We mustn’t stray too far from the Bodhi tree – Tozan John Verin
Tozan Hanya John Verin “Cave Mountain Wisdom” was ordained by Jun Po Roshi in 2011. He’s ongoing commitment to classical training at Dai Bosatsu, the root monastery, continues to inform his service to our community. He regularly serves in leadership roles on retreats and sesshins.
How did I come to Hollow Bones and why?
I can honestly say the Dharma brought me to Junpo and the Hollow Bones sangha. My mother had me initiated in Transcendental Meditation when I was eight years old. I dabbled in the practice on and off, and never partook in the community, but she did help a seed germinate, maybe one that had been sown eons ago.
In October 2001, at the “Warrior/Monk” four-day retreat, created and led by MKP founder, Bill Kauth, I learned about a seven-day silent retreat for MKP men that would be held in April 2002. Without knowing anything about it, my gut knew I had to go and I signed up. The moment I saw Junpo there was an energetic student-teacher seal, and at the end of the retreat, as it was in those days, I took lay precepts and shaved my head. Back then, in Junpo’s words, he was “fishing for zealots” to help grow the order, and I am eternally grateful to have taken the bait.
Why is Buddhism important to me?
Among the aspects which I value most is that the fundamental teaching, in my words, is “Get to the source, and realize for yourself.” This sidesteps the limitations caused by prescribed beliefs, passive faith or draconian dogma. It also requires that one be sincere, humble and resolute at realizing the promise of absolute liberation for oneself. The answers to our questions are spelled out in the liturgy. There is no mythology or fantasy to the claim that if one walks the Eightfold Path in earnest, awakening will occur. My realizing the nature of being is up to me.
What am I learning from the sangha?
The sangha has truly been a jewel to me these past nineteen years, as refuge, inspiration, through interpersonal and collective difficulties, and of course, with humor. What I am currently learning, from, or rather with, the sangha is the importance of keeping fundamental Buddhadharma, and its expression as Zen, front and center as we explore modalities that help us sustain practice and integrate insight.
We walk an undefined line between upholding this awakening technology in its original design and meeting 21st-century Westerners as we are. Junpo has often said, “We must not throw the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater,” and I’d add nor the tub, either. He recently spoke to the importance of having a strong foundation of transmission and conveying that in our training. The sangha supports me in cultivating skillful means to keep Hollow Bones dharma a clear transmission vehicle for our time.
How do I see Hollow Bones growing over the next few years?
That is hard to say, as our founder, and the magnetic Wisdom center of our order, is leaving us. Many changes are happening, and without such a energetic pole, we risk going too far from that center. What I see would help Hollow Bones grow as a Buddhist sangha is more and more of us sitting silent sesshin, including traditional ones (with Zen Studies and elsewhere). Restoring more traditional approaches to training, as well as undertaking formal koan training with a qualified Roshi would also serve us well. As Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Although we are in the 21st century, some things do not change and we mustn’t stray too far from the Bodhi tree and its immeasurable roots.
With love, gratitude and eternally in,