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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2011 78 philosophy, or mysticism. Both teach- ers knew enough about their students to teach to their condition, and to want to puncture their romantic projections. And both presented basic, nitty-gritty medita- tion practice as foundational. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was born in 1940 in Tibet. Recognized as a reincarnate teacher when he was thirteen months old, by the time he was a teenager he was head of a large monastic estab- lishment. With the Chinese Communist takeover of Tibet in 1959, he fled to India, and from there went to oxford, where he mastered English, Westernized, and later disrobed. An exceptionally brilliant young man catapulted into a jarring new world, he was quite wild, interested, and ready for anything. he brought that wide-open improvisational spirit to his teaching and practice with Western students. The pages of Meditation in Action bristle with a sense of discovery and youthful daring, as if Trungpa Rinpoche were taking apart what he’d learned in Tibet and putting it back together again for and with the students who had come to him. Suzuki Roshi was a much older man who’d spent his life as an ordinary Soto Zen priest in Japan. Born in 1904 into a temple family, he too was steeped in Bud- dhism from the beginning. Suzuki’s mo- nastic training at Eihei-ji, the headquar- ters temple of the Soto sect, had lasted only a short while because he needed to return home to tend the family temple. he had studied at a Buddhist university with leading Soto priests who were ex- ploring the writings of the sect’s founder, Eihei Dogen, with an emphasis on how Japanese religion could meet the chal- lenge of the modern West. Suzuki Roshi had studied English early on, and dreamed of a chance to go to America, where zazen practice as Dogen described it might interest people. In 1959 he accepted a temporary position at a temple in San Francisco’s Japantown (not a good career move, from the Japanese point of view). he remained in America for the rest of his life, eventually leaving the Japanese-American community to found the San Francisco Zen Center. Like Trungpa Rinpoche, Suzuki Roshi’s teach- ing was improvisational and experimen- tal, though in a far less dramatic way. out- wardly he was quite conservative. he seems clearly to have been inspired and amused by his young students. Both Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche realized that the transfer of dharma to the West would require that Buddhism itself transform—and that this was a good thing. Both had a keen sense of the historical moment. This feeling is clear in every page of the books. Before Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche, a few Buddhist teachers had begun West- ern groups but nothing had stuck. After them the way was clear for many new and successful groups. The communities they founded—the San Francisco Zen Center and its lineage affiliates and the world- wide Shambhala communities—remain among the largest and most important Buddhist groups in the West. The two teachers knew and appreciated each other. Trungpa Rinpoche made an early visit to Tassajara, the Zen monastery Suzuki founded in 1967, and found in the older man an echo of his own Tibetan teachers. he said it was a great relief to meet such a wise and mature master who felt that practicing Buddhism seriously with Westerners was actually possible. Re- turning home, Trungpa Rinpoche adapted some of the Zen customs he learned from Suzuki Roshi, and put the roshi’s picture on the shrines at his practice centers. For his part, Suzuki was deeply sympa- thetic to the young Tibetan, and despite the solid, almost monotonous quality of his own practice, appreciated the exciting flash and brilliance of his young colleague. In the early 1970s, when I began to prac- tice Zen in San Francisco, just after Suzuki Roshi’s death, Trungpa Rinpoche often came through town. many of us from Zen Center would attend his talks and some traveled to Boulder to meet him, a few re- maining to become his students. Although many of the Asian teachers of that time (and today) felt that it would take many generations for Westerners to understand Buddhism, and so carefully named Asian successors, it was a key point for both Trungpa Rinpoche and Suzuki Roshi that their successors be Westerners. Both chose charismatic and able Western leaders to follow them, and in both cases the organizations continued successfully for some years, only to eventually experi- ence painful upheavals that resulted in the dismissal of both successors. Looking back on this now, with a forty-year perspective, it seems that these tumultuous transitions were probably inevitable. how could the subtle transmission of a religion across such a huge cultural divide not entail troubling complications? And how could the loss of two such extraordinary men, in these circumstances, not be traumatic? But both sanghas matured and strength- ened as a result of the tragedies, and are now, perhaps more than other Western sanghas, naturalized in their cultures. many readers of the Sun are probably fa- miliar with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Its editors, Richard Baker and Trudy Dixon, carefully organized Suzuki Roshi’s easygo- ing talks into three main sections (Right Practice, Right Attitude, Right understand- ing), with about a dozen short, titled pieces in each section. Each piece is preceded by a short quotation lifted from the body of the piece, as if the title and the quotation were a summary of it, but this is never re- ally the case. Suzuki Roshi’s words seem to meander naturally, without topic sentences or consistent argument. The book does not follow traditional teachings nor comment on traditional practices. Suzuki Roshi seems to be musing out loud to his stu- dents about life and practice, and yet there is a sense of direction and determination. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is almost uncanny in its ability to surprise and de- light. Sometimes I think I know the Zen teaching Suzuki Roshi is referring to; other