During the sixties. In the sixties I grew up in southern Illinois and went to Chicago for College Education Institute Design of Illinois Tech. I was in my twenties and I was hired pretty shortly after graduate doing undergraduate work to teach at the University of Illinois and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. So I was teaching in both schools and my first marriage we had children. We had young children, five or six years old, but it was breaking up that wasn’t working out. My brother was a jazz musician in Chicago. His well-known played Palmer House and all the other. A lot of the big venues in Chicago are known as a musicians musician kind of person. Never became really famous, but very well regarded. And he had a lot of musician friends and I naturally met a lot of his friends and one of his friends was a drummer and he and I were talking one day and I said something about LSD. Everybody was taking LSD and psychedelics and all that experimentation was going on, including my students.
Well, I you know, I’m not paranoid about this, but I think the general attitude is we if we have self-anointed teachers popping up and claiming they’re Zen masters, which we’ve we’ve seen in America, they may see themselves that way. But what they’re transmitting to their students may not only be not very adequate, but even dangerous. We’ve had suicides. We’ve had people go nuts, you know, and have to be institutionalized. We’ve had it’s like anything else. You can be Buddhist in name only or Zen in name only, and you have a skewed idea of what’s what it’s about. So this issue is a non-issue. It’s broadly known, and we see a lot of scandals, not a lot compared to the size of the movement. If you want to think of it as a movement, I don’t think truly movement. But just as you have Christians in name only and you have scandals within the Christian church and so forth of all kinds financial, sexual, everything else. Finding a true teacher has always been kind of a man in Zen and Buddhism that you have to find a true teacher and you’re the true teacher. You may not have any affinity with you in the sense that they are teaching Zen. The way you understand it. Dogen was succeeded by Joe, as I said, and Joe was a couple of years older. A Joe was a scholarly type. And the story goes that he visited Dogen, and everything Dogen was talking about made sense. You know, he already sort of agreed with everything. Nothing was controversial. And he was getting ready to leave, thinking kids sort of absorbed everything he could during his visit with Dogen. But then Doug and started talking differently and saying things that didn’t make any sense to him at all, and maybe he had never thought of or he couldn’t agree with or whatever. And they seemed to contradict the teachings as he knew them as a scholar. And so he decided, maybe I better stick around. So he ended up staying, and sure enough, he eventually becomes Dorgan’s successor. So if you read Dogen, you can kind of see how that could have happened, because there are many of Dorgan’s teachings where you say, you know, this really sounds like what I’m looking for and this makes a lot of sense. And this is really clarifying that all of a sudden you get gobsmacked by something, whereas like, you know, this makes no sense at all. How can he be talking about this? What’s this? You know, and I can’t get my head around this. So the lineage, I think it’s important in a social sense, like I use the model of the personal, the social being, the sphere surrounding the personal sphere, the social sphere, the natural world, and natural universal sphere. So in relation to our personal practice and the social sphere, how we propagates and starts to move into the social sphere, making a space available, conducive to practice, you know, is one of the services you can do to the larger community. You can make a place where they can come and there’s some degree of sanctuary. They can sit here and not be bothered. You’re making sure it’s not too noisy, not too hot, not too cold. And place they can come back to is going to be the same next time they come back. Basically the same. So you’re as a disciple or a priest, you’re entering into the social realm. You can go sit in a cave for the rest of your life. You don’t have to do anything like that. But typically, once people start to benefit from the practice of Zen meditation, they naturally want to share it with others. And and we think sharing the Dharma is the most you can do for anybody else. Doesn’t mean it’s going to work. It doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to access it or understand or get into as in life themselves. So the the point of the lineage is just really it’s kind of credentialing and it’s not so that you can pat yourself on the head or feel better about yourself, but it’s more so that the people you teach or the people you work with in your community can trust you. Are they they think they can trust you and hopefully they can trust you. Oh, since they took me aside one day in Chicago and he said, you must become a priest, not for yourself, but so that others will listen to you. So we live in a credential society. If you don’t have credentials, nobody will listen. So I said, okay. And so then I was teaching full time, had two young children, two jobs. You know, life was complicated, but I made time to go there and I would come in and take care of a Tuesday evening or a Thursday evening, open the place up. And he taught me how to give instructions, how to correct posture, how to lead sessions as he was. He was taking on disciples of that time and his earlier career. He hadn’t really taken on disciples. So I got there at a at a good time. And so I gradually began to pick it up by osmosis from him. Really, it’s a little hard to describe how a teacher trains you. It’s a pretty much an apprentice mode. Like if you build a Steinway piano, you stand next to the master and he does something with wood, and you just try to do the same thing he does until eventually you become a journeyman if you’re an apprentice and eventually, maybe a master yourself. But there’s very little conversation. It’s like, do what I do, watch closely, pay attention, you know? So we think of Zen training as an apprentice mode type of training, like a guild, kind of like a guild. And the craft you’re learning is something which is difficult to express as a tangible good. You know, Uchiyama famously said that useless, worthless. But it’s in the in the commercial sense, it’s kind of worthless. It’s not you can’t sell it really, and you can’t. But it’s the most valuable treasure in the world from from our perspective. So the lineage, the fact that that I’ve got this list of all the Buddhas and ancestors and we have certificates that we make out and some of them are preprinted, much more commercial. The smaller ones that are fold up and are preprinted. He would fill in his name at the end. In your name? Before his name was his father’s name. Who? Who he succeeded, which in Japan is not that unusual. And then before him it goes back to Kazan’s energy, where it usually splits and back to do again a couple of generations before then. So usually by when it goes, a couple of generations from Dogan at Kazan, it splits into all of these many, many lineages in Japan. Okumura Rush’s lineage and Matsuoka is lineage share one person after Kazan, and then it splits. So when I did the formal ceremony with Okamura Roshi, I painted my own certificates. They’re about five feet long and 18 inches wide on silk. And there these intricate paintings again, my design training helped me with it and I’ve made templates for my students to follow so it’s easier for them, paper underlayment and so forth. But you paint this sort of intricate line pattern that starts with shocking harmony, but a goes down through Bodhidharma, through Dogen and so forth. It comes down at the end is your teacher’s name and your name is the last one. So each certificate has to be redone because adding one more name and then there are two other versions of those are called Sun Matsu. I think there’s a three, three things in the Abbot’s closet or something like that, some much that it’s called Buzzer II, the, the list of the Buddhist ancestors. And we chant a chant. It goes like shocking moon name. But I shall be my starts would be Bashir, who is historical, but it be about you. But it also comes down to shock, immunity and goes on and we chant that as a ritual celebration or recognition of the ancestral line coming down to us said to be an unbroken line. When you study the history, you find out there’s some dog legs and it’s not exactly unbroken. So that’s a very, very traditional thing. It it’s only equivalent in the West that I have been able to think of as like the saints and Christianity. And they don’t necessarily have an ancestor teacher coming before them in a line. But the commonality there is the Buddha’s ancestors patriot, the cult patriarchs. Most of them are men, there are a lot of women. And we’ve traced the women ancestors and we have separate chants for them. They’re not exactly a teacher to student, teacher to student, teacher to student. But there are many, many women in history, and there got to be thousands and thousands of names lost to history that we don’t we don’t even know. But this list of the ancestors, when you chant through it enough times, they start standing out as real people. And for many of them, if you look them up and their books are written about this and you can Google it and so on, they’ll say nothing else is known about this person, but some of them have extensive histories where they’re well known. There was a lot written about them, so they start to become very real people to you and you start to feel like, okay, you’re next in line. Here I am, you know, and I’ve got this thing coming through me to transmit to the next generation. And so in the Western society, again, it’s only the reason it relates to the Saints is they each claim personal experience, some sort of personal epiphany and they God, Joan of Arc burned at the stake. You know it didn’t always work out well, but unlike the ministers and Southern Baptists, I’m in several interfaith panels and so forth. So I’ve learned a lot about those. They don’t have anything quite like that. I mean, they don’t know who their teacher is and who their teacher’s teacher maybe. But it’s not considered a transmission from person to person down. Going back to its founder, Shakir Mooney, going back to Jesus, you know, early on, maybe the disciples were like that, you know. So I think it has all of those connotations. But in in Western society, it’s almost a negative in that we want to be absolutely modern, you know, and not so corrosive. We would say Zen is always contemporary, always contemporary. So for us, it’s kind of like for me as a designer, I have an esthetic appreciation of all these things. You know, this is a this is actually a certificate of my teacher’s calligraphy dating and recording one of my later ceremonies. And this is a very fancy rock this through, which would be very high ranking in Japan. But when the first time I was a Haig monastery in 1989, we were wearing brown versions of these rock shoes. My my friend, I was traveling with one of my senior students, was a psychiatrist, and he had traveled and stayed in Japan for five years before and taught psychology and psychiatry. So he and I were there together, talking with a gentleman named Matsunaga sensei, who was the head of the English speaking department at Haig. So we’re sitting around the third day we were there, kind of like a friendly conversation with him and Minami, San Minami was our sort of guy who was taking care of us. And Matsunaga, among other things, you said he’d come to America and try to establish a Zen center. It didn’t work. And he went back to Japan. He said, We don’t really know how to tell you what to do there and how to make it work in America. And he said those those practices are very high ranking. So we took them off and put them I said, No, no, that’s okay. You’re American. So it because we are American, it doesn’t matter, you know, so you have to have a sense of humor to engage in the legacy. But it’s on the other hand, it’s there. These were real people. And many of them you can look up and study their teachings is phenomenal. I want to make one remark about the cult. I think most religions look at Buddhism. Zen in particular is kind of a harmless cult, but it’s the opposite of a cult, really, because we train everybody to do everything. And if I get hit by a truck tomorrow, other people step in and keep everything going. So and I call it you have to go to the one person who is the no, I’ll be all. It’s the opposite. And at the end of this informal ceremony, that sense they did with me, we had these things called Zaghawa bowing cloth. We put them down a certain way and you put the top edge of his goes over the bottom edge of yours. And then you reverse that and you put your us on top and his on bottom and you’re doing vows to each other. That’s part of the ceremony. I remember that very distinctly. And sure enough, when I went through it with Okamura Roshi, we did the same thing. And after that ceremony Matsuoka Roshi said, no, that’s, that’s the idea of Zen, you know. And then he, he sent me a certificate, but it’s not the formal Japanese style silk certificate or you sent me a certificate he had printed on one of these beautiful, radiant kind of certificate in a Western certificate, and he painted calligraphy on there. And so he was, he was adapting Western styles of doing things, integrating him. He knew that we would figure out how to do all this in the future anyway. And he saw himself as a transitional figure, you know, which he was. But the way we look at it is the way I look at it is China didn’t have to forever report back to India. Japan didn’t have to. Korea didn’t have to report back to China. You know, eventually there’s a cutoff point where now it’s on you. You know, you have to carry this forward in your own culture. So that’s the exception to to the rule of the of the legacy and lineage being this. And it can only be this. And that’s where the creativity and innovation comes in. Yeah, that’s a.
