Yesterday at Sweeping Zen, Adam Tebbe posted a video of Jun Po Denis Kelly, head of the Hollow Bones Order and the creator of Mondo Zen™, laughing about a sesshin in which he “terrified” a whiny participant by grabbing him by the chest, throwing him against a wall, and growling, “Wake up. People are dying.” Jun Po uses this as an illustration of the “ferocity” of Rinzai Zen, and ends by saying that though that ferocity needs to be maintained, it also has to be used skillfully. Adam’s question was, Does this kind of violence have a place in Zen? There’s a lot to be said about it — I understand the concern, but I do think there’s a place for a kind of ferocity, an intensity, even if we don’t often see it in the Soto world.

So I’ve been trying to sort out my thoughts about it, but I’m finding that it’s hard to separate out the question at hand from the fact that I feel predisposed to distrust Jun Po Denis Kelly. I have never met him. I like his photographs — he has a powerful look about him. And his resume is pretty great — he’s worked hard to be where he is, and I don’t doubt at all that a deep sincerity has been behind that work. I would say that he comes off as arrogant in the video, but that aside, I actually like that he seems to take a hardline, my-way-or-the-highway view of training. That can be a good thing, assuming other factors are in place. So this distrust I feel may be completely unreasonable; the reason may be too simple to be legitimate. But here it is: it’s the little ‘ ™ ‘ after Mondo Zen™.

The official description of Mondo Zen™ begins as follows:

Mondo Zen™ is based on Japanese and Chinese Zen, updated for the 21st Century. Mondo Zen™ transcends the hierarchical/authoritarian, gender-biased and constraining monastic aspects of traditional Zen in favor of practical, experiential “in the world” engagement. Relying only on direct personal experience – as taught by the Buddha himself – it does not allow mythic constructs to complicate its philosophical orientation. This includes ideas such as reincarnation, soul as personality, bardo realms, past lives, a creator deity, or other faith-based beliefs. It is important that in our practice of Mondo Zen™ we consciously choose to set aside all such ideas at least until we have experienced, tested and evaluated for ourselves a simpler and stronger way of knowing. Why is this important? Because those beliefs and concepts force our immediate experience into a container of pre-defined understanding, robbing us of the experience of deeper insight. By letting go of our attachment to our beliefs and mythologies, at least while we are actively doing this practice, we remove a barrier to insight caused by our attachment to those views.

It keeps going: Mondo Zen™ is “a transmission of Correct Understanding,” “a full heart-mind collaboration between ‘student’ and ‘teacher,'” and so on.

I have trained exclusively in traditional Japanese monasteries, and I would describe Zen in the same way. Of course Zen relies on direct personal experience. Of course it does not allow mythic constructs to complicate its philosophical orientation (though I would add that it also doesn’t allow its philosophical orientation to complicate its philosophical orientation!). Of course it transcends the hierarchical, gender-biased and constraining monastic aspects of traditional Zen — it transcends all containers, and fills them too. This is a strawman argument. This is packaging the obvious as something revolutionary. There is no “update” to be found here. If anything, this stinks of Boomeritis, the term coined by Ken Wilber (a brilliant philosopher, and colleague of Jun Po’s) to describe baby boomers’ inclination to believe that they are the first ones to see things as they really are, and that they will be the ones to establish the new paradigm.

In short, this is just cynical marketing. And though I understand it, I think it’s a crime.

The more famous example of the ‘ ™ ‘ is Genpo Merzel’s Big Mind Process™ (“Big Mind®: The gateless gate to boundless perception”). In some ways, Genpo is too easy a target. His activities had been the object of private derision by Zen teachers for years, then last year, after various scandals were made public, he became an object of public scorn. Much was made of his indiscretions, and along the way, some critics also laid into Big Mind Process™ itself, mostly labeling it a scam, something with no connection to Zen. But in its marketing, Ken Wilber referred to it as “arguably the most important and original discovery in the last two centuries of Buddhism. …With the Big Mind Process, a genuine kenso can occur in about an hour — seriously.” It was called “the third turning of the wheel of the Dharma.” In reality, it’s Voice Dialogue repackaged for a Buddhist audience. And as a tool of inquiry, I have no problem with it; like many others, I am, however, uncomfortable with the over-the-top claims made about it (among other things, if realization is just an experience in your brain, that’s a reductive re-definition of realization).

To be fair, in one important way, Mondo Zen™ and Big Mind Process™ are not really in the same category. Mondo Zen™ describes Zen exactly the way just about everyone would describe Zen, then claims that it’s new and improved. Big Mind Process™ takes something that has almost no relationship to any historical understanding of Zen, then says that Zen has evolved into this. Both arise from the assumption — always confusing to me — that Zen and Buddhism are somehow fundamentally irrelevant to “ordinary life,” that they’re broken and have been waiting for someone to come along and make them meaningful again. But each is trying to sell something very different from the other.

Both, I suspect, offer something fairly valuable. I’ve watched videos of Big Mind™ workshops — it looks like a nice therapeutic tool, one that many could benefit from. And I suspect I would like Mondo Zen™, because it appears to be exactly like, well, Zen.

But it’s this “selling” that does not sit well with me.

I want to be perfectly clear: I have no problem with Zen priests trying to make money. A lot of people, in my experience, take a puritanical view that priests should live in poverty, and they begrudge them any income at all. But the fact is that in most cases, even the famous ones live with very little, and the obscure ones barely scrape by. I’m sure Genpo Merzel has a comfortable personal income, but I also know that much of the income generated by his work has gone to support his center. Brad Warner has been very forthcoming about how little he makes from selling so many books, and I have no reason not to believe him. Zen priests struggle. In Alaska, the members of the center, for all their sincere efforts, couldn’t completely support me on their own, so I took another job — that job, in very real ways, was what made much of the activity at the center possible, because that non-priest job gave me the basic security to stay in Anchorage and do my work as a priest. That scenario is playing itself out all over the country, at centers big and small. I know priests who want to retire but can’t, because they know that shaking things up in even the slightest way will cause the center to collapse completely, and they don’t want that to happen. I know another priest who has worked for years as an airline attendant — his community would benefit tremendously if he could be with them all the time, but who will support that? So when a priest takes on another job, or when they get second billing on the yoga retreat circuit, or when they pursue book deals, I think, congratulations. When Zen centers make the decision to flat-out charge for events instead of sticking to a donations-only policy, I sympathize — I’ve been part of those conversations, and those decisions are never, never easy. They’re painful. It’s never about money, never just that, not as an end in itself. It’s about creatively supporting a place of practice and your own work as a priest when, in this culture and in this economy, others can’t or won’t. There are rich, fat-cat Zen priests, but not in the US, not as far as I know.

