We’re joined by Zen Master, Diane “Musho” Hamilton, to explore an approach to spiritual practice called “Integral Zen.” In our interview we explore several related topics, including the difference between a path of renunciation and one of transmutation. As part of this we also look at the role that the shadow—a term coined by psychologist Carl Jung—plays in our spiritual practice. In addition we examine how different Buddhist traditions have, or have not, incorporated an understanding of the shadow. We also explore the role that community plays in helping wake each other up, and the verticality of the teacher-student relationship. Finally we talk about how she is incorporating, what are called the “3 faces of spirit” into her Zen teaching.
This is part 1 of a two-part series. Listen to part 2, The Most Fundamental Duality.
Vince: Hello, Buddhist Geeks. This is Vince Horn, and I’m joined today by a very special guest, Diane Hamilton. Thank you, Diane, for taking the time to speak with us today. We’ve actually spoken once before, so this is you becoming like a regular guest on Buddhist Geeks. It’s great.
Vince: So, I know a lot of people, probably, that have been listening for a while, actually heard our original interview, so they’d know a little bit about you. But, I wanted to mention a few things just to sort of create a context for the discussion that we’re going to have. So, I’ll mention a few of your accolades, your spiritual accolades.
Diane: They’re very few, but feel free.
Vince: Cool. So I guess the main thing is that you’re a Zen teacher in the lineage of Genpo Roshi who’s part of the White Plum Sangha that was founded, originally, by Maezumi Roshi, one of the key Japanese Zen teachers to bring Zen to the West. And then recently you started, you and your husband, Michael Mugaku, who’s also a teacher in that lineage, founded a zendo out in the middle of Southern Utah in this beautiful area, and it’s called the Boulder Mountain Zendo. And you, guys, have been leading retreats out there like weekend retreats and week-long sesshins. Actually, I was really fortunate and able to come sit a retreat with you recently, my wife and I, and it was a really beautiful place.
Diane: It’s majestic and awesome, beautiful.
Vince: Part of what you’re doing is teaching local retreats there. Then, you’re also doing a lot of teaching through this organization called iEvolve, and it’s a trans-lineage practice community. Maybe you could say a little bit about what trans-lineage practice community is.
Diane: Well, it really arose out of the work and the teaching that I had done for the Integral Institute with Ken Wilber. Ken had a vision and does have a vision, that in our time, it’s the first time and throughout the course of history, that all the text and the practices and the study and the rituals associated to all different wisdom traditions around the world are available. And so, there’s this question, as we move into more of a global consciousness, what is the role of a spirituality that actually moves in some way beyond the lineages, if you will, although lineage is a very powerful thing. There’s a very, very deep possibility, through lineage practice, what happens when those lineages actually begin to interact with each other? What are the particular gifts and understandings of each tradition? And what happens when those not simply in a kind of ecumenical dialog but in an actual practice setting?
So, Sally Kempton, who was a student of Swami Muktananda, and a very developed yogi, teaches with iEvolve and Dr. Marc Gafni who’s a co-founder and who’s, of course, Jewish, and very well versed in Kabbalah, and Sofia Diaz is another. We like to invite teachers from the Integral scene into that just really open space, if you will, of practice and just see what the interaction brings. And students and the people who are involved in the Integral world seem to be drawn to practice there because the Integral framework is also available. There’s a kind of conceptual framework that can hold the practice in a way, if you will.
Vince: Nice, nice, and we’ll get into this, you teach an approach called Integral Zen, which is sort of a mix of the integral theory and also your sort of unique approach. We’ll get into that, but I thought it might be fun to first start with this question. While we’re on retreat with you, you mentioned one evening the difference between a spiritual approach that focuses on renunciation, which is the spiritual approach I’ve been most familiar with and the Theravada tradition, and then a spiritual approach that focuses on transmutation. It was really cool to hear that distinction. I’ve sort of heard of something similar in the Vajrayana teachings, but there’s some way in which you described it that really hit home for me. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that distinction.
Diane: Yeah, well, and I’ll do it from a very humble perspective as I like to refer to myself as a working stiff in the dharma. I don’t pretend to be a great realizer or, necessarily, while I’m the lineage holder, I don’t proclaim to be a master of traditions. Just rather that I’ve been a very serious student of Buddha dharma for many, many years, almost 30 years now and it’s been my main spiritual practice. And obviously, I’m an American, and I’m functioning in this context, so there’s a lot around what Buddhism in America is. So, I’m not speaking so much as an expert on tradition as I am from my own experience.
