David Rynick interview - from sweepingzen.com
David Rynick Dayan (or, Dae En) Rynick (born 1952) is a Zen teacher with the Boundless Way Zen school, a Dharma heir of Bo Mun George Bowman. David Rynick was born in 1952, in Houston, Texas. He grew up in upstate New York, where his father was a Presbyterian minister with a great faith in a God who is present in our every day lives. He spent his senior year in high school as an exchange student in Nagasaki, Japan. David earned his BA [banned term] laude in Sociology in 1974 from Wesleyan University. For the next decade David studied and taught pottery, aikido and dance improvisation. In 1984 he earned an MA degree in studio art at Wesleyan.
In 1977 he met Melissa Myozen Blacker and they married in 1982. Their daughter, Rachel Blacker Rynick, was born in 1986.
Starting in 1984 David began teaching art at a private high school and in 1990 became headmaster, a job he continued until he became a full-time life and leadership coach and consultant in 2003. He currently works with religious leaders and churches as well as other individuals who want to more fully align their lives and their values.
In 1981 he and Melissa began studying Zen with the independent teacher Richard Clarke. Since 1991 David has been studying with George Bowman, one of the first Dharma successors to the Korean Zen master Seung Sahn. Zen Master Bowman has also studied extensively with the Japanese Rinzai master Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, and his Single Flower Sangha shows the marks of both traditions.
In 1992 David and Melissa were joined by several friends in beginning a Zen meditation group at their Worcester home. A year later they also began a sitting group at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, where both David and Melissa had been and continue to be active members. David served as president of the church’s Board from 1998 through 2001. David received Inga, formal recognition as a Zen teacher and Dharma heir, from George Bowman in October, 2005. In 2006 he was elected a teacher of the Boundless Way Zen sangha, established by James Ishmael Ford. David is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association.
Thanks to Janet Pal for her invaluable help in transcribing this interview.
SZ: How did you first get involved with Zen? What was going on at the time?
DR: I had had a big spiritual opening in college. It was, I think, in my junior year in college. I had been a seeker, my dad was a Presbyterian minister, and I had actually gotten into radical views of Christianity, of Christ as a revolutionary. I was quite successful in college and desperately unhappy and, in the middle of that, I had this experience of non-duality that arose out of the pain and the suffering. I knew for myself that we were not just separate beings, and that experience transformed me and then gradually faded away.
One of the most painful things in my life was in the months after that awakening experience. It faded and I lost it. So I went on a spiritual quest, and it was through mostly Christianity at that point, and I got more and more twisted up and began to see that even my searching was an ego trip. I really, really wanted to be holy and humble and then I began to see that this wasn’t the way to do it, so basically I gave up. About a year later I went to hear Richard Clarke talk, who was a Kapleau renegade, and it was clear that he knew what I knew – that he had seen this.
He told me there is a way to study and practice this, there is a way to cultivate this experience. It just made total sense to me. So, I started sitting – but I have never been a natural sitter. When I first heard him I thought, “Well, I could probably sit for half an hour a day.” That would last about four days. Then I thought maybe I could do two minutes a day and continue that. So my first commitment to meditation was two minutes a day and every day, by the time the timer was about to go off, I was about to jump out of my skin. Two minutes! You know, I hear these stories about people starting to meditate who think “Oh, it’s so wonderful. I’m at home.”
For me, it was like taking medicine.
SZ: Tooth extraction.
DR: Yes. But I practiced with him for a while and started doing retreats, and then there was ethical misbehaviour on Richard’s part in that sangha. That was in 1981 I started sitting with him, and I left in the late 1980s. Then, in 1991, someone introduced me to George Bowman, and so then I started studying with him at the Cambridge Buddhist Association. Then, of course, he went through all of his things with the sangha and inappropriate behaviour. He moved on to Kentucky, but I continued to study with him.
SZ: He’s down at Furnace Mountain?
DR: Yes. He’s the sort of resident senior monk down there. He doesn’t teach down there, but lives and practices there.
