Gendo Sensei to Read at Prairie Lights Bookstore

Gendo Sensei is scheduled to read from The Driftwood Shrine and sign books at the Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, on March 9th at 7:00 PM.  (Looks like he’ll be in good company!)

President Barack Obama at Prairie Lights Bookstore

Prairie Lights is an exceptionally famous independent bookstore.

Prairie Lights sprang to life in May 1978 as a small, intimate bookstore offering titles by the newer voices of Raymond Carver and Alice Munro and by established authors like Eudora Welty and George Orwell. As the staff and customers tended the books with care much like a garden, the store grew and blossomed. By 1982 Prairie Lights transplanted itself from South Linn St. to South Dubuque and has gradually spread to three and a half floors, the half being an 1100 square foot coffee house located in the same space that the local literary society met throughout the 1930’s, hosting writers Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, e e cummings and others.

—Excerpted from Prairie Lights’ “About” page


Reading and Book Signing Event Announced

West Shore Community College has announced that Gendo Sensei will read from his new book, The Driftwood Shrine: Discovering Zen in American Poetry, at 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, October 12, in the Administrative and Conference Building Café of West Shore Community College, in Scottville, Michigan.  The public is cordially invited to attend.

English: A Beautiful Autumn day on the campus ...
A Beautiful Autumn day on the campus of West Shore Community College. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the college press release:

Gendo Sensei is a college professor of writing and literature with numerous publications of poetry and essays. “My life is characterized by some seemingly long, intertwined vines of contrasting, if not competing, interests and activities. These include my enduring love of writing of all kinds, but especially of poetry; my firm commitment to the transformational power of education; the curiously creative and powerful ability of contemporary technology to stimulate and amplify our teaching and learning; and my now 30-year commitment to Zen practice,” says Sensei.

Gendo Sensei’s reading will be followed by a question and answer session. Copies of the book will be available for those who would like to purchase a signed copy. The book may also be purchased at most online retailers and in Ludington bookstores.  To read excerpts from the book, please see the Excerpts posts category.


On the International Day of Peace

September 21 has been declared the International Day of Peace by the United Nations.  Bully for the UN!  I’m all for peace, of course, and dedicating a day in its honor in the face of the inexorable tsunami of violence that leaves even humanitarian aid workers dead, provides an excuse for spending a few seconds thinking about alternatives.

Allen Ginsberg by photographer Elsa Dorfman
Allen Ginsberg by photographer Elsa Dorfman (Photo credit: Wikipedia).  Ginsberg is holding his hands in the dhana mudra, or “meditation gesture.”

But I’m afraid any alternative that plays out at the institutional level alone will always fall short in its effects.  It’s only when individual transformation has been brought into the mix that peaceful behavior is normative.  There are those who say it’s unrealistic to imagine a world in which all, or even a majority, of its inhabitants become pacifists.  But who’s really being unrealistic?  Is it realistic to imagine that peace can be founded on a bedrock of violence?

At perhaps a less polemical level, I took up the topic of conflict in The Driftwood Shrine when wrote about the implicit conflict in Allen Ginsberg’s poem “First Party at Ken Kesey‘s with Hell’s Angels.”  Here is an excerpt:


Ginsberg’s distinctly Buddhist kind of poetic practice . . . was, he explained, “similar to the Dharmic practice of letting go of thoughts [so that you can have] the confidence to observe your own perceptions and discontinuities.” By objectively capturing such moments, Ginsberg believed that poetry could be “a ground of purification….” a practice of recognizing that the irretrievable nature of time made it impossible to revise or deny the truth that is evident in every moment.1  To see how this works, you may have to spend a little time . . . in the quiet air of Zen.   . . . if you slow down and let the words of “First Party” force you to turn your light inward—then you will find that it becomes a terribly beautiful thing, endlessly unfolding itself within you just as Zen koans do.

Koans are snippets of (usually) ancient masters’ dialogs that have become the objects of meditation and realization in the Zen tradition. In koan practice, you begin with a slow, meticulous walk along the tightrope of words, steadily concentrating on each step of the path of language, finding your way to the other side of the intrinsic meaning of the words.

To get at the gist of “First Party at Ken Kesey’s,” therefore, just slowly and meticulously observe everything in it, step by step, with your mind in a state of graceful, balanced equipoise. When you reach the other side, far beyond the mere dictionary meanings of Ginsberg’s words, then you will see the Zen of his poem: that what is important is not the contested territories of right and wrong, or tradition and revolution, but that the origins of human conflict are within you.


1. Ginsberg, Allen. Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry. Kent John and Craig Paulenich, eds. Shambala, 2001. Print. 99.  [nb: I had poetry published in this anthology too!  –Gendo Sensei]

English: Allen Ginsberg with partner Peter Orl...
English: Allen Ginsberg with partner Peter Orlovski, Frankfurt Airport, 1978. Deutsch: Allen Ginsberg mit Peter Orlovski, Frankfurt Flughafen, 1978. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Site Launch for The Driftwood Shrine

This is the official site for the new book, The Driftwood Shrine: Discovering Zen in American Poetry.  The book (still in progress), is a collection of Dharma talks given mostly at Myoshinji (Subtle Mind Temple) in Green County, Wisconsin, and at the Great Wave Zen Center on the shore of Lake Michigan.  At its heart, The Driftwood Shrine is a Dharma teaching book.  But The Driftwood Shrine serves another purpose too: making the long-lived link between American poetry and the Buddha-dharma conspicuous.

Plans for this site include providing new readers with excerpts from Gendo Sensei’s book, news of its progress toward publication, and perhaps a glimpse or two into his creative process.

If you want to help support this project, please subscribe to the blog (there’s a widget in the right-hand column), add comments to the posts, send feedback, or pledge to buy the book when it comes out!


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