We’re joined today by Vidyuddeva, a young Zen teacher who spent 5 years in monastic training with Zen Master Steve Hagen. Vid is now a teacher in his own right, and teaches with both the iEvolve Practice Community as well as with the Integral Spiritual Center (founded by Ken Wilber).
In this episode, Vid shares with us how he came to the dharma, and how it eventually led to his time as a Zen monastic. He also turns the table on the Geeks and begins questioning us as to what the significance is between meditation and life. Listen in to hear more from this young & dynamic voice of wisdom.
Vince: Hello Buddhist Geeks. This is Vince Horn. I am here in the studio live with Ryan Oelke and our special guest Vid Deva.
Ryan: Yes and we even have an audience here in the studio, two lovely ladies in here. So, you might hear shouting on occasion, you might hear cat-calls. (laughs)
Vince: Hopefully, hopefully. (women laughing in the background)
Ryan: And we might include laugh tracks with this. And we are trying a whole new thing here. We’re going to up our game.
Vince: Buddhist Geeks live.
Vince: Buddhist Geeks live but not live. So, yeah, we have Vid Deva, someone we’ve known actually for a while but haven’t got the actually sit down and speak with. You are friends with Stuart Davis who we’ve interviewed.
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: And I met you at the Dharmapalooza back in the day.
Vid Deva: In 2004?
Ryan: And then I just saw a picture recently. So it’s the first time I got to meet you and luckily we heard you were here in town. So, Vid is actually in our studio, which is cool, because usually we are interviewing people over the phone. So, Vid, you have been a Zen priest for how long?
Vid Deva: Since 1999.
Ryan: ’99? It’s quite a while. Alright! And your teacher or the person who ordained you is Steve Hagen?
Vid Deva: Yes.
Ryan: And he is author of Buddhism Plain and Simple.
Vid Deva: Yes.
Ryan: Which I read that a long time ago. I was first time practicing and then latter I found out that so many people absolutely loved that book. It’s like on the top of their list.
Vid Deva: Yeah. I see about him all the time.
A lot of different people come in to the Dharma through Steve Hagen. This is cool.
Ryan: I was happy to know I got some good Dharma, (laughs) when I first started practicing.
Vid Deva: Yes. That’s kind of the… just a quintessentially one of the best beginning books.
Vince: And you are involved with a couple of groups, at least Integral Spiritual Center and iEvolve?
Vid Deva: Yeah, exactly.
Vince: So I read your bio and you have been actually involved with quite a number of different contemplative organizations and teachers.
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: So, maybe I’ll just let you say something about of what you think is meaningful and important to your history as a practitioner, and then in particular about your journey as a Zen priest.
Vid Deva: Yeah, yeah. I mean I may just give this small plug for that book Buddhism Plain and Simple, and I will give you a little story that goes along in that community, in that lineage. So, Katagiri Roshi who is my teacher’s teacher, and he originally came here to help up with the teaching Shunryu Suzuki. So, eventually Katagiri ended up in Minnesota, Minneapolis with the Zen Center.
So, the story is there was a time when he was talking and people wanted to know more of the meaning of the garb he was wearing, the robe he was wearing, right? The meaning and the significance. And, this has to do even with the way the teaching has evolved through history and through culture. So, he takes this like very most outer garment in his hand the okesa and that’s India, this is kind of Buddha and then he goes and he takes another, he goes deeper, reaches back deeper then the okesa and takes all the fabric in it, pulls it out and he shows that to them, and it’s a kimono, it’s Japan.
And then he digs even deeper and he pulls out the koromo and that’s China. And then he takes even deeper, like right down to his bare chest and he pulls out this like the shred of a t-shirt and he says America. (laughs)
Vid Deva: So, it has got all these layers of meaning and all these kind of teachings, and all these rituals, it felt like if you went right back to the bare chest, right back by the beating heart of what is to be human, and he pulled that out. As America what will that teaching be? Like right back to that simplicity of the t-shirt in the Dharma and I think that’s Buddhism plain and simple.
The story that Steve told often is that Katagiri would tell students, in Japanese, “I can only show you my way which is the Japanese way but you will have to find your own way here in America and it won’t be my way. It will have to be something new.” So, where I trained we actually don’t wear the kimono or the koromo. It’s just the okesa.
Vince: That’s like the black outer robe?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: So, I’d like to know a little bit about what brought you to become a Zen priest, to tale those vaults and then what changed for 2004?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: You are not doing that?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: You are not training anymore…?