SZ: Richard Clarke – he is an independent teacher, right? Kapleau never authorized him as a teacher based on what I’ve read.
DR: Right. And Richard presented himself as having received that permission. But, he was always and has always been a lone wolf. He has no interest in other Zen teachers or anything else going on, which is kind of a dangerous thing, in my view.
SZ: What was the ethical lapse?
DR: It was affairs with students.
SZ: Seems to be the standard in such lapses.
DR: Yes. He moved into the place of saying, “Well, it’s only a problem if you’re telling a story about it, so don’t.” I call that spiritual override. Richard was, is, a person of incredible non-dual insight, I think. But, he doesn’t get the ordinary part.
SZ: Sounds like moral relativism. There is no good, no bad.
DR: That’s right. And it’s not two, but it’s also not one.
DR: But I think it is so dangerous, this work of Zen and the intimacy of it, the joy and power of it. And I think one of the questions for us in American Zen is: how do we protect our teachers and our students, you know? With so many teachers of such deep insight having made this mistake, I think we have to assume that we are all vulnerable and that institutionally we need to do things we haven’t done before to address this.
SZ: I think so. Intimacy is a tricky thing. It’s important, I feel, to make the distinction between having made some mistakes and having used your teaching position as a means to get laid. I personally don’t think relationships between teachers and students should be condoned at all, but there is a distinction there, no less. We have some teachers who have had an isolated lapse of judgment in that area, and others who have used their position to prey on the vulnerable, those coming to them for spiritual guidance.
DR: Yes. I think the pattern is a big deal. I think that even between consenting adults there is something in the power dynamic that, as a teacher of Zen and even in relationship with a mature practitioner who has been around. To think that I could be clear, or that that person could be clear enough to have a relationship, just doesn’t make sense to me.
And I think there are different degrees, you know? Preying (doing it serially) with beginning students, and maybe degrees of that. But, I think that it is a grey enough area that it never, to me, is appropriate.
SZ: I feel much the same way. When I was doing my training as a chemical dependency counselor, they taught us that it doesn’t matter what the law says. Even if the law says you can enter a relationship with a past client, say, five years down the road, you just don’t do it. My professor told us all that if he ever heard that we did, he would recommend our license be revoked and he would disavow our having been his student. It’s a big deal. While a Zen teacher may not be a counselor any more than he or she is a doctor, the relationship dynamics are too similar.
SZ: So, back to something you said earlier. Meditation was a chore to you initially. You didn’t like doing it.
DR: I really didn’t. I’ve always been much more active and physical. I studied Aikido and I was an improvisational dancer, so I have a great sense of the moment and following the flow. But for me, physically, it was incredibly difficult. In fact, my first retreat I went on I was in great pain because my knees were so sore. I went in for my first meeting with the Zen teacher, with Richard, and he said, “You know, I’ve noticed you’ve been crying. Is some emotional thing coming up?” And I said, “No. My knees hurt so much.” So he looked at me and he said, “Why don’t you use a chair?” That was my first great instruction in Zen.
SZ: Good advice!
DR: But, I had a sense of the importance of it, of working with our minds and of not turning away.
It always made sense to me. I would go through great difficulty on retreats, but would also touch in to amazing places. For some reason it always felt like the most important thing for me to be doing, and I just kept going. I never thought that, “Oh, someday I’ll be a Zen master.” Rather, it was that I really wanted to encounter my own life, seeing that it is a matter of life and death and how brief our time here is.
SZ: Does it still feel like a chore to you?
DR: I’ve grown to really love it. Of course there are times when it is a chore, but now more and more entering this world of silence feels like a great privilege. In my training with George, of course, he gives dharma talks and we’ve done meetings, but a lot of my training has been sitting with him. One of the things George really values is zazen, and he always talks about himself as a player coach. So, when going on retreats with George, he doesn’t sort of sit up in the upper room and you see him once in a while. He is there in the zendo.
So, these many years of sitting in silence has been part of my transmission and part of what I trust. I have no clue how it works.
