About Reverend Doshin Kusan Roshi
Doshin Kusan was ordained as a Soto Zen priest in 2020 and his ordained name is Reverend Doshin Kusan Roshi. He was also given transmission in this tradition and is now able to guide serious Zen students through the process to ordination. He was a lay teacher for many years and was given the title of Roshi in 2015.
He now runs the third Soto Zen lineage in Australia. Reverend Doshin Kusan received ordination from James Ford Roshi who has been a Zen Buddhist Priest for 50 years.
James Ford Roshi travelled to Australia for the ordination and administered transmission to Reverend Doshin Kusan while in Australia. Kusan will continue taking students through koan practice of the Diamond Sangha. He now has transmission in two Zen lineages.
Kusan began Forest Way Zen in 1989 on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. He began to meditate after his divorce in 1974 and in 1976 he became interested in Buddhism and particularly in Zen Buddhism. He first met Subhana Barzaghi of the Diamond Sangha in 1976 and she later became his main teacher.
Kusan married Marie in 1979 in Sydney and they both began to sit in meditation. They tried Transcendental Meditation in the early days and Kusan was influenced to meditate by his involvement in Karate Do. After working towards his black belt and after a trip to Japan Kusan put more attention on meditation.
Marie and Kusan moved to Queensland in 1987 and began to sit with the Brisbane Zen Group. After moving to the Sunshine Coast, they travelled to Brisbane for three years almost every Sunday. This was a round trip of 300kms. There was no resident Zen teacher in Queensland at that time, so Rosalind Stone from Canada began to teach in Queensland. Kusan studied under Rosalind for several years and then found that he had developed a good relationship with Subhana Roshi, who was a resident of Northern New South Wales. When Subhana Roshi moved to Sydney, Kusan attended many Zen sesshin in Sydney.
Doshin Kusan found that without a regular teacher to guide him he had to find a way of meditating and he began to use Shikantaza or just sitting as his main practice. He later developed this skill, or as he later learned, Silent Illumination, as one of his main meditation practices. His early training was mostly of a Soto style with the Brisbane Zen Group. Teachers came from the Joko Beck school in America.
Kusan lived in a Korean Zen monastery in Brisbane during 1995 and 1996 for just under 12 months. He then went to study and train with Robert Aitken Roshi in Hawaii and completed an Ango (Training Period) for more than 2 months. During his time there he worked on building the temple for the Diamond Sangha in Hawaii and attended the last sesshin that Aitken Roshi conducted.
After his retirement Kusan conducted mindfulness meditation workshops each week at different locations around the Sunshine Coast while continuing to teach Zen at Forest Way Zen. He had used mindfulness meditation during his work in palliative care and cancer care as a psychotherapist.
After the bombings of the Twin Towers in 2001 Kusan became active in creating reconciliation on the Sunshine Coast with Muslims and other faiths. He was one of the founding members of the Sunshine Coat Interfaith Network (SCIN). SCIN held regular meetings at the local university and church venues. This activity went on for 5 years. The seminars provided a place to express strong feelings and eventually a forum of healing.
Kusan has attended about 500 to 600 days on Zen buddhist retreats in sesshin, Zazenkai and other Buddhist retreats over the years and conducted over 150 retreats including sesshin, zazenkai and mindfulness training periods. He was made a practice leader in 1999 and was invited to teach as an assistant teacher in 2004 after completing his koan study. He was given transmission in 2015 in the Diamond Sangha by Subhana Barzaghi and the title of Roshi.
Forest Way Zen: Way of the Forest Hermitage conducts weekly sittings, regular Zazenkai, a five-day Sesshin and 2- 3-day retreats for Jukai celebrations at the Way of the Forest Hermitage in Doonan. Regular introductions are held by senior students of Forest Way Zen; Way of the Forest Hermitage who now conduct short Saturday intensives for 4 hours. Emphasis is placed on learning correct meditation and learning the liturgy of Soto Zen. These events are temporarily closed due to the covid-19 pandemic.
