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Thread: Zen-fluences?

  1. #1
    disastermouse
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    Zen-fluences?

    Hey all,

    I think it's pretty safe to say that we all come to this path via different steps. Now, a lot of us have posted a 'how we started' post in that thread...but I was wondering about your Zen influences - particularly what you read when and how it changed your thinking about Zen. Of course, other influences should be included too. For me personally, it was a wild hair-up-my-ass whack at meditation after reading about Buddhist-type meditation in a completely un-Buddhist-related book.

    Then, two years later, it was probably Benjamin Hoff's 'Tao of Pooh' and 'Teh of Piglet' books that got me going. Then Lao Tzu, Chaung Tzu...the 'New Age' section of the book store where I lived (the area that I'm from is so provincial that yes, Buddhism is considered 'New Age' - the Buddhist books were right next to the Dolphin-Reincarnated-Soul-Channelling' books, LOL) had a pretty limited supply of Zen books. I picked up 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind' and learned how to sit 'properly' from that...then 'Zen Keys' by Hahn (STILL haven't finished it...that guy is dry as a desert in mid-July)...

    ZMBM got me REALLY into breath counting and watching where I hadn't been into that before. I sort of wish I'd been exposed to something like Treeleaf back then, because it would have gotten me off the breath-watching a lot sooner. There was no interweb back then, or at least very little (it was '94). I got minimalistic. I went vegetarian, kicked out the TV, and probably about the spring of '94 I began sitting every day. Because the internet wasn't very prevalent back then, I got into book club buying thing (catalog) that offered a lot of Zen stuff - and I read a lot of the Utne Reader. Slowly, I began to accumulate Zen references - but because I was unguided, I missed a LOT of what was considered 'Zen Basics' or 'Zen 101'. I did pick up some Trungpa, and then a LOT of Trungpa. It was pretty weird because in my mind, I didn't make a lot of differentiation between Trungpa's stuff and Zen. I got some books on Koans (Zen Bones?) Trungpa got me thinking a bit more about the formalism of sitting practice and a 'practice life'. From Trungpa came some reference to Ginsburg and Kerouac - so I got into the beats. Say what you want about Kerouac, but man - his enthusiasm really injected some new life into my practice! It wasn't until late '96 when I went to Salt Lake City for my Massage Therapy training that I really came up next to brick-and-mortar, honest-to-goodness 'Zen in 'Murca'. I wasn't too impressed. It was Genpo Merzel Roshi's place in SLC - Kanzeon. I'd never seen or heard of a 'Soto/Rinzai' mixed sangha before. I wasn't really very impressed, although it really is a cool Zendo! I was a dedicated zazen practitioner, but buy that time, my social skills had degraded even further than they'd been - and I'd never really been very well 'socialized' as a kid. I did read Genpo's 'Eye Never Sleeps' - it's not bad, really. In SLC, I borrowed a ton of books from the library. Social theory (Erich Fromm, especially), some more Zen books... It was so hit-and-miss for me. Also, my physical and mental health were degrading pretty bad at that time. I got into a serious of tumultuous romantic entanglements (all my romantic entanglements were tumultuous when I was in my 20s). I continued doing 'art' things with painting. I moved home from SLC for a few months, then back to SLC where I cut out sugar and tried 'raw food dieting' in a misguided attempt to recover my health. While on the way from SLC to a job interview in East Lansing, MI - my father died of a heart attack. I came home..and continued to sit zazen. I was pretty lonely at the time and my borderline was getting worse along with my general health. Using my inheritance, I drove back out to SLC to start a Massage Therapy career. Sometime in the spring, I dropped off my daily sitting practice. It was the spring of '98. I can't believe it's been that long since I had a daily practice - it was never my intention to get away from daily sitting for that long!

