Grief, Loss, Tango and Freedom

by Terry Patten

Jun Po headshot medOn Sunday I was joined by Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi for a fiercely human dialogue we entitled “Falling in Love with Death.

Jun Po is the 83rd Patriarch of his lineage of Rinzai Zen. He began his Buddhist practice at Zen Center San Francisco in the early ’70s, later becoming a student of Eido Shimano Roshi in New York and subsequently a monk. He received inka from Eido Shimano Roshi in 1992. Interested in bringing his Zen Rinzai lineage into American culture without the Japanese cultural bindings, Jun Po left the monastery and founded the lay Buddhist Hollow Bones order, of which he is abbot. He also created Mondo Zen, which integrates processes for emotional maturity and insight with meditative awareness.

That’s Jun Po’s official biography as a Zen teacher. But he was also a wild hippie, a lover of many women (though now happily married), a Vietnam-era military man and a major LSD manufacturer hunted by the FBI — for which he served time in federal prison.

What I appreciate most about Jun Po, though, is not his wild, passionate, colorful past, but his willingness to step outside of his story into immediate contact with himself, the moment, and during our dialogue, with me. He invites in what people tend to hide —fear, dysfunction, confusion — all of which he’s confronted personally in his past experience with stage 4 throat cancer and most recently Parkinson’s Disease.

It’s precious when someone confronts mortality in the way that Jun Po now is, with a lifetime of spiritual practice, a deep witnessing capacity, and a drive to pass the insights gained from his illnesses on to others. During our dialogue, he brought his real-time insights and experiences to bear as we explored what it means to fall in love with death (actually he says it should be “standing” in love because “falling” in love, without awareness, can be dangerous!)

At times, he struggled to maintain a volume level that sounded normal, rather than too low, but which to him took all the effort of shouting. He explained that this is one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Another symptom he suffers (from chemotherapy) is neuropathy. There are times when his body will not respond to his intentions, so he has accidents and falls. A studied Argentine tango dancer, he shared that he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to dance a decent tango with his wife, Mary again. And yet, he still shows up to dance, inviting the grief and the loss, and opening into deeper intimacy with the moment and with his beloved.

The key to opening up to his circumstances and conditions, particularly the BIG, unavoidable condition of mortality, he says, is radical self-acceptance. This is something Jun Po found on the other side of traditional Zen. Traditional Zen says to stay absolutely fiercely present. Don’t look away! Wake up! But after awakening, we are still left with the psychological and emotional structures that were there before. And often these structures are damaged.

Zen didn’t address these “faulty” structures for Jun Po and many others (which is eventually what led him to develop Mondo Zen). But it was through Zen practice that he had anchored the witnessing capacity to radically accept the fear and confusion and gain clarity; to let views and opinions fall aside leaving only the incredible intensity of awareness. From a nondual perspective, this intensity of experience is simply that — “not good, not bad.”

He said, “Death is “boo-hoo” from a relative perspective, but from pure witnessing it’s the gift of liberation. That’s ‘the Joke’.” Then he offered the following reflections on compassion:

When your heart breaks, it doesn’t break closed, it breaks open in unconditional love. This is a love that takes no prisoners. Our true nature of compassion gets filtered through our relative nature. Feeling is information which we often, in our ignorance, meet with violent reactivity. Thus deep care and incredible clarity of mind is expressed as anger. Excitement and opportunity manifest as fear.

We don’t have sin, we have ignorance. When we realize the misinterpretation of feeling, compassionate nature takes over, including self-compassion. You can’t scream at your loved ones anymore. Not because you don’t want to, but because that reaction becomes inconceivable. We awaken to the myth of our own persona.

Stay present in the face of absolutely everything. No one has ever shamed you except you. When we realize that we are responsible for our reactivity, our angst becomes our liberation.

It was a tender dialogue, during which I came into contact with my own sense of grief and loss about the aging process, as well as my joy and gratitude for my connection with that which is beyond words (God). I wake up and reawaken, discovering freshly That which I have discovered so many times before; and yet always it’s a new moment of authentic discovery.