So if Jun Po and Genpo have money coming in, that’s fine. If it’s because they’re creative, forward-thinking teachers, that’s fine. If it’s even just charisma, that’s fine. I’m not concerned about teachers being successful on that level. In any case, that kind of success is rare.

However, both Jun Po and Genpo are making claims that they have discovered a revolutionary way of sharing the Dharma, one that is uniquely suited to our time and our culture, one that offers a kind of insight and authenticity that is otherwise not available. Then they’re trademarking it so that no one else can steal it. It’s so completely out of place in a tradition like this one that when you first hear about something like this, I think the normal response is not outrage but incredulity. You’re kidding, right?

When Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, he knew what a gift it was to the world. His only thought was to make it available to everyone, as quickly as possible. He didn’t sell it; he saw it as the property of all. When asked who owned the patent, he replied, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

The Dharma, to me, is the sun. It shines on everyone equally — it is always ever-present, always available. For centuries, we’ve turned to teachers to help us to see that light, to feel that heat on our faces directly. to realize that it was always there. Some teachers are amazing in that role; others are not. Some in our history have been innovators, while others have taken a more conservative approach. Some have taken on that role gladly, with a confidence that can be both powerful and unsettling; others have tried their best to remain invisible. But in 2500 years of teachers, how many have said, “I have found the better way to introduce others to their own true nature, to guide them to true seeing, to awaken them to limitless experience. And no one is allowed to teach this way but me”? Before the turn of this century, I suspect that the number was zero.

Buddhist teaching is a deep sea of plagiarism. Teachers shouldn’t pass off another teacher’s words as their own — that kind of direct stealing benefits no one. But the reality is that if we immerse ourselves in these teachings, if we listen to others with an open heart, if we chew on something we heard for months and years, we lose track, not only of who first said what, but of the more basic question of whether the ideas in our heads are really ours at all. I have thought, “This is the perfect analogy to describe such-and-such,” and thought I was really clever, only to find that the analogy appears in a book I read fifteen years ago. It was just worming its way into my head all that time. I’ve also come up with things that felt like something I’d heard, but after years of reflection have decided, no, that really is my own phrasing, my own illustration of that point. It has to be this way, because we have to bring everything to the table every time. If I love the way my teacher teaches, I will try with every bone in my body to embody that way of teaching. I can’t help but make it my own, but when I sit in the role of teacher, my teacher is also teaching, and so is his, and so are the authors of my favorite books, and so on. “My” style is born of something borrowed, stolen, absorbed, imitated. None of this is mine. It’s not mine to withhold. It’s not mine to begrudge.

And it’s not mine to trademark.


51 comments on “Zen™

  1. Joel says:

    Even though Soto practice in general doesn’t rely on “ferocity” as a technique, it is not absent. My own evolution went from defending the use of the kyosaku as the “stick of compassion” to becoming aware that there is a residue of paternalism residing in the tradition. I respect that once upon a time young monks were reminded by their elders with a well timed slap but in today’s world I believe we have way too many people hitting each other with sticks or worse. So I take exception to that there is a place for “ferocity” if it entails violent gestures. There are better ways.

    • Koun says:


      I agree — I think the beginning of that conversation is establishing that ferocity and violence are not necessarily the same thing. Thank you.


  2. Mike Haitch says:

    I think there are two ways to find something ‘new’ in Zen:

    1. Is to not know what’s currently around in Zen, Chan, Yoga, Hinduism, Psychology, Science and Zen.

    2. To get caught chasing shadows created in the mind.

    Yogis can balance on their heads and pretzel their bodies. My Chan teacher could chop rocks with his bare hands as a warm-up. Many partnering dancers can merge into one.

    People in the Zen world play chopsticks on a piano and think that is the ultimate, unaware of how many concert pianists there are in the world.

    A frog leaving the well has two choices – to return to the well or to move on.

    The above examples you cite appear to me as frogs arguing over their rocks in the well. I find it to be somewhere between depressing and destructive.

    • Koun says:


      Thank you — I like the image of the frogs, particularly because the darkness of the well suggests that perhaps they don’t fully understand where they are, or the scale of the world around them. When people insist that they’ve “fixed” Buddhism, I just think, But have you looked at the scale of Buddhism? Do you know where you are?


  3. I read that story about Junpo and I think “how sad that “Zen teachers” (so-called) are still peddling this kind of foolishness.” Wilber and that whole cult really love to “talk tough” about their “rude boy” Dharma genius (especially about how they recognize each others genius, implying that only they have the genius to spot it), but this isn’t the 70’s. And man I loathe that phrase “rude boy.” Blech. Basically if Ken Wilber lauds it (he is always first to spot the next “biggest revolution in hundreds of years”) watch out. Merzel? Kelly? Andrew Cohen??? Adi Da!!!???

