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Jun Po Roshi, Zen Renaissance Man

Jun Po RoshiJun 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 andJun Po Denis Kelly and Andrew Cohen 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.

Jun Po with members of EnlightenNext staff

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Filed Under: BuddhismConsciousnessEnlightenNext Editors’ BlogSpiritualityUncategorizedmeditation

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About the Author

Ross Robertson is a Senior Editor for EnlightenNext magazine. Follow him on Twitter @RobertsonRoss.

Comments (5)

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  1. [...] Robertson of EnlightenNext has a nice piece on an interesting pioneer: Jun Po Roshi—dharma heir of Rinzai Zen Master Eido Shimano Roshi, [...]

  2. Laurie says:

    I just wish there was a way to convince more than the 3% I know that “being” is necessary to survive in a “doing” world. Of all the people in my life, only about (and less than) 3% actually accept this. They are unaware of what it means to be aware, they are uninterested in evolving their own consciousness, and they are too busy with the material possessions they believe are the fabric of life to even realize we are the threads, individually, that make up the larger picture and that “without me, there is no you” or anything else. I am desperately trying to reach more people who will commit to evolving this consciousness now, during my lifetime!

  3. Dear Laurie, you are wonderful but innocent….
    “I am desperately trying to reach more people who will commit to evolving this consciousness now, during my lifetime!”

    This is what we ALL do, what you call the 3%, but please do not be so “desperate” is a life time work..and I am 84…no joke!
    First, are you sure that you got it? Please meditate seriously on this. if you have the absolute certainty that you got it, then, I assure you that you will be able to GIVE IT. Because it is not “you-Laurie” who can give IT, you are the open, willing channel for IT to flow. Go on top of a mountain, stretch your arms toward the sky, let your open fingers play with the wind, offer your face to the sun….and you will receive and give….you are the Tree of Life!
    Blessings and good luck!
    Antonietta (Ottawa, ON, Canada)

  4. Christa says:

    I’m a little less than 20 younger than you are (with a mother of 100 years old with lots to teach me), and I just love your comment.
    It may sound discouraging to you, Laurie, though. But try to see the relief you can get from it! Just striving to be open and humble will take away so much stress and pain! Nothing for you to do… As Antonietta says, you are so wonderful, and your friends will feel it. Bless you both,
    Christa in Germany

  5. John says:

    Hi – LOL – fabulous just fabulous !! I love it – just being – sure – I do things all day long but I am just being when I do it – it works – ” the ole question in college – ” to be or not to be – that is the question ” LOL – I got it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! finally – I got it !!! heheheheh LOL – I got it – just be – stop doing and just be – slow down – be patient – be slow – stop moving so fast – just be – focus on now – just now and just here – focus on what you are doing right here right now – when you are playing baseball – just focus on baseball – not the score not the stategy– just the ball right here right now – not yesterday – not tomorrow – but here – right now
    thanks coach Pickett – ” I want you right here – right now! thanks