Vid Deva: I was involved in a fairly severe accident, an intentional accident—it was intentional at the time it was an accident later—when I was 18, kind of doing part of my martial arts training thing, and got really hurt. So, recovering from that, not being able to walk and just being laid up in bed recovering, I realized, kind of how crazy what I had done had been, and yet how sane it seemed to me at the time I was doing it, and was able to kind of touch just the layers of deep belief, deep perception, deep seeing and being in a relationship with the world that were related with that kind of ignorance, that kind of craziness, and how at the time I couldn’t see them at all. And I was deeply suspicious that whatever had led me to that accident, that injury, that that was the only aspect of that functioning in my life. I was pretty sure, there’s probably a lot more where that came from, that I’m totally unaware of and that I can’t see at all. And it was a bit sobering, it was a bit humbling. And I really was interested in knowing what that was. I was interested in knowing what that right relationship with life was. That right relationship with myself, that right relationship with others.
Ever since I was young I’ve been in love with martial arts and there’s definitely a strong tradition in there of mediation. I’d always shied away from the meditation because I had learned to throw a punch maybe four or five times with different teachers. But literally, the teacher sees what I’m doing and just… they could just about cry or tear their hair out. It’s just like, “Oh, you have so many bad habits. You’d be better off if you knew nothing at all. It’s going to be so much work to get you back to the point where I can teach you anything about how you should actually be throwing this punch.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s just moving my body around in space. What would happen if I kind of veered off in a meditative tradition into some kind of spaces? What kind of bad habits could be formed there? What kind of wrong relationship and kind of misshapen forms could my life be taking?” I was really tentative to learn meditation. I wanted to make sure that the meditation teacher I was learning from had some level that I could sense that was kind of just an inner sensing of real authenticity. And I looked and I looked, and I looked, and I couldn’t find any, which doesn’t mean that they weren’t there… that says as much about my looking as it does about what I was finding. But I couldn’t find any.
And I was really into this warriorship thing, I found Chogyam Trungpa’s Sacred Path of the Warrior, and I loved it, and was just all about it, and that led me to Naropa to take a class called the Sacred Heart of Sadness, or the Genuine Heart of Sadness. The Genuine Heart of Sadness: Warriorship in Everyday Life. This must have been back around 1994, 1995, somewhere around in that time. And it said things like mood and space awareness, all kinds of just, sounded fantastically interesting and juicy. And Sokyam Mipham Rinpoche was going to be teaching it—that was Trungpa’s son—who better could you ask for? So I carried myself off to here, to Naropa and as far as I remember he was just getting out of his three-year meditation retreat, he was just coming out of a three-year meditation retreat to teach this class. So as far as I know, they didn’t know what he was going to talk about, they really didn’t know what this class was going to be. And I hadn’t had the chance to talk to him but he just got back from a three-year meditation retreat, what do you think he’s going to talk about?
Vince: I would guess meditation.
Vid Deva: So, and I had never been introduced to meditation before. He said, we will sit for just the briefest time, and then we were sitting for forty-five minutes.
Vince: Well I guess that would be brief to him, huh, ffter a three-year retreat?
Vid Deva: He gave us some instruction, and I guess the poetry expression, which is not mine, but it’s “and my heart broke open on the wind.” Right, he began to teach, to transmit meditation, “my heart broke open on the wind.” And then he said, so now we’ll sit just for a little while and we’ll do this just a couple times a day. And we sat for three hours, three times a day. But as far as I know and remember now, many years since I’ve been in the lineage, so I apologize if I get some of this wrong but, in Zen, when you walk and when you sit is usually structured, you know it’s going to be, a series of 35 minutes and then 10 minutes walking or 45 minutes and 10 minutes walking or an hour. Whatever is you know, but in that this style, you don’t know. You’re sitting for three hours and you’ll walk twice in that three hours. When? It depends. For how long? It depends. And Sakyam would determine that.
So that was all I’d ever known, you know like a little kid who has a particular culture in your family, and until you meet other kids with other families you don’t know it’s any other way. So I thought three hours was a reasonable amount of time to sit in meditation. (laughs) And so that was my getting into it there and then, I mean if your heart breaks open on the wind, I just knew like this is what I’m going to do. I wasn’t ever really interested in a particular tradition. I was looking for a community; I was looking for a teacher. But I just knew I needed to be as open and as broad looking for anything that I could find.
Vince: And at the time you were living obviously not in Boulder, so where did you end up connecting with Steve Hagen and the Dharma Field?
Vid Deva: So I was living in Minneapolis.
Vince: In Minneapolis, right.
