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. Unless we come from the oneness, or the non-dual, then when we see the other there’s fear, comparison, and all that is triggered. So the way koans are set up is to experience first the oneness, and then the subtle distinctions or differences, or the functioning.

— Excerpt from The Supreme Way Retreat, June 1, 2019



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.

And I think our practice, really, is like the two wings of a bird. One is our direct experiences, kenshos, all kinds of insights and realizations, which always come suddenly of course. The other is always in the realm of time and space, and it just simply takes time and maturing. Of course those insights and realizations changed my life 180 degrees. I went from being a school teacher and a lifeguard, always working towards fame and gain and so on, to my life being more about helping others and serving others and waking up and gaining clarity. But what I see is that a lot of the things I realized back in ’71 and when I started koan practice in ’73 with Maezumi Roshi, a lot of things I realized then, I’m living and actualizing now.

So what I feel now is, I’m not practicing something in particular, I’m not seeking anything; I’m just being and relaxing in my old age. It’s a lot about relaxation, and I mean at the deepest level. I don’t mean just an old man sitting on a park bench — which I do too — but it’s a lot about a deep deep relaxation, right down to the cellular level. And it’s somewhere between being alive and being dead, being awake and being asleep, being attentive and being inattentive, being focused and being unfocused. All the polarities are present. It’s like sitting as the apex, where I’ve got Zen and free-from-Zen, self and no-self, mind and no-mind, thinking and not-thinking and so on. I probably — I definitely — enjoy it more than sleep. This state, I don’t even know what to call it, it’s more joyful, blissful, serene, peaceful, clear, calm than any other way of being. And it seems to be emanating in my daily life more and more.

It’s also about exploring a question that has become more and more significant for me. I’ve often mentioned to students that although Zen is rich with stories of powerful and inspiring characters, it is very rare to find one speaking from what I would call the fourth or fifth of Master Tozan’s Five Ranks, the path of the human being. In other words, from the perspective of a person who has come down from the mountain of oneness with the absolute, back down into the muddy water of the relative, the human reality. How many of the old masters can we name who have spoken about the nitty-gritty of their descent? Very few, if any. It’s not very sexy, maybe people don’t want to hear about it. Tokusan when he humbly defers to a young monk who chides him for showing up too early for dinner. That in itself is a wonderful teaching. Joshu, Hyakujo, Tokusan perhaps. At any rate, very few, and it occurs to me that this is a crucial perspective that now I am privileged to experience, and I feel challenged and perhaps even obligated to explore and to share.

. . . I’m at the age of a grandfather, and it’s like with grandparents, you can enjoy your grandchildren and leave them, whereas a parent is there all the time with their children. These days, as a teacher I don’t feel like I need to be there all the time with students. I feel more like I can offer years of experience, years of mistakes. As Buckminster Fuller often said, we don’t learn from our successes, we only learn from our mistakes. I really, really agree with that, that the biggest learnings I’ve had have been all around mistakes I’ve made, and owning what was causing or creating the problem; versus the insights I had that just inflated my sense of self. Every enlightenment, every opening, every insight kind of inflates our ego more and more. Great enlightenment is just great ego inflation. The ego is so inflated that it becomes this full round ball, and it’s ready to be pricked. And the fuller it gets, the more expanded it gets, the easier it is for something to prick it, like a little pin. Which is what has happened to me several times in my life, realizing I have gained nothing, attained absolutely nothing after years of study.

So the biggest, most meaningful experiences for me have been when I realize I’m just an ordinary guy, I’m not special. In the beginning practice is all about being special. Now it’s about coming to terms with not being extraordinary, not special, just being true to myself.

One of my favorite koans is “Joshu’s Stone Bridge.” When Joshu was in an old man, over a hundred years old, a monk comes to him and says, ‘I came here expecting to find the great stone bridge of Joshu. And all I find is a broken down wooden bridge. Where’s the great stone bridge of Joshu?’ And Joshu says, ‘right here in front of you.’ The monks says, ‘I don’t see it, show it to me.’ Joshu says, ‘it’s right here for asses and donkeys like yourself to cross over.’

That one really hits me, because he’s so straightforward in his old age, his teaching so powerful, direct and clear. It’s not being shiny any more, it’s not being extraordinary any more. This world right now is full of extraordinary people. I mean I look at our young people, men and women both, who are amazingly intelligent, sharp, brilliant, and doing great things and wanting to do great things. I want to give them as much support as I can. It’s enough just to be me, I don’t have to become anything else. Maybe that’s what this 75th birthday is.

C:  Yes, it’s enough to be you. I can see that brings up a lot of emotion.

G:  Do you want to say something?

C:  Well, you’ve said a lot, but just holding the question of your 75th birthday and it’s being enough to be you, I was thinking of what you’ve said about coming here to set roots. And I guess now it’s time to set roots because now it’s enough to just be you.

G:  What’s your perspective? You’ve been with me all these years, what’s your take?

C:  I have been thinking about this a lot, and my take is, I do believe that everybody has a contribution to make in life, some people’s become more significant, other’s less, depending how we look at it. And I think you are making a huge contribution with Big Mind. Like Ken Wilber has his Integral vision, Maslow his hierarchy of needs, and others, we can go on. I think you have Big Mind Big Heart. I really feel your contribution is that. It started with the transcendent voices. Then it moved into awakening, owning and embodying our shadows. And then it ended up with the apex, how you include both and you are both. I feel that as an expedient means, a skillful means, it will continue to evolve and spread in ways that perhaps even you cannot foresee.

And it makes sense in the time we are living in, when everything is falling apart, all systems are falling apart, political systems and everything else is falling apart — when what is needed is that everything can fall apart but still be whole. I feel the Big Mind process and the image of the triangle are amazing for this, that each part can be as it is but can also be held from the apex, not having to become the other, that the ‘self’ doesn’t have to become the Buddha, from the apex it already is. That the ‘self’ can prostrate and honor the Buddha, and the Buddha can love and have compassion for the ‘self.’ I feel that is the new shift the world is moving into, and I think Buddhism and whatever we know will move into that as well.

So I can see what you’re saying about letting it all go, just saying ‘here it is,’ and you just settling into that. It’s like you gave it. And now you’re here, now you’re free. I feel you’re free.

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 the sand and two apparent realities are seen as threatening to one another. This is happening in all areas of our society, politics, religion, economics, race, morality, and  gender. When we make these artificial separations we are already at war with the other, and also within ourselves. 
The moment we separate our self from an other, the other becomes a threat. We do this not only with so-called external reality but internally as well. It is why we are at war not only with others but also within ourselves. There’s a part of us that wants to take care of our health and well-being and a part that wants to overindulge in eating, drinking and various unhealthy practices. There’s one who wants to do good and one who doesn’t care about others, one who is run by the three poisons of ignorance, greed and hatred, and one who is not . This internal conflict sucks up all our energy and causes us anxiety as well as the world’s stress and illness. 
Each of us is whole, complete and perfect, yet the mind creates the notion of other-ness. The moment dualistic thinking arises heaven and hell are separated by thought. I believe that you are not me, and I am not you; that I am separate from my world. Then I try to control and dominate you, you want to control and dominate me. We try to dominate others and the entire planet. But before thought arises there is no separation. True reality is not dual. We are in fact not independent and separate from others or from our planet. Seen from the sky, our planet earth has no divisions of nations and states. The realization of this true reality as one, interdependent and interconnected, is called awakening. However, thinking something is attained by awakening is delusion, since the separation never existed to begin with. We created this delusion, this notion of separation, by thought.

We are in midst of a major transformation of our collective consciousness, and it is up to you and me to advance it. If enough of us wake up and make a shift of consciousness to one of unity rather than polarization we, and our children’s children will have a chance. But the time to wake up, and to use what is happening at this very moment as a wake up call, is now — or never. May 2019 be a time of unity rather than continued division and conflict. May this new year bring about the shifts required for us all, and for our children’s children, to see a brighter future.

In Memoriam, Roshi Bernie Glassman

Bernie Roshi and Genpo Roshi


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 a great influence and a wonderful effect on so many lives including my own. He was the reason that I stayed to study with Maezumi Roshi in 1972 because he embodied the ordinary as well as the extraordinary wise man. We had a very close relationship for many decades and I had the great fortune to visit Bernie and Eve this past September to say just how much I love and respect him and the great debt of gratitude I have for all that I received from him. The world has suffered a great loss and gained a great deal from this man from Brooklyn.

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 to go in two directions.

It began as a combination of Western psychotherapy — mostly based on Voice Dialogue, but some Gestalt, some EST — and of course Zen, the tradition of Zen. Out of those two, Western psychotherapy and the tradition of Zen, I came up with Big Mind.  In 2009 I realized that it’s going to divide and go in two directions: Big Mind and Zen tradition, and Big Mind and Western psychotherapy.  That’s different from Zen and Western psychotherapy.  So what is the Apex of these two?  It’s taken almost ten years and I’m beginning to see what that’s looking like.

What I see is that, for one thing, I will probably be bringing back a lot of the Zen tradition over the next ten years.  So it will be Big Mind again integrating the Zen tradition, now that I’ve spent about twenty years spitting out the bones of Japanese traditional Zen.  The analogy I use is, particularly by 2011, I had emptied the house of everything, and the next ten years are going to be about bringing back in what’s necessary to bring back in, refurbishing or refinishing what needs to be refinished, buying new things that need to come in, and bringing back some of the old, because they are worth keeping.

That’s the process I feel we’re in now, where we’re binging back some of the old, some of the Zen tradition.   I’m very excited about the new place in Boulder, where we’ve created what I call the great room, or Dharma room, where we will do workshops and have services and devotional practices, and there will be a very traditional as well as non-traditional Zen practice.  I also see we’ll bring back some of the original chants, but not all.  We’ll bring back some of the practices, but not in the same way.  Like zazen won’t be done as much on cushions; it will be done mostly in chairs.  It won’t be done in the stiff Japanese, samurai way; but in a very relaxed and comfortable fashion.  It will be a lot of traditional things done in a non-traditional way, NonZen. This NonZen which I have been talking about for some years now will be Zen and beyond.

But I also see that we’re going to go in another direction as well, and that is Western psychotherapy and Big Mind.  That will be done by those of you who have a background in Western psychotherapy, and a credential in it.  Like in the last workshop we had three, four psychiatrists and a therapist.  I see psychiatrists and psychotherapists bringing it out as a useful technique, or skillful means in that realm.  Much as Gestalt, psychosynthesis, and transactional analysis are parts of psychotherapy, but they each have their own way, their own tools, their own mechanisms to bring us to a place of better functioning in the world.

So this is my vision, and in this Training I want to focus on more of the secular, more of the therapeutic, more of the ways that Big Mind can facilitate us in a secular way.  We’ll probably do some of the more spiritual stuff too, but in a secular way.  Now, what is really important is that we have some grasp of Zen.  I don’t say we have to be totally accomplished in the Zen tradition, but some grasp and clarity of Zen I think is essential.  So we will cover that, to have a clear and firm grasp of psychotherapy and how that works.

What I’m looking for in these six days is to really ground you in these two approaches, and also to work with you on how, and what is important when you’re facilitating.  What your aim is in the facilitation, and how to do that in a way that’s skillful.  Because I would say that the most important thing that I’ve watched in myself in the last nearly twenty years, where I think I have grown, is my faith and trust that you, all of you, can do this.

Knowing you can do it, and trusting you can do it, it just seems like a piece of cake.  Things that we were doing just yesterday, where I was asking to speak to a particular voice, and everybody’s just there – that wasn’t possible in ’97, ’98.  People were struggling just to get to a particular voice, like the Awakened One, the Buddha, and certainly beyond that.  Now it just seems like everybody does it, and there’s no strain and there’s no hindrance.  Why is that?  I think it has to do with faith and trust.  Faith and trust that you can all do it, it’s accessible to you, it’s easy for you, it’s not really a difficult thing.  So I want to impart that.  This is what I would like to cover during these six days.