I’d say, yeah. If you kind of forgot the first question, but maybe you can remind me. But taking off where you left off, um, Soto’s in. In Japan. I understand there’s something like 18,000 temples on the island. Japan. So huge. 15,000, maybe. And then runs, I think, is 8000. Oh, Baku is smaller. So part of my background in design, I worked in retail and I was a consultant to retail chain national retail chains, and they have what they call location strategies and they have strategies for expanding and so forth. And so we think of propagating them. You’re kind of in that same category. You’re trying to figure out how do we make this widely accessible? So the two kind of polarities you can think of are like a 7-Eleven or a Walmart, you know, and a Walmart is a huge, let’s call, a destination per shop. A huge draw. You have to drive a long way to go there unless you happen to live next door. But it’s worth it because they have everything. And then you can drive back home and you’ve got all the stuff you need for some time. You know, have to go back for a long time. So that would be equivalent to a monastery. That would be like a big monastery. Right. So 7-Eleven has convenience. You know, it’s on the way home from work or it’s in the neighborhood and I can just drop in. And so I think in practice, our model is more 7-Eleven than Wal Mart. So if you if you’re in Japan, you turn a corner, you may find yourself walking along a big, tall wall and you don’t know what it is at first. But then you might come to an opening. You realize that’s a temple sitting here on the corner. Right. And it’s in a neighborhood in, you know, in town neighborhood across from a bunch of stores and stuff. So it’s everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. So that’s what I mean by the 7-Eleven model. It’s an access. It’s a convenience model. So that’s our model in practice. We think the magic model will probably grow and be pretty vital here, but it’s not I don’t think it’s ever going to have the role and function that it did in the East and in Europe, for that matter, because they became the universities. That’s where you went for higher learning and that’s where you went for intensity of training. You stayed there for a while. So if you look at what we do with universities now for your program, you know, eight, eight year master or Ph.D. program, all totaled and so forth. That’s more where that category fits. And some people, I think in America are kind of pretend monastics in their own mind and they’re working on a job and they’re not. And frankly, you go back to Japan and you go visit Asia and SOG, and you’ve got priest behind counter selling trinkets to to support the place. So they’ve become kind of tourist attractions. But here, I think our model for propagating Zen is more along the lines of Let’s see if we can make this available and not make it too difficult to start. We’ve spent quite a bit of our time defining how how to do a startup group, and so people would train here and then retire and move somewhere else and we’d say, okay. And then they contact and say, You know, I really miss the Sangha. Like, you know, what can I do? So we’d say, Well, you can start up your own setting group and we’ll back you up. We’ll help you with that. And we’ve developed a method in which we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we figured out a certain formula, like, you need to get four people trained to open the place. Keep the time, at least not doing anything weird. And then you can offer weekly meditation. And that way you only have one once a month. And if you have to miss your time, one of the other three can substitute. So it’s like just simple formulaic rules like that that you learn the hard way as they do in retail. You locate a store in the wrong place, you’re in trouble. And so we’re trying to make it accessible on a very user friendly, family oriented basis. Family First in late practice and we encourage people not to sit in our basement, you know, go to the local Unitarian church. Don’t bring it into your home. If you start bringing the public into your home. And they have to come in once a week, it gets to be a real problem where you didn’t really want to do that. You know, unless you’re your bachelor or something, living alone, maybe. But so we have certain, what would you call them, protocols and so forth that we’ve developed on how to how to start up a new group where there may be another group that you sat with, but they’re not quite Zen or they’re not you’re not as comfortable with that as you would be. And for a person to start a group, it’s a very much higher level of commitment to their own practice. And so we we look at as a training vehicle for that individual. So we we call those people practice leaders. They do not have to be fully ordained priests, but they do have to conform to certain ways of offering the practice. The first thing they have to know how to do, of course, is to open the door and keep the time. But typically the first piece of more difficult information is how to give instructions, how to give the instructions for how to sit in meditation, in meditation. And our instructions are very specific and different from what you would hear. Not totally different, but different from I think they’re more stripped down and simpler than, say, Theravada or Tibetan and so forth. We don’t spend a lot of time unless people want to talk about it. History, philosophy, it’s more Here’s how you do it, here’s teach them method, here’s the way to sit. And then as questions come up, if that local practice leader feels uncomfortable trying to answer certain questions on certain levels, they can refer them back to myself or back to one of our other senior teachers online. So we will answer those questions for you and then we join you online for for group presentations, conferences. We have a new start up in Birmingham, Alabama, where we’re planning now to go over there. And April or May have a public event and before that have a couple of teachers online where I join them online, we have a discussion, I answer questions, they get to know me. So when I come to town, they’re interested in attending and that gives the local group a boost. So it’s all this practical get it done kind of thing to propagate soto zen on a ease of access user friendly basis. And we’re fully aware of the problem of setting somebody up as a leader of a group when they’re not qualified. And, and then if they can give the instructions, if they can open the door and close the door and prepare and clean up after whatever has to be done. And they don’t have any really far out ideas about Zen that they’re wanting to impose on a group and so forth. We trust most people to be able to pull that off and very, very rarely will get a problem with a a a practice leader. Usually they have a problem and they just can’t sustain it and they have to stop. So that’s kind of the way we approach it and our training modules are based around that. The first training module was how do you how do your leaders in meditation session, how do you tell people what to do? The second level is how do you lead a Dharma dialog if it’s nothing more than a book reading or book discussion? Most groups, once they’ve been sitting for a while and you get up to about 12 regulars, that’s pretty stable, and they’ll start saying, shouldn’t we shouldn’t we be reading something or should we be having a dialog of some kind? So how do you lead a Dharma dialog? And we have like six different models of that in our practice path prerequisites. And the third thing that comes up is how some people want to join. They want to become an initiate, they want to go through a formal ceremony and become a sort of Zen Buddhist. So how do you lead a Zen ceremony? That’s where the lineage kicks back in, and that’s where the Booster II kicks back in, where only a brown robe can give the precepts. And the reason for that, and we used to let disciples give the precepts, conduct these ceremonies. But the reason for that, as Okamura Roshi explained, is that it takes away from the meaning of the transmission. If you let somebody who’s not been transmitted, give somebody else the precepts. But at the same time, Okamura Roshi said, Who are we to tell somebody? They cannot wear the robe. Right. So it’s not like an authoritative thing. It’s more like it’s a respect for the tradition of the robe and, you know, all of that rather than demanding of authority over something. So what we do is I or one of the other Brown robes we have for in our group, the large, the mass under the National Sangha are our lineage. We have five brown rooms at this time, and any of them can get online with you and they just give the precepts. The local person is maybe usually a black robe. We like for our practice leaders to be at least a black robe, but even a disciple, we would allow to do a ceremony where they just handle the garments and put them on the person, like the vestments in the beads, and they have to be trained how to do that. So those three things, how to lead a meditation session and do it accurately, doing well, not confuse anybody. How to lead a Dharma discussion and how to lead a ceremony are the three kind of things that progressively occur. And the person who is a practiced leader needs to be trained in. Now, it’s always possible that I don’t want to do that stuff, you know, I’m just I just want to open the doors and let people sit. And that’s fine, too. So if people want to have a ceremony, they come here, they go to one of our other major centers and go through ceremony. So we want to make it possible for a practice leader to go as far as they want to go, they just want to become a disciple. That’s fine. But if there’s no way for them to have a sitting practice without opening it up themselves and we we will help facilitate that and going have to carve this you need. Yeah I think I’ve got some work to take a little break. I’m a talker. Start me up for stop.
