You Have To Go Outside The Gates – Dazu Justin Park

Dazu Justin Park

Dazu Justin Park was ordained in 2013 as a Hollow Bones Zen priest by Junpo Roshi. He continues to serve the dharma through his work as a social worker in southern Maine. He lives with his wife Koren Katy Park, also a Hollow Bones priest, and their two children. Dazu had plenty to offer when I asked him to share his thoughts.

Why is buddhism important to me?

Junpo Roshi would often say that one of the reasons he was a buddhist, was that he deeply resonated with the Buddha’s teaching that “everything is on fire.”  This sober recognition really does change everything.  

Tonight, with the conflict in Ukraine, the world is awakened again to a war of potential planetary annihilation…suffering beyond absurdity.  As we awaken together, we participate with the Buddha’s reckoning with the human condition.

While the Buddhist tradition testifies to the awakening of the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree, his awakening started prior. One evening the young Sakya prince Gautama ventured beyond the walls of loving protection created by his kingly father. Outside the gates, he witnessed a fuller vision of reality that awaited him as a future king. Here in the twilight hours, he encountered the utter reality of human suffering found within sickness, old age and death. This reckoning shook him deeply, and in witnessing this suffering, he awakened his own. Unable to look away and unsee true nature, Gautama’s experience violently blazed like a bright traumatic sun shattering his earlier naive imagination. He had been preparing to be a king to a world that did not exist. The true world awaited him and beckoned him further in. But before the evening was finished, along with witnessing the absurdity of human suffering, he also witnessed a possibility, a response.

He saw a man, made of the same impermanent skin and bones…sitting upright…free…at peace and at home within this Great Matter of life and death. He witnessed a yogi, a person who swam against common currents, whose mastery actualized a fundamental peace sitting in the middle of the horror of human existence. Gautama wanted this peace for himself, for his young family, and for those outside the boundary lines of impermanent kingdoms..

Knowing that the suffering he witnessed awaited his beautiful wife, young son, and future kingdom, and knowing that he did not yet know the peculiar peace of the yogi, he recognized his duty to embark further into the dark, to actualize this fundamental peace and bring it back to those he loved.

With great determination he renounced his claim to the earthly kingdom of his ancestors which claimed themselves by birth as noble…Acharya.  By becoming no man, he entered into the ancient lineage outside of institutions of legitimacy and royal blood lines.  Only later, after the alchemy of his path worked its mystery, and only after the quiet death under the great tree, would he receive his original inheritance and actualize the world turning chakravartin latent within him…the true man beyond rank. 

Buddh-ism? Why is the -ism part important?

Junpo would often quote a swami he met when he was a young seeker in India. The swami asked, “What do you practice?” Junpo answered, “Buddhism. I guess I practice Buddhism.” The Swami asked him, “how do you practice an -ism?” Good koan.  

Later, as a Zen Master, Junpo was once asked, “what is Zen? And what kind of Zen do you practice?” He answered with blowing open a clenched fist. He then spoke, recovering his overstatement with a smile “…that’s Mondo Zen…”

This is why Zen maintains it is a transmission outside of scriptures…outside of -isms. How can you contain the insight expressed in Junpo’s blown open fist? He was given that fist many times…first by the blows of his father and finally by Eido Shimano Roshi having finally broke through the code of the “Mu” koan

The -ism part of things is the container that enables the transmission of insight emerging within these exchanges. The container of transmission is the particular people, the words and gestures, the stories ancient and contemporary, the technologies of communication, the sutras, the institutions, the brand names, and…even the .com. We could say that the -ism part is the hollow bones of impermeant circumstance enabling the particular embodiment of transmission holding the secret of that opened fist, born before Gautama.

The Buddh- part is the liberating awareness that is realized throughout this whole exchange, between Gautama and suffering, between Junpo and the interviewer, between them and myself, and then through you and I right here, right now…a Dharmic telephone game…transmitting to various degrees a shared liberating awareness.  

The sacred lineage of Zen is a historical red thread. It is the real blood line, outside of mere birth order, moving silently inside and outside the debates of -isms.  Zen makes the bold claim of being the inside secret between a Dharmic love triangle, starting with Gautama Buddha, a lotus flower, and Mahakasyapa.  We could also say that Zen Buddhism is a long conversation between the lovers of wisdom and compassion. Junpo would often say, “Zen is the marriage of wisdom and compassion.” These two properties co-arise and the ‘ism’ part, is the enduring love affair between these two seemingly separate lovers.  However much black ink is poured out on white paper, the true nature of the love affair of wisdom and compassion can never be directly found within words. You have to go outside the gates and sit your death under the great tree. You have to go and get lost.  The lineage testifies that getting found happens on its own accord, along the path made by an ancestral wheel with the strength of eight spokes.

How did I come to Hollow Bones Zen and why?

I was on the hunt to heal old wounds and to more deeply know who I am and my place in the world.  I was confused and angry at the absurdity of existence I had already witnessed.  I was lost and burning with an ancient rage.  I was on fire, looking for any divinity to seize upon with my self-immolation and roar back into the fire.  