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 other, and also within ourselves.

The moment we separate our self from an other, the other becomes a threat. We do this not only with so-called external reality, but internally as well. This is why we are at war not only with others but also with our selves: the part of us that wants to take care of our health and well-being and the part that wants to overindulge in eating, drinking and other unhealthy practices; the one who wants to do good and the one who doesn’t care about others; the one who is run by the three poisons of ignorance, greed and hatred and the one who is not. These internal conflicts suck up all our energy and cause stress and illness.

Before the mind creates the notion of other, it is whole, complete and perfect. The moment dualistic thinking arises heaven and hell are separated by thought. Before thought arises there is no separation to begin with. True reality is not two, not dual. Realization of this true reality is called awakening. To think that by awakening something is attained is delusion, since the separation never existed to begin with. That was the delusion we created with thought.

Because these two apparent realities are one to begin with, there is no need to try to connect or transform them. We can appreciate that both are just fine as they are. The apparent reality of an ego-self is just perfect as it is, and the absolute reality of the absence of self, or Buddha, is just perfect as it is. The self can bow down and revere the Buddha and the Buddha can love and have compassion for this contracted and ego-centered self. This is enough. Nothing needs to be done to change the other. The ego-self is just what it is in all its imperfections and the Buddha is perfect, complete and whole just as it is.

It is like two pillars holding up the roof of the temple.  If they are too close the roof falls; too far apart it collapses. Not too near, not too far apart, just the right distance. Our misunderstanding is often that the self should become the Buddha. However, when the self does become the Buddha there is no self, there is only Buddha. When the Buddha becomes the self, there is only self. From the Apex or the Zenith we can appreciate self as self and Buddha as Buddha. The self can honor and bow to the Buddha. The Buddha can love and have compassion for the self just as it is, with all its struggles and screwed up-ness. Not two, not one either, yet two and yet one. From the Zenith both ego-self and Buddha are aspects of me and I love and appreciate them equally. No preference for Buddha over self or self over Buddha.

If we use the Big Mind/Big Heart technique it might look something like this:

Facilitator:   May I speak to the Buddha that has not yet been awakened or realized yet please?

Self:   Yes you may.

Buddha:   I am the Buddha and the self has not fully awakened or realized me yet.

Facilitator:   Why do you feel that that the self has not yet awakened to your presence?

Buddha:   He doubts that I actually exist within him. He believes that I am a historical person who lived some 2,500 years ago in India. He doesn’t believe he can simply ask to speak to me, and that it is so easy. He has struggled for so long, trying to find me in all the wrong places. It is so ironic that I am right here, so near and intimate with him. He believes he must practice and pursue me with great effort and discipline. His very seeking and trying are just getting in his way. The more he pursues me the further astray he goes. It is his delusion that effort, practice and pursuit will eventually result in finding me.

Facilitator:   Since he has not yet fully awakened to you how do you manifest within him?

Buddha:   I come out in him as a hungry ghost or in a hell realm or as a fighting spirit or jealous god. He is always seeking me and yet falling short of actually finding me. When he can’t grasp or find me he becomes frustrated with himself or others very easily. This turns to anger or even worse, hatred or blame towards others or himself, which eventually flips into self-destructive tendencies such as overdrinking, overeating, drug or sexual abuse of himself and/or others. If only he would realize I am ever present within him he could stop this crazy and deluded behavior. But he doesn’t and therefore he becomes more self-destructive and abusive.

Facilitator:   What would happen if the self were to wake up to your presence within him?

Buddha:   He would immediately realize that I am present and he would relax completely. He would stop seeking me outside himself. However, because of his deeply rooted patterns he would probably continue to seek me within. He would most likely try to become me, which would be another problem because he could spend years trying to either become me or integrate me into himself.

Facilitator:   What do you mean? What’s wrong with that?

Buddha:   He can never be me or integrate me into his own image or self. I am perfect, complete and whole, he never will be! He will always be imperfect and incomplete. He is the self and the self is not me. When I am present he is gone, when he is present I am inaccessible to him. It is only when he is dropped that I am here, now obvious within him. All he needs to do is ask to speak to me. When he calls on me I instantly appear. Otherwise it is him, the self, which is running the vehicle aligned with fear, doubt, anger and greed. I call this his ignorance.

At times he believes he is me, or that he can become me. But it is impossible for him, the self, to be me. The delusion comes from the fact that he and I occupy the same body. We both stand 5’11 inches and are both 185 lbs. We were both born in Brooklyn NY to the same parents. However I am unborn and undying. He on the other hand is mortal and was born at a certain moment in time and space.  He will die at a certain moment in time and space, I will not. I am his true, unborn nature, he is my creation. I am Mind, he is merely a creation of thought and a concept. He doesn’t really exist but holds on to the notion that he is real, substantial and permanent.

Since I was never born I will never die. I am not a mere concept but reality itself, forever ungraspable and unattainable. When he disappears I am here and I can speak to you, but he and I can’t be here at the same moment. He would like nothing more than to be me, or become me, but he simply cannot. He can prostrate himself to me and ask for my love and compassion and even pray to me. However it is not necessary since I always love and have compassion for him. He is like my child whom I love unconditionally all the time.

The more he seeks me the further astray he goes. He cannot know me because I am beyond knowing and not knowing. Knowing is his delusion and not knowing is his ignorance and blindness. I am beyond both knowing and not knowing. When he believes that he knows, he is deluding himself; when he doesn’t know he is blinded in not knowing right from wrong, good from bad. Both knowing and not knowing do not belong to me but to his ignorance.

Facilitator:   I would like now to ask the self if I may speak to the voice of fear abiding in the self.

Fear:   I am fear and it is my job to be fearful in order to protect the self from others, from himself, and others from him and what could happen to him if I failed to watch out for him.

Facilitator:   Why are you afraid of him acknowledging, embodying, awakening and empowering the Buddha?

Fear:   I am afraid if I allowed that to happen the self would disappear, that it would lose control and not be in charge any longer. I’m also afraid that he can’t do it or maintain it. I have a lot of fear around fully empowering and embodying the Buddha. However, I am also afraid of not fully empowering the Buddha lest he remain forever in the dark, completely deluded and confused. Maybe I am even more afraid of this than I am of awakening and empowering the Buddha. When I really think about it I am truly more afraid of not awakening and empowering the Buddha than I am of empowering him.

Facilitator:   Then would you allow me to speak now to the Buddha fully awake, embodied and empowered?

Buddha:   I am now the Buddha fully awake, embodied and empowered. I have always been here, present and aware. Though he has long been searching for me, I have been silent and not had a voice in his life because he has not asked to speak to me up till now, this present moment.

Facilitator:   Please tell me about you.

Buddha:   I am awake, fully present, whole, complete and perfect as I am. In fact from my perspective everything and everyone is perfect, complete and whole as is. There is nothing lacking or in excess. The self sees himself as imperfect, incomplete and unwholesome. This is his delusion and ignorance. When I look at him and all others I see only perfection and wholeness. When he looks at himself and others he sees his and others’ faults and shortcomings. He sees imperfection, incompleteness and unwholesomeness in both himself and others.

When he looks at a tree or a sunset he doesn’t compare and judge. However when he sees himself and other people he does compare, judge and condemn. He becomes competitive and feels either superior or inferior to them. Either way he loses. These comparisons make him feel bad about both himself and others. It is all because he creates a separation between himself and others and the world. He sees things in a dualistic way, which causes fear of the other. This fear causes a lack of self-confidence and therefore he suffers and is basically dissatisfied with himself and his life. From this he tries desperately to be one up and feel superior to others. Greed, fear and frustration become his way of coping with life. The three poisons, greed, anger and ignorance are creating his life of dukkha, dissatisfaction and suffering. He wanders through the six realms lost and confused. He tries desperately to escape into alcohol, drugs, work, social media, TV, food and sex. It is discomfort with his life that he is trying so hard to escape.

Facilitator:   How do you feel about him and all this?

Buddha:   I only feel love and compassion for him and all beings who are caught in this trap of ignorance, living in fear and dissatisfaction. I recognize that even in this and their ignorance they are all perfect as they are, he too. This is just the nature of “self.” The self will never be me, perfect and whole. He will always see himself as a separate entity, therefore incomplete and imperfect. As long as he is identified with himself, he will always feel this way. When he ceases identifying with self he disappears and self is dropped. Then he is no longer and there is only “I.” He then tries desperately to become “me,” but he doesn’t realize that is forever impossible. He tried for years to integrate “me” with himself, which is simply impossible since he can’t be present when “I am.”

The confusion comes from the fact that he and “I” occupy the same vehicle, this particular body.

Facilitator:   What can be done about this?

Buddha:   The self can honor and respect “me” as the perfection within him, but cannot become me, be perfect, be complete and whole. Just allow “me” to love him as I do, appreciating him for all that he is. If he would just be comfortable with being him and not try to be “me” all would be good.

Facilitator:   May I now speak to the self?

Self:   Yes I am here.

Facilitator:   What do you think of all this?

Self:   I am confused!  I don’t understand what just happened. I am very disturbed by all this. Why can’t I become the awakened one? I want more than anything to be enlightened. I have spent my life trying to integrate my previous experience of being the Buddha. I know I am more loving and compassionate when Buddha is present. I feel better and happier when I identify with Buddha. Why can’t I feel that way all the time? What am I lacking? Maybe if I sit and practice more, or pass more koans, or just bow more, or spend more time practicing good deeds then I will become Buddha all the time and then I will be happier. What is wrong with me? Why am I not satisfied with my life and myself? What should I do?

Facilitator:   I feel your pain and frustration. May I speak to you, the self that is unawakened, please?

Self:   Sure you may. I am the self that is unawakened.

Facilitator:   Please tell me about you.

Self:   Since you asked to speak to me, I am not awake as you said. I feel very frustrated and confused. I want nothing more than to be awakened. I think you were already speaking to me a while ago. Why are you now asking to speak to me as the self that is not awakened?

Facilitator:   Because I feel it is extremely helpful to acknowledge the fact that you have been speaking as the unawakened self and not as the awakened “self.” All that you have been expressing is coming from the part of you that is still unawakened. Now, if you visualize or imagine speaking as the awakened “self” what would you say?

Self:   I would say I realize that all I just said was because I had not yet awakened to my ignorance and just how deluded and foolish I have been. I have been trying to be the Buddha, ignoring the fact that I can only be me and allow the Buddha to be the Buddha. I can cease trying to escape from my life of dissatisfaction and suffering, and just be dissatisfied and suffer,  own and awaken to me, and be one with my suffering, dissatisfaction and loneliness.

Facilitator:   That is very good. May I now speak to fear please?

Fear:   You are speaking to fear.

Facilitator:   I am asking to speak to you because I feel that possibly you may have some fear of allowing me to ask to speak to the “self” completely awake, owned, embodied and empowered to be the self.

Fear:   Yes that’s true. When I look in I realize that I do have some fear around allowing you to speak to the “self” awake. I am afraid that the self will disappear if he is owned, embodied and fully awakened. It is my job to protect the self from death, pain and hurt. This looks to me like suicide. I am afraid if he is fully awakened he will disappear.

Facilitator:   On a scale of one to ten, what is your fear of allowing me to speak to the self awakened?

Self:   About a six or seven.

Facilitator:   What is your fear, from one to ten, of never allowing the self for all eternity to be fully realized and awakened?

Self:   That is far more than a ten, maybe twelve to fifteen.

Facilitator:   OK then, do I have your permission to speak to the self awakened, owned, embodied and empowered?

Self:   I am fully awake and empowered — and I can’t find any “self!” I don’t know what happened but I feel like I just transcended my “self.” From this place I don’t have the same cravings and desires that I had before. I feel content and satisfied with life and others as well as myself.

Facilitator:   From here how do you feel about the Buddha?

