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Thread: First Encounters of the Zen Kind

  1. #1

    First Encounters of the Zen Kind

    Hellos to all:

    I am fascinated by how people 'fall' into zen buddhism as a practice. Just because, in my growing up, it was very scarce. When I was in college, and working at a vegetarian restaurant (these were the early days of vegetarianism and we were called vegetarian because we served no red meat, but did serve fish and chicken--there was only one other vegetarian restaurant in all of Rhode Island at the time and they were macrobiotic and had an extensive garden... But let me not stray from my zen beginnings: the dishwasher at the restaurant I worked at liked how I stacked my bus tubs--he lived at the Providence Zen Center, and invited me to his wedding, so I got to see a zendo for the first time. I didn't quite know what to make of it all. Later, he gave me my first 'zen' bookropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn. It took a long time from point A to point B--first exposure to actually attending a zendo, practicing zazen, becoming part of a sangha--about 10 years--and one thing has led to another ... but I credit that dishwasher, David, at Amara's Restaurant, for starting me on what I will never come to the end of!

    I'd love to hear other Treeleafer's stories of how it all began..., and of didn't begin then, it begins now, and now and now and now...but you know what I mean!


  2. #2
    Hi everyone:

    I "fell into" Buddhism over about thirty years.

    I was raised agnostic and was curious about religion from a young age. I became an atheist when I was 11, after I asked an elderly Christian woman (who loved me), "What will happen to me after I die if I lead a perfectly virtuous life but never accept Christ as my savior?" She told me I would burn in Hell for all eternity, and that just didn't jibe with what I'd been taught about a good God.

    I hung out in libraries and read a lot, often about different religions and more and more often about Buddhism. I had some cool insights, but never took up the practice. Grew up, started working on cars, got married. I read a lot of Buddhist books and promptly forgot 99.99% of it. When I was about 40 I read Hardcore Zen and started sitting weekly, quite sporadically at first. I had a lot of eye problems. Like, it would be time to go to zazen class but eye couldn't see actually doing it. I've sat more regularly as the last 2 or so years have passed, though I've yet to establish a daily practice. I start sitting daily now and then, but it never lasts longer than a couple of weeks. I feel like I'm avoiding it.


  3. #3
    ... we were introduced to 'Guru Yoga' which was basically the practice of viewing the group's guru as a living Buddha, seeing him as perfect in every way, we were taught to visualise streams of energy flowing into us from his magnifigance etc. etc.
    Gee, and I was going to introduce this Practice around Treeleaf, starting this week. Maybe some of our members would like to do it??

    Gassho, Jundo the Magnificent

  4. #4
    Quite a trip Harry whew. Too bad yo.

    How did I start. I was so dillusional at the time. Well, I mean. In and out of relationship after relationship. Bouts of depression crying etc... for no reason. Wanting to be good and normal. I was a "songwriter" you know the emotional type. hehe. Over the years I've hung out or met people who were somewhat "spiritual" ie. burnt incense and crystals and stuff. I guess after having another breakup with a girlfriend, I didn't know how to cope with it. Every relationship I was in it was: break up, cry, feel terrible, think of the person etc... Well that girlfirend that I broke up with didn't take any of my shit. "Stop romanticizing" she said. She was smart. hehe. Anyway, so I didn't know what to do. I asked her what she did to cope with a breakup. She said "Try breathing or something" So... haha. I bought a meditation book. Then I bought another. Then another. Still felt like crap hehe. So eventually one day I looked in the phonebook for meditation centers in Ottawa. By this time I had about, maybe, 20 books. Tibetan book of the dead. Dzog-chen (Rama Suria Das)(spelling)Picked up Philip Kapleau's Famous book (whatever it's called) so, anyway I found some addresses for meditation centers. Went to one. There was nobody there. Stopped by the White Wind Zen Monastery. It was open. (I forget his name) Opened the door. Gave me a card. Everything was like sooo neww. What is this place etc...

    The WWZM deals with students online first. Then has you go to a introduction sitting. Eventually I became a formal student and sat a 4 day retreat before leaving for China. While in China, I sent emails back and forth with a teacher there. Anyway, I stop for a bit. Tried this. Tried that. Did this. Did that. Got myself into more trouble and now here I am. What a trip. Haha.


  5. #5
    What? Lama? Dude I can't remember anything that I read at that time.

    I also remember going to this introduction meditation thing where these girls were talking about meditation and they seemed really strange. Doped out kind of. Never went back. I remember another guy "Chris". He was a nice guy. He gave me this meditation to do. I did once, when he showed me, and that was about it. hehe. My concentration was somewhat lacking at that time. woops.


    Gee, and I was going to introduce this Practice around Treeleaf, starting this week. Maybe some of our members would like to do it??
    Hey! Mr. Magnificant. Try somewhere else. Getoutta Here!!!

    Gasshhoow me the money

  6. #6
    Sorry Harry. Yes. "Lama" Suria Das.

    Still don't remember anything though.


  7. #7
    Hey All,

    Good topic, Keishin!

    For many years, I considered myself a "searcher." I was looking for some "higher truth" etc. I was raised Roman Catholic, but it didn't hold much meaning for me as a young adult. My good friend Chris from CT first exposed me to Zen. It was around 1988 or so. I was in college studying Drama in NYC and writing angst-ridden poetry in cafes. I also looked into every form of Christianity, Judaism, Quakerism, Universalism, etc. I loved reading Zen stuff, and I read so much for many years but never really practiced. Oh, sure, I sat a few times at the New York Zendo, and was enchanted by the exoticism of it all. But, everything I was reading at the time ("3 Pillars of Zen" was a big one at that time) just made it all seem so otherworldly and unattainable. So, over the years I just kept on searching and not really committing to any path. In graduate school, I even went back to the Catholic Church and contemplated joining the priesthood. Both the Jesuits and Franciscans were really interested - taking me to dinner, saying they'd pay off all my student loans, etc. (that's a story for another thread!).

    In the meantime, I kept reading all kinds of stuff, and I was always pulled back to Zen. Then in 2003, I think, I came across "Hardcore Zen" in a Boston bookstore, and it really spoke to me (excluding the whole punk rock/monster movie stuff - not really interested in either). It just rang true and spoke of a no BS, down-to-earth Zen. I finally started practicing. As I wrote elsewhere, I moved to FL, looked for a group, met Jundo, and here I am! Besides a brief foray into a group affiliated with the Kwan Um School of Zen (founded by Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn), the Soto way - as taught by Master Dogen, Kodo Sawaki Roshi, Nishijima Roshi, Brad Warner, and my teacher Jundo Cohen - has been my practice.

    Yeah baby!


  8. #8
    Member Martin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Wherever the next mediation is. Every now and then I make it back to Norfolk, England.
    Interesting stories, thank you.

    I'm not entirely sure how I ended up "here". There are so many small causes and effects. But I think it's something like this.

    I grew up with Quakers; my mum took me to meetings. Although they are Christian, some aspects of their practice are not entirely unlike Zen meditation: they sit quietly, though on hard benches, not zafus. And they wait for the "inner light" to prompt them to speak out at Meetings.

    I liked their tolerance, their pacifism, their quiet sitting, but never the less drifted away. For one thing, the benches were seriously uncomfortable. More seriously, the "inner light" never prompted me to say anything. Which wouldn't have mattered, save that in a community where the "inner light" is prompting others to speak out, I felt that something ought to be "happening" to me when sitting quietly so that I too would see or be touched by said inner light, and all that happened was that my mind wondered. "Just sitting" wasn't an option, you were supposed to be looking for the inner light and in my case the light was off. Even then I had a dim sense that the looking for the inner light was what prevented me finding it, but how to stop looking for something when you're supposed to find it? And even amid the Quakers' tolerance, they are still Christian, and I still struggled with the whole Christian "belief" thing. Not just with the things that I felt I ought to believe, like the fact that the creator of the universe had dictated a book setting out how he wants us to behave, or that 2,000 years ago a man was born without a father who then cam alive again after being killed, but with the whole idea of belief. I mean, what's so great about "believing" things that sound (based on my experience) unlikely and for which I have no evidence? And even if it were great, how do I generate the "belief" if it's just not there?

    So I stopped going to Quaker meetings, and with a job with very unpredictable hours and three kids I would have found it increasingly difficult anyway. But I suppose there was a gap in my life where the Quakers had been. I had always felt vaguely drawn to or interested in Buddhism (Quakers and Buddhists seemed to end up together on various peace marches etc) and one day I surprised myself by calling in at the local Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. I found that very interesting, and went to a couple of their courses and read everything I could get my hands on and discovered from that, rather contrary to the impression that FWBO do tend to give, that there were a lot of different strands in Buddhism. A friend recommended that I try the Soto Zen Abbey at Thrussel Hole in the UK and I went for a weekend retreat there and immediately felt more at home than I’d felt previously anywhere. But my local Soto group sits at 7.00pm on a Wednesday and my work / family means that I get to be free then about once in six months, and Throssel Hole is a six hour drive one way. So what I needed was a fairy godmother to set up an on line Soto Zen sangha. And guess what… I am.

    Thanks Jundo.



  9. #9
    When I was a child, my father had a little statue of a meditating Buddha in a terrarium.
    I was fascinated by it. Drawn to it. I wanted to understand who, what, where, and why it was. I held to the picture of this in my head until I was old enough to read. When I had learned how to read I went from the Cat In The Hat to the Dhammapada. My mother even made me a cushion to sit on.