SZ: You can’t really put it into words?
DR: No! But there is some presence as we slow down, as we come into stillness, there is something that arises that we can meet, and we touch and are touched by this something, that we can know for certain, but we can never define, can never hold onto. So now, when I sit zazen, most of the time I sit now with other people because my wife Melissa and I are the resident teachers here at Boundless Way Temple, and for me now there is always this sense of this together action.
SZ: You didn’t use the word intimacy, but for me that is the implication – that connection you feel when sitting with others. It reminds me of something Zen master Seung Sahn used to say – that, before thinking, your mind and my mind are the same mind.
DR: That’s right, yes. And as we sit, we can actually experience that not as an idea. Of course, it doesn’t fixate and, in some ways, my struggle for 30 years now or 35 years has been how to integrate this awakening. So I had this vision and this experience that is absolutely true and turned my world upside down, but then the second part of the circle, this coming back to everyday life. So, great, you’ve had a great realization. Now, how do we live? How do we get out of bed in the morning? How do I say hello to my wife? To me, this is the most interesting thing.
SZ: Where is the psychological component present in Zen practice?
DR: One of the important teachings to me is the teachings of the Bodies of Buddha and the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya. Dharmakaya is the stillness, the undifferentiated source world and as we enter that, there is the sambhogakaya, something arises, you smell the smell of your cigarette, the car horn goes by, you see a flower, whatever. Something arises and the self knows itself. Big self meets little self, and that is the sambhogakaya.
We can appreciate anything that arises there. Then, one of the aspects that I think is often neglected in Zen is the nirmanakaya, which is the action body, or the activity body.
So, lovely to come into the stillness, to have some awakening, some experience of the mystery and miracle of life, but then, for me, there always has been how to embody this. And so we can embody it in our zazen, sitting upright and manifesting, and also embody it in our life.
So, for me, that’s art. I was a potter and, as I said, a dancer for a while, and then I was into education. I was headmaster of a school starting in 2003. Since then I have been a life and leadership coach. What I do as a life coach is help people connect to what is most true for them. What do you know, what is in your heart, what is important? And, then, I tell them to do it. So, in a sense, for me the experience is when I meet someone as a coach, I have no idea what anybody should do, but I have this great faith that as we look inward, we find something. Something drew you to Sweeping Zen. Who knows what? But, it was something. Our fulfilment comes in moving toward our dream.
SZ: Working toward your goals in life is, I think, important.
DR: Yes! The thing is, it’s not that there is no self. It’s that there is no fixed self. One of the things I encourage all of my students and myself to do is to fully show up in the moment. Seung Sahn sunim used to talk about correct relationship and correct function.
So, when you’re a father, you need to be a father. Don’t go all Zen on me. Change the diaper. Take your daughter to school. This is our manifestation. It’s not about Zen or not Zen. It’s about: how do we fully live our life?
SZ: Yes. And he would say, too, that the outside job will take care of itself if you find your primary job.
DR: Yes. Did you study with him, Adam?
SZ: No. His books were some of the earliest introductions to Zen. Book! They get a bad rap, but I found them extraordinarily helpful to me.
DR: When Melissa and I started with Richard Clarke, he said “Don’t read anything for the first 5 years.” I think that is more the old school. Certainly now we encourage students to read as a support to their practice. It’s not like you can just read and that is enough, but we need inspiration and there are the voices of these teachers through the ages available to us. It’s incredible inspiration.
SZ: Sometimes in my work, I feel a sense that the ancestors are present in the work. Is that delusional of me? It probably is. But, I feel it no less.
DR: I think when we align with some path, it’s not personal, and when I talk with people about what do you love, what are you called to be — it involves some surrender, because it’s not who we think we should be, it’s who we find ourselves to be. I think as we follow that, we are supported by all beings. The ancestors, we lock eyebrows with them, and they sort of sit on our shoulder: “Way to go! Make one more call! You can do it!”