Self:   I have great respect and reverence for the Buddha. I can honor and bow to the Buddha and I have no need to become him. I can simply allow the Buddha to be the Buddha and for me to be me. There is no integration necessary. I am just absolutely fine being myself with all my stupidity and ignorance. I can be happy with being flawed and clumsy. I don’t need to become perfect and whole. I can just relax, be natural, be “me.”

Facilitator:  That’s great! Now I would like to speak to the Zenith please.

Zenith:  You are speaking to the Zenith. As the Zenith or Apex I embrace both the self and the Buddha within me and yet transcend them. I am both the Buddha and the self and all its manifestations and aspects. They are two aspects of me and I love them both equally. I have no preference for one over the other. I can discern right from wrong, good from bad, wise from unwise. I act and speak freely and appropriately in each situation — in accord with position, time, place and amount — present without preconceived ideas or notions of what is right or wrong. I have no agenda in any situation I find myself in. I can be appropriate with everyone I come into contact with from the poorest to the wealthiest, from the worst of the worst to the best of the best.

From my perspective I can allow the self to just be the self and the Buddha to be the Buddha. I have no need to force the self to become the Buddha. I can allow appropriate distance between the self and the Buddha, not too close and yet not too far away. The “self” is just perfect as the self and the Buddha of course is just perfect as the awakened one. I feel there is absolutely no need for them to integrate or become one, since from my perspective they already are one embodied by me. There is absolutely nothing to attain, only be. This is beyond the ordinary and the extraordinary. This is the identity of the relative and absolute. I am the Zenith, the highest point or state attainable, the culmination or the Apex. I am Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, unsurpassable complete perfect awakening.

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 Thought
Genko:   Esoteric Light   

Beyond thought and no thought,    
Neither thought nor no thought,
Is where you shall find True Thought!

Given by
Soten Genpo
June 26, 2018

Final Seal of Approval for Niko Sojun Tenko Tydeman

Niko:  Broad Light
Sojun: Authentic Dharma
Tenko: Heavenly light

Broad light dims,
Authentic Patriarch dropped,
Heavenly light realized.

Given by
Soten Genpo
June 26, 2018

Final Seal of Approval for Tamara (Tammy) Myoho Tenshin Gabrysch

Myoho:  Subtle Dharma
Tenshin:  Zenith

Subtle Dharma

Given by
Soten Genpo
June 26, 2018

What Is Great Enlightenment?

What is Dai Kensho, Great Enlightenment?  What is the difference between a kensho experience and a true Dai Kensho, and what is the importance of that difference? 

Here is a brief excerpt of Genpo Roshi’s exploration of these questions during a recent retreat:

What Are the Four Seals of Buddhism?


The four great seals or marks of Buddhism are the four essential principles that form the basis of the teachings of all schools and branches of Buddhism. 

This audio recording is a short excerpt from a live talk by Genpo Roshi at a retreat in December 2017.



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What Is Big Mind/Big Heart Zen?

Big Mind/Big Heart Zen is a Western Path, Way and Community which aims to assist its followers in manifesting their fullest potential, realizing and actualizing their inherent wisdom and compassion, and living happy and joyful lives filled with love and compassion, free and at home in their own skin.

Coming from the synthesis or apex of our absolute and relative nature, it encompasses the yin and yang or complete circle of our humanity. It enables us to own, embody and be empowered by fully awakening aspects or voices within us, from the purest to the darkest. We see that each voice, or “self,” has the capacity to transform from unawakened to awakened, from disowned to owned, immature to mature, unhealthy to health, and that when a voice is either unawakened or disowned it acts out in covert, unhealthy and even pathological ways. Just as all sentient beings are born with the same wisdom and compassion as the awakened ones, all aspects of “self” have this same capacity when awakened.

Big Mind/Big Heart Zen is founded on Zen and rooted in the BuddhaDharma, but is not attached to Asian culture, forms and rituals. It is a Western approach to consciousness that aims to integrate the spiritual awakening of the East and the psychological understanding of the West, the spiritual and the worldly, without ignoring their shadows. It recognizes that the “self,” like all phenomena, is not solid, fixed or permanent but only appears to be so, which is why we call it the apparent rather than the absolute reality, and that what we call the absolute and relative realities are actually one reality seen from two different perspectives, like two sides of a coin. The third perspective is the inseparable unity of the two that is called Sangha, harmony or community.

Each of us is already perfect, complete and whole, with nothing lacking, and each of us has the capacity and the responsibility to realize this. Realizing this fact requires absolutely no time, because the realization is outside both time and space. However, living this realization in our everyday life takes time, even decades, not only of waking up but of growing up as well, cultivating our life/practice through discipline, samadhi, and wisdom.

The teachings of the Big Mind/Big Heart Zen Community are embodied in three practices that support and complement each other like the three legs of a stool: Zen sitting, koans and Big Mind/Big Heart work on various aspects of our selves. Each elucidates the teaching in a unique way. Shikantaza, or just-sitting-Zen, allows us to simply be, rather than constantly needing to do, to drop our ego’s need to attain or prove we are somebody or something important. Koans are best at helping us express the inexpressible both non-verbally and in words. The Big Mind/Big Heart Process is best at directly pointing to our awakened nature and allowing us to take time to experience perspectives that we usually ignore, repress or just don’t see. It is a skillful means befitting Zen’s distinction as the Sudden School of Buddhism to assist us — if we are willing and open — to have a glimpse of Zen and move through what normally requires years of Zen meditation to realize and actualize.

Big Mind/Big Heart Zen es un Camino, Sendero y Comunidad Occidental cuyo objetivo es ayudar a sus seguidores a manifestar todo su potencial, realización y actualizar su sabiduría y compasión inherentes, y vivir unas vidas felices y llenas de amor y compasión, libres y en casa dentro de su propia piel.

Viniendo de la síntesis o ápice de nuestra naturaleza absoluta y relativa, que abarca el yin y el yang o el círculo completo de nuestra humanidad. Nos permite integrar, encarnar y estar empoderados mediante el despertar total de aspectos o voces dentro de nosotros, desde lo más puro hasta lo más oscuro. Observamos que cada voz, o “yo”, tiene la capacidad de transformarse de no estar despertado a estar despertado, de disociado a integrado, de inmaduro a maduro, de no ser saludable para la salud, y cuando una voz no está despierta o está disociada actúa de forma encubierta, de forma no saludable, e incluso en formas patológicas. Así como todos los seres sintientes nacen con la misma sabiduría y compasión que los despertados, todos los aspectos del “yo” tienen la misma capacidad cuando se despiertan.

Big Mind/Big Heart Zen se basa en el Zen y está enraizado en el BuddhaDharma, pero no está vinculado a la cultura Asiatica, ni a sus formas o rituales. Es un enfoque Occidental sobre la conciencia que tiene como objetivo integrar el despertar espiritual de Oriente y la comprensión psicológica de Occidente, lo espiritual y lo mundano, sin ignorar sus sombras. Reconoce que el “yo”, como todos los fenómenos, no es sólido, fijo o permanente, sino que solo lo es, por eso lo llamamos realidad aparente más que absoluta, y a eso que llamamos realidades absolutas y relativas son en realidad una realidad vista desde dos perspectivas diferentes, como dos caras de una moneda. La tercera perspectiva es la unidad inseparable de los dos que se llama Sangha, armonía o comunidad.

Cada uno de nosotros es perfecto, completo y total, sin que falte nada, y cada uno de nosotros tiene la capacidad y la responsabilidad de darse cuenta de esto. Darse cuenta de este hecho no requiere absolutamente ningún tiempo, porque la realización está fuera del tiempo y el espacio. Sin embargo, vivir esta realización en nuestra vida cotidiana lleva tiempo, incluso décadas, no solo de despertar sino de crecer también, cultivando nuestra vida / práctica a través de la disciplina, el samadhi y la sabiduría.

Las enseñanzas de la comunidad Big Mind / Big Heart Zen están incorporadas en tres prácticas que se apoyan y se complementan entre sí como las tres patas de un taburete: sentada Zen, koans y Big Mind / Big Heart trabajan en varios aspectos de nosotros mismos. Cada uno aclara la enseñanza de una manera única. Shikantaza, o simplemente-sentada-Zen, nos permite simplemente ser, en lugar de tener que hacer algo constantemente, dejar de lado la necesidad de nuestro ego de lograr o demostrar que somos alguien o algo importante. Los koans es la mejor para ayudarnos a expresar lo inexpresable, tanto de manera no verbal como en palabras. El proceso Big Mind / Big Heart es la mejor forma para señalar directamente a nuestra naturaleza despierta y nos permite tomarnos el tiempo para experimentar perspectivas que generalmente ignoramos, reprimimos o simplemente no vemos. Es un medio habilidoso acorde con la distinción del Zen como la Escuela Temprana del Budismo para ayudarnos, si estamos dispuestos y abiertos, a echar un vistazo al Zen y avanzar a través de lo que normalmente se requieren años de meditación Zen para realizar y actualizar.

(translation by Denis Criado)

Big Mind/Big Heart Sitting Meditation Instructions

For the first 40 years of Zen practice, I sat in formal lotus posture cross-legged with my back straight and unsupported. Now for the past six years I sit very differently. I am loving sitting more than ever being completely relaxed and comfortable on a chair, my legs not crossed, feet flat on the floor, resting my back against the back of the chair, upright but not stiff or rigid in any way.

I place my hands either resting on the arms of the chair, my lap or my palms facing upwards on my lap, whichever is more comfortable. My palms are in the cosmic or also known as the universal mudra, left palm on top of my right, thumb-tips touching. My ears are on a plane with my shoulders and nose in line with my navel, chin slightly tilted down. I place my tongue against the front roof of my mouth, with teeth and lips both gently shut. I either close my eyes or leave them partially open looking down at a 45 degree angle.

I begin sitting with twenty very slow, deep breaths, expelling all the air through my mouth with lips narrowly puckered. Breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, I continue to count these slow deep breaths from one to ten repeatedly in this way for the first twenty breaths. Then I begin breathing naturally with mouth closed, through the nostrils only, dropping the counting and just sitting without preference or judgements. I just sit as the Apex, in the voice of “non”, beyond thinking and not thinking, non thinking; also beyond preference and having no preference, non preference not even having a preference for no preference. Sitting in non judging mind, not judging even when I judge, beyond judging and not judging. As the great Zen Master Dogen instructed, “Think not-thinking. How do you think not-thinking? Non-thinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen.”

To visualize the triangle here is extremely helpful, the left corner is the, “thinking mind” the right corner is the, “not thinking mind” and at the Apex including and transcending is the, “non thinking mind” beyond thinking and not thinking.

Sitting in this way I can completely relax, having no pain anywhere in my body. I used to sit forty to sixty minutes at a time without pain; these days I often sit two to four hours in one go without pain completely relaxed and natural.

The key is to have no preference for being awake over asleep, attentive over inattentive, aware over unaware — without any goal or objective, aim nor purpose. I just sit upright, comfortably, relaxed and natural. I give myself complete permission to just sit without judging my sitting or anything that arrises in any way.

It is bliss and joyful samadhi. It is empowering, self-fulfilling samadhi, it is dropped off, dropped off. In this sitting there is an absence of self. At times there is no-one to be aware or not aware, awake or not awake, there is no coming or going, no knowing or not knowing, thinking or not thinking, beyond all such paradoxes.

In this samadhi there is a thin, almost indistinguishable line between alive or dead, breathing and not breathing, conscious or unconscious. It is absolutely blissful and silk-like. The entire body is relaxed, from head to toes, right down to the cellular level. All stress and tension in body/mind are completely released. In this sitting it is like being dead while still alive, alive while completely comfortable with death, and this samadhi gets carried over into daily life as a pure childlike happiness. All internal conflict is gone, embracing each aspect of self and its opposite.

There is real joy and pleasure in serving and being present for others. There is a very deep loving appreciation for people being who they are, not needing to change or fix anyone. Allowing you to be you and me to just be me. Not needing to become like “you” or to have you become or be like “me.” All internal conflict is gone and there is just peace and joy remaining.

