Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done about 520 of them now. And if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones please go to the upcoming, no excuse me, go to the past interviews menu at batgap.com and you’ll see all the past ones organized in several different ways. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So, if you appreciate it and would like to support it there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site. My guest today is Henry Shukman. Henry is the guiding teacher of Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is an associate Zen master of Sanbo Zen and continues his training under, I probably mispronounced it, Abbot Yamada Koun Roshi. He has an MA from Cambridge in the UK and a master’s in literature from St. Andrews University. He’s worked as a writer and poet for many years publishing extensively and winning numerous awards, as well as teaching in various institutions in Britain and America including Oxford Brookes University and the Institute of American Indian Arts. Henry is a writer and poet of British Jewish origin who has published eight books to date of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. He writes regularly for Tricycle, The New York Times, and other publications. And his most recent book is the poetry collection Archangel. He lives near the center of Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife Claire and their two sons. And I just want to add that in June I went down to Santa Fe and spent a wonderful day with Henry having breakfast and hiking around visiting Mountain Cloud Zen Center, hiking around the property, and then having lunch and we just chatted like a couple of magpies the whole time about everything under the sun. And I just really was charmed by his kind of innocent inquisitiveness and enthusiastic interest in just about everything. So, as Chris Herbert said, Chris lives in Santa Fe also, when he first met Henry he said, ‘I want to be really good friends with this guy’. And when I met Henry, I felt like we were good friends instantly. It was like one of those kinds of resonance things. So it’s really great to be able to catch up with Henry and spend a couple of hours talking with him. So welcome, Henry.
Henry Shukman: Well, thank you so much for having me on the show, Rick, and thank you for that lovely introduction. And I too had the same feeling when we met you know. There’s a really nice vibe resonance that I felt between us. I’m really grateful to be able to spend this time with you now. But actually, can I do something without any more ado. I want to just say happy birthday. Rick had his birthday yesterday and we are going to do this thing, I’m going to light the candle. This little piece of chocolate cake is for you. We had a retreat, or a one-day retreat yesterday at our Zendo for people who work in trauma care and our cook made a chocolate cake and I sort of finagled a piece of it for you. So I want to invite you to blow it out any way you’d like and I’ll join in your breath.
Rick Archer: Okay. 123.
Henry Shukman: Great. Happy Happy Birthday, Rick.
Rick Archer: Thank you. So shrink, wrap it and send it up.
Henry Shukman: Yeah.
Rick Archer: It was my 70th yesterday.
Henry Shukman: Well, I’m honored to be with you on an auspicious time.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Henry Shukman: Okay, so hey, hey, can I just add one thing?
Rick Archer: Sure.
Henry Shukman: Lovely intro. Actually, I’ve almost published nine books.
Rick Archer: Okay.
Henry Shukman: There’s another one coming out in three days’ time. It’s officially published.
Rick Archer: Oh, what’s the name of that?
Henry Shukman: One Blade of Grass?
Rick Archer: Oh, that’s the one I read.
Henry Shukman: So that’s the one you read.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I read the entire book. And I found it fascinating. And actually, it will be out by the time this interview is posted so people will be able to find it on Amazon or whatever. And I’ll have a link to it on your page on BatGap.
Henry Shukman: Thank you.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So it was very, I should add without sounding too obsequious or whatever the word would be, that you are a professional writer so it was an interesting book to read. There are a lot of spiritual teachers who are not don’t really have a writing background but they have something to say, and they write a book, but they’re not as often, not as enjoyable to read as yours was.
Henry Shukman: Thanks for reading it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, okay. So usually the pattern we follow in these interviews is to just get to know the person a little bit rather than having them just begin to spout wisdom and platitudes. Rather, let’s get to know your life story a little bit so we kind of get a feeling for who you are and what you’ve been through. And then it will naturally segue into all kinds of knowledge, bits about Zen or whatever else we end up discussing.
Henry Shukman: That sounds just great.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So give us a bit of your background.
Henry Shukman: Well, let’s see, I grew up in Oxford, England, the son of two academics. And I had one of the significant things in my biography is that I had very severe eczema from an early age, from infancy.
Rick Archer: For those who don’t know, eczema is a skin condition. Most people would know that.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, it’s very, actually something like 30 million or more Americans have it actually, so it’s much more widespread than one might imagine. And it’s, you know, it’s very painful and itchy. It itches a lot. So it was, that was an issue for me, of course, and it took quite a long time to sort of grow out of it. It wasn’t really until my mid to late 20s that I did, although it was intermittent in gradually the …
Rick Archer: What is the cause of eczema supposed to be?
Henry Shukman: Well, they call it, the kind I had they called atopic dermatitis. And that term atopic literally means placeless. But it means that it’s in a family with allergies and hay fever, asthma. And meaning that often people, members of the same family, will have one or more of those symptoms. They don’t really know, one of the problems is it’s not really clear. There are some forms that are clear, they’re just allergic, but they say the atopic one actually isn’t, by any means necessarily allergic. It’s got lots of factors. There are factors though because when I started meditating that was when it really started to significantly improve. So there is known to be a stress factor, environmental factors. But it led to a lot of stress.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I mean, descriptions of it in the book are really, you know, graphic and quite horrific. It was, you know, not just some little itchy bit. You were kind of like your skin was on fire for a good part of your youth.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, it was it was like that, but there were reprieves and really relief times, respites you know, and so I grew up, really, in a very, you know, literary kind of world. And what seemed to be the most liberative sort of path within that world was poetry. I discovered that there were these amazing poets, basically, from China, you know, way back in the Tang Dynasty, that’s like sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth centuries who kind of were poets and wanderers. And I was just captivated. I loved their poetry, I loved the way they lived. And, I mean, this was, you know, no discovery of mine, so to speak, you know Ezra Pound translated a lot of them and Jack Kerouac read them, they were kind of known. And so I really got into this idea of being a kind of itinerant person who wrote appreciative things about the world, you know. I thought that that’s a really cool way to live. And I kind of tried to do it as a teenager, you know, with some friends who also, I had one or two friends who were also into the same sort of thing, you know. We wandered around the valleys and hills in our long school holidays, and, you know, slept rough, and it was kind of interesting. And then I traveled as soon as I could, you know. When I was 18 or 19 I went away on a gap year to work far away. And, actually, I had a sort of miraculous will felt miraculous relief from eczema, then …
Rick Archer: Just being away. You went to South America, as I recall.
Henry Shukman: That’s right. My skin just got better. It was the weirdest thing. Maybe it was diet in part, but I tried diet stuff before and it hadn’t helped. And I tried diet stuff later because it came back when I went home. But it was while I was there something else really significant happened to me. One late afternoon, towards the end of the trip, I was standing on my own on a little beach and I had a moment that to me was utterly bewildering. Now in hindsight and knowing what I do, it’s not quite so strange but it was a moment of really deep realization of awakening that suddenly just came out of nowhere. I dropped away, my normal sense of self dropped away and I found that I was completely intimate with the whole universe and part of it. And, you know, belonging had been a big issue for me, actually, because I, not only the eczema thing makes you not really feel at home in the world but also I was from a half Jewish family and, you know, my dad was Jewish, my mum wasn’t. England, in the 1970s, was not really free of antisemitism. It sort of was outwardly I mean, my dad had a position in a prestigious university, that wasn’t problems like that. But there was a kind of undercurrent of antisemitism nevertheless, that, you know, you could pick up on, and I was never kind of clear whether I was, was I English was I Jewish? Both our parents were at that time, atheists and we were, at least we weren’t brought up religiously, so there was no Jewish community. But they also, you know, didn’t really fully belong in the world of England somehow. And so to find in this moment, that I just belonged, totally, you know, to the very heart of the universe kind of thing I just belong, there was, it was the most marvelous thing and I, I felt utterly relieved of all my troubles and fulfilled, completely fulfilled. I felt like, you know, I could die that night, really and my life would have been completely fulfilled. But a few weeks on, I was back home and my eczema started coming back. All the unexamined difficulties of parental familial situation that I’d grown up in started to show themselves, I started to be more aware of them and I became very unhappy, actually. So for several years …
Rick Archer: You mentioned that when you went back home you started having these crying episodes, which I guess, were not normal for you before that. And I wondered whether perhaps the experience on the beach had loosened up some deep, you know, deeply rooted impressions in you, and that they then began to sort of work themselves out and express them as crying. You think?
Henry Shukman: I think that’s exactly right. But I had, I had no framework at that time for understanding emotional wounds, I didn’t really know there were such things. So I just saw myself sort of falling apart. And it was very scary. And I didn’t really have any I didn’t know how to turn. I didn’t know that there might even be support. I thought I was just sort of losing it because that’s how it felt to me. I mean, you know, in time, and it did take a bit of time, I found my way to some really helpful therapy. And I found my way to practice TM. That was the first meditation practice, which was tremendously helpful. Yeah, it began a healing journey.
Rick Archer: And yeah, I think you slept for a week after you learned TM, and I’ve heard that kind of thing before. It’s like, there’s a huge relief and your body relaxes and all this storehouse of fatigue and stress that is accumulated just has to work itself out. You need to sleep a lot.
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes. And I had no idea how ragged I was, you know. I felt I was just sort of struggling to live appropriately or something and do the things that were required of me. But in fact I’d been running my nervous system raw with anxiety and pressure I was putting on myself and all kinds of stuff.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you mentioned, maybe this was after South America and before TM, I’m not sure but you mentioned a phase of knowing that there’s more to life, but not knowing what it is. This sort of feeling.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. Well, I had that.
Rick Archer: Like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Henry Shukman: Well, basically, you know, I’ve had this strange and marvelous moment of liberation. And I didn’t I didn’t know what it was, but I,
Rick Archer: You couldn’t even put a spiritual label on it, right?
Henry Shukman: No. I knew it was real. That’s all I knew. And I thought, well, why aren’t I experiencing that now? And I’ve had a terrible sense of failure, that I’ve failed to live up to some gift that had fallen on me some gift of insight or discovery or something. which I sort of, in some way I felt that I’d squandered I’d lost it, you know. A lot of guilt and shame within my makeup at that time. But yeah, so that meant, you know, I know there’s more I know there’s something different. I know that I’m not living, I also actually, during those months away, I’d actually written my first book. And that was also quite a fulfilling thing to do and to have done. And, you know, I knew what creative fulfillment could feel like as well and I certainly wasn’t anywhere near that in those years. I was doing a undergraduate degree, then a postgraduate degree that I really wasn’t terribly interested in. And yet, you know, I was a young man and wasn’t yet ready to, you know, get a regular job. I was trying to sort of see if I could somehow fulfill the promise that writing that early book had seemed to offer of really becoming a writer. Yeah, it was a difficult time.
