Mirror of Zen Blog

A Reunion After 40 Years

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For the high school years, I attended a very diligent and results-oriented high school, run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, a French-derived monk/brother lineage which had been transplanted to America from regional France. They were Catholically-strict, but not overly so, and you always felt the intention of an energy to build the inner man inside you, while they were also teaching you science or math or English or literature or religion.


Lots of truly challenging and expanding experiences there, so much of the intellect was just blown wide open into space, and edified, and spoken to, and shaped into a better form of Christian-manhood than I believe I would have ever asked realized in a public school. My family totalled six male siblings, and our parents sent all of us to this school together. So, there was a certain kind of legacy, or high academic standard, being set, which always drove me further to achieve and study harder in this very male, yet compassionately Christian atmosphere. (This was especially true because I was often reminded that my elder brothers excelled in this or that subject, usually getting straight A’s, so I was naturally expected to achieve the same.)

Of all the several thousand students I moved with and studied with in those four years, there was really basically one guy who I recognized as having a basic mental-content that I could connect and resonate intuitively with, apart from all others. Yeah, there were other very colorful characters, and I definitely inhabited the edges and the weird spaces of high school life. But this guy, who I mentally connected with, despite his extreme typical-seeming middle-of-the-road normality and sort of go-along conservative middle-of-the-road principles, as opposed to my extreme and sometimes radical intuitions, he was something of substance who really had the only truly lasting impact on my life, of all of the hundreds and hundreds of students I lived with together there.

Although we didn’t have many, or any, interactions or hangouts outside of the more strictly restricted form of high school life in Catholic suburban New Jersey, whenever I connected with him, I knew that there was something real. This guy, despite never hanging out in bars or parties with him, only interactions in school or on the athletic fields – – this guy had “some stuff“. There was substantiality. There was not just his great performance, as a state champion swimmer with accolades. There was his intellectual and ethical and personal substance. The dude was grounded in reality. And even as a pre-college kid, I saw that quality in him, and totally respected it. Some thing, probably from his family constellation, made him an unshakable force of something good, which radiated out to me as I pursued years of rebellion and performance.

He went on to become a successful lawyer fighting for the injured and harmed; and I became a monk.

We met just yesterday, for the first encounter in over 40 years — he was passing through Zürich to get to a flight to America, and I was arriving here in order to give several days of teaching. Wonderful existential overlap.

Great seeing you, Keith. The 40 years have passed like a simply trip to the bathroom and back.

Taxi and Hotel

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The most essential tools of my transmission are these two vehicles:

I support this work basically from talk to talk, from retreat to retreat. There is no endowment or organizational support that helps me to spread the Dharma. No temple or Buddhist order in Korea supplies the resources for me to do this work, whatsoever.

So I subsist entirely on the payments that people offer for me to make these teachings, whatever they may be. I also live by personal donations.

In this case, for this trip to teach in Switzerland, the inviters of both talks have agreed to help with my transportation and a hotel. (There is no offering for the food one might need to eat.) Up to a point, only, expenses might be covered – – but never is the entire experience 100% paid for by the organizers (except in Norway), and inevitably I must dig something out from my meager savings reserves in order to make the entire experience happen.

Some of my most concerned students push push push me to be a little bit more demanding about fees. But I just don’t have confidence in this realm. Students of the Buddha offer their experience, and they beg for whatever is put into their bowl, as they pass. I live a lot more closely to this operation than might seem apparent, on the outside, with my sunglasses and Goretex jackets and iPhone, etc., it might seem.

It feels always better just to put out effort with sincerity, and trust and vibe on what the universe returns to you, in whatever form. In 30 years of practice, I have always believed that “choiceless awareness” has the truest insight of all possible scenarios.

Zürich Arrival

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Zürich Hbf, Monday evening, September 5, 2022.

Just arrived in town by train from Germany, ready to meet the two public teachings that are the focus of this visit. Arriving by train is something I so much very much appreciate, and enjoy, always as if for the first time.

Airplane travel is fast and fun and fulfills the schedule, and it ensures that we are fully screwed to choosing our own annihilation: train travel, on the other hand, is gradual integration, and feels far, far more truly, essentially humble, so much more resonating with the harmony of actual lived movement through space and time.

Goethe Bought Coins Here (and Vomited)

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Visiting a healer-friend in the old medieval town of Tübingen, I come across this announcement in a shop window, located on the ground floor beside a spot where Germany’s most celebrated writer once vomited out of a window in extreme drunkenness.

Klassische Münzen (“classic coins”):

More than just any ”Münzen” shop, this place is where Goethe himself exchanged money:

“Hier kaufte Goethe seine Münzen …lebte er noch.” (“Here is where Goethe bought his coins… And he lives still”)

Ja, aber nur in seine Muenzen.

Zen Was Before Gutenberg

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Zen was before God, so it is also before the Gutenberg Bible.

What a delicious irony it is that the oldest book made from movable type was a book of Zen teachings. How totally rad and stealthy cool that the spiritual tradition which most eschews book learning, which claims (quite correctly) of itself “a special transmission outside of scriptures”, has produced the first book in human history made for mass circulation.

Printed in Korea in 1377, 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible, this is the world's oldest known book printed with movable metal type. Known by its abbreviated name of "Jikji", only a single copy of one volume of the original 2 vol edition survives, and is held today by the Bibliothèque
Nationale de France in Paris.
In a colophon the last page of Jikji is recorded details of its publication, indicating that it was published in the 3rd Year of King U (July 1377) by metal type at Heungdeok temple in Cheongju.

The cover on the surviving volume of this edition is a replacement of the original, and records in French "The oldest known Korean book printed with molded type, with 1377 as date". Jikji was donated to @laBnF by the heirs of the collector Henri Véver, when he died in 1950.

Jikji was purchased in Korea in the early 1900s by the French consul at the time, Victor de Plancy. Most of the books Plancy collected in Korea were sold at auction in 1911, where Jikji was purchased for 180 fr. by Henri Véver. Vever later left it to the BNF in his will.

UNESCO confirmed Jikji as the world's oldest book printed with metal type in September 2001, and includes it in the Memory of the World Programme.
The importance of the book to the Korean people is incalculable. Korea has tried repeatedly to have the book returned - or even loaned - back to Korea. Not only have all these efforts been rebuffed, but the Bibliothèque
Nationale de France has not displayed the book publicly at all for over 50 years.


Text/images: @incunabula