So renunciation transmutation, in a way, you might say, that the fundamental challenge in our life has to do with how we relate with the dualistic nature of our mind and of reality. So from a dualistic perspective, we have things that are good and things that are bad; and things that are right and things that are wrong; and situations that are preferable and situations which aren’t; and situations which are just from a social perspective and unjust. So, we’re constantly working with this dualism and with trying to support that which is good, if you will, for human beings while, in some ways, minimizing that which is bad for human beings.
And when it comes to our own understanding and our own way of working with our spiritual nature, the most basic approach is that of renunciation. The Ten Commandments tell us what to do and what not to do, basically. So, we do this and we don’t do that, and we renounce the part of our experience, which is just simply unwholesome, which doesn’t work for us. So, for instance, we might practice being generous as opposed to being stingy, or we might practice being humble as opposed to being frightful.
But as we move deeper and deeper into practice, we start to see that those dualisms sometimes don’t hold quite in the way we thought they did. So, we might find, we start to discover that, actually, there’s a moment where, instead of being generous, holding back, actually, is the more skillful thing to do, not to give in a particular moment might be a more skillful act. Or, it might actually be that in one moment where humility makes a lot of sense; in the next moment, confidence and even a certain kind of brazenness might be needed.
So, suddenly, that set of injunctions, which were simple and defined, start to break down and then we start to see that there’s actually a continuum, or there’s, you might say, an energetic polarity that we start to work with. And so, the issue becomes how do we occupy that polarity? Let’s say, instead of calling it generosity and stinginess, let’s call it generosity and containment. Take the negative connotation out, talk about containment, and what’s the play of those two opposites in terms of actual transmutation of energy.
Let’s just take a Jungian perspective. One of the things about a post-modern Buddhist practice is that we look into the whole issue of shadow that comes out of Jungian psychology, that the deep aspects in the unconscious, that we have a very hard time actually bringing the consciousness, all the things we don’t like about ourselves, don’t want to identify with. And yet, we find that, when we don’t relate with them directly, that somehow they seep out. And we start finding shadow qualities either being projected on others or coming out in our behavior and ways that were not aware of.
So, what happens when we make the shadow conscious and we actually bring that, you might even say it’s kind of a scary way of saying it, but what happens when we actually engage or bring that dark energy to light and actually work with it, hold it on our first-person, claim it as part of us. Does that, in some way, free the world of our projections or our unconscious, the ways in which it all comes out unconsciously? So, you might say that in the process of transmutation, that you create a container itself that actually will hold all of that that’s either marginalized or unwanted or disavowed or however you want to say it and actually work with the energy of that in order to clarify and liberate your heart-mind. And that’s kind of abstract way of saying it, maybe I need to be more concrete, but that’s the idea.
Vince: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. As you’re describing the difference, I’m sort of imagining, since Jung and all the Freudian analysts and all the people that have contributed to Western psychotherapy, pointed out this sort of shadow thing. Which, I guess in Asia, wasn’t really known about or it wasn’t talked about so explicitly or something.
Diane: Well, the brilliance of Zen is that, in a certain way, like the most rigorous Zen is just completely not interested in talking about anything. Which…it just keeps, in a certain way, pulling the conceptual and linguistic rug out so that you’re actually just present here and now, which is the crown jewel of our spiritual practice. So, the extent to which shadow is actually looked at or worked with in Zen is a little bit more unclear to me. But I know, from what period of time I spent in the Tibetan tradition, that there is a history there of working with shadow in a certain way. We might call them figures that appear to be negative or frightful or scary and to identify with those and actually bring that quality up and transmute that energy. So I think that in the Tibetan tradition…
Vince: So they have some of that…their wrathful deities.
Diane: Wrathful deities, yeah, and even practices like chud. There’s a practice where you actually offer yourself to the demons in order to be as another approach to allowing the dissolution of ego, if you will.
Vince: Interesting. I’m just imagining, and actually looking back on my own experience and seeing, with a more renunciative approach, maybe not the Tibetan tradition so much. I had a tendency to really, I think, repress certain aspects of myself in the name of trying to cultivate the good stuff.
Diane: Yeah, precisely, the virtue.
Vince: I can see the differences like in what is pushing something away and what’s like a genuine, heartfelt desire to bring in the good. So I could see how that could be a real problem, like the renunciative of path could really serve other way of repressing the shadow or not looking at it.