    Since then, I've been influenced by Brad Warner, Ken Wilber (wow, I typed those two names one after the other and my computer didn't burst into flames!)...I had a bit of a Zen revival when I started listening to an audiobook by Steve Hagen...but before that, I actually got into a totally misguided entanglement with Holosync and binaural beat entrainment stuff. I kept reading...I sat intermittently...sometimes the spaces between sittings would be months.

    Of course, now I'm influenced pretty heavily by this place - but it fits in well with Hagen and some of the other stuff I'd read and some of the other places I'd sit. I just could never really fit in at any of the Sangha's I'd attempted to connect with in the past...part of the problem was how unstable my material situation was. I kept getting sucked back to Iron Mountain, MI - where there are no Zen centers. It's taken a long time for me to get off the ground and get the sort of stability where committing to a Sangha was really possible.

    So yeah...'Beyond the Occult' got me started...then Benjamin Hoff's stuff, then Trungpa, the Beats, Hagen, Thannissaro Bhikku, Ken Wilber (actually, Wilber's had a lot of influence on my entire orientation to everything - and also helped me reconcile with people from other mystic/meditative traditions). I'm missing some stuff here, but it's still a really sparse list. In a lot of ways though, I think I'd have been a lot better off with fewer books and ONE really good teacher/sangha.

    Chet

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: Zen-fluences?

    For me, it was my father's getting posted to a base on Oahu in Hawaii. There is a huge asian influence and I kind of picked up on the aesthetics - the whole "Zen" look. That was around 1980. I was ending elementary school and starting junior high so it's not something I was conscience of. It was a very influential time for me. I was never overtly exposed to buddhism, but it was just around. After moving back to the east coast, some of it just stayed with me. I would read/watch anything with an "asian" flavor to it. I also belonged to a book club, and got a little set of zen inspired books; one was on Haiku, the other on Koans and the third was Sayings. When I got to college, I continued to read but never developed a practice - the whole idea of meditating seem alien to me. In college, I studied some philosophy-the whole existential thing. But that didn't really take. I kind of lost interest and crawled into a bottle for about 10 years. Looking back now, I can see I was searching for something. About the time I was crawling out (I met my wife, quit drinking settled down), an employee mentioned something about Buddhism being a religion that allowed murder. I thought "bullshit!!". About this time, I was going through the "all religions are wrong-anyone who believes is an idiot etc." You could say I was bitter. I started reading anything I could get my hands on that had anything to do with buddhism. I read all the standards, good stuff and bad. The soto zen stuff just felt right. Brad Warner's first book really got me sitting. I stumbled along on my own and didn't really get anywhere. I accidentally found Treeleaf on line, lurked for a year or so and finally joined. In a nutshell my influences were/are; Hawaii - Alcohol - Joe Nutgrass (the employee) - Treeleaf. I started on the shiny outer shell and am slowly working my way to the fruit.

    Good Thread Chet!

    Ron

  3. #3
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    Quote Originally Posted by rculver
    For me, it was my father's getting posted to a base on Oahu in Hawaii. There is a huge asian influence and I kind of picked up on the aesthetics - the whole "Zen" look. That was around 1980. I was ending elementary school and starting junior high so it's not something I was conscience of. It was a very influential time for me. I was never overtly exposed to buddhism, but it was just around. After moving back to the east coast, some of it just stayed with me. I would read/watch anything with an "asian" flavor to it. I also belonged to a book club, and got a little set of zen inspired books; one was on Haiku, the other on Koans and the third was Sayings. When I got to college, I continued to read but never developed a practice - the whole idea of meditating seem alien to me. In college, I studied some philosophy-the whole existential thing. But that didn't really take. I kind of lost interest and crawled into a bottle for about 10 years. Looking back now, I can see I was searching for something. About the time I was crawling out (I met my wife, quit drinking settled down), an employee mentioned something about Buddhism being a religion that allowed murder. I thought "bullshit!!". About this time, I was going through the "all religions are wrong-anyone who believes is an idiot etc." You could say I was bitter. I started reading anything I could get my hands on that had anything to do with buddhism. I read all the standards, good stuff and bad. The soto zen stuff just felt right. Brad Warner's first book really got me sitting. I stumbled along on my own and didn't really get anywhere. I accidentally found Treeleaf on line, lurked for a year or so and finally joined. In a nutshell my influences were/are; Hawaii - Alcohol - Joe Nutgrass (the employee) - Treeleaf. I started on the shiny outer shell and am slowly working my way to the fruit.