SZ: I sometimes feel that reading a good dharma book is, more or less, like listening to a dharma talk.
DR: That’s right. You have a sense of the presence of this person coming through their words and, in fact, my first book is came out in June of last year. Part of my urge to write it was someone saying, “I want more of you.” My great wish in writing it was to send something out to support people on their journey.
SZ: Your book is This Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons. Tell us about it.
DR: Well, I originally set out to write a book on Zen and coaching because I was asked once, “How can you do both coaching and Zen? Isn’t coaching about doing and Zen about being?” It never occurred to me that they were two different things because, of course, in Zen we are always doing something.
We’re doing our zazen.
So, I had this whole outline, I submitted a proposal and Wisdom accepted it. It was about paying attention and cultivating intention and moving into action – some of the stuff we were just talking about. For 3 years, I worked on that book, and it was just boring. It kept coming out with my voice as the expert. It was coming out like “Here’s all you have to do.”
I realized that I don’t believe there is a formula. The whole time I was trying to write the other book I had been writing these shorter pieces, some going on a blog, some just for myself, and I finally got to the point where I realized that those smaller reflections were really what I knew and it was really about talking about my real experience. Beyond the lovely language of Zen, how is it for me when I am sick and when I’m tired of being sick?
And again, I think on this koan of how do we live what we know, because all of us know this stuff, we’re all one. I’m fine as I am, and it’s here right now. But how do we make it come alive? The book is a collection of about 50 different essays, little reflection pieces about my experience. There was about a 3-year period when I was writing these and I took them and put them together in the scenario of 1 year. It starts in Fall and actually includes us purchasing the building to be the Boundless Way Temple and moving in. It also includes my transmission from George.
It looks at ordinary life, so the teaching that what we’re looking for is already here. If that is true, that means that even this is it, which is a real mind blower, whenever I take it seriously. So this book is my attempt to demonstrate this in all of these different ways, as it appears.
SZ: The manifestation of practice, rather than an advice column.
DR: Yes exactly. Talking about these places of confusion and darkness, because there is some Zen illusion – and I think it is from the previous generations. Have a great enlightenment experience and live happily ever after. One of the movements I see in Zen now is much more integrated. Yes, there are these experiences of non-duality that are more beautiful than you could ever imagine. And, they do not last.
The nature of the world is impermanent.
I used to think it was a problem with my practice! I thought, “Well, if I practice hard enough I’m not going to be upset anymore, or I’m not going to feel alone anymore.” But, more and more, I see that it is the coming together and the splitting apart – moments of clarity and then moments of confusion. So, rather than trying to fixate something that will never fixate, how do we make our home where we are?
SZ: Well, it goes into one of the Four Noble Truths. There is a path to the end of suffering, and here it is. But really, it’s kind of a play on words, because I don’t find that to be true.
DR: (Laughter). You noticed. It is actually true, but in a different way than we imagine when we start. Sometimes we talk about the bait and switch of Zen. You know, come, and you’ll find a way to abide calmly. Well, the abiding calmly means that when you are angry, you really are angry. And when you are sad, you really are sad. But, it’s not an escape. I remember one of my early conversations with George, I was going on, I was really upset about something going on in my life and he listened politely for a while and then he stopped me and he said, “You don’t expect Zen to save you from your life do you?” And I said, “Well, as a matter of fact…”
SZ: I was hoping!
DR: Yes! I was really hoping! (Laughter). So, I think Zen does not save us from our life, but offers us the possibility of transforming these places where we’re stuck, or confused – they are dharma gates of great power and possibility, but it’s so difficult to work in them.
SZ: What meditation does, it’s not that you can escape suffering. It just puts suffering in perspective. It makes it clear. What is this thing? What is this pain, or whatever else? You’re not going to not feel it, but you’ll come to an understanding that it fundamentally does not exist. It’s not going to take it away for you.