    I’m a young-ish “Gen X” Soto priest (with some Rinzai, and otherwise, training), who isn’t totally fond of my elder brother Brad Warner’s polemical representation of my generation – I find punk generally lacks imagination. After twenty years of checking out the scene in America, if I somehow wandered into a situation where I saw a teacher behave like that I would call them on (at best) just being ridiculous, and then promptly leave. American Dharma still has a lot of maturing to do – I don’t think it will include much physical beating of “whiny” students going forward. Junpo frankly just seems like an arrogant @$$, and not for the first time as related here. Life beats us up enough – when the teacher thinks they are advanced enough to do it themselves, in this day and age I would beat a hasty retreat from that retreat. We have plenty of evidence that this kind of behavior at the least doesn’t suit our cultural milieu. I just think about the college students I teach – each one of them is on their own journey. I can’t think of an instance where, even if I wouldn’t be fired, that physically assaulting them would even be helpful, much less not plain damaging, for the quality of the relationship, or my own process and practice. Mostly we just need to be encouraged, by each other (teacher and student), and only occasionally chastised. I’m sure Junpo would just call me a “Dharma wimp” and I would be classified as stuck in ‘green’ by the Wilberites – or something.

    So thanks for a very thoughtful and welcome analysis and expose. You bring up many important issues in the American Dharma landscape. Super smart.

    • Koun says:


      Thank you. I’m always glad for the chance to meet another Gen X Soto priest. 🙂

      I feel a sense of debt to Ken Wilber — years ago, his writings helped me a great deal (and no doubt continue to, in all sorts of unconscious ways). But I agree with you, that there seems to be a macho, “rude boy” air around him. I’m confused by the company he keeps.

      In the particular story told by Jun Po, it seems clear that such an approach can only have the desired effect on someone who can be terrified by it; someone more confident in their lives or in the practice might laugh at the teacher who acted that way, or call him on it, or fight back, or just leave. In that way, it has a predatory aspect that I find disturbing. That is to say, there’s a big difference between dharma combat and dharma assault. There’s no way that Jun Po imagined that this guy would bring something in return — his goal was to roar and shake the guy up. If anything, he speaks of the guy with scorn. It hardly seems like the best face of the tradition.


      • re: Ken Wilber: I too have found some of his ideas inspiring at times, but the more time passes the more skeptical I’ve become. First, his entire manner of presentation is really off – I always the think of pictures on his blog when he meets with the always hyperbolically described “spiritual masters”, or rock musicians, in his Denver loft condo – which (of course) he calls “The Loft”. A loft among lofts, like everything else around him. Then there he is, 60 something and suffering from myriad debilitating physical diseases that I presume keep him from being able to use the numbers of skateboards hung up decorating his walls. So one presumes that the carefully ripped holes in the knees of his jeans didn’t happen while doing labor or riding pools; and don’t get me started about all the pictures of him with his shirt off, or his seeming abhorrence for sleeves on the ones he wears (often with those dated ROCK! tattoo designs), to better show off his guns – he likes to show himself lifting weights too. I could go on…

        then he coins terms like “rude boy” (blech) to describe himself and his pals, almost all of whom he also describes as “revolutionary”, who mostly seem male, and to have long lists of sexual abuse allegations trailing after them. “Rude” meaning they are so awake and multi-valent that they don’t get trapped into being nice – they know how to ROCK spirituality, man! He responded to his mostly quietly reasonable critics a couple years back by going off on a pathetic, defensive, and very lengthy online temper tantrum in which he likened himself to Wyatt Earp in the Wild West of HIS “Integral Revolution.” And his critics are now legion – as his voluminous if highly repetitive tomes get carefully analyzed, it turns out virtually no one from the dozens of fields of knowledge that he asserts himself to have mastered agrees with his interpretations of their work, their field, or their peers, even when he manages to quote them accurately, which it turns out he often conveniently doesn’t, to make his interps actually suit his grand schemas. There are the youtube videos of him slumped on a bed with some brain wave-ometer of some sort, manipulating his brain waves AT WILL! wow!; his published diaries, touted to show the how an “enlightened consciousness” functions day to day; then there’s simply his tone as he speaks from the dais he always sits on in front of his minions, which I find insufferable; his inflated claims for all the “masters” he studied with, most of whom he simply met once or twice…and his friends (Junpo, Merzel, and then Cohen, who is the absolute worst)…

        Being of this Gen called X (as far as that label is useful), he just strikes me as suffering from and almost archetypically embodying the Boomeritis he claimed once to skewer (in an absolutely unreadable “novel” that is a crime against the term). His rabid devotion to Adi Da is a perfect example – ol’ Franklin Jones is the almost the ultimate Boomer. Thought he was the single most enlightened creature ever to manifest in the universe – not exaggerating – that only literal worship of him could ‘enlighten’ others, and Ken was there for years, extolling his genius and mastery in gushing terms, suggesting that anyone interested in his own work should get on board with the Da man.

        Like many of his fellow boomers, for Ken its all about positivist “evolution” and development and techniques to master “stages” and “levels”. It’s not that these things don’t exist. I just don’t think they can be talked about without resorting to a good deal paradox and poetry – instead, he rationalizes everything and generates ever more detailed yet absurd “maps” that just take you further off the road from simple being. But then, we’re Dogen people, so maybe you know what I’m talking about. Really, I think he’s not so different from the other politicians or entrepreneurs or whathaveyou of his generation, that led us into so many wars abroad, and got into so much trouble, personally and otherwise. Blind spots to drive trucks through…

        I’m an artist by profession and training, and sometimes I wonder if it all doesn’t just come down to aesthetics, that term really indicating a very complex and highly intuitive sense about something. I could make this list a lot longer about why Ken Wilber grosses me out, but really, his whole trip is just not my vibe. I think he’s generally off-base. And I don’t actually see his real-world practicality out here – people who get into him and his work seem to move exactly away, by degree of obsession, from what I ‘aesthetically’ perceive as real humanity, ie “spirituality” (a term that is virtually unusable now. Good riddance.) The fact that he is so close to Junpo speaks volumes, about both of them. So, thanks again, and pardon this rant. I’m sure I am embarrassing myself, again.

        Keizan T.