    Good Thread Chet!

    Ron
    How long have you been here at Treeleaf, Ron?

    Chet

  4. #4

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    Chet,

    I really enjoyed this posting. I'm a new Zen practitioner, although I come from a Buddhist background. My parents are devout Buddhists (Vietnamese) and particularly fond of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings on kindness and mindfulness.

    Regarding Zen, I began downloading a few audio books. The first one being The Art of Happiness by HH The Dalai Lama. I had briefly studied Tibetan Buddhism quite a few years ago, and his approach on happiness and cultivating kindness was familiar and warm. However, it was after I downloaded Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (I now have the book) where I can mark my turn-around. I loved it, the simplicity of it. Shortly after, I had the good fortune of finding the Treeleaf Sangha here, and have since spent considerable time reading everyone's thoughts, watching Jundo and Taigu's videos and blog entries. I'm now finishing Nishijima Roshi's book, To Meet the Real Dragon and just picked up Brad Warner's books, also (for the lighter/casual reading, aspect). I'm also reading currently a number of great articles written by Rev. Issho Fujita, who has a number of wonderful videos uploaded on youtube.

    Gassho,

    SZ

  5. #5

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    I haven't hit 20 yet, very new to most things in this wide, wide world. My grandmother was very interested in the Zen aesthetic. She kept calligraphy, ink paintings, and those tiny ( and kitschy :roll: ) "Zen Gardens" that could be place on the desk top. I loved them as well, so much so I spilled all the sand out of one in my enthusiasm. I would say, then, my first exposure to Zen came through the art and architecture.

    Fast forward to high school senior year. Before this time I was pretty non-chalant about everything. Politics, opinion, religion, meh. I sort of went with whatever my family did because I just wasn't that interested in learning otherwise. My family was never particularly religious, went on Christmas and that was about it. Then I became all rebellious and all that nonsense, deny deny deny whatever the parents said or believed in and question everything (pretty sure I started reading a bit of Voltaire and Camus around that point :shock: ). So all the introspection caused me to question whether or not I believed in anything or not. Searched searched searched. Lists Lists Lists. Religionfacts.com is what directed me towards Buddhism. I just wanted to see what felt right.

    The Dhammapada was the first Buddhist book I read. It grabbed me a bit. Then (and still) I went on a Buddhist book binge, so much so my friends wondered if I would graduate, or ordain lol. I went to a Tibetan Center and felt comfortable because the people were nice and it was close, still attend to see friends and listen to a lecture or two.

    In college I kept up the meditation practice I had at home (awkward at first, having your roommate, a devout christian, walk in on you while meditating is like being caught naked, you just can't always explain what you were up to!) and started being drawn more and more to Zen. And here I am, made the jump after much thought on my "views" of Buddhism.

    "If you cannot find truth where you are, where do you expect to find it?" - Dogen

  6. #6

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    Hello Chet,

    Thank-you for starting this (and so many other threads). I am one of those who doesn't say much on the board because, well, I don't have much to say. But I benefit from everyone else's contributions so perhaps I will stick my oar in from time to time.

    Growing up in the very late 60s and early 70s my Father had a Japanese friend. Kaz and his wife Mariko deeply impressed me with their simplicity and generosity. Kaz practiced Zen I believe, but this would never have been talked about in my uber-evangelical household. Their influence sparked a fascination with things Japanese. I read all the Herrigel, D. Suzuki, and others I could find. Okakura's Book of Tea, and Lafcadio Hearn's anecdotes fascinated me. I also became intrigued by the Taoists; Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and the gang. Strategy became important to me and Lao Tzu, Musashi, and the Shinkage school's "shoe offering bridge" I read and re-read.

