Mondo Zen | Hollow Bones | Friends of Zen

August, 2012

Jun Po at Shobo-ji in August

The Zen Studies Society is hosting an Introduction to Mondo Zen at Shobo-ji in New York City on Friday evening, August 24, and all day Saturday, August 25, 2012.  The event will be led by Roshi Jun Po Denis Kelly.

Mondo Zen is based on Japanese and Chinese Zen and 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.

The event will start Friday evening from 7:00-9:00 p.m. and continue on Saturday from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Participants will provide their own meals. Limited sleeping space is available in the Dharma Hall of the Zendo for people from out of town. The cost per participant is $125.

Shobo-ji is located at 223 E. 67th St between 2nd & 3rd Avenues in New York City. 

Contact Gangyo Larry Gagler at to register.

Reflections from the Iowa Sesshin

by Mark Lee Robinson

This was my first sesshin.  Five days of silence and sitting.  I was expecting something a bit more ascetic than what I found.  At the first silent meal, the breakfast of the first day, I found a huge vat of oatmeal with a half dozen toppings, fresh baked breads, coffee, juice and…bananas.  It is summer.  The apples and oranges aren’t that great.  But bananas.

The second morning I saw that they again had bananas.  Everything in great abundance except the bananas.  I was glad my position in line meant I was going get a banana.

The third morning as I ate my banana, I was aware that not everyone got a banana.  There were not enough to go around.  I decided I would not eat any more bananas.

On the fourth morning I watched as others ate their banana but there were still not enough bananas to go around.  Others went without as well.

On the fifth morning I stepped out of line and cut most of the bananas in half.  At the end of breakfast, there were three banana halves left.  Everyone who wanted one got a banana.  And we ran out of oatmeal.

Late for a Meeting with a Zen Master - Sometimes as Instructive as Being There

by James Wall

Every week I meet with a Zen master to delve ever more intensely into the deep truth of who I am — familiar work for the serious Zen student.

This “Roshi,” as Zen Buddhist masters are known, is a bear of a man with a chuckle that is ever-present in routine conversation. Roshi’s stoutness, combined with the constant deep-throated giggle, reminds me every time I see him of the laughing Buddha of Chinese fable — an easily recognized figurine in many Eastern religion-themed shops.

But in a former life, Doshin Hannya “MJ” Nelson was an aggressive, judo-fighting corporate executive with a multinational company who became one of the first layoff victims of the dot-com crash in the late 1990s. He was an angry man, he said, aggressive to the point that he once got into a physical fight with his teenage son and lost, breaking both his hands in the process.

These days, after hundreds of seven-day silent Zen meditation retreats on top of Jungian and other forms of therapeutic inspection, Doshin has mellowed. His mission is to prevent war by spreading the insight to understand why conflict starts. The world could learn a lot from this man’s struggles and ultimate victory over violence.

Not that Doshin is all sugar and spice. Anyone who knows anything about Rinzai Zen is aware that it was once the spiritual path of the Samurai — the warrior caste of Japanese feudal society. While the Buddha’s message to his followers was to “wake up,” in Rinzai Zen there’s an urgency to that task. You must wake up now! You must sit until realization occurs and don’t move until it happens. Zen thus requires discipline and great determination to reach the ultimate goal of enlightenment. There’s not time to wait!

Hence, I found myself late for my Friday afternoon appointment with Doshin with some trepidation. It was a familiar scenario. Transfixed by a European Championship soccer game involving my native England, I was kept glued to my seat, adrenalin pumping, by two quick goals, as the game became more and more exciting. Finally able to switch off ESPN, I jumped into my car and headed northbound on I-25. Traffic was slowed to a crawl in the midst of a summer downpour, and I realized this wasn’t going to be a five-minute tardiness deal. More like 20 minutes.

I also realized I was going to have to face the music with Doshin. When this man sees an opportunity to teach by raising his voice and letting rip (in his measured Zen manner, of course) he doesn’t let such occasions pass. Worse for me was the familiar shame of being late for something and having absolutely no excuse. The familiar voices became audible: “You always do this. You know you’ll be late but don’t have the discipline to leave on time. This shows not respect to the other person. You’ve been doing this since you were a teenager.”

As I crept along I-25 in my self-induced shame-loop I became aware I was in the midst of a “koan,” the name for the enigmatic puzzle framed for the Zen student to aid in the waking-up process. A koan cannot be solved by the rational mind. It must be realized viscerally and answered from the Buddha or Christ mind — what Doshin calls “clear, deep heart-mind,” before it can be deciphered.