    I knew it was important. But I did not understand it. How could I? I had a relatively comfortable life. What was suffering? What was attachment? What were Greed, anger, and delusion?

    My father encouraged this study though and eventually I read “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”

    I really did not get it. Not grasping the core concepts by the time I was a teenager I moved on. I examined other ancient religions and even explored some aspects of Christianity. Going so far to be confirmed as a Lutheran. This did not hold with my undisciplined mind very long either and soon I began to experience suffering without even knowing it. I embraced the “burnouts” and dead ender’s who had no beliefs but chasing after their next pleasure. I now think of this point in space in time as my life as a hungry ghost.
    Always wanting more. More pleasure, more friends, more money, more to drink, more girls, more music, more, more, more, more. Never being fulfilled. This time caused a lot of trouble for my parents and I. Eventually, and luckily, I got caught doing something stupid. I had to change my paradigm. I resolved to clean myself up.

    I was sixteen. I shaved my head and had decided to join the Marines. Early influences here were likely a pair of grand uncles whom I worshipped, and to many war movies on television. I had a need to show a change, to myself and to my family. I called the Marine Corps recruiting office and was told they would not accept me as I was too young and was not on track to graduate high school with my senior class. I redoubled my efforts on my schoolwork, and began studying for the Marines. General orders, the code of conduct, rank structure, excreta. I graduated high school on time and four months later was at Marine Corps recruit Depot San Diego. Boot camp was not as challenging as I thought it would be, but there was a war on and I was ready to serve. On training day ten of Marine Combat Training my heart was shook. The war had ended and I ended up a cook. Not only had I lost my chance at redemption by going to war and being a “Hero”, I was made a “basic burger burner.” I was devastated. Picking myself back up took time. I became nihilistic. Getting Tattoos and drinking myself into a stupor when ever I could. On duty, I would excel as a Marine. I continued to study doctrine; the way of the warrior was still in my heart. This led me into studying everything from the Small Wars Manuel to Sun Tsu to Musashi.

    Musashi had a profound effect on me. I harbored a desire to go to Japan. I requested orders to get overseas as soon as I was eligible. Within a few short months I was there. I quickly linked up with a friend from stateside and forgot all about Musashi for the time being. I fell in love with Japan and met my current wife. Visited Castles and temples and mountains and Shinto shrines. My warrior spirit rested, I got physically soft, mentally lazy. Having extended once in Japan I was not allowed to stay any longer. I got orders to Parris Island, often called “the land that god forgot.” Past performance saw me promoted to Staff Sergeant in May of 1999. Only eight years after I had went to boot camp. Shortly after that promotion I received orders to recruiting duty and after a successful but loathed tour there I went back to Camp Pendleton.

    After nearly eleven years of trying to get out of Food service I finally got a break.
    I was able to get a “high speed” job in the Communications field. I knew nothing about it. After a short class in how to do this job I was assigned to Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 15 (MSSG-15) and I started to go back to embracing my warrior heart. I had a lot of work to do. Reading Musashi again, I found myself attracted to a different character in the book, Takuan Soho, A Rinzai Monk. I began studding Buddhism again with vigor. Starting with The D.T. Suzuki books, moving on to Shunryu SuZuki, Uchiyama, and eventually Master Dogen. But I still did not “get it.”

    In December of 2004 I left my pregnant wife and two-year-old daughter behind to deploy with the 15th MEU. We sailed from San Diego to Hawaii, and from Hawaii to Guam. As we laid anchor in Guam disaster struck. A Tsunami had washed over several coastal areas in South East Asia. After a four-hour re-supply we made for Sumatra, Indonesia and southern Sri Lanka.

    Imagery of the destruction came to us over the Internet; plans were formed on how we could help. Negotiations were made with the governments as to how many people we could send ashore.

    I was running on the flight deck when I saw the first casualty of the tsunami. I felt a strange emotion come over me that I had not felt since a child. Empathy, compassion things the angry demon I was did not recognize. I felt for this victim, did he have family? Did he leave behind children? Was he Married?

    For the first time in my life I recognized the First Noble Truth.

    My part in the relief efforts were small.
    Just a Marine in a line passing supplies.
    But the effects of just being there will last a lifetime.
    I became a human being.

    After leaving South East Asia and making for the Persian Gulf the MSSG disembarked in Kuwait. After a short time there we headed directly to an Army Forward Operating Base just south of Baghdad.

    Not having a “job” to do there as my mission was being fulfilled by higher headquarters I worked as an “Watch Chief “ in the Combat Service Support Operations Center”, a very fancy name for a dispatcher of trucks and supplies. Little sleep, the best food I had had on the deployment, fear of mortars, escorting a high profile detainee, and occasional gunfire were the only things that were noteworthy for me. The MEU did a lot of great things over there though.
    "During that period, the 15th MEU conducted security checkpoints, completed numerous raids, captured key high-value targets and gained the trust of the Iraqi citizens by providing medical and dental care at local schools."

    Source: ... th_meu.htm

    Leaving Iraq through Kuwait, then a harrowing helicopter ride back to the “Boat” felt surreal to me. I was still far from letting go of attachment to desire. After a quick stop in Diego Garcia we were off to Australia. We spent a few days in Cairns and then made for Hawaii. I felt as if I was living a dream as we left Hawaii and headed home.

    A ride on a landing craft to the beach at Camp Pendleton and a buss ride back to the Headquarters building seemed to take an eternity. When I got off the bus I could not see my family, I ran through the building, around the building until finally I found them.

    Meeting my Wife and children,
    One for the first time.
    After six months deployed.
    Places some would describe as hell.
    Peace, Joy.

    Before I had even returned to Camp Pendleton I had begun looking for a place to share my practice with others. This turned out to be much more challenging then I had thought it would be. Or at least I had made it a challenge. Finding the correct Sangha (for me) would turn out to be a challenge for me for over a year. This was complicated shortly after my return “stateside,” by a permanent change of station from Camp Pendleton, California to inspector instructor duty in Portland, Oregon.

    Further complications had me traveling around the country to visit several remote sites around the country. It was during this time that I came across Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen. While my “view” of Brad has changed over time, it was his book that really got me serious about putting myself on a cushion. His book said a lot of the same things I had already been familiar with from reading Master Dogen, and Master Uchyama’s Works, but the “punk rock” angle seemed to be a scalpel to pierce my own thick skull. My practice went from trying to sit for 20 or 30 minutes a day when I had time and was not to drunk, to the eventual cessation from alcohol all together and sitting at least an hour a day, morning and night regularly.

    Moving to the Pacific North West, I found a several “Zen Centers” and found flaws that I could not seem to bend my ego around. I went to quite a few “introductions to Zen Meditation" classes just seeking the right place, only to find out things that disturbed me later. For example one center had a “membership Level” that depended not on the level of your practice but the measure of your monetary contribution to the center. Another had a class who’s “Soto Zen Priest and monk” was not familiar with Master Dogen’s Work, even pronouncing the masters name as “Dojen.” I found this a bit outrageous at the time. Persevering had benefits, and I found a place to practice (that almost seems perfect {for Me.})

    For a while I went to the Priory for practice during my lunch breaks on Wednesdays. But recently a heavier work load due to personnel shortages, combine with a renewed enforcement of uniform policies for Marines (meaning I cant go out in town in the camouflage utility uniform) keep me from making my weekly visits. So here I am at Treeleaf.

    If you have read all of this you know more about me than my mom.


  10. #10
    It's cool reading all of your stories. I thought Jordan's was a particularly tough act to follow. (Thanks for the post Jordan). I first encountered Buddhism in a comparative religions course in 1992. When we got to the unit on Buddhism, I felt a real connection with the worldview it presented. So, that summer I began buying books about all of the different schools of Buddhism. I was always drawn to the less ritualistic forms of Buddhism, but there was a Tibetan group in town so I started going there. It was there that I learned breath-oriented meditation (1993ish). I feel I learned a lot from that year or so, but I never really 'connected' with the approach. All of the dieties and ritual (many held over from the Bon religion that predates Buddhism in Tibet) were more than my spiritual stomach could take. I simply could not make those rituals 'real' for me. Relatedly, I felt like there were many ideas that I was supposed to accept as truth without experiential truth. So in my readings I kept coming back to Zen teachings because, I felt, they didn't fall into these traps very often. Until I found Treeleaf, I had not had contact with other Zen folks (in Tennessee there simply aren't many). I am certainly glad that this is where am I in my journey.


  11. #11
    Good question, and interesting to read your stories.

    Jordan, your story was especially moving. I read a book from a sailor who happened to be in Thailand during the Tsunami. He helped the local people rebuild their restaurant on the beach and wrote about how strange it was. He knew that it was a big natural disaster, headlines in the entire world, but on the other hand, they were just cleaning up garbage from a beach. He also got some flack about how he used the money he raised to help build a restaurant, when there were also people without drinking water in other areas (far away from him). He said that he was just doing what he could, to help the people within 100 feet of where he was, right now. The author was not religious and the book was just a book about sailing around the world, but I found that his experience made some concepts clearer than zen teachers do. I am sure the lesson is even much, much more profound if you are actually there.

    My "story":
    I used to be Roman Catholic. I was even interested in monastic life at some point (but nobody ever offered to pay my loans!) but then I lost my faith in a personal God, got married, and had a child.