Diane: And losing the energy that’s available, that’s associated to these more unconscious impulses. There’s actually an energy there that when you claim it, work with it, that energy is available and actually becomes liberated. And there’s a more kind of a technical Buddhist discussion which is that what’s referred to as the Hinayana or the more narrow gate, if you will, is more the precepts and the instructions about how to renounce, but the Vajrayana and the Buddhayana in Zen is more about, you actually holding the duality and working with the duality as a continuum of energy as opposed to a kind of a split of right and wrong. And the danger from my perspective of a truly renunciate path is simply that you divide the world into good and bad and then try to live out a good existence and that’ll… that takes you so far. But then as you say, you run into the limit of that. You start to see a lot of things that either get put away, not related with, or simply just aren’t in your consciousness, although that they might be in the consciousness of all your friends. That’s…
Vince: I’m sure they were.
Diane: …one of the big dangers, you know [Laughter]. So.
Vince: Yeah. And I liked too that you were talking, on the retreat at least, about the renunciative path as sort of using everything…
Vince: As the path. Like everything’s game for the spiritual path.
Vince: There’s nothing that is not spiritual in some way.
Diane: Yeah. The transmutation path.
Vince: Yeah, the transmutation path. Exactly.
Diane: And then there’s one other small thing that I think is also important is that a strong renunciate path, that one of the shadows of that is actually a kind of spiritual piety, or subtle spiritual pride. Because as you pointed out, when you practice a kind of virtue, you start to experience yourself as virtuous. And then, as is always the case, ego kind of steps in and appropriates that and pretty soon you’re just the paragon of virtue and that’s your identity. Right? And there’s nothing worse. [Laughs] I mean, in some ways it’s one of the worst possibilities. So that transmutation path really keeps you really in touch with your humanness and that tendency towards piety I think gets cut through also.
Vince: Interesting. And have you found that there’re any shadow sides or weaknesses with the transmutation path?
Diane: Yeah. I mean, there are a lot of teachers who come to mind who’ve been criticized for bringing everything to the path including alcoholism, womanizing, not being straight with finances. All of it. In other words, it’s harder, much harder to stay as clear from an ethical perspective when everything is included. It can start to feel as though whatever arises is perfect as it is, when in fact, there are moments when some things should simply be said no to. And so I think that’s the shadow. Either way, even when we talk about renunciation, either way you can start to see that no matter what the type of path we choose, we have to work with something about the underbelly of that path. Which is, by its nature, a transmutation issue. If that makes sense.
Vince: Yeah, no, it does. It just sounds like there’s always a weakness…
Vince: …to how we approach things and we have to work with it somehow.
Diane: Yeah, precisely. Yeah. And it’s the world that literally is the nature of our mind and of reality. This play of the two, even though of course it’s all one, it manifests as two and we have to navigate that.
Vince: Nice. And I know that the approach of Zen that you’re teaching now, you’re calling it integral Zen?
Vince: Its concern is with exactly that, what you’re talking about. How to navigate all the complexities of the world and figure out a way to approach spirituality that’s sort of taking into account these things.
Diane: Well, I think that’s what it’s ripening toward. I would say that the original inspiration, because why would you add the word “integral” to Zen, that doesn’t make any sense from a Zen perspective. I mean, nothing can be added, nothing can really be taken away. And particularly, why would you add a conceptual map to Zen? Because Zen is the most radically non-conceptual system and it’s really quite provocative and beautiful in that regard, in how rigorous and relentless it is. And teaching Zen can be a great challenge, just precisely because to use language to teach Zen. Which is why the stories of the famous masters, they do all of these kind of unorthodox behaviors like putting shoes on their heads and walking out of the room because the cutting away of conceptual barriers and the thought that creates a duality between us and reality as it is. That’s its brilliance. So the idea of even adding the word “integral” to Zen is just, from one point of view, sort of stupid. [Laughs]
Vince: But you did it?
Diane: I did… well yeah, because I’m just naturally dumb [Laughs] and I’m a terrible Zen teacher. But the reason I did it really was because there was just a lot of energy within the integral community of spiritual seekers to practice in. So really…I remember saying to my teacher, Genpo Roshi, “What’s Integral Zen?” and he said, “My life.” Because all of our lives in this global time, in this very massively multicultural milieu that we live in, we’re all integral; we’re all borrowing from traditions and participating in different aspects of practice, we’re all informed by science, we’ve all been affected by postmodern critique, we look at culture, feminism matters to us, we care about the environment, we’re all integral. Really.
So for me the inspiration was really to practice Zen in a context, or in a sangha if you will, a community of people who were informed integrally. In a way the inspiration really came from just wanting simply to give the people in the integral world a place to practice where they could relate to each other. And then what’s coming out of that is just some of these deeper questions that integral brings to spiritual practice, like, really, what does modernism and science have to say about spiritual practice?
