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.

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.

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.

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.


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