Did you get to learn any of the traditional Tibetan type meditations while you
Musho Hamilton: I practiced shamatha vipashyana meditation, which like zazen,
introduces us to our innate wakefulness, and provides the open ground for
insight to arise. I also practiced tonglen or sending and receiving, which helps
us to develop an unbiased heart filled with compassion and to face our pain and
disappointments directly. I worked with lojong, a cognitive practice that
address the patterns of our thinking, so we can refine our thoughts and clarify
our motivations. And although I never became a formal student of the Vajrayana
path, I received several Vajrayana initiations, including the Kalachakra Tantra
with Kalu Rinpoche many years ago in France.
Naropa, I was introduced to the Five Wisdom Families which I found to be
immensely useful in my own practice and in my work with others. The system lays
out five different patterns of energy, and teaches us to become intimate with
the our style of self-clinging. It shows us how, when freed of focus on the
self, our energy takes a natural course, enlivening and contributing to our
was a period of about six months after I finished my degree at Naropa University
when I practiced in Kathamandu, Nepal and in Bodhgaya, India. But then Trungpa
Rinpoche died, and I spent several years wandering away from the formal Buddhist
Ok, so when you met your teacher Genpo Roshi, what happened with your
development? Did anything transpire?
Musho Hamilton: Yes I would say there were two things maybe more, but just in
terms of my own path, what happened was that Trungpa had died and a kind of
scandal involving the Regent Osel Tendzin ensued. Because of that scandal at the
time, I simply differentiated from that lineage and for a period of seven years
I had a
child, who was born with
Downís syndrome. I was practicing in a much more, I guess nurturing way, and
raising a child and dealing with my own grief. This was my practice at that
time. I was integrating everything I had studied to that point and I would stay
with my child 10 or so years into that and like many teachers and students in
the West, I would say it was a bit of a smorgasbord of practice where I was
exposed to some nature practices - to earth based Native American practices. I
did yoga and kundalini and the whole spiritual market place, but my fundamental
practice was really raising my child at that point.
this appetite for formal practice just arose spontaneously. I felt that
meditation drawing me again, that deep stillness; that deepest enquiry into that
dimension of who we are. It was kind of pulling at me and I knew that I wanted
to study with a master and I wasnít so concerned with which lineage, but what I
wanted was a genuine lineage master. It could have been a sufi or a zen or
Koeren zen master but it was at that point that I met Genpo Roshi. So I would
really really credit Genpo with first of all creating a space in which my own
reality deepened because his zazen was so stable and so committed just being in
his presence and his sangha. I was also introduced to the soto zen lineage, the
rituals and the ancestors. The way in which you have probably heard that
Tibetan Buddhism is referred to as the complete Buddhism, and that zen is
referred to as the essential Buddhism, and the way to use an integral phrase -
the lower rite of practice the forms. I was introduced to the beauty of those
forms as the formalism of Japan as you know is unparalleled; the way that they
work with the robes and the way that they attend to the lineage master. So I was
introduced to the forms and the beauty of Japanese zen and Genpo Roshi held the
practice for the sangha. He had a monastic practice here at the time but it had
a permeable boundary. The monks were very inviting of the lay people who wanted
to practice; people who were questioning and people who were confused. There
was a bit of a swinging door of how welcome people were to participate in those
forms. So I learned a lot from Roshi how to hold the practice for others. So I
would say that transmission was extremely important in my own development as a
then finally I also participated in koan study. Koan study is one of the main
ways that I interact with my students, which comes more from the Rinzai line,
but Maezumi Roshi
was more recognized in both
the Rinzai and Zen schools. So finally I began to work with this process called
big mind. He started to use what we might call a contemporary form of teaching
in which the perspective of the student is already presumed to already have
a facilitative style of teaching as opposed to traditional, but tradition
happens in both conventional teachings and also in big mind. The facilitative
aspects, you might call it positing out of helping the student actually identity
in their own awareness, something like the infinite nature of mind or the
relationship of form to emptiness. To actually use the process to bring those
teachings home really lays out in a way like Buddha dharma, so people can really
was the first person he gave transmission of studying with people in that
particular method. I still use that method quite a lot in my own teaching. So
itís more than what I said in the beginning. Iím a teacher now due to his
influence because I remember a meeting that I had with him one day. I just have
so much appreciation for him as Iím talking. I had an audience with him and I
had gone for a particular reason. I was going as a meditator at the time. I was
really interested in something like meditation because by its nature it is
dualistic. It is always something thatís transpiring between you and me.
