by Will Pye
It was a grim Melbourne evening, a reminder that summer was no more, and the seasonal fluctuations of my mind (like Melbourne, bestowed with a tendency for all seasons to be experienced in the same day) were in sync with the outer darkness as I stressed my way through the lingering peak hour traffic. I had been aware of Jun Po Denis Kelly, and on hearing of his appearance at a community building in Windsor, it took but a brief moment to decide to attend. It was an article in EnlightenNext, formerly What is Enlightenment? - that wonderful magazine that appeals to a far broader audience than the style of its founder, editor and resident guru Andrew Cohen - that introduced me to “the wild man from Wisconsin” as I have heard others knowingly refer to Jun Po.
In addition, he had, by his own account, done the hard psychological yards through psychotherapy as it became clear to him that for all his meditative capacity and insight, there was work on the level of personality still to be done. That he had manufactured high quality (as testified by another well-regarded Zen Master!) LSD in the 1960's and consequently experienced the challenges of incarceration only further served to support my impression that this was a man who appeared more committed to his own awakening and to truth than to his comfort or indeed laws and rules, whether they be of an ancient sect or modern state - a rare breed, one who walked his talk and I hoped someone from whom I might learn as I strive to embody my own highest ideals.
Here perhaps was a truly integral cat, versed and immersed in three of the most powerful transformative techniques the world offers, harmonizing East and West, old and new, endogenous and exogenous for the growth and good of body, mind, and soul. So it is testimony to the capacity for frenzy of my monkey mind that the thoughts dancing upon the stage of awareness as I darted along the city streets were of bailing on the exceptional opportunity to hear him speak and perhaps I would be best served by a glass of wine instead. Hesse's notion that we are not one or two but rather thousands of selves has long been born out by my experience. (I include the delightful passage from Steppenwolf as a footnote for your enjoyment.)*
The toing and froing of mind fell on attending, and so it was I found myself parking up with 5 minutes to spare and plodding my contracted self into the hall, paying my admission and taking a seat amongst 40 or so others, apart, where I could naval gaze and remonstrate with myself undisturbed. Such was my narcissistic preoccupation with imagined issues, by the divinely imagined me, that I failed to notice at the time there were people in the audience I knew. I sat down, crossed my legs, folded my arms, and awaited the main act.
And what an act.
Within a few moments, it became clear Jun Po also possessed a good understanding of the use of form to assist in transmitting essence; walking out slowly and purposefully, a Kyosaku, the (in)famous Zen stick raised in front of him, like a samurai sword, his vision straight ahead and his tall body adorned in dark flowing robes, he cut quite a figure. The clear presence, perhaps even majesty, had a noticeable effect on an audience instantly awed; quite a piece of theatre or as Jun Po curiously pronounces it, “the-ater,” the “e” and “a” separated as in “re-aim” rather than “fear.” I have never heard anyone pronounce this word in such a way, not even other Wisconsinites.
Humour was the next tool employed to engage us and even a little self-deprecation, just enough to build rapport but certainly not so much as to diminish the presence. Now what happened next is hard to describe, but it's the reason I write this article and why I came to know a little more about Jun Po. I cannot recall what he said and do not suppose that it matters. What I do recall, most clearly, is that within a few minutes of him having entered the room I was a different person; the clenched manic me was mere memory, instead now subsumed in awareness, that presence that we are, that I had once known yet forgotten. Where there had been despairing, there was now joy, the tumult replaced with calm and the previous inner turmoil was laughable by its incongruence with this seemingly more authentic, or at least more pleasant, state of mind.
To use a Jun Po technical term, my head was no longer up my arse, and, as is typically the case when an expanded perspective glances back at contracted melodrama, I felt considerable relief and amusement; “Oh yeah...this is it, this is what is really going on,” I thought to myself and looked back fondly, if mildly embarrassed at the tantruming child that had been so sweetly ushered off the stage of my consciousness. I "got the joke" to use more Mondo Zen terminology leading to “sacred laughter,” a natural response to seeing that the lead role in one's personal drama is but a figment of divine imagination.
I had read somewhere that in a Satsang such as this was, the teacher would direct his talk not to the monks or novices but to the Buddha figure at the back of the hall, to symbolise that this was one Buddha Nature speaking to the Buddha Nature in each of the audience members. The process at heart not mere intellectual exposition but rather a transmission; the teacher, by holding or being a certain state of mind or consciousness, communicates it to receptive souls in the room.
As I read the description, I liked the idea, nice symbolism, more my cup of tea than transubstantiation but, like such rites I had previously observed, obviously not to be taken literally; however, as I sat there and felt joy and expanse where moments ago there were fear and despair, I could only conclude that some such transmission had occurred and “I” was awake to the Buddha Mind that we all are.
Until my next slumber.
Whatever this guy had I wanted some; never before had I encountered a being that radiated the presence I sought and been open to what they had to offer. I enjoyed the rest of the talk, overcame my nerves at its completion, and approached Jun Po thanking him and requesting an interview for a writing project. Happily he agreed, and whilst I was unable to attend the Melbourne retreat, in but a week's time I was, 6 weeks or so later, flying to the USA to attend a Mondo Zen Sesshin Jun Po was leading in Colorado. I have long searched for such embodiment,t and a 14 hour flight was a minor consideration as I facilitated a closer look. Reaching the wonderfully and aptly (just how apt I did not yet know) named Loveland, we arrived at the permanent spiritual community of the wonderfully warm people of the Emissaries of Divine Light, our hosts for the Sesshin.