I felt all of this relating to Jun Po, grieving with him, and listening to him “shout” his good news that “we are all dying. Celebrate.”

I invite you to listen in here.


Falling in Love with Death with Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi

by Terry Patten

Jun Po headshot medThis Sunday, July 5th, at 10am Pacific, I’ll be joined by Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi for a dialogue we’ve entitled “Falling in Love with Death.”

Jun Po is the 83rd Patriarch in his lineage of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. He received inka from Eido Shimano Roshi in 1992 and went on to develop an innovative approach to Zen known as Mondo Zen which incorporates emotional maturity and insight with meditative awareness.

Our dialogue on Sunday will be a human conversation, a vulnerable exploration expanding from Jun Po’s own experience. Years ago, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer; more recently he’s been practicing with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. “The shakes, the confusion, the indignities.…it’s dissolution I’m dealing with!”

What he has learned is the power of radical self-acceptance, including radical acceptance of the reality of his mortality. This has opened the door to a new level of clarity and discernment. He has been able to perceive life and death as inseparable. In doing so, he has “fallen in love” even with his own death.

Jun Po says, “Falling in love with my death has been the resurrection of my life!” He considers both his Stage 4 throat cancer and Parkinson’s disease as two huge gifts — and two great teachers.

This lesson is available to us all, says Jun Po, in the myriad array of physical and psychological pain that we each encounter. Properly understood and radically accepted, your pain will become your liberator. This doesn’t meant the end of life’s difficulties, or the end of pain (“ouch”), but rather the end of suffering (“boo-hoo”).

As we prepared for this dialogue, Jun Po and I spoke several times. We dropped below the level of our personas, our stories, and even our teachings. His existential rawness is powerful; his discovery is that he is awakening in a new way while staring directly into the eyes of “the great sleep,” often overwhelmed by “gratitude for the wild, wonderful, crazy life that I’ve had.”

He reflected that the title Beyond Awakening points us to this truth. An Awakening Enlightenment experience is the beginning of your transformation, not the end. Although his medical prognosis is for “6-10 years of miserable disintegration” he says, “I want to beat that by 20 years.” His practice is still unfolding. And that’s worth tuning in to!

Join us on Sunday to hear what Jun Po means when he says, “We are all dying. Celebrate!”

About Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi 

Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi is the 83rd Patriarch of his lineage of Rinzai Zen. He began his Buddhist practice at Zen Center San Francisco in the early ’70s, later becoming a student of Eido Shimano Roshi in New York and subsequently a monk. He received inka from Eido Shimano Roshi in 1992. Interested in bringing his Zen lineage (Rinzai tradition) into American culture without the Japanese cultural bindings, Jun Po left the monastery and founded the lay Buddhist Hollow Bones order, of which he is abbot. He also created Mondo Zen which incorporates emotional maturity and insight with meditative awareness. He established Hollow Bones seven-day Zen retreats for the Mankind Project. As a yoga instructor Jun Po traces his lineage to BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE:

Sunday, July 5th at 10:00am Pacific; 11:00am Mountain; 12:00pm Central; 1:00pm Eastern

*Find Your Local Time

Please Note: There will be a limited number of lines available on the live conference call, so we encourage you to listen online if possible. To make sure you can get through by phone, we encourage you to dial in early.

ACCESS INSTRUCTIONS

  • To listen live by phone, dial: 425-440-5100 (alternate #: 501-707-0312)
  • Then, enter Access Code: 272072#
  • To listen live online go to:  http://iTeleseminar.com/70992399
  • To download the audio after the teleseminar is complete go to the Beyond Awakening Audio Page

Join the Dialogue: About one hour into the dialogue, we’ll open up the lines and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with us directly over the phone or via instant message. Here’s what to do:

To interact live by voice, dial into the conference line number and wait until we ask for a question from someone in your region, or

Send us your question via instant message in the teleseminar window on your computer

Send us your questions and comments before or during the live dialogue by posting them on our Beyond Awakening Community Facebook page

We look forward to your attendance!