      • Koun says:


        I was smiling through your whole “rant” — everything you say here is something I’ve said myself. There’s a posturing (and inevitable defensiveness) around Ken Wilber and the Integral scene that I find incredibly disappointing. (I’ve had to warn people, more than once, that the price of admission for investigating him online is looking at him naked.) But again, for me, I know that I shout at Wilber so much in my mind because he’s written some stuff of real value. His way of describing the holons-within-holons world, infinite in both directions, shaped my understanding both of relationship and of, for lack of a better word, scale. And his elucidation of the “pre/trans fallacy” is clear and incredibly relevant to almost any discussion of Buddhism. In fact, early on, he was a great advocate of Buddhism; it was only later that he took it upon himself to re-invent spirituality for the modern age and lose all his sleeves. Anyway, when I think of how hard it is now to separate out the clarity of some of his (especially mid-late 90’s) writings from the public persona he’s taken on, I mostly just feel a sense of loss.


  4. David Ashton says:

    I’m with you all the way on this one. I don’t have the qualifications to judge whether a teaching style is effective, but I draw the line at violence, and kensho in 30 minutes sounds a bit too much like LSD. Enjoying your blog very much.

    • Koun says:


      Thank you. As a Soto guy, I think I’m sometimes confused by what those in the Rinzai world even mean when they speak of kensho, so I’m just that much more confused when I hear you can get it from attending an afternoon seminar on how to have conversations with yourself. I would actually love to speak with someone who feels that they had that experience in that context, to better understand it.


  5. Stephen Slottow says:

    I tend to distrust that style of ferocity. So much depends on who is doing it, and how, and on the emphases of the lineage, but what I get from your account is a sort of theatricality.

    • Koun says:


      I think that Jun Po himself describes it as theatricality in the video.

      When I think of ferocity, I think of a priest I know from Hiroshima. Soto funerals are punctuated, midway, by a kind of shout by the officiant. There are lots of ways to do it — loud, soft, slow, sharp, high, low — but in reality, it’s usually a throwaway. It’s a highly theatrical moment, actually, so it takes a particular kind of confidence to pull it off. Anyway, I did one funeral with this priest, and when we got to that part, he did it with such commitment, such intensity, moving from a gentle growl to a roar, that everyone got goosebumps. Seeing that kind of ferocity makes the viewer think one of two things: (1) I need to avoid this person, or (2) I want to enter this person’s sphere, to see where that intensity comes from. I’m in camp #2. But again, what he displays is fully present without any jumping or shouting or physical contact. It’s a full expression, not a threat.


  6. doshoport says:

    Well, good news. I consulted a trademark expert (my brother) and he looked up Big Mind and Mondo Zen. He says the “TM” thing can be used by anybody and doesn’t mean anything but that the entity is pursuing to register (the circled “r” – which they’ll use when they succeed). Big Mind is registered but Mondo Zen has abandoned the process – curious that they’d use the “TM” then.

    Anyway, Koun, you can use Mondo Zen with no fear of action against you. On the other hand, I’ve taken the initiative and begun the process to register a couple words – like Buddha Dharma, Dogen Zen, Practice-Enlightenment, etc. No worries though – just in case my retirement and my brother’s doesn’t work out, we’ll have a back up plan….

    • Koun says:


      That’s great information, actually. Thank you for asking around.

      I think you should go all the way with this and just trademark “Zen,” flat out. Maybe “Buddhism” too. Leo Buscaglia pulled it off with “love,” so you never know… 🙂


  7. Dave Laser says:

    ” Sea of plagiarism”… love that! Treading water, or swimming like a fish? I’m stealing it, for sure. A fish in the Sea of Plagiarism would never run out of water- which Jun Po seems to indicate for himself- essentially saying that no words could have caused the transformation of that student. Perhaps not. There is a whole world of action, though,- dancing, laughing, bowing, running. Grabbing and slamming seems like a failure of imagination- – too many Kung-Fu movies? A whiney guy in a blanket– c’mon, there’s no humor in that? The trademark thing seems symptomatic of that, too– like,” Here’s the limit. This is it.” Trademark your style, you’re stuck with using a hammer for every task- pounding nails, opening the door, eating your food…
    And of course, this has me thinking about where my self-seriousness has limited my own imagination!
    Thank you.

  8. Bryan says:

    Without getting into the discussion of “Zen (R)” , Zen “TM” or the appropriate/inappropriate style alluded to I simply note that JunPo reports a long and emotional dokuson (as he says in the video 3 hrs) with the fellow after this intervention. Also, near the beginning he cautions the listener that this is done ‘rarely’ and that the circumstances between student and teacher have to accord for this to be effective. At the end he says: “If you use that be careful, you can always use it wrong’

    I had a different take on the how he used of the term ‘theatrical’. As used by JunPo as it seems to accord more with whole-hearted engagement of an action in the service of the dharma.

    • Mike Haitch says:

      I watched the video and put myself in the situation. After a day mulling it overe I’m no happier about it!

      The wording was approximately “I’ve got stage 4 throat cancer and this guy is snivelling and so I grabbed him and….”. It looks like displaced anger followed by a recovery of the situation. It doesn’t have the feel of “How do I wake this guy up?”

      A few weeks ago I was in a hotel bar, in pain and yawning quietly due to lack of sleep. A bald granny turned to me and said “Why are you yawning, I have cancer and you are still young”. Where’s the link? I could have been near death and in my final week. It felt like I was on the receiving end of her unexpressed anger about the unfairness of life. Even as a conversation opener it was violent.

      The video sounds like a variation. Anger expressed on a soft target and disguised. Snatching the blanket and shouting “Man Up!” might have been more effective and less traumatic for the guy.

      Given my own past experiences physicality is not an issue as a tool. There are many ways to throw or hit someone and only some of them are compassionate and only some of them happen when there is explicit agreement. Had this guy signed a retreat waiver???

      Another guy might have responded in kind or gassho’d. This guy ran away. His natural response, his instincts, his body said that he’d just been assaulted by a bigger, stronger angry guy without provocation. The anecdote suggests he was a smaller guy and so his instinct to run was maybe the wisest.