Our 7 days would involve about 6 hours of sitting Zazen (and with each sit no longer than 45-50 minutes all very manageable) an hour of Kinhin (walking meditation) and 3 or 4 sessions of Qi Gong per day plus an introduction to and practice of the Mondo Zen dialogue process, a wonderful meeting of traditional Koan work with psychology informed by some of the key findings of neuroscience. Combining “philosophical reindoctrination” with the experience of “Pure Clear Deep Heart/Mind” which is then anchored aurally, verbally and physically, Ken Wilber has described the process as “one of the most important, creative, and novel additions to the meditation pantheon, highly recommended for the accelerated effect it has on spiritual growth and development.” In bringing awareness to the more unconscious aspects of psyche, our emotional reactivity, it promises that “your angst can be your liberation.”
As I contemplated the schedule for the week ahead, I felt so deeply grateful to be held in this oh so Integral embrace. I only felt more joy on discovering the homely accommodation, the organic vegetarian food, the time for nature walks. There was a very deep felt sense that I was very much in the right place, precisely where I needed to be right now. The insight deepened sufficiently that I soon realised one is always in exactly the right place at the right time! My experience exceeded all expectation. There was a brief moment during generally pain-ridden and lacking even basic concentration Zazen when the self-referencing “me” was absent for a moment, and there was just awareness, stuff arising, no hearer only hearing happening, just this exquisite is-ness. Until the sense of “I'”soon returned and felt deep gratitude and a little spiritual pride for having the experience (ego taking credit for an event in which it had no doing, was not even present!). However, the Kensho or mini-Satori was nothing new, and there was something even more beautiful and abiding, an unfolding that I so needed although had not known I did.
During the Mondo Zen process, aided by the accentuated general awareness from Zazen and a greater felt sense of the energetic or etheric body thanks to the Qi Gong, I deeply understood what it feels like to speak from the head and most beautifully what it feels like to speak from the heart. Of course, I had known the difference conceptually, but suddenly there was experiential understanding (the genius of Mondo Zen being that it very deliberately and artfully catalyses such a deepening of insight and realisation), and this reverberated around my entire being. Feeling into this sense and exploring it further, there was a physical warmth and tingling around my solar plexus that stayed with me for weeks afterwards, comparable to a muscle strain, a lingering echo of a once intense energy.
I rationalise now that there was a blockage of sorts in the flow of energy, and that this process (and presumably a fair bit of work in the proceeding years ensuring a certain ripeness) had facilitated its clearing. It was an opening of the heart, and I and others in my life have benefited so deeply from this; I cannot hope to adequately express the beauty of this experience and the gratitude I feel for having been introduced to such a powerful technology, so suited to my deepest needs.
I have meditated for 9 years, done retreats in which we meditated for 10 hours a day, practised yoga, indulged in therapy of various sorts, sat at the feet of Swami's and across desks from Quantum Physicists, worked with most known entheogens, fasted, over-indulged, ceremonied with shamans in the Peruvian Jungle, been worked on by intuitive healers, kinesiologists, esoteric acupuncturists, aura readers and the rest and done just about every personal development seminar going, experiencing many wonderful and powerful insights in the process.
However, in depth and its abiding quality - even after contractions and forgetting - I can still see today the leap it created in my mind-body and the deepened capacity to live, in each moment from that place of Buddha Nature that is us all - nothing comes close to that week in the land of Love. As Jun Po put it in his no b/s style referring to the Sesshin as a whole: "f$%ing profound."
You will hear talk at such retreats and similarly minded seminars of “creating a container” - that is, putting together the form but more importantly bringing the essence, the presence, such that transformation or whatever can be most easily faciliated. Once again, via experience, the truth of a concept was presented; Jun Po, DoShin, Taiso, Reishin, Engo, et al., certainly created such a container over that week. Cynicism, doubt, righteousness, all arose and were quietly and almost imperceptibly dissolved in a fiercely loving embrace.
There was a moment in Dokusan, the interview between teacher and novice, which occurred for me pre heart-opening when Jun Po asked if I had experienced that pure deep heart/mind.
“No,” I said, “before, but not this week.”
“So, where is it now?” Jun Po asked.
I laughed out loud, for awakened mind was, of course, where it always is; behind, beneath, above and beyond, within and without thought and emotions - right here, right now, pure awareness, this awareness. I am more awake and more skilled at remaining so and am so grateful to have such a resource available to assist.
Happily, Jun Po returns to Australia in March,** and I for one will be taking my seat.
**Details of the March retreat
*Footnote - From Steppnewolf:
The division into wolf and man, flesh and spirit, by means of which Harry tries to make his destiny more comprehensible to himself is a very great simplification. It is a forcing of the truth to suit a plausible, but erroneous, explanation of that contradiction which this man discovers in himself and which appears to himself to be the source of his by no means negligible sufferings. Harry finds in himself a human being, that is to say, a world of thoughts and feelings, of culture and tamed or sublimated nature, and besides this he finds within himself also a wolf, that is to say, a dark world of instinct, of savagery and cruelty, of unsublimated or raw nature. In spite of this apparently clear division of his being between two spheres, hostile to one another, he has known happy moments now and then when the man and the wolf for a short while were reconciled with one another. Suppose that Harry tried to ascertain in any single moment of his life, any single act, what part the man had in it and what part the wolf, he would find himself at once in a dilemma, and his whole beautiful wolf-theory would go to pieces. For there is not a single human being .. who is so conveniently simple that his being can be explained as the sum of two or three principal elements; and to explain so complex a man as Harry by the artless division into wolf and man is a hopelessly childish attempt. Harry consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not of two. His life oscillates, as everyone's does, not merely between two poles, such as the body and the spirit, the saint and the sinner, but between thousand and thousands.