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Please Tell Us About Yourselves

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Please Tell Us About Yourselves

Postby JessicaLeigh on Fri Jun 19, 2015 11:10 pm

Dear Teachers,

Thank you for your presence on these forums. It is quite wonderful.

I'm wondering if some teachers might speak about about themselves personally. I'm interested in the answers to questions like: how do you identify yourself as a practitioner? Are you a monk or nun? A lay practitioner? Does such a distinction even make sense in your lineage or personal experience?

Do you have families, spouses, or significant others. Do you hold jobs? Is the whole of your day spent in formal, ritualized practice and/or helping students?

Do you live in a house, temple, monastery? Why did you chose to become a monk or nun, or not? How and why did you end up as the Dharma Teacher of a sangha?

Please share some things about your journey and your daily life. I'm just curious about you, that's all :) I think others may be also.

Thank you for indulging!
:Namaste:
Jessica
"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." -Andrè Gide
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Re: Please Tell Us About Yourselves

Postby Nonin on Sat Jun 20, 2015 8:02 pm

Jessica,

These are good questions. However, to make it easier on myself, I decided to send the following. A while ago, I participated in a workshop with other teachers and some psychotherapists. One of the therapists had us write our own obituaries, and then we discussed them. Here's mine:

Rev. Nonin Chowaney, Soto Zen Buddhist priest and founding Abbot of Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple in Omaha, passed away quietly at the temple on ____________________ surrounded by family members, friends, and past and present students. During his 25 years at the temple, Nonin sincerely practiced the Buddha Way on a daily basis and taught it to whoever was interested and wished to practice with and learn from him. Nonin also introduced the Buddha Way to many interested groups from area schools, colleges, and churches who visited the temple and also frequently visited the same types of groups who invited him from around the Omaha metropolitan area and Eastern Nebraska. He officiated at weddings and funerals and participated in public roundtable discussions with clergy from other religious traditions. Nonin also traveled around the United States to lead retreats, give talks, and lead workshops at various Zen Buddhist temples.

Colleagues and students alike admired Nonin for his dedication, his depth of understanding, and his wisdom and compassion. As a longtime member of the American Zen Teachers Association and a founding member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, Nonin worked to insure that authentic Zen Buddhist teaching was being transmitted to the United States and that Ethical Principles and Procedures were being adhered to by both Zen Buddhist priests and by all members of Zen Buddhist practice places.

Nonin was also an accomplished brush calligrapher known for writing Zen Buddhist phrases and poems in Chinese and Japanese in his own distinctive style. His work hangs in temples, monasteries, and private homes throughout the world. He also wrote periodically for the Omaha newspaper and published and wrote for Prairie Wind, a tri-annual publication distributed to practitioners and temples throughout the United States and Canada.

Nonin was born Donald Andrew Chowaney in Auburn, N.Y. in 1941. During his teenage years and throughout college, he worked as a musician, playing guitar in a variety of bands and orchestras. He graduated with a B.A. in English from Eastern Michigan University in 1964 and an MA in English from New York University in 1965. From 1966-1972 he taught in the English Department of Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, N.Y. From 1972-1980, he worked at a variety of jobs in Michigan and Minnesota -- as a Child Care Worker in a home for children with behavior problems, as a Pipe Welder in nuclear power plants and other industrial settings in Michigan and Minnesota (after training at a Skill Center in Marquette, Michigan), as a house painter, and as a school bus driver.

In 1978, he began practicing Zen Buddhism with Dainin Katagiri at Minnesota Zen Center in Minneapolis. He was priest ordained by Katagiri-roshi in 1984, and was given the name Daikan Nonin (Great Ring, Talent and Patience). This became his life calling. He trained as a priest with Katagiri-roshi and also for eight years in Zen Buddhist monasteries in Minnesota, California, and Japan, where he practiced and trained for three years. Nonin went through Soto Zen Buddhist Dharma Transmission with Katagiri-roshi in 1990 and was authorized to teach on his own by him. Nonin established the Omaha temple in 1991 and served as its abbot and later as resident priest after his retirement. Nonin had many students that he introduced to Zen Buddhist practice and guided over the years. He was regarded as a strict taskmaster but also as a kind and compassionate teacher.

