Teachers & Priests
Hui Neng Stan Koehler, Roshi
New York Peace on the Street
When one reaches a certain age it is fairly easy to fill up a page or so of this and that when called upon to provide this type of background. But before going there, I’d like to take a moment to say why I founded Peace on the Street. To begin with I love cities, and having grown up on a farm in Northern California, I have no illusions about what it means to return to the land. It means unmitigated work. And although I grew up on the west coast, I really love New York.
A lot of people talk about the city being the source of sin, corruption, etc., etc. But when it comes right down to it the Christian scriptures say that Jesus will return and create a city, the New Jerusalem; a city not a suburb or farmlands. To that end I own property and live here in Spanish Harlem, a ten minute walk from our school.
I did a bunch of stuff before starting to meditate. I got an advanced degree from the California State University at San Francisco as well as a lifetime Community College Teaching Certificate. .My undergraduate work was in Classics and Social Science. My Master’s is in Intellectual European History with a focus on Bureaucracies. I did a lot of management work for the City and County of San Francisco, particularly in mental health.
I got married a couple of time (Ann Marie and Randi), had a couple of kids (John Paul and Alex). I founded and operated a private school for autistic children, St Bernadette’s between 1974 and 1978. I was certified as a Community Dispute Mediator, by the San Francisco Community Board Program as well as an, Emotional Support Counselor for the Terminally Ill by the Shanti Project where I did volunteer work in 1982.
That same year, 1982 I began to study meditation and in 1991 I began teaching. From 1982 until 1998 I studied, for the most part, with the controversial teacher Dr. Frederick Lenz (Rama). Randi and I moved from San Francisco to New York in 1989 to enhance the study . I was both certified to teach and ordained as a monk by Rama in 1991.
While many would go off to the mountaintops or the desert to meditate, the city is where it is really needed. We can list all sorts of benefits that meditation will bring you but the bottom line is that it will reduce the amount of pain in your life. This is needed in the city and it is particularly needed in the less affluent neighborhoods.
So I taught one class on 182nd St in a classroom that was provided by the Alianza Dominicana. I also taught classes on campus at CUNY. And again, it’s easier to practice in far away quiet places but that’s not available for most of us. So I developed techniques and exercises that worked in the city. I also decided to push the envelope and developed a meditation program for the inmates at Riker’s island. I spent five years there from 1998 - 2003, with the support of a very talented co-teacher, teaching there.
I was also involved in supporting families that had family members that joined religious groups of which the family disapproves. In addition to the family reconciliation counseling, during the late 90’s I co-authored a book, The Cult Around the Corner, to help families concerning this issue. During the 80’s and the 90’s a great many Americans who belonged to Asian based religions where tarred with the accusation of belonging to ‘cults’. Meditation students studying with Rama were not immune to this type of ‘mental health’ discount. I made a point of studying the issue and providing support to families who were victimized by those who were inciting fear for profit. As of 2010 these anti-cult programs have significantly diminished. One researcher theorizes that the movement was a baby boomer empty nester phenomenon that ran its course as the baby boomer adult children entered middle age.
I’ve studied martial arts from time to time although I never took it to the level accomplished by Sifu Richard Garcia. But then I didn’t take my first martial arts class until I was 43. I studied Capoeira and was initiated by Camisa and Preguisa into Omulu Senzala School of Capoeira in 1987; I studied Karate and was awarded the Sixth Kyu at the World Seido Karate Organization Honbu in 1991. I currently take the JKD classes taught by Sensei Garcia. I suppose at 67, at least for the moment, I hold the position as his oldest student. In the spring of 2000 Sensei Garcia and I did the Mankind Project Warrior Weekend. Some years passed during which I introduced a number of men to the weekend. In October of 2005 I began staffing the Warrior weekend and took a more active role in bringing the New Warrior Weekend Uptown. Since that time a number of men from Spanish Harlem have attended the weekend, some of whom have staffed a number of times and have moved into leadership roles. In 2007 I stepped up, along with Jonathan Figueroa, for Multicultural co-chair and we have both served on the NY Metro Council since then.
During the last few years I have been actively involved in the Hollow Bones Order. I was ordained as a Zen Priest with the Dharma name Hui Neng in 2004 by Zen Master Junpo Dennis Kelly, 83rd Patriarch in the Rinzai Zen linage. During 2005 Jun Po created the Mondo Zen protocols. I was amongst the initial Zen priests that first tested out the technology in Colorado and since that time have made these protocols a central part of our curriculum in Spanish Harlem.
As a Zen priest my mission is to distill the Buddhist canon to its fundamental essence so that it can be made available as an authentic American teaching. The goal is to allow Americans, particularly inner city Americans, access to the technologies developed through the centuries by Buddhist practitioners without requiring the American students to access these teachings through the trappings of Asian cultural forms.
Hui Neng, the Sixth Zen Patriarch, is credited with completing the transformation of Zen from a foreign psychology into a genuine Chinese expression of the basic teachings of the Tathagata. I look to Hui Neng as a model in my goal of creating an approach to Buddhism that resonates with inner city Americans.
During the eight years I have been teaching it has become obvious that a Zen program integrated into a martial arts program is a successful model for bringing the Dharma to the inner city. In 2008 we moved outside of this model into adult education. We expanded the program to create an enhanced GED curriculum. This program integrates meditative and martial arts practice with traditional GED subjects.
Finally, I own and operate Matrix International Consulting. It’s a small company where, in previous years, we provide software developers for various companies. I also managed software development projects for different companies and governmental agencies including New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services. In the past I’ve provided consulting services for the United Nations as well for the NY Consul General’s Office of the Dominican Republic. I maintain membership in the Project Management Institute and have received the Project Management Professional Certification from the Institute. For two years I was on the faculty of Columbia University teaching the Project Management Course for their professional certification program.