The awakening of Genpo Roshi


Bill Harris: So, you had a spontaneous kind of opening, like, I understand that Tolle had. Do you want to start by kind of giving that little bit of background about yourself and then we can get into something else?

Genpo Roshi: Sure, I’m happy to do that. So what happened to me was back in February of 1971, and I was teaching school at the time. I was also a lifeguard at the time, but not particularly in the winter and I was having some difficulty in my life, particularly around my relationship and I decided to go out to the desert for a few days, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, with two friends of mine and we went out to the Mojave Desert and while I was there, alone, as I hiked off to do something else.

I was sitting on this small mountain peak and I had a spontaneous awakening and the awakening was I became one with the cosmos or entered into what I believe Eckhart Tolle calls the present moment or the presence and in that present, all of my former ideas about what... dropped away and all of a sudden, I realized that I was home.

I actually was reflecting on this question, where is home and what is home? And it came up to me, of course, that I am always at home and at home is right here, right now and it is not out there someplace else, a physical place or a physical house, and in that awakening, everything became very simple and very obvious and very clear.

 All of my troubles, all my sorrows disappeared or vanished. My fears, my suffering, everything went and I experienced what you might call being one with God, one with the universe, one with the all, the whole and I didn’t really know what happened to me and in fact, what came up after this experience and this experience took some time. In fact, it took me about a year after the experience to feel like my feet were touching the Earth again, but after this experience, I started to question what happened to me? What’s this all about?

And what also came up at the very same moment of this awakening, was wanting to share this with anyone and everyone who was willing to have me share it with and, you know, I shared it with my mother. I shared it with distant teachers. I shared it with my students. I shared it with some of the other teachers at the school. I shared it with my friends.

It was all about somehow finding and discovering, in myself, a place that was clear and spacious and where the self was no longer a problem. The self was no longer present. They both had actually dropped off and I asked my friend, who actually had just received his Ph. D. in psychology, I told him about the experience and I asked him, “Do you know what happened to me?” And he says, “Well, it sounds like you had a Zen experience.”

I didn’t even know what Zen was, but when he said, “It seems to me you’re talking like a Zen master.” I didn’t know what a Zen master was, but those words probably triggered something in me because I began to research spiritual experiences, Christian mystic experience, Jewish mystical experiences, I began to read Western psychology, people like Carl Jung and others at that time and I had already been in Gestalt therapy, under somebody who had studied under Fritz Perls and so I also began to study Erich Fromm and some of the other great psychotherapists at the time and everything seemed to me to point towards Zen.

After this experience, I began meditating or sitting quietly. I didn’t know what meditation was, but it spontaneously came up to spend three 30 minute periods a day, before work, after work and then in the evening before sleep, either in my room meditating or out on the beach. I lived at Long Beach. I began to just sit and my mind was at peace and quiet and I would sit there, as I said, for about 30 minutes each time and...

BH: So, you are in what Zen would call nonseeking,  nongrasping mind, which sounds a lot like  something that Eckhart Tolle talks about.

Genpo Roshi: It is, I started to say, it is the power of now. It is what he is talking about. In Zen we would call it the enlightened state of mind or the awakened state of mind or we would call it being in the present and as you said, in Japanese it is called Mushotoku. It means that when you meditate or sit, you have no goal, no aim and no objective in mind. You are just present. Also called Shikantaza in Japanese.