      Did this incident really lead to a major breakthrough or just better sitting?

      What doesn’t seem to come across in the video is compassion for the student as a human being. ‘Skilful’ looks like  post-hoc rationalisation. Where is the student’s voice attesting to the skilfulness?   

      Maybe after three hours the student was just taught once more to deny and repress his nature?  After all his instinctual responses were accurate, proportionate, non-harming and one of the three limbic responses (fight, flight or freeze). 

      • Koun says:


        I agree. Personally, I’m more bothered by Jun Po’s telling of the story than I am by the events he’s describing (One simple reason is that it’s such a tough-guy telling that we might safely assume it’s being embellished a little for dramatic effect). I find the “it’s time to go all Rinzai on this guy” kind of talk particularly disturbing. But I know that some people like that; honestly, twenty years ago, I probably would have liked it too.

        I remember having the big revelation — as if it was my own, after reading all these books about Buddhism — that we really do all experience suffering in the same way. Your yawning example is a great one. How many of us have said something like “I’m tired,” only to hear in response, “You’re tired? I have four kids, and last night I got called in to do the night shift. My organs are barely functioning. You’re not tired.” But yeah, I’m tired. There’s an opportunity there for us to come together in common experience, but more often than not, we take it as a chance to measure and evaluate and assign points to winners and losers.

        Regardless of the way he talks about it, I would like to think that Jun Po did what he did from a sense of seeing in that man a place where they could both meet, rather than from a stance of “You’re sick?” I think that’s one possibility, and that the high-fiving in the video is something else, a different audience. That’s what I’d like to think.


    • Koun says:


      Thank you for taking the other side of it. I’ve been trying to be careful not to come down too hard on Jun Po for the actions described in the video — as I’ve said, I really do think it’s complicated. It’s complicated by the fact that the man wasn’t injured in any way — that’s important. It’s also complicated, as you say, by the fact that, at least, in the end, the man seemed to embrace what had happened.

      Someone pointed out something offline that I had not considered: What if the man had a history of receiving physical abuse? There’s no way someone could tell that from watching him do zazen, but there is a huge risk, I think. When that hand grabs your chest and you feel the wall against your back, are you encountering a compassionate Manjushri, or are you meeting your alcoholic, abusive stepfather? I’m glad it went the way it did, and I’m especially glad that the official message at the end of the video is one of caution — that’s critical. But it also seems that it could have gone a very different way, especially between two people who apparently didn’t know each other all that well.

      I think it’s easy to focus on just the end or just the means, but I think that in order to be skillful, we have to acknowledge that it’s not so easy to separate them out. I appreciate your voice in this.


      • Bryan says:


        The mark of an accomplished teacher is a response appropriate to the student at that moment.

        Blue Cliff Record Case 14 – Yun Men’s Appropriate Statement

        A monk asked Yun Man, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”
        Yun Men said, “An appropriate statement.”

        None of us was there–we can speculate on the circumstances and outcome ad infinitum.

        That being said, my sense of the video is that JunPo is very careful to bring this up–based on a question posed to him–as a rare response to a particular student in a unique circumstance.

        I have another take on the JunPo’s laugh; my sense is that it resonates in spirit with this from Harada Roshi:

        “For 40 years I’ve been selling water by the bank of a river!
        Ho! Ho!
        My labors have been wholly without merit.”

  9. I find the “TM” to be ill-advised and inappropriate. The government of India recently began trademarking Yoga poses to prevent individuals from doing so, calling them part of the “heritage of humanity”. This issue extends beyond Dharma and Yoga, of course, into medicines, seeds, genomes, and beyond……I for one hope this conversation drifts over to Junpo Sensei and he decides that he wants to side with those who wish for good things to spread creatively and freely, not those who want to commodify them, and not just to commodify them, but try to set themselves up to be the sole beneficiaries of their commodification. Does he really want to be on the same side of the room as Monsanto? That would make me uncomfortable.

    As an aside, I also think it’s worthwhile to recognize that just as Buddhism in Asia had certain mythological biases, so does North American Buddhism. One primary discourse of Asian Buddhism was to call all teachings ancient, whenever possible ascribing them to venerated lineages or personages from the past. Our bias is the opposite: we claim teachings that are in fact old to be “new”, revolutionary”, “cutting edge”, reflecting the roots and obssessions of our modern scientist, capitalist, post-secular enlightenment and politically revolutionary culture.

    I would venture to say that on the whole the Asian mythos is closer to the truth: many, if not all, of our greatest realizations have their roots in those who have gone before us.

    • Koun says:

      Matthew —

      Thank you. I hadn’t heard about the trademarking of yoga poses. What a weird, modern response to something….

      I laughed when I read your comment because immediately I imagined you in sesshin with Jun Po, suddenly grabbing him and throwing him against the wall, putting your face in his, and growling, “Wake up! You really wanna be on the same side of the room as Monsanto?!” Put that way, who does? 🙂


  10. John March says:

    Spiritual materialism is not new and the contradiction between declaring the Dharma as intellectual property under the guise of new insight is not either. If so then Eckhart Tolle or Don Miguel ruiz are also just as guilty. On the other hand there are folks like Noah Levine, and stephen batchelor, or cheri huber, who are embracing a secular Buddhism that incorporates both the Dana Model of donation based economics and integrity based dissemination. A good friend of mine, Richard Gilbert, pointed out the inherent disjunct that idealogy and spiritual fascism create. That any specific certainty or idealogue that creates a fixed position simply does not work. I do like the idea of the wake up call, but I also hear Ajahn Chah and his openness that the sense doors open as we become willing to deeply attend the truth of our experience. Again thanks for the insightful and clear language.

    • Koun says:


      Eckhart Tolle is definitely guilty. 🙂

      If you have the time, I’d be really interested to hear your definition of “secular Buddhism.” I ask because, from my reading, the people you list as secular Buddhists would probably each answer the question differently. From your experience, do you feel there’s an easy way to say what secular Buddhism is (or is not)?


