Jun Po Roshi—dharma heir of Rinzai Zen Master Eido Shimano Roshi, founder of a lay Buddhist order called Hollow Bones, and originator of a modern form of Rinzai known as Mondo Zen—came to meet with EnlightenNext founder Andrew Cohen yesterday. During Jun Po’s visit, some of Andrew’s students and colleagues also had the opportunity to spend some time with him, and after a delicious lunch and a delightful afternoon together, I was even more impressed than I had been on the phone a few weeks ago when we interviewed him for a “Beyond Limits” feature in our next issue.
Jun Po is a remarkable human being, and his presence transmits a unique combination of strength and sweetness, fearless confidence and undefended vulnerability. Immediately upon meeting him, he makes you feel like an old and trusted friend. And he’s filled with stories of a long life richly lived, from his days as a San Francisco “urban shaman” at the center of the LSD revolution to his years in the monastery, his passion for wild mushrooms and the Argentine tango, and his recent “march down to death’s gate” in the clutches of stage IV throat cancer.
Readers of the magazine have all of this and more to look forward to in our Sept-Nov issue, in a story told in Jun Po’s own words, tracking his explorations of consciousness and nonduality through psychedelics, rigorous Zen practice, and a deep study of Western psychology. Here’s a short teaser taken from the piece:
The difference between Soto and Rinzai Zen is in style of practice. The Soto school has a primary practice call shikantaza, just sit. Just sit, just sit, just sit. Do nothing, just sit. It’s like Dogen said: “Think no-thinking.” In Rinzai we say, okay, you must sit, but you must also penetrate and awaken. You must awaken, you must awaken now! Show me, demonstrate, awaken now—with enormous passion and effort and energy in your sitting practice, but we also do koan practice. Hold that koan constantly, continually, relentlessly, with the idea that this will allow you to awaken. If you talk to teachers in both traditions, they’ll say both Soto and Rinzai are correct. If you ask them how long it’s going to take in either school, they’ll tell you about twenty years. So the difference is in style. Some Soto teachers use koans, too.
My form—Mondo Zen—is really Rinzai for our time. It’s not an ethnocentric structure, but a worldcentric/kosmocentric one. I’ve created a path that has five training elements: sacred stewardship, philosophical reindoctrination, emotional maturity and integrity, conscious embodiment, and genuine insight. And that’s just a modern way of looking at path, or marga, in the yogic or the Buddhist tradition. It begins where Rinzai begins—with a dialectic dialogue where you sit down for a couple of hours and have a conversation that takes you through twelve koans. Rinzai was a radical. We love him because he was a table flipper, and he really challenged everything, in every way. He was a little bit rude in my opinion at times, but he was unshakable, fierce, direct, confrontational. And that’s the koan process. It’s eyeball to eyeball. All I’m doing is going back to the old “dharma combat” public debate forum from the Chinese tradition where a new teacher would show up in town, he’d come to the monastery, he’d debate with the abbot, and if he won the debate, the monks would vote. The abbot would leave and the new guy would take over. That’s the origin for the Mondo process, and I find that sort of public dialogue works extremely well.
Mondo Zen also modernizes and updates the classical Rinzai koan system with emotional koans that can be utilized and practiced daily. At one point, Ken Wilber said he thinks that this is the first serious innovation in Rinzai Zen in a thousand years. With classical Rinzai, the solution to emotional problems is the marshal attitude of subjugation and control. It’s not awakening and seeing through them and transforming them, but developing such a degree of discipline and will that you are no longer subject to them. The problem with that is that then, they become shadow states. You can try to control them through will, but you’re just using violence to prevent violence, and I discovered I couldn’t do that.