Gran Mente/Gran Corazón Instrucciones de Meditación Sentada

Durante los primeros 40 años de práctica Zen, me senté en postura de loto formal con las piernas cruzadas, con la espalda erguida y sin apoyo. Ahora, durante los últimos seis años, mi postura en meditación es muy diferente. Como nunca antes ahora me encanta estar sentado completamente relajado y cómodo en una silla, con mis piernas sin cruzar, con los pies apoyados en el suelo, apoyando la espalda en el respaldo de la silla y erguida pero de ninguna manera con tensión o rigidez.

Pongo mis manos o bien descansando sobre los brazos de la silla, mi regazo o bien con mis palmas hacia arriba en mi regazo, lo que sea más cómodo. Mis palmas están en el cosmos o también conocido como el mudra universal, la palma izquierda en la parte superior de mi derecha, tocando las puntas del pulgar. Mis oídos están alineados con mis hombros y la nariz alineada con mi ombligo, la barbilla ligeramente inclinada hacia abajo. Coloco mi lengua contra el paladar frontal de mi boca, con los dientes y los labios suavemente cerrados. O bien cierro los ojos o los dejo parcialmente abiertos mirando hacia abajo en un ángulo de 45 grados.

Empiezo a sentarme con veinte respiraciones muy lentas y profundas, expulsando todo el aire por mi boca con los labios ligeramente fruncidos. Al inhalar por la nariz y exhalar por la boca, sigo contando estas respiraciones lentas y profundas del uno a diez repetidamente de esta manera durante las primeras veinte respiraciones. Entonces empiezo a respirar de forma natural con la boca cerrada, solo a través de las fosas nasales, soltando el conteo y simplemente sentándome sin preferencias y sin juicios. Simplemente me siento como el Ápice, en la voz de “no” (non en inglés), más allá de pensar y de no pensar, no pensar (non thinking); también más allá de las preferencias y de no tener preferencia, sin preferencia, incluso sin tener preferencia por tener ninguna preferencia. Sentarse en una mente que no juzga, no juzgar incluso cuando juzgo, más allá de juzgar y de no juzgar. Como el gran Maestro Zen Dogen instruyó: “Piensa sin pensar. ¿Cómo piensas que no piensas? No pienses* (non thinking). Esto es en sí mismo el arte esencial de zazen “. (*no pienses = non-thinking)

Visualizar aquí el triángulo es extremadamente útil, la esquina izquierda es la “mente pensante”, la esquina derecha es la “mente que no piensa” y en el Ápice, es aquel que incluye y transciende a la “mente no pensante” más allá de pensar y no pensar.

Sentado de esta manera, puedo relajarme por completo, sin sentir dolor en ninguna parte de mi cuerpo. Solía sentarme entre cuarenta a sesenta minutos a la vez sin dolor. En estos días a menudo me siento entre dos a cuatro horas de una vez sin ningún dolor y completamente relajado y de forma natural.

La clave es no tener ninguna preferencia por estar despierto a tener sueño, por estar atento a no estar atento, consciente sobre inconsciente, sin ninguna meta u objetivo o propósito. Simplemente me siento erguido, cómodo, relajado y natural. Me doy permiso completamente para simplemente sentarme sin juzgar mi sesión o cualquier cosa que llegue de ninguna manera.

Es dicha y samadhi alegre. Es un samadhi empoderado, un samadhi auto-realizado, es soltar, es soltar. En esta sesión hay una ausencia de uno mismo. A veces no hay nadie que sea consciente o no consciente, despierto o no despierto, no hay ir y venir, no saber o no saber, pensar o no pensar, más allá de todas esas paradojas.

En este samadhi hay una delgada, casi indistinguible línea entre estar vivo o muerto, respiración y no respiración, consciente o inconsciente. Es absolutamente felicidad. Todo el cuerpo está relajado, de la cabeza a los pies, hasta el nivel celular. Todo el estrés y la tensión en el cuerpo/mente se liberan por completo. En esta sesión es como estar muerto mientras aún está uno vivo, vivo mientras se siente uno completamente cómodo con la muerte, y este samadhi se transfiere a la vida diaria como una pura felicidad infantil. Todo conflicto interno se ha ido, abrazando cada aspecto del yo y su opuesto.

Hay una verdadera alegría y placer en servir y estar presente para los demás. Hay un profundo aprecio amoroso por las personas que son quienes son, sin necesidad de cambiar o sanar a nadie. Permitiéndote ser tú y a mi solo ser yo. No es necesario que yo sea como “tú” o que te conviertas o que seas como “yo”. Todo conflicto interno se ha ido y solo queda la paz y la alegría.

(traducción por Denis Criado)

Five Skandhas, Five Ranks

The way I use the term Apex really includes the whole being, which in Buddhism we call the Five Skandhas.  The Five Skandhas are also known as the Five Aggregates or Heaps that make up what we identify as our self, this very body/mind, what you and I call “me” or “I.” This self consists of these five: 1) body, form, 2) emotions, feelings, 3) perception, 4) karma, deeply rooted patterns or mental constructs, and 5) consciousness.  Because everything is impermanent all five are also impermanent and unsubstantial.

Who we truly are, what we refer to as our true self, is the Buddha, the Awakened One.  We are always balancing and harmonizing these Five Skandhas.  They are not fixed; they are in continuous flow, movement.  This harmonizing is not something we do once and then we’re done and can just rest on our laurels.  We are constantly integrating and balancing these five unconsciously, it’s a process.  So what we’re aiming for is to be awake in our consciousness, realizing all is impermanent, nothing is solid or substantial.  And this that we call “I” or “myself” is made up of these five aggregates, but none of them are permanent.  Sometimes we live in denial, as if one or more of them — the body or consciousness — were permanent.  Or we live as if we’re immortal.  But the body or consciousness, like anything that is born, dies.  Anything that is created, including consciousness itself, ceases to exist.  All five are impermanent and in constant flux, not solid, fixed or substantial.

Now some of us like to cling to the idea that consciousness is permanent.  We can see that feelings are impermanent.  We can see, at times, that form is impermanent.  We can see that mental constructs like deeply rooted patterns are also impermanent.  We can see that all these are impermanent, however it is more difficult to see consciousness itself is impermanent.  There is nothing that is solid and substantial, nothing permanent.  In fact the only thing that we can say is permanent is the truth of impermanence.  There is the process of being conscious or witnessing, but there is no permanent, substantial witness.  There is no knower, only continuous knowing.  Neither is there anything we can really know that is permanent, because once we become one with something known, the one who knows is gone.  The knower is gone and there is just the oneness: oneness with body, oneness with feelings, oneness with perception, oneness with consciousness, oneness with our karma, oneness with all of this.  So who are we?  We are these Five Aggregates altogether as one.

One thing to realize at the very beginning of our practice is the insubstantiality of what we call our self or these Five Aggregates.  However, as we progress in our practice — or in our life, because practice and life are synonymous — we see that since everything is born of Buddha, then even what is impermanent is still important and significant, is Buddha.  So our feelings are Buddha.  Our emotions are also Buddha.  This body is Buddha.  Our consciousness is Buddha.  All are Buddha.  Even though they are impermanent and unsubstantial, still all are Buddha.

So in the beginning, we look upon all things in a Hinayana way, from a distance or a detached perspective, and we see, “Oh this is impermanent, this is unsubstantial.”  And we let it all go.  But then we have to come back and embrace it all, include it all, and see that it is all who I am.  Even though I myself don’t exist as something solid and substantial, I do exist as something impermanent and unsubstantial.  And that’s all I’ve got.  So negating it all flips to completely affirming or confirming this very life as it is, that it is all … “just this!”

Now along the way what seems to happen is that we have what can be called state experiences, what in Zen we call kensho experiences.  We may experience various things as empty, our self, our emotions, our sensations, etc.  We may have the experience that our anger or fear is not fixed and solid.  We may even feel we have transcended these various basic feelings and emotions, and arrived at some deep new experience.  Eventually, however, we have to see that these state experiences don’t necessarily bring us to a new stage, or a true shift.  We still have to move through various stages in our process of development or growth.  We have to grow up, as Maezumi Roshi was fond of saying.

A great master by the name of Tozan, who lived way back in the 9th Century AD in China, came up with a scheme, or you can say a map, of five stages in our development.  Each of these stages has to be gone through, none can be skipped.  Every stage is essential and is part of our evolution or growth.  Not only in Zen or Buddhism; we go through these stages of development in everything and all of life.

In the first stage our everyday consciousness is such that we see reality, we see the world, as separate.  We see our self as separate from the environment, from each other and from all other things.  Then we get a glimpse of the oneness, the interconnectedness, the interdependency of all things.  We see that what you or I do affects everybody else and what everybody else does affects each of us.  We’re affecting our environment and our environment is affecting us.  Everything is connected and interdependent and there’s no such thing as independence.  To be independent is a kind of illusion because we are constantly dependent on the ground, on gravity, on food, on water, on air, on all these things and on each other.  So the illusion of independence is just that, it’s an illusion.  We see through the illusion that anything is permanent, solid and substantial, and we see that we’re all connected.  And then, because we only get glimpses of this reality, there’s a process we go through where we have to fully surrender to it.

Those glimpses are called kenshos, but to have a great enlightenment, or daikenshodai means great — and to really get to a stage level where we live from this place of seeing our interconnectedness, our oneness with all and the unsubstantiality of everything — in other words we see, we realize the absolute — to be at a stage level, we have to go through a process of surrendering, surrendering, surrendering, letting go, letting go, letting go to that reality.

Finally at some point we go through a lot of doubt, which in the Zen vernacular is called Great Doubt.  Doubt in everything we know, everything we have kind of put together in our mind as to what reality is.  We doubt all our beliefs, all our notions, all our ideas, all our concepts, all our opinions.  We have to let them all go, including the ones that are the most difficult to release: the ones that we know to be true.  Whatever our reality is, whatever our belief, whatever opinion or concept or experience that we know to be true — that’s the hardest to let go of.  But we have to surrender it all.  And that’s why Great Doubt comes up.

It feels like a kind of dissatisfaction — more than dissatisfaction, like complete discouragement, complete disillusionment with where we’re at, with our practice, with our life.  It can reach the point where it becomes Great Doubt in everything.  Great Doubt in the teaching.  Great Doubt in the teacher.  Great Doubt in our experience.  Great Doubt in our understanding.  We’re questioning everything.  There is nothing left we don’t question, which is a great but a very painful thing, because at this stage we lose our identity completely.  We see that anything we call “me” or “mine” is not “me,” is not “mine.”

Doubt comes up; to the best of my knowledge it can’t be forced.  Over the years I’ve had students say they want to be in Great Doubt.  But you can’t make it happen.  However, I’ll tell you what seems to bring it on.  It’s when you get to a place where you really, really know that you are the Awakened One — ‘I am the Buddha, and I don’t mean just a Buddha, I am the Buddha — and not just Shakyamuni Buddha but all Buddhas’ — when you really get to that place, and after a period of time your life still sucks.  Which it will, because in this second stage it still sucks.  There is still the relative existence that you’re coming from even though you had a glimpse of the Absolute.  Everything you say, everything that comes out of your mouth starts feeling like shit.  Like you’ve got diarrhea and it just goes on and on and on.  And you have the feeling — at least my feeling was — that when I would speak or give a teaching, I would change the teaching to shit!  I was a reverse alchemist.  I would take precious jewels and gold, these beautiful koans and these beautiful words of wisdom from the Buddha and the ancestors, and I would just turn them to shit.