I remember Ken at one point, Ken Wilber, asking the question: if you found out, for instance, that three hours a day of zazen was really the absolute maximum to deepen realization and that any sitting after that each day was actually… didn’t ripen into anything. Even as I speak that’s not a very good way to frame it from a Zen point of view, but, let’s imagine that there was an efficacy to the number of hours. Would you practice five if you knew that three was, you know, the right amount? So he’s, he’s bringing this question, you know, what does science, research, what does that all have to do with spiritual practice? I mean the research that’s been done on prayer, that prayer actually does seem to have impact, does that matter? And then also the postmodern considerations are brought to the question as well.
So one of the things that we talked about which is a good postmodern question is what’s the difference between the role of teacher and the role of an administrator of an organization? Lots of times within the Buddhist world the head teacher and the head administrator are the same. They may be a rockingly good teacher and a very sad leader. And maybe not actually that good at running an organization, now some of them are and are very talented at that, but not everybody is, and yet we don’t often make those distinctions. So integral would invite us to go ahead and make those distinctions, and work with that and see what comes of that. So, it’s an experiment, but, all of spiritual practice is an experiment in a way.
Vince: And I notice in your teachings, like, there was much more of a sense of a collective exploration that I’d never really experienced on retreats before, and I found that to be interesting, and it seemed related to dharma teaching because you were obviously doing teaching but then there was a sort of interpersonal, I felt like shadow work, going on as well, and at one point I actually had this feeling of like we’re just sitting around talking about being human together, and I know that a big part of that was probably the way that you were framing everything, but it just felt like we were kind of helping wake each other up, and that seemed like a unique thing in some way to me given what I’ve seen in the spiritual scene. Could you say something about that?
Yeah, I would say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for the lineage master and the role of the master in, particularly in Zen practice. The relationship of the master. And at the same time, in our time I also have a tremendous amount of faith in the fellow practitioners. And conventionally it’s said that the sangha or the group of practitioners are actually like stones that rub up against each other and actually help to round each other out. I feel that the recognition of our true nature, it’s our birth right, it’s a attendant to who we are, and having a really skillful person who can help you realize or see who you really are, but that actually can be in the form of somebody who is sitting next to you, it doesn’t always have to be in a vertical transmission, although we need that, but the sangha matters as well. And maybe because I’m a woman, or maybe because I grew up in a large family, or maybe because I’m a Mormon, this again would be an integral question. What influence is it that I put as much emphasis as I do on the sangha? But my guess is if you were to.. I’m imagining there’s just more of that emphasis across Buddha dharma in America than certainly we might have experienced in the past just because of the time that we’re in. And I think spiritual practice is really about becoming a full human being, as opposed to whatever we might think enlightenment means, or whatever it means to be divinely inspired, but actually to integrate that, into the absolute challenge of the flesh and boniness of our experience, if you will.
Vince: Very cool. Sort of connected to the original question around the sort of unique group teaching situation that we had where we were able to share from the Big Mind voices. You’re actually able to take on certain voices and speak from those wisdom voices or even the more dualistic voices. I also had this sort of interesting insight that somehow inviting that in created a container where you didn’t always have to hold it down. Like that there were some checks and balances from the wisdom of the group, and that sort of freed you up a little bit to like, as a teacher.
Vince: I found that really interesting. Has that been you experience?
Diane: Well, my teacher, Genpo Roshi, who you might say had a spontaneous awakening in his early 20′s and then realized he had to bring that into the container. He had an intuition about Zen and began to study with Maezumi Roshi in his late 20′s and studied with him in Los Angeles for about 14 years. And then was with him altogether, I believe, more like 24 years but was actually with him in Los Angeles. He was working with the Voice’s Dialogue founders Hal and Sidra stone in the 80′s and the whole sangha was working on some issues using the Voice Dialogue process.
In about 1999 my teacher started to use Voice Dialogue to ask the questions that Zen asks. You know, what is your original face, before your parents were born, or those kinds of questions, and found that, through facilitating and asking people to identify, that he saw just so clearly the primordial wisdom. The self-existent wisdom of each person, that when you identify in just the right way that this, both expansiveness of consciousness but also just, kind of very direct knowing about being human, about what it is, that that’s available. Instead of the teacher imparting that or pointing that out, the teacher is now listening to that because it already is available. Your true nature, if you will, enlightened mind, heart whatever word you’d like to use for something that’s fundamentally unnamable—Buddha nature, perhaps. That by inviting you in the right way to see it, which is no other than you, that you can actually just simply start to manifest and access that part and I really think that’s been Genpo’s genius. Genpo Roshi’s genius is to facilitate, well, there’s a pointing out to the facilitation—but, to listen as opposed to impart. That’s a big shift.