I think all all roads lead to Rome kind of thing. It’s all all the tributaries and end up in the ocean. And I think Zen is the ocean. You know, I think Daoism says the ocean is strong because it is beneath or below everything. So I see all of these as fine. That’s fine. You know, we have people come to us all the time from all these other traditions and they all have a reason why they finally left the other tradition. And we explain to them that Zen is different and is very simple and you may not like it, you know. But I think what happens is those are all feeders, feeders, you know, to Zen, you can’t get Zen is irreducibly simple. You can’t get any simpler than Zen to sit still enough long enough. You know, it’s unbelievable, you know, that it that would work without a whole hyper structure and other forms of Buddhism say no, no, no them meditation until you’ve taught them all the what’s the reasons for it and all the philosophy behind it. But Zen to my way of looking at it, it’s like jump in the deep in, you know, or jump in, swim, see if you can swim. We did a I was involved in research for consumer products, a new product development, and we did a study of the musical instrument industry when they were first coming out with these electronic keyboards and sound synthesizers and stuff that you could build electronic instruments. And it showed things like You have to buy a piano for your kid, and then you got this piece of furniture and the kid doesn’t want to play the piano anymore. And so our design team, I was in charge of the design part of it. We this was Wurlitzer and I think I can’t remember who it was. There were two companies wanting to merge and look at the musical instrument business and we said for instance, you could have a modular keyboard where you buy a small keyboard and you could plug another one in to get up to 88 keys and so forth. And that way you minimize the cost risk. And so ideas like that. But the interesting thing about it that I think relates to Zen, the markets was segmented into two large groups. One thought that their kid had to go through scales and drills and lessons and all this stuff before they could ever become musical. And the other whole like 50% of this pretty large sample that we would interview and not directive or qualitative type of study. No, no, no, no. Just give them an instrument. They’ll learn to love it. And later on they will do the hard work of learning the scales and stuff like that. Just and as it turned out, the first group, the parents were not themselves musical. They had no musical ability or training. The second group, the parents were musical. And so it was you could see there was a level of experience that said, it’s not like that. You don’t have to do that. You know, it’s like this. And so I think it’s the same thing. And then if you’re experienced, you kind of know the basics. You don’t have to study Buddhism to do Zen. And once you do Zen, you might want to study Buddhism, right? So it’s like the pedagogy is 180 degrees flipped. It puts your experience first.
Matsuoka did not do retreats when I was pregnant with him in the sixties that I know of. He may have, but I don’t think he did. We had sun 10 to 10:00, 2:00 on Sundays and Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and then we’d have and we’d go out and do events together. Sometimes he’d give a talk and I’d go along, answer questions and things like that. So when I first started looking into getting right with God, you know, updating my credentials, so everybody would say, okay, you’re legit or whatever. One of the things they have on the on the question, the form is this person does retreats and what kind of retreats do they do and so forth. So I’ve never done that. And they actually had once they moved to Evanston, the Chicago temple where Kongo lived, he had a large screened in back porch, and I started doing retreats there. But as far as I know, my talk over the ten those, but I’m not sure he was like, you know, big Buddha man sitting there for the full time. So I never thought they were important. And I thought the qualitative do it more, do more Zen qualitatively when you’re doing it was the most important thing rather than the quantitative. But when I, I said, well, it looks like, you know, let’s see if we can do this. So I started trying them here and we did I think the first year I did ten retreats that were I think we start out with two day retreats and we worked up to five day retreats. I was curious to see if I could do that and sort of sit through that and know what’s going to be okay. And if our our group would do that, by the end of the year, we had ten or 12 people attending. So I could see that this could work. And we’d actually I hadn’t done them, but another one of our teachers had done them at the old place, had done some retreats. And so it occurred to me that in Zen you can’t really separate the qualitative and the quantitative. That is, if you do it for five days, it opens up this big window of opportunity. I think it was like the crescendo form and music. If you only sit in an hour and has kind of a crescendo form like a wave, you break, and if you sit for a day, it has that same thing through the day and each hour has it as well and so forth. And if you sit for a week, Wednesday, hump day or whatever, you hit that and if you sit for more than one week, so forth. So it seemed to me that the crescendo form of the thing building to some sort of a climax and then tapering off was inherent and that if you do sit for the longer retreats, you get over that hump and the hump is like, Oh, what am I going to be doing this afternoon? You know, well, you’re going to be sitting here just like you are now, you know, what am I going to be doing tomorrow? Same thing, right? And so once you get to that point where you’re not, you know, living in the future and worrying about driving home and everything, you’re just here and you’re going to be here. So get over it. Get into it. That I found very compelling. And I could see this is the reason we do retreats. So for similar reasons, I tell people when they’re sitting in meditation, they’re having trouble sitting, still hurting and it’s nice. Always move, move. Don’t sit still. Keep moving all the time, you know. And then maybe you’ll find out why we sit still eventually. So same thing with quantitative. Qualitative. I don’t think you can separate them in Zen, although we can’t separate them in anything like study of music or art or anything else. The amount of time you put into it is pretty determinative of the qualitative nature of your experience and expertize, etc. So that’s why I think retreats are important. And the other thing is that if you come here and sit, it’s different from sitting at home. If you sit at home, the refrigerator turns on or I got to defrost the refrigerator. You know, you have strings to everything. When you come here, you, you close the door behind you and you go here. And I’m just here to do this. And this place is designed for this. Right? And so I think the retreat is similar to that. It’s just you go further, you go two and a half hours out of town. You’re going to be there for three days, you know, and you turn the phone off and an I retreats. We don’t require that people turn their phones off. You want to stay in touch? Fine. Just do it. But then you may learn why you don’t touch. So we’re very liberal and we don’t require we don’t have a requirements even for the formal path. We call them prerequisites. That’s that is if you just like a prerequisite in college, you know, if you want to study advanced physics, you’ve got to study math, you know, as a prerequisite and so forth. So that’s the way we approach it. And I think really it makes a whole lot more sense in American culture to other people might say, you’re not disciplined enough, I need more structure and so forth. And I tell them it’s structured, it’s inherently structured. We don’t have to create a structure for Zen. Is that just to clarify, is is what you talk about interests which and what you how you found valuable we of you discover there is this fellow in the whole lineage of Soto that it’s yeah okay. I mean I think so. I think so because one of the things that you’d like in a of practice, maybe retreats, was as important because you had your lay household or because that was curative. Sir, you say like your teacher. Right. Would treat that well. He did. You did in his training as he got in. But you didn’t stay with him at that time? No, no, no. So so I take the same similar approach with my students. It’s their practice. It’s not mine. I’m not going to design their program. If you come here for a 30 or 90 day angle, you design it and you show me what it’s going to be, and then I will support and be here with you for the things I can help you with. But I’m not going to I’m not going to plan your practice. So I think it’s different in all countries because the social situation was so different in Japan that if you came to the monastery, they had this is the way we do it, you know. So I think your question goes to a deeper one, which is it? Take the expression we have to do is awesome. All right. And in one of the podcasts, I challenged that idea. What do you mean? You have to do zazen? Bodhidharma said. You don’t have to do zazen. All you have to do is grasp the vital principle. So you can’t form a causality with sitting in meditation and enlightenment. So the statement is incomplete. You have to say, we have to do this as in in order that or in order to and you have to finish that sentence. So you could say we have to go on retreat. Well, in order for what you know, so I think we have to look at it. This is where it gets into the Puritan mystic streak in America and the morality, the ethics discipline as as imposed from outside, etc.. And Zen self-discipline is the only discipline. So when you start putting the have to choose on things, you have to do this, you have to do this. You have to do this. You have to do this. It’s absent the finishing out of that statement in order. What and if you start from the beginning, from the get go and say you don’t even have to do zazen. Right, except that you’re so such a dummy here, you’re not getting know. So I explain the reason we have to do zazen, even though Bodhidharma said you don’t. Is this not to gain enlightenment or to get anything new, it’s to get divest ourself of all the crap we’re carrying around, all the excess baggage, all of the ignorance and preconceived ideas. That’s what takes the time. There’s so much of it. It’s like mucking out the barn, you know? And eventually you get down to something basic, something real. But you can’t really claim that you have to do anything to get there. It’s all you’re already. It’s already true. You may not be there because. But nothing is revealed in meditation practice that isn’t already true. And so you can’t really make that case. But it’s built into our language. It’s built into the way we talk. So when you talk about retreat, the way I think, and zazen, the way I think about it is when you were a kid and mom was going somewhere in a car and you wanted to go because you were bored, and she said, okay, you can come, you are happy, you know, you got to go. But she said, No, no, you have to stay here. I’ll be back. And then you were unhappy because you didn’t get to go. So I think it’s kind of on that level. Zen is something we get to do. It’s not something we have to do because down is something we get to do when we get to do it. If we get to go on a retreat, we get to go on our retreat. It’s like getting to go on vacation. But if you start putting into the category of have to must do, you know should that’s not really zen. You’ve lost it already.