I was teaching — this was the period from ’73 to ’86 —from a place of having had many kenshos but not daikensho.  So I was coming from a memory of an experience.  I remembered what it was like to experience oneness and interconnectedness and all that.  I remembered what it was like to experience being Buddha.  But I wasn’t sourcing; it was still coming through the self.  The wish was to be self-less, but the truth was it was all getting filtered through the self.  So the mind was still involved.  Whereas what we call daikensho is cutting the root of dualistic thinking, or the root of the mind that is creating that separation, so we’re coming directly from the source, flowing like a hose from a pipe connected directly to the source.  But until that point we feel very dissatisfied and uncomfortable with our state of being, which brings up more and more doubt:  Was this really kensho?  Did I really experience it?  Have I gone deep enough?  All this doubt comes up to the point where we can’t sleep.  We can’t relax.  We’re just in the doubt.  We’re constantly questioning.  What is it?  What is it?  What could it be?  What have I not seen yet?  What have I not realized yet?  And then the trick is to really go into that.  When we truly go into this Great Doubt, it flips into the third stage, great awakening

This third stage is called the Absolute or Daikensho or the Great Death or bodymind dropped off, it has many names.  It’s a stage of development we get stuck in, because it’s so profound.  There is no suffering, there is no one to suffer.  Of course we can have some physical pain, but there is no suffering on top of the pain.  There is no one there to suffer.  Everything flows.  It’s called being one with the Tao, being in the Way, one with the Way, one with flow.  It’s the most difficult stage to let go of.  Our glimpse in the first stage, the process of surrendering in the second — they’re easier to let go of.  But to let go of great enlightenment, that is very difficult, because we exist in a kind of, you can almost say, blissful state.  It’s not quite bliss; I call it grace.  We live in a state of grace.

So at the next level, the fourth, which Tozan called the absolute attained, we have to come back to the relative, to the relative reality.  It’s more like a fall or descent, and what we lose is that state of grace.  We start to integrate all the relative, impermanent things we had realized to be empty and let go of, and we come back hard to reality.  It’s like we crash into reality and come back to earth.  And it’s all back with a vengeance, the fear, the anger, the suffering , all these things that may have been gone a long time — for me they were gone from ’86 to ’94, eight years.  This is the beginning of the process of reintegrating the relative and the absolute, the personal and the impersonal, the relational and the non-relational, all of that.

In the fourth stage, when all the relative views and feelings that we were free of in the third stage come back, they don’t have the stickiness they once had, because we’ve already seen them as impermanent.  We don’t relate to them or personalize them the same way, but we do experience them intensely.  At least I did, maybe because I had been free from fear and anger for so long, really from ’86 to ’94.  I mean, I actually scared myself with how much anger was coming up within me.  I felt like I could have killed at that point.  I think there might be a more graceful way to deal with it, but for me it was like a huge redwood falling, and I was that redwood and I just crashed down.  But it is different because you know there is no self.  You know it’s empty.

When you are in the absolute, third stage, there is no relative.  It’s just an absolute.  So the relative does not exist, it gets completely negated or not seen.  It’s what we say in The Identity of Relative and Absolute: when one side is light the other side is dark.  When you are in the absolute, you do not see that there is anything relative.  There is no relative.  It’s all illusion.  When you come back to the relative, it’s all relative.  It’s all personal.  I remember having this debate with Maezumi Roshi at Bob Lee’s house in San Francisco in March of ’95 when he said, “Your talk was too personal.”  I said, “It’s all personal!  There is no absolute!”

From the perspective of the fourth stage there is no absolute.  The absolute doesn’t exist, because that’s what the absolute is: it’s non-existence, non-existence of the relative reality.  So yes, when it comes back we can’t hold on to it and we do see that there is nothing substantial about it.  But the anger, the fear, is very much in our face.  They are right there and we’re experiencing them without any hindrance.  At this point there is no absolute, there is just this relative existence.  That’s the qualitative difference.  There is no separation, no distance from the experience of it.  It’s just the raw nature of it.  It’s absolutely raw, and that’s how we feel, extremely raw and vulnerable.  With no capacity to protect, for what is there to protect at this point?  We’ve lost our ability to put up barriers and walls, because in the absolute there are no barriers and there are no walls and there are no boundaries.  So when we come back into anger, we’re just angry! And when we come back into fear, we’re just in fear!  Whatever we come back to, whatever’s coming up, it’s just that.  And it’s changing continuously.

One of the things I experienced at this stage was being, for a while, completely dysfunctional.  I mean if there hadn’t been the form of the tradition and the ritual — because I was in a series of retreats all over Europe when it happened — I would really have been a mess.  But the tradition gave me a kind of container, a form I could just follow.  However, after about a month, as soon as I came back to Salt Lake, I felt as if somehow I couldn’t  get my feet on the ground, my feet couldn’t even touch the Earth.  At the same time I was completely vulnerable and fragile and raw.  I don’t know if it’s the same for everybody.  That’s what I don’t know.  But after having been so much into the absolute I came back that much into the relative, almost too much.

Maybe because we have fallen out of the absolute, all feelings and emotions are raw but not really directed at anything in particular, or simply directed at whatever is happening.  I guess I could say that to some extent my feelings were directed at having denied or deceived myself for so long, at what today might be called my “spiritual bypassing.”

Have you ever tried to speak to somebody who is stuck in the absolute?   It’s almost impossible, because when we are stuck in the absolute, we are totally confident it is Reality.  Because it is!  We call the absolute “Reality.”  It’s the true reality.  So when we are stuck there, we can’t see that we are.  In ’87 my teacher told me, “Sensei, you’re on an ego trip!”  I was shocked.  ‘There’s no ego in the absolute!  There’s no self!  How can I be on an ego trip?’  I’ve talked to others stuck in the absolute and they say, “I’m not on an ego trip, there is no ego!”  That’s the big ego trip: to think there is no ego.  You can’t get on a much bigger ego trip than that.

So some of my anger may have been at that delusion.  Dogen Zenji said, “Delusion is enlightenment,” meaning that when we are deluded in our everyday consciousness, enlightenment is already present.  That’s what we start with.  But when we awaken to our enlightened nature, that’s delusion.  The moment we get enlightened, we’re deluded!   Because we deny the relative, and along with that we deny karma, cause and effect.  And that’s probably part of what the anger is about, because we denied it and now see the harm that we have created by being in denial.  We see the ego trip we are on.  I didn’t see the ego trip I was on until ’94.  It took me eight years, to see it.  ‘Oh my god!  He was right!  I’ve been on one big ego trip!’

I was recently talking to someone else who has gone through a similar fall from grace, and he said the same thing, “Genpo, you’ll never guess what I was on — it was a big ego trip!”   Everybody sees it but ourself.  But people are attracted to it because when we are in that third stage we are so powerful and confident.  I mean we are so certain — because that’s what it is, we are certain of our uncertainty, we know absolutely that we don’t know.  We know with absolute certainty that nothing is knowable.  We are absolutely certain that we hold the “Truth.”  Of course in a way it is Truth, but we can get stuck here just as we can in any knowing, any certainty.

The fifth stage, which is better viewed as a continuing process, is what we call unity attained.  It’s when we come from the apex, where we unify the relational and the non-relational, the absolute and the relative.  We begin this process of integration to some extent at the fourth stage, when we are really back in the relative.  But in the fifth, we’re in the process of truly integrating.  It is a further and more mature deepening of this unity attained.

At the fifth stage there is another descent, a complete loss of everything.  It is as if in the fourth stage we had landed on a great plateau so vast and wide that we thought we were at sea level.  We thought we had arrived at the fifth stage, only to discover that we still had farther to fall.  Here there is a complete loss of identity, we have now lost all enlightenment as well as the person.  We have returned to the origin, to our original home.  We have come full circle, we are completely human and ordinary, yet not.  We identify with the lowest of the low and the greatest of the great.  We are vulnerable as well as powerful.  There is no longer any false pretense or façade.  We’re at home with the homeless as well as wealthy, with the down-and-out as well as the CEOs of great companies.

At this stage we realize that we are truly the architects of our own karma, it is our unconscious intelligence and wisdom at work.  Even if we are not conscious of this it is still so.  Karma is playing itself out all the time.  However karma is not about good and bad.  There is nothing good or bad about it, it simply is what it is.  We say ‘I have good karma,’ ‘I have bad karma,’ but good and bad are just concepts we add on top of it.  Karma is just basically cause and effect.  And it’s rather impersonal.  It can feel very personal, but there is nothing personal about it.  That is the reason that there is no one to blame, no God in heaven or others that are doing this to us.  We are totally responsible for cause and effect.  In fact we realized way back at stage one that there are no others, nothing outside.  Now we live from the place where there truly are no others to blame.

It is as if we had gone on this great journey many decades ago, leaving home only to find that we had been on one very long and exciting trip.  We have truly returned home with gift-bestowing hands and a bottle of wine under our arm.  A little ragged and aged, but none the worse for wear, mingling with the extraordinary as well as the ordinary, without judgement of self or others, honest and transparent.  We have truly come home, at peace and happy with self and others.  Growing old is an honor to be respected and appreciated.  We sit in meditation relaxed and natural with no gaining idea, without goals or aspirations yet awake and present, including yet beyond both the spiritual and mundane, deeply settled in a bliss-like samadhi.  Our sitting is somewhere between awake and asleep, conscious and unconscious, alive or dead.  There is a sense of peace and serenity, a freedom from self, yet completely settled in self, at home in our own skin.

Natural Koans

Working with disowned voices to turn our light inward and illuminate the self


Student:  It seems like what you’ve done with the way you do these disowned voices is you’ve found a way to really unlock the beginner’s mind, the not-knowing and the beginner’s mind.

That’s right.  And a koan.  It becomes a koan.  Instead of traditional koans, we can also do a koan by saying, ‘OK what’s the opposite, or what’s disowned?’  I mean, if you ask to speak to an emotion, like anger, everybody knows what anger is.  But when you say anger disowned, well, wait a minute.  And then you go, OK now we’ve owned anger and we know what anger is, so let me speak to the opposite of anger, but disowned.  ‘What am I?’

And that’s a natural koan, a real koan.  What am I?  If I’m not anger, what am I?  If I’m not anger, and I’m disowned, what the hell am I?  Am I calm?  Tranquil?  What am I?  And that gets the mind working by turning it inward. 

And the whole point of meditation – not the whole point, but a big point of meditation – is to turn our own light inward.  Because normally our light is projected out.  Normally our consciousness and everything is projected out there, and we see the world out there in this way we see the world.  But rarely do we turn it in on itself, turn the mind in on itself and illuminate the self.

When we turn the light inward, it’s like a jack o’ lantern, or a pumpkin.  We put the light inside the pumpkin, it lights up the pumpkin from inside.  When the light is going out like a torch, like a flashlight, it doesn’t light up the pumpkin.  So we turn the light inward, and we illuminate the self.

So the trick is, how do you get people to turn their light inward?  It’s not so easy, because we’re very conditioned – and this is the habitual pattern – to only go out, and we don’t look in.  We never ask who’s feeling these sensations?  Who’s thinking these thoughts?  Who’s perceiving these things?  We don’t ask that question, because the moment I start to ask ‘Who’s hearing these sounds?’ I don’t know.  There’s hearing, but I can’t find a guy, can’t find the guy that’s hearing them.  And I know there’s hearing, there’s the act of hearing, the process of hearing it, but who’s there?’  Well it turns out I can’t find that.  He’s ungraspable.  Same thing with all the others.

That brings about illumination.

This is an excerpt, recorded live, from a retreat led by Genpo Roshi in December 2016.


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The historical Buddha clearly saw that everything changes and that our ignorance, which is a fundamental cause of our dissatisfaction, suffering and unhappiness, arises from our unwillingness to accept the fact that everything including the self is impermanent.  He also foresaw that by about twenty-five hundred years after his passing — the time we are in right now — people would no longer have the capacity to receive his teachings.  Many Buddhists naturally resist accepting this change as well.