      • John March says:

        I agree that the people I listed are all having different perpectives on the “secular” aspect but the essential message is still the same; “How can we use skillful means to end suffering”. My projections; Noah Levine is committed to reaching people at a very humane level and strives to de-mystify the practice of meditation and return it to the realm of the ordinary. I believe he is inspired by many teachers, his lineage of Kornfield and Ajahn Chah, and the works of Stephen Batchelor, (who I find very inspiring as he is strongly advocating for a new look at secular practice. Secular in the sense that the removal of the monastic regimen and the development of sangha and meditation discipline that integrates into daily life for householders.) People who work and raise families, are sexually active and attending to worldly concerns but are also striving to connect at deeper levels. I also think a kind of spiritual pragmatism is at play in that secular allows for a deep practice, a desire to end suffering, and a relinquishing of goals of attainment, and focus’s more on integration into ordinary daily life. My favorite quote is below from Karlfried Durckheim regarding this sort of an idea. Cheri huber has a very psychologically based approach that integrates sitting and dis-identification with the idea of a separate self that is very accessible. To be honest I have issues with the mainstream teachers as it all feels quite vapid and fiscally driven. I recently worked at a retreat featuring Don Miguel and was shocked at not only the amount of money he was being paid but also the insubstantial and almost inaudible information presented. For me, as I am in a 4 year teacher training with Noah levine, I am seeing more and more the way I am learning and integrating and how that reflects in my daily life. I just keep seeing “Let go” more and more, live my life and hold the precepts and essential teachings as illumination and checkpoints on a moment to moment basis, and do my bet to stay open and available regardless of conditions. This is my mantra and my Koan. Again thanks for the discussion, the open mind and the clear language.

        “Those who, being really on the way, fall upon hard times in the world will
        not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers refuge and comfort and
        encourages the old self to survive. Rather they will seek out someone who will
        faithfully and inexorably help them to risk themselves, so that they may endure
        the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a “raft that
        leads to the far shore.”
        Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and
        over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible arise within us.
        In this lies the dignity of daring.
        Thus, the aim of practice is not to develop an attitude which allows us to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein
        nothing can ever trouble us.

        On the contrary, practice should teach us to let
        ourselves be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken, and
        battered–that is to say, it should enable us to dare to let go our futile hankering after
        harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life in order that we may
        discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose us, that which awaits us
        beyond the world of opposites. The first necessity is that we should have the
        courage to face life, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.
        When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and
        welcome the demons which arise from the unconscious–a process very different
        from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such
        forces. Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of annihilation can our
        contact with Divine being, which is beyond annihilation, become firm and
        stable. The more we learn wholeheartedly to confront the world that threatens us
        with isolation, the more are the depths of the Ground of Being revealed and
        possibilities of new life and Becoming opened.”

        from The Way of Transformation by Karlfried Durckheim

      • John March says:

        Quick afterthought; Having considered the possibility of entering the monastery at one point, I realized that I like playing loud guitar and women more then my commitment to monastic training, lol, or I did at that juncture. Secular to me is all of us following the eightfold path and living outside of a monastery and finding a way to access and explore the teachings honestly and with effort and focus. (I hope that makes sense! lol)

      • John March says:

        I just watched the video in question and have a few thoughts; Throat cancer VS the Cold and an honest caveat about cranky which feels human and relavent as the sesshin commitment was real and complaint/sloath and torpor is a real hindrance, the teacher’s desire to break through the conditioning holding the student stuck and his willingness to break convention as a teaching opportunity, “Practice like your hair is on fire” in action, and while I amy not agree with trademarking dharma, I actually saw the compassionate teacher and the dedication to waking up and ending suffering. Just my 2 cents

      • Koun says:


        Thank you for taking the time to reply to my question. I’ve been thinking about this word “secular” a lot recently; I think I need to think about it some more. There’s a lot of talk about secular Buddhism, and some of it is exciting. But on a dictionary level, secular is the opposite (or perhaps complement) of sacred, and I have a hard time understanding how Zen, which says that everything is both, could be one or the other. If by secular we mean something divorced from monastic influence, then that’s another big can of worms. I think for many, it probably just means “practical, grounded, not superstitious.” Maybe we need a better word….

        I’m going to pick your brain again, if you don’t mind: what is a “mainstream teacher?” Are you comfortable giving examples?


      • John March says:

        My sense pf things, regarding the use of “secular” to describe an evolving perspective on Dharma in the west is not a negation of the sacred. I understand the dictionary definition but i think the usage has evolved in this context to simply describe a layperson centric practice. Stephen Batchelor talks eloquently here; http://www.londoninsight.org/images/uploads/A_Secular_Buddhist_(2).pdf
        I personally hear it as a movement away from the constraints of formality, ritual and monastic-centric methodology.

        “I’m going to pick your brain again, if you don’t mind: what is a “mainstream teacher?” Are you comfortable giving examples?”

        Well, it actually depends if we are talking strictly Buddhism; in that realm mainstream are the Ken Wilbers, Eckhart Tolle’s, Pema Chodron, Prof. Thurman, Jack Kornfield and Thich Nhat Hanh and Sogyal Rinpoche, HHDL, etc…but I am also considering the plethora of teachers in the world who have messages of deliverance that is ‘self-help” and also mindfulness oriented; Amma, Don Miguel Ruiz, Barbara Marx Hubbard and Jack Canfield, Abraham, The whole Abundance/The Secret Cult, Tony Robbins, and of course the Zen community has its stars too. My mainstream description applies to the almost rock star adoration that surrounds these people and the monetization of their teachings.

        I understand the need to generate $$$, and several of these teachers, Pema and Bob Thurman are doing great works in the world, are by no means accruing material wealth or trademarking the dharma or methodology, and there is also the under the radar folks like Noah Levine and Cheri Huber, also not fiscally driven. On the other hand having met many of these “mainstream” teachers and having experienced their fragility and human qualities, their egos and the reality of their personage, I find myself deeply disturbed by the incongruence and the arrogance I have experienced, and the ill effects this carries.