    The sadness and Dhukka, inevitable in a grasping mind, gradually pulled me down. Untutored, I tried various meditation techniques with limited success. The only time I felt free was in the North on the Canadian Shield. Rocks, water, and wind, nothing else. Summers up there, mostly alone, were a kind of moving meditation - no time.

    Eventually though, even time up North would not free me from debilitating anxiety. Along with other (not always healthy) things I turned back to meditation in earnest. I rejected Zen because most of my reading was from a Rinzai perspective and the concept of a sudden flash of enlightenment tasted like the "born again" evangelical stuff of my youth. I read Thurman's explanations of Tibetan traditions with fascination but the cultural shamanistic metaphors made me uncomfortable. A form of Vipassana worked for a time but that sometimes had the unintended effect of reinforcing my issues. Looking for Pali texts, I stumbled on the "wild mind" site and followed their instructions with some success. Around a year and a half ago I found Treeleaf while looking for a reliable meditation timer; one glimpse of Jundo in a funny hat and I was hooked. Since then, 20 to 30 minutes of peace - every day. Home.

    I have read all I could find of S. Suzuki with great interest. Zen Flesh Zen Bones sometimes sometimes makes a little sense these days. Dogen is, of course, rich...

    I used to be a voracious reader of texts; a glutton of the intellect. Everything was quickly categorized - this is useful - this is not - this is something to memorize so as to impress others - this would help with that debate - this can be refuted using that - etc. Hungry, I devoured all as quickly as I could and was proud of my breadth of knowledge. Useless really. These days I am content to read slowly, to contemplate from different angles, to allow open unresolved questions, and then to reread.

    m

  7. #7
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: Zen-fluences?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse

    How long have you been here at Treeleaf, Ron?

    Chet
    I joined the forum about 2 1/2 years ago - I lurked for about 9 months before that. The employee I mentioned got me interested in Buddhism about 12 years ago.

    Ron

  8. #8
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Re: Zen-fluences?

    I was teenaged in the early 60's and wanted to leave behind my 2nd generation immigrant mores. I wanted to burst out of suburban Chicago and see things. In my last two years of highschool (graduated in 63) I got involved with the "Meldramatic Club" at St. Mel H.S., and my eyes were opened up to so much. The theatre kids were quite a wild bunch for an all boys Catholic H.S. I continued with a few of my buddies into the Speech Arts/Theatre department in College, still just a walk to school from home however. It was in that society that I began to venture out more. We would leave the suburbs on the weekends and go into what was becoming the Old Town district around Wells and North in Chicago, and up to Evanston near NorthWestern University to go to a coffeehouse named No Exit. My circle of friends was growing and so were our interests and conversations. It was then that I met a friend who was to become a great influence in my life.

    Michael Senecal was an artist, poet, singer who came up from Joliet for the same reasons I came into Chicago from Cicero. We met somewhere and began to have wonderful conversations until many, many dawns punctuated with gallons of coffee and weed. Together we read Jack Kerouac (On the Roadand Dharma Bums), which led me to Kenneth Patchen (The Journal of Albion Moonlight), Allen Ginsberg,and Christmas Humphries. We felt ourselves part of the Beat Generation, but were really a little to late for them. We didn't know we were becoming Hippies yet! We kept on reading and talking and found Alan Watts (The Way of Zen, Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen) and ultimately D.T. Suzuki (Manual of Zen Buddhism).

    Vietnam was revving up and we were all afraid we would be getting drafted. Michael and I were practicing Zazen as best we could without a physical teacher, he in Joliet and me in Cicero. We would get together on weekends and throughout the summers with all our friends and wander Chicago all night, finding all night coffee shops, walking on the breakwater of Lake Michigan or hanging out at Union Station. Several people carried their guitars all the time and we would just plop down anywhere and start singing. Michael got a draft notice to appear for a physical, and before anyone knew it he was in the Army. He registered as a Conscientious Objector because he said he was Buddhist, so they made him a Medic.