Facing the contradiction between the inevitability of change and our resistance to it has always been at the heart of Zen practice.  So many of our distinctive stories focus on this same point: freeing ourselves from attachment to form, beliefs, concepts and ideas.  Bodhidharma’s “vast emptiness, no holiness,” that all is empty of substance and transient in nature and nothing is exempt from this truth;  Dogen Zenji’s “dropped off body-mind,” letting go of attachment to body-mind — such teachings aimed at freeing us from the bonds we create for ourselves are the lifeblood of our tradition.

The tradition of Zen is to go beyond the tradition of Zen.  Nevertheless, we still cling to our notions and ideas of what Zen is, or was, or should be.  I spent years identifying myself with the tradition I inherited from my great master Maezumi Roshi, swallowing the whole fish, and then many more years working on spitting out the bones while retaining the essence in a form that is vital and relevant for our generation and culture.  Recently I have begun to see my practice in a new way, which of course is also subject to change.  I call it NonZen.

triangle 2Why NonZen?  This ‘non’ is part of the DNA of Zen, as in Joshu’s “Mu” (no, not, non), and Dogen Zenji’s non-thinking, beyond thinking and not-thinking.  It is not meant to be seen in a negative way, but rather as the Apex of a triangle, embracing and at the same time free from two perspectives that seem to our dualistic mind to be irreconcilably opposed: Zen and not-Zen, being Zen through and through and simultaneously completely free of Zen.

The unique practice of Zen has always been first to ascend and then to descend the mountain.  However many Zen koans and stories emphasize the first phase — reaching the summit of enlightenment — over the second.  So many of the iconic stories in the Zen tradition are about the challenge and drama of the ascent.  Not many are about the descent.  We know rather little about how it was for our ancestors to descend after reaching the summit.

Our training in NonZen is first to completely identify with our life being Zen from morning till night, then to free ourselves from this identification, for if we remain identified with Zen we cannot be truly liberated and happy.  We must return to being ordinary, embrace being both ordinary and extraordinary, and live as Bodhisattvas liberating all sentient beings, while not denying we too are mortal human beings. 

Being human means not only practicing to forget the self but continuously working with where we are stuck.  I have often said, and my own life as well as others’ demonstrates, that we can spend decades on our cushions and still be sitting on our shit.  Descending the mountain does not mean we automatically transform into integrated free-functioning human beings.  It means embodying not-Zen as well as Zen, being vulnerable and human once again, accepting our powerlessness as well as our power.  It means continuously acknowledging and owning our shadows, fully embracing our humanity.  How else can we embrace the humanity of others?

Zen has no fixed creed or authority and is free from dogma.  It is, according to the saying attributed to Bodhidharma, the founder of Chinese Zen, “A special transmission outside the scriptures, not depending on words and letters; directly pointing to the mind.”  And yet it is so easy to fall into dogma.  The true spirit of Zen is lost when we get attached to forms and rituals, or to bricks and mortar.  In NonZen we do not ignore the importance of form, rituals, bricks and mortar; we embrace them but are free from attachment to them.

So in NonZen we use such skillful means, upayas, as just sitting, shikantaza, and koans as well as the Big Mind process.  We work on experiencing both the transcendent and the disowned aspects of our self, then go beyond both the dual and the non-dual, embracing both as ever-changing integrating free-functioning human beings.  The dual is our perspective as an ordinary self.  The non-dual is what we refer to as the transcendent or Big Mind, no-self.  The Apex is Big Heart, or the Way of the Bodhisattva which includes and yet transcends these seeming opposites.

Knowing that any disowned part of the self will act out in covert, negative and unhealthy ways, our practice is to own, embody and empower each aspect of the self and then to go back and pick up its opposite as well.  Then, embracing both sides of the triangle, we can make the leap to the Apex.  However, I want to emphasize that “to own and embody” does not mean we need to act out these negative extremes.  This is a very costly lesson I had to learn the hard way.  Many aspects of our humanity are difficult to accept within our selves.  We all have very negative, frightening and unhealthy thoughts that if acted on would be dangerous, even violent.  When they are disowned they never have the opportunity to be transformed into positive forces within.  They fester and become frightening because we are afraid they will get the best of us.  Once we are able to investigate them without fear, they can become positive contributors to our health and well-being, empowered  to serve rather than sabotage our success and happiness.  

The Big Mind process supports our study of the Buddha Way by allowing us to explore any and all aspects of the self, and ultimately to forget or go beyond it.  When we free ourselves from our attachments to these aspects of the self and get some distance from them, we realize that what we call ‘self’ is merely a concept composed of thousands of these aspects, which we sometimes refer to as ‘voices.’  Each voice plays an important role in enabling the self to function in the world, but from this perspective we see that what we thought was the self is no-self; it is, as the Buddha said, not solid, substantial or permanent and is therefore easier to let go of.

The moment we cease clinging to anything and are unconditionally open and vulnerable, without boundaries, we forget our self.  Forgetting, or letting go of the self, all phenomena are seen as One Mind.  There is nothing outside this Mind.  When we truly realize this, there is nothing apart from us to be feared or ignored.  There is no division between self and others, inside and outside, no division between oneself and externals.  There is also no one to blame for our life or the circumstances we find ourselves in.  We take full responsibility for action and reaction, for cause and effect.  Neither is there anything to cling or attach to.  All is realized and actualized as ‘me.’  

In NonZen when we sit in meditation we are relaxed and natural, not holding tension anywhere in the body.  We sit comfortably upright, not stiff, back relaxed against the back of a chair, feet placed squarely on the floor shoulder-width apart.  Since we are all different and unique some prefer to meditate alone, some with others, some in lotus posture, cross legged on a cushion, others on a chair.  Of course sitting on the floor is easier when we are young and flexible and more difficult as we age or if we begin sitting on the floor when we are older.  Some may prefer to not lean back but remain upright with no support.  Any of these preferences can change with time.  Neither one is right or wrong, good or bad.  What’s best is just what works best for us and we enjoy.

The key is not judging anything that arises, not thinking anything is particularly good or bad, right or wrong, not judging by any standard.  It is having no preference, not even a preference for no-preference — in other words, non-preference.   We have no preference for awake over asleep, attentive over inattentive, aware over unaware.  We do not even judge our judging.  In other words we sit in non-judging, doing nothing, just being our breath coming in and going out, not trying to focus or to be concentrated.  When we are sitting comfortably, we begin by counting each complete breath from one to ten, breathing in deeply through the nostrils and out in a very thin stream of air through the mouth, as if we were breathing through a straw.  After ten to even twenty breaths in this manner we continue inhaling and exhaling quietly and naturally through the nose, allowing the breath to do the breathing without interference.

All effort is effortless, we are relaxed and natural.  We don’t make thinking wrong and not-thinking right or better.  When we judge the thinking mind and tell it to shut up it will rebel and come out louder, producing even more thoughts.  It is like a child condemned to be quiet and stuck down in the basement.  It will scream even more.  When we give the thinking mind the space and support to do its thing, it quiets down by itself and remains calm and silent, ready to think when necessary.  The mind is held neither too taut nor too loose.  We do not force it to be concentrated, but just allow it to be quiet and relaxed.

Similarly with seeking, we honor both seeking and not-seeking and come from the place of non-seeking, the Apex beyond seeking and not-seeking.  There is a tendency in all of us to get stuck in identifying with our seeking mind and feeling superior to those who are not yet seeking the Way.  However we can also become stuck in being identified with the freedom from seeking, in other words as one who has found the answer or Truth.  This can lead to arrogance and a sense of superiority over those still caught up in seeking. 

Our way is to embrace both seeking and not-seeking, identifying neither as a seeker nor a finder and yet embodying both seeking and being one with the Way.  It is what is referred to in the Buddha Way as neti neti, neither this nor that and yet embodying both this and that.  It is never-ending, beginningless reality, which is eternally present as presence.  It is depicted in NonZen as the triangle of the eternal knot, which represents the endless loop of no-escape from the continuous flickering of light/dark, birth/death, sane/insane, enlightened/deluded, yin/yang, etc.

Our practice is to drop all ideas and notions of being enlightened and to simply acknowledge that we are deluded.  We are just simply ourselves, without a trace of being spiritual or enlightened.  This integrating process goes on endlessly as we move forward as free-functioning human beings.

The Zen practice we inherited comes from an Eastern male monastic model where men and women, monk and lay were separated.  The training was designed for young men without family, occupation or financial responsibilities, devoted to monastic practice, sitting hours and days in cross-legged lotus posture.  NonZen is a practice for all: men and women, monk and lay, young and old, professionals and non-professionals.  It embraces rather than excludes.  For us men and women in the modern world, who for the most part do not live in monasteries but in relationships, with jobs and a lay life, even some of us who are priests and monks, it is essential that we embody vulnerability and the relational self.  It is no fun for the people in our lives to try to relate to someone who only embodies Zen and the non-relational. 

Zen has always recognized that the most difficult and final challenge is our attachment to the Buddha Dharma.  To be truly free and happy we must eventually leave behind the raft of Buddha Dharma which brought us to the ‘other shore.’  Our practice is to totally embody the Buddha Dharma and yet be completely free from it at the same time.

For many of us who have been practicing Zen a long time, our identification with being Zen is so strong that the very thought of being not-Zen is unthinkable and brings up a great deal of fear and resistance.  Identification with Zen is very empowering.  However, we can easily become rigidly attached to particular practices or views because that was the way we were taught.  For some of us that includes the sentiment we often heard expressed by our teachers, and I myself repeated many times, ‘Zen is not about being happy!’  NonZen is about cultivating the flexibility and creativity necessary to discover what we have been searching for from the very beginning of our training: truth, freedom, peace and, yes, happiness.

NonZen is continuous and endless practice of Zen and beyond.  Coming from the Apex, embodying as many aspects of the self and their opposites as possible, is the Way of freedom and happiness.  GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA!  Gone, gone, gone beyond, utterly gone beyond awakening, YIPPEE!


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El Buda histórico claramente vio que todo cambia y que nuestra ignorancia, que es la causa principal de nuestra insatisfacción, sufrimiento e infelicidad, surge de nuestra falta de voluntad de aceptar el hecho de que todo lo que incluye al yo es impermanente. También previó unos veinticinco siglos después de su muerte -el tiempo en que estamos ahora- la gente ya no tendría la capacidad de recibir sus enseñanzas. Muchos budistas se resisten naturalmente a aceptar también este cambio.

Frente a la contradicción entre la inevitabilidad del cambio y nuestra resistencia a él siempre ha estado en el corazón de la práctica zen. Muchas de nuestras historias se centran en este mismo punto: liberarnos del apego a la forma, a las creencias, y a los conceptos e ideas. El “inmenso vacío, no santidad” de Bodhidharma, que todo es vacío de sustancia y transitorio en su naturaleza y nada está exento de esta verdad; Dogen Zenji “deja caer el cuerpo-mente”, dejando ir el apego de la mente-cuerpo – tales enseñanzas están destinadas a liberarnos de los vínculos que creamos para nosotros mismos siendo el alma de nuestra tradición. 

La tradición del Zen es ir más allá de la tradición del Zen. Sin embargo, todavía nos aferramos a nuestras nociones e ideas de lo que es el Zen, o fue, o debería ser. Pasé años identificándome con la tradición que heredé de mi gran maestro Maezumi Roshi, tragándome el pescado entero, y luego muchos más años he estado trabajando en escupir las espinas mientras estoy conservando la esencia de una forma que sea vital y relevante para nuestra generación y cultura. Recientemente he empezado a ver mi práctica de una manera nueva, que por supuesto también está sujeta a cambios. Lo llamo NonZen. 

triangle 2 Spanish¿Por qué NonZen? Este “non” forma parte del ADN del Zen, como en el “Mu” de Joshu (no, not, non), y el no-pensamiento (non-thinking) de Dogen Zenji, más allá del pensar y del no pensar. No se pretende que se vea de una manera negativa, sino más bien como el ápice de un triángulo, abrazando y al mismo tiempo libre de las dos perspectivas que parecen irreconciliablemente opuestas a nuestra mente dualista: Zen y no-Zen (not-Zen), siendo Zen completo y completo, y al mismo tiempo completamente libre del Zen. 