When I first started teaching, I was pretty much imitating motto of grocery when I came to town here in 1970, and I would catch myself doing that and I expected my students to react pretty much the way I reacted to Matsuoka, but they didn’t. And so what I said earlier about we have to have the flexibility of mind to imitate our teachers, whether it’s in art, design, music, Zen, whatever. We have to put ourselves in their hands and imitate what they tell us to do or their example. Eventually we have to have the flexibility of mind to innovate. And so I don’t know if you you know, my students are not me and I’m certainly not Matsuoka. So I had to adapt my approach. And when I, when I learned the more formal protocols from Barbara in Austin, Texas, and these are the ones that are attributed to Eiji, that is when Suzuki Shinya came over. Suzuki Roshi came over in 1960. His students in San Francisco wanted to learn all this stuff, you know, how was it done? And apparently he wasn’t any more interested in that. And Sensei Matsuoka was. And so, but the stories he brought, I think David Chadwick wrote about this crooked cucumber. He one of the books that he brought, and he brought a priest over from Eiji who would train, train everybody in these protocols. Well, Matsuoka trained at Soji and much, much earlier. So we do things like when we do the prostration, by our hands come up at the end, we, we curl our fingers like so. And then they drop down and we go, We don’t do this. And Sensei explained that this was holding the baby Buddha, holding up the baby Buddha. If you ever held a real infant, you you curl your fingers around their heels and they can stand on your palms. So every little thing like that has some kind of logic behind it and makes some sense. And so I’m not sure that the training, my training grew deeper so much as it had maybe broader. And Barbara said one time, she said, it’s better that you know these forms and decide not to do them than to not know them and decide not to do them. So the training as such is often equated to learning these rituals and protocols. But of course in Soto’s and the training is what happens in your meditation. That’s the real training or that’s the deeper training. So I have to say that from the beginning the impact of the meditation on me was pretty strong and I was not be dazzled by, you know, Matsuoka Roshi. He just was not that formal, although he would, he would robe up in public and he would and you know, every Sunday he was in his full, full robes. He never once mentioned the robe to me in the sense of going through shithole transmission where you’re given the brown robe, never discussed it once. So I thought he gave me a chroma, which is a Chinese type robe long sleeve robe, black robe. The undergarments are caramel kimono and dubon, the shirt, kimono, the Japanese. And then the coronal because it was Chinese. And then your kaso which you put on is Indian. So fully robed you represent all three major countries of origin. But he never talked about that at all. That that just was not important to him. My senior Dharma brother, Kongo Roshi, thought it was important and he he wanted to be being recognized by Japan. It was important to him. It didn’t make it didn’t make any sense to me. It didn’t compute. So through the years, through the 50, close to 50 years, I would say my practice and ability to teach others did change very much because I, I evolved to the point that I didn’t feel like I had to rely on reading from, you know, the history of Buddhism, the written record, and then commenting upon that in our six kinds of talks. One of them is totally improvised talk where you are talking to a public audience but you don’t know them or and it could be 60 or 100 people, which is not uncommon. And I recommend that you have a title that has a hook in it. So people come, you know, and then you can talk a little bit about the title of the talk you’re giving and the context. But then basically what you do is you interview the audience and you ask them how you came here to listen to this talk. And when they ask you what, what do you expect, what did you expect? You know, how do you think this is about? What do you think Zen is about Zen in the 21st century or whatever happens to be. And so and often I’ll do a survey. I say, how many people study formally under is and teacher, you know, and a few hands go up. And how many people know nothing about Zen and never even heard of it. You know a few hands go up then and the great bell curve in the middle, it’s people who practice some kind of meditation, who’ve read about Zen, etc., all those. So then I ask for people to ask questions from those groups and about what we’re talking about tonight, what does it mean to you? And I actually take notes, get four or five or six things to talk about. And so then I go back and say, now somebody over here said they thought Zen was blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so that’s correct. But the other side of that story, the rest of it is this. And so that’s a very spontaneous style of giving a talk. And you have to be pretty confident, you know, that you you know what you’re talking about. Book report type talk is where you read, you know, from a book and then you comment on what you read. And those are fine, too. So there’s six or eight different styles of talk you can give, and they all have to do with sort of where you are in your own practice. If you look at the records of the great teachers, it sounds like a talk show. You have Ananda or you’ll have su butI or Shari Putra one a Buddhist disciples. They’re asking him questions for the sake of the audience. It’s not that they don’t understand this. They’re trying to get him to clarify something further. And so it looks like Stephen Colbert and his latest movie star published a book or something. So I think that format that all talk show format that we’re so familiar with and is so ubiquitous, it goes way back to this becomes text and commentary kind of thing. So I wouldn’t say that, of course, your personal experience becomes deeper and deeper and broader and broader. But and and so the way you relate to others is informed by that. If you look at the trajectory of Buddhist teachings, he starts out teaching the noble eightfold path the middle way, and then in the lotus surgery, which is attributed to be his last teaching, he says actually there is no path that seems to totally contradict the first teachings. But the arc of his teaching is has happened over about 50 years, 40 years, and he has become more adept at explaining it and he has continued to practice. So he is going deeper into his own understanding of his own practice, of his own meditative experience and his ability to articulate it has become more and more eloquent, and his audience at the same time has been practicing all along. And so they’re more and more capable of hearing it on a much more abstract or contradictory seeming level. So by the time he’s teaching the lotus suit, it sounds like he’s contradicting his earlier teachings, but he’s not really he’s he’s expanding the definition of the path to to say that actually everything is the path and therefore there is no path as such. Right. So I think that’s what happens in any career and in any concentrated, focused effort. You become clearer. If you’ve ever had to teach anything, I started teaching, as I mentioned, at a very early age, mid-twenties. I had to really clarify, design a fortune. It was limited to like graphic design. I taught some courses on structure and drawing and stuff like that, but I had to really clarify what was the most important? Where to start? What’s the most important thing? Where to go from that? And the feedback I got from the rest of the faculty would do critiques at the end of the term, and we’d have all these exhibits out and we’d go around and you would explain what your students did. And and I got very good support and approval back from the rest of the faculty who many of whom were much more senior than I was. So I didn’t worry too much about it. I seem to be a natural teacher or seem to be able to teach, help other people learn. You might say, is the way to put it. So I think it’s your question brings up for me at least the contrast between personal experience on the cushion and the skillful means of how you now share that with others. And I would say, though, they’re hand in hand and they were for Buddha, I think, and they are for everybody. You could probably have a great classical pianist who can teach you anybody, anything, you know, and vice versa. Great teachers who themselves are not performers, not not great performers. But in Zen, I think it’s one a 1 to 1 correlation. If you don’t your authority and Zen does not come from the the vestment or the document or the your teacher, you know, ordaining you. It comes from your own experience. Experience comes first expression of far distant second. And the authority that comes with it is has to be reinforced with your experience. That’s the other connection to the Saints. The ancestors had to have their own experience or they really were kind of phony, you know, if they were basing it all just on intellectual understanding. The other side of credentialing is if your students, for instance, get to the point after the things we talked about learning how to meditate, study Dharma, study groups and book reading groups and ceremonies, if at some point they find out that you are don’t really have credentials and nobody recognizes your credentials, you know, then it’s could be lawsuit time, you know, I mean, it can make people very frustrated and angry with you, you know, and it’s understandable, I guess. I mean.