    A year ago, I got an Amazon gift certificate, totally out of the blue from a stranger. I was really happy with it and decided that I could use this on books for me, instead of the "useful" books that I usually wanted to buy. Back then I used to read a few personal development blogs and one of the "in-books" was The Power of Now. I thought that the premise sounded interesting and went on to read the reviews on Amazon. Being the skeptic that I am, I always read the negative reviews first. One of the negative reviews said that this book was just a rehash of age old zen concepts, and that people should read Hardcore Zen or To meet the real Dragon. So I checked out Hardcore Zen, the reviews were good, and bought it. The book struck a chord with me and I started to read other books about Zen and Buddhism. I was quite surprised that Buddhism was (or at the very least could be) so entirely different than I thought it was. I thought it was about chanting and reincarnation.

  12. #12
    Perhaps we better start at the beginning...

    When I was 16 I asked the "wrong girl" to a homecoming dance. Of course it got to her then boyfriend and word spread that I was going to get jumped at the dance (of course I was the last person to hear about this). A very good friend of mine came to me and said "I'm going to teach you how to fight." Soon thereafter my training in a quick and dirty form of muay Thai began.

    Martial arts became an obsession with me and I threw myself into reading books and magazines, talking to other folks I knew that trained. Learning and adapting movements and theories into what I had already been taught.

    Needless to say that one can't study martial arts without a mention of Buddhism somewhere. I blew it off initially being a "take your god and shove it" kind of atheist and having no real interest in religion.

    As a high school senior my last period was taken up by "working" in the library. One day I stumbled across a book on world religions and flipped through it to see what it had to say. I liked the description of Buddhism and felt that it spoke to a lot of things that I was beginning to discover about ethics. I blew it off, however.

    When I started college, I fell into the whole new agey/ neo-pagan thing. Fancied myself quite the sorceror too. I also fell into some heavy drinking and recreational drug use. Smoking pot led me to meet this cat named Rob, a half Sioux hippie artist type. He was a pagan as well, called himself an eclectic shaman. I learned about totems and herbs (medicinal and otherwise), runic magic, that sort of stuff. There were five of us living in the house and on nights where Rob's wife would go to work the rest of us would sit down and talk about the "mysteries of the universe". One night we were high and talking and I said something that caused Rob to leave the room. He returned a few minutes later with a hardcover notebook. "You might be interested in this," was all he said. Inside the book was a handwritten copy of a translation of Dammapada. I didn't really get it at first, but it started to make more sense as time went on.

    Midsummer 1996 was when it all changed. For three days prior to the holiday I had been fasting and sitting in the rudimentary form of meditation that I had been shown in preparation for my first shamanic journey (that's fancy talk for an LSD trip to those playing the home game). Once the drugs kicked in I walked into the kitchen where Rob was making a cup of coffee (man he loved his coffee). The conversation went something like this:
    Rob: How are you feeling?
    Me: Not bad.
    Rob: Who are you and how do you know it's you?
    Me: huh?

    The question slipped my mind until later when I wrote a spontaneous verse. I don't remember the first lines but the last four are:
    I am everything
    and everything I be.
    I am everything
    and everything is me.
    (ok Hui Neng I'm not :P)

    Those lines reverberate in my head from time to time. It put my whole life in a new perspective. I continued wearing the shaman hat for a time, but when my wife and i moved out of the house because the group dynamic become a little hostle, I began the process of full conversion. I read and analysed anything I could get my hands on concerning Buddhism. My emphasis was making it work in the real world. Never even considered joining a group or finding a teacher. Buddha had done it on his own and my life provided all the lessons I could ever use.

    A couple of years back I came home from work and my wife started talking about this site she found called "Harcore Zen". I checked it out and found it entertaining, but I wasn't hooked. I discovered Brad's book in the local library and gave it a read. Once again entertaining but not life changing.

    I had started talking to Junpei on another forum (in fact the first fellow Buddhist I had spoken to at any length about Buddhism). Googling some of the things we discussed led me back to Brad's blog and the little link to Nishijima Roshi's blog. In the comments section of one of the posts was a note from Keishin with a link to Treeleaf. I followed the link, lurked for a few days, figured "what the hell. I might learn something," and joined.

    So that's the story of your non-sectatian brother.


    P.S. In case you are wondering the Rev comes from the Universal Life Church and the Church of Spiritual Humanism. Take from that what you will.

    PPS: I'm still a "take your god and shove it" atheist on occasion. Been working on being more polite.

  13. #13
    Hi everyone:

    Great topic, Keishin. I'm loving everyone's stories, it seems (from my POV) to make all of you a little more real. Jordan, you didn't almost make me cry, but you /almost/ almost made me cry. And, thank you for your service with the Corps.

    I'm surprised at how many people mentioned Hardcore Zen, I would have expected fewer. Ya'll seem way too nice to be reading that trash. 8^D

    So, all you lurkers out there (even you spam robots), how did you get here? Jundo, how did /you/ get here?


  14. #14
    Hello all,

    I've written a bit of my "story" on the introductions thread, so if no one minds I'll repost it (with additions) here:

    I can't remember what sparked the initial interest in Zen. All I know for sure is that I five years ago I found myself reading Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." After figuring out (a few hundred pages in) that this book had pretty much nothing to do with Zen Buddhism, I went back to the bookstore and picked up Kapleau's "Three Pillars."

    I devoured it, fascinated by the idea of Enlightenment and making tentative stabs at sitting zazen based on the diagrams in the book. As I'm sure happened with many other "diagram-sitters," I quickly became frustrated and (without a teacher to encourage me or the discipline to continue it alone) abandoned the practice.

    I did the typical college student philosophical tourism after that: "paganism," snot-nosed Superiority Complex atheism, existential cynicism, etc etc.

    I can't point to a single event that triggered it, but one day about 6 months ago it hit me like a brick to the face that Soto Zen was what I'd sought all along. I poked around online and saw that Brad Warner was stirring up a lot of shit in the Buddhist world, so I thought I'd try his new book. Eventually I checked out his blog, which led me here.

    That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


  15. #15
    Wow! Thanks for the interesting topic and the exciting stories. Mine is more philosophical than biographical, so I hope to still entertain you with my bad English.

    I am a Buddhist because of a malfunctioning cigarette vending machine. Really! I am serious.

    Actually it was three of them on the streets in my neighborhood, many years ago. I was pissed off already when I left my apartment in the middle of the night to get some lousy cigarettes. 20 minutes and three broken cigarette machines later I felt like killing someone. I had been "robbed" by a gang of evil metal bricks disguised as cigarette machines, by a conspiracy of tobacco wholesalers. I was a "victim"! I wanted justice, I wanted my money back, I wanted people who cared, I wanted a planet that worked, I wanted a smoke, I...

    This little incident seemed like a perfect scaled-down model, almost a mean parody of my frustrating and angry life in a western society. A society full of hypocrisy and broken promises. "Mother", "justice", "girlfriend", "family", "therapist", "cigarette machine". None of which "delivered". Lies! Total bullshit!

    Back then I only knew that what had happened to me is called "Dukkha" which apparently was zenish for "out of order". So I considered it worth exploring. I virtually dissected the precious little mishap, First I tried to establish a firm sense of reality by "childish" questions like "Is an inoperative cigarette machine still a cigarette machine"? By mere logical deduction I figured out step by step

    • that a broken cigarette machine cannot reasonably be called a cigarette machine,
    • that even a functional cigarette machine isn't "real" because it depends on permanent maintenance to not rot away immediately and become the truer "scrap",
    • that, strictly speaking, there are no "genuine" cigarette machines at all,
    • that the "non cigarette machine" had actually worked beautifully and to my expectations by not dispensing any cigarettes,
    • that any remaining "problem" was thus not mechanical. What EXACTLY was the "problem"?

    • I finally located the "defect" in the huge label on the machine's casing: "CIGARETTES". It's wrong!
    • I figured that each and every phenomenon of the "real" world bears such a (mental) label that guides our expectations, judgments and actions. And no matter what it says – it is always plain wrong!

    That was a breakthrough! From that moment latest I was a Buddhist. But I didn't notice. Instead I was left with a sort of blurred, ghostlike, faint "cigarette machine" and the question "What is real?" It took another decade until various "experiences" slowly sank in, like:

    • My lifelong distant orbiting of zen philosophy (starting with practising Taekwondo at age 13)
    • The stunning discovery during several lonely vacations that the beauty and mystery of the Scottish Highlands or a French cathedral are the exact same beauty and mystery as that of hardware store or a rest stop lavatory.
    • An increasing inexplicable sensation of "resonance" or "symmetry" or "intimacy"(some would say love) while experiencing nature.
    • At least one so-called "mystical" experience,
    • My lifelong deep disgust with religious hypocrisy,
    • The learnings from my advertising profession, that people tend to mix up experiences and symbols ("eat the menu instead of the meal" as Allan Watts phrased it) which is the essence of marketing – and of religion. It seems the fundamental error of human existence.
    • The rise of the internet which provided access to authentic buddhist teaching rather than its western misinterpretations.
    • The learning that "Zen" is "Buddhism". And Buddhism is not about being right or being smart – it's about caring. It's much more ethical than it is philosophical.
    • The sheer horror of having grown up (hardly) in a family with a record of all kinds of criminal abuse – and my total unconcern with what people "believe" or consider "realistic" (seems to drive many "zennies" like Barry Graham Sensei for example.)