La práctica autentica del Zen siempre ha sido en primero ascender y luego en descender de la montaña. Sin embargo, muchos koans e historias de Zen enfatizan en la primera fase – alcanzando la cima de la iluminación – sobre la segunda. Muchas de las historias icónicas de la tradición Zen tratan sobre el desafío y el drama del ascenso. No muchos se refieren al descenso. Sabemos muy poco acerca de cómo fue para nuestros antepasados ​​descender después de alcanzar la cumbre. 

Nuestro entrenamiento en NonZen es primero identificarnos completamente con nuestra vida siendo Zen desde la mañana hasta la noche, para luego liberarnos de esta identificación, porque si permanecemos identificados con Zen no podemos ser verdaderamente libres y felices. Debemos volver a ser ordinarios, abrazar para ser ordinarios y extraordinarios, y vivir como Bodhisattvas liberando a todos los seres sintientes, sin negar que nosotros también somos seres humanos mortales.

 Ser humano significa no sólo practicar para olvidarse del yo, sino trabajar continuamente allá donde estamos atrapados. He dicho a menudo, y en mi propia vida, así como otros lo demuestran, que podemos pasar décadas en nuestros cojines y todavía estar sentado encima de nuestra mierda. Descender la montaña no significa que nos transformemos automáticamente en seres humanos integrados y libres para funcionar. Significa encarnar no-Zen (not-Zen) así como el Zen, siendo vulnerable y humano una vez más, aceptando nuestra impotencia así como nuestro poder. Significa reconocer y poseer continuamente nuestras sombras, abrazando completamente nuestra humanidad. ¿De qué otra manera podemos abrazar la humanidad de los demás? 

El Zen no tiene credo ni autoridad fija y está libre de dogma. Es, según el dicho atribuido a Bodhidharma, el fundador del zen chino, “una transmisión especial fuera de las escrituras, no dependiendo de palabras ni de letras; Apuntando directamente a la mente”. Y sin embargo es tan fácil caer en el dogma. El verdadero espíritu del Zen se pierde cuando nos apegamos a formas y a rituales, o a ladrillos y morteros. En NonZen no ignoramos la importancia de la forma, los rituales, los ladrillos y el mortero; los abrazamos pero estamos libres del apego a ellos.

 Así que en NonZen utilizamos medios hábiles, upayas, como sólo sentarse, shikantaza, y koans, así como el proceso Big Mind (Gran Mente). Trabajamos para experimentar tanto los aspectos trascendentales como los aspectos disociados del yo, y luego ir más allá de lo dual y lo no dual, abrazando a ambos como seres humanos integrados que opera libremente y que cambia constantemente. Lo dual es nuestra perspectiva como un yo ordinario. Lo no-dual es lo que nos referimos como la mente trascendente o Gran Mente, no-yo. El Ápice es el Gran Corazón, o el Sendero del Bodhisattva que incluye y sin embargo trasciende estos aparentes opuestos. 

Sabiendo que cualquier parte disociada del yo actuará de manera encubierta, negativa y no sana, nuestra práctica es integrar, encarnar y empoderar cada aspecto del yo y luego volver y recoger su opuesto también. Entonces, abrazando ambos lados del triángulo, podemos dar el salto al Ápice. Sin embargo, quiero enfatizar que “integrar y encarnar” no significa que necesitamos demostrar estos extremos negativos. Esta es una lección muy costosa que tuve que aprender de la manera más difícil. Muchos aspectos de nuestra humanidad son difíciles de aceptar dentro de nosotros mismos. Todos tenemos pensamientos muy negativos, espantosos y no sanos y si actuaran serían peligrosos, incluso violentos. Cuando son disociados nunca tienen la oportunidad de ser transformados desde dentro en fuerzas positivas. Ellos se inflan y se convierten en atemorizantes porque tenemos miedo de que obtendrán lo mejor de nosotros. Una vez que somos capaces de indagar estos aspectos sin miedo, pueden convertirse en contribuyentes positivos a nuestra salud y bienestar, facultados para servir en lugar de sabotear nuestro éxito y felicidad.

 El proceso Big Mind (Gran Mente) apoya nuestro estudio del Sendero del Buda al permitirnos explorar todos y cada uno de los aspectos del yo, y finalmente olvidarlos o ir más allá. Cuando nos liberamos de nuestros apegos de los aspectos del yo y nos alejamos de ellos, nos damos cuenta de que lo que llamamos “yo” es simplemente un concepto compuesto de miles de estos aspectos, a los que a veces nos referimos como “voces”. Cada voz juega un papel importante permitiendo que el yo funcione en el mundo, pero desde esta perspectiva vemos que lo que pensábamos ser el yo no es uno mismo; Es, como dijo el Buda, no sólido, sustancial o permanente y por lo tanto es más fácil dejarlo de lado.

 En el momento en que cesamos de aferrarnos a algo y somos incondicionalmente abiertos y vulnerables, sin fronteras, nos olvidamos de nosotros mismos. Olvidar o dejar ir el yo, todos los fenómenos son vistos como Una Mente. No hay nada fuera de esta Mente. Cuando realmente nos damos cuenta de esto, no hay nada aparte de nosotros para ser temido o ignorado. No hay división entre el yo y los demás, dentro y fuera, ninguna división entre uno mismo y lo externo. Tampoco hay nadie a quien culpar por nuestra vida o las circunstancias en las que nos encontramos. Tomamos plena responsabilidad por la acción y la reacción, por la causa y efecto. Tampoco hay nada a lo que aferrarse o apegarse. Todo se realiza y actualiza como “yo”.

En NonZen cuando nos sentamos en la meditación estamos relajados, de forma natural, no sostenemos la tensión en ninguna parte del cuerpo. Nos sentamos cómodamente erguidos, no rígidos, relajados detrás de la parte trasera de una silla, los pies colocados en ángulo recto en el suelo a lo ancho de los hombros. Puesto que todos somos diferentes y únicos, algunos prefieren meditar solos, unos con otros, algunos en postura de loto, con las piernas cruzadas en un cojín, otros en una silla. Por supuesto sentado en el suelo es más fácil cuando somos jóvenes y flexibles y más difícil a medida que envejecemos o si empezamos a sentarnos en el suelo cuando somos mayores. Algunos pueden preferir no inclinarse hacia atrás, pero permanece en posición vertical sin apoyo. Cualquiera de estas preferencias puede cambiar con el tiempo. Ninguno de los dos está bien o mal, bueno o malo. Lo mejor es lo que funciona mejor para nosotros y lo disfrutemos.

La clave no es juzgar nada que pueda surgir, o en no pensar que nada es particularmente bueno o malo, correcto o incorrecto, no juzgar por ningún estándar. Es tener no preferencia, ni siquiera tener preferencia por la no-preferencia – en otras palabras – no-preferencia. No tenemos ninguna preferencia por estar despierto a estar más dormido, atento a estar desatento, consciente a ser inconsciente. Ni siquiera juzgamos nuestros juicios. En otras palabras, nos sentamos sin juzgar, sin hacer nada, simplemente siendo nuestra respiración que entra y sale, sin tratar de estar focalizado o concentrado. Cuando estamos sentados cómodamente, comenzamos contando cada respiración completamente de uno a diez, inhalando profundamente a través de las fosas nasales y en una corriente muy fina de aire a través de la boca, como si estuviéramos respirando a través de una pajita. Después de diez a veinte respiraciones de esta manera continuamos inhalando y exhalando tranquilamente y naturalmente por la nariz, permitiendo que la respiración haga la respiración sin interferencia.

Todo esfuerzo es sin esfuerzo, estamos relajados y en forma natural. No hacemos el hecho de pensar como algo malo y el no-pensar como algo bueno y mejor. Cuando juzgamos a la mente pensante y le decimos que se calle, se rebelará y saldrá más fuerte, produciendo aún más pensamientos. Es como si fuera un niño condenado a estar en silencio y encerrado en el sótano. Gritará aún más. Cuando le damos a la mente pensante el espacio y el apoyo para hacer sus cosas, se calma por sí misma y permanece calmada y silenciosa, dispuesta a pensar cuando es necesario. La mente no es demasiado tensa ni demasiado floja. No lo forzamos a que se concentre, sino le permitimos que esté tranquila y relajada. 

Del mismo modo con la búsqueda, honramos tanto la búsqueda (seeking) como la no-búsqueda (not-seeking) y provienen del lugar de la no-búsqueda (non-seeking), el Ápice más allá de la búsqueda y la no-búsqueda. Hay una tendencia en todos nosotros a quedarnos atrapados en la identificación con nuestra mente que busca y sentir superioridad a aquellos que todavía no están buscando el Sendero. Sin embargo, también nos podemos quedar atrapados en estar identificados con la libertad de buscar, en otras palabras como alguien que ha encontrado la respuesta o tiene la Verdad. Esto puede conducir a la arrogancia y a un sentido de superioridad sobre aquellos que todavía están atrapados en buscar.

Nuestro sendero es abrazar tanto la búsqueda como la no-búsqueda, no nos identificándonos ni como el buscador, ni como el que encuentra, y sin embargo encarnamos a la vez el buscar y ser un uno con el Sendero. A esto es lo que se refiere en el Sendero de Buda como neti neti, ni esto ni aquello, y sin embargo encarnamos tanto esto como aquello. Es una realidad interminable, sin principio, que está eternamente presente como presencia. Está representado en NonZen como el triángulo del nudo eterno, que representa el interminable lazo de no escape (no-escape) del continuo parpadeo de luz / oscuridad, nacimiento / muerte, sano / insano, iluminado / ignorante, yin / yang, etc. 

Nuestra práctica es abandonar todas las ideas y nociones de estar iluminado y simplemente reconocer que estamos engañados. Somos simplemente nosotros mismos, sin un rastro de ser espiritual o de estar iluminado. Este proceso de integración continúa sin cesar a medida que avanzamos como seres humanos que funcionan libremente.

La práctica del zen que heredamos proviene de un modelo monástico masculino oriental donde los hombres y las mujeres, los monjes y los laicos estaban separados. El entrenamiento fue diseñado para jóvenes sin familia, ocupación o responsabilidades financieras, dedicados a la práctica monástica, sentados durante horas y días en postura de loto con las piernas cruzadas. NonZen es una práctica para todos: hombres y mujeres, monjes y laicos, jóvenes y viejos, profesionales y no profesionales. Integra más que excluye. Para nosotros los hombres y las mujeres del mundo moderno, que en su mayoría no viven en los monasterios, sino en las relaciones, en el trabajo y en la vida laica, incluso algunos de nosotros que somos sacerdotes y monjes, es esencial que incorporemos la vulnerabilidad y el Yo relacional. No es divertido para las personas en nuestras vidas tratar de relacionarse con alguien que sólo encarna el Zen y el no-relacional (non-relational).

El Zen siempre ha reconocido que el desafío más difícil y final es nuestro apego al Buda Dharma. Para ser verdaderamente libres y felices, debemos dejar atrás la balsa de Buda Dharma que nos llevó a la “otra orilla”. Nuestra práctica es encarnar totalmente el Buda Dharma y sin embargo estar al mismo tiempo completamente libre de él. Para muchos de nosotros que hemos estado practicando el Zen durante mucho tiempo, nuestra identificación con el ser Zen es tan fuerte que el pensamiento mismo de no ser Zen es impensable y trae consigo mucho temor y resistencia. La identificación con el Zen es muy poderosa. Sin embargo, podemos fácilmente estar rígidamente unidos a prácticas o puntos de vista personales porque esa fue la forma que nos enseñaron. Para algunos de nosotros que incluye el sentimiento que a menudo escuchamos expresado por nuestros maestros, y yo mismo repetí muchas veces, “Zen no es ser feliz!” NonZen es cultivar la flexibilidad y la creatividad necesarias para descubrir lo que hemos estado buscando desde el principio mismo de nuestra formación: la verdad, la libertad, la paz y, sí, la felicidad.

