Applied Zen: Hui Neng Stan Koehler, Roshi

Applied Zen: Hui Neng Stan Koehler Roshi

“I’m particularly interested in providing an access to Zen that crosses class barriers so that Zen will be as available to working class men and women as it is to upper middle class Americans.”

Beginning a career of service in the 60's, Hui Neng Stan Koehler Roshi has been actively involved in fields related to the well-being of people in need for over 50 years. The dharma name, Hui Neng, was given to Stan when he was ordained in Hollow Bones in 2004. He received Inka from Jun Po Roshi in 2016. Stan lives in New York, continuing to spread the dharma through Peace on the Street, utilizing Zen and Martial Arts to transform lives in Spanish Harlem and beyond. He has dedicated his life to bringing Zen down off the mountain top and into the very real lives of those in the Big Apple. I checked in with Stan to see what’s going on with his non-profit Peace on the Street these days, and the answer, it turns out, is quite a lot! 

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Peace on the Street is an oasis in Harlem, allowing the mental and physical disciplines of martial arts and Zen to attract and transform, young people who might otherwise end up going further and further astray. Here’s just a snapshot: 

Peace on the Street offers a residential program providing a safe and supportive environment for those who seek to further their education, including training in the martial arts, Zen, life mentorship, conflict resolution, emotional regulation, accountability, and academic success. Offering a full martial arts program, because “Getting nice with the hands” is what gets the people started, and a modern zendo - for when they realize that they need to “get nice with their minds.”

Let’s pause for a second and examine the concept of a modern zendo. Perhaps, for starters, we should take a look at Stan’s dharma name. Hui Neng, the 6th patriarch, is known for his critical work in making Buddhism a native Chinese practice. Stan has taken this same principle and continues the Hollow Bones mission of keeping the core of Zen practice while otherwise adapting it for modern America. As Jun Po Roshi says, “Keep the baby, throw out the bath water.” So, in this zendo, there aren’t the typical robes and cushions, bells and incense, Japanese chanting and shouting. Stan recognizes that such cultural aesthetics, along with the big dirty word “meditation”, keep people from starting. Instead, he has created a warm, inviting place of comfort and stillness - a place within that enables realization and transformation. 

A lot of people talk about the city being the source of sin, corruption, etc. but when it comes right down to it, the Christian scriptures say that Jesus will return and create a city, the New Jerusalem, a city not a suburb or farmlands. To that end, I own property here in Spanish Harlem, where we operate our programs

Peace on the Street offers weekly group discussions on a variety of topics; exploring how the dharma shows up every day and empowering the often disenfranchised with a sense of democratic community. 

He gave me a recent example of this process by talking about accountability and karma. Essentially, showing the students in concrete ways that lying or being unreliable creates troubles in life. Using “I” statements to take accountability and being aware of positive and negative outcomes is one method to teach karma without getting deep in the weeds of jargon and philosophy. 

Peace on the Street offers a mentoring and meditation program for those connected to the correctional system. They are developing a pilot workshop in self-preservation for LGBTQ youth as well.

What next?  Stan plans to bring the dharma to Cuba!

Umi No Nami Dan Rotnem