Vince: Yeah. I experienced it as a pretty big shift, so. I’d say that’s something unique, maybe, to the… I don’t know if it came out of the whole integral conversation or just from Genpo’s experimentation but it seemed really unique to me.
Diane: Yeah. Well I think it certainly came through Genpo Roshi and then I think that the amount of it we have done in the integral community has allowed us to actually start to look at some other questions of being from this perspective and it’s been really illuminating for everybody so I’m glad you liked it.
Vince: Yeah, thank you. And one last thing I wanted to ask about the integral teaching model. I saw that this summer you’re doing a longer retreat, like a 3 week retreat and it’s interesting, you’re breaking it up. So that, in the first week it’s more of a traditional Zen retreat where there’s a lot of sitting in silence and a very strong container for that practice, and then the second week is more focused on relational practices and conflict mediation, because you’re trained as a conflict mediator.
Diane: Correct, yeah.
Vince: So this is more like, interpersonal and in the last week, you guys are going out into nature and camping and sitting in nature and being with the elements. So it’s really like an actual retreat structure that’s based on this recognition of these different perspectives and the integral lingo. I was wondering if you could say a little about that, and is this the first time you’re doing it?
Diane: It’s the first time I’m doing it and the inspiration of it really comes from the, what we in the integral world and what Ken Wilber and Mark Gafni have a lot to do with this, they’re calling it the Three Faces of Spirit. And the first face of spirit is obviously the first person realization—that I am and that I am no other than all things. You might say that this recognition is at the heart of Zen practice. So the first week is really to realize the first person, and the bliss and luminousness that’s associated to this first-person recognition. And the second-person is really the relational dimension and all the theistic traditions that focus on the I-thou, on myself and deity and the communion of myself and the Divine. Those are second-person emphases, in which the relational dualism is really where the power of the practice is. And so, the second week is going to be really focused on second-person, and I think many of us who’ve been involved in Buddhist practice, and even those of us who’ve had deep enlightenment experiences, still struggle in the relational dimension. Precisely because it’s in the relational dimension that our ego gets most provoked and our sense of self-striving and need to protect ourselves. So what’s it like to bring the recognition of zazen into the relational dimension and, actually, work with ego as it’s activated in our communications and in our negotiation and our coming and going with one another? Because that really is the place where most of us struggle.
So, in a way, you could say that the second face of God, the second-person of spirit that we’ll be focused on, is also just a deep experiment in how can we bring, from the week of the first-person, this realization into the relational realm. And keeping in mind that, of course, all traditions have all three faces, that Zen has a very powerful second-person dimension in the master-disciple relationship. And maybe if you have a relationship to a bodhisattva like Kanzeon Bodhisattva or to the sangha itself.
So it’s always there, but what I’m doing is trying to make it explicit and see what the practice is and what the technologies are that can really actually help us deliberate more freedom and more fullness in the second-person in the relational dimension. Is there a way for us to relax more deeply with each other and to not compete as much or compare ourselves as furiously as we do? The same kind of samadhi that you can experience on the cushion, to experience that in the day-to-day exchange. Not simply sitting in a group but actually, working together, playing together. So that’s the second face.
And then the third face is really not the third face but we’re starting there, which is the third face of spirit is really that real specific subject-object split that science uses where spirit is now, not a first-person recognition, it’s not a second-person communion or exchange. But it’s really the mystery of that which is other than you. There’s really nature, in particularly Southern Utah, so profoundly immense and unknowable, in a way, that the mystery of the third-person can really be experienced in nature.
And then, of course, we’ll bring it closer to us in a relational dimension and then we’ll also get to experience how, of course, we’re nothing other than nature, we are nature, and nature is us, as much as we like to imagine we’re separate—we’re not—which is partly why I care about spending time in nature this time in our history. But it’s kind of a third face of spirit, going into nature and really seeing nature as other and then really seeing nature as the same. So, it’s that whole exploration, which is an integral way of talking about it and framing it.
Vince: I remember you sort of mentioning that it’s really helpful to be able to go in and out of these different perspectives, not like one is superior to the others but somehow useful to flow.
Diane: Yeah, and I like to point out to people just the difference in the emotional space of these three perspectives, that first-person is often associated to bliss, the bliss of meditation, of non-duality. And the second-person, of course, is love; and the third-person is awe. Just to experience yourself in a relationship to the unknowableness of the universe. If you can get over the fear of it, it’s very awe-inspiring.