Barry Briggs Interview To Bossa Zen Blog

Barry Briggs is a Bodhisattva Teacher in the Kwan Um School of  Zen. He is practicing in this School for 20 years or more. He lives in Seattle with his family. He attends in the Ocean Light Zen Center and his teacher is  Tim Lerch,JDPS.

I do not know him personally, but we bumped the output of a Winter Kyol Che Retreat this year in Providence Zen Center. I was leaving the retreat and he was arriving. I do not think he remembers me. I myself thought I had seen that guy somewhere but only after I realized it was him. Barry is well known for his blog Ox Herding.

I sent to him some question. He was very kind and answered that I sent and many others. So he is initiating this project to interview some students, practitioners or even supporters of Buddhism, as well the teachers.

 When I have other interview I´ll posted in the blog. I thank Barry for his collaboration on this project.

BZ: Tell us who was Barry Briggs before joining the Zen Way?
Barry: Before I began Zen training, I had an active life as an executive in the computer software industry and as a husband and father. After I began practicing Zen, I continued to work in the software industry and honor my family obligations.

BZ: You are currently Bodhisattva Teacher. Explain what it means and what the role of a Bodhisattva Teacher?

B: Within the Kwan Um School of Zen, senior practitioners can (with authorization from their teacher) take the 48 Bodhisattva Precepts (in addition to the 16 senior dharma teacher precepts).
These bodhisattva precepts come from the Brahma Net Sutra, an ancient Sanskrit text that provides a guide for liberation from greed, anger and delusion.
Liberation means we can use our life to help all beings.
Thus, a bodhisattva teacher vows to go beyond personal concerns and work for the benefit of the sangha and of all beings. In the Kwan Um School of Zen, a bodhisattva teacher regularly practices at the Zen center, volunteers in various ways, gives consulting interviews, and can lead retreats (with authorization of the guiding teacher).
 Many years ago, the name for Bodhisattva Teacher was "Bodhisattva Monk." (Maybe 25 years ago.) In those days, the 64 precepts were offered to people who wanted to ordain as a monk or nun, but could not leave their worldly situation (perhaps they had children or aging parents).

However, these days Bodhisattva Teacher precepts are taken by people who feel a deep connection to the sangha and who dedicate their lives to the liberation of others. To my knowledge, we no longer talk about the 64 precepts in monastic terms.

 BZ: Have you ever been or ever wanted to be a monk?

B: For many years, I was committed to raising my daughter and never seriously considered the monastic path. Now I’m past the age of ordination and could not ordain, even if I wished.

BZ: We have a limit age to be ordened?

B: Yes, in our School (Kwan Um Zen) the age limit is 50.  

BZ: You are connected to Ocean Light Zen Center, but has lived in other centers. Have you considered having your own Zen Center or you think that this is not your way?

B: I would find it difficult to sustain my practice without the support of a community of fellow practitioners. As a member of the Ocean Light Zen Center community and as an ordinary Zen student, I would not consider starting my own Zen center. However, if I were ever to move to a city that did not have a local Zen center, then I would certainly start one!

BZ: In its long trajectory in KUSZ, more than 20 years, you've done retreats of 90 days, solo retreats, and has been living in South Korea? What you feel is still missing in your daily practice or formal. Still have trouble to seat?

B: My daily sitting practice has been stable for a number of years. Every morning I do 108 bows, one of the chants, and meditate for one sitting period. I also read from a Buddhist text or book every day. So my daily practice feels complete, at least in its consistency.

Not everyone can participate in long retreats (of one week or more), but such retreats have been important in my own training. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I could sustain regular daily practice without the stability developed in longer retreats.

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to live at Cambridge Zen Center for a month and practice twice each day with that wonderful community. These communities exist only for one reason: to help people practice every day. I hope everyone can practice regularly at their local Zen center, whether it offers residential training or not.

BZ: Please talk about importance of kong ans in our School. (Kwan Um School of Zen)

B: I’m not I’m the best person to do this, as I’m not authorized to teach kong-ans. But I’ll offer my inadequate understanding.

Like everyone else, my mind has habitual ways of relating to experience. These habits manifest as anger, delusion and desire, and they produce suffering – not just for me, but for those I encounter.

Kong-an training dissolves these mind-habits by creating a direct experience of “don’t know.” Not-knowing cuts off thinking, opinions, ideas, fears and doubts. In the Kwan Um School of Zen, we call this “substance” and my substance and your substance are the same. Before thinking, we are the same.

There are many names for “don’t know” in spiritual traditions around the world. Some call it love or God or Tao or Buddha-nature or Holy Spirit or emptiness. These names all point to the same thing:  the mind before thinking.

Kong-an training creates a direct experience of “don’t know” from which something new and fresh might appear. When we become free of mind-habits, if only for a moment, we can directly ease the great suffering of others.

Some people resist kong-an training, but kong-ans aren’t different from life itself. Life always presents situations where thinking won’t help. If we can enter into “don’t know” at these times, then we can use the situation to benefit the whole world.

BZ: Why students have to hit the floor first answer a kong-an?

B: Students hit the floor in order to return to “Primary Point.” It’s like hitting the “Clear” button on a personal calculator – it clears the calculator so that a correct new calculation can be made.

When we hit the floor, we cut off our thinking for just a moment. At that moment, our substance becomes clear and, as I said about kong-an training, something new and fresh can emerge.

BZ: What motivates you to keep three blogs on Zen Buddhism: Herding Ox, Go Drink Tea and Zen Woman?
I do maintain three blogs, but I only write regularly (five days each week) for Ox Herding.

B: Some years ago I collected together the available stories of female Zen practitioners in Tang Dynasty China. At first I thought I would publish these in a book but, as blog technology emerged, I decided instead to place all the stories into a blog so that others could freely access them. My hope is that these stories will especially inspire women to become leaders within their practice communities.

I developed Go Drink Tea! as a place to gather kong-ans that seemed to resonate with my life. However, over the past several years I’ve rarely posted to this blog.

Ox Herding serves as a personal journal of practice and everyday life. On the blog, I don’t present myself as a bodhisattva teacher or as anyone special. As a result, I can write about a wide range of topics, from art to travel, and from Buddhism to relationship. The blog particularly focuses on what it means to be a responsible human being.

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