Vid Deva: There really is something to the three aspects of the practice: the wisdom, the meditation, and the ethics. And there’s a way just to kind of taking that seriously and then it takes you seriously. Or if you know you really love that it begins to love back because I didn’t necessarily intend it but at the time I was very poor, didn’t have a lot of money and I got discounts and student sponsorship or whatever pretty much everywhere I went.
This isn’t for everyone, this is just part of my own path. There was something in that about not really taking responsibility for living my life. Kind of expecting other people to kind of do that for me… take care of that for me. And I thought, “You know people do this actually. People make their way in the world, they make a living and they pay their bills and they still have enough to go to a Dharma class or to whatever it is.”
I just wondered what was going on with my life, just that basic kind of everyday stability or organization was completely in disarray. And I thought, “I really need to take a year out and just organize that; just really focus on that.” So I did when I came back. And I got this flyer in the mail that had talked about Dependent Arising and the un-locatable Self. It was a six-week course.
And I’d been around enough to know two things—that it seemed like that was the heart of the matter, and anyone I talked to just sounded like Yoda when they said anything to me about it right? And I would want somebody to say something to me about what that was. But I always got thrown back, “Well what do you think it is?” I don’t know what the hell it is, that’s why I’m asking you right? (Laughter)
Again that said as much about me as it said about who I was interacting with. But at the time there was no channel for any of that into my life. I was almost despairing that anyone could say anything about it at all. And I thought, “Whoever’s going to talk about that for six weeks has to be the most arrogant person I could ever meet.” It’s like two-hour classes. Who thinks that they can talk about that for two hours for six weeks? And I really wanted to meet that guy. You know, not to throw tomatoes, but it was just so fascinating, like one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the dude who thinks he could do that. So I just wanted to meet him. Took this year off, did this, and then tracked him down, contacted him, showed up for his classes. It was nothing like I expected and was everything that I needed.
Vince: That was Steve Hagen?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: Yeah. And how soon after you met him did you decided to get more committed and actually take on monastic training? Because you’d mentioned you were doing monastic training for about five years is that right?
Vid Deva: Yeah well Rumi says, “Lovers don’t find each other, they’re in each other from the beginning.” So like when did I decided to do this? Sometime before I did it, (laughs) and not until later… both… but pretty much right away. Pretty much like right in the first classes. And I just felt I was in the presence of a clarity, a fullness, and a freedom. I didn’t know what it was I was just in the presence of it.
That wouldn’t have been enough except for in that presence, in that living vitality, my own life was impacted. And I just wanted to hang out with that. I just wanted to be close to that you know? You’re alone in the dark, shivering and freezing and you find a fire, you might settle down there for a while. So, I just settled down. I checked in with him, like were you interested in having students, do you have time to have students, do you have energy to have students? And he did, so…
Vid Deva: So I mean, I’m in.
Vince: And, was there an actual physical place that you ended up living? Or was there…
Vid Deva: At the time he… there was no official community, there was no name, there was no building, he was teaching out of Quaker meeting houses.
Vince: Cool, so this must’ve been before he became a little more popular.
Vid Deva: This is before, yeah before Dharmafield was ever founded.
Vid Deva: Yeah, prior to that. And then Dharmafield was founded really quickly after that. Yeah, then I just moved in with that.
Vince: Nice. So were you doing, during this period that you actually were in monastic training, were you… what was that like? What was like the day-to-day reality of that? Obviously at the beginning you didn’t have a physical center. Was it… were you doing more kind of meditation practice? Like what was…
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: Yeah, what was the day-to-day life like?
Vid Deva: Yeah. So, it took me a while to put my life into the context of that activity. That was not an immediate thing. And of a feeling of commitment and aspiration and attention was immediate. But then putting myself into that context took a bit of time. Then once it was into that context, once I was living in that way, you pretty much wake up, and depending on where you live in relationship to the center, you wake up between four and five in the morning and then you go to the center and you sit, meditation, you do various things maybe a little bit of cleaning, maybe a little bit of chanting, whatever. For over an hour and a half, and then you go right to work. At least the way I did it, is I would have to bring a change of clothes, change in the bathroom, and then get in the car and go right to work. And then you work your job and then you come back home, have a tiny bit of time, then you go back to the center. And then you’re there all evening sitting in meditation, helping out, attending classes, you know just teaching, study, practice and the care and maintenance of the center of the community. Then you go back home. You might get to sleep, if you went to sleep right away you could get to sleep maybe by 10:30. That was not me, so I got to sleep by 11 or midnight. And you’d wake up at sometime between 4 and 5 and you’d do it all over again. Five days a week. And then Saturday or Sunday was our community day. We’d have kind of open to the public, community services, that’s, you know, public talk. And a lot of community events, and practice and study again, and then you have one day a week that’s off. Buy groceries, do laundry, call your mom.
