ancestors

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    Remembering R. H. Blyth Paid Member

    Reginald Horace Blyth was born near London in 1898, the only child of working-class parents. By the start of World War I, he was eighteen and already an eccentric in his contemporaries’ eyes: he ate no meat, loved George Bernard Shaw, and became a conscientious objector to the war, for which he was jailed. After serving a three-year sentence of hard labor and fed up with the rigidity of Britain’s class system, he left his homeland for what he thought would be a life of wandering. More »
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    Tea on the Dead Sea Paid Member

    From the early 1960s through the early 80s, Soen Nakagawa, who had been influential in the training of such early American Zen students as Philip Kapleau and Robert Aitken, began to come regularly to the States to lead sesshins, or sitting retreats, when his responsibilities as abbot of Ryutakuji Monastery in Japan would allow it. Soen Roshi, as his American students called him, was famed for his unconventional teaching methods, which were eccentric even by Zen standards. One often-reported trick was the time he placed a pumpkin on his sitting cushion in the interview room during sesshin. He then called participants in for private interviews and hid behind a screen, watching while the baffled students did their customary prostrations before the impassive gourd. More »
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    Stirring the Victorian Imagination Paid Member

    LIKE EVERYTHING the British poet Edwin Arnold wrote, The Light of Asia was quickly written: a poem in eight books of about five hundred lines each, mostly in blank verse, composed over a period of several months when Arnold was busy with other concerns. Immediately upon its publication in the summer of 1879, the poem began to sell copies and win attention. It was a life of Siddhartha Gautama, told from the point of view of "an Indian Buddhist" (so read the title page) in high English style. The immediate sensation surrounding The Light of Asia was remarkable: for some time on both sides of the Atlantic, newspapers and dining rooms were charged with discussion about the Buddha, his teaching, and Arnold's presentation of Buddhism. The book's success was also sustained. By 1885 the authorized English version had gone through thirty editions. More »
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    The White Buddhist Paid Member

    Each year on February 17, Buddhists throughout Sri Lanka light brass lamps and offer burning incense to commemorate the anniversary of the death of an American-born Buddhist hero. In Theravadan temples, saffron-robed monks bow down before his photographs, and boys and girls in schoolhouses across the country offer gifts in his memory. “May the merit we have gained by these good deeds,” they meditate, “pass on to Colonel Olcott, and may he gain happiness and peace.” More »
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    The Mushroom Monk: Nyogen Senzaki Paid Member

    “THE LAND OF THE WHITE BARBARIANS is beneath the dignity of a Zen master," argued Soyen Shaku's monks when Soyen was invited to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. But the Japanese abbot already had high expectations for the new world. Disregarding the objections of his monks, Soyen Shaku (1859-1919) became the first Zen priest to visit the United States. In Chicago, he represented Zen Buddhism with diplomatic discretion. Privately, however, Soyen felt that Zen in Japan had grown impoverished, sapped of true spiritual inquiry. On Soyen's horizon, the future of Zen rested with the barbarians in the West. For the first half of the twentieth century, Zen activity in the United States was carried out by Soyen Shaku's lineage alone, its influence continuing through his two messengers to the West: the world-famous D. T. Suzuki (1869-1966), who became the popularized voice of Zen, and the little-known Zen saint and monk Nyogen Senzaki (1876-1958). More »
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    Alan Watts Reconsidered Paid Member

    At the meditation center where I used to practice, my teacher told a story about a time when he had lived in Korea and studied with a Zen monk. One of the nuns in the community had died, and at her funeral the monk wept uncontrollably and hysterically, in a way that was almost embarrassing. My teacher, relatively new to the practice, was surprised that the man hadn't shown more equanimity, and brought the matter up at an interview. The monk burst into laughter. That nun had been a dear friend of his, he said. They had joined the community at the same time, and he was sad she was gone. He had expressed his grief when he felt it, and now could go on. Liberation wasn't a matter of acting some particular way, but feeling how you felt, whatever the situation. More »