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Zen Master: "If you want to practice Zen, find a teacher. Stop making excuses. A student that cannot

DaltheJigsawDaltheJigsaw Veteran
edited September 2011 in Buddhism Today
Transcript

SZ: I first want to ask you about your background before coming to Zen practice. What was your upbringing like?
NC: I was born in Auburn, New York in 1941. Auburn was an immigrant factory town, and I grew up there. My parents were second-generation Ukrainian. My grandparents spoke Ukrainian – very little English. My parents were bilingual, but they never taught me Ukrainian. They were assimilating and becoming American. My father and mother practiced Catholicism, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic version. When I was really young, church services were mostly in Ukrainian, so I didn’t know what the hell was going on. My mother was always pretty devout. My father was for a while; he read the Catholic rosary weekly on the radio. But, for some reason, he stopped, and I never knew why. When I think of my father, I’m reminded of the following poem by Rilke:

19.
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
trans. Robert Bly

That was my father and I. He always stayed home and just sort of gave up on any sort of spiritual practice. I was the one who left on a spiritual journey.

My mother was always devout. It never made very much sense to me. As I mentioned, the church services were mostly in Ukrainian and I couldn’t understand it. After a while, they changed to English, but by that time, it had little meaning for me, and going to church was something I did because my parents did it. My mother and sister and I would go to church every Sunday, and my father would, just to annoy my mother, drive very slowly to church (she always wanted to get there early to sit in the front). My father, being somewhat passive-aggressive, would drive slower and slower (laughs). My mother would get very upset. I went through that every Sunday.

When I was a teenager, I got too big for my mother to continue making me go to church. I was a musician and played in bands, so I would play out on Friday and Saturday nights. I wanted to sleep in on Sunday morning. My father would say, “Let him sleep. He got home really late last night.” My father was really very good about things like that. So, I just kind of drifted away and didn’t really get interested in spiritual practice until I became interested in Buddhism as a high school student after reading the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. They kind of piqued my interest.

SZ: When was it that you first encountered Zen Buddhism?
NC: Not until years later—in my mid-twenties. I was very unhappy. I was teaching English at the college level at that time and was growing tired of that. My marriage was falling apart. I was pretty miserable. I had a friend from my hometown of Auburn, which is about 60 miles from Rochester, and he found out about a teacher there. My friend had been to Vietnam with the Army , and he was in a supply group that was next to a Zen Buddhist Temple. He grew fond of the monks, and when he got out of the service, he found that there was a Zen Buddhist Temple in Rochester, New York. He visited there and had them send me a copy of Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen. I read it, and it gave a little bit of instruction on zazen. I remember going up to my wife and I’s bedroom, taking some blankets and pillows from the bed and sitting in a kneeling posture (Jap. seiza for about 10 minutes). I felt like I had come home. It was a profound experience. I never really kept up with it, though, not at that time.

Then once, when I was home visiting my parents, I met up with my friend and we drove over to Rochester and attended an instruction in zazen meditation there. That was in 1966, I believe.

SZ: So right about the time they had first opened.
NC: Yeah, right around that time. It was 1966 or 1967, something like that. Like I said, I never really kept up with it.

I eventually got divorced and quit college teaching. I went through a lot of changes from the time that I had first sat zazen until the time that I first found Dainin Katagiri roshi, I went through three different careers (musician, child-care worker, pipefitter/welder) had become involved in a serious love relationship after my divorce, and became a quasi-hippie. The time that elapsed between when I first sat zazen to the time I met Katagiri roshi was about 10 or 12 years.

I ended up in Minneapolis in 1978, I believe. I had wandered around quite a bit. When I was unhappy, I would start sitting zazen. Once I felt a little bit better, I would quit. I went through that cycle for approximately 12 years before I met Katagiri roshi and, once I met him that was it. I just jumped in with both feet.


http://sweepingzen.com/2011/04/13/nonin-chowaney-interview/

Comments

  • 'it is nonsense to insist that we cannot achieve enlightenment without learned and piious teachers. Because wisdom is innate, we can all enlighten ourselves.we do not need a teacher.' ~ZEN MASTER~
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited September 2011
    'it is nonsense to insist that we cannot achieve enlightenment without learned and piious teachers. Because wisdom is innate, we can all enlighten ourselves.we do not need a teacher.' ~ZEN MASTER~
    Ultimately true, but conventionally false. Also, can you provide a source for that quote? I would like to read it in context. :)

    "The wisdom of enlightenment [bodhiprajna] is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our own essence of mind...."

