self to work. I felt a lot of personal tension in existing within two versions of myself and that tension felt dissonant. Mantra Bio is my attempt to fully integrate ‘life’ with ‘practice’ and vice versa. I feel fortunate and proud of the opportunity to explore this edge with teammates that believe in a broader person to serve for the Well Being for All and I am so privileged. We begin each day together with a morning sit. It’s a broader purpose to bring therapies that can address the suffering of cancer patients, their families, and their communities.
In 2016, I started a cancer therapeutics company, ‘Mantra Bio’, directly inspired from my practice