    It took another minor crisis of being fired from a job that I actually hated until I finally gave up resistance and started practicing. At age 42. It solved 90% of my problems immediately, in a second – as if flicking a switch. I only wish I had started about 20 years earlier.

    Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming. It's the path that all paths lead to, the only box big enough to comprise all boxes. It really stinks of truth. And the question I'm dealing with now is: How do I really REALLY devote my life to that?

    Oh, and I quit smoking too.


  16. #16
    Well, who still believes that folks can't share deeply, and come to see each other, through an "online Sangha"? There are many ways to look right in each others' eyes.

    This is a good chance for me to think about history too. Sorry if this runs on a bit, but I think I should go into detail (since I claim to be the bus driver on this bus).

    Okay, I was a pretty messed up teenager. Years of deep depression and anti-depressants, home rather rocky, I missed a year of high school. Got back on the school track though, and even did well gradewise ... but the depression stayed with me right into law school (dropped out of law school for a year too, but got back to that somehow). During college, starting reading on Taoism and Buddhism ... It did not yet 'click', but I could not get away from it either. Always hung around 'mind expanding' people, questioning people, who challenged accepted ideas. Pretty mind expanding college experience too (mind expanding in all meanings of that word), studied and worked in Spain for a year. Started to realize that much of my depression was 'overthinking' things, that so much of my perception of the world was mind created.

    Got to a tough law school, taught how to analyze and argue about anything, reason about the world down to its atoms ... that is what law school is, learning how to argue angels on the head of a pin (and from any side of the argument ... depending who is paying the bill :-) ) I was in training to be a professional 'hired gun' (a briefcase carrying assassin), plus the whole power and greed thing about planning for one's 'career'. I was still really depressed, stressed, getting counseling ... starting sitting with a Zen sitting group at school, very informal. But I stayed with it this time, and sat often. It became the quiet at the eye of a hurricane. I am not from a rich family, and mom and dad were struggling with the bills, Dad dies during this time, family savings running out. A lot of pressure.

    Happened to move into a house with roommates from China, some of the first exchange students to the US (this was like 1984). They suggest I go to China to study and teach (the school needed people to go the other way). I don't know why my family agreed, or how I swung it ... (we had no money and it was an exprensive affair). Everyone else in my class could not wait to get onto 'Wall Street' with big salaries, and to start raking it in. Nobody in those days was particularly anxious to go to China. I start studying Chinese. I learned again, in additional ways, how much the the mind creates reality (both inside and outside the courtroom ... and about greed and ignorance).

    Get to China. Speak broken Chinese. Mind blowing. Depression gone. Find a few English books on Buddhism in the school library (somehow not purged from the stacks, probably because they were in English). No internet then. Meet old guy at a local Buddhist temple, turns out to be a Chan priest who had been banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution (his temple was seized and he was forced to marry a nun, become a pig farmer. At least, I think so ... my Chinese was pretty hit and miss, lots of miss.). He was trying to rebuild his temple. But, I sat Zazen with him once a week. Sat on my own each day too. Accidently, I was 'just sitting', because I really could not understand the finer points of what he said. So I just sat and tried to feel peaceful ... and I did.

    Back to America, big law firm, greed, power, win at all costs, sex, money ... After awhile, invited my Japanese girlfriend to join me (I had met her in China and we started dating there, now she is my wife Mina). Not sure why I asked her to come to America, glad I did. After a couple of years of law firm life (I was a corporate lawyer, doing 'deals'), I am tired, stressed, smoking, often depressed again. Another ten years, and maybe I will be a 'partner'. Still sitting though (this is about 20 years ago). Attended some local groups, but my hours were so bad ... who had the time? Idea comes up that I can head to Japan, and I learn there are ways to do it without starving (like working as a lawyer or teaching). It feels right.

    Soon, I am in Japan. Doing some legal work to pay the bills, studying Japanese intensively. Not a lot of money, but food and rent was not a problem. First month in Japan, find out about a Zen temple close by offering Zen sittings. By coincidence (I did not know this at the time), it is Sojiji, one of the Head Temples of Soto Zen (like the Vatican of Soto Zen, a role shared with Eiheiji). It is a Japanese group, but the teacher (Ikuo Azuma Roshi) speaks some English. Sojiji is a pretty amazing place, everything done the traditional way as a training school for the young monks, and I rarely missed a sitting for the next 10 years. I was the only foreigner sitting there regularly in those days, so became the foreign 'aide' to Azuma, writing his English letters and such. Saw him for tea and to 'practice English' once a week ... a great chance to sit and talk about everything and anything. Even after my image of 'Zen' and 'Japan' came down to earth (you know what I mean ... after reality replaced the version of Zen and Japan in books), I found it still ... no words can say or need to say it. Tried some of the local English speaking Zazen groups in Tokyo too, and that means Nishijima Roshi (this is around 1989). I was not a regular with Nishijima's group though.

    This continues about like that for the next 15 years. Had a wife and starting (late) our family, plus my own small business now (law related translations, and a small school for lawyers). Thinking monk dreams too, but to be ordained did not seem an option. There is a big glass ceiling for foreigners wanting to be ordained in Japan (a subject for another day, but basically the system is not set up for foreigners, or for "Zazen teachers" as much as young Japanese priests who will take over their father's temple to perform funerals and other rituals for parishioners, and who need to learn the arcane ceremonies required. Not really my interest). Moreover, with my wife's cooperation, I could leave for retreats and such for a week or two, or even a month, at Sojiji and other places ... but not for the solid year or two required for those young Japanese priests under the "system" of priest training in Japan.

    Went to see Nishijima, known to care about Zazen Zazen and Zazen (ceremonies and such ... not to care so much about those), known to train foreigners in Japan in English, and to do it the 'old fashioned' way (through personal training, face to face). That meant carrying his bags on teaching trips, attending retreats and weekly sittings, and ... maybe most importantly, working on the translation projects he does. I translated one of his books over a couple of years, I watched what he does. That is how I learned.

    Much about actual "priestcraft" I learned more in America (sometimes Nishijima forgets to teach things not directly related to Zazen .. which explains a little about the atmosphere at Dogen Sangha. Nishijima only taught me about certain things because I asked him to, and kept pestering him). Because my mother was sick, I started to come back to America for three or four months at a time a few years ago, and became the assisting priest in Florida to Mitch Doshin Cantor in Maezumi Roshi's lineage. Mitch taught me how to run a Western style Sangha (much of what we are doing at Treeleaf is borrowed from my experiences at Doshin's Sangha), a lot about bowing and incense lighting and basic ceremonies (even an iconoclast like me needs such skills ... don't reject or seek to adapt something before you actually know how to do it). Doshin gave me my first chance to lead groups and give Zen Talks after Nishijima gave me Transmission. Furthermore, he introduced me to something very much present in Western Buddhism but sorely lacking in Japan ... immersion in the diverse ideas of Buddhism. A Soto teacher in Japan would likely have little knowledge or interest in what the Rinzai fellow is doing down the street, let alone in the Vipassana school or Lama Suria Das and Dzogchen. That is not the case in the West).

    Anyway, to bring this ramble to a close ... I actually have had 4 Soto Zen teachers who I consider my teachers, 4 wheels on the car, (just like Nishijima considers "Homeless" Kodo his first teacher, even though Nishijima was formally ordained and received Transmission from Renpo Niwa Roshi, the former abbot of Eiheiji). There was Azuma Ikuo, who just shared tea with me, week after week, for so many years at Sojiji ( the Vatican, where things are done the "Orthodox" way). There is Nishijima, who gave me Transmission and has taught me about Zazen Zazen and Zazen ... and knows things about Soto Zen that have sometimes been forgotten by those priests with their ceremonies ... there is Doshin Cantor who knows what a Western priest needs to know ... and there is Jiho Sargent, a tough old bird who was one of the few Western women to go through priest training in Japan 100% the Japanese way (she would not want me to call her my teacher, but she was).

    Oh, then there is my wife ... who teaches me every day.

    Sorry if I went on too long.

    Gassho, Jundo

  17. #17
    subject for another day, but basically the system is not set up for foreigners, or for "Zazen teachers" as much as young Japanese priests who will take over their father's temple to perform funerals and other rituals for parishioners, and who need to learn the arcane ceremonies required.
    I bet you Keizan Zenji would have a few things to say about that.


  18. #18
    Historically, Keizan Zenji is one of the reasons things started to head in that direction. He started to introduce a lot of ceremonies (good luck, childbirth, funeral, etc.) to attract lay folk support to the monasteries. He was more into ceremony and Esoteric Buddhism than Dogen.

    Scholars debate the degree (see below)

    Gassho, Jundo

    A theme that recurs in a number of modern histories is the idea that the Zen initially established in Japan by the founder Dogen was a pure form that the Soto school failed to preserve in subsequent generations. According to one version of this story, Dogen's "pure Zen" (junsui zen) was brought by him from Sung China." A somewhat different version has it that the Zen Dogen encountered in China was already compromised by an admixture of Confucian and Taoist elements, rituals that pandered to aristocratic patronage, and a preoccupation with economic and cultural (as opposed to properly spiritual) pursuits. In this view, Dogen rejected the secularized, "syncretic Zen" (kenshu zen) of the Sung: what he actually established in Japan was the style of pure Zen that had originally existed in China during the T'ang dynasty (618-906)!"