Rick Archer: You mentioned, I don’t know where this fits into the chronology that you’re telling us but you mentioned you said, I had a vivid daydream, an angel reached into my chest and pulled out a scowling homunculus and carried off the little demon as it screamed in frustration. Exorcised at last.
Henry Shukman: Yeah I remember that? Yeah, I was actually, at that time I was working for a company, a recording company. But I had just recently started doing TM and I’d also fairly recently had the news that my first book had been picked up by a publisher. I was probably 25 or 26 at the time and yes, there was a tremendous sense of relief that somehow I was recalibrating, you know, my nervous system was recalibrating itself. I was coming back to some kind of homeostasis, some sort of balance in myself. There was just a huge relief and it showed up in a kind of imagery, that you just read about?
Rick Archer: Well, I actually take those things somewhat literally. I think it was a story about Muhammad, that he kind of got worked over by some kind of angels or something. And he was like arghh afterwards, you know, he became a different person and then became this great spiritual teacher.
Henry Shukman: Yes, well I …
Rick Archer: Go ahead, go ahead.
Henry Shukman: I would agree with you. I did several years of really deep dreamwork later, which was all about entering what some people have called the Mundus Imaginalis, the imaginal world. Not imaginary but imaginal which is a kind of archetypal mythological realm, where, you know, dreams are animism, shamanism probably takes us there. And in the dreamwork, we were, you know, encouraged to sort of let all kinds of figures really work us over, even kill us, actually. And it can be tremendously cathartic and healing and beneficial. So I’m familiar with that. Yeah, I would agree with you, actually, that there is that level where things that aren’t, you know, quite of the material world, but they’re real.
Rick Archer: Yeah, as real as you and I are, they’re just subtler. And they’re kind of in different dimensions, and so on. So I know some people think that’s just hocus pocus but from everything I’ve learned and experienced in talking to other people, you know, I think of it like an ocean where you just find different kinds of fish swimming at different depths in the ocean. And, some of which could not possibly swim at a different depth. Those things that glow in the dark and live near the bottom would explode if they came to the surface and the surface ones would die if they went too deep. It’s natural for different life forms to live at different strata of creation, both in the ocean and in the larger creation.
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes. That’s a lovely way to look at it. I mean, we sometimes say in the Zen tradition, that they’re sort of different levels of practice. And I don’t know, I don’t want to get too sort of teacherly.
Rick Archer: Yeah, go ahead.
Henry Shukman: No, but we saw …
Rick Archer: I’ll teacherly you right back (laughing).
Henry Shukman: But I think it just is very similar to what you just been saying. You know that we have different levels of practice. We have different dimensions of healing that we need to do and different, you know, one would be obviously personal psychology. Lots of people who come to our center are coming for that. And I’d say, you know, that would be one common level where we want more peace, we want more equanimity, we want more, sort of, yeah, just stability in our nervous system, less reactivity, and more interpersonal harmony and that sort of thing. And then there would be a kind of depth psychology as they call it or transpersonal psychology level where we are more into that archetypal realm, where we’re putting ourselves in the way of sort of powers and entities and forces that may have all kinds of healing to bring us. And then there’s another level, in practice terms, where we’re really studying how the sense of self is created, you know. We’re teasing apart the various processes in present moment experience that we identify with and we attribute selfhood to. And as we start to sort of discriminate, analyze, and take them apart, we may start to see there really isn’t the sense of self there that we thought there was. And then there’s the even deeper level, which we would call awakening in the Zen tradition, where we, where we awaken to non-dual experience where the sense of self drops away and suddenly we see we’re inseparable for everything. And there’s different dimensions to even that that might be interesting to talk about. But the point I would want to make is that all of them are important. And for example, you know, I might look at my own biography and sort of say, well, in a certain way, my first major healing moment was actually on that level, was a sudden discovery of unity with everything. But man, I had a lot of work to do on other levels, you know, and actually, I have more work to do, of course, on that level too. In some ways you don’t have any work to do on it but in some ways, actually, one can go deeper and deeper and further and further into awakening. And that’s one thing that was so wonderful for me to find out about Zen when eventually I came to it. You know, I heard, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been looking for some, some way of sort of responding to that experience, you know. What do I do after it? What do I do next? At the time, there had been no need, of course, it was completely fulfilled in and of itself and for a few weeks after. But after it, it sort of faded. Well, why has it faded? What do I do next? Then I went home and just got completely sidetracked by really difficult, personal, you know, experiences, difficult times. And I really had to do some healing on that level before I can even begin to think about re-approaching whatever that moment had been. And it sort of happened to be kind of at the right time that I met a Zen practitioner who had a sort of radiance, sort of subtle, quiet radiance about her that intrigued me. She was another writer, actually and a very serious and practitioner. And some people may know of her Natalie Goldberg. And I happened to meet her when I first came to New Mexico. I was working on my third book at the time and she was very sort of kind to me, took me under her wing a bit. And she introduced me to the Zen master Dogen who was a 13th century Zen master. And she started reading a bit of Dogen to me at one point, and it was incomprehensible. I just had no idea what this guy’s talking about. But as I sort of reflected on it a day or two later, it suddenly occurred to me that he was kind of talking, he must have been talking from that experience I’d had on the beach. It was the only way that what he was saying would make sense. And he wasn’t talking about it he was talking from it. So that was very exciting because it meant to me, first of all, that there were other people who knew about it, which up to that point, I just hadn’t realized, you know. I knew that I hadn’t gone crazy, then I knew that in some ways it had been the most real and true thing I’d ever experienced. But just as I said I didn’t know where to go from there. I didn’t know where to turn. Suddenly there was this Japanese 13th century master who just knew, he knew of it, and he was talking from it. So not only were there people who knew about it but there were people who knew how to inhabit it and sort of stay in some ways stay there. So the next morning I got myself trained in Zen meditation. Now actually, it wasn’t very easy for me because I was so grateful to TM, I’d been doing it for five years by then, all the good things that have started to start come into my life have come from really picking up the meditation. But once I’d done one period of what they call Zazen, or sitting Zen, and by the way Zen the word just really means something like meditative absorption, it means something like that – it comes from the Sanskrit word Dhyana. And once I’d done it I just, I just sort of knew I’ve got to do this. And so I started, I started doing that on a regular basis. And sure enough, you know, it turned out that there was a path, you know, beyond what I’d experienced on the beach as a 19-year-old. There was more to discover. And not only that, but there was a way of the great work of sort of going further in it but also integrating it into daily life so that it could actually start to be present all the time. Which, well for a long, time seemed totally impossible to me. Even when I was in Zen training I thought there’s no way. This is one of those rare moments, then known as Kensho in Zen, seeing your original reality, or something like that, seeing your original nature, they’re far too overwhelming, you couldn’t possibly sort of inhabit them. And in a sense, that might be true. But gradually, gradually we can come to feel its sense is its presence all the time, and really to start living from that, rather than, like having a sense that there’s two realities. There’s a kind of everyday ordinary reality, and there’s a sort of awakened reality. Gradually the wall between those two, through the training that we do, can come down. And for me that’s been one of the great gifts of Zen, that there really is a path to integrating deep awakening, you know, and being able to live from it and sort of know it all the time, seems to be just the most amazing gift. And that’s the amazing thing. I wouldn’t want really to be devoting my life to anything else now. By the way, I’m sorry, I’m rattling on but, by the way, I stopped writing for quite a while, when I got deeper in Zen. It just was not right anymore and only recently did I come around to accepting that I’d been right in the margins of my life over the last few years and started writing again and a book had formed. And that’s what this recent book, this new book, this soon-to-be book. That’s why that came about. I wanted to talk about the path I’ve been on.
Rick Archer: Yeah, good. So let me just recapitulate some of that maybe summarize a bit. So we talked about all sorts of different, we could say, therapeutic and other technologies of consciousness, we could call them being appropriate for different people, different stages and all that. I think that’s a good thing to keep in mind. So, you know, no one feels like, in fact, someone sent in a question asking Debra from Davis, California, do you believe that authentic Dharma can only be found and practiced within the Sanbo Zen lineage? Well, go ahead, what are you gonna say to that?
Henry Shukman: That’s an easy one? Of course not. Of course not. I think, you know, I would hope that Sanbo Zen is a genuine path, you know, among 1000s, I wouldn’t for a minute assume that was the only one.
Rick Archer: You could get farther out and say among trillions, because there are probably trillions of planets in the universe that are at least as evolved as ours, which isn’t saying much, and they probably have all kinds of different paths that we couldn’t imagine and, but it’s the same ultimate reality. You know.
Henry Shukman: I couldn’t agree more. And you know, there are sutras that say that there are universes where the Dharma is taught exclusively by smell by aromas, incense, and others where it’s taught exclusively by color.
Rick Archer: That’s very interesting. You know what it’s said that you can transcend through any of the senses. That you can imagine them being like spokes radiating out from a hub with the transcendent being the hub, and you can follow any spoke down to it’s down to the hub. And so that would mean visual means olfactory or auditory. Auditory actually is a thinking, is said to be a subtler aspect of the sense of hearing. And so we’re, you know, kind of more familiar with the subtle aspect of hearing than we are the subtle aspects of any other senses and that’s why a sort of a mantra type thing and can be an easy meditation for anyone to learn.
Henry Shukman: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. And, you know, we would say I mean, the Zen Koans that we study in our lineage are often sort of records of people coming to awakening, or dialogues that triggered awakening. Usually, somewhere in them always there’s awakening. And it can be by various sense, there’s one Koan where 16 people get in a in a hot tub together and they all awaken spontaneously. The feel of the water and that sense of the tactile sense triggered it. And absolutely, I mean, one way that we could look at it is that every single phenomenon is well, one teacher in our lineage, the important Roshi in the lineage said, you know, imagine a ruler, you know, like in a classroom, it’s got centimeters and inches and little markings, you know, half an inch, quarter-inch, an eighth, sixteenth, thirty second – all along, all this information. That’s like the world of phenomena, all these separate phenomena, individuated phenomena and you turn over the ruler and it’s blank. And that’s one metaphor used for awakening to infinite empty oneness, that any phenomenon is a manifestation of infinite empty oneness. And it’s the infinite empty oneness is actually completely manifesting as that phenomenon. There’s a grain of rice or, you know, or a thought even or a touch on the skin or a sound. So when we awaken – there’s a famous story of a Zen master who had tried, an old Chinese master who had tried to get somewhere in a monastery and hadn’t got anywhere in his practice or felt he hadn’t got anywhere. And he went off and became an itinerant laborer it’s called kilgen. And at a certain point, he was sweeping, he was taking care of a shrine, and he was sweeping out the yard and a little piece of tile got stuck in his broom and flicked up and hit against a bamboo stalk in a big Chinese bamboo. And as it knocked the bamboo, he heard that little ‘tok’ knock. At that sound, everything fell away and he awakened and as he said, he thought he saw his original face. And so …
Rick Archer: I think that when the time is ripe anything can trigger it, you know, the smell of a bus exhaust or whatever it could be, that could be the impetus.
