Jun Po Roshi passed away peacefully on Wednesday, May 12. As a way to commemorate jun Po’s incredible legacy and wisdom, we have published this dialogue for free. Please enjoy.
In this provocative and exhilarating dialogue, Jun Po Roshi and Ken Wilber take an in-depth look at Keith Martin-Smith’s new book: A Heart Blown Open: The Life and Practice of Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi .
For most of us, we would need to reincarnate at least 50 times in order to attain such an incredible volume of experience. But for whatever reason, it seems that Jun Po went a slightly different route, and chose to live all 50 of those lives at once.
Here is his remarkable story—a riveting tale of enlightenment, debauchery, and infinite jest.
One of my favorite encounters with Jun Po Roshi was a night I spent driving him from the San Jose airport to Pacific Grove, during our last Integral Spiritual Experience event. A few minutes into our three-hour drive, I asked him what his favorite Beatles album was. “Sgt. Peppers,” he replied, so I played the album on my iPhone. I explained to him that I was raised on a steady diet of this music, and had always felt a slight envy that his generation got to experience the explosion of rock and roll culture firsthand.
“This music—it makes me feel nostalgic for a time before I was born,” I told him.
“Well get ready,” he shot back, “because that time is coming sooner than you think.”
At that moment it struck me as the funniest thing I had ever heard. A perfect Zen joke. A surge of laughter bubbled up from my belly, and as it erupted out of my face, something popped inside my consciousness. For just a second, reality flipped itself inside-out, and all that remained were the trembling aftershocks of laughter and a big, beautiful Buddha smile radiating from the back seat of the van, as we continued down the black highway that stretched before us.
This perfectly-timed sense of humor, of course, is one of Jun Po’s finest and most endearing qualities. There’s no denying it: the man’s got jokes. But these are not just your standard gags and quips—there is transmission in Jun Po’s humor. In fact, his wit is almost as important to his teaching as his wisdom, and he uses it to set the ego at ease while preparing it for it’s own oblivion, leading us to the infinite absurdity at the very core of our existence. Samsara is a joke, and this very moment is the punchline.
Another remarkable quality of Jun Po Roshi that really comes through in this dialogue: he is not the type of guy to sweep his shadows beneath the rug of enlightenment. Rather, he chooses to meet them head-on, using the curative, self-liberating quality of consciousness to extract transcendent light from some of the deepest, darkest parts of his psyche. These might very well be the most admirable aspects of Jun Po’s character: his unabashed and unflinching honesty, his willingness to confess and take full responsibility for his own flaws and mistakes, his unshakable presence and courage as he embraces the pain and stands in the purifying flames of redemption. Jun Po Roshi accepts light and shadow alike as intrinsic elements of his spirituality, exemplifying the Tantric ideal of “bringing everything to the path” by neither avoiding nor excluding the more onerous and destructive facets of our lives. Instead, he urges us to face them directly, to work with them intimately, and to ultimately transmute them into wisdom, virtue, and compassion.
Jun Po Kelly Roshi’s story is truly remarkable, and when coupled with his radiant personality and wily sense of humor, would no doubt make for a wildly entertaining and enriching Hollywood blockbuster. Even more intriguing, his story echoes a narrative even greater than his own (as all truly great stories do)—it is hard to think of anyone who better personifies the remarkable progression of American spirituality from the 1960’s until today, standing as he does with one foot firmly planted in the sixties counterculture, and the other in today’s Integral renaissance.
Written by Corey deVos