    Both versions of this modern myth of origins agree, in any case, that Dogen's pure Zen consisted of three main elements: first, the rigorous practice of zazen in a sangha hall (sodo); second, the instructions of a Zen master, either in the context of public sermons and debates (mondo) in a dharma hall (hatto) or individual meetings in an abbots quarters (hojo); and third, productive work, including the duties of monastic officers such as the cook (tenzo) and the communal labor (fushin samu) that involved officers and ordinary monks alike.

    Dogen's pure Zen, however, is said to have become diluted in the generations following Keizan Jokin (1264-1325) by extraneous elements of Japanese esoteric Buddhist (mikkyo) ritual, folk religion, and various other concessions to popular demand, such as the performance of funerals and memorial services for lay patrons." Here we find not only the motif of the golden age (the time of Dogen), but the narrative form of the epic tragedy, in which the hero (the Soto school) squanders its precious spiritual heritage in exchange for worldly success. ... foulk.html

  19. #19
    I see. However from what I have read he was also responsible for the wide spread of Soto Zen in Japan. In addition, he took a lot of his teachings from Dogen

    In drawing up this tight schedule, Keizan Zenji relied on Dogen Zenji's Bendoho. Fushuku Hanpo, and Shuryo Shingi. For details about training attitudes and etiquette too, he referred to the teachings of Dogen Zenji, which he took great pains to explain in accessible ways. ... 3_01_5.htm
    Also, he was a firm believer in equality of the sexes and equality of ethincity.

    And in one of his written works, he said that, as long as they understand Buddhism, men and women alike can became choro, or nobly virtuous members of the clergy. Enzu-in, which he established for his grandmother's sake, was an institution for guiding and educating nuns.

    Believing that the Buddha nature and living beings are synonymous, Keizan Zenji stressed the equality not only of the sexes, but also of all ethnic groups and races. If embraced by everyone, this view could become the driving force for eliminating discrimination. ... 3_01_5.htm
    I do agree however that some of his teachings are rather out there. The whole thing about the dreams and past lives. But I haven't been practicing as long as him, so whatever.

    Frankly, I haven't read a lot on him. just studied the Denkoroku from Anzan Hoshin Roshi, and a couple websites.

    My impression was that of the above quotes.


  20. #20
    I have recently been studying Buddhism, mostly from a Tibetan tradition throught the Loseling Institute here at Emory University. Prior to that I had lived at a Trappist monastery and was introduced to Centering Prayer, practicing that method for 25 years. Ordained as an Anglican priest, I served in a variety of positions, beginning with working with the homeless of Atlanta and strangely climbing the ecclesial corporate ladder to become a CEO of a church/school. After some time of raising funds and running board meetings, I realized I had sold my soul to the religious institutuional store. I resigned my position and began a personal sabbatical in which I was led to explore Buddhism, which seems to fit my own sense of the lay of the land of being human. To be honest, I am quite confused by the Tibetan tradition but am attracted by the truth I recognize. I was pleased to find this site and hope to continue to explore this life by continuing my sitting in a new way. I am also working as a consultant with hospitals throughout the US and now in Turkey. The gift is to spend little time with great financial compensation, as opposed to what I had done before.
    As one kid is at UGA and the other is a senior in high school, I have some new freedom that I plan to enjoy.
    Glad to be here with you.


  21. #21
    Welcome again, David


  22. #22

  23. #23
    Great Thread! Still reading up on everyone's stories. I have a short attention span and can only read a few at a time.

    I'd love to share my little personal story too, but alas I think it may be to melodramatic.

    Let's just say I am generally a messed up human, who turned to the dharma out of desperation because of being in a very dark and unhappy place.

    I have some issues with depression --- I won't hash out all the details cause' I don't want to revisit it. But let's say it surrounded failed relationships, dissatisfaction with my career choice, drugs, sex, alcohol, shame, low self esteem, and a slew of other issues carried over from god knows when.

    But it's been bad in the past, even at the point where I was seriously planning suicide, thankfully the state I was living in at the time had a seven day waiting period to purchase a firearm, without that I'm pretty sure I would not have made it past twenty two.

    Not that I'm special or had it worse than anybody, but I was gravely dissatisfied with life, even after cleaning things up and getting myself in a healthier place I still had a lot of anger, frustration, and sadness.

    First exposure was from reading a book on depression/how to be a happier person and it recommended some ideas about Buddhism. I think I was grabbed by the concept that, "life is suffering" and here is a way to deal with it.

    After that I did some internet reasearch, read some books and it was a life changing epiphany. Eureka. . here is something that aligns with the way I see things, and gives me the tools I need to get out of my own way.

    Originally I participated with a Tibetan group (Shambala), but found them to be a little too. . . materialistic and hocus-pocus for me. From there I turned to Theravada and the Insight traditions. . . doing a lot of reading of the pali cannon, practicing some meditation, and just getting my head around the intellectual side of the dharma. But, my meditation practice was never very solid. After studying and trying different techniques and finding some assistance through email with a monk from Zen Mountain Monastery, I found Zazen to be the best "practice" for me --- although I still have a soft spot for Theravada/Insight dogma.

    I found Jundo just about the time he was starting tree leaf through a blogging buddy's recommendation and viola, I guess I'm Zen or something.

    Lately I've been feeling a bit unsure as to how "Zen" I am, I frankly think I'm having one of those moments of great doubt. Not so much a doubt in Buddhism, or the dharma --- but a doubt about Zen, I think I've been attached to such an intellectual focus around Buddhisms I'm encountering a lot of resistance when it comes down to just killing those Buddhas. Part of me hates the idea that there is nothing to it but just sitting, it feels so unrewarding, but at the same time I have no belief in anything else anymore.

    Sorry I don't mean to whine or sound like I'm looking for help, I'm not. I'm just fine and I will keep working at this and getting into the posture each day. Not out of duty, but because this is something I want to work through.

    *** To quote Jordan, "If you've read all this, you know more about me than my mom ***

  24. #24

    first encounters of the zen kind

    Well.....well....I just don't know what to say, it is so wonderful to hear all these different stories--like Gregor, I couldn't read all in one sitting, but wow!!
    It's been a long day, so I won't post much here now, just to say thank you to all of you for sharing. And I hope other's add their stories as they come on board!


  25. #25
    Hello fellow Trealeaves!

    A big THANK YOU to all those of you who dared to share so much of your personal "way" that led you here to the Treeleaf sangha.
    Since I will only be able to see my wife for a few more hours before I have to head back to the place where I work during the week, please excuse my not writing down my story at this point....I don't want to rush a post such as this and if I stay online any longer my bodhisattva wife is probably gonna murder me....there, she is standing right behind me....aaaaaarggghhhhhhh....

    Big Gassho,


  26. #26
    I've finished reading everybody's story. . . wow, I feel so much closer to each of you now. It's amazing how this sangha keeps evolving and becoming more and more "real" everyday.

    May you all be happy --



  27. #27
    Well, my introduction to Zen isn't anywhere near as interesting a story as the other ones posted here!

    I started meditating as a teenager. It was some sort of "mindfulness training" programme recommended to me as a way to deal with the terrible headaches I sometimes get. I was living in Ottawa at the time, I never became a formal student of the White Wind Zen Community but I did get some practice advice there. They were really nice to me - I was an insufferable pain in the ass kid whose main interests in life were 1)punk/grunge music and 2)smashing the state. Haha. When I lost a button from the cuff of my favourite flannel shirt, I replaced it with an anarchy pin! lol A few of the Zen centre's students were old hippies who thought I was pretty funny and let me drop in and pester them.

    I don't remember being particularly interested in Buddhism at the time (I only wanted to learn meditation). I had to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for an English class, but I despised it about as much as I despised every other assigned book!

    I moved away for university, had some sporadic e-mail contact with a couple of Zen teachers, sat zazen alone with varying regularity, made some friends in the local Tibetan sitting group (but didn't meditate with them). I don't really remember ever 'falling in love with the Dharma' or putting a great deal of effort into learning about Buddhism - it's a bit surprising how much just sort of rubbed off on me. A testament to my teachers, I think, that even someone as lazy as me couldn't help but pick up some fundamentals.

    I remember being very interested in the Heart Sutra and Lankavatara Sutra, I had several months of questions and dialogue there... but no life-changing revelatory breakthrough. I don't know why not, I guess I'm boring!

    These days, well I moved again after graduation, to bigger city, but one also without a zendo. I am taking some lessons with a Shin priest who is also a Buddhist studies professor (and another old hippie, yay!). I also attend a Chinese temple, I go to meditation classes and some events but not a lot to services (I don't know Chinese).

  28. #28
    Hi All,

    I just want to echo others' sentiments regarding how heartening it is to read all your stories. While I didn't write as much detail as some of you, I certainly can realte to so much of your experiences (i.e., with relationships, sex, therapy, depression, health, jobs, and general angst).

    Many times I get caught up in my own self-centered life, but I find all of this heartening because it shows me that I am not alone in my experiences. Thank you all for being so candid.


  29. #29
    Wow, there is a lot to read here :shock: , but all very interesting.