        It is a multi-billion dollar industry now, talking about mindfulness and meditation, and it is just as deluded as any of the other globalized messages of redemption and certainty, and just as corrupted.

      • Koun says:


        I’ve been meaning to thank you for your very thorough reply to my question. It’s given me a lot to think about over the last week. I’m chewing on this idea of “secular.”


      • StoneCutter says:

        Chaps, not to get too hung up on vocabulary, but why call it “secular Buddhism?” at all, why not just “lay Buddhism?” Is it because Americans think somehow we are better than generations of those who also wanted to incorporate the Dharma into their householdering and must have our own thing (“secular” Buddhism as differentiated from lay) that is somehow more serious than practicing lay Buddhist Thai or Japanese family members? I ask this in all sincerity as a householder, who has taken lay vows, and is seeking to embody authentic, diligent lay practice.

      • Koun says:


        Thanks for jumping into this conversation. Honestly, I’ve spent much of the last week or so trying to write a post about this, but each time, it just gets too big and I start over. It touches on too many things. But what I keep coming back to is that secular Buddhism just sounds an awful lot like Buddhism, especially Zen. I think it’s an interesting exercise to try to describe and discuss Buddhism without ever referencing Buddhism at all — I can see how that might be useful, and creative. But so many attempts to re-invent Buddhism seem like a simple re-stating. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

        I would be interested to know if any of the groups that actually define themselves according to secular Buddhism would recognize your taking of vows at all. That could be an interesting place to start….


      • StoneCutter says:

        No way for me to know on that last question you raised. But having figured out how to view and read the Batchelor PDF it strikes me that I have over the past two decades made several of the same moves, such as discounting / eschewing the sorts of things Batchelor calls Divine attributes, or cultural context & beliefs from Hindu and Jain traditions in favor of Buddhism as cognitive decostructive theory & practice. On the want/don’t want spectrum, Batchelor seems to want Buddhism without the perceived negatives of Belief, Religion, Dogma, etc. nice clean direct (“solar”) transmission without baggage. And I think you mentioned something about it might be a good idea if we carry that baggage around at least a while before we decide what of it to put it down.
        All this said, at a certain point I recognized I was not capable of sustaining an effective practice as a monad, without Sangha, and that I had to enter the stream somewhere. So this hummingbird did pick a lineage, while still open to learning from others.

  11. Daily Alice says:

    Koun, I recall the theme of “imitation” from your previous post, and your conclusion extends the thought somewhat:

    “If I love the way my teacher teaches, I will try with every bone in my body to embody that way of teaching. I can’t help but make it my own, but when I sit in the role of teacher, my teacher is also teaching, and so is his, and so are the authors of my favorite books, and so on. “My” style is born of something borrowed, stolen, absorbed, imitated. None of this is mine. It’s not mine to withhold. It’s not mine to begrudge.”

    Your writing is transparent if not pellucid, you are a good communicator, who employed a savage (ferocious?) coup de grâce with your “begrudge,” [to give or concede reluctantly or with displeasure; to look upon with disapproval ], as if to end the suffering of a wounded creature.

    When computers flourished, the brain became “computational”; when networks hit big, neurons began enjoying the status of “networks.” So it comes as no surprise that in an era in which branding and the logo would justify the dharma of a dharma (‘thingness’ of a thing), it’s a given that ever-lower common denominators will be realized. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve hit bottom. Re-packaging the brain, re-packaging Zen. And yet multiculturally re-packaging is crucial, and labels are too brands in a way. Ah, so attached to us, words.So the situation is ironic.

    And it’s not mine to trademark.

    • Koun says:

      Daily Alice–

      Thank you. Thanks to you, I now know what “pellucid” means. 🙂

      And yes, I think this is the other side of the imitation question. As a deliberate practice, we imitate, but one result of that is immersion is a breaking down of identity, so we lose track of what is really “mine.” There’s the old writing adage that if you’re saying something new, say it in an old way, and if it’s something old, say it in a new way. In the Buddhist world, I think, the burden on us is very clear: to say it in a new way. But it’s all pretty old.


      • Desiree says:

        She caught me too (with the pellucid definition), it also was a great turn to define begrudge in that context!

  12. Mike Haitch says:


    The video has a certain tone to it and It’s probably been made more dramatic to make a point to an audience and maybe to self-promote.

    I also know that people can be very good at rationalizing violence. “I didn’t mean to… ” or “My intent was….” or “I just …. And he totally over-reacted”. In this case he starts “I was feeling cranky and….” so we know it’s not just about the student.

    I’d love to feel that when I act I know my intent but I know that I cannot always know. I know my intent can be both conscious and unconsious, harmonious and conflicted. I also know that I like to see parts and ignore other parts.

    I know as men we have a certain spirit and certain ways of relating which are physical and counter-cultural.

    In the street masculinity, strength and dominance is conveyed by attitude. We transmit messages of dominance and submission – “You don’t want to fight me”, “I respect you, I don’t want to fight you, but I will if necessary”. Muggers look for people who do not put out these sorts of signals as do bullies.

    In the Dojo I’ve seen people so caught in the belief of their skills that they are blind to the natural signalling that men do. Do not recognize that strutting and cowering both show lack of confidence.

    The episode described is one that is about somatic experience; the intellectual stuff is just the wrapper.

    Maybe the student was not owning his masculinity. Maybe he just had a cold. He was sitting, using a blanket that was available. Sometimes it’s manly to ignore sickness, sometimes it’s manly to honour it and say “I’m sick, I’ll sit on the bench “.

    I can see a student afraid of masculinity, a cranky man getting annoyed at weakness, a response and consequences. It may not be pretty but it may have been more right than wrong.

    I think we lose a lot in trying to support a dualistic simplistic position. I think we lose a lot in just an intellectual position. Our bodies are a big part of us, not a keychain we carry around.