This koan was what Doshin would call an “emotional koan” — an everyday experience in which raw emotion such as anger or shame take over to the point that everything else is temporarily forgotten.  “I am angry” or “I am embarrassed” are familiar phrases — indicating that we actually do become (or believe we become) these emotions when they occur.

Being able to recognize this as a koan enabled me to step back and laugh as I plodded along the freeway — now 30 minutes late.

(continued next column)

Hummingbird Bodhisattva

by Jim Ramm (Iowa Sesshin)

Visited by a hummingbird
Rare, lovely, elegant, graceful, beauty, motion, color
I tried to make a deal with the hummingbird,
but it flew away free.

It was not in the hummingbird's nature
to enter agreements.
I was sad and missed the hummingbird
and waited for it often
But it is not in the nature of hummingbirds to bind themselves to sadness.

So What Now?!
Fold myself in a blanket of sorrow and die?
Chase after sparrows?

Or plant flowers in a quiet garden where
hummingbirds will delight

And claim to the Universe, I know your dharma of impermanence, suffering, and selflessness
And vow to love without condition.


September 22-28, 2012 - 6-day Silent Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, California.

September 24-30, 2012 - 7-day Mondo Zen Teacher Training led by Jun Po Roshi at Venwoude International in the Netherlands.

October 5-7, 2012 - Weekend Mondo retreat at Still Point Zen Center in Random Lake, Wisconsin with Meru Doug Szper. Contact to register.

October 13-20, 2012 - 7-day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Sunrise Ranch near Loveland, Colorado.

November 24-December 1, 2012 - Rohatsu 7-day Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

January 19-25, 2013 - 6-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, California.

March 23-29, 2013- 6-day Mondo Zen Sesshin at Pendle Hill led by Jun Po Roshi.

May 11-18, 2013 - 7-day Teacher Training led by Jun Po Roshi at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado.  Prerequisite:   Participation in at least one Mondo Zen retreat.

June 15-22, 2013 - 7-day specially designed Mondo Zen Sesshin at Dai Bosatsu in New York State led by Jun Po Roshi.

Visit the Retreat Calendar on the website for more information.

Iowa Sesshin

In a forest in the middle of Iowa, thirty-nine people gathered to experience Mondo Zen. Great faith, great doubt, great perseverance ... great love.

Celebration for the three people who took jukai:

Chu Do Ryan Hall
Bu Nan Michael Brown
Daiden Dan Pecault

Gratitude.  The birds are still singing.

Jun Po's Biography

A Heart Blown Open: The Life & Practice of Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi by Keith Martin-Smith is available on Amazon.    

Listen to Ken Wilber interview Jun Po about his biography (courtesy of Integral Life).

The Mondo Roku

I am compiling a Roku (record) of the essence of Junpo's dharma. If you have a recording of Junpo from between the years 1993-1999, or if you have any leads, would you please contact me asap at

Thank you very much!

With love and respect,


...Being There (cont.)

“How interesting,” I thought. An opportunity to experience and witness a destructive pattern arising and then passing away. Somehow dropping into clear, deep heart-mind, I felt a weight off my shoulders and a lightness I don’t often feel.

Still, I arrived at the Zendo with trepidation. I still had to face the roshi. Doshin greeted me with his usual bear hug. Without even so much as looking at his watch, he offered me a cup of green tea and we sat down on cushions to start the session.

The time of my arrival, he said, was of no consequence. In fact, it was perfect timing. He didn’t say why. But I sensed somehow he knew that most of the “work” that afternoon had been done as I crawled 10 mph down a rain-drenched Colorado freeway.

Poem for my daughter
Nia Jean Thomas

Nia, take this name
into yourself as your own
like a long drink
after a thirst.

the name in Swahili meaning, "to have purpose,"
do that, go forward,
like your two parents did,
the day after you were born
(humid, July, out from the dark depths of a birthing center
into the light
of a New York City street fair).

We were young, bewildered,
we blinked
in the glittering light.
You held fast
in our arms.

my grandmother's name
who died with music in her life, struggle, sorrow,
always funny
Jean, also a nod to
Jeanne Lee
free-form jazz singer
singing, scatting, talking
in front of upright bass, flute, drums.

One song, Sundance:
no words,
only a feeling;
no questions,
a light;
no sequence,
only a being;
no journey,
a dance.

your father's name
black, Sicilian,
fire, street,

Nia Jean Thomas
a poem for you
protect it,
cherish it,
your name,
your God-given name
your clear,
deep heart,
open mind.

~ by Heather Scott (Iowa Sesshin)

Mondo Zen's Mission from our Sutra Book

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