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Aversion, Death, Rebirth, Vanity                        
Winter 2013  


Interview with non duality magazine



Diane Musho Hamilton is a gifted mediator, facilitator, and teacher of Zen and Integral Spirituality. She has been a practitioner of meditation for more than 25 years. Diane began her studies at Naropa University in 1983 with Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche, and became a Zen student of Genpo Roshiís in 1997. In 2003, she received ordination as a Zen monk with her husband Michael Zimmerman, and received dharma transmission from Roshi in 2006.


Diane facilitates Big Mind Big Heart, a process developed by Genpo Roshi to help elicit the insights of Zen in Western audiences. She also teaches Integral Spirituality, and has worked with Ken Wilber and the Integral Institute in Denver, Colorado, since 2004.


As a mediator, Diane was the Director of the Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution for the Utah Judiciary from 1994-99. She has extensive experience in facilitating multi-party meetings, including public policy discussions. Diane received the Utah Council on Conflict Resolution Peacekeeper award in 2001 and the Peter W. Billings Award from the Utah State Bar for Outstanding Work in Dispute Resolution in 2003. She co-founded the Utah Council on Conflict Resolution, and has taught meditation at the University of Utah Law School, and the U of Utah Communications Institute.






How did you become interested in Zen?


Diane Musho Hamilton: I was born a somewhat thoughtful child, filled with questions about the meaning of existence, even at a young age. When I was nine, I was sitting in a grade school auditorium before the film started, and I suddenly saw the death of my small existence, and all of eternity pouring forward endlessly without me at the center of it. My interest in this greater thing has persisted ever since.


When I was seventeen, seven very good friends died in a period of about six months. Four were killed in a plane; one was murdered, one committed suicide, and one died in an automobile accident. I became even more deeply concerned with what it means to be a human being in the face of death. In Zen, we call this addressing the Great Matter of Life and Death.


At that point, I began my spiritual search in earnest. What eventually led me to Zen is a bit of a mystery. Sometimes I think it happened because I was highly rational, and I entered Buddhism easily through a philosophical gate. Other times, I would explain it using the word karma, perhaps even past lives. Other times, I acknowledge a deep resonance with the aesthetics of Japanese Zen.


Either way, I found spiritual practice very accessible in the Buddhist traditional, particularly because I was relieved of resolving a belief in God. I could simply learn to develop my awareness and my heart. I had also began to experience the limits of western philosophy to address my deepest questions because my thinking mind continuously separated me from my experience. As Zen Master Bankei says, ďAs long as there is a gap, the itch isnít scratched.Ē So I was seeking to close the gap between cognition and experience without really knowing it. The teaching of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche at Naropa Insitute showed me that.


I have been a student of Buddhism in one form or another ever since. I studied the Kaygu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism until Chogyam Trungpa died. There was a period of time after that where I was free-wheeling it, and then I made a decision to commit more deeply to meditation. It was at that time that I met Genpo Roshi. I met him for the first time in Ď93, and began studying with him in earnest in Ď98.  That was the beginning of my Zen training.

Chogyam Trungpa was a good friend of Suzuki Roshi and Maezumi Roshi, and he had adopted quite a few of the Japanese forms in his teaching to western students like the use of Japanese bells, the simple instructions for zazen, and the use of oryoki or formal eating practice in the shrine room during longer retreats.  This made the transition from Tibetan Buddhism to Zen very easy for me.  In fact, in our first conversation, I told Genpo Roshi that I had been a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, (i.e. I had studied his teaching but at Naropa Institute), and he replied, ďAny friend of Chogyam Trungpa is a friend of mine.Ē


Did you get to learn any of the traditional Tibetan type meditations while you were there?


Diane 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.


At 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 world. 


That 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 path.


Ok, so when you met your teacher Genpo Roshi, what happened with your development? Did anything transpire?


Diane 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. 


Then 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 teacher. 


And 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 innate wisdom. 


So itís 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 grasp it.


So I 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 to teach?


Diane Musho Hamilton: No he gave me permission to teach 3 or 4 years after that moment.


So once he gave you this permission to teach, did you go out and develop and found your own sangha or group of people?


Diane Musho Hamilton: Yes.


How does that actually happen?


Diane 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.


So what 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?


Diane 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?


Diane 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?


Daine 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.


Iím 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 yet.


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?


Diane 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.


And you 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 this?


Diane 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.





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