    I too was raised Roman Catholic but began slowly loosing faith throughout high school. It seemed that the more I understood of that faith, the more it contradicted with my own views. After high school I entered University, majoring in Biology, which revolutionized my outlook on the world. I quickly became Atheist, and began to resent religion for ‘duping’ me for so long. But as others have mentioned above, the renunciation of my prior faith left a void. I realised how comforting it use to be to have an omniscient and all powerful being on my side in times of elevated stress and trouble. So I eventually became a ‘seeker’, reading into many philosophies and spiritualities with an open, yet sceptical mind. I grew spiritually along the way, became agnostic, and even more open to the ideas of others, including those of my former faith. But none felt like home. Eventually, nearly a year ago, I came across Buddhism. I have been reading as much material as I can find on it ever since, and applying it to my daily life. It finally feels like home.

    I have yet to completely stabilize myself in the practice, and learning is a little tough, especially given my remote location. By my discovery of Treeleaf is very promising, and I have enjoyed it so far.

    It is hard to believe that it has only been a year of practice as it has integrated so centrally into my sense of Self. And yes, I say sense of Self, as Buddhism still seems to have that New Religion smell to me, which I hope to get over soon :roll: . But one step at a time!


  30. #30
    It is hard to believe that it has only been a year of practice as it has integrated so centrally into my sense of Self. And yes, I say sense of Self, as Buddhism still seems to have that New Religion smell to me, which I hope to get over soon Rolling Eyes . But one step at a time!
    Kelly, I think you just coined the term New Religion Smell... Is that like incense or something? :lol:

  31. #31
    Well, Buddhism is 2500 years old, Bodhidharma came to China about 1500 years ago, Dogen lived about 800 years ago ... but Zen was pretty much nonexistent in America and Europe 40 years ago. So, yes, it is a new religion here in the West.

    Being a "new religion", adapting to a new culture and experimenting with new forms, means we have to figure out many things as we go along, some of which will have positive outcomes and some of which will go amiss. Hopefully, the roots will take to the new planting.

    Gassho, Jundo

  32. #32
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Well, Buddhism is 2500 years old, Bodhidharma came to China about 1500 years ago, Dogen lived about 800 years ago ... but Zen was pretty much nonexistent in America and Europe 40 years ago. So, yes, it is a new religion here in the West.

    Being a "new religion", adapting to a new culture and experimenting with new forms, means we have to figure out many things as we go along, some of which will have positive outcomes and some of which will go amiss. Hopefully, the roots will take to the new planting.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Very true Jundo,

    But what I was referring to with regard to the New Religion Smell was the sense of satisfaction associated with discovering a new and shinny philosophy. The feeling of "Yaa, I have finally found what I was looking for", and "Yaa, my life will now be complete and I will live happily ever after". These, along with the pride of having a new and unique label to attach to one's (my) sense of Self are what I am referring to as "The New Religion Smell". I know consciously that I need to do away with these notions of pride (for my own good), but subconsciously I am enjoying the prospect of perhaps having found what I have been looking for several years.

    Right now, Buddhism for me is a little like a brand new textbook; shinny, crisp, glossy, and with that new textbook smell. But if I am going to get anything out of it, it is time to get out the highlighter, dog-ear the pages, make notes, smear coffee stains and break in the spine (or in this case, have Zazen break in my spine :wink: ).

    But this is just me being silly… its late here and I need to go to bed.


  33. #33
    Hi Kelly,

    Oh, I see what you mean.

    Well, Buddhism and Zen are not perfect. And Kelly is not perfect. This world is certainly not "perfect" to my eyes.

    But Zen Buddhism is pretty darn good at allowing Kelly to realize that she is what she is. And this world is perfectly just what it is. And while neither is close to "perfect", both are pretty darn good too. At least, most of the time. I think.

    So, Zen will come down to earth, and you will not always be floating in the clouds in the sky. And then, when you fall to earth, you can be well grounded.

    Gassho, Jundo

  34. #34

  35. #35
    Jundo said:

    Well, Buddhism is 2500 years old, Bodhidharma came to China about 1500 years ago, Dogen lived about 800 years ago ... but Zen was pretty much nonexistent in America and Europe 40 years ago. So, yes, it is a new religion here in the West.

    Being a "new religion", adapting to a new culture and experimenting with new forms, means we have to figure out many things as we go along, some of which will have positive outcomes and some of which will go amiss. Hopefully, the roots will take to the new planting.
    I'm curious. What do you think about treeleaf? Being mostly made up of westerners (as far as I can see), is treeleaf western buddhism or internet/global buddhism? It doesn't really matter from a practice perspective, but I'm just curious what you all think...


  36. #36
    Hey Ryan,

    What I think was pretty much summed up below.

    By the way, once I get the floors back into the Zendo in Tsukuba (Japan) and get fully moved in, a mixed local group of Japanese and non-Japanese should sit with us there (in Japan, I give my talks half in English, half in Japanese, switching back and forth. It is amuzing.)

    Gassho, Jundo


    SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Fukanzazengi XCII


    Broadly then, in this world and in other worlds, in India and in China, all similarly maintain the Buddha-posture, and solely indulge in the fundamental custom: we simply devote ourselves to sitting, and are caught by the still state. Although there are myriad distinctions and thousands of differences, we should just pursue the truth through Zen balance. Why should we abandon our own sitting platform, to come and go without purpose through the dusty borders of foreign lands? If we misplace one step we pass over the moment of the present. [Nishijima]

    In general, in our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. While each lineage expresses its own style, they are all simply devoted to sitting, totally blocked in resolute stability. Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, they just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep, you stumble past what is directly in front of you. [SZTP] ... -xcii.html

  37. #37
    Hello Treeleaves!

    Okay, here's my story:

    After my parents divorced when I was rounabout two years old, I stayed with my mum, who's a non-practicing atheist, which means she doesn't really care about religious stuff at all. However, apart from the way I look (I am spitting image of my father when he was young) I also inherited a great interest in religous, mythological and spiritual matters from my father's side....which actually makes me truly believe that there may be something like a religious "gene" or collection of genes.

    My two great-aunts were/are both nuns (one of them is still alive and a carmelite nun....which means old-school monastic rules....she doesn't ever get out of her nunnery and isn't allowed to touch visitors - which are seperated from her through an impressive row of iron bars...that kind of lifestyle is good for your skin though, you wouldn't think she's 80+ already....and boy does she have a firm handshake), and their brothers, other than my grandfather, were both priests and died serving on the eastern front.....the further down the family line you go, the more priests you'll get the picture.

    My mum didn't ever try to turn me into anything, she always supported me and my interests. At school I just loved the optional religious classes and have to say that if there ever was a subject at school that I excelled at (sadly it wasn't mathematics) , it was catholic religion. I considered myself a non-denominational monotheist for a very long time, until I couldn't stand all the obvious contradictions any longer and turned to neo-germanic Paganism instead, which taught me a great deal about the pre-christian cultures of middle/northern Europe and made me re-define my own notion of honour, friendship, hospitality and similar virtues....only a few years ago I began to realize, that what had attracted me to that particular branch of modern day paganism in the first place was for the most part a cultural longing, a longing for something that wasn't "tainted" by evil Christianity, not really a theological issue at all.
    Nowadays I am a lot more relaxed about other religions, but my dislike for illogical non-sequiturs, hypocrisy and plain old lies is as strong as ever.

    Last year my much beloved grandparents on my mother's side died....only months apart from one another....and my father in law as well.... I had to confront suffering face to face in a way I hadn't been forced to do before and I finally realized, that a lot of assumptions I had carried with me about life/death etc. didn't really make that much sense once confronted with the real thing. Leading up to all this suffering I had (coincidence some might say) begun to look at Buddhism from the intellectual side a few years earlier.

    Since I had always been a bit of a "psychonaut" (though I was never the type drawn to the use of drugs in this context) ,I had experimented with loads of different spiritual/occult/tantric traditions in a practical way, and had developed a discipline of daily practice long before sitting Zazen became my one and only practice. By the time I took refuge in a Karma-Kagyu centre (not the Lama Ole Nydahl branch of Karma-Kagyu by the way), I was sure that Buddhism was it, my last stop on my spiritual journey. I just chose a tibetan centre because the people there were very nice people btw.

    Ultra-super-states of heightened consciousness, invoking strange entitities, spiritual was a case of been there, done that for me by the time I took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. I had always wanted to experience and do so many crazy things....and it took me more than 25 years of my life to realize, that the question "who or what is this thing that is wanting all this?", is much more interesting than all the flashy fireworks stuff put together. I read Hardcore Zen and decided to go on a study-sesshin with Nishijima Sensei's dharma heir Doko Waskönig in March....I was very impressed by the fact that Doko was an extremely impressive teacher precisely because she was non-impressive/ non pretentious - but simply the real thing. Shortly after that I stumbled over Jundo's website. And here I am. Though sadly I currently have next to no time to participate in my beloved Treeleaf sangha. In my heart and mind at least, Iam always sitting together with you. Enough rambling for now.



  38. #38
    „Go stand in the corner!“ was a phrase I heard under certain circumstances from my mother when I was a small child. It meant that I was to go into a corner of the room and do a sort of ‚standing‘ Zazen for an indefinite period of time to be determined solely by my Mother (typically 10 – 15 minutes if I remember correctly). Of course she didn’t call it Zazen, but when I took up the latter practice some 30 odd years later I couldn’t help but think back to those childhood experiences which were then considered punishment and which I now (strangely enough ;-)) do of my own free will.

