Dharma Theme – Zen Luminaries: A Series of Conversations with Jon Joseph Roshi


Modern Zen Luminaries—a series of Zen Buddhist scholars, writers, poets, translators, and practitioners—join PZI’s Jon Joseph Roshi for lively discussions online, with a focus on our Chan lineage. Recordings from the 2021 September 27th & November 1st Monday Zen Online meetings.

Zen Luminaries: A Series of Conversations


Buddhist & Daoist Translator Red Pine (Bill Porter)
in conversation with Jon Joseph Roshi
SAVE the DATE: December 20, 2021

“The Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra”

*Registration link coming December 14th

Red Pine

Poet & Chan Poetry Translator David Hinton
in conversation with Jon Joseph Roshi
SAVE the DATE: January 24, 2022

*Registration link coming January 18th

David Hinton


Zen Scholar & Philosopher Peter Hershock
in conversation with Jon Joseph Roshi
November 1, 2021

“The Value of Ancient Chan Teachings in Our Modern Context”
Listen to the Audio

KOAN: No North or South in Buddha Nature

On meeting Huineng, the teacher Hongren asked him where he was from. Huineng said he was a peasant from the South. Hongren then asked him, “If you came from the South, then you are a barbarian. How can you become a Buddha?” Huineng replied, ”Though people differ, north and south, there is no north or south in Buddha Nature.”

—from The Platform Sutra of Sixth Ancestor Huineng

Peter Hershock & Jon Joseph Roshi

Peter Hershock, an East-West Center scholar in Honolulu and a long-time practitioner of Sŏn (Korean Zen) Buddhism, is well known for his book, Chan Buddhism (2004), a modern review of Chan’s golden era in China during the Tang and Song dynasties.

In his historical narrative, Hershock finds relevant parallels between the social currents of medieval China and those in the West today. Many of Chan’s distinctive practices emerged during a period of warfare and privation that resulted in the dislocation or death of vast numbers of Chinese. In this context, Chan can be viewed as a counter-cultural movement.

Chan’s description of itself as being “outside the scriptures” signaled a turn away from interpreting and assimilating the dharma coming out of India and Central Asia. Instead, there was an increasing focus on “home-grown Buddhas:” native Chan masters who had wide support among Chinese monastics and laypeople, including women.

Hershock sees four great teachers as crucial to this formative period of Chan history.

Bodhidharma preached individual acceptance of apparent injustices (no victimization), seeking no-thing (the self lacking nothing), and the need to express the Bodhisattva way (self and other compassion).

Huineng, six generations later, was poor and illiterate. His life story demonstrated the teachings inclusive of and beyond social justice: When his teacher called him a “southern barbarian,” Huineng responded that while family origins may be different, there is no difference in Buddha Nature. He later went on to teach “sudden enlightenment” as the readiness, here and now, to awaken to that nature.

Mazu lived and traveled in a time of unprecedented social turmoil, and was perhaps the first ancestor to stress practice in all aspects of life rather than just the meditation hall, proclaiming that Buddha is “ordinary mind.” He used shock tactics like shouting, hitting, and illogical conversations with students, and sought radical immediacy in relationships forged in crisis and emergency. Practice was to be found in all of life, not just the quietism of the temple. “If you’re training to sit Chan, know that it is not a matter of either sitting or reclining,” advised his teacher Huairang.

Linji was the master of innovation and creativity, demanding that we “face the world and go cross-wise,” and that “true persons of no rank” refrain from taking any fixed position. According to Hershock, “Breaking down old habits and obstructions takes great energy.” Linji’s practice of improvisation, in accord with any situation, contributed to the emergence of enlightening relational dynamics.

Hershock concludes, “Chan’s mission is to induce each and every one of us to demonstrate our readiness for truly liberating intimacy. To a Buddhist practitioner, it is clear that the contemporary relevance of Chan does not lie in what it tells us about our current situation, but in how it helps us transform it. Practicing Chan means moment by moment opening and extending our own capacities for appreciative and contributory virtuosity, and skillfully offering them for the benefit of all beings in the midst of our own unique stories.”

You can read a summary of Peter’s book here:

Zen Scholar & Translator Thomas Kirchner
in conversation with Jon Joseph Roshi
September 27, 20201

“My Life in Zen”
Listen to the Audio

KOAN: A coin lost in the river is found in the river.

—Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans, Case 64

Thomas Kirchner has translated, annotated, and edited great works in our Chan lineage; including Entangling Vines: Zen Koans of the Shumon Kattoshu, The Record of Linji, and more. His translation of Linji’s Record builds on the work of Ruth Fuller Sasaki’s team and adds extensive worthwhile footnotes and historical introduction.

He is a longtime Zen practitioner, was born in the US, and has lived most of his life in Japan. He joins Jon Joseph this Monday for a wide-ranging conversation about his life in Zen. On a half century of Zen practice, he says,

“I have a deep sense that this is a really, really meaningful experience. It has given me a compass for my life. With time, I will be able to face death with peace of mind.”

You can learn more about Thomas Kirchner and get links to his books here: