Since Buddhism was founded more than 2,500 years ago, its practices and traditions have been passed down largely by word of mouth, teacher to student. Today, a wealth of information is available on the Internet and through other modern media but the transmission of its wisdom still depends on the basic teacher-student relationship.
So says Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei, a Zen Buddhist monk coming to the Toledo area next week for two lectures and a workshop.
“It begins with Buddha and his own religious experiences,” said Shugen Sensei. “His life and his teachings were very clearly directed toward the transformation of his own students.”
The means to achieve such a transformation have been handed down through the centuries from teachers seeking to help their students reach “the same depth of understanding of the nature of self and the nature of reality” as Buddha experienced, Shugen Sensei said.
There are more than 360 million Buddhists in the world, with 98 percent of adherents living in Asia and about 2.7 million in North America. The religion was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, born in India in 563 B.C., who became known as Buddha, or “the enlightened one.”
Shugen Sensei, 45, was ordained a monk in the Mountains and Rivers Order of American Zen Buddhism in 1988 and is the director of training and operations at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, N.Y.
He said he was drawn to Buddhism after years of spiritual searching that began when he was a teenager.
“My parents were Unitarian, so there was not a strong presence of traditional religion within our home,” he said. “And so, for me, it was the result of a long journey to try and understand my life as it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that it was no longer somewhere in the future but was happening now.”
Shugen Sensei said he looked around at the people he knew and “it seemed there was a lot of confusion and a lot of pain in people's lives, particularly people blessed with a lot of privilege and wealth.”
If the American dream of achieving wealth didn't provide happiness, then what did, he wondered.
With his parents' encouragement, he began visiting various churches, “but I didn't find a response in a personal way until I encountered Buddhism.”
Buddhism's appeal, he said, was that it is “based on practice, not doctrine as such. There is an emphatic need to do something within one's life.”
Shugen Sensei first heard of the Zen Mountain Monastery in New York's Catskill Mountains in 1984, when he was studying music at the Juilliard School in New York City.
“I began to visit it regularly and felt increasingly drawn to involvement there, eventually feeling that I wanted to make it my life. I entered in 1986 and was ordained in 1988.”
His teacher, John Daido Loori, Roshi, founded the monastery, which now hosts weekend, weeklong, and extended retreats for visitors.
Shugen Sensei said so many visitors have come from Ohio that he was inspired to make his first visit to the Toledo area.
His trip will include a free public talk at 7:30 p.m. Friday; an introduction to Zen workshop from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 20 for $65, and a free Zen meditation, liturgy, and talk from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 21. All events will be at Shobu Aikido of Ohio, 6537 Angola Rd., Holland. Registration is available by calling Jay Chikyo Weik, 419-861-1163, or online at www.toledozen.org.
- DAVID YONKE