Sincerely,
The Beyond Awakening Team


The New Bodhisattva and a New Kind of Political Activism

by Terry Patten

event_person_loy_0On Sunday I was joined by David Loy for “The Politics of Buddhism: Awakening from Institutionalized Greed, Ill-Will, and Delusion.”

David Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. He is a prolific author, whose essays and books (including Money, Sex, War, Karma, The Great Awakening, and Lack and Trancendence) have been translated into many languages. His articles appear regularly in the pages of major journals such as Tikkun and Buddhist magazines including Tricycle, Turning Wheel, Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma. His work focuses on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity: what each can learn from the other, with special concern around social and ecological issues.

We began our conversation by exploring how a sense of “lack” pervades human life and culture — and not just at the level of the individual. Institutions mirror these “lack” motivations too. It’s what we sometimes call “the system,” and according to David, Buddhism calls for a revolutionary transformation of human systems.

Our ecological, financial, cultural and institutional crises are really one large “meta-crisis” — which I often call the universal “genjokoan” of our time, a disorienting, impossible question presented by life that cannot be avoided, one that both changes consciousness and demands a change in consciousness.

David and I have both been engaged in spiritual activism for years (in fact we met when I moderated a panel in which he appeared on Nonduality and Social Action). So often, we see progressive activists imposing their anxiety on others and merely adding to the general delusion and anxiety, clarifying very little. I asked David to share his thoughts on how to bring a consciousness not conditioned by “lack” to social action, instead of anxiety-driven effort.

David put forth the idea of a New Bodhisattva. He says the traditional Bodhisattva path has fallen short when it comes to looking at the bigger picture, including systems and institutions. When it comes to examining challenging structural issues, Buddhists have tended to back away and say “that’s not Buddhism, that’s not spirituality.” The new bodhisattva looks at global issues with an appreciation for systemic causes of suffering, such as the effects of climate change on poverty and human suffering. He or she does so with non-attachment to the individual project, and yet with clear eyes and fierce commitment to alleviating suffering on as large a scale as possible.

I appreciated this idea, and I suggested we probe further. I pointed out that spiritual activism is a tiny movement with a negligible impact on the broader, systemic decisions being made that govern human affairs. This gap between aspirations and reality is an important contemplation for everyone. I consider this both in terms of the way that I’m being as a practitioner doing the inner work, and as an activist doing the outer work. My intuition is that the most fruitful ways of engaging the gap still lie ahead of us, making it crucial that we seriously intend to bring our contemplation forward into new territory — perhaps expressing it in forms that have yet to emerge or be imagined.

The emergence of genuine innovation occurs when we lean into the emergency of our time, not just as individuals but together. Our consciousness can become a “lightening rod” for new intelligence and potential to find unprecedented expression.

I suggested to David that our conversation in that very moment was an opportunity to invite that emergent “charge,” and I challenged us both to edge out into new territory, to transcend the terms of our dialogue.

David’s expanded on his vision for a new, more resilient bodhisattva — we do the best that we can, without knowing whether anything we do will make any difference.

I resonated deeply with this, and spoke about my own dark night of the soul after a period of time when I felt crushed by a sense of futility in relation to our seemingly insurmountable challenges and global crises. I didn’t want to invest my heart and soul if we were doomed to failure, if everything was only leading toward dystopia. Eventually, I found my way to the liberating insight that even if we had already passed some terrible “point of no return” I would still want to embody the presence of healthy love, and conscious courage that perhaps could have turned things around. Either way, I would want to do the same thing! So I didn’t need to worry over our “prospects”; I could just give myself to incarnating my highest creative expression.

This led us into a discussion of the paradox that “life is totally perfect as it is” and “life is a total mess that urgently needs our attention.” How can we be inspired practitioners and activists from a foundation of joy and wellbeing, without bypassing or glossing over the urgent problems and suffering around us?

I admitted to David that I’m sympathetic to critiques of American Buddhist culture tending toward mediocre equanimity. It sometimes seems to take on a muted neutrality. Whereas, it seems that awakened consciousness in our time is characterized by the rich tantric passion that comes from simultaneously feeling both un-buffered raw extremes of feeling — devastating pain and heartbreak, and at the same time ecstatic love, joy and freedom. Both are appropriate. And neither need be muted. And we have to break taboos to be as happy as is appropriate, and as passionately aroused.

