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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. . . .

 

On Turning 75

[Asked for his reflections on turning 75 (on June 3rd), Genpo Roshi recorded his thoughts about it with his fiancée, Charlotte Juul. This is an excerpt from that conversation.]

C:  Your birthday is coming soon, and I know that every five and ten years in your life has normally been a big shift. So I’m wondering if there’s anything that comes up for you now, as you are about to turn 75?

G:  . . . In two weeks it will be 20 years since I created the Big Mind process, so now I have an opportunity to see how it’s evolved and developed, and I’m kind of looking at well, what’s next? I was sitting with this just the other day, and in a way absolutely nothing came up. And I thought, “Aha! Maybe that’s what’s happening on my 75th birthday — nothing!” Maybe that’s what I’m adjusting to.

Since we moved to Boulder I’ve been reflecting a lot on Maezumi Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche, and how very young both of them were when they died. Trungpa Rinpoche died in 1987 at 47, and Maezumi Roshi died in 1995 at 64. So here I am 75-to-be, and I realize that in some ways they didn’t have the opportunity that I have. I’ve been gifted this chance, this opportunity, to actually grow older.

Seeing through Koans

I find koans very helpful and useful when I am trying to make a teaching point, using a koan to bring out a particular point. So I might be talking about, let’s say, karma, and then talk a little bit about how Hyakujo used the fox and related it to cause and effect and karma.  So I will quote that koan and give my understanding of it, but the koan…

May This New Year Bring More Unity

As 2018 comes to an end and we begin a new year, we are in a time of crisis where many are feeling hopeless, and fearing there’s no future for our children’s children. Old ways are no longer working. It is time for a change, and change is what must happen. Polarization is intensifying, leading to separation and conflict. Conflict and wars occur when two seemingly opposing sides draw lines…

In Memoriam, Roshi Bernie Glassman

  As many you have already heard the world has lost a great Bodhisattva and master. Bernie Tetsugen Glassman passed away yesterday. Roshi Bernie was Maezumi Roshi’s first Dharma Successor and the founder and creator of the Zen Peacemaker Order as well an influential Zen teacher. In January 2016, Bernie suffered a stroke, and was fighting cancer. He died Sunday morning in Massachusetts. He was 79. Roshi Bernie has had…

How I see the future of Big Mind

(From an introduction to a Big Mind Facilitator Training, September 23, 2018) It’s now almost twenty years since I first discovered Big Mind, and it’s evolved.  In that evolution what I’ve realized about the process and also about myself, is that I seem to come up with things in intervals of decades.  About 2009 I realized that almost ten years had passed and I saw that Big Mind was going…

Beyond Awakening

We have never been so polarized as we are today in all walks of life. Conflict and wars occur when two seemingly opposing sides draw lines in the sand, when two apparent realities are seen as separate and threatening to one another. It is happening in all areas of our society, religious, political, economic, racial, and moral. When we make these artificial separations we are already at war with the…

Genpo Roshi gives Inka to three of his Dharma successors

Genpo Roshi has given Inka Transmission, conferring the title of Zen Master, on three of his Dharma successors in the Netherlands, June 2018: Final Seal of Approval for Maurice Shonen Genko Knegtel Shonen: True ThoughtGenko:   Esoteric Light    Beyond thought and no thought,     Neither thought nor no thought,Is where you shall find True Thought! Given bySoten GenpoJune 26, 2018 Final Seal of Approval for Niko Sojun Tenko Tydeman Niko:  Broad LightSojun:…

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