    Same ~ZEN MASTER~.

    :)

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    It is lovely to hear the tales that others can tell ... inspiring.

    But it does raise the question, "Who is the 'Zen master?'"
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    It is lovely to hear the tales that others can tell ... inspiring.

    But it does raise the question, "Who is the 'Zen master?'"
    Literally or figuratively? :) Literally, it is Hui-neng, the 6th Zen patriarch. Figuratively, good question!
  • 'it is nonsense to insist that we cannot achieve enlightenment without learned and piious teachers. Because wisdom is innate, we can all enlighten ourselves.we do not need a teacher.' ~ZEN MASTER~
    Ultimately true, but conventionally false.
    What do you mean by conventionally false?

  • I really enjoyed reading that interview. Thank you for giving it to us.

    I thought he was a little too dismissive of the problems with many people finding a Zen Meditation Center near them, or the financial and time constraints with even attending retreats (and I'd love to discuss with him the effectiveness of such intense retreats, or lack thereof) but he's coming from a traditional temple practice so I expect that.

    The interview only really gets going after the back and forth about the interviewer not having a Teacher at the moment. Good stuff.

  • What do you mean by conventionally false?

    In Buddhism, everything has two natures; a conventional nature and an ultimate nature. Both natures coexist.

    The Sun rises and sets = conventional truth

    The Sun actually doesn't rise and set; the Earth spins on it's axis giving the appearance that the Sun rises and sets = Ultimate Truth (This example isn't a 'real' ultimate truth ('cos Emptiness is the Ultimate Truth), but it gives a flavour of what this means).

    Sound conventionally exists.

    Sound ultimately only exists in the mind; prior to 'mind' it's airwaves (not sound); hence that tree in the forest doesn't make a sound if no-one is there to hear it.

    See?

  • 'it is nonsense to insist that we cannot achieve enlightenment without learned and piious teachers. Because wisdom is innate, we can all enlighten ourselves.we do not need a teacher.' ~ZEN MASTER~
    I like!
    Tigger
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited September 2011
    "Yes, a student can be his or her own teacher. But it takes a special student, and a special teacher." Terry Pratchett.

    I've been fortunate to have some good teachers in my life, and long spells when I let life itself be my only teacher, by choice or circumstance. I never stopped learning, in either case, but what I learned was different.

    We are social animals. Being part of a group with a leader brings all sorts of non-verbal communications and behavior modifiers in play. That's just the way we are. Being part of a group motivates you to actually put in effort.

    But it's like the difference between setting out to explore new territory on your own and going with a group and guide. It's scary, and full of dead ends maybe, but in the end you might learn more than how to follow orders. So, maybe a happy mixture?

    And, there is no more lonely place than a Zazen hall. You're sitting there in on your individual cushion wrestling with your private struggle to comprehend what the Master claims is easy. You're a bit jealous of anyone who seems to do it better than you. You fake a happy smile when you really want to cry in frustration because hey, you're supposed to be peaceful and enlightened and all that. And everyone else in that hall thinks they're the only one faking their serenity.

    So, a good teacher and group is a blessing. But, sitting in the Zen hall easily becomes the entire practice, so don't think you're not getting somewhere if all you have is the internet and a cushion at home. Take this opinion for what it is, just rambling.
    lobster

  • What do you mean by conventionally false?

    In Buddhism, everything has two natures; a conventional nature and an ultimate nature. Both natures coexist.

    The Sun rises and sets = conventional truth

    The Sun actually doesn't rise and set; the Earth spins on it's axis giving the appearance that the Sun rises and sets = Ultimate Truth (This example isn't a 'real' ultimate truth ('cos Emptiness is the Ultimate Truth), but it gives a flavour of what this means).

    Sound conventionally exists.

    Sound ultimately only exists in the mind; prior to 'mind' it's airwaves (not sound); hence that tree in the forest doesn't make a sound if no-one is there to hear it.

    See?

