Mondo Zen | Hollow Bones | Friends of Zen

November, 2014

Venwoude Sesshin

Fifty-two people WOKE UP at Mondo Zen Teacher Training sesshin in Amsterdam October 20-27.  Led by Jun Po Roshi, participants experienced their true nature as well as the loving community of Venwoude in an old, deep European forest.


 Eternal gratitude to Venwoude International and deep appreciation for your work in the world.

Zen Cancer Wisdom:  A Book about More Than Dying

by John Price
Buddhist Adviser, The Scene Magazine

Daju Suzanne Friedman, a Zen priest; Dharma teacher and teacher of  Chinese medicine and qigong Master, died after a prolonged experience with cancer, in March 2014. This book is her testimonial. While any well-written book about dying evokes pathos, this book does so much more than that. The book is a wise testimony to her broad life and teaching. In the midst of a thorough account of her dying, she offers us playfulness and hilarity. Upon reading it, I was moved to ask, “What do I care about?”

If given a chance, this book could take its place among the truly great books about Zen in the English language. This book is in a sense a chronology of the death of a great contemporary Zen teacher and writer. If greatness means “standing above the rest,” this book is truly that. 

Her dancing chapters of pain with healthy daily fragments of wise advice among the pain are invitations to breathe and dance with a dying person. How remarkable that is! There is also a vivid, virtually day-by-day account of the process of her dying, lest we should forget the purpose of the book at its truly fun nature takes our interest.

The forward by her own Zen Master, himself a cancer survivor, calls us to join Daju in her incredible voyage. It beckons us to enter the deepest corners of the experience of Waking Up!; and this, in the act of dying!  All through into the final memoriam at the end, written by her life partner and closest friend, the book carries us on a journey to be admired. It obviously took complete focus and extreme dedication to see such a project through to beyond the end of her life.

There is a popular notion that Zen is a minimalist and metaphorical point of view. That is borne out by the book’s table of contents. We behold such topics as “A Head Like a Coconut, Empty Your Cup!, Do Not Fight With Another’s Bow and Arrow, Dragging the Cat,” but we are also see chapters about traditional Zen topics around meditation, philosophy, physical practices, diet, and exercise. The importance of meditation is clearly a cornerstone of the book.

So often when we read obituaries of people who have died from cancer, we see the cliché, “after a [courageous, long, painful] [battle, bout] with cancer … This book takes no part in such a view. It takes the Rinzai Zen school that formed Daju’s practice, the samurai warrior’s way, about waking up! She gives no ground to cancer in the sense of battle; but rather, she engages it with the many aspects of her dying experience in light of good practice that anyone could adapt. Indeed, the book concludes with a joke.

While Daju presents the topics in her book in light of positive treatment and coping regarding her illness, the book can be a perfect “how-to” for anyone getting into Zen. Meditation, the main platform upon which active Zen rests, is woven throughout. But anyone who’s attended an extended Zen retreat (Sesshin) and experienced all the many aspects of Zen practice, we see the comprehensive array of important topics. 

Much is presented metaphorically, as Zen is a poetic approach to life. But again, proper seating and exercise techniques, work practice, diet and eating protocols, breathing, mind-ego, and the overall making one’s life as careful art, much like a Zen garden, all form the whole of this book. And the book doesn’t do this dogmatically. 

With her funny titles concerning losing one’s hair, and even the rather gross natures of certain handicaps such cancer requires, all are presented playfully. It’s not to say she diminishes the importance of these topics in the complete picture of a sad death. But she does it in such a way that we’d be more moved to smiles and happy tears than pity.

In this review, I do not want to give too much away. It’s not like giving away the climax of a novel, but the surprising jumps from behind the corner in the chapter topics is to be experienced first-hand. I found myself thoroughly amazed by her take on very painful and difficult subjects around this dreaded disease. She does the simple mysteries of Zen proud.

Writing about Zen books is never easy. Good writing about Zen is like a hummingbird flicking about the garden. Just as we think we have a bead on the bird, it moves quickly. Likewise, writing a good Zen book is even more challenging, as the writer needs to embody both the ultimate simplicity of Zen while plumbing the great depths it presents. 

The author of the Forward, Daju’s Zen Master Junpo, draws in the age-old metaphors about the illusory nature of the moon (object) and pointing at the moon (the doer, as it were). This book manages to inhabit the heavens where the moon resides, but also simultaneously in the body of the observer bearing witness to the moon. And the metaphor of the moon is instilled throughout the book. We find ourselves inside the person facing the greatest mystery in death, but in doing so, she manages to point the way with jeweled simplicity.

For Daju to see this project through to completion is almost a miraculous feat, but I’ll wager if we were to ask her about that, she’d offer us a proud but demur nod and perhaps a blushing smile. Her courage is daunting, her intelligence mountainous, and her empathy boundless. This book is certainly an exceptionally worthwhile read for those close to death and all of us, no matter how healthy and free of its impending shadow we might currently be.