DR: That’s right. And I think there is some way that in our practice we can learn to not run away and not fix. Those are the two urges. A problem comes up and either I want to ignore it or I want to fix it. Those strategies are great with some things, but with our real life, they don’t actually work. We can’t fix it, but as we abide, we can begin to see, as you say, the emptiness of it; that it actually comes and goes and, so, how to be intimate with it without being totally identified with it?
SZ: It reminds me of something Uchiyama Roshi said: “Thoughts are the secretion of the brain.”
DR: That’s right. And that is what we tell people over and over. It’s crazy to try to stop your thoughts. It’s just what the brain does. The problem is when we get carried away.
SZ: I guess the great mistake with thinking is our instant willingness to just identify with it. That was mine. That was me.
DR: Yes! It is the way things appear in the brain. From looking out through my eyes, things look solid. And it’s also quite clear to me that my problems are other people. If only other people would behave differently, I would feel great. It’s just the way it appears.
I love what happens on retreat. Even though there is very little in the way of external things we can blame – I mean, I have been on retreats where I have been so angry at the person next to me because they are breathing wrong, they’re ruining my retreat – but at a certain point you think, “Get a grip here.”
SZ: Yea it’s not about silence or about the absence of sound.
DR: Right. I had epiphany one year listening to Silent Night in the church I was at and the silence I realized they were singing about is the vast silence that includes silence and sound and includes everything. So this vast ocean in which everything appears and disappears, that’s the true silence.
SZ: There is this silence that is always fundamentally there. It’s kind of running through it all.
DR: Yes. Right.
SZ: But then there is music.
DR: That’s right (laughter) – another kind of silence.
SZ: So, earlier you were saying that you pretty much threw out the idea, I’m sorry to disappoint readers, of enlightenment being the be all and end all.
DR: Yes. That’s right. And sorry to disappoint myself!
I actually worked with lots of people and sent chapters around and eventually got a couple of friends together who I had worked with in various capacities, doing some workshops and stuff, and I read one of the shorter essays that was really about my heart. I was very moved reading it and one of them looked at me and said “Well, David, you always said that we should follow our heart and it is clear where yours is.”
So, I hadn’t talked with my editor at Wisdom for about a year and a half, I’m still trying to write this thing, and then I realized that I couldn’t write that book. What I loved and what was really true to me and the most that I knew was in this other writing that I had done. So I put that together and organized it and found a way to create a shape of it, and then I took it to him and I said, “This is not the book that you accepted, but this is the only book I can write right now, so here it is and if you want your advance back I’ll give it to you.” Fortunately, it was only a small advance.
For me it really got to that place where I really wanted to write the other book. It wasn’t some kind of altruistic thing, it was simply failure.
SZ: It wasn’t in the cards.
DR: It really wasn’t and I’m a determined guy and it still wasn’t going to happen. So in really giving up on that and then coming forward with these essays, with these reflections, in giving it to him, I felt complete. I thought, “I really hope he accepts it, but this is true for me right now. “ To his credit, he read it and really saw what it was and he was able to change his perspective. He showed it to a couple of other people there and got positive reactions, so then we worked on polishing and finishing it, but it was 90% done at that point.
SZ: Was that Josh Bartok?
Another interesting anecdote here is that John Tarrant was visiting the temple at one point and I was talking to him about the book and about our life as the way itself and I said, “You know, I have these three things about cultivating attention and deepening intention and taking action.” He thought for a minute and he said, “You know, you’re actually much more interesting than those three things,” and I thought, “You know what? I think that is true.”
Again, the three things are easy to say, but how to live them? So, the book itself was quite a journey and about 4 years all together, and probably more failure than I have ever had in my whole life. Just up against it again and again and again. I think one of my most important character traits is stubbornness. I don’t give up easily.
SZ: Good writing, in my opinion, cannot be forced.
DR: Well, what happened was that while I was working so hard on this book, trying to write this book, I actually wrote the book. I just didn’t know that it was the book.
I do think there is something about that. Our life is what happens while we imagine we’re doing something else.