  13. Bob Powers says:

    II love reading your blog, Koun. Another great example of a spiritual experience that’s open for all: AA. Or, the fifth precept…

  14. I finally actually watched the video. Of course he’s not wrong as far as he’s right. We have to be able to access a vital “ferocity”, if you have to call it that. But looking at his website, he also explains how they started as a “men’s group” only, and they not only emphasize the Rinzai lineage, but call it “Samurai Rinzai Zen” – as if that is a thing. It is a thing actually – a dated cliche of what a lot of Americans thought Zen should be decades back, that allowed Jun Po’s teacher Eido Shimano to act like a charismatic abusive tyrant for 40 years and get away with it. He is Shimano’s heir after all, from a much earlier stage in Shimano’s career – Kelly would presumably maybe teach that flavor, as he was trained and transmitted to do.

    Notice that it took a three hour “dokusan” immediately afterward to get to whatever the breakthrough was, to where they were “weeping together”. He says that they couldn’t have gotten there otherwise. And yeah the guy went in and sat all “macho” afterwards. I’m a guy, into Zen. I’ve had those moments, and Linji-style teachers who maybe veered this way. I’m not sure they made me a more mature or enlightened person – in fact, maybe the reverse; we’ve probably all seem some pretty stunted “Zen” trippers. And I think maybe occasional ferocity is much more effective coming from a teacher who doesn’t market themselves as “Samurai ferocious” – and there sure is a whole lot of marketing language on their site. But that whole thing was there trip, and only they will compute it, or not. It all comes out in the wash.

    I think of Kobun Chino’s passing criticism of Eido’s own teacher, Soen, after they met once. As great as he was, Chino said something about him having too much personality, or charisma. The Dalai Lama said “charisma is not a spiritual quality.” We don’t really understand that in our celebrity-obsessed culture a lot of the time, or in some others. Kelly seems extremely charismatic, and clearly very devoted to at least his locked-up, happenin’, macho idea of Zen practice. That ‘brand’ of Zen sure isn’t my bag, I can tell that much.

  15. Desiree says:

    *But it’s this “selling” that does not sit well with me.*

    [“So where shall we meet,” asked the Swedish girl, firm in her conviction.

    “I live at the monastery,” I said, “In the Catskills. Beautiful land, beautiful space. Have my own cabin on the property one mile down the monastery drive, though,” I added with a smile. “Perk of being the vice-abbot.”

    “And you’re not celibate?”

    “I never sell a bit of it”]


    Sassy…I wonder if he ever listened to Katagiri’s talk about Reviewing and Renewing the Buddha-Dharma. I’m pretty sure he(jpdk) doesn’t actually defend promiscuity, but I can’t really tell the at-the-moment t(Tm)ruth after Part one of his series.

    “Change, though, could only come from below, never /just/ from above.” ~A Heart Blown Open

    What about: imparting for a fee? I think one of your first posts was entitled ‘ you’re free to stay ‘ and then it was labeled with implications. Perhaps we are all trying to actively change the way we engage with the world, secular – non secular – and in between.

    When you think about selling the dharma?; what is the part that doesn’t ‘sit’ well? Is it values, morals, a way of life that is being bestowed? Is it really the selling or is it the buying that has you bitten? No matter the way we look at it I think something is always being sold, even if that selling is a sharing; and what is shared (or passed down) is paid-down and off, by being payed forward. No?

    • Koun says:


      “Selling,” for me, refers to something being offered, but not freely. It’s giver, receiver, and gift — not merchant, customer, and product. Perhaps that’s just a problem of semantics. And it’s not to say that there’s no price of admission in the Zen world — we receive by being actively involved, not just by watching.

      Thank you for the link. I agree with the basic premise, which is that we have to acknowledge from the start that such things are complicated. We too often throw around the terms “teacher” and “student” as if they mean the same things to all people in all contexts. There’s a lot of murky variation.

      I’m learning, through these exchanges, that Jun Po Denis Kelly is a fascinating character. He’s given us all a lot to talk about. I’m grateful.


  16. Neal says:

    I practice with a local Rinzai group which is in the Joshu Sasaki Roshi lineage and, from the tales I hear from the teacher, the only violence in dokusan has been from a few rare “newbs” through the years who go a little too far in their reading of the Obaku / Rinzai interaction. There’s a nice story in “Mind Body Zen” about a frustrated student who stopped a punch near Sasaki Roshi’s face, and he just calmly answered, “Right answer. Wrong koan.”

    Sasaki Roshi told his students after one of these instances, and obviously I’m paraphrasing, “Ancient China was different. In your American culture you shake hands or hug. This expresses the same thing.”

    • Koun says:


      I’ve always loved that story about Sasaki-roshi — thank you for reminding me of it. That’s a great example of how koans leave themselves open to interpretation — I suspect that everyone reads “Right answer. Wrong koan” in a way that serves their own interests. But a great moment (one that takes the shape of a koan itself).


  17. Raj says:

    A greatly informative blog. Thank you for sharing the scenario of Zen world. Here, we have room for some concerns. Ferocity in a teaching is the previlege of only a Buddha and should be always taken with a pinch of salt. Both the teacher and the student has this simple question: Is their no other way? Mr.Jun’s ways sound interesting. Let him be fine and holy in his abode. Such teachers are good challenge for sincere aspirants and are worth spending with at least a day if you have time and inclination. Thank you for the blog and especially the precious comment part of it.

  18. Desiree says:

    Not as they seem, sometimes things are.
    As they seem, sometimes things are.

    I am going to sit Rohatsu with Hollow Bones sangha. Hollow Bones means “a channel for spirit”.

    Sometimes things happen because of cause and effect.
    Sometimes cause and effect is cut off at the pass by falling boulders:


  19. Furu says:

    Showing fierce compassion can come across as aggressive to someone who is out of touch with their own anger and ability to show care through more than just gentle acts and words. Kindness isn’t always soft and sweet, often it is hard, bitter, and sharp.

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