Forest Way Zen has conducted Sunday mindfulness workshops for people with chronic pain, chronic illness, arthritis, and other issues that reduce life enjoyment. This is run by the Forest Way Zen Care and no charge is made to participants. Members of Forest Way Zen are engaged in helping in this endeavour to show compassion within the sangha. This year Doshin Kusan will be teaching Zen and ordinary meditation to older students with the emphasis of sitting on a chair. These workshops will be run at Cooroy library but most of these group activities are in recess due to COVID-19. There are plans to begin these groups next year.
After completing high school Doshin Kusan began a career in sales, working in real estate and as a management consultant conducting sales training and management training for industry. After his divorce from his first wife he changed direction and completed three university qualifications specializing in social science and psychotherapy and counselling. (see below). Kusan also studied karate and gained his black belt during this time. Kusan spent much of his later years before retirement working in palliative care and cancer care. Kusan now spends 20-25 hours a week in Zen teaching and training with Forest Way Zen: Way of the Forest Hermitage.
B.S.Sc. Queensland University of Technology
Grad. Dip. of Counselling Queensland University of Technology
M.App.Sc. University of Western Sydney.
Doshin Kusan's Ordination
An Interview with Doshin Kusan Roshi
How did I find Zen?
When I started Zen Buddhism, I was looking to find peace in my life and to find a way out of my suffering. I had no idea of a philosophical system, or system of change, or a doctrine of how to live, or a moral code or somehow find an everyday practice guide. I was looking at Zen as a way of quieting my mind.
I had been exploring many modalities to help me work with the situation of a very unhappy marriage. I practiced Transcendental Meditation ( TM ) and loved the meditation.
I took up karate before this and I was consumed by it. This was about the time I met Subhana in 1976 and did my first class with her.
We moved to Queensland in 1988 and joined the Brisbane Zen Group. We did not have a resident teacher in Brisbane for about 4 years. We tried different people from the USA and from Australia. But we always sat with great commitment. I now think of these early days as Solider Zen. Any noise or any movement was countered by a request from the leadership team to resist moving or making a noise. Coming from my stern karate world this was not hard for me.
Beginning True Zen
The Brisbane Zen Group was a good place to practice Soto Zen. I started doing a Soto style which Joko Beck was teaching at the time. I did not meet her, but Gregg Howard carried the teaching until he became officially the teacher in The Brisbane group. I began to do shikantaza meditation and silent Illumination. Later as I practiced with the Ordinary Mind School in Brisbane, I began to understand some of the liturgy and realized the overwhelming suffering in the world. One of the practical applications of zen is to work with people who are suffering, and I started to use mindfulness meditation with my psychotherapy clients and those who had a life-threatening illness.
I enjoyed working with Roselyn Stone Roshi from Canada for a couple of years and loved her koan work. She was one of the teachers who came to Brisbane and she had a great sense of humour and I really appreciated her openness.
I read sparingly at this time as was the tradition in the Ordinary Mind School during Sesshin and Zazenkai. My practice became stronger and I enjoyed sitting. I did a lot of “Just Sitting” when I was on the Sunshine Coast when Subhana moved to Sydney. I got down to Sydney as often as I could to attend sesshin.
Living in an Australian Zen Monastery
During 1995 and 1996 I had to move to Brisbane for work and I was lucky enough to live in a Zen Korean monastery for 12 months. I started to think about ordination about this time. It seemed to me that it was a productive thing to do and I thought it would give me a deeper commitment. In 1996 I went to Hawaii to practice with Robert Aitken Roshi for his last ango and sesshin. I discussed going further in Zen with Roshi and after my conversation I put the issue of ordination aside.
I have always understood zen from my inner knowing like an intuitive way of knowing. Reading about zen helped me understand some of the insights gained when I was sitting in Shikantaza. I developed an intuitive process of learning during my master’s program as an un-written zen work. I was writing about zen in my assignments, but much of what I was writing came from my zen story and my way of narrating this story was not articulated in a zen way. I knew zen was impacting on my life.
I chose to exclude using zen as a philosophy in my psychotherapy work, but I found in learning conversations and other processes zen had a great impact on me. I was happy to call Zen Buddhism, a practice, a philosophy, and a religion in the early days. That all changed as I practiced zazen. Zen became a practice for me. I began to understand the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path
The Buddha’s first teaching about The Four Noble Truths partly explained why I found my home in zen. Some zen students will always find the Buddha way difficult. But I found great calm and my fear of death seemed to drift away. Most of us have a degree of suffering in our life. This is the existential truth of our life. We will die and we will see many loved ones and friends die. The Buddha declared that there is a reason for suffering and there is a way out of suffering. This is a teaching that I felt I needed to explore more in my practice. This became a background echo in my mind as I thought about going further into zen. Ordination became a notion that reappeared often.