SZ: You did some travelling to help promote the book. I don’t get to do that nearly as much as I’d like, but if I could live in a perfect world, I’d love to travel and meet many of these people I interview.
DR: Yes. I think it is really actually one of the gifts. James and Melissa Myozen Blacker and I are the guiding teachers of Boundless Way and, while he is not my teacher, he is a valued colleague. I think one of the things I have learned from him, more than anything else, is his great value and investment in the Mahasngha. It’s not about that we’re all doing the same thing or everything is equal. It’s about that there being many paths, and there is a stream of Zen. Anyone who thinks they have the proprietary rights is crazy.
SZ: Sometimes people think that it sounds so nice to say something like, “I’m colour blind.” But actually, it’s insulting in a way, because you have to acknowledge the diversity present.
DR: Yes. That is right. There is a particularness that life manifests in. This middle way is not a grey wash in between everything else. The particularness of the form is not that there is anything sacred about the form, but that we need to manifest in some way.
SZ: Being a co-leader of Boundless Way Zen – is that helpful for you?
DR: Oh, it’s incredibly valuable. I think it goes back to what we were talking about before in terms of the model is the one big honcho Zen teacher and you know he or she, usually he, is the ultimate authority and there is no way to check the teacher because if you check the teacher it’s just your thinking mind. I think that was very intentional on all our parts, James and Melissa and I, to come together to support and protect and encourage each other.
So, yes, to be able to teach and as we are working with students, we share what is happening, you know?
This is going on or here’s what I said. What do you think?
As we reach those places of either inflation or deflation, like, oh, I’ve got it figured out or I’m the worst Zen teacher in the whole country, you know, there are people to say, you know what, you’re not so good as you think, or not so bad as you think.
Of course there is some rubbing up against each other a little bit, and each one of us has different styles. But one of the main things we do together is lead retreats. So, four times a year the four of us (Josh Bartok received transmission in July and is also a co-leader) come together to co-lead together and we’ll even give dharma talks together. James will talk for 5 or 10 minutes and then Melissa will pick it up.
And then I have to correct them both, of course. (Laughter)
SZ: Do you combine the ritual?
DR: It’s really being combined. We’re creating something that has some elements of the Rinzai tradition – my tradition through George is not the Kwan Um School. It’s George’s Single Flower Sangha.
He is a dharma heir of Seung Sahn Sunim and has studied with Sasaki for 25. George left the Kwan Um School because he didn’t want to run a large organization and he has actually been a challenging teacher to have because he is kind of ambivalent about being a teacher. So, from him, he is a great believer again that the form is not what is important. He now runs these fairly small retreats in people’s houses where the zendo appears in the living room. We sit together for three days or 7 days and there may be 10 or 20 people, and then it disappears.
So from him I have that kind of flexibility, and let’s not get too caught up in it, and James and Melissa come from the Soto place. Although James is such an ordinary way guy, with not too much patience for too much fanciness or tradition. But you know, we wear robes when we give talks and someone coming in from the Soto tradition would recognize our forms but would also be aghast at how we do them.
SZ: Well even somewhere like the San Francisco Zen Center, at Tassajara, for instance, where they are trying their hardest to do it the way the Japanese do it and everything else, even they are getting it wrong, anyway.
DR: Well that’s the thing. To me, we’re always creating something new from the past and anyone who thinks they are doing what people were doing 50 years ago is deluding themselves. We’re always picking and choosing. Some people say, “Well, this is the true way of Dogen.” And we can see, well, okay, but notice that we’re choosing some true ways of Dogen but not other true ways of Dogen.
So I guess I appreciate the creative enterprise and really love and honor this tradition and the men and women who have carried this on is so very important to me, but it is very important that we don’t mistake the form for the life and that we don’t defend Zen. Ultimately this is not about Zen. This is about aliveness. It’s not anybody’s property.
SZ: In one of my interviews with Engu Dobbs, he said, “When I became I priest I wanted to learn everything I could because I didn’t want to be a sloppy priest, I wanted to know what I’m doing, but sometimes you can get into this mindset of doing it right as opposed to what to the form is pointing at, which is to be present with that moment.”