    I understood you explanation but I still don't see what the analogous conventional statement would be really. From which perspective would it be true that "you DO need a teacher"?
  • RazorRazor Oregon Explorer
    edited March 18

    This is amazing! You need a teacher to point out your Buddha nature because you are so prideful and ignorant! It's only pride and ignorance that makes you think you can realize your Buddha nature all on your own. Thank you @LeonBasin !!

  • HozanHozan Veteran

    The buddha realised his buddha nature all on his own. He was not prideful and ignorant. Buddha was an ordinary man.

    lobster
  • RazorRazor Oregon Explorer

    You must be just like the Buddha then! You must have already realized your Buddha nature! You must be Great! The Buddha studied with many teachers beforehand and there are various attitudes about what is situation actually was. If you had a teacher you could ask them. You need a teacher and if you cannot concede that is the truth, then you are suffering from pride and it's cause ignorance. I can admit I am ignorant and prideful and suffering, what do you stand to gain by pretending that you aren't and don't?

  • HozanHozan Veteran

    We are all just like the buddha in that we are all ordinary human beings. I didnt learn to meditate by myself. Of course we all need teachers. Of course I am not enlightened. Of course I am ignorant. I think @razor you are taking a quite combative approach here. No need. I am not your enemy. I respect you and wish you well. We are just having a discussion. I am happy to always learn from others.

  • HozanHozan Veteran
    edited March 18

    @Razor feel free to not answer of course but I am curious about your profile picture? Any significance or reason for having a picture of somebody with a gun to their head. Just curious and asking respectfully

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran
    edited March 18

    @Razor this thread is 6 years old. Why are you being so rude? Or perhaps pushy is the better word. In any case, we don't re-open threads that are more than a year old on this board. You are always free to start a new topic and reference the old one though.

  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    I met Katagiri roshi and, once I met him that was it.

    I met Katagiri roshi also, a long time ago. Heard him give a talk, and exchanged a few words with him. I still regard him as my master, though I never saw him again.

    To have a teacher may not always mean what we think that it does.

    karastiShoshinlobster
  • RazorRazor Oregon Explorer

    @karasti said:
    @Razor this thread is 6 years old. Why are you being so rude? Or perhaps pushy is the better word. In any case, we don't re-open threads that are more than a year old on this board. You are always free to start a new topic and reference the old one though.

    I'm being rude because the meme we of this forum were rude to me and seem incapable of hearing anyone's thoughts other than their own. @lobster was an ass to me my first day and others have responded in similar condescending ways. Or others have taken what I thought to be really good advice as offensive. This thread comes up on google when you search zen and teachers and it's still open. All threads should be closed after a year that's he case. Feel free to ban me.

    @Hozan said:
    @Razor feel free to not answer of course but I am curious about your profile picture? Any significance or reason for having a picture of somebody with a gun to their head. Just curious and asking respectfully

    It's a Buddha named Trungpa Rinpoche > @Hozan said:

    We are all just like the buddha in that we are all ordinary human beings. I didnt learn to meditate by myself. Of course we all need teachers. Of course I am not enlightened. Of course I am ignorant. I think @razor you are taking a quite combative approach here. No need. I am not your enemy. I respect you and wish you well. We are just having a discussion. I am happy to always learn from others.

    If everything I say in a nice way is being dismissed then I'm going to to be loud and rude and combative until I'm banned.

    lobster
  • dhammachickdhammachick crazy Aussie BUJU Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @Razor said:

    @lobster was an ass to me my first day and others have responded in similar condescending ways.

    shrugs If the shoe fits, feel free to lace that bitch up and wear it..........

    Tiggerlobster
  • reb1220reb1220 Explorer

    Why be rude of one is perceived as rude to oneself? What good does it do? I work as a corrections officer. Every day I am cussed, sworn at, threatened, sometimes assaulted. Does replying in kind do anything but provide a momentary release and who stroke?
    We at all of us wandering this existence and seeking answers. Some here, some there. We don't all come up with the same answer not should we. We have to walk out own path. No one can walk it for us.
    So we should not return rudeness for perceived rudeness. We should maintain compassion, recognize that others have their issues they must work through, and concentrate on working through our own.
    Just a thought @razor.

    lobsterHozan
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    Hi @reb1220. Doubt your thoughtful, pertinent, timely and compassionate advice will be of any use. Razor has been banned. But thanks for your input. It's as applicable to anyone as it was to our absent friend....

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