David described a recent retreat of Buddhist teachers who were embracing big picture, globally-engaged, sacred activism. In line with Buddhism’s own stance on impermanence and insubstantiality, he thinks Buddhism is shedding its old form and transforming to meet Western culture.

We also discussed the mainstreaming of mindfulness, both the ways it waters down spirituality and the ways it will function as a transformational Trojan Horse, likely to lead to the transformation of contemporary culture.

I invite you to the listen in to the full recording here.


The Politics of Buddhism: Awakening from Institutionalized Greed, Ill-Will, and Delusion with David Loy

by Terry Patten

event_person_loy_0This Sunday, June 14th, at 10am Pacific, I’ll be joined by David Loy for The Politics of Buddhism: Awakening from Institutionalized Greed, Ill-Will, and Delusion.

Almost twenty years ago, I devoured a truly terrific book, Lack and Transcendence, by David Loy. It’s a profound companion volume to Ernest Becker’s great classic The Denial of Death, a deep examination of how “anatta” (the Buddhist doctrine of “no-self”) intersects with the Freudian idea of psychological repression.

With keen intelligence, David’s book opens up the anatomy of the persistent sense of “lack” and how it motivates so many seemingly innocent human activities and in fact pervades human life and culture.

David is a professor, Zen teacher and the author of ten books on Buddhism, nonduality, Western history, climate change, war, and many other topics. A few years ago I met him for the first time when I moderated a panel on nonduality and social action, a subject about which we’re both passionate.

David has noted that the Buddha described the roots of evil as the “three poisons” of greed, ill will, and delusion. When we let them motivate our actions, the inevitable result is dukkha: “suffering.” He says this operates not just at the level of each individual; human institutions are the mirror image of their motivations too.

He uses this as a lens through which to look into the key questions of our time: the destruction of the environment, the exploitation of human beings, and the use of deception to quell dissent and debate.

Do our present economic systems institutionalize greed? Do our military systems institutionalize ill will? Does our corporate media institutionalize delusion?

As David writes:

If greed is defined as “never having enough,” then that also applies collectively: corporations are never large enough or profitable enough, their share value is never high enough, and our GNP is never big enough. In fact, we cannot imagine what “big enough” might be. Built into these systems is the belief that they must keep growing, or else they will collapse.

But why is more always better if it can never be enough? Who is responsible for this collective fixation on growth? All of us participate in one way or another, as employees, consumers, investors, and pensioners.

The problem is that we rarely take personal responsibility for results that are collective: any awareness of what is happening tends to be diffused in the impersonal anonymity of the broader economic process…our economic system has its own built-in motivations based on greed…

Awakening to the nature of these institutional poisons is just as important as the individual awakening that lies at the core of Buddhist teaching. In fact, the two are inseparable.

~

David and I agree that a radical transformation is called for. Nothing less will do.

Of course, this is easy to say, and very, very hard to enact. So I am looking forward to joining David Loy this Sunday, as together we examine the profound koan of how to “be the change” we see is so sorely needed. I hope you’ll join me!

About David Loy

David Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. He is a prolific author, whose essays and books (including Money, Sex, War, Karma and The Great Awakening) have been translated into many languages. His articles appear regularly in the pages of major journals such as Tikkun and Buddhist magazines including Tricycle, Turning Wheel, Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma, as well as in a variety of scholarly journals. A professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy, David lectures nationally and internationally on various topics, focusing primarily on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity: what each can learn from the other. He is especially concerned about social and ecological issues. His website is www.davidloy.org

HOW TO PARTICIPATE:

Sunday, June 14th at 10:00am Pacific; 11:00am Mountain; 12:00pm Central; 1:00pm Eastern

*Find Your Local Time

Please Note: There will be a limited number of lines available on the live conference call, so we encourage you to listen online if possible. To make sure you can get through by phone, we encourage you to dial in early.