Published by Wisdom Publications, September, 2014
Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Venwoude:  Teacher Training October 2014

by Dazu Justin Park

"There is an almost sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.” ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

This past October, our growing European sangha came together to deepen our practice of cutting through and opening to fundamental clarity, wisdom, and delight.  New and old friends, from over eight different countries, descended upon the gates of an open secret of what is truly one of the global centers of a widening heartbeat to deepen the practice of waking up and to show up to the fullness of our increasingly connected global existence.  

(continued next column) 


December 12-14 - 3-day Integral Mondo Zen Retreat in Washington, DC led by Doshin Roshi. Registration by MKP.

December 15-19 - 5-day Integral Mondo Zen Retreat in Massachusetts led by Doshin Roshi.  Registration by Kripalu.​

January 10-16, 2015 - 6-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi  in Sonoma, CA.

March 5-8, 2015 - Weekend Silent Zen Sesshin led by Hollow Bones women priests at Sonoma Zen Center in California.

March 9-15, 2015 - 7-Day Integral Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi in Philadelphia, PA.

April 24-26 - 3-day Silent Retreat at Norbertine Abbey, Green Bay, led by Vimala Roshi. Registration by Vimala.

April 20-26 - Integral Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi at Venwoude International in the Netherlands. 

May 9-16 - Sat-Sat- Mondo Zen Sesshin at Sunrise Ranch, Loveland, Colorado.

June 13-20 - Sat-Sat - Silent Sesshin at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, New York state, led by Junpo Roshi. 

Visit the Retreat Calendar on the website for more information.

...Venwoude (cont.)

Venwoude is an Integral retreat center based in the Netherlands and home to a beautiful and steadfast community of practitioners dedicating their practice to not only their ongoing awakening, but of creating a generative space of sacred hospitality to support the embodied awakening of others.  

During our week-long Mondo Zen teacher’s training, a global community of practice entered through the skillful tumbler lock of our Mondo process and
opened to the liberating recognition that the door to our 
deepest nature is always open...and the key to this vast kingdom is none other than our ongoing willingness to simply and fiercely choose.   

Late one evening, during a period of zazen in the zendo, the sky opened up and rain descended upon us as we listened to the Earth hurl bolts of lightening back and forth with the Sky. 

Our sangha sat in the dimly lit room as bearded dragons of incense crossed among our ranks, and the thunder echoed through the rafters and our chests.  The beams in the ceiling became the ribs of a sacred ark...and we sat not moving as our water-bound zendo carried us on a pilgrimage deep into an awareness beyond the juicy imaginations of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, and feeling. 

In the dramatic dance that commenced around and through us, we sat still and remembered our first koan, “Is it possible to purely listen? Can you listen without an opinion?” From this liberating insight, delight opened, and we listened with wonder.

As I lay in bed that night, I remembered the curious story of the Nether-Land people (people from the nether regions...beyond).  They descended from Viking lineage as a seafaring people and because of their proficiency in using the ocean routes for trading resources and knowledge, they became central to what unfolded as the beginnings of global trade. 

As history continued, the Nether-Landers became professional curators and merchants of the latest knowledge, science, technology, and resources from around the world. 

...And curiously, when it came to finding a home for this global seafaring people, instead of wasting more precious resources by continuing to war over other people’s lands, they instead focused their vast experience by literally carving the ocean away from a small tip of land and made a home for themselves. 

I let that incredible fact sink in…”they carved the ocean away and made a home.”  

As I lay in bed that night and felt the thunder still roaring through my own heart, I reflected upon how the karma of the Nether-Land people as a whole, and how the committed community of Venwoude in particular, continue to be at the edge of what is possible, curating the best of what is out there, integrating the pieces together, and creatively applying the fruits to a new historical situation. 

A smile of gratitude came across my face as I considered the unfathomable karmic events that wove Venwoude and Hollow Bones together and how this community serves as a curious attractor for courageous, pioneering, and naturally integrative people from around Europe who are desperate enough to choose to spend a quiet week inside the belly of a very ancient seafaring vessel known as Zen-Dhyana. 

My heart opens to a deep gratitude of seeing, even in part, the unfolding of karmic conditions weaving us all together, and the incredible blessing of knowing we will be deep partnering friends...sangha...for a very long time. 

Those that gathered in the ship-hull zendo of Venwoude tasted the unstoppable joy of partnering with others near and far who have chosen to cut through and surrender to the karmic gift of being able to wake up and show up with greater wisdom, skillfulness, compassion...and let us never forget...delight.

Namo Dai Bosa!

"To unite and be one with - as - the Great Being of Compassion."

from it has been many moons

frost moon the doe leaves its breath

~ S. B. Friedman

Mondo Zen's Mission from our Sutra Book

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