Henry Shukman: Exactly, exactly. For me, that first experience, it was the sparkle of sunlight on the ocean.
Rick Archer: There you go,
Henry Shukman: suddenly it became inseparable. But when we become inseparable from one phenomenon, we’re actually becoming inseparable from all phenomena, because all phenomena share that same inseparability, that same infinite empty oneness, all phenomena share it. So, of course, that includes us. So, when we become one with something in a moment like that, whatever it may be, we become one with everything.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I will refrain from telling the joke about the Buddhist monk who goes to a hot dog vendor. Everyone’s heard that joke. But actually, there’s a second part of the joke which people may not have heard, which is he hands the guy a twenty and isn’t offered any change. He said, ‘well, where’s my change/’ And the hot dog vendor said, ‘change has to come from within’. Anyway, a couple of other things to recapitulate here. So we were talking about integration. And, you know, I think that there’s a lot, there’s several factors with that. I mean, one thing we’re talking about here is actually a neuro physiological transformation not just a change in consciousness or something. I mean, they’ve done long-term studies on various types of meditation practitioners and found that the structure and function of the brain change profoundly over time, but not overnight. So, there has to be a neuro physiological integration and probably many, many other things. Any aspect of our life, you know, has to kind of come into line with the awakening consciousness that we, you know, we hope to culture. And if anything gets too out of line with other things, then there can be very lopsided development, which can actually turn out to be kind of dangerous.
Henry Shukman: Yes, I would agree with that entirely. And I think I fell afoul of that as a young man. And the way I would see it now is that we keep doing gradual, gradual practice gradual cultivation, you know, we keep at it. And we’ll have threshold moments where subterranean work has been sufficiently done that we are not yet aware of it because it’s been just under the surface somehow of our experience. But we’ve done enough work and suddenly we sort of, something drops away, and things get clearer in a new way. And then we just have to do a whole lot more work again. The way I experienced that in my long-term Zen training was that I was doing this Koan study where you work week after week with a teacher. There are these are classic collections of Koans and you kind of I mean, often I felt, often there was, you know, it’s very nice, but not like huge revelatory moments just kind of little shifts and subtle shifts and things. But, every so often, something sort of bigger would kind of happen and I’d sort of see something new that I hadn’t opened to before. But then that wasn’t it yet, because for a long time, in spite of having some awakening experiences, I was still, you know, the old habit patterns were very much enforced still. So practice could help but I would still oscillate between kind of basically one way of being, being caught by old patterns and another being where I was much freer and more open and more generally, more loving, actually, and sort of kinder and more at peace, but sort of flip-flopping back and forth. And I didn’t know that it was really possible for someone like me to ever get free of that in a significant way. I just didn’t believe that that was going to happen for me. I could see that in some ways it had for my teachers but somehow I thought I’m just sort of too messed up. It’s okay, I’ve got a lot of benefit from it, it’s very nice but I’m going to be like this. And I hadn’t imagined that something else could happen. There was a deeper kind of experience where it really did make a thorough difference. Everything fell away in one moment on retreat.
Rick Archer: This was at Johns center in England, was it?
Henry Shukman: Yes, that’s right while I was on a retreat with him at a Catholic retreat center where we held retreats.
Rick Archer: There was a phrase you wrote about that you said, ‘It was as if a flash bomb had gone off in my skull and that’s what it suddenly illuminated ‘No me’. The idea of me had been just that, an idea. Now it had burst like a bubble.
Henry Shukman: Well, actually, Rick, I’m sorry.
Rick Archer: Was that the wrong quote?
Henry Shukman: That was an earlier one.
Rick Archer: Earlier one, all right, all right.
Henry Shukman: That was that was one where I had a very clear, strong sort of realization that I had made myself up, you know. But that wasn’t enough. you know, a year later, I was still kind of struggling with some of the issues I still had. The moment I’m talking about was maybe some years later or after that.
Rick Archer: Oh okay, which, which I found a little puzzling. I mean I was reading along your book, and I’ve gotten through quite a few chapters, and you’re doing really well and then you somehow ended up on some beach in the Caribbean and you’re doing cocaine, drinking, smoking, and all that. And how could he do that? After all that spiritual practice? I mean, did you sort of experience a major relapse or something? Or was it just some of crazy phase you went through? And then you know got out of it again? Or what?
Henry Shukman: Yeah, no, I think that was an example of when, you know, I’d had this experience of sort of ‘no me’ and it was wonderful. But, at that time, I didn’t have a teacher, I didn’t have a sangha, I was, I was just a meditator you know. And I just didn’t know how to integrate that. And I was, you know, still working on being a successful writer, or at least, you know, making my living from it. And that took a lot of effort and a fair amount of stress. And I just didn’t know what to do next. And so I yeah, I got sort of quite lost around that time. And it was only a few years after that that I started to realize I’ve got to have a teacher. For me, you know, I’m sure that’s not true for everybody but for me, I just had to come under the sort of shelter of a safe teacher, you know. I was a very skeptical, rebellious kind of guy and I didn’t really like teachers, I didn’t really want to be in trusting myself to anybody.
Rick Archer: A lot of people say you should just be your own guru and the age of teachers is over and all that stuff. But I think what you’re saying here is that for you, at least, and we can consider whether it might be more universal, having proper guidance could be a safeguard on the path, prevent you from screwing up in various ways if you had the proper feedback and knowledge and so on?
Henry Shukman: Yeah, it certainly was for me. It was invaluable when I finally was able to sort of accept somebody and trust them, just enough to lead me further in practice. And it was definitely about not screwing up and not going astray and stuff, but also about just knowing that there’s more, there’s further to go. See, if you have a real awakening experience it’s everything. You know it’s all – you’ve seen it all, you’ve discovered it all, there’s nothing left out, you know. There’s nothing more if it’s a real experience. So how can there be more, but actually there is. You’ll only know that, at least I only knew that from the guidance of teachers who have been where I’ve been and knew there was further to go. And they were right. And like I said, I never thought I’d get there. But actually, I was wrong. There was finally a moment when basically just everything vanished, everything collapsed, everything was gone. Not just the world was gone. And somehow there’s still a witness to it, not just the self is gone and the world’s somehow still there but everything. It was really like a death. I think the only, the best way I could frame it these days, I sort of think that it was really like dying. I mean, I don’t know, I haven’t died yet that way.
Rick Archer: That was the thing in the Zendo in England with John.
Henry Shukman: Yes, exactly.
Rick Archer: I think just yeah talk about that a little bit. I mean it’s worth describing. You stayed up all night, and then you had this tremendous shift and things were never the same since. Might be worth elaborating on that.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. Well, I mean, I often stayed up all night on Zen retreats. If it gets smooth and deep, it’s just such a joy to keep sitting, you know. But anyway, on one of these retreats I was sitting through the night riding this lovely deep current of energy, getting into very deep states. And then suddenly, it was very, very clear that, you know, basically, again ‘no me’ at all. There’s seeing, there’s hearing, there’s breathing, there’s feeling now and again, a thought, but there’s no one to whom they’re happening. They’re just arising and it’s very, very beautiful. And there’s nothing in the middle. That space in the middle where the presumed me would be sitting is just a space, just a space and so, so beautiful. And I went to see my teacher in the next day, just to sort of check in with him. And he just, he just sort of sat with me a moment he said something, and then – I can’t talk about it very clearly because everything was sort of annihilated. There was just nothing, just nothing and I don’t know what really happened. But I sort of, I didn’t black out, it wasn’t like I sort of fainted or something, there was just nothing. And I kind of, as it were, came around on the floor of the room, lying down crying and laughing, and sort of felt the world starting to sort of reform, great pieces of realities that are moving around in a kind of, I don’t know, multi-dimensional kaleidoscope very strange. And then gradually everything emerged again and it was new, it was just totally new and everything actually has been a little different ever since then. And that’s what changed everything for me.
Rick Archer: Do you still feel that there’s ‘no me’?
Henry Shukman: I don’t really care anymore.
Rick Archer: But do you feel that caring or not caring? Do you still have any sense of a personal self?
Henry Shukman: Yes, sometimes it comes up a bit, you know and all I really care about is the vast beauty at the heart of each moment, the vast love that’s creating the moment always so that it’s just such a marvel. But if there’s a sense of self it might come for a bit and then I see it and it’s gone and there’s just a great openness and a great sense of inclusiveness.
Rick Archer: Inclusiveness, this is a good word because I get a little stuck on this whole sense of no self thing, or no sense of self thing. I sometimes wonder well, is it something I haven’t experienced yet? But on the other hand, yeah, so it’s possible. Irene said, ‘plenty I haven’t experienced’. Or is it that I don’t understand what people mean by it because if I whacked my thumb with a hammer, it’s happening. There’s a, you know, I care about it more than I would care about whacking a stone with a hammer. I feel it and you don’t feel it down there in New Mexico. There’s a sort of a localization of the experience which, you know, I would rather avoid, because of the pain. And yet, at the same time, I experience, perhaps even under those circumstances, but under ordinary circumstances, a level of, we could say silence, which is impersonal, you know, which is not a me. There’s a sense of being no one nowhere and yet, at the same time, a sense of being everywhere. And still, at the same time, a sense of being here, it’s me, I’m right here. I’m doing this, I’m talking to you. So there’s kind of this multi-dimensional thing. But I don’t know if that’s how that compares with these people who insist that all sense of a personal self has fallen away. I just, it’s hard for me to understand exactly what they’re experiencing.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, well, I mean, you know, here we are sitting and talking to each other. It’s very, very nice. Actually, I like it. I’m enjoying it very much and there can be a great sense of space. There just isn’t someone in that space.
Rick Archer: There is.
Henry Shukman: It’s a great space.
Rick Archer: Yes.