Thereís always a subject object spilt and I was interested in what would happen
in negotiation if the parties were capable of accessing the same mind and
quality of mind. So I had that really deep question, and thatís part of why I
went back to studying Zen. After a period of time he called me to have an
audience with him and he basically asked me what my intention in practice was. I
told him that I felt like I had received what I had really come for - the depth
of the sitting and his pointing out and my realization through the big mind
process. He looked at me and said what about others? And it was the first time
that it had ever even occurred to me to support other people in their practice
or teaching was even something I would be thinking about, even though I had been
practicing dharma for many many years. It was only at that moment that it had
actually occurred to me that I might have a karmic obligation - this is a way to
say it. I actually mean that in a non dualistic way that it was simply a
ripening of my own practice and to extend it to other people.
So at that point did you become a formal teacher? Did he give you the permission
Musho Hamilton: No he gave me permission to teach 3 or 4 years after that
So once he gave you this permission to teach, did you go out and develop and
found your own sangha or group of people?
Musho Hamilton: Yes.
How does that actually happen?
Musho Hamilton: It was very interesting as to what happened. I had met Ken
Wilber in 2004 and I had received Zen transmission from Genpo in the spring of
2006, so two and a half years later. But I had already begun teaching at these
integral seminars. My job was to take some of Kenís important theoretical points
and actually help people find that in their experience so it was no longer an
idea simply - maybe it had intuited a truth, but to actually show them how it
was important in their experience.
So I was a trainer and I also led the meditations. I did big mind a lot with the
people who came to those integral seminars.
happened was that when Genpo Roshi gave me dharma transmission, there were
already a number of people who had started to do retreats with me. At that
point, when I had transitioned out of Roshiís sangha and developed my own, some
of those people gathered from the integral world came and started to study with
me. I would say the vast majority of my formal students came to me through the
work with Ken.
How about in practical terms, did you have to find a space where people could
come and meditate and where you could teach them or was there already a space
that you had been using?
Musho Hamilton: Well, I had been practicing with Genpo at the temple here which
was a traditional Zen temple that was recognized in Japan that belonged to Roshi,
and I was a support person at that temple. I had been leading retreats in the
desert with his students and I started to lead retreats down in nature - down in
the canyon lands because I have a very powerful connection to the earth where I
live. And Iím also interested in the reintegration with indigenous cultures at a
very high level of development. So I kind of opened a space in that huge open
space of cliffs and rivers and mountains down there. So I started practicing
there and over the course of the next couple of years Roshi left Salt Lake City
which left a gap. At that point, my husband and I opened a small center in Salt
Lake City. So right now I have three small centers. One in Boulder, one in Tory
Utah and one in Salt Lake City.
Which is the one that is closest to where you do the retreats out in the desert?
Is that Utah?
Musho Hamilton: Yes, thatís southern Utah, called Boulder Mountin Zendo. Itís by
a big mountain right near a national park, the Red Rock Contry of Utah.
So there are indigenous people that live close by?
Musho Hamilton: There are tribes of people that live all over Utah - 70
different tribes that live here. I donít have actual interaction with them per
se, but I have been deeply influenced just by the land here. And also the time
I spent with them when I was young.
interested in them, but Iím very cautious around them and how this arises and I
havenít met a lineage holder in those traditions yet, or have studied with one
Ok, I came across an interview that you did with Scott Kiloby regarding issues
that may arise when students project a golden shadow on to their teachers. I
know in some traditions they actually encourage this, but how does that work in
the Zen tradition?
Musho Hamilton: Well, obviously within the realm of true Zen, there is no light
and dark so the idea of a golden shadow is a little bit irrelevant to a genuine
true transmission, but sometimes how we manifest in the day to day sometimes our
greater strengths are also our weaknesses and sometimes thatís also true for Zen
masters. It might be where a master is a highly committed person and because of
that he dies early.
see how his commitment is both his strength and how much he gives, but it is
also a weakness in terms of his longevity. Right, so itís basically learning how
to include and work with the human limitations of our teachers. I think this is
true, certainly in our time. Traditionally you could look it at through an
integral perspective and say the relationship to the student master changes
depending on the developments weíre at. A really strict level of a
disciple/student at mythic consciousness is precisely what we have to do. One
needs to submit to the master here in human development; our own perspective
becomes important. We learn how to integrate with the master. We have to
understand that on every level the true mind of the master and us are not
separate, but how itís expressed is going to be different on this culture and
time. Part of it is how we are struggling within the west and what these new
forms and relationships actually look like. Does that make sense?
Yes, that answers the question. This is a theoretical question about a student
of yours that had somehow had an insight or glimpse. What would you say to
someone like that? Would you tell them to keep this to themselves or to tell
other people about it? I know that a lot of people have a tendency to want to
broadcast this sort of thing. How would you usually handle a situation like
Musho Hamilton: Thatís a common scenario and we say in our tradition to
encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment. Itís an encounter and what I
would do and advise a student who had an experience is to now seriously study
and practice Zen. Because learning how to integrate that into your life, your
every day manifestation communicates it so you donít have to tell anybody about
it because your manifestation will communicate it.