Vince: So, were you also doing periods of like, Sesshin or anything like that?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: In addition to that?
Vid Deva: Yeah, that’s the regular or the basic.
Vid Deva: And I think about every six weeks there was either a two or three day Sesshin and then we periodically did one week Sesshin.
Vince: And was everyone who was in your position, in the training, monastic position, expected to be doing those each time?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: Yeah. So you kind of had a working situation where you, it was understood, like I’m going to be taking these times off to go do my monk thing…
Vid Deva: (laughs)
Vince: …and it was all good?
Vid Deva: Yeah. And you have to work that out. Everybody has to find a way to work that out. So I was originally working in bars and restaurants, which didn’t really allow me to show up for the schedule in this way.
Vid Deva: So there was a very wild, interesting encounter for me. Not sure what it’ll be for your listeners, but a gentleman who built my parents’ first house in River Falls, Wisconsin was named Charles Cudd. And his son is my best friend in the world. Just love that kid. And then, a year later they moved away. And I totally raged against the world on that. And, very defiantly, I looked up Chuck’s wife in the eyes and I said, “You can take Charlie away from me, but you can never take him out of my heart.”
(laughs) Right, so they built my parents’ house and… I’m totally terrified of that guy by the way. Loved his son, terrified of him because we lived in a community where they just built these houses. For a little kid, that’s just like jungle gyms going up everywhere. For an adult, that’s like little kids imperiling their lives, everywhere.
Vid Deva: Little kids in mortal danger, all the time. So he was frightening in a compassionate way. Trying to get the kids not to climb around and hurt themselves on the houses. But we were appropriately terrified of him.
How does this work into my later job? I became a construction worker years and years later. Living in Minneapolis my name had been changed by that time. In Minneapolis I saw these vans from time to times that said Charles Cudd and I just wondered is that the company that build my parents house?
So, I am training at this place, there is a guy there whose name is Charles Cudd, but that’s not going to happen… As it turned out that was the guy, and of course it’s like I was by five or six and by this time I’m like maybe 19-20 so he didn’t recognize me. It’s just me and we met all over again and he became like my adopted dad, and he was practicing Zen for a couple of years before I was and he gave me a job as construction worker.
Vid Deva: And that… given that he was doing this whole thing for years before I was and that he owned a business that made it very easy to take time off.
Vince: Hey, cool. So, you basically were in the schedule in and out, sleeping, you know five-six hours as I, maybe less, training a lot, helping with the community, doing sesshin here and there for the whole period that you were monastic-training like five years?
Vid Deva: Yeah, mostly.
Vince: Yeah, more or less.
Vid Deva: Yeah, yeah.
Vince: So, at some point you left that?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: Yeah. And Ryan kind of asked what was that about? I am interested too, yeah like what changed or did you feel like you had gotten, we will rephrase the question, but did you feel like you’d gotten what you came there for?
Vid Deva: Yeah. I mean I understand the question, not that he has the response to the question. So, let me ask you guys a question first, because I feel like I laid out the knots and bolts that we just talked about but I am not sure it’s that interesting yet.
Vid Deva: So let me just ask you guys because I might be the only one who’s slow here, right? Like I’m slow but at least I am stupid. What is that even about? Do you sleep like that, practice like that, work like that? What is that about? What is that life about?
Vid Deva: Why do you do that in the first place?
Vince: Yeah, what’s the benefit?
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: That’s kind of where I was going with did you find what you were looking for because if you did you’re probably pretty pissed (laughs) Awesome. I think about that when I am on intensive retreat, I am like practicing 10 hours a day; I leave and I am like “was that worth it?” (laughs)
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: Yeah it would be interested, yeah please what is that about?
Vid Deva: Well, what do you guys think it’s about? And just to know, I hated when people did this with me.
Vid Deva: Don’t get me wrong but…
Vid Deva: You guys….
Vince: You said it dude, handle it. [laughs]
Ryan: We can do it. Yeah, yeah.
Vince: I’ll let Ryan answer first.
Ryan: Well, I’ve never worked construction and then sat like six hours a day, but for me in a way to interrupt my normal patterns. I would assume there’s a difference between where you have it actually integrated it that thoroughly in life. It’s one thing to sit like one hour a day and it’s one thing to go on solitary retreat, away from the whole world. But, it seems completely different to be very intense with your practice, and then also go and work in a restaurant. Like I was really surprised you said you actually did work at a restaurant for part of this time right or no?
Vid Deva: In the beginning bars and restaurants was my area. Right, yeah.
Vince: That would be rough, yeah.