So the medium is the message. Marshall McLuhan Right. So you can understand the bit about trying to let the medium express itself. But as you’re correct, you have to have some parameters of control around it. So you could think of a sort of on a metal level, you stop trying to control the specifics of how the images rendering itself. And you start to control the parameters around which that happens. So the it’s moving to a level of how large is the canvas, you know, painting small canvases, as in the other room. Here is a different challenge to the painting. A large canvas. And so the very fact that you’re working in a certain scale begins to influence what happens. Then you can say arbitrarily introducing other rectangles into the rectangle of the of the, of the frame or the canvas is an intentional mark of human control, which we would think of as ego. But I think in both cases and art, we question this ego. We question whether it’s real true or the self, you know, and can there be an expression through a medium that begins to transcend ego, begins to transcend the self? And so the test of it, I think, is when somebody else looks at it and says, wow, that’s beautiful, you know, somebody else reacts to it. So I think of the art as existing somewhere as it has, as the truth of Zen does for you and your pursuit of meditation, Zen practice and so forth. You probably any human being, if they sit still enough, long enough, will come to similar conclusions, similar findings, conclusions and so forth that Buddha came to. But they’ll be uniquely different because you are uniquely different. So I think it’s in the same sense we can we can talk about Zen, but we know it cannot possibly mean the same thing to every any, any two people. There is a so-called coming to accord of teacher and student, and that’s more or less coming to live in the same reality and have a shared understanding. So in art, what I think happens is when I do when I produce a painting and decide that it’s okay, that it’s just showing everything I wanted to show, I don’t see how I could make it any better. I’ve actually developed the method working on non absorbent panels, including the plexiglass, so that if it doesn’t go sufficiently in the direction that I want it to go, I can wash it off and start over. If you I started out working on watercolor paper, which is very unforgiving. As soon as you put anything on, it is stained and that stain is in in the paper. So I started moving away from that to less permeable surfaces. And so if I have to if I want to, I can remix the whole thing and let it dry again, or I can completely wash it off and start over. So you do exert these degrees of control, but as I said, on a different matter level, then pushing the paint with a brush where you want it to be like France Klein making big black marks, you know where you want them to be. It’s a different level of control to that than that. So when you look at one of my paintings or any any collector or viewer, it looks at one of my paintings. They don’t see the same painting. I see it’s not possible just in physical physiology of the eye and the retina and so forth. It’s not possible that you see the same painting. We agree to call it red or blue or green or whatever, but that’s just an agreement. So the art is somewhere in between, just as the Zen truth or realization is somewhere in between. It’s not. It’s not. It’s certainly not in the words of the teachings. It’s not in you as opposed to being in me as somewhere between you and your world. And similarly, when when the art is not in the painting itself, the art is in some way between the painting, the object, the sculpture, whatever happens to be our video of film and the audience. And because I’m different from you, my painting is not the same for you. It is. As for me. So it raises the question, sort of a Zen question Where does the art exist? Where does it live? I have the choice of, for instance, the last show we did last year. We were all small pieces intentionally. And so I take that as a collaborative assignment with the gallery and Yuko, the owner of the gallery here, and I’ve had a wonderful collaboration. He’s taught me more about art and I’m sure I’ve taught him and but having having that assignment to do something under a certain size is already a parameter and everything changes to fit that parameter. If I were to do wall size murals, everything would shifted to meet that parameter. But when I when I address the canvas, I still have the fundamentals of I choose the color or the mix of color or the harmony that I’m going to use. And based on color theory or and I choose the medium I can choose to use something other than Sumi for the black. I can use paints gray or a water color black or something else. I could shift to oil paint. And that’s a whole different world when you try to work with oil, it’s a very different medium from watercolor. And so those are the choices you make. You have a full spectrum of choices which determines how this image actually translates and renders itself and comes out to be what it is in the finished piece. But then again, as I say, as I said, that’s not the end of the story. It’s when I look at it, it’s not the same as when somebody else looks at it. They’re really if you think about it, all we teach in Zen is method. We you can’t teach Zen any more than you can teach music. You can teach somebody how to play the piano. That’s method. And you can teach somebody how to sit in meditation. The method. You can teach somebody how to draw or paint the method. You can’t teach them art. That’s something that has to happen. As you were saying before, ego, you get more of your own preferences out of the way. You get you become more liberated from if if of what you might think your goals and objectives are. You you go into that kind of uncomfortable, unfamiliar territory outside your comfort zone where you’re going to let something, some accidents happen. You’re gonna let something happen and see what happens. You know? And I think it’s the same in life as it is in art. The greatest musicians are the ones who sort of transcend the training, the traditional, and let something happen where it can turn out to be not very musical, possibly, you know, and then they they manage that process, taking a risk. You think of famous artists like Jackson Pollock, Rothko, and it looks like they almost backed themselves into a corner where I have to do another Jackson Pollock. You know, I have to do another Rothko. And they both committed suicide. Well, Jackson Pollock, maybe it was accidental or this, but you have to wonder whether they felt like they had just I really don’t know. I haven’t studied lives that well, but my sense of the way I work is it’s an open door. I don’t see how it could ever become claustrophobic or confining or just another one of those, you know, because I’m sort of letting it go. I mean, I could see doing large pieces that are pylons that are a three or four layers transparent all the way through. And there’s lots of ways to extend the method, you know, and that’s the problem we have in propagating Zen today, too. As I said, as you and I discussed before, Zen is not the problem. Zen is great centers, wonderful thing. It’s how we package and present it, how we design it, really, how we design its propagation. That’s the problem the creativity has to be in and how we expose others to it. And I think it’s similar with art to creativity for sure. You know, if you guy says, I don’t like this, I can’t sell it, you know, I’ll take another look at it. And if you have art that’s not selling, you have to think you’re not quite making that connection. You’re something’s missing, you know. Well, and even just working in a traditional form, which is hanging art that hangs on a wall, it’s very traditional. You know, it’s it started when we didn’t have photography, so people were doing portraits, then they did landscapes. I don’t know which came first, but as soon as photography came along, there was not that much more reason to do portraits. You had people like Chuck Close doing really huge portraits which pixelate when you get close to them. So they are like Monets. Lily pads. I had no idea how large those were until I saw them at the museum here and there. They’re like wall size, and when you get up to them, they’re like abstract paintings. So there’s always a way to find a new angle or a new niche. You know? But I don’t think I don’t think the trust, the reason for doing art, our raison d’etre, the reason for art’s being is that I think that happens naturally within artists. They find a niche that nobody else did. And I think it’s the same in science and creativity in general. That new combination. We don’t actually ever create anything. We just remix stuff that’s already existent. In the case of painting, it’s basically mud, highly refined mud, mixing that right. So we didn’t create anything, but we put together a new combination. And when that sparks, when somebody says, Oh, that’s I see what I see what you’re doing there. You know, same thing in music, you know, putting together new sounds, some new combinations and the new media have brought a lot of more possibilities into play now. So actually painting in a traditional way this way, painting objects, making objects that hang on the wall. And that’s a painting by going three dimensional. And I’m pushing the envelope a little bit beyond the traditional and more into media, which is, you know, three dimensional screenings and so forth. But it’s still a highly traditional category of how you would place art, you know, but that doesn’t mean that there are no more possibly it is. There for meaningful work and work that other people find meaningful. And then design is said to be the pursuit of the understand ring of meaning, which sounds circular, but it’s not understanding is not the same as meaning. There are a lot of things that we understand how to drive a car, but we don’t actually understand the meaning until almost it’s too late. Worldwide pollution, air pollution. That’s one of the meanings of driving a car. And the things are very meaningful, like having a child or but we don’t understand it. So if you say Zen is a pursuit of the understanding of meaning, I think art is also, in a sense, the pursuit of the understanding of meaning. But again, the meaning of my work to you is not the same. It is this to me. It’s just cannot be both. Both pursuits go beyond thinking. And so we’re not we don’t pursue meaning and art through an intellectual process. Some people do. But what happens on the cushion in meditation? Master Dogen was 13th century Japan, founder of our style of practice, and he said, It’s neither thinking nor not thinking. It’s what he called non thinking. It means we return to kind of a primordial state of awareness where we can be sitting there for long periods of time and not have a single thought. But when a thought comes along, we’re ready to deal with it. Or if we have to study for a test or if we have to do something else, then work that muscle. But we don’t think our way to enlightenment and we don’t think our way to creativity. We have to go beyond thinking and we have to give up relying on thinking, not 100%, but going to the intuitive side of things where we allow the intuitive, which is more scary or more less dependable, less predictable to come out. That happens naturally in Zen meditation because if you sit still enough for long enough, you run out of ideas. Eventually it takes a long time because we’ve been stuffing ideas in there or life, but eventually you find yourself sitting there with kind of a ding dong, nothing happening here, frame of mind and it’s fresh, you know, it’s like you were when you were three or four years old. Fully conscious, but not much. Not not much conceptual going on. This is going beyond concept, beyond thought, beyond idea, and getting down to a direct experience of reality. So art is very much like that. I think every artist is trying to recover that original wonder or gobsmacked in presence of reality in their work and and probably most hope that their audience does too, that they kind of this triggers a an insight. You know, both are you know, enlightenment is considered a kind of insight, awakening to something. So obviously we’re already all awake. But I think the proposition proposition is very simple. We were all asleep last night. We woke up. We know the difference. We’re all still asleep now. And if and when we wake up, we will know the difference. And so I think art is and even the highest levels of science are converging on that principle. They’re trying to help all of us wake up to reality as it really is, not as we imagine it. So in that sense, art is like a mirror reflecting, and zen is like they call it the Zen mirror phrases in your mind. So you start to see reality reflected in a mirror which is not discriminating between the good, bad and the ugly. It’s just reflecting everything, and you begin to see yourself in that mirror. I think that’s what art does to you. Begin the art begins to reflect back to you and help you wake up to reality.