    While in Vietnam he wrote, and I wrote back every week, wonderful long letters talking about Buddhism, Dharma our practice and what we were reading at the time.Those few years and the letters were my Zendo and the early formation of Buddhist experience for me.They were also a lifeline for himto escape the insanity of war. After his return, he married and his life was rightly wrapped up with his new family. I went on to school in France for a while and then back to the States ultimately entering the seminary and monastery...and here I am now.

    Thanks Chet for this open door.

    Seishin Kyrill

  9. #9

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    Fortune cookies of the day ...

    Long and winding path to reach "just here" and "just here" and "just here" and ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor
    My grandmother kept ... "Zen Gardens" that could be place on the desk top. I loved them as well, so much so I spilled all the sand out of one in my enthusiasm.
    Spilling the sand out is the Garden. 8)

  10. #10

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    I really can't remember what my initial influences were - Watts's 'The Way of Zen' was certainly one which continues to be a zen-fluence. I walk around in it now like in a familiar house, but the rooms are always lit by today's sunlight. (euuchh! I just wrote that to crack the wax in a few folks ears!) I just checked the cover and it cost 3.95 so that was neither today nor yesterday.

    Tao Te Ching continues to be consistenly refreshing. In the 80's I was reading a lot of collections of Japanese and Chinese poetry, not specifically zen, but among them was Lucien Stryk/Takashi Ikemoto's 'Zen Poetry' still very much in circulation.

    I think things bubbled away in an indiscriminating pan-Buddhist sort of way: The Tibetan book of Living and Dying; listening to podcasts here when they started becoming available; going to a Buddhist group there whenever they occured locally, but nothing really stuck until stumbling across Treeleaf in February last year. Although Buddhanet.net is still in my browser's favourites and I downloaded some useful .pdfs about the Four Noble truths and the Eight-fold Path from there.

    All of this gets played out against the backdrop of my gradual shift from the Methodism that I was brought up with, to the Quakerism which I now follow. Sometimes I thought I saw connections between this and zen practice, as if one could in some way vindicate the other, but at the moment I don't see any and I'm happy with that and wonder why on earth I would want to do that in the first place. Maybe they wrap around or encompass one another, or maybe their only point of contact is me, or maybe that's something to think about in another thread...

    I sat irregularly beforehand, but then started sitting more regularly, and since the Ango last August I've missed 3 days (1.travelling, 2.sleeping, 3.alcohol on New Years Eve ops: ), so it looks like Treeleaf and its recommended reading list is the major influence now.

    So, those are the wonderful influences pushing me ever more nowhere-in-particular.

    gassho,
    Monkton

  11. #11

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    SInce I just started thinking about the Buddha less than a year ago, remembering my "influences" is easy. Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha" set the hook - he was solving the same problems I wasn't. I proceeded through Brad Warner to Stephen Bachelor (Buddhism Without Beliefs) before I finally found "The Three Pillars of Zen" and "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind". Rinzai vs Soto - LOL!

    The sudden flash of enlightenment initially appealed to me, but upon reflection it seemed like "more of the same" - work really hard for some big payoff and be happy forever. That path didn't really do it for me for the first 50 years of my life, and I wanted change. ZMBM is beautifully written and completely opposite of the way I've always lived. And parts of it are still incomprehensible to me, which probably lent it a mystical quality that intrigued me somewhat.

    So here I am: Hesse to Warner to Suzuki. Short list. Lots to still explore. Trying not to overdose on "knowledge" and work on "wisdom" instead.

  12. #12

    Re: Zen-fluences?

    Zen-fluenza

    find a way to live with it

    there are support groups--zendos, sitting groups, sanghas...

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