    I was brought up Roman Catholic and attended a Catholic school up to and including the 8th grade. By most standards I was what people would call a ‚good kid‘, but I considered religion something that involved the tedious tasks of listening to boring lectures and attending mass on holidays and Sundays. I guess I accepted the whole ‚heaven & hell‘ deal in my younger years, but it didn’t really shape my behavior. I can remember once asking my father where god came from and he just said ‚he always was and always will be‘. Hmm. Somehow I wasn’t satisfied but I went along with it for the time being.

    I can distinctly remember that one day (I must have been between 9 and 12 years old, as it was sometime after moving into a different house when I was 9) I began to think about my ‚self‘ and wondered what it actually was. What was the thing that actually defined what/who I was? I remember looking into the mirror for quite a while and I managed to narrow it down to my head. That’s it, that’s who I am. I continued to look into the mirror, however, and after a while I wasn’t so sure anymore, so I tried to narrow it down a bit more. Finally, I was convinced that my ‚self‘ could be reduced to my eyes. Surely I had found it now. Unfortunately I found that the longer I stared at my own eyes, the weaker my conviction became that I had found what I was looking for. In the end I gave up, but was somehow unsatisfied and sure that I had missed something.

    By the time I had started going to public school (9th – 12th grade) I had pretty much stopped going to mass on Sundays altogether and just went on holidays. (My parents and sister also went only sporadically). Sometime during the period in which I was at university I realized I didn’t believe in god and didn’t care much about the rest of the whole Christianity thing either. At that point I read a few books which were only vaguely associated with eastern religions, e.g. ‚Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance‘, ‚The Tao of Pooh‘, ‚The Tao of Physics“. Unfortunately nothing brought me close enough to the Buddhadharma at that point to make it click with me.

    During the Sommer of 2003 I had the opportunity to go to a small show of ‚Shaolin Monks‘. Most of those shows around here are like the circus and fill large arenas, but this one was different. There were only 3 Chinese ‚monks‘, a German narrator/translator, and about 50 people in the audience at a local adult education center. Of course they did a few tricks which were quite impressive, but above all what moved me were the remarks of the German guy about the lifestyle of the ‚monks‘. (I’m not sure whether they were officially monks or not, but it doesn’t really matter.) He said that they had no rules amongst themselves, that if they wanted to drink beer or have lots of girlfreinds, whatever, they were free to do so. However, they just didn’t. Why? Because it wasn’t good for them. Hmm. It probably sounds trivial for those reading this, but something clicked with me when he said that. Somehow those monks appeared absolutely authentic, content, somehow just plain happy. It made perfect sense and I asked myself why don’t I just do what’s good for me? Although I had achieved many of my life’s goals, something was still missing. Anyway, it sparked my interest in Buddhism and I wanted to find out more, so I bought ‚Introduction to Buddhism‘ by the Dalai Lama. Most of it seemed so logical to me that there could be no doubt that it was true, however there were also many things I couldn’t really accept. I bought a few more books on Buddhism and also on Zen, began doing research on the Internet and started participating in Internet forums. I learned a great deal and from the discussion on those forums it became clear to me that Soto Zen as Dogen Zenji taught it was pretty much the only tradition in which I felt completely at home in. So after 2003, I read many, many books, papers, Suttas, Sutras, commentaries, etc. and began incorporating what I had learned into my daily life. I didn’t start doing Zazen regularly until September 2004, though, and I also didn’t have a Sangha. Now, since I joined Treeleaf, I’ve been doing Zazen every day (except on vacation...) and no longer feel that my life is missing anything.

    BTW, thanks to everyone for their postings. I just got back from a trip to London a few days ago and have been scrambling to catch up on things since then.


  39. #39
    Quote Originally Posted by Kenneth
    „Go stand in the corner!“ was a phrase I heard under certain circumstances from my mother when I was a small child.
    This is funny. Ages ago, whenever I was really mad I used to say "I want to go home and stare at a wall." Tragically missed chance, I think.


  40. #40
    Hello all,

    I am new here, and am enjoying it already! Reading this thread has been great, I see a lot of similarities...

    I started researching buddhism (and every other philosophy/religion/crackpot fantasy) in high school. I was having a lot of difficulty socially and emotionally, a lot of episodes of depression and a lot of rage. Buddhism really struck me, it seemed the most 'real', and I really liked the idea of a religion encouraging its practitioners to question it, to find out for themselves the truth. So for the next several years I read as much as I could. I read a few books pertaining to zen and thought "Oh, this isn't for me.... too ceremonious, too disciplined, I could never do that..."

    About 2 1/2 years and 1700 miles later, the majority of the depression lifting and deeper research into buddhism and I again found myself reading more about zen... again thinking it was far too disciplined and ritualistic for me...

    A couple of short years after that, moving back to the Midwest with my soon to be wife, so much going on, I pretty much put my buddhist studies on the back burner. The WAY back burner. the cold one in the back covered in dust.

    Two years after moving back, with a new baby girl (our second), I got a computer and, with access to the internet, I found a lot of wonderful buddhist resources and again began studying buddhism and started meditating again. Well, without getting into all the gorey details, my wife became a very condescending anti-buddhist and to prevent a lot of static, I dropped it.

    Fast forward 8 years, my wife decided that she needed to leave. Deep depression set in, which took almost a year to crawl my way back to the surface. Then I felt the need to, once again, find truth... rereading pretty much everything that I read in high school, eventually coming to the same conclusions and reaffirming my connection to buddhism. Over the last year and a half I have been reading more and more getting back into a steady routine of meditation, but it wasn't until just a couple of months ago that I began reading more about zen, and I've found that it now seems the most like 'home'. And one night, reading through the fall issue of Buddhadharma magazine I saw a small advert for a guy doing zazen online.

    'No WAY!' This was EXACTLY what I had been looking for! Since I live in a smaller town, the closest zen center is hours away, and with three children, it would be pretty much impossible to visit regularly. So I started sitting with Jundo every morning and using the meditation timers every evening, and I eventually found this space too. What a great community this is!

    And reading through these messages, I can't help but ponder the wonderful, unfathomable, impossible series of events that found us all here!

    Greg M.

  41. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by greg
    And reading through these messages, I can't help but ponder the wonderful, unfathomable, impossible series of events that found us all here!
    So true!

  42. #42
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan

    I'm curious. What do you think about treeleaf? Being mostly made up of westerners (as far as I can see), is treeleaf western buddhism or internet/global buddhism? It doesn't really matter from a practice perspective, but I'm just curious what you all think...

    Hi Ryan,

    I am going to talk about this a little more on Wednesday's "Sit-a-Long with Jundo". Very good question, and something to consider.

    Gassho, Jundo

  43. #43
    Sorry I'm coming to this thread so late. It is a fascinating thread, though. It's wonderful to read all of your stories and to recognize so many common elements, appreciate so many interesting differences, and share with you all thoughts on topics that are so important to me, and so enjoyable to discuss, yet so difficult to really converse about with the people I see around the neighborhood day to day.

    Anyway, I've shared a bit of my story in my intro post already, but I'll elaborate a bit here.

    I was raised Roman Catholic, and was always jealous of my older sisters, who were somehow able to be sleepy enough in the morning at church time for my Dad to allow them to stay home while the rest of us trooped off to church. No matter how hard i tried, I could never fake sleep. I always burst into laughter whenever my Dad would enter the bedroom. Nonetheless, I soon learned to smuggle books into the chruch and hide them behind the missal, or play a really cool (extremely crude by today's standards) video game on my sweet new calculator watch. This was somewhere in the late 1970's.

    Anyway, needless to say, my interest in Roman Catholicism was passing, at best, though the notions of God, the Devil, Heaven, and Hell became deeply entrenched, as did the guilt the religion seemed to instill in me.

    At one point, in my teens, I had started playing tennis with my friends. In the library, looking for tennis instruction books, I found Inner Tennis, by Tim Gallwey. It teaches a non-judgmental, awareness-based approach to tennis, essentially focusing the mind to allow the wiser body to play the game. My tennis improved immensely, and the practice began to seep into everything I did, and changed my mindset tremendously. The recreational drugs I soon began using probably played a role, as well.

    I began to study Eastern thought intensely, reading every book I could find in my college library, buying books from the bookstore when I could, including Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, some Cheri Huber stuff, DT Suzuki, etc. I took a few classes on Buddhism, and started getting into the Beats (Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, who I had the pleasure of meeting for dinner once). In this way, the idea of Zen and Eastern thought marinated my life in a general way, though I did little to actually bring it into practice.

    I came across the tao Te Ching during this period, and it became and remains a very powerful book for me. It seemed to me that this teaching was the core of all of the major world religions, and that the other religions had simply build edifices of varying elaborateness on top. All that elaboration seemed like extraneous crap to me at the time. But, religious Taoism seemed to have more than its share of mystical, elaborate crap. Zen, especially Soto Zen, Shikantaza Zen (which apppealed to my Inner Tennis experiences) seemed the religious practice that had the least artifice heaped upon the core teachings.

    I whipped myself into this intellectual understanding and postured myself as a "Zen/Taoist guy" for a long time. But, I was also depressed, abusing drugs and alcohol, adrift emotionally, etc. When I got out of college, I moved around a lot. I remember standing on the doorstep of the Zen center in Cambridge, MA (I was living in Allston at the time). The shadow-sun patterns of the light in the afternoon leaves was so sharp, the riverrun sound of occasional traffic so clear, my fear so palpable. I think, after a few minutes, I mustered the courage to enter the antechamber and pick up a few glanced-at-but-unseen pamphlets before I hightailed it out of there.