So back in the sixties I was in my twenties in Chicago. And that should tell you all you need to know. You know, it was the LSD revolution. It was all of this. And I was hired to teach at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle, and I was hired to teach at the School of the Art Institute. So I’m in my mid-twenties, about the same age of Doug and when he went to China. My teacher, Matsuoka, when he came to America. So the mid-twenties seemed to be very formative. And I would, I would notice, for instance, sitting in meditation in my basement, I was doing yoga, meditation, breaths, pranayama, breath, asanas and so forth. Before I ever met Matsuoka Oshima, Zen teacher, and began practicing Zen. So that kind of foundation in yoga, and I would notice, especially when sitting in meditation and I would sit in my, in the basement, you know, and that’s sorry you can edit that out, right. I would turn it off just in case. Sorry about that. I would notice the beauty of just like a stain or a spot on the floor or in the wall. And even though it was mold or it was just something in the concrete. So when I started working again in lithography and I noticed these accidental sort of happy accidents happening that had this beautiful texture pattern to them. Then I started trying to let that happen more and more. So the Zen meditation comes into play where you’re just sitting facing a blank wall, and yet there’s something almost hypnotically beautiful about what’s happening in your vision. You begin to see light and color, emotion, shapes and I recall this from being a child six, seven years old in my bedroom. The wallpaper had been papered over several times and it was very bland color, but it had lumps in it. And I noticed that those would start moving. And so I from a very early age, I had a very highly acute visual visual awareness of of my environment, especially the visual environment. So zazen sitting in meditation, Zen meditation, you’re you’re looking at a blank wall, but in a way, you start seeing what’s happening internally. So when you’re working with pigment, uh, watercolor, water, pigment, etc., you learn to look at what it’s doing, what is it trying to do, what is the medium doing? And the great, the great connection, I think, between Zen and creativity is that one definition of creativity is making the familiar strange. So if you when you sit in meditation, you’re sitting with your own consciousness, which is the most familiar thing you have. It’s what you identify with as me. That’s myself. If you sit still enough long enough, eventually it starts to change. And so it becomes strange. We had exercises in design school where you would just use your signature as a mark and work on large sheets of butcher’s paper and make the mark over and over and over, generating patterns and textures. And the teacher would critique them as, Look what so-and-so did with this. How creative this is, and so forth. But by the time you were done with that, your signature was no longer your signature. It had become this strange mark that you make that it’s like repeating the word elephant. It after a while, it loses its association with the animal. And it’s just a strange sound. So when you sit in zazen, it’s making the familiar strange. And when you paint or work in a medium, it’s also taking the familiar medium that everybody knows, think they know a watercolor. What does it do? And seeing what it wants to do and will it do something surprising? I remember very distinctly the first time I painted a roughly four by eight foot canvas with watercolor and some ink. I had no idea that it could work, that large. So making the familiar, strange creativity, I think, is the heart. Zen meditation is the heart of that in that it takes your consciousness itself. You’re immersing yourself. They’re both immersion processes. So you immerse yourself in media tools, process as wood, granite, wire, glass. This was the Barrelhouse method. The whole first year is just immersion in media. When you when I first started sitting in meditation in the sixties with Matsuoka Roshi, I recognized it very clearly as another immersion process that the medium in which we were immersing ourselves is our own consciousness, not an external, so to speak, medium. So I think that’s the biggest connection between the two. Well, even in the traditional approaches, I also do some ink painting where I paint bamboo and things with Zen expression on them. And these are for members of the Zen Center, sometimes as appreciation gifts over tokens of appreciation for for for their service and so forth. And even in the traditional approaches to painting with a brush, etc., there is that turning point at which in the beginning you have to have the flexibility of mind to imitate your teachers, as in Zen. And eventually, though, you have to find the flexibility of mind to innovate. And so sometimes we introduce in design circles, we introduce chance processes intentionally. So you may have a kind of a shuffling of the deck and dealing of the cards to get random combinations of something. And this is done in in traditional Eastern painting as well. They’ll take, you know, a container painting, just sort of throw it across the canvas and it makes a big splash. And then they’ll go on with the brush and they’ll start rendering all of the things that turns it into a landscape. But the initial mark was by chance, it was a random boat accident. Of course, we don’t think there’s any such thing as an accident in the sense that nothing caused it. So over time, in sitting and meditation, you become there are times you want to get up and run screaming out of the place and, you know, go do something else. So we call it monkey, mind you become patient with your own anxiety, patient with your own monkey mind. And as you do so, you become patient with others. More patient. If you’re patient with yourself, you can be patient with others and you become more patient with your circumstances of life. And so, you know, if I could afford to, I would love to do art of a certain scale, maybe, you know. But since I if I can’t do that, it’s okay for me to do miniatures, which I did in school because I couldn’t afford to pay for lots of materials. But so I think patients are is the main attitude that we practice in Zen. And when you’re working with a medium, you have to be very patient for the medium to start sort of expressing itself. You have to be have some humility, be willing to get out of the way, take a chance, do something random, or where you’re not incarnate. You cannot control this in the ordinary sense and then be patient with the outcome. Maybe it didn’t work out okay. So I learned not to do that again. I go back and do it again. This time I’ll do it a little differently. So it’s like any scientific experiment, experiment meant you set the bench test and you you do it. And every time you sit in meditation, it’s like you’re re you’re doing the experiment once again. And every time it’s going to be different. Same thing with art. Every time you set up the parameters and do it again. I could never paint the same painting twice. I can’t. And. But that also means nobody can really forge my work. So I did a calculation of we sit still for an hour it this at the Zen Center. I did a calculation and look and Googled the dimensions and things up online. We sat still for that hour, but within that hour removed a thousand miles to the east with the rotation of the earth. The the earth itself moved 76,000 miles in its orbit. The solar system moved like 67,000 miles in orbit. The solar system over, I can’t remember what, but the entire galaxy moved 1.3 million miles in that hour. So every time we return to art, every time we return to meditation, it’s totally different. It seems to be the same, but it’s not. And so I became more patient, comfortable with working in a mode in which I can’t control the outcome. I can’t make another image like that. I can use the same color, and we’ve done that a couple of times. UK has found a client who likes this color palette of a painting, but he wants two big ones, you know, bigger ones. So sure enough, I go and try to use the same colors and you know, so there’s some, some parts of it you can keep the same, so to speak. But there are other parts that you can’t control the difference. There’s a wonderful poem you probably have heard of sound. Okay. It means the harmony of sameness and difference to the Chinese poor man’s zen, which it talks about the interactivity of sameness and difference. So when you’re doing meditation, use for your own creativity, your own mind, your own awareness and attention to be more fresh. You know, every time you approach it, you know, when you work with a medium, whether it’s film or whether it’s paint or whatever, the medium happens to be, it’s the same thing every time it is different. But the medium, like a guitar, an instrument, will faithfully respond to whatever you do to it. That’s why it’s called an instrument, so it won’t arbitrarily play a wrong note by itself. Same thing with paint. It’ll feed back to you the same way dependably because it’s obeying the physics laws of physics. Dharma in Buddhism means law as well as teachings that are written teachings. It also means the law, the way things work, you know, physics, the way things reality works. So if you come into harmony with the way harmony with the Dharma, then you’re seeing it manifested in the way that paint behaves. Or if you build with wood and you’re familiar with how wood behaves, you can build something probably is not going to break. So it’s Daoist kind of idea of being in harmony with the way things work and to to challenge yourself. You, you set up riskier and riskier propositions where, you know, this may get out of hand, but I’m going to try.
