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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 09 90 Sahn made delicious soups that he shared with his small but growing circle of students. After two years, the apartment could no longer accom- modate the expanding community and they bought their first house. Over time, more properties were acquired and now, fast-forwarding to 2009, the Kwan Um School of Zen is an organization of more than a hundred centers and groups, located across Asia, Europe, and the United States. Seung Sahn, however, passed away on November 30, 2004, after a long struggle with diabetes. He was at Hwa Gye Sah temple when he died. Barbara Rhodes, one of Seung Sahn’s first American stu- dents, is now the Zen master and guiding dharma teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen in the U.S. Zen Master Richard Shrobe, the guiding teacher of Kwan Um’s Chogye Interna- tional Zen Center of New York, says that Rhodes “has tre- mendous strength and tremendous sincerity, and is very down to earth and everyday-oriented.” She seems to have gotten her practicality from Seung Sahn. Rhodes says of her teacher, “He would hand enlightenment to people on a platter. He would explain exactly what clear mind actually is: it’s nothing. What you see, what you hear, what you taste is the truth. He did not make a mystique out of it.” Rhodes, however, doesn’t run the American branch of the Kwan Um School of Zen in the same way that Seung Sahn did. “He was very chauvinistic in some ways,” she explains. “He was very bossy. He used to say, ‘I speak. You only action,’” Rhodes laughs. Now the school is much more democratic. The teachers have meetings three times a year, and they make decisions by consensus. How to handle other matters is left up to the individual centers. Rhodes and other senior teachers juggle their school duties with their householder duties. Rhodes, for instance, is a nurse and mother who has lived with her partner, Mary, for twenty years. Houghton, on the other hand, works as an executive in his family’s chemical company. The sangha of the American branch of the Kwan Um School of Zen mourned the loss of Seung Sahn but, in terms of both teaching and organization, things are still running smoothly more than four years after his death. Rhodes attributes this to Seung Sahn’s teaching style. “He didn’t believe in thinking that a teacher had special powers,” she says. As Rhodes sees it, instead of creating students who were dependent on him, he nurtured students to be able to stand on their own two feet. As for the future, Rhodes hopes more people practice and come to the retreats. “There is a lot of attendance,” she says. “But we’re never going to be popular. The Korean version of Zen is kind of funky and unpretentious and not quite as attractive. But there are people who are attracted to it.” “We have an incredibly beautiful practice,” Houghton says. “The emphasis has always been on plunging in the water, not studying the book or reading the menu. I love that quality.” Lotus Sutra Seminar Rissho Kosei-kai International of North America Irvine, California – (949) 336-4430 by Dr. Brook Ziporyn Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Northwestern University, Evanston For more details, please visit www.buddhistcenter-rkina.org Oct. 31 – Nov. 1, 2009, at the University of California, Irvine