I found a place for mindfulness meditation and read widely about it. I was interested in Jon Kabat- Zinn and found that his mindfulness process was easy to teach other people. I was working in psychotherapy and then eventually palliative care and cancer care. I found a way of using mindfulness outside of Buddhism. I researched many of the papers on mindfulness and I then put together some observations of how effective mindfulness is in working with fear, grief, and loss.
During this time while I was studying mindfulness for use in psychotherapy, I began to see how people could gain from practicing mindfulness meditation in controlling their anxiety suffering and pain. This connected me back into my own zen practice. I realized the ultimate benefit was finding my own true nature and understanding my place in the universe. My mind told me to come back to the world of ordinary people. I felt that was about ordination.
The Eightfold Path.
The way out of suffering is to follow The Noble Eightfold Path. Within the Eightfold Path we find ethical, spiritual and practice components. There is a component of having a deep understanding of personal suffering and this is called the “Right View or Understanding”. The deeper the understanding of individual suffering and universal suffering brings us to a broader commitment to Zen.
The Noble Eightfold Path lays down an ethical process to follow while we are in the early days of our practice. This may embody a period of reading and forming an intellectual understanding of moral aspect. This period in my practice was philosophical and partly religious. The 16 Precepts form the other side of Zen Buddhist ethics. This ethical aspect of zen informs my understanding of what ordination means to me.
My passage through zen has always been a very intimate process. I continue to connect with the things that I have tried to hide from in the past. Zen is doing its real work now for me. The question of ordaining which had always been an issue for me reappeared again and again in my mind. But through ignorance and misunderstanding I never pursued it diligently.
Finding Dogen and Silent Illumination
I found Dogen’s teaching useful when I had no teacher close to me. I spent most of my time doing Shikantaza or what I later learned was silent illumination. I had always used just sitting but it was becoming my main practice. I was encouraged by the words of Dogen Zenji from the Genjo Koan,
“To study the Buddha Way ( Zen ) is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas.
To be enlightened by the ten thousand dharma is to free one’s body and mind and those of others.
No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”
Dogen’s work after he returned from China helped me explore the practice of just sitting and silent illumination. Okumura’s translation of Dogen’s work in “Realizing Genjokoan” and “The Mountains and Waters Sutra”, and Tanahashi’s “Treasury of the True Dharma Eye” and “Moon in a Dewdrop” allowed me to see the beauty in Soto Zen.
Diamond Sangha and Soto Zen
I have worked with many students during their passage through the Mumonkan. I became aware of Guo Gu in 2016 and began to read his beautiful book “Passing Through the Gateless Barrier”. My students read this book after each koan and it was rewarding for them. Guo Gu mentioned his teacher Master Sheng Yen and I read his work on silent Illumination which has continued to help rethink zen teaching for me. Bringing Soto and The Diamond Sangha together seemed like a new process.
Again, I thought of ordination and decided to make some plans to find someone in Australia who could help me ordain. It was not easy to find anyone who could do the ordination. I eventually found James Ford Roshi in the USA who had Soto ordination in the early 1970s and had studied in the Diamond Sangha koan curriculum many years before. James Ford Roshi came to the Sunshine Coast in March 2020 just before covid-19 and I was ordained with 40 of my friends, family, students and colleagues.
I have explored my path through zen over 45 years and it all seems to have happened so quickly. When I look back at what I have written it seems I have given you only half of the reasons for my journey to ordination. Much of my thinking while writing this short article was so very private and difficult to articulate. What I have written may not answer some questions, but this is my journey. I thought there was nothing to be gained by ordaining in the past because I felt that I wanted to stay in my ordinary life. But this is my ordinary life. Many of my zen colleagues in SEQ and Northern NSW are already ordained and have encouraged and supported me in my decision. Many have expressed the idea “If you think you should ordain you should do it”.