I mean, I don’t have people knocking our doors down, but I’ve had I’ve had a lot of invitations to join MLK Day and Methodist Presbyterian Church or Unity Church, Unitarian churches, Catholic churches. I’ve done combined weddings with Catholic priests. I’ve done interfaith work. We used to have an interfaith group coming here and sitting in meditation and ministers, rabbis, priests organized by a gentleman now deceased. But he was very well known locally as a kind of a big religious leader. And frankly, I think a lot of them wanted to learn meditation about meditation because they saw other young people leaving the church and joining meditation groups. So they wanted to learn, how can we do this? Can we offer this? And what is? How do we do it? And they all recognize that they have a meditation tradition somewhere in their past, but it’s dropped away and they’re not trained in that anymore. And so they call it centering prayer or something. You know, something else, they don’t have a big problem with meditation or so certain fundamentalist sects are concerned. If you’re sitting there not thinking, it opens the door for the devil to get in, things like that. But most of them are pretty reasonable about it and they see meditation as an adjunct or something that could be combined, combined with their teaching of gospel and and their socialization fellowship kind of process. And it used to be mainly Unitarians were we’re okay with that. I started teaching again at Local Unitarian Church in 1974. So even back then they were open to it. But but I’ve been invited, as I said, by Southern Baptists, all the mainline churches that you might think would would have a problem, you know, with having somebody like me speak to two of them. And in a couple of cases, we ran into a case where they showed a video and it was sort of slamming Buddhism as not offering anything, snuffing out a candle and some of the kind of misinterpretations which only give me a foil to talk about how those six ideas are really incorrect. You know, here’s the truce group. So I don’t I think that’s changed. I think there’s a more open mindedness and meditation has become so popular that it’s almost like everybody in it. Not everybody, but many people in their congregation will be practicing some form of meditation, yoga, if nothing else. But there there is a resistance pushback, keeping it. Keep yoga out of the schools. Keep, you know, all this kind of thing. You never know what percentage that really represents in the populace, though. Yeah, actually, from a Buddhist perspective, we think that’s that’s just another form of ignorance and that’s fine. And they’ll get over it, you know, they’re.
And I was known for talking people down from bad trips and things of that nature. And he said, Oh, I don’t do that anymore. I just do Zen. Okay, well, that’s interesting. What’s that all about? And so I said, Well, I’m going this weekend. Why don’t you come with me? So that weekend I went with him to the temple on Halsted Street near Fullerton, on the North side of Chicago. I met Matsuoka Roshi, who became my teacher, so I sort of backed into that. Like everything else, I think I’d read maybe a book on Zen or to not not much. But he was not what I expected. He was very dignified, but he was also very humble and very warm and very funny and very not, not not intimidating, you know, like you might expect a Zen master to be. And so I began practicing with him. And it was helpful in the instability of my life at the time to help have this practice, which kind of like a keel on the boat, you know. And I think my my first wife at that time resented it somewhat because it was another thing taking me away from during the chores outside of my family or whatever. But they met and he talked with her and he, you know, he was sharing her that she had to accept my Zen practice because it was really genuine. And if not, she would lose me and so forth and so it just it didn’t go well and we ended up separating, divorcing and so forth. The before I came to Atlanta in 1970, so I, I started school in the sixties and moved here in the seventies. So I was in Chicago for about a decade, all told was very busy decade, a lot of things going on and Zen was sort of this constant along with design. Design was very powerful teaching for me. The House method at the Institute of Design training of that, and then teaching as a relatively young person in mid mid-twenties teaching university students who were only a few years younger than I. So you had to think on your feet. You had, you know, had to analyze a lot of what was important to learn about design at a very young age. When I didn’t have a lot of experience. So in the seventies, around the end of the sixties, it was clear that I’d been in an academic world my whole career, my whole life, adult life. And I decided to move to Atlanta with a company, a research design and development company that I had been consulting with outside of my teaching duties in Chicago because they were moving here. And so it was an opportunity for me to make the changes in my life that I had to make one way or the other. Anyway, when I came to Atlanta, I spent about three years just defraying everything and building a new life, new new relationships, etc. So it was about 74 that I started teaching zazen again at the Cliff Valley Way Unitarian Church, which is the biggest Unitarian church in Atlanta. And when I started practicing and teaching again, it was no big deal. It was just time, you know, and after that I became involved in continuing the business here. Lots of ups and downs. 74 was a depression period.
That company went out of business. I started my own company based on design. Graphic design did that for about ten years. And during that decade I was hired by a relatively major corporation and started working for them. And all along I think my Zen practice was what allowed me to maintain stability and all the ups and downs. And when I left Chicago, Matsuoka Roshi moved to Long Beach, my senior Dharma brother, Kongo Roshi took over the Chicago center. So we had the three centers, we had one here eventually in Chicago, in Long Beach, I would travel to Long Beach and Sensei would come here and we’d meet in Chicago. We met in Tokyo in 1989 when we were both traveling there separately and so forth. So we met, but we maintained our relationship at a distance during those years over something like 30 years, until he finally died in 97. And that, I think, is one of the advantages of Soto’s as compared to, say, Renzo, where you have a very strong, almost codependent relationship with your teacher, as I understand, koan, study and so on, and some of the other more devotional or traditional forms like Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism, where the relationship with your teacher is again almost codependent and Soto’s and your teacher is more like a coach, like a life coach. You could say somebody who’s interested in your progress. But Matsuoka Roshi never once told me what I should do other than just friendly advice, and he never had any requirements for me to live up to. So when he would come and visit he would see what I was doing. I started as an center. I started having students come in and so I had to start learning how to train them, do the ceremonies. And each time he would come, he would say something like, Now it’s time for your such and such ceremony Agogo sacrament, second name, ceremony, etc. Until finally he did. But it was 1983. He did what is called a shithole transmission ceremony. But it’s just he and I, very informally in a small temple on the east side of town. No, no witnesses. And later, 2007, I went through an extensive version of that ceremony with Okamura Roshi, where he came here. We were already established here at that time, and I spent three months in Austin, Texas, on Ongo with Sarah and Barbara Cone of the Suzuki lineage. So she was my preceptor and he was my shithole transmission teacher in the formal sense, and that was in 2007, and that was a seven day ceremony. He was here for seven days, so we did, and there’s a 21 day version of it in Japan. So once Sensei Matsuoka Roshi had died, my students were pressing more for their ability to become a priest, maybe have their own disciples, start a center of their own. Some of them had trained here and moved on in retirement to another city, or the job changed and so forth. So it was a moving target, a lot of moving pieces and speaking with Akiba Roshi in Los Angeles, who was the contact co-chair, Bishop of North America at that time, he kind of laid out the options that we could go through, including he he was willing to help me try to get everything straightened out. And so Okamura Roshi, Barbara Cohn, Akiba Roshi we had help from sort of the powers that be and trying to straighten out our credentials credit for time served. I had already developed a fully operating center with two or three affiliates, etc. and so as a problem solving kind of activity was, here’s, here’s what we need to do to get this straightened out kind of thing. And afterwards, at Barbra’s urging, I joined the sort of Zen Buddhist Association. They accepted me as a member and then as a full member, and I brought Matsuoka Roshi into that mix because he wasn’t, he wasn’t one of the pioneers from they didn’t know about him. For some reason somebody may have known, but he wasn’t. He had among the eight or ten or 12 that they would have on the altar during these induction ceremonies and things like that. So I was inducted into the into the sort of Zen Buddhist Association. Okamura Roshi was his teacher, Uchiyama Roshi was born in 1912, the same year as Matsuoka Roshi. Luciano Roshi never traveled out of Japan, and Matsuoka unusual for that time in 1939, 1940 came over to the United States. He said his mother told him, go die in America. And so he has a long story. And as a as I mentioned, we are working on a video documentary about following his footsteps in Japan and coming to America and all the things that he did in the in the interim. So for Okamura Roshi to do my Shiro transmission ceremony formally was probably the best thing we could do for our credentials and the credentials of my students. His credentials are unquestionable. His teacher was born the same year as my teacher and had a very similar, no nonsense style about him. And in the interim we had managed to publish the collected talks, Matsuoka Roshi and Kawasaki Lou and the crime collection of those and we have researched his biography extensively and we’ll probably publish an authorized type of biography on him, maybe after the film his older brother not so Matsuoka published a biography on him in Japanese and Japan, and we had that translated early on. So the it’s much like a Joe