Henry Shukman: You know, and that’s lovely. I mean, that might be a dimension of it. Maybe there’s more than one way of experiencing no self. Sometimes you get hit with a hammer, and there’s no reaction. There’s no self reacting to it. There’s pain and it’s not a problem. Sometimes that can be the case. And you know, so there’s sometimes we have, I don’t know, I feel um – there’s a great famous Zen master called Rinzai and he said, of his teaching, he said, ‘Sometimes I take away the person and I leave the world. Sometimes I take away the world and leave the person. Sometimes I take away both the world and the person. And sometimes I leave both the person and the world’.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that makes sense.
Henry Shukman: And they’re all good.
Rick Archer: So it just goes through different phases where one or another quality is predominant.
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes. And you know, he might have been talking about realization experiences that make a big difference.
Rick Archer: But he keeps talking about just going through a normal day and you know, some things move to the forefront and others to the back according to what the circumstances demand, or is it?
Henry Shukman: Exactly I think a great flexibility about it is healthy. And you know, and there’s a danger of people getting stuck on I don’t have a self. And then they’re actually doing things sort of, you know, that was seem to suggest they do. But yeah we’ve seen that a lot in spiritual communities. And so I think a level of humility about it is, is really smart. And I don’t I mean, I don’t feel my training is over. It’s ongoing and I’m very happy that I’m part of a lineage that keeps checking up on its teachers. Every year we gather for a teacher’s retreat. You know, we’re all we’re all accountable and answerable to that. And I think there’s a, you know, there is a risk of sort of being, you know, we’re almost attached to no self. And that’s self can creep in in all kinds of subtle ways.
Rick Archer: Yeah there’s like eight pages of notes here. And I can’t just pop to the thing that – but there was something in your notes where you talked about not kind of rigidly glomming on to any particular perspective. I think it was in the epilogue where you went through about seven different concluding points, and one of them had to do with not fixating on any one particular perspective, you remember that?
Henry Shukman: Well, I know that I feel that way. Because I felt that one of the things I love about being in a practice is that things keep changing. I’ll have some sort of minor experience or shifts as ah, yeah, yeah, yeah this is how it is, this is how it is, and 10 days later, no, it’s something totally different. And when I’m really practicing well there just isn’t a place to stay. You know, there isn’t a sort of fixed viewpoint to stay in at all. It’s just one ongoing marvel of arising and passing and changing. Just constant change here and now. It’s deeply exhilarating, and full of a kind of love. It’s sort of, I feel love is a key ingredient for me, of the whole thing, even though I’m talking about this, you know, nothing, that might sound really nihilistic. But it’s not, it’s the most amazing thing. I actually used to be quite nihilistic, you know. I’d get depression and then, after that experience, it sort of blew out my nihilism. It was like sort of dropping into nothing exploded all nihilism. It’s a paradox.
Rick Archer: Interesting.
Henry Shukman: But it seems very clear to me that that would be the case, because thereafter really, everything’s being born now, now, now. For a long time, I felt that that moment, didn’t stop. It was just always right here. And now I’ve sort of I think I’ve gone beyond that now, finally moved beyond. And I feel that every moment is its own universe rising, rising, rising. And I’m always keenly aware of that and if I remember, I can usually tune into that at the drop of a hat.
Rick Archer: I think you need to be always keenly aware of it, it’s sort of like some people seem to feel or talk as though they think that remembering awareness all the time is going to somehow help to retain it, you know, pure awareness. But I think that it gets really rooted in your neurophysiology to the extent that you don’t have to think about it and thinking about it is not going to help you retain it. It might actually divide the mind. Kind of like you take a shower in the morning, you don’t have to think about how clean you are all day long in order to enjoy the benefits of the shower. It’s just kind of automatic.
Henry Shukman: I totally agree. And that would be very consistent with what Zen is trying to take us towards. In a state where well, one master he said, this is like another metaphor, he talked about, we’re living in a room made of opaque glass and when we have a moment of Kensho, or awakening, it’s like a hole is knocked through one of the walls of that glass room and more light comes in. And then we start doing, after that we can start doing Koan training because the Koans are all, you sort of have to have had a glimpse to do Koans and, so after that, we might start Koan training. And at a certain point, we will be enlarging that hole. Or maybe we blow out another hole or there’s a little hole made and various little holes in this wall and gradually the wall the glass walls are getting a little bit lighter and lighter and there can come a time where there’s been enough holes blasted through these walls, that they lose their structural integrity, and they fall down. And at that point, we realize that the world sort of, of awakening the world of infinite empty oneness, and this ordinary everyday world, the world that we had thought of as the world of deluded living, you know, dualistic living, we realize that they’ve never been separate. And that that’s what I think is the great blessing, though, we don’t have to worry about a thing. We don’t have to try to be too spiritual. And if you’re trying to be awakened, no, we’re just this, this is it.
Rick Archer: Be natural,
Henry Shukman: Just be natural. This is it. Here, now. There’s nothing more. It’s a marvel. This is all.
Rick Archer: Just as natural as breathing. I mean, you know, that takes care of itself, the heart beats automatically, you don’t have to attend to those things. So, you know.
Henry Shukman: That’s right.
Rick Archer: And so it’s a little paradoxical because, on the one hand, practice has its value. And it does produce these incremental changes in our whole makeup physiologically and psychologically and everything else. But the changes as they get integrated, we’ve talked about integration, become more and more and more stable, and it just becomes more second nature to function in a way that we could previously only have a glimpse of under certain special conditions. Eventually, it just becomes a continuum under any conditions.
Henry Shukman: Exactly. I couldn’t agree with you more. One thing we might add to that is our orientation can really change. That might be one of the things that is different, is that we we’re, I mean, to the best of my humble ability, I’m much less concerned with Henry, actually, than I used to be. I’d be very much more caught up, I mean, I’ve got a long way to go, I’m sure and I hope I’m humble about it, but I’m trying. Much more of my life seems to be, much more of my energy and time seems to be happily expended toward the wellbeing of others now and I’m really not so caught up in Henry’s. I’m learning actually that I have to take care of myself, I think I had a few years where I didn’t really think about myself at all and started to get a bit a bit unbalanced and tired and I’m trying to correct that now. And so to do enough self-care but it’s really only so that I can really be helping others effectively, you know. And I think that that would be another side of no self. Are we working for ourselves or is it more important and really joyous to be, you know, working on behalf of others? Seems, just seems so much more the right thing to do.
Rick Archer: Yeah, so we won’t be see you establishing Henryianity anytime soon?
Henry Shukman: Henry what?
Rick Archer: Henryianity you know like Christianity.
Henry Shukman: (Laughing) Exactly, exactly. Well, I mean, that’s one of the nice things about being in a lineage as well, is that, you know, it’s not my teaching, you know. I’m trying to manifest it in Henry’s way but it’s not coming from Henry,
Rick Archer: What you’re saying here is very relevant, I think, to this topic of no self. It’s more like we shift more and more to a perspective where we are kind of a sense organ and an organ of action of the infinite rather than just being a sort of bound, isolated unit that’s just sort of functioning independent of the totality. You know what I mean? And so there’s a sense of that, more and more, I think we shift to not really holding the reins of the chariot, but something bigger holding the reins, and we’re just sort of along for the ride, serving in whatever way we’re designed to serve.
Henry Shukman: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I aspire to that. In an our Zen tradition, we talk about the Bodhisattva Kenzan who’s a sort of, such a great compassionate force in the world so to speak. And that we aspire to becoming Kenzan’s agents, Kenzan’s hands and eyes, you know responding where there’s need the way that is appropriate for us to do. We aspire to that.
Rick Archer: A question just came in that kind of relates to what we’re talking about in terms of heart and in service. and selflessness and, and all that. And in fact, just coincidentally, there is that term Seva in Sanskrit, which means selfless service and you serve in a way that sort of puts aside your individual cares and concerns and enables you to practice being an agent of something bigger. But a question came in from Jeff Hunt from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who asks ‘Henry, it’s Jeff Hunt, if you remember me. Some people think of Zen and Zen practice as a bit cold, but you don’t describe it that way. Do you feel that specific heart practice is helpful? I just find myself at times almost on the verge of tears, but it doesn’t feel bad. It feels right. And I wonder about deliberate attempt at cultivation of the heart’.
Henry Shukman: Well, I’m sure that’s a good idea. I mean, I understand what Jeff’s talking about, ‘Hi Jeff’. My own first impression of Zen was rather forbidding and something rather forbidding and kind of cold. And I found …
Rick Archer: There are wild stories in Zen about people cutting their arms off in order to prove their, that guy who cut his eyelids off I mean. These characters who were not, you know like warm, fuzzy guys.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, I know. I mean they’re examples, well, we could go into that. But I quite agree. And it could, you know, just going into a Zendo can be quite austere.
Rick Archer: Austere yeah, but beautiful.
Henry Shukman: Well it is beautiful. And I felt, somehow something clicked early on, I was going to this Zen monastery, I was always scared when I went there and my heart would sink when I walked up the driveway for a retreat. But at some point I just, I don’t know, luckily found that underneath the formality all it was a warm heart. And when I found that in myself, I found it in it. And I realized that this is what this is for. So I just got lucky there. But having said that, I mean, you know, like I said, the dreamwork that I did, I cried gallons of tears through that dreamwork. Like all kinds of heart healing went on and heart opening went on that, you know, this was while I was in a deep Zen training. So I don’t feel, I think multiple valences are a good idea for some of us, and having kind of, you know, outriggers to the main hull of our practice in life, if you see what I mean, can be really helpful. So we’ve got, you know, we may feel that our main practice is x, but we need an outrigger, you know, for a while on our hull, I think it’s a really good idea. And I think it’s true that Zen and actually generally Mahayana practices don’t do a whole lot of cultivating loving kindness that you find in for example Vipassana Theravada Buddhist practice, but I think it’s all good. I think there’s nothing wrong with doing that at all. I think we should do whatever opens our hearts. Something I haven’t really said very clearly that I would like to, maybe this is the moment to if it’s okay, it’s just, it’s all about love. The whole thing is about love. I was talking about those levels earlier, you know. You could look at them as from the perspective of love. The first level, the psychological is self-love is opening up, how to love ourselves. Many of us need that, you know. We’ve lived with shame, we live with all kinds of, you know, oppressive ideas and what we need to be, how we’ve got to prove ourselves. Many, you know, other people have different issues and a lot of anxiety and stuff. When we see those patterns and from a clear perspective – you know pain, it’s painful to realize that’s what we’ve been doing and it should melt the heart. And when we’re really starting to heal we know it because we feel a wave of self-love, a flood of self-love comes up. I can love this being you know. Of course I must love this being really. It’s my responsibility to love this being and that will affect how we interact with others and more love for them. We’re getting to the archetypal level which I know best from dream works and some amount of shamanic work, you know, it’s always about you know, entities that are trying to love us. And there may be some that aren’t that we need to get disengaged from but we’re looking for the ones that are bringing love, a greater love, a bigger love. And if we get down to you know, the sort of dismantling the self level of practice, you know, seeing the light starts to break in, the love starts to break and the dis- identifying starts to happen, and that opens up love. If we get down right down to awakening, I mean, for many the awakening experience will be that experience of great oneness, a oneness that is all, that we’re a part of. And that’s, that’s a tremendous feeling of love that that brings. And then, if you go, you know from Zen view might be that you can go deeper than that to this, this zero, this absolute zero, but that absolute zero is giving everything, is when we find it as an experience not so much as an idea but as an experience. We know it’s giving everything. It’s one generosity, one infinite, boundless generosity. And that is an overwhelming love, you know. And so I think my takeaway from my practice thus far, is that it’s always about love.
