On Idealizing and Being Disappointed in a Teacher

(Genpo Roshi recorded during the “Masters & Mensches II” Retreat, August 4, 2020)      Let me say something about what you brought up, about idealizing, because I do feel it is something we work through. We do do that, we project on our teachers a certain greatness and a certain way of being, and when they don’t live up to that of course we’re disappointed. Now how we take,…

Koryu Roshi, Koans, and Being One with Our Life

(Genpo Roshi recorded during the “Masters & Mensches” Retreat, June 9, 2020) I think it is really important that we realize we are a part of a lineage. I don’t really know or understand how it all works. I don’t think anybody does, but there’s something very real, and you hear it. You heard it in Genno Roshi’s comments; you hear it in others, like Chris sensei’s comment. There’s something…

The Middle Way is not a fine line

The way I look at it is, we talk about the Middle Way or the Middle Path, right? And I think for years I saw and thought the Middle Way was a fine line between ‘this’ and ‘that.’ And at some point I realized, no that’s too narrow. The Middle Way is everything between ‘this’ and ‘that.’ I mean you embrace ‘this’ and you embrace ‘that’ completely, and then when…

Suffering … and Joy

One of the things that I think is so obvious, though it seems we miss it growing up, is that basically everything we do and every decision we’ve made is to protect ourself from pain. We distance ourself from pain, and this creates suffering for ourself and also for others. Seeking to protect ourself, we imprison ourself in painful conditions, all to avoid our pain, to avoid being our pain. This is the cause of suffering.


Our suffering is not caused by pain itself; it’s caused by our trying to avoid or escape from pain. That’s where the suffering comes into effect. So what Buddhism teaches is the cause of suffering is our self. We form this ego-self, this façade, in order to protect our self from our pain. What Zen says is, you don’t have to go through all these steps, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and so on; you can do it all suddenly, at one time. Be one, be one with your pain….


         Excerpt from a Workshop, August 2019

Trust in Letting Go

Maybe the most important thing that we can learn is the ability to let go, and trust that it’s all OK, to relinquish, to let go.


There are certain things that are harder to let go of, of course, than others, and one of them is our mind. Somehow we’re very attached to our mind, and most of us don’t really like the idea of losing our mind. But that’s the problem, because — what mind? . . .


— Genpo Roshi, August 2019 retreat

Fear, Fearlessness, and The Buddha’s Original Practice of Mindfulness

“ … Just recognizing a fear as it arises, noticing it’s a fear, labeling it as a fear, letting it go: that’s mindfulness practice. In fact that was the Buddha’s original practice … Basically what he came up with was mindfulness practice. I think it’s moved on from that, but that was his original practice. It just means noticing an emotion or a feeling or a sensation or a thought. Noticing it, seeing ‘oh, fear’ or ‘thought’ or ‘emotion’ – letting go. It’s that simple. The moment you notice it like that, it empties it out. It no longer has a content to it, no longer has substantiality to it, it’s empty. I call it bubbles. You notice the bubble arising called fear, and it pops. … At some point it’s not even mindfulness, as I said. It just becomes a pure awareness and you just let it go. You just let it go … The willingness to face our fear is what we call fearlessness. Most of us have fear about fear. We fear our fear, and that’s the problem.”

— Excerpt from Retreat with Genpo Roshi, September 2019

On Losing Our Mind

Students, friends and people who have read my writings know that I often refer to my first opening that led me to Zen as ‘losing my mind’ and ‘going sane.’  In Big Mind work, we also discover that the fear of ‘losing my mind’ is one of the great obstacles to realizing our true nature, a deeply rooted fear that prevents us from what Zen teachings point to as the key to enlightenment, relinquishment of our attachments, the most fundamental of which is our attachment to our identity, our mind.

I recently was privileged to be read this account over the phone by my partner, Charlotte.  It was written by a colleague of hers and a friend of mine, William Swanson, an intern who works with participants in a program for elderly people with dementia.  I found myself crying most of the way through it because it was so beautiful.  In this day and age, when more of us are becoming aware of the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s, his account of his experience offers both a compassionate insight into this feared and stigmatized condition, and an illuminating perspective on what we might call ‘losing our mind.’  With William’s permission, I would like to share it with you.

Sameness and Uniqueness — The Way the Practice Works


At a recent retreat, Genpo Roshi responded to a question about our tendency to judge and even fear differences.  His answer summarizes one of the key elements of Zen practice, in one minute.


I think the way the practice, the way it works – not that it always works, but what does work – is when we have a complete experience of sameness, that we’re all essentially one, essentially the same. Like, if we use the analogy of snow, we’re all snow, but every shape and form is different. And when we come from that knowing we’re all snow essentially, then looking at the differences there is more appreciation, because we see the oneness. . . .


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