I think after Dorgan, a Joe was Dorgan’s successor who I only know of one small volume that he ever wrote himself and published. And of course, in those days it was rice paper, but he spent his whole career organizing and transmitting Dorgan’s teachings, making sure that the legacy of Dorgan was captured. And so our lineage and legacy through Matsuoka. Similarly, I’ve spent a lot of my so-called Zen career packaging that, making sure that’s all gathered and is published and archived and so forth. And we, we now have the tools to do that in artwork as day. We the digital revolution was just coming into play and he had put together all this collected talks in Tokyo. SOKKA From the sixties, seventies into the eighties. But we, we, we tried several different times, but we just couldn’t get them published. After he died, we were able to self-publish them through the digital technology. And in that way, I think we preserved his legacy so people now can study him and know who he is and his place in the transmission of Zen to America. Coming over before the war, he was one of the very first pioneers of Soto Zen in America, so I kind of backed into it in the beginning. I could do many things in your life, but it’s like a virus. You know, once you catch it, it’s very difficult to shake it. And because it served me so well all through the, you know, chaotic up and down periods of my life, it’s it’s become my mission. You know, Dorgan’s mission coming back from China. So this may be a true mission. Like I had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Matsuoka Coming to America was like Bodhidharma going to China, taking it to another country. And by the way, Dorgan was about 20 mid-twenties. Matsuoka was mid twenties when he came over here and I was in my mid twenties when I met Matsuoka. So it seems to me that that sort of fertile, fertile period in your life. So one of the metaphors or analogies I use for practice is in the beginning it’s like the punctuation. In a sentence you have a comma where you pause and you know you have a period where you sit longer, exclamation point maybe, or something happens, a lot of question marks and so forth. But after a while there’s a turning point in which the narrative of your personal story, you begin to realize that. And in the beginning people think I was studies, then I learn about life. It’s about life. But when you practice, there’s a turning point where you begin to realize that, No, no, no, life is really about what Zen is about. And so instead of being the punctuation in the sentence, it becomes the sentence, and everything else you do becomes the punctuation. So there’s many turning points like that in practice, but that’s one that I noticed and wrote up in one of my podcast about punctuation. We ordinarily think of as our spiritual practice, whatever it is, as punctuating our real life. But in Zen we see it, it flips, it turns around. That’s the other way. So now we have a center here, which we have several thousand email contacts online as people who’ve been here from one time or another, we’re now gaining a lot of membership online. People who have never been here physically, and we have about 15 affiliate centers around the country and in Canada, and we’re taking an approach to Zen, and I think Matsuoka Roshi would approve. He would say Zen is dead in Japan, it’s too big, been there too long, ossified every time he would go back. We know this from the the history that we’ve dug up. He would he would go back and do some more of the formal ceremony. So he never, never really turned his back on Soto shoe or the Soto shoes to mature the formal school. In any sense, he is not well known by them. He’s well known in Japan, but he’s this iconoclastic person who went off to America and did this thing and he said Zen would find its rebirth in America because of the American mindset. We’re do it yourselfers. We’re not satisfied with somebody else’s interpretation preaching to us, and we’re just listening. The first thing that I found that I really appreciated about Zen when I met Matsuoka in the sixties and started sitting with him, is that like design? It’s an immersion process, but what you’re immersing yourself in is not a medium like paint, painting or sculpture or designing wood furniture. You’re building out of glass and steel or whatever architecture you’re immersing yourself in your own consciousness. And so the medium in which you are working is your mind, is the mind. So the two processes design process and the creative process of Zen meditation are very, very similar. And in that regard. So I agree with him that I think Zen will find its rebirth here in America because we’re do it yourselfers. We excuse me, we will continue training people. Our our sangha, our community, our lineage and our legacy are really more lay practice than monastic. Matsuoka Roshi was interested in working with the Westerners who wanted to actually practice Zen meditation. He was not temple priest. I like many priests who come from countries of origin, although the Japanese would come to the temple in Chicago for Hana Matsuri, but his birthday and other holidays and for funerals. And we did weddings and but he was much more interested in the propagation of Zen practice than in the propagation of Zen as religious protocols are our ceremonial protocols. So from that standpoint, I think we’re simply extending and carrying out his legacy. And I’m applying my skills that I learned in design as to how to how to design the process so that it it works. And that involves a lot of experimentation, as you can see, by the surrounding temple here. There’s the zendo is very traditional looking and it is very traditional and our protocols are traditional. We follow the protocols, but we also engage in online Dharma dialog. We have a lot of members who all of whom are householders. We have a podcast that we call householders where we do interviews with various people, various walks of life. So we try to make it a welcoming, open door for people to come in and try this practice. And then when they run into trouble, when they run into problems, they turn to myself and other of our senior teachers. It’s kind of like coaches, you know, coaches, as I said, if the athlete is willing to do the work, some coaching can help. If the athlete is not willing to do the work, no amount of coaching is going to help. So we see ourselves more like that or like tech specialists in software that you can get hold of online or and we treat the literature that way. The liturgy and so forth is more like backup documentation to the application. And the application is the meditation. So if you’re not practicing the meditation, the documentation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But if you are then reading about studying Dharma, etc., you can find workarounds for glitches and things of that nature. So it was wasn’t until I turned 80 that I published a book and I’m glad I didn’t publish anything earlier, probably being embarrassed by it, but the original frontier kind of capsulize everything I just said into a user’s manual. It’s pretty big, 250 pages, but it has a lot of the excuses. There’s one section called Damn Your Lousy Excuses where I don’t have time and you know it hurts. What, whatever the excuses and try this, you know, something to do about it. So from our perspective and from a design perspective, design is very down to earth. Practical is for everyone, Zen is for everyone. Although everybody may not be ready for a Zen. Okay, good. So as a child, I developed the ability to draw. My brother was a musical prodigy, so I wasn’t going to get attention by being a musician. And over the years I was active in visual arts through high school and so forth, design the prom and the float for the parade and that kind of stuff. So by the time I got to University Institute of Design, Illinois Tech in Chicago, I already had a kind of a portfolio of work. And so I went to school on scholarships based on my prior work and I thought I was going to be an artist. But when I got to the interior design, it turned out it was industrial design, graphic design, so forth. And we had art courses, painting courses, and I had a lot of encouragement from my teachers in that as well as printmaking. And so my first master’s thesis was to be in printmaking, and I began to discover in printmaking that somebody was a lot better artist than I was and all the little accidental things that would have happened down in the corners and so forth. I’m trying to control the image. So with the help of my teacher, Mishcon, what’s his name? Very famous printmaker, I began to step away from trying to shape the image and just control the process so the natural forces would shape the image. And that was the beginning of my master’s thesis, which changed to be a different approach later on. But coming back to the kind of painting I’m doing now with watercolor sumi ink, swimming ink is the traditional ink that Chinese landscape artists and Japanese calligraphers use. It originally was used soot from a candle to make the black pigment. So it’s kind of oily or it’s kind of resistant to water. So when you put the two together, the fundamental forces of Earth, Wind, Fire and water, you know, all start working against each other and start composing the image. So again, I continued trying to not interfere because if you overwork it, you tend to destroy it. Ah, it just doesn’t come out as well. And yet you can’t, you can’t let it go either because it just runs, runs off and becomes a puddle or something like that. So it became kind of a dance with the pigment to dance with gravity. I work completely fluid and so it’s if you make a little tilt of the canvas that runs very quickly. So you have you know, it’s like dancing with the elements, you might say. And I started introducing the internal rectangles more recently in the past few years to punch another plane into the image, create more three dimensional space, and give a sharp, hard edge as a contrast against the fluid edge of the medium. So I think it’s a little like monkeys and typewriters. If you continued painting this way long enough, you would paint every brain image tissue would, you know, coast line. It would it would replicate every natural image of the which you can find in nature eventually. So that’s kind of where I still am. And because I paint on the glass as well as the back panel, you paint the glass and then you turn it over and sandwich it with the with the back. And sometimes I put extra layers in between. I never see it until it’s dry, until I put it together. So for me it’s often just as much a surprise as it is for my viewers or a person looking at it.
© 2021 Jack Huynh | Orange Photography
Annual update on progress of project.