Rick Archer: You know that line from the 23rd psalm ‘My cup runneth over’. I think that it’s a beautiful metaphor but I think that at a certain point we start to run over to, you know, the love inside or the bliss inside starts to just spillover through everything we do.
Henry Shukman: Yes.
Rick Archer: Yeah, and it can be very effective at changing circumstances in the world without actually having to tinker with the circumstances specifically. I’ll give you an example. You know, I have this fanatical obsession with pickleball. I’ve mentioned it in some interviews. So there was a situation where someone organized a group of people to play pickleball together and excluded me because I don’t know, they didn’t like me, or they didn’t like the way I played or something else. But I felt like I really fit into that group, based upon my particular skill level. And I was tempted to say something to her do something like that, you know, feeling kind of grumbly about it. But I thought, no, I’m just going to feel love for this person and appreciation. And if I actually do interact with her, be very friendly and normal and not resentful in any way. And sure enough, after a while, it’s like, ‘Hey, Rick, would you like to join this group?’ You know, it just kind of came around?
Henry Shukman: Very happy for you. But you know, yes. I mean, I think this, oh, man, this feeling, this is another aspect of no self. The less self the more that original love just wells up and wells up and there’s no self to get in its way.
Rick Archer: Yeah, Lord, let me be an instrument of thy peace. St. Francis. Make me an instrument of peace. Good. Well, good, continue.
Henry Shukman: Well, I was just gonna say somehow, I wanted to just touch on the Koans again, because they’re all they’re all helping us to come back to this boundlessness that is boundlessly giving and boundlessly loving. And they’re very interesting actually because they, I find them fascinating. But they’re little, tiny anecdotes of things that were said or done or both by very deeply enlightened masters, mostly from Tang Dynasty, China, which was that very period of the wandering poets I was talking about earlier. That was an amazing period of Chinese history when it was, awakening was sort of deep in the spirit of the society at that time. It was sort of a known thing, though. Zen masters and Zen monasteries were flourishing. They were called Chan in Chinese terminology. But yeah, go ahead.
Rick Archer: I was just gonna say, to give us some examples, like we’ve all heard ‘sound of one hand clapping’ or ‘does a dog have Buddha nature?’ ‘What was your original face before your parents were born?’ Those are, to my recollection, some examples of Koan’s just so people know what you’re talking about.
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes, exactly. And another famous one would be ‘What is Buddha and the master answers dried shit stick?’ They used to use, they called it a shit stick in the medieval Chinese privy.
Rick Archer: To clean it out or something?
Henry Shukman: To clean themselves. Yeah
Rick Archer: To clean themselves? I shouldn’t think a stick would be very effective but go on, we don’t need to go into the details of that.
Henry Shukman: They would also say ‘what is Buddha, what is the deepest reality? Also shit stick.
Rick Archer: So, so what do you do with that if you’re going to work on that Koan? How do you work on it? Yeah, how does it actually help?
Henry Shukman: Good question. Well, what you do is it’s a little bit mantra like or it can be. You take it into your practice into your sitting, and you just repeat it, and you might repeat it a few times. Or you might, and then sort of drop it and just sit in a sort of general open awareness. Or you might work on it more assiduously, keep working on it and Koans have this amazing ability to sort of, to open us up. And will have what initially is a sort of just nonsensical, meaningless thing to be doing, at a certain point, sooner or later will become, really will open up a beautiful sense of expansiveness. And sort of our sense of what we are becoming vast, it may become like that, you know, and then somehow this strange little phrase is at the heart of that, and it’s kind of holding all of that. And then we have to go to the teacher with a Koan and we have to do this even stranger thing that we call presenting the Koan. We have to do something, and the Koan, each one has a particular traditional presentation, a thing it makes us do. But there’s, there’s some that have multiple presentations, but typically, there’s one and, you know, it just comes bubbling up that we sort of do something. And when we do it in front of the teacher, you know, there’s an incredible kind of connection, and sort of opening together through the Koan.
Rick Archer: Do you end up coming up with an answer that you can explain, like, what was the question on that one? What is the Buddha or something?
Henry Shukman: Yeah, what is the Buddha?
Rick Archer: Alright, so I mean, if I were to logically think about that, and, you know, and I think, okay, well ultimately, a dried shit stick which is one of the most, you know, kind of an example of something offensive that we wouldn’t really want to have much proximity to, is the same ultimate Buddhahood, or reality or, you know, pure consciousness or whatever that everything else is. And so, if you can see it in that you can see it in everything. I mean, is that the way you would come you would present it? Or is that like, too intellectual? Or?
Henry Shukman: Well, that might be a way we might explain it. And that’s sort of you’re on to it but there’s still this key piece. The first thing we have to do when we meet is present. And that is, it’s a dynamic, gestural you know, sometimes verbal, but it’s sort of, it’s non-conceptual. It’s a sort of, it’s a thing that the Koan makes us do. That brings the Koan to life. The Koan wants to sort of live in us and use us to present itself. So you could almost say it that way. Maybe that sounds a bit strange. But they but they basically, because they have a presentation, they’re sort of bypassing the conceptual faculty. And that’s, maybe we would, we might say that by doing that time and time again, with many different Koans , all from the lives of these Enlightened Masters maybe that is how the awakening that we’d already had, in order to be able to do any Koans, that awakening is starting to permeate our being in a nonintellectual way. And, so you know, that’s how it’s sort of growing in us to the point where it may ultimately become pervasive.
Rick Archer: So different ones enliven different channels, you could say, or different faculties that might be latent, and could be enlivened.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, I think, I think so. And they’re coming, each one is a sort of whole universe, and each one has its own perspective.
Rick Archer: That reminds me of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, where there’s all these different sutras and they’re and you’re supposed to do Sanyama on them, which is Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi together and it’s said, to sort of enliven different facets of your makeup and culture different qualities or abilities.
Henry Shukman: Yes, it might be analogous to that. Yes.
Rick Archer: Interesting. There’s a couple things we’ve been talking about that I want to loop back to. But first here’s a nice question from Michelle Romaro from Keene, New Hampshire. ‘Hi Henry, what do you advise when one has a perceptual shift/glimpse/opening wherein there is a shift from me to the experience of a direct witnessing/knowing that was present briefly, leaving a sense of grief/loss after it left. (A lot of slashes here) How to integrate without grasping while being aware that energetic changes continue to unfold’.
Henry Shukman: That’s a beautiful question I sort of, I can resonate with that.
Rick Archer: You can describe something like that already in your own your own experience.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, I love that. I mean the first thing I think is trust the yearning, trust the sense of lost, trust, the grief. I would weep now. I would just cry. And I just trust the process you know. There’s never absence. That beautiful, witnessing consciousness that’s not so personally identified or so personally concentrated or even constrained is more. It’s a loving, witnessing consciousness or awareness. I mean, that’s always here. So how can we trust when we only taste it? How marvelous it is, How relieving it is, but it’s, then it’s gone. Trust that it’s always here and that you’re in a process and that the grieving and the yearning for it is part of the process. And then you just have to trust what shows up in your life that might offer guidance. You know, and some people, I don’t know what to say about practice or not, you know, for me, it’s been about practice. Practice has been an arena in which so much could take place. By practice I mean, formal meditation practice has been a sort of zone, a stage or an arena where all kinds of growth could happen that probably I don’t think, for me, would be as likely to happen had I not taken up formal regular practice. And ultimately, that was formal, regular practice with guidance, very ongoing guidance, and with community. But I know that’s not what everybody is drawn to, and it’s not what everybody needs. I must say wasn’t particularly drawn to it myself, but I really needed it. And so, you know, Michelle might look for opportunities for practice, I mean, the old Buddhist formula is that you need three things, Buddha, Dharma Sangha. Sangha is community, Dharma is teaching and Buddha is, well, perhaps it’s your meditation practice, it can come to mean other things. So not everybody I’m sure would feel they do need all those three things. But if you could explore it. And the main thing is, trust it. Trust what happened to you. Trust the grief, trust the yearning that is in that. And don’t worry too much. It’s okay. Something real happened.
Rick Archer: Did you ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers?
Henry Shukman: Yes, I think I did. They talked about like, oh, 10,000 hours.
Rick Archer: You know, Bill Gates, The Beatles, he gave several examples of people who had excelled in their field and he, you know, discussed how they had put in at least 10,000 hours of practice to get that good.
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes yes, I know. Yeah I think that’s probably true. You know, I know you might, you might well agree with me. You’ve probably done more than 10,000 hours I’m sure Rick. You’ve done, you’ve been meditating at least as long as I have probably, I don’t know, maybe …
Rick Archer: Two or three hours a day for 51 years, I could do the math.
Henry Shukman: It’s a goodly amount.
Rick Archer: I think I figured it out once. It was about six years with my eyes closed if you add it up. Time well spent. I want to, a few things I want to look back to when we’re talking about the blossoming of love and devotion and my cup runneth over. I think that there are different, you would agree with this, I think that there are different degrees or stages of awakening, perhaps many of them, and I think many of them may correspond to different faculties. So for instance, you know, there could be an awakening that kind of, if we think in terms of chakras, that could be one that corresponds to the head, you know, the head chakra and then maybe the intellect or whatever. And there could be another, maybe later on, or maybe before I don’t know, which corresponds to the heart chakra. So there are these different sort of areas of our makeup that could predominate in terms of their enlightenment when one or another degree of awakening or stage of awakening occurs. Do you agree with that?