In his personal life, Nonin exhibited many interests and talents. He loved animals and there was always a dog or two and usually a cat living with him at the temple. He was an avid reader, and he also loved to listen to music, go to movies, eat out, watch sports on tv (especially his beloved Kansas City Royals), garden, and take long walks in the woods with his dogs. Earlier in life he was an avid cyclist and cross-country skier, which he reluctantly had to give up as he aged. Also, Nonin was extremely loyal to his friends. Even if he was mad at or annoyed with them, they could always count on his having their backs.

Nonin was preceded in death by his parents -- Andrew and Julia Chowaney -- and is survived by a sister -- Diane Fosdick, a daughter -- Jennifer Blumenthal, a son-in-law -- Greg Blumenthal, three grandchildren -- Carol Ann Fitzsimmons, Gabriel Blumenthal, and Madison Blumenthal, and his beloved dog, Buddy.
Soto Zen Buddhist Priest. Transmitted Dharma Heir of Dainin Katagiri Roshi.
Abbot and Head Teacher, Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
http://www.prairiewindzen.org
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Re: Please Tell Us About Yourselves

Postby JessicaLeigh on Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:28 pm

Dear Nonin,

This is quite interesting and informative. Thank you so much for sharing!

:Namaste:
Jessica
"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." -Andrè Gide
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Re: Please Tell Us About Yourselves

Postby Judy Roitman on Mon Jun 22, 2015 5:06 am

Hi, Jessica. Thanks for your question.

I'm a lay teacher in a tradition with both lay and monastic teachers. I'm a retired math professor, married (my husband is also a Zen master), with a grown son and a granddaughter. I live in a regular house. While I practice Zen every day (5 days a week at the Zen Center, the other 2 days at home), except when on retreat I spend most of my time the way most people do, including too much time on the computer and not enough time exercising. I write (and publish) poetry (you can find some of it via judithroitman.blogspot.com), and my retirement present to myself was a really nice piano which I play enough to make progress but not as much as I should.

I started formal Zen practice on October 6, 1976, after two years of meditating on my own. I felt so strongly connected to practice that I took 5 precepts as soon as I could, six months after starting formal practice, eventually taking the maximum of 64 lay precepts in our school (our monks and nuns take several hundred precepts). In 1978 I moved to a town with no Zen center; a few of us started one and the Kansas Zen Center has been around ever since. I was authorized to teach Zen in 1998, and was given transmission as a Zen master in 2013. I lead retreats in my local Zen center, as a guiding teacher in two other centers (one in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma), and also as a visiting teacher in other centers.

You asked how and why we became teachers. Wanting to be a Zen teacher is a good sign that you shouldn't be a Zen teacher. I became a teacher because a teacher said, hey, you over there, Judy, you really should be a teacher. Then there was a process I had to go through to be approved as a teacher. Later somebody said, hey, you over there, Judy, you really should be a Zen master. So there was another process to go through to be approved as a Zen master.

What's important is that since 1976, in my fairly standard upper middle class ridiculously privileged life — work, marriage, raising a kid, friends, family, no war, no destitution, no health crises, etc. — I've kept up a steady practice with frequent and at times long intensive retreats including a 90 day solo retreat when I was 65. I feel very strongly that being a lay person is not a hindrance to practicing hard and to waking up to our true nature. I hope my life encourages other folks to feel that they too can practice hard and that the dharma is completely open to them no matter what their life situation is.

I wish you good luck in your own practice, and hope you are part of or can find a good sangha with a good teacher to guide you.
Judy Roitman (Zen Master Bon Hae), Kansas Zen Center, Kwan Um School of Zen
www.kansaszencenter.org
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