Ryan: That would be insane for me. I am sitting all day and I’m going to go at a restaurant to take orders. I mean when I came out of my solitary retreat I just went to restaurant. It was just way insane. It was just so colorful and everything so intense. So, to be able to be balancing back and forth from that every day would seem an intense and good experience.
Vid Deva: I think I can guarantee that the personalities of construction workers would be just as colorful. (laughs)
Ryan: Yeah, right. (all laugh) That probably would be but I suppose you would get working on, kind of too mindful practice like that? So, I haven’t had that experience but I would assume it would be something very interesting to be able to not just go out of the world or be in the world but just be both of those things at the same time. I’ve only experienced one or the other really.
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: There is something, when you were saying that, I was thinking about all the things I’ve read about Zen, just my brief encounters with certain teachers sitting in the Zendo and the teachers I’ve sat with are all… it’s every moment is what’s important in Zen and all these stories just illustrate that point. I mean there definitely doesn’t seem to be a huge disconnect between the world and spiritual practice.
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: So, it seems really obvious that that’s the emphasis that they would structure something like that so that you can’t really escape one or the other and, like Ryan I haven’t had that particular experience. I mean I’ve certainly tried to engineer something like that for myself and I remember also sitting a couple of hours a day, going on retreats periodically and waiting tables four or five days a week, dealing with people that were completely… In some ways, it seemed antithetical to the type of thing I’d be exposed to at a retreat center or with my small community of friends that’s practicing. It’s a completely different world.
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: Like having to hold both of those paradoxes simultaneously and going, “What am I doing?” (laughs) And yet they did seem to inform each other. I mean certainly working allowed me to do the practice and go on retreats, and so I was really grateful for that. And yet I’d come back from retreat, and I would forget an order or be kind of out of it. And my manager would be like, “Hey, we’re not going to let you go retreat any more if you come back and you’re fucking orders up.” (laughs)
Vid Deva: Yeah.
Vince: So yeah it seems to me that it would really challenge someone to find a way to make sense of both of those worlds.
Vid Deva: Yeah, I think. I love that. Thank you. The particular form that we were using. .. Now we are talking about what is that about. It is important to know what it is about. Because that is where you know if you want to use the same form or if you want to modify the form. Maybe take a different form. You go back to what is it about. And in this way it’s kind of like think about going to a monastery. Oftentimes you don’t have to pay bills anymore. You don’t have to worry about being laid off. You don’t have to worry about it. There is an ease that is allowed there. Even though there still is, I know, tremendous facing of your own mind. Right. Your own heart. And the world that goes along with that. But there is still a lot of that that is taken off the plate. So it is different if you have to do that right in the middle of paying your bills. And right in the middle of having a job. Right in the middle of relationships. And so that is kind of what that is about, and the really interesting thing for me there is that your life and meditation. Life and meditation.
You might say that these are not two different things, but they seem that way to begin with. And instead of having that be a problem to get rid of. Can that actually be leveraged as the path? That to begin with, we see it that way. It is said that there are what, 84,000 doors of the dharma for every mind? This is one of the minds. That there is practice. There is meditation. And there is life. So the way that I see that it could be leveraged. The way that that could be the path itself. And the way that I think this is kind of what that training that I was talking about is about is in the beginning when we are meditating the question is, “Do you really bring your life to meditation?” When you sit down, have you included your life? Have you brought your life to that time, that period of meditation or not? Because often times we sit down, and the first thing that we find is our life. And the first thing we do is try to get rid of it. And then we complain about how lifeless our meditation is. (laughs) So that’s actually the injunction here. That there is this practice of meditation, and that we bring our life to that. We offer our life into the practice of meditation. It is very important. Into the actual practice of meditation. We can talk more about, perhaps. So there is the practice of meditation, but our life is offered to that. Our whole life. Whatever it is.
And then see the second movement is we can bring meditation back to our life. But if we have never brought our life into the meditation, we have no meditation to bring back into our life. So every morning, the life is pouring into the practice of meditation. And then through the middle of the day, the meditation is pouring back into the life. So there is this dynamic movement, and in that very dynamism of movement those boundaries start to be transparent. Between life and between practice. If you never allow them to be that, dare I say erotically embraced, life and meditation. Life and practice. They have to stay as those kind of two discrete. When you really bring them together in this way. When they are really allowed, they become one flesh. Bone of my bone. So that’s what that is about. And that’s actually what the meditation does. The meditation is pulling, is sucking, is evoking our lives. Can we actually have the practice that knows how to be that? The presence that as it is, as it will be, right, in all of its dynamism. In all of its celebratory movement. Can we do that?