Henry Shukman: Yeah, I think, you know, in Zen we’re a little sparing. I haven’t been today but typically we’re a bit sparing with the term awakening. And so I would understand it more easily as different levels of realizing stuff and releasing stuff that happens on different levels. Like to do, I don’t know whether this is quite on track with what you’re talking about, but for example, Cognitive therapy can be very helpful at a certain time for certain people, where they really track how they’re thinking and how they’re generating, you know, difficult feelings through the way they’re thinking. And to see that we’ve been doing that, to see that, wow, this voice has been running in my mind saying these things, and to be able to disengage from that, you know, that is very helpful for people in doing Cognitive Behavioral therapy, for example. So that would be a moment of sort of realizing a pattern that has been going on and releasing it. And that’s kind of analogous to awakening, you know. And then all the work of the emotional and heart work that we’ve touched on a little bit, you know. That could be analogous that you see, wow, there’s this emotion that I just keep playing in my nervous system and I don’t have to. How interesting, you know, I can just release it. And that can be, you know, a very important thing to discover. And is it awakening? I may not be on track with what you were saying.
Rick Archer: Not quite, but it’s useful.
Henry Shukman: Okay. That for us would not be quite awakening. Awakening is fairly limited in the Zen view to this sort of dropping away of self, enough to taste infinite, empty oneness meaning we may be more on the oneness side, more on the empty side, more on the infinite side, in any one experience. And so …
Rick Archer: Well there are tastes, and then perhaps there’s a continuum. I mean, I presume that, you know there’s all sorts of Zen stories about this or that happening and then the person gets enlightened if we want to use that word, or they awaken presumably, in a stable way, which they don’t lose again. So maybe I should ask, you know, how does Zen or how do you define enlightenment? Is there any sort of ultimate I mean, let’s say the Buddha was the ultimate example of enlightenment. How would you define his state? And presumably, Zen students aspire to that? And do you think the Buddha was still evolving or growing in some way after his enlightenment, and that enlightenment for him was a very significant milestone, but not the end of the journey?
Henry Shukman: Well, there is a saying in Zen that Shakyamuni Buddha himself is still practicing and still only halfway there.
Rick Archer: Interesting. I think during his actual lifetime he continued to practice or so I heard.
Henry Shukman: Yes, I think that’s right. And, I mean, we could there’s a helpful map in Zen known as the ox herding pictures.
Rick Archer: Oh yeah.
Henry Shukman: You know, I won’t go through all of them, you know, but there’s 10 of them. But the third one is called ‘seeing the ox’ and we consider that to be a moment of awakening where you see this sort of other dimensional or multiple dimensions, which is, you know, as I’ve been saying, infinite, empty, one and is right here. And as, and as soon as boundless, boundlessness is right here. So we have a sudden taste of that sudden glimpse of that maybe stronger than taste or glimpse we really drop into it. But it sort of fades, or we could have recongealed from that afterwards as a self. But we know we’ve seen it, we now know the ox is real, there’s really a live animal out there. We haven’t seen the whole ox, but we’ve seen a bit of it. And then the fourth ox herding picture is catching the Ox. And that’s when, you know, it doesn’t have to go away anymore. And that would be in our view, in the Zen that I’ve been trained in, there’s quite a big difference from the third picture to the fourth observing picture. That’s usually a lot of training.
Rick Archer: Decades.
Henry Shukman: Typically, yes, you know, and that’s what we sort of think Koan training is for. It could take you from the third picture where you’ve had a glimpse to the fourth where it’s more stable. But then it goes on. That’s only the fourth of 10 stages. There’s five, six more sort of basically getting more and more refined and more and more, ultimately, to forget about it, actually. Well, not even ultimately, that’s sort of like the seventh picture. I mean, you just forget about it.
Rick Archer: It’s just blank.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, that’s the eighth one actually. Yeah, just blank, you know. And then and then you’re there. The hope is to come back to the marketplace, so called with gift bestowing hands.
Rick Archer: Riding the Ox. Right?
Henry Shukman: Riding the ox is a little bit earlier. They’re all they’ve all got nice things to them. Yeah. But yeah, but you know they always talk about this in Zen, you’ve got to wash it away. A little bit like you were saying earlier, that we want to have, we’ve got to work at it. And we’ve got to do our training. This is Zen view. And, and it can come to the point where various masters, but there could be one master where it’s, it’s we’re okay, we’re over the hump, we’re not going back. It’s, we’re free, we’re significantly free, there may still be traces of habit patterns, and all kinds of stuff because, but it doesn’t really dent it. Something’s done now, what had to be done has been done, as Buddha put it somewhere. That we can really have that as normal people in the 21st century, we can really have that. And even troubled, you know, pretty messed up people like me can have that. It’s actually possible. It is not an unrealistic aspiration but it’s not usually very quick you know. It usually takes an awful lot of work. Some people are lucky, and it takes less. And you know, some people have a third ox herding picture glimpse, easily young, early in life, perhaps that was me. But then look at all of work. I mean, years and years, decades of work before something truly lastingly helpful really could happen, you know – have I gone off topic?
Rick Archer: No, that was good. I think we covered that. I have some more questions. Okay, one question, no need to dwell on this for long as I was just curious. You told me when I was down in New Mexico that you actually still do TM, every day at least once, in addition to your Zen practice and I was just curious. What do you feel you derive from that, that you don’t derive from Zen practice and vice versa?
Henry Shukman: Actually Rick I’m sorry, that was true then, but it’s not true now.
Rick Archer: Okay. Okay.
Henry Shukman: I did it while I, yeah, I have little phases where I might do it once a day. I’m a very bad TM person. I’m sorry.
Rick Archer: That was true in June, you mean, but not now.
Henry Shukman: Exactly.
Rick Archer: Okay. I don’t care whether you do it or not I was just wondering what you felt you got from it. And vice versa?
Henry Shukman: Well, I’ll tell you, to be perfectly honest, I find it’s really helpful with jet lag. I fly to Europe three times a year to teach and I actually really like picking up some TM around flight transcontinental flying. I still find you know that TM can be immediately relaxing in a way that some of my other practices can be but are not so predictable.
Rick Archer: Okay, good we don’t have to go into that anymore. I just was wondering, here’s another little wrap up point that we touched on, I want to go into more deeply. We were talking about perspectives and views and so on and there’s a bit from your book that said, it means that we can’t hold any views at all, we can’t even hold the view that we have no views. Plato said, ‘destroy all hypotheses’. So I wonder if we, for I don’t have a problem with hypotheses if I define hypotheses as sort of ideas that I am still exploring and learning about that I haven’t reached any firm conclusions about and that may never do so in the same sense that science uses the term, you know. Hypotheses don’t become theories until they have accumulated a lot of evidence and even theories are subject to refutation if anomalies are discovered? So and I mean, you must have views, right? Like you would rather your sons get a good education than become drug dealers or something like that. That’s a view. So what was really meant by that little couple of sentences that I read there?
Henry Shukman: Yeah, thank you. I mean maybe that was a view in itself that I was expressing, that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with now. I think in a practical meaning in the level of practice, to have to be willing to not know, to let go of opinions is so beautiful.
Rick Archer: To be not sure of yourself.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, yeah. And just you know, in the moment, you know, just to let go of knowing here and now. Maybe it’s another aspect of the no self thing that we were discussing earlier. When I just stopped knowing it’s beautiful, the world opens up, the moment expands there’s a great hollow that is somehow very full of love in the middle of this moment when we stop knowing. So I see, and maybe we could think of it as a, as a practice-based thing that just to be able to come back to that. And from that, of course, no problem with positing this, positing that, exploring this, exploring that. Let’s explore this idea, it looks quite interesting. But actually to be always able to return at the drop of a hat and not knowing is beautiful. In Buddhism they call it prajna which you know is the word for wisdom. But some teachers pause that out as meaning before knowing the real wisdom, before we know anything, sort of pre-dating everything but right here, right in this moment.
Rick Archer: I think it’s humility really the quality of not insisting that things happen any particular way or that you know things for absolute certain that nothing could upend your certainty, you know your knowledge.
Henry Shukman: I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, it’s funny you say that because I was gonna go on to say, how much that opens up humility.
Rick Archer: Exactly.
Henry Shukman: Yeah and the humility I feel is a sort of, well, cornerstone or something of the whole thing. Because when there’s humility, there’s only a huge, short step to huge gratitude. And when there’s gratitude there’s only a small, tiny step to compassion. You know, and I think somehow those three are a kind of holy triad in practice – humility, gratitude, compassion. And yeah, I think in Zen they’re crucial.
Rick Archer: Another thing I want to get into with you is we were talking about emptiness a little while ago, you know, and that word comes up a lot, nothingness, emptiness, and so on. And in the Vedic tradition they kind of look at it both ways. They say yes, it can be seen as emptiness, Shu Nevada, or it could be seen as fullness, poor Nevada. And when you think about the fecundity of, you know, creation, the huge explosion of creativity and, you know, variety and diversity and complexity, and so on, it’s a little hard to think of that coming out of nothing. Although there are two – there is a Upanishadic story where, you know, the teacher tells the student to go and get him a, what was it, some kind of nut or something and then to bring it to him and he brings it. He then says, ‘crack it open’. So he cracks it open. ‘So what do you see inside?’ ‘Nothing’. And so the whole, oh Banyan seed, that’s was it was a Banyan seed, so this whole banyan tree, vast tree comes out of that nothingness. So you can kind of flip back and forth. And physics says that in a cubic centimeter of empty space, there is more energy than there is in the entire manifest universe so there’s an example of fullness. And yet there’s nothing there so there’s an example of emptiness. That’s interesting to play with.
Henry Shukman: Well, I think you’ve said it so beautifully. I agree with all of that. And because this experience of emptiness is also an experience of just utter completeness, and utter fullness and utter generosity, it sort of says that. Emptiness is a terrible word, actually, it’s a really misleading word. And I was using the word nothing earlier, that also is a totally misleading word. It’s true in a way, we can kind of get to the end, so to speak, where there just isn’t anything. But to think of that as a nothingness is quite wrong. So as a concept it’s not that useful, because it seems to imply nothing. Well, in a way, that’s right, but as an experience that very nothing is absolutely everything. And you’re fecundity, that infinite creativity that is exactly right. One analogy they sometimes use is the mirror that, you know, the mirror sort of has no characteristics, you know, really nice, good mirror. It just shows what appears. In itself it has no characteristics at all.
Rick Archer: Yet it’s, in a way, it’s the source of all characteristics, because it can reflect anything.
Henry Shukman: Exactly. It allows anything, everything and anything is allowed to show itself in the mirror but it itself is without characteristic.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So perhaps we could say then inherent within or latent within the ground state of the universe, if we want to call it that, and this is, again, something a physicist would say, is all the laws of nature, all the impulses of intelligence, or what have you, that end up sort of becoming more and more manifest and give rise to the whole universe?