    It was years before I could bring myself to actually enter a Zen center and talk to someone. That happened in Salt Lake City. I actually was able to take the intro to meditation course there, every Tuesday for 90 mins for four weeks. I couldn't afford the suggested donation, but hid my guilt. It culminated in a Sunday session with all the chanting and walking a certain way in the Zendo, etc. That freaked me out. I let Zen hide in my brain for years after that. I became more enmeshed in the local culture, learned about Mormonism, saw a familiarity there, and, more, an acceptance in the culture. I grilled the missionaries for months as they taught me about the religion. I got a picture from them of a certain type of religion, and so joined. Two years of intense study and participation, trying to be the "ideal" Mormon, as described in the reams of church doctrine I absorbed, only created problems in my life, and caused me to be more and more judgmental. Where was the open-minded, questioning faith I had sought and though I had found? Where was the compassionate, devoted society? Where were the answers the members of the church so confidently claimed to have, yet could rarely discuss with precision? I found only more questions. Behind every supposed answer was a nest of nagging questions and what I found to be a self-referential system of supporting logic. I left the church.

    A few months ago, I saw my old zafu in the closet and dragged it out. I looked for some videos online about how to sit Zazen, just to refresh my memory. I found an old Japanese guy talking about balancing the autonomic nervous system, and a bearded American guy who kept blowing imaginary dust from his empty hand. Here I am, where I always was.

    Thanks, Jundo.



  44. #44
    im late posting this but ill have a go at it
    Basically i was rasied with out any religious influlence (by that i mean intentional). I was never very scholarly (still aint :B) but anything i took any interest in i put all my effort into and devoured any information i could find on X subject. Sooo eventually life bit me in the ass.
    (im cheating hear a bit as i have already written this once but its the way things went down)

    I struggled with the loss of my brother a few years back. I
    held much guilt because i didnt spend enough time with him due to
    differences between us that "I" thought mattered. I learned the hard
    way that my personal views were just that. He like to tease me some as
    all sibblings do but i dont think he ever really judged me for what
    i thought was right or wrong. I did. The day before his death he asked
    me to go fishing with him... hang out, drink a beer with him. I said i
    couldnt because i was busy. BLANTANT LIE. I lied because i was a vegan
    and going fishing would have been hypocritical. The next day i sat
    home cleaning up an old project computer i had. I got a phone call
    from my eldest brother asking if i had seen/heard from our brother. I
    said yes...but not today and asked why.. i still heard the urgency in
    his voice, it scared me. He said a vehicle like my brothers was
    wrecked and there were a couple of ambulances and RCMP cars there. I
    got off the phone and called the hospital. When i asked if any one was
    just addmitted or if they had anyone in named Trent i got silence
    followed by who are you? i told them and was instructed to come to the
    hospital now. I asked why and they said they couldnt discuss this over
    the phone.

    I arrived 4 minutes later @ the hospital as i entered emerge and asked
    about my brother i was met some very sombre faces. I was met by an
    orderly whom stated the now obvious that there had been an accident
    and i needed to speak with a doctor. I was told the news and asked to
    identify my brother. i did . i then called my parents and my brother.
    i stayed for 4 hours simply looking at the body of what used to be one
    of my best friends. I remembered the last things we said. It broke my
    heart. The next day my brother and i went to our brothers and cleaned
    up his house. gathered any effects we could, took his bills and payed
    them, then went to his wreck and gathered his effects from there. That
    was it. a few weeks later i finally lost it, or "it" found me, so to
    speak. I began suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
    medicated i followed up with my own self medication.

    I lived (or died) for a few years carrying around a rediculous fear of
    death. I spent so much time and energy dying i forgot to live.

    I got off the perscription a year later and quit drugs a year after
    that. I do not drink any more (not that i did alot in the first
    place... alcoholism is a somthing i kept a healthy fear of) and i quit
    smoking too. i gradually worked through most of my issues on my own. i
    got to reading one day and found a person who suffered from a
    debilitating disease. He was a buddhist. on his site he spoke of the
    stillness of his mind and the reality of his situation. he would die.
    so would you and you and you...but he wasnt angry... he hadnt stopped
    exisiting... infact he was more "alive" now than when he was in good
    health. t may sound lame but THAT made sense. I decided to look up
    buddhism and read all i could on I decided that day
    that i would become a buddhist. not only did i already agree on most
    of what i read. the rest seemed to be the pieces that i was missing

    Ill add to this that i checked out a few branches of buddhism that i could and back in... March maybe?? i began vipassana meditation and reading what ever i could. A friend recommends a few books which I picked up and devoured. I practiced this way on my own for a bit. I read some on Zen and it seemed interesting to me. There were no Zen sanghas near me and i had no idea what i was to do. I searched online and found e-sangha. There i was still serching for for a zen sangha and TADA someone posted a few places and Treeleaf was one of them

    Thats it in a long winded nutshell
    and now you are all stuck with me mwhahaah!


  45. #45
    Wow…Krid, thanks for bringing this thread back to the top. I needed it! I can’t believe I missed this thread somehow. I’ve had a bad Zen day. So much I saw that I have in common with people. Catholicism, Catholicism, and Catholicism. My mother dying with breast cancer the last semester of my first year of law school (dropped out and never went back). Working at an accounting firm and becoming disillusioned over the greed and billable hours. Jordan, your story was really moving for me. I’ve been in that empathetic state a million times; it can take its toll actually if you don’t attend to it. My little girl is stationed at Pendleton too.

    The long version of my story will have to wait. I needed this thread today though.

  46. #46
    or play a really cool (extremely crude by today's standards) video game on my sweet new calculator watch.
    Was it Frogger or Race car?


  47. #47
    Frogger and Race Car were light years ahead in sophistication compared to the game I played. My game involved maneuvering a dot-shaped object through a series of oncoming walls of dot-shaped objects in which only one dot-shaped-object-sized opening existed, always in a different place along the oncoming wall.

    This was in the late 70s, so that was pretty cool to a young kid back then. It was an easy way to kill an hour during mass.

  48. #48
    haha. whew. ok. I had a picture bible. It was like a comic book, but basically the whole bible; Or it was drawing paper. My parents weren't too big on going to church, so I kind of stopped going. This was around the same time I brought a Parker Borthers Ouiji board to church. My Sunday school teacher didn't like that much. Oh well.

    G, W

  49. #49
    Wow…Krid, thanks for bringing this thread back to the top.
    Your welcome. but i have to thank everyone that posted. I shared this story with 2 others in its entirety. I most likely wouldnt have if some onw hadnt gone before me.


  50. #50
    I thought about this for a while. I’ve always been really careful about giving up too much personal information on the Internet, but I decided I wanted to. My name is Jim and I gave a shorter introduction a while back. This is a little more about me and how I ended up with Zen.

    I was raised Roman Catholic. My mother and father were “cradle” Catholics too. I went to Catholic school through the 8th grade. Except for being attracted to the opposite sex I probably always thought some about being a priest until high school. I was an alter boy until about my junior year of high school. My parents were Benedictine Oblates at a nearby monastery.

    When I was a kid I always liked “Adam-12” and “Chips”. So, when I was 20 years old I became a police officer in one of the major cities in Alabama. I finished college, got married to my first wife, and by the time I was 24 had three children.

    One of my part-time police security jobs was working at the Catholic cable station. I would go out with the cloistered nuns while they shopped or ran errands and make sure nobody bothered them. There was a certain influence the monks, nuns, and priests had on me.

    After 10 years as a law enforcement officer I thought I might like a career change. I became a full-time student for a year. During that summer I interned at an accounting firm that specialized in fraud and litigation support. I ended up taking a full-time position with them, finished a master’s degree, and probably made more money than I’ll ever make.

    I ended up being really lost and missed police work so bad I couldn’t stand it. I tried reserving but it just wasn’t the same.

    During my accounting days, I followed my parent’s example and became a Benedictine Oblate. I immersed myself in the rule, other readings, and prayerful practices. I really liked and still like Thomas Merton.

    One day I took a chance and broke a cycle that was making me miserable. I left the accounting firm and took a part-time police job at a small rural department for about $8.00 an hour. I eventually left there for a better job and broke another cycle that was making me miserable and left my first wife.

    I worked as a motorcycle officer for a while. I got promoted to sergeant and started a criminal investigations division at the department. I fell in love with one of the officers. She left and is now a patrol sergeant at another police department. I have two step-children and a four year old son with her.

    I ran into some problems with Catholicism after a divorce and remarriage. I’ve questioned everything. I tried an Episcopal Church and really liked it and the priest until they fired him. I was quite shocked about the reasoning and didn’t agree with it and didn’t go back.

    I think my questioning has changed my whole view of the Bible, Jesus, God, Satan, heaven, hell, Santa Claus, etc.

    I first looked at Zen simply for the meditation practice but I’ve started believing that the Buddhist philosophy makes more sense than anything I’ve ever studied. In particular, Zen Buddhist philosophy.

    As an investigator I’ve specialized in crimes against children. I spend some time helping other agencies with those type crimes, travel some in relation to it, and continue to improve my skills there. It’s the part of my job I get the most satisfaction from.

    I finally met "Ponch" at a crimes against children conference a few weeks ago. I told him it was his fault I rode around in the heat for two years on a Harley.

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