ACCESS INSTRUCTIONS

  • To listen live by phone, dial: 425-440-5100 (alternate #: 501-707-0312)
  • Then, enter Access Code: 272072#
  • To listen live online go to: http://events.instantteleseminar.com/?eventid=69827025
  • To download the audio after the teleseminar is complete go to the Beyond Awakening Audio Page

Join the Dialogue: About one hour into the dialogue, we’ll open up the lines and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with us directly over the phone or via instant message. Here’s what to do:

To interact live by voice, dial into the conference line number and wait until we ask for a question from someone in your region, or

Send us your question via instant message in the teleseminar window on your computer

Send us your questions and comments before or during the live dialogue by posting them on our Beyond Awakening Community Facebook page

We look forward to your attendance!

Sincerely,
The Beyond Awakening Team


No one knows how to do it: The mystery of being human

by Terry Patten

Last Sunday, I was joined by poet, author and philosopher of the soul, Mark Nepo for a dialogue entitled “the Practice of Being Human: Seeing with New Eyes in the Best and Worst of Times.”

I appreciate Mark’s intense fidelity to some key values — life as a process and a practice which is all about learning, without end; felt experience and inquiry (as contrasted to solutions and answers); and a compassionate relationship to the ordeal of being human. Another is his poetry — his eloquent, evocative, vulnerable and candid sharing of his own deep experience in ways that so often resonate.

In his thirties, Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, and his struggle of healing helped to deepen his soul and shape his commitment to experiencing life fully while staying in relationship to an unknowable future. It also opened him to accept healing from all spiritual approaches and today he calls himself a “student of all paths,” studying both the common threads and the unique gifts that each school has to offer.

I asked Mark to share his way of practicing with the daily news in this “best of times and worst of times,” within the context of Beyond Awakening’s animating question:  how can higher consciousness enable humanity to rise to the challenge of our world’s increasingly urgent, complex and intractable crises?

Mark pointed to the perennial wisdom of Aristotle: “We have a right to censor a work of art or information if it makes us experience pity or terror without an inner necessity to do so.” Part of the best of these times is that we have instantaneous access to information and images from around the world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but when catastrophic events such as 9/11 are replayed over and over, the effect on us can be numbing, paralyzing and destructive.

He also noted that it is always the “best of times and worst of times,” and the nature of the universe is for things to come together and fall apart. However, things that fall apart make the most noise. Things that come together, usually do so quietly. Everything is coming together and falling apart as it always has, but our media’s negativity bias has us transfixed by the misleading constant ruckus of things falling apart.

I thought it was important to acknowledge that while the nature of the universe is for things to come together and fall apart, there does seem to be a greater scale of crises at hand than we’ve ever faced. So I asked Mark to press a little deeper into the idea of being moved by the “experience of pity or terror” into compassion or action, rather than shut down.

Mark agreed with the necessity of action, and then spoke about residing in a balanced view of reality. One of the first practices he learned from Buddhism was the notion of seeing things as they are. This means seeing what is coming together as well as what is coming apart, neither through rose-colored glasses nor through the cloud of fear and anxiety. Until then, we don’t have the eyes to see what right action might be.

One of the richest parts of our conversation was when I asked Mark about the fact that he never seems to offer techniques or solutions as a part of his teachings. He points not so much to outcomes or ideals, but to ways of being with experience.

Mark explained this approach by saying that the most mysterious, amazing thing about being human is that no one knows how to do it, despite all the great literature and teachings. Therefore if we are humbly, fully “here,” we can start an honest friendship by admitting to each other that we don’t know, that in fact we don’t have a clue. But we can share our experience, when our heart broke, or we lost someone, or we stepped into wonder.

He quoted the mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg, “A fish cannot drown in water, A bird does not fall in air.” For human beings, whose gifts are so mysterious and varied, part of our journey is to discover what our “element” is. When we discover this, our gifts will manifest.

In the meantime, our dreams are there to exercise the heart and inspire it to inhabit its aliveness.

I invite you to the listen in to the full recording here.