I too had a young beautiful wife and young children at that time. I too had abandoned my ancestral lineage and had forsaken many of my opportunities. But unlike Gautama’s practice of home leaving, I chose a different one. Instead of sheltering my wife and children from the quest, I invited them to go with me, to be my company, and to realize together the liberation that is our fundamental inheritance. This choice has not been without its consequences. While I do not necessarily recommend it, I broke the two traditions of home making and home leaving and I joined them together. Gautama’s wife and son would later rejoin him in the early sangha, but only after his complete awakening under the Bodhi Tree. My family has not had that grace.

Like many, my familial ancestral lineage is the odd alchemy of forgotten threads and various hagiography.  On my Mother’s side, I descend from devout excommunicated French Canadian Roman Catholics, illegal Irish Gypsy queens, and carnaval con men kings.  On my Father’s side, I descend from the fiercely loyal Scot-Irish, invading Viking civilizers, and independent evangelical baptist preachers whose ancestors claim to have been coronated on the Hill of Tara and buried on the Isle of Iona.  Somehow within this blend of history and hagiography, I found prince Gautama’s to be a long lost distant cousin.  After Globeki Tepi, his Sythian ancestors caravaned Eastward along future silk routes deep into Eurasia and became the Sakya Clan.  My Sythian ancestors would leave the same area in what is now modern day Turkey and would head North and West, becoming Gaels, Vikings, and Celts…by sea and by land…by oar and by wheel…the same Sythian bow and the same fist full of arrows.  It has been an odd experience for me to realize that I set off from one ancestral homeland only to find an older cousin in an exotic far away place.  This is not only my ancestral journey, but most likely many from European backgrounds…we share our Sythian cousin Gautama Buddha…by distant genetic trees…and for some of us by the deeper blood of practice. 

But clarifying ancestral lineage is not a straight forward activity, and at worst, a potential distraction.  Gautama reconstituted what it meant to be a royal, a noble…an acharya. He inverted the presumption that one could be noble by birth.  He intimately knew the difference from his own experience on that fateful evening outside the royal gates.  Only by setting out on a noble path, would he actualize for himself true nobility and share it with any who wanted to undergo the yogic alchemy.  By giving up his familial station and inheritance, he became no man. By undergoing a noble path, he found himself under the great tree. By undergoing the great death, he was reborn. By awakening, he received a kingship that cannot be taken away.

I came to Hollow Bones having left my ancestral home of the Christian Church, only to find a more ancient ancestor…and in so doing enabled me to reconcile again with what I thought I was leaving. I left my own familial ancestral lines because, like Gautama’s they had asked me to live within a fantasy world of beliefs that had somehow lost congruence with reality around me. The problem was not the heroic Christ, but for me the knotted mess of theology, creeds, and -isms that I was swimming in as I tried to find my way. I was suffering and confused, unsatisfied by someone else’s speculations about someone else’s experiences. I longed for a deep presence with myself and my world.

Junpo used to look at me and say, “the prodigal son returns.”  For years I thought he was referring to my momentary renewed vigor to show up within Hollow Bones.  But as time went on, I began to hear a prophesy of sorts, a kind of incantation hovering over me, that saw that I would one day see through my own hurt adolescent vanity and actualize with Tori Zenji: 

“All of our minds will now reveal a true awakened one, a Christ, a Buddha, a Tara, compassionately aware and ready, fearless and wise, acting skillfully and appropriately. Then all of our combined actions will create a new world, a world of love and caring, defended and ordered. May we awaken and recognize this Mind throughout the whole universe, so that we and all beings together may experience maturity in Awakened Mind wisdom!”

How do I see Hollow Bones growing over the next few years? And what am I learning from my sangha?

We are a sacred order circling the planet. As I have pointed to…this is not the first time. We are an ancient lineage transmitting within and beyond recognized -ism vehicles. We have been doing this for a very long time. Long before Gautama and long after Christ. The formal legal bodies and trade marks for Hollow Bones and Mondo Zen are important vehicles of stewardship enabling the ongoing transmission Junpo carried within his own hollow bones to ours. Just as we are not dependent upon beliefs, sensations and emotions…this ancient order has not been dependent upon the temporary fads of -isms and legal status’, but they can and do help.

Years ago, I would share my concerns with Junpo that there was going to be a big vacuum after he left, that we needed to beef up our institutional muscles so that his work would not fade away and be wasted.  I see differently now.  You can say that I have a big faith in the transmission that happens both inside and outside of -isms.  I used to not trust it…what a pity.  This was largely about my own lack of trust in myself…another practice mirror.  Junpo, with all of his imperfections did indeed transmit.  There is not a day that goes by that his transmission to me does not still awaken me in some way.  The love afair between the Buddha, a lotus and Mahakasyapa is still happening.  The marriage of wisdom and compassion is still love feasting.  Even within the field of great suffering, the true Lotus Paradise cannot be stopped, only recognized.  How do I see our sangha growing over the next few years?  I can hear Junpo say, “show me.” 

Dazu Kodo Justin Park

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