DR: That is right. And I have seen (I have some Soto friends beyond Melissa and James) – but I have seen some people that are more into form. And, there is an exquisite beauty to see that. I have a great appreciation for the wisdom in movement and the great presence of the dance of walking up to the altar, and I think there is such a great danger in missing the point.
SZ: David, this has been nice. We’ll wrap up here in a moment but, before we do, you you have any book recommendations for readers?
DR: Yes. Barry Magid’s book Ending the Pursuit of Happiness is a good one, and also Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen. I find her enormously refreshing and I think that our school, Boundless Way, shares some similarities. The other thing about our school is that James and Melissa have inherited the koan tradition through John Tarrant and Robert Aitken, whereas my study with George, even though it is Rinzai, has been more shikantaza and the aliveness of the moment and the genjokoan of this moment: how do you manifest your Buddha nature as the guy doing the interviews and wearing the headphones? Also, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.
One book I read recently, also: The Feeling Buddha by David Brazier. I enjoyed that. He’s actually taking an heretical view of the Four Noble Truths.
He’s saying that the First Noble Truth is that there is suffering and things happen in our life.
He says the Second Noble Truth is that reactivity arises. So, usually, it is interpreted as suffering is caused by attachment, but he says looking at the Pali that we can look at there is this fire that arises.
The Third Noble Truth, usually translated as cessation, he said the Pali root is actually the word for embankment and that things happen in the world, this reactivity arises, which he says is a Noble Truth, a holy thing, and that as we can protect that from the winds of greed, anger and ignorance, as we don’t act on it or try to fix it, that this fire actually purifies us. So, it’s our very reactivity, our very deludedness that is the path to our awakening.
DR: Interesting, and I think it makes sense in terms of what you were saying earlier. I don’t know any Zen teacher that talks about cessation of suffering a lot.
SZ: Even transcendence is not even quite right.
DR: No, no it isn’t. But this idea of containment and certainly what we do as we sit on the cushion is we contain the aliveness of our life and in a way that we can learn from it and not simply act it out again and again.
SZ: See it for what it is. It’s sort of like the calm in the middle of a cyclone or something. It’s not that there is no cyclone or that everything isn’t getting ripped apart.
DR: That’s right. It’s like my root fear is that I am going to be left alone. So most of my life has appeared to be a problem but what I see as I sit is, it’s not what I think it is. I have these ideas about it, but there is an aliveness to it beyond my ideas and when I sit with it, it transforms, it brings its gift – even the worst place that I go to. As I cannot get sucked into it, not totally identified with it, then it becomes this place of great possibility.
SZ: It will landslide you otherwise, things that happen in your life. There are things we have control over, but we don’t have control over someone we love dying, for instance.
DR: That’s right. And I think for me, my big awakening experience came partly out of the emptiness of success. I went to Wesleyan University, a brand name school, and I was co-captain of the wrestling team and on the university senate and a big man on campus. It seemed like everybody wanted to be me except me, and I thought, “(word deleted), I’ve done everything I was supposed to do, and I’m miserable”.
SZ: When you feel like you are really doing what you’re supposed to be doing in life, that is when it comes together.
DR: I think it does. So it’s connecting to something that calls us, some aliveness. And, for me, every time we take a step in that direction there is fulfilment. The first title for this book was Each Step Is The Destination. So, rather than thinking, “Well, when the website gets fully up and everyone in the world knows about it, then I’ll be happy,” that is going to be a pretty unsatisfying life. But when there is some mission about wanting to spread the dharma or wanting to draw connections, then every time you do an interview, it is the meaning of your life.
But, if you’re heading East, you never get East.
SZ: You never do, but you go out with the best of intentions.
DR: It’s important to. I think it is important; I really encourage people to have dreams, to talk about their dreams and to head in that direction.
SZ: Thank you , David.
DR: Thank you, Adam. Wonderful to meet you.