NonZen es una práctica continua e interminable del Zen y el más allá. Viniendo desde el Ápice, encarnando tantos aspectos del yo y sus opuestos como sea posible, es el Camino de la libertad y de la felicidad. GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA! Se ha ido, se ha ido, ido más allá. Completamente se ha ido más allá del despertar, YIPPEE!

                                                                                                (traducción Denis Criado)


  1. Mike Muzen Simpson says:

    Roshi, you landed this right smack in time and space in the very, very centre of my heart (the way protons crash). Words to live up to.
    Thank you

  2. Dan says:

    Thank you Very very, Very much.

  3. Daniel says:

    It all seems quite funny–coming back to the most basic common sense.

  4. Peter says:

    Gratefully appreciate this NonZen.
    It is the “Cloud of Unknowing”.

  5. MRo says:

    Conceptual or not, I love it. aware that I am Aware, all things arising out of no thing, being that which arises as conscious and unconscious thought which are just as empty as I am.

  6. Nan says:

    Just when I think I may have a handle on things…
    Love and head explosions

  7. Cecil says:

    I am very grateful for this, especially for the unique meditation instruction parts.
    Nonzen approach does not always fit with whats in the books. But very much with the development of my own practice. I`d love to read and hear more. Someone has to say it. Thank you!!

  8. Myles daly says:

    Thank you Roshi
    Myles x

  9. Pierre Taïgu Turlur says:

    Hi Roshi,
    So happy to read these lines. I really loved your book. And in more than one way, I find myself so close to you.
    Take great care,
    Taïgu Senseï

  10. John Eshin Quigley says:

    Dear Roshi,
    Thank you for the beautiful clarity of these words.

  11. Asger says:

    Dear Roshi,
    So clear and direct to the point … and deep into my heart. I’m so grateful and filled with joy to be able to receive your teaching. Thank you so much.
    All my love to you and your loved ones.

  12. Seishin says:

    Teaching that embraces my whole life. Thank you, Roshi!

  13. Denis Taiso Criado says:

    Dear Roshi,
    Truly beautiful and profound. Very grateful for your life, and what again has been offered.

  14. Pat Myoku Parisi says:

    wow. thank you. love.

  15. Chet says:

    Thank you so very much, Roshi.

  16. Shugetsu says:

    Thank you Genpo-sama, appreciating your efforts always and loving the openness.
    And with all respect I want to ask you:
    Isn’t Zen ‘nonZen’ anyway, being this the very core of it?
    Isn’t that what Buddha and all masters have been teaching?
    Isn’t that what your teacher Maezumi Roshi has been completely clear about and pointing towards always, including unconditionally opening the gate to whoever stepped in, man, woman, lay, monk etc.? No exclusion whatsoever? Completely natural within (and without) the upaya? Always teaching it IS all about your own life?
    Why still making the distinctions?

  17. A Soshin Wisniewski says:

    Much love and deep gassho, Roshi.

  18. Willem says:

    Non-Zen, Non-everything… The Apex is a great “clear way” of viewing the old “Middle Way”, embracing opposites, extremes and organically going beyond and above… Haha, talking non-sense, I know… sorry. That’s why YOU are the Master. Thank You Roshi..!

  19. Marci Ensei says:

    Embracing everything and going even beyond.
    I am lucky, truly lucky. Thank you Roshi for your teaching.

In Memoriam Greg Kaizen Rosenstein

As many of you now know Greg Rosenstein passed away this weekend on Saturday the 7th of January. I had spoken to him not too long ago and he was so open and beautiful. He was wrestling with his disease and he seemed both in a very challenging time physically and also in in the best place of his life spiritually. His vulnerability was very present and his gratitude enormous. He told me that he had realized the simplest truth that it all comes down to, “Being more kind and loving to all.”

All I know at this time is he passed out in his apartment that morning. I don’t have more details at this time. I know that he was heading back to Florida with his father that day. I ask that everyone take some time to offer Greg prayers and blessings.

A service for Greg was held on Sunday, February 26th in Salt Lake City.  All members of the Sangha and the public were invited to attend.

Here is what Greg wrote on Facebook in his own words on his physical condition:

“In November 2015, something shifted very dramatically for me and the abdominal section of my body became ultra sensitive, almost so sensitive that no one has ever seen something like this before It’s been causing abdominal muscle spasms, severe chronic pain in that area, a feeling that my organs inside are twisting in a knot, and many other symptoms that I don’t even know how to describe…. Since that shift in November 2015. I have not been able to bend the abdominal section of my body, so I’ve only been able to lie down or stand up which keeps my body straight. Paradoxically, this has also been the most transformative time of my life. Everything in my life started falling away, I don’t have the ability to work, I’ve had to stop weightlifting, I’ve had to stop sitting meditation, and most of my social life has disintegrated… All that is left is myself to be with and a lot of time to become conscious of and resolve inner issues that I would never have been able to access if it wasn’t for this experience.”


I ask that many of us sit in prayer and silence at this time worldwide with Greg. We can offer him a swift and safe passage to the other shore.

Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and True Happiness

There is always this leaning towards, this tendency in all of us, to be dualistic, which means to come from a place of either/or. So either we feel good about ourselves or we feel bad. Rarely do we feel bad about feeling good about ourselves, and feel good about feeling bad. It just doesn’t come up. So of course we delude ourselves, because we lean — if we look at the triangle, the two points at the ends of the base, it’s like a seesaw — we kind of fall to one side, then to the other. But rarely do we find that equilibrium and own the two simultaneously. Our natural tendency is to get stuck either in complete contentment and satisfaction, or in complete discontent and dissatisfaction.

So when you’re stuck in the absolute — living and dwelling in it as I did for years, there is a tendency to lean to the side of feeling good over feeling bad. It’s not that you don’t have some bad moments, but basically you feel good, even for years. And of course it’s troubling to think of it being the other way. But it has to happen, it has to. It’s like the rises and falls that we talk about in the book. We have to have successes and rises, but where we learn the important stuff is in the falls and the failures. That’s where we really learn.

So dwelling in the absolute can be a really good reprieve, a kind of refuge, in the Buddha, where everything is OK as it is. But then you’ve got to go to the other side, and take refuge in the Dharma, the teachings, the relative, whatever you want to call the other side. And that is facing the fact that you can’t really escape, that there’s got to be satisfaction in dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction with our satisfaction.

Now we all lean one way or the other. Like Maezumi Roshi, I was looking at this just yesterday, he leaned more to dissatisfaction. And he was very proud of it. “I’m never satisfied!  You’re too easily satisfied!”  OK, he was right, he was more advanced, he was at the point where he was never satisfied and I was too easily satisfied. But I also saw he got stuck there too, because he never was satisfied —and he was never happy.

So the apex is happiness. It’s not contentment without the discontentment. It’s not satisfaction without the dissatisfaction. It’s when we own both, our dissatisfaction and our satisfaction, our contentment and our discontent, and come from the apex. That’s where we find true liberation. That’s where the final authority dwells. That’s where the Master lives, and that’s the fully functioning human being.

— From an introductory talk at the Advanced Facilitator Training,
Sept. 19, 2016, Salt Lake City

Great Faith, Great Doubt

A brief excerpt from a talk given May 22, 2016

Bottom line is, if you go through great doubt, meaning you question everything — I mean really question everything, to the point where you doubt everything, you lose all beliefs, you lose all your kind of understanding, you lose all your concepts, all your opinions about things — what you end up with I call great faith.  That’s the bottom line, great trust.

It’s the foundation, I would say, of our being, and it’s Buddha nature.  It’s the same as Buddha nature.  Buddha nature, true nature, faith, are all bottom line.  So everything that sits on that gets in the way.  And those are our beliefs, our concepts, our ideas, our notions, our thoughts about things.  That’s all getting in the way of our true nature, which is just basic faith or trust.

And that is not in something, it’s not trust in anything in particular.  It’s just faith, or just trust.  It’s an unconditional state of being.  Now you can say, it’s that everybody is Buddha.  You can say that, in a way it is true.  And sometimes when I’m working with someone I know that I trust and have more faith in their being Buddha than they do.  But we all are, and so when you drop all your notions and ideas and you go through all that doubt about this and that, then you discover, of course we’re all Buddha.

On Coming Full Circle

I want to thank once again so many of you who have so kindly sent their love, good wishes and prayers for my health, and to assure you that I am well on the way to recovery, feeling better than I have for the many weeks preceding my emergency.  As you may know, it has forced me to curtail my travel plans; on the other hand the changes have already led to  two very positive developments:
First, I’ve scheduled a retreat for August 26-28 in beautiful Laguna Beach, California.  It’s called Big Mind/Big Heart Zen and Movement and will include some exciting new features.  Please take a look at the Big Mind website for news about it and other events this Fall: the new Advanced Big Mind Facilitator Training in Salt Lake City; the Intensive Retreats in Vancouver and Salt Lake in September;  the November Zen • Psychotherapy • Big Mind Retreat in Salt Lake City; and the Big Heart Retreat in Maui in December.
Second, after several years of homelessness and extensive travel, and spurred by my illness, I’ve rented a place where I will be living for at least the next half year.  It’s in Belmont Heights California, the very town I was living in when I began this 45 year journey in Zen.  In fact, the synchronicity of these events, combined with the impact of my recent brush with death, have led me to add a new final chapter called “Full Circle” to my forthcoming book.
I expect to be talking about these and other developments in this coming Saturday’s Telephone Conference Call, which I invite you to join me in.
And speaking  the the book, “Spitting Out the Bones,” I hope you will consider, if you haven’t already, helping to support its publication this coming Fall.  It has literally been years in the making, particularly these last few years which have taught me so much that I want to share, and I feel it is my most up-to-date teaching as well as my legacy.  You can read more about it, and the special offer for those who support its publication, here.

A Health Update from Genpo Roshi, 28 June 2016

Dear Friends,

I’m very happy to announce I was released from the hospital at 11 am today and all my vital signs are excellent, and my heart rhythm is perfect.

Of course, this experience has caused me to look at and reevaluate my life and what’s important to me.  I know I need to slow down even further and travel long distances less.  The cardiologist here wants me to be connected to a cardiologist for at least a month, and my travel to Europe for events in August has already been canceled.  However, all events in September and for the rest of the year will go forward as scheduled.

I am very grateful for all the prayers, love, and well wishes I received from all of you during this time, it made me feel very loved and appreciated.  I love you all, you’re all very important to me.


Previous  Post  — 26 June 2016

Dear Friends,

I wanted to let you know about my situation as promptly as possible.

I admitted myself to the hospital Emergency Room in San Luis Obispo California on Thursday, the 23rd of June, because I was having a hard time breathing, had shortness of breath, and was coughing.  What I had was a buildup of fluid in the sac surrounding the heart — it is called a pericardial effusion.  When it is large and pushing in on the heart as mine was, it is life-threatening and called pericardial tamponade.  I would have died from it if I hadn’t admitted myself to the ER when I did.

I’m in the hospital being treated now.  They removed a liter of fluid with a needle directly into the heart.  It was caused by a viral infection but they are running a series of tests on the fluid to see if there is anything more specific going on.  At this stage we do not know what caused the infection.

They put me on an anti-inflammatory drug to settle down the situation and prevent recurrence of the fluid.  The pressure is off my heart.  I’m also being treated with medication for atrial fibrillation which resulted from the traumatization of the pressure being released from around the heart.

I may be released from the hospital Monday afternoon, June 27, if the afib is taken care of.  The breathing difficulties and coughing are being treated as well with a diuretic.  It’s been hard for me to talk because of the coughing.

This is the reason I am having to cancel the August events in Copenhagen and travel to Europe this summer.

I appreciate all of your love and prayers.  I’ll do my best to keep you informed.  I apologize for the impersonal communication, but it’s too difficult for me respond to all of you individually.


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