In the Zen tradition, koans are questions or statements offered by teachers to students to guide meditation practice—contemplative riddles that often employ paradox and contradiction to seize up the gearworks of the rational mind, opening the student to trans-rational illumination and invoking a deeper experience of the nonduality of subject and object. Traditionally the teacher offers the student one koan at a time, and the student then meditates on the koan for weeks, months, or even years until a suitable answer finally arrives. The student brings that answer back to the teacher, who then either rejects or confirms the response depending on whether it comes from a clever intellect or from a truly embodied understanding of nondual wisdom.
Koan practice is a powerful methodology for transmitting transcendent states of consciousness, as well as for gauging an individual’s familiarity with these states. It has been an important part of the Zen tradition for nearly a thousand years, and remains a central pillar in Jun Po Kelly Roshi’s Mondo Zen training, though he has made some significant updates to the practice in order to make it more suitable for the modern and postmodern world.
For one, Jun Po has formulated an entirely new set of koans. Whereas traditional koans are often too rooted in agrarian Japanese culture to be useful to today’s Western practitioners, the koans found in Mondo Zen are crafted with a renewed emphasis on simplicity, accessibility, and cultural compatibility.
Secondly, and even more boldly, Jun Po actually tells you the answers to these koans up front. How could he do this? Doesn’t this undercut the true power of the practice? Aren’t we supposed to not actually know the answer until the insight arrives? And isn’t pointing to this radical not knowing sort of the point of the koan practice in the first place?
But these are new koans for a new era—an information-driven era in which the “answers” to the classic koans are just a Google search away. Ultimately, the words we use to answer the koans are far less important than being able to demonstrate the direct interior understanding these words represent. Repeating the signifiers does nothing to prove any genuine understanding of the signified: you can memorize a thousand names for God and never actually experience for yourself the infinitely vast, silent, and imperturbable presence behind all things.
So Jun Po’s approach is to give you the homework, the cheat sheet, and the teacher’s manual all at once. He asks you to meditate on both the question and the answer simultaneously, until both finally dissolve into the cloud of unknowing, the seamless absurdity of nondual recognition, and all that remains is the gentle weight of the sunlight pressing through your skin.
Pushing the essence of the Rinzai Zen tradition through the Integral framework, Jun Po is reinterpreting and reformatting ancient wisdom for today’s world while retaining the fierce intensity and urgency of his Samurai precursors. He is sitting in the heart of the integral impulse, reconciling the ceaseless throb of evolution with the empty clarity behind this and every moment—the gentle but explosive sound of an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable subject.
About The Heart of Zen by Jun Po Roshi and Keith Martin-Smith“This is one of the most important works on spiritual realization to be written in years. It’s based on Jun Po Kelly Roshi’s breakthrough insights into how to distill and dramatically accelerate the koan practice of Zen—and thus dramatically accelerate the Awakening process in consciousness. There’s really nothing like this out there, and no matter what your ‘official’ spiritual orientation, you really can’t afford to miss this revolutionary process for your own Awakening and Enlightenment. My absolutely highest recommendation!”
While we are more and more familiar with popular ideas of enlightenment and spiritual awakening, life still comes at us full force, and hope can turn to frustration as the gulf between our spiritual belief and our everyday life seems to loom ever larger. Through spirited Q&A sessions with Zen master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi, The Heart of Zen takes a gradual, step-by-step approach to what has become a vexing problem in spiritual circles.
What is missing is integration. If awakening truly transforms every part of the life of a person, where are we getting stuck? How can negative emotions like anger, shame, envy, and jealousy continue to arise? How do our relative egos relate to the Zen teaching of Emptiness, and what does this mean for our intimate relationships, our emotional bodies, our views of the world and its problems?
The Heart of Zen represents the next generation of spiritual books because it addresses awakening and spiritual life within the context of creating lasting change through the integration of spiritual insight into the flow and flux of everyday life. Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi explains how well trained meditation students may learn to be nonreactive to emotions, but they seldom learn how to transform their negative emotions (and the ego that holds them) as part of a more deeply integrated, lived spirituality. This book describes precisely what this means in great detail and with exercises for the reader to follow. Part discussion on these intricate topics and part experiential guide, The Heart of Zen offers a one-of-a-kind take on enlightenment, emotional maturity, and the integration required to take one’s seat in true liberation.Purchase Now
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About Jun Po Kelly Roshi
Jun Po Denis Kelly, received his Zen Masters recognition in 1992. He was Vice Abbot and head monk as well as resident yoga teacher at Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kong Ji in the Catskill Mountains in New York state from 1987 through 1993. His Inka Zen lineage is in the Rinzai tradition, through Eido Shimano Roshi of the The Zen Studies Society. His yoga lineage is that of BKS Iyengar and Patabi Jois. Jun Po has been practicing, studying and teaching Zen and Yoga for over twenty-five years.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.
Terrific conversation. I really liked the phrase and the idea of ‘leaving the back door open’. I was right there up till about koan 8 where my name is substituted for ‘clear deep heart mind’. Well I already knew the centre of gravity of my identity but this really highlighted it. Something to work on. Also loved some of the ways of bringing the realization forward into daily life. Lots to work on here. Looks like I’d better buy the book…