Henry Shukman: Yes and again, I loved what you said about the cubic centimeter of space.
Rick Archer: Yeah, the vacuum state, not just the gross level, but at the level of the vacuum state, it’s said that just even a tiny bit of any place in the whole universe contains more latent or unmanifest energy than is expressed in the whole manifest universe.
Henry Shukman: Well that’s so resonant with what I’ve experienced is this nothing it’s just unbelievably powerful. It’s sort of bursting forth all the time but it’s amazing how, when it’s bursting forth, it’s producing it, everything’s arising, its producing everything, and at the same time, we can actually see in certain kind of experience that everything that’s arising from it is still it. In other words it’s still empty. It’s so solid, real, and also so empty, and real, on that level as well. So that’s, that’s wonderful.
Rick Archer: Yeah, yeah.
Henry Shukman: Thank you.
Rick Archer: So I’ve heard you say that you’re an atheist. But for the past five minutes we’ve been talking about my understanding of God. Which is, I mean, and let’s just dwell on this a little bit more. I mean, if you take a single cell in your fingertip, I know you’re fond of Japan, you go over there a lot, that single cell is more complex than the city of Tokyo. And despite its microscopic size, and it can repair and replicate itself, and it’s only one of maybe as many as 100 trillion cells that make up our body. And that’s just our body. And then we can keep on going out. I mean, a single cubic is, what is that a gram of hydrogen, if you make the atoms in it the size of unpopped popcorn kernels, those popcorn kernels would bury the continental United States nine miles deep. And yet, each one of those little atoms in that gram is a perfectly functioning little thing and is completely coordinated in terms of its influence with all the other gazillion atoms in that gram. So, to my way of seeing things, the universe is this sort of vast incomprehensibly, complex, creative expression that is so far from random or accidental that it’s ridiculous to use those words. And it’s seamless in terms of the intelligence which permeates and orchestrates it. There are no gaps, so that intelligence is omnipresent and you’ll find it wherever you look, throughout the universe, if you just look closely and sensitively. And I’ve said enough. You get where I’m going with this.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, yeah. Well, I love what you’re saying. I mean, what you’re describing, that intelligence is what we would call the Dharma. The Dharma being the sort of law and order and kind of logic they’re sort of magical, almost magical, totally magical, marvelous logic, by which all things arise the way they do. And, I feel somehow, you know, this is the Big Bang. This is the Big Bang happening. And I imagine many people would think I’m crazy, but I feel we can drop into a level of experience which is right before the Big Bang happened. And I suspect that’s what we do in our Zen Sunyata, thing when we, and it’s right here still, you know, there’s what predated the Big Bang is still here. And then we can drop into this and that’s, I think that might be what we do when we have a profound experience, you know, is we fall into it because it is still here. It’s intrinsic to everything. And I mean, I agree with every word you said, I just don’t feel myself a need to call it something like the G word.
Rick Archer: Well it has so much baggage, you know that word that well, you know.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. And it’s sort of suggests something else somehow.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it’s just the old guy with a beard and all kinds of crazy stuff. You know, he’s jealous, he’s angry. He’s a he.
Henry Shukman: I mean, for me, I feel that I’m a sort of, I’m some kind of radical, mystical, spiritual, cosmic atheist, who has many, I feel I’ve been sort of utterly blessed by some kinds of experiences that would traditionally have been called religious. But I don’t want those guys co-opting it. It’s got nothing to do with them. It’s much more important. It’s not to do with institutions, is not really to do with humans, humans have this incredible capacity to taste it and be able to express it in some way. Which is really to appreciate it, which is really marvelous and important. But for me religion, you know, I grew up in modern Northwestern Europe, where religions don’t have a good name really. Maybe it’s different in America where religion hasn’t. We had centuries and centuries of religious war and, you know, kind of intellectual and cultural climate which I grew up in.
Rick Archer: We’ve got the Westboro Baptist Church over here. They’re the ones who show up at funerals and say, ‘God hates fags’ and all that and hold up these horrible signs. You know? First, it’s like, you know, when I, I use the word, the G word for convenience, but you can’t use it without defining it. And if we’re defining it in terms of the way religions have generally deteriorated into using it then I’m an atheist too. But if we define it in terms of all the stuff I was just saying earlier, then there’s this sort of ocean of intelligence that permeates us that is, you know that’s within us that we’re within? That’s just sort of …
Henry Shukman: Yes. And maybe I would, I would say something about mystery.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Henry Shukman: But I totally,
Rick Archer: Totally. I’m not saying like I’ve got this all figured out.
Henry Shukman: Now, I don’t mean mystery on the level of I can’t understand it. I mean mystery, that there’s an actual mystery to this very moment, every moment always. And our practice can bring us closer to that. We can be lost in it in a very beautiful way. And it’s again, it’s that door of prajna, not knowing before knowing going down into the mystery. A mystery actually is not really only down it’s here it’s fully manifesting, just as this moment is right now. And I so I prefer yeah, I could go with mystery.
Rick Archer: That’s good, yeah. There’s some Upanishad that says something like, well, maybe the gods understand it or maybe they don’t and if they don’t maybe nobody understands it. But it certainly has nothing to do with belief or anything. I mean, we, or even understanding, I mean, I think what we’re ultimately talking about here is experience to whatever extent our experience can fathom or resonate with the reality of things. And I think that’s the, you know, understanding or being able to explain it. It’s kind of like the icing on the cake. Speaking of to end this interview with cake just as we began it. But the main cake is the actual experience of it.
Henry Shukman: Exactly and embodying that. And, and I think you talked earlier about the cup running over. The more deeply we surrender to that and allow that to show itself, the more fully it manifests, I’m sure. And the more the more the love just guides and spreads, guides us and spreads through the world.
Rick Archer: Yeah, so Irene just sent me an email. She says, you’re being a bit hypocritical because I know you believe that intelligence takes forms such as deities, etc. Angels guides, they’re all part of that divine intelligence. Yeah, I totally believe that. We were talking about that towards the beginning where we talked about perhaps subtle expressions or subtle beings of some sort are operative somehow in the universe. I don’t think that conflicts with anything I just said. In fact talking about mystery, I just think that there’s some Shakespeare line there’s Horatia, what is it?
Henry Shukman: Oh, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than a year’. They’re, wait a second ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are in your or my philosophy’. I haven’t got it exactly right.
Rick Archer: That’s about right and I mean, who knows what there is? And you know,
Henry Shukman: Yeah, but I mean, I would agree with you that those things that you just said that Irene brought up, and then you brought up, they would be accommodated in that sort of archetypal realm that we were talking about. So mythological, subtle realm.
Rick Archer: Yeah. mythological implies imaginary or unreal, just kind of these wild stories that ancient cultures played with? I don’t, I wouldn’t use that word, but more just subtle, you know, just kind of beneath the obvious crust of surface experience that most people dwell in.
Henry Shukman: Yes but maybe having done some anthropological study, I would say I see mythology a little differently where indigenous cultures mythology is a lived reality. Much like subtle, much like archetypal. So for us, I guess it means old stories but I was using it, I was actually using the term in a different way. Whereas a level of reality, that’s sort of non-material or subtle, but it’s real. And it’s not right to call that imaginary. There was this French scholar called Andre Corbin who started came up with this idea of the Mundus Imaginalis or Imaginal realm, it’s not the same as imaginary it’s a kind of a real realm with his own laws and its own dynamics. And we go there, to whatever extent we go there. We are subject to it, you know we don’t govern it, it governs us kind of thing. And it could be it could be a very, very important healing level for us.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I’ve interviewed and befriended a number of people for whom experiences of that level or various subtle levels are as commonplace, as you know, our experience of walking through Walmart or something. I mean, it’s just, it’s part of their daily humdrum, maybe it’s not a humdrum experience and it’s not my belief or imagination, or anything else, although, you know, people can imagine these things. You can get all kinds of carried away, and that doesn’t rule out the possibility of people hallucinating and everything else. So that could be unhealthy, you know, states in which you experience things that aren’t really there. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t really something beyond ordinary surface perception that could be experienced in a legitimate way.
Henry Shukman: Yes, I quite agree. And we, you know, there are people who come and sit in the Zendo who, you know, who are more open to that than others. And some, some may have sort of encounters with ancestors, even Zen ancestors or Dharma spirits or something. And that’s great and it can be very helpful it’s just for us that’s not a …
Rick Archer: It’s a side thing.
Henry Shukman: Yeah or it could be, it could be in a main line of progress or something in practice because it could be very important. But it’s not actually, it’s not the ultimate. They too are subject to, exactly as you put it, they too are a manifestation of the basic reality.
Rick Archer: Yeah. In fact, some say that those subtle beings need to take human birth in order to attain enlightenment. That somehow the human’s ability to span the full spectrum of creation and be rooted in, as you say, that which is prior to the Big Bang is sort of a unique gift which some of these subtle beings just don’t have in their realm of possibility.
Henry Shukman: Yes, that is definitely an idea in the Buddhist world, that there are six paths of beings, you know the highest one is sort of gods and the next one is semi divine spiritual entities and then there’s humans and on down to way down to hell and hungry ghosts. And actually, humans are sort of the most propitious or auspicious one to be born in because we’ve got the right level of suffering and awareness. And so you need some suffering and you need some awareness and we’ve got the right proportions. Yeah, we might be able to awaken …
Rick Archer: Yeah, I’ve heard it said that angels enjoy so much they don’t want to close their eyes. They’re not interested in, you know, enlightenment or meditation or anything else. They’re just sort of dwelling in a beautiful realm. But it’s not conducive to, in fact, some say that’s true of the age we live in. The difficulties of it are perhaps an impetus or incentive to seek enlightenment that we might not have in a more comfortable age.
Henry Shukman: Yes, I’ve wondered about that. I mean, just the one little side thought there would be with Zen Chan, you know. It evolved in a time of great flourishing in China but it was also a time of great difficulty. There was a civil war right in the middle of that period that’s supposed to have been, in terms of the number of people killed as a proportion of the total world population, the most catastrophic war there’s ever been. And there’s, you know, there were something like 35 million people in China are said to have died in and after that war partly through the war, partly through famine and disease afterwards. And the population was 51 million at the time. So that was like two thirds of the Chinese population. And the world population was, I think, something like 250 million back then. There was a massive amount of human beings killed. But that was when Zen was honed and what’s the word? What’s that word I’m looking for? When you put something, tempered.
Rick Archer: Tempered right? Like, like they do with steel or whatever to make it strong?
Henry Shukman: Yeah, exactly.
Rick Archer: Interesting. Well, What haven’t we talked about that after we hang up you’re going to say, Oh, God, I wish we talked about that. Anything?
