Remembering Soen Nakagawa Roshi

Looking back over my years at Shoboji New York Zendo and Dai Bosatsu Monastery, the compact little figure of Soen Roshi, with his booming voice and magical manner trots on the stage and shines his light on the scene many times. Now, these thirty-some years later, I see that without those contacts with him 25 to 35 years ago, my life today would look very different. Not that I was conscious of his deep impact at the time.

Personally, my turn to Zen was not based on conviction or religious or philosophic inquiry, so much as from a sense of desperation. My life seemed to be at an impasse. I knew Koshu Marsha Feinhandler through Sensory Awareness classes with Charlotte Selver, and she led me to the New York Zendo in 1972 or 73 where I began to practice. I soon felt that I could not continue psycho-analysis without Zen practice but that I could continue Zen practice without psychoanalysis. So I decided to exchange a search for self-understanding in terms of being fixed by a professional "fixer", for greater awareness of being human in this particular circumstantial body. And Zen practice has been the heart of my journey to this day.

Here are a few of my memories of Soen:

Suddenly, he says, "Oh! That blessed atomic bomb!" An audible gasp rips through our group. "Whaaat?!!" "Yes," he explains, " It ended that awful World War II."

Flash forward: A chilly day in November in New York. I drive Soen Roshi to explore the gingko trees in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. We gather sacks and sacks of gingko nuts, haul them back to the New York Zendo on 67th Street. In passing, I point out where I live. Soen-san supervises the steaming and shelling of those foul-smelling, but delicious-tasting fruits of perhaps the oldest surviving tree known to mankind.

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