Zen master teaches people ‘nothing’

Anna Stirr

“Who knows what the bald guy in the black dress might say?” Advertising posters warned the audience of Zen master Jun Po Kando Denis Kelly’s talk on Tuesday to expect the unexpected.

Jun Po is a member of the Rinzai Zen Buddhist lineage, which is often characterized as “beating and shouting Zen” due to its masters’ use of such techniques to startle their students into “waking up.” With a mixture of startling exclamations and calm explanations, Jun Po provided the audience with a taste of his Zen.

Introduced by Professor Dirck Vorenkamp as “nobody’s teacher” who would probably talk about “nothing special,” Jun Po demonstrated why those terms were appropriate by outlining some basic Zen doctrine.

The radical message of Buddhism, he said, is that “you are empty—your very soul is empty—your real being is pure and free, and it is possible to realize that.” Zen meditation practice, then, is the tool for realization of this fundamental emptiness, beyond the idea of a soul, self or ego.

Jun Po invited the audience to participate in 10 minutes of meditation—sitting quietly, listening to the sound of a gong, and trying to focus on breathing.

Afterwards he explained that, whether audience members really tried to meditate or not, all the thoughts arising in their heads were manifestations of ignorance—thinking, “I am trying to meditate” shows that we understand the ego as reality.

The point of meditation, according to Jun Po, is that “if you sit still long enough, there is a deeper truth in the stillness (beyond your thoughts).”

His main message was simple and forcefully conveyed: “Sit down and shut up!”

In a Zen context, he explained, this takes on a deeper meaning: “Sit down in meditation, open your eyes, open your heart, open your mind, and listen: WHO ARE YOU?”

Jun Po emphasized the importance of bringing an enlightened understanding to every aspect of life, stating that the guiding principle of his life is compassion. With the understanding gained through Zen practice, he said, comes “the passionate desire to bring compassion and awareness to the world through compassionate action.”

He defined compassionate action as the refusal to lead a life of denial, cynicism, and hypocrisy, citing his own insistence on eating only organic eggs. Agribusinesses’ cheap eggs, says Jun Po, come not only at the expense of the chickens that are tortured, but also at the expense of those whose jobs consist of torturing chickens, and all those affected by their lives of denial.

According to Jun Po, the problem that allows such lives, indeed the problem with the world today, is the same as it always has been: ignorance of our fundamental nature.

Zen, according to this master, is a way to get past that ignorance, to “get the joke,” and begin an authentic life.