Henry Shukman: Ahh, I’m feeling …
Rick Archer: We’ll wrap it up at the end by talking about what you have to offer. And you know, the bit about The Mountain Cloud Center and stuff like that. But is there anything else that we want to be sure to cover?
Henry Shukman: Right now I’m feeling very happy. Sort of my heart is full. And I feel very grateful that we can, you know, that you have me on the show. I’m not feeling, there’s nothing sort of nagging at me like, hey, what about this? What about that? I’m in …
Rick Archer: Yeah. Good. Wouldn’t want to be have anything nagging at you, but it just occurred to me that there’s a couple of questions that people sent in earlier on and I want to be sure to ask them. Where are they in my notes? I’ll put my glasses on here. Okay, okay here’s one from a fellow named Josh in Salem, Oregon. Josh asks, ‘How do you teach beginners to find the Hara?’ You’ll have to explain what the Hara is. ‘What is the importance and purpose of developing the Hara in Zen practice?’
Henry Shukman: Yeah, he’s referring to, thank you Josh is referring to what’s called the Dantian in Chinese. It’s a sort of energy center deep in the belly, basically. And there has been an emphasis in some schools of Zen putting one’s attention there when doing breath practice. So that you would you would try to basically experience the breath in the abdomen rather than saying the chest or in some traditions, you know, you focus on the nostrils, breath coming and going. Traditionally, in some, not all schools in your tradition, you would focus down in the Hara region which is supposed to be like a couple of fingers behind and below the navel. You put your attention there. So that’s how I would teach you. You imagine a little zone, a little bit behind and below the navel and you just put your attention there and experience the breath down there as you breathe in and breathe out. However, it’s not the only way to do breath practice in Zazen. It’s okay to focus on the breath, more generally, in the belly, or wherever it happens to be and maybe in the chest. It may be more in the solar plexus they experience it, that’s fine. You just track the inhales and exhales. That’s enough. You don’t have to be too, I mean, some people benefit by doing Hara practice at certain times, they can do that, but It’s not that critical for all people.
Rick Archer: Okay. Here’s a question from our friend Rob Mogan from Encinitas. He’s the one who first told me about you. He said, ‘What’s looking is what you’re looking for’, is a statement credited to a number of contemplatives over millennia from Saint Francis of Assisi to Nisargadatta Maharaj to Alan Watts to Sam Harris. Teaching has been repeated over and over throughout recorded history. So my questions are, ‘What is looking and how can we directly realize and experience that?’
Henry Shukman: Well, I don’t know if Rob’s listening right now but Rob, look for it. That’s what I’d like to say to you. You’re asking how. The answer is look for it. Who is it? Who is it seeing? Who is it hearing? Who is it breathing? Who is it feeling? Ask yourself that question, those questions gently but insistently and diligently and repeatedly. And it somehow seems to help to have, I’m not sure if this is the right thing to say, actually, I was gonna say, guidance, teachers. You know, when you asked me, what would I, what might I wish I’d said or something when we finished? Actually, just after I said, nothing I’m feeling so full of joy and appreciation for this, as you seriously know I am
Rick Archer: Me too.
Henry Shukman: But then something did come to me. Teachers, I don’t think I’ve said, how important it’s been for me to have teachers. So for somebody who was so suspicious and couldn’t trust, especially male authority figures, and I really had, I was a rebellious guy and had a difficult time with my dad as a kid and, you know, there’s history there and stuff. But when I realized that there was somebody who just didn’t have really much of an agenda of his own. There was a first teacher I really entrusted myself to. He wasn’t trying to build a center. he wasn’t trying to build a community, he wasn’t trying to do anything, he was just offering the Dharma because it had meant so much to him. He was somebody who’d been a sort of high-powered lawyer and he’d had a little niggling sense that there must be more and had gone to a talk by a Zen master, a woman called Sister Elaine McInnes actually, an amazing woman in London. She’d come to visit and he’d gone to the talk and gone, oh, I want to do this. And so he started training with her. And, you know, his life changed so much through the practice that he gave up, he retired young, early, and set up two charities helping severely disabled people. And, and by the time I met him, when he had been authorized as a teacher by his teachers, you know, he just was doing nothing but serving a Dharma and serving beings. And to realize that there could be somebody like that who was willing to sort of meet me where I was and understand, you know, what was going on with this being called Henry without trying to, you know, coopt him for any project of their own, just to help this other person. It was an amazing thing to find that there are people doing that who really don’t have a personal agenda that’s sort of secretly behind it, which is what I always thought, you know. Because I’ve been to some big centers and I always felt there was some ego trip going on at least to the way I saw it. Maybe I just wasn’t enlightened enough back then to realize how good they really were. But I always just felt, you know, there’s a little bit of a power trip of some kind of going on here. I don’t want any part of it. But so, you know, I think if we’re earnest seekers, then first, for some of us, it’s right, to seek a bit of guidance. The teacher can be like …
Rick Archer: I don’t see why there be a problem with that? Really?
Henry Shukman: Yeah. I mean, you’re asking me?
Rick Archer: I mean we seek guidance just about every other field of life. If we want to get a pilot’s license we get trained by someone who knows how to fly. And if we want to be a surgeon we have to go to medical school, and why shouldn’t there be something like that in the realm of spirituality?
Henry Shukman: Well, I mean, I would say, well, because there’s been so much abuse of that role, you know, and where it’s understandable that it’s very difficult to trust it. Because, you know, appalling things have been done by people in positions of supposed spiritual authority. And I think there’s a particular damage when it’s spiritual authority, you know. And so I think it’s understandable that we’re weary, or some of us are. But, on the other hand, you know, I feel like a teacher is a little bit like a tree, like the tree that Buddha sat under you know. There’s an idea in Buddhism that only a Buddha can awaken a Buddha, another Buddha, that you sort of have to be in the shelter of another Buddha to become a Buddha. And, and this is Buddha with a small b I guess, not a capital B. And I think well, what about Buddha? So because of that problem, actually, it became a problem because who was the Buddha that had awakened the Buddha Shakyamuni Buddha. So then they invented seven Buddhas before Buddha. And then ultimately that led to 1000s upon 1000s of earlier Buddhas. But I feel actually the real Buddha was the tree, the tree under which he sat. And that what a teacher can be somehow, a shelter under which we can go through what we need to go through, within the kind of sheltered space where it’s safe to go through whatever we go through. And whatever needs to be gone through in order for us to awaken.
Rick Archer: So this has been a wonderful conversation, as I knew it would be. Really time flies when you’re having fun and I really enjoyed the whole thing. And if I get down to Santa Fe again I want to spend some more time with you there. But in the meanwhile, people who have been listening to this or watching this you mentioned you go to Europe, you go to Japan, you’re in New Mexico, you go to California. How can people sort of connect with you? First of all, they can read your book, which they’ll enjoy, but how can they connect with you more directly, personally, in a teacher student role if they want to?
Henry Shukman: Well, you could, they could come to Santa Fe to Mountain Cloud to join one of our introductory retreats. That might be a good way to start. Or come and stay at Mountain Cloud when there isn’t a retreat going on and we can just, you know, meet during that stay. Come to a longer retreat if you feel ready for it. Or I do sessions with people online, you know, through skype or zoom or facetime whatever. So that’s also a possibility. Quite a few people work with me all over the world actually. Maybe not all over the world but from …
Rick Archer: Various parts of the world.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. So there’s some people who are doing that, you know. They might have an hour session every couple of weeks or something like that, so we can keep checking in on their practice. That’s, everyone’s welcome to do that if they want. And I go to Encinitas twice a year. I go to Esalen once a year. I’m going in late January doing a marvelous course with my friend Tias Little who is a fantastic yoga teacher and at the end of that we’re having a special sort of weekend dedicated to just meditation. That’s in early 2020. So they actually could, all I’m saying really you could find on the Mountain Cloud website. I hope you’ll you know, people might be moved or inspired to try reading One Blade of Grass, the book and that …
Rick Archer: Interesting book.
Henry Shukman: Is that, what else?
Rick Archer: I think that’s pretty good. So you do have a podcast which I’ve listened to at least a dozen episodes of and I found that very interesting. So you can subscribe to that through iTunes and maybe Stitcher. Some of those other things you’ll find probably there’s a link to that on your website, right?
Henry Shukman: For sure.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Well, that’s enough that’ll keep you busy for a while. And so all those things, you know, that we’ve just mentioned, I’ll link to from Henry’s page on batgap.com in case you’re listening to this while you’re driving. You don’t need to write it all down, right? You just go to that page and follow links.
Henry Shukman: Well, thank you so much Rick. I hope it won’t be too long before you come back to Santa Fe. I’d love to get more in person time with you.
Rick Archer: Yeah, if I do, it’ll probably be next June or so.
Henry Shukman: I think I’ll be around then.
Rick Archer: Good. Okay, well, thank you Henry. I really could do this another two hours. And we probably got more to talk about but this is good. I really enjoyed it.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, thank you again. I’m very honored actually that you decided to have me on.
Rick Archer: You’re a great guest.
Henry Shukman: That’s very kind of you to say so. And I hope you’ve had some nice cake that went into your mouth yesterday.
Rick Archer: Yeah, Irene bought me a cheesecake. She didn’t think I should have it but I don’t have it very often. Just on my birthday, maybe so I had a little cheesecake and last night we ate with a friend at an Italian restaurant and had this great thing. I don’t remember what it was called, a very tasty dessert.
Irene Archer: Panna Cotta.
Rick Archer: Yeah, Panna Cotta so I’ve indulged a bit.
Henry Shukman: Good, good, good.
Rick Archer: Okay well thanks. Let me just make the usual concluding remarks. I’ll keep them brief. This interview has been one in an ongoing series and if this is new to you, well, even if it isn’t, go to batgap.com and check out the menus and see if there’s something there that interests you such as the audio podcast if you’re watching this as a video. Or you can sign up to be notified by email of each new interview if you want to be notified when it comes out. You can do that on YouTube too. If you’d like to watch them as opposed to listen to them there’s a little subscribe button next to that little bell icon. I just discovered not too long ago that if you click the bell icon YouTube notifies you of everything that gets posted on our channel as opposed to just some of the things and it isn’t a lot just once a week we post something. So thank you for listening or watching. Next week I’ll be interviewing a woman named Annette Kaiser, who was a student of Irina Tweedy who wrote that book Daughter of Fire. She lives in Switzerland and it looks like it’s going to be a very interesting conversation. So hope to see you for that one. Thanks, Henry.
Henry Shukman: Thank you so much, Rick.