Bossa Zen Interview Do Kwang

Jeff and his friend.

Jeff Partridge (Do Kwang) live in Jeong Won Am, an ermid in Providence,RI,US with his fiance Emily and his dog Buster Blue. He works as Executive Director of Providence Zen Center and Head Tample of Kwan Um School of  Zen in America.

Bossa Zen (BZ): Do you live in a hermitage? How is this?

Jeff (JF): I live in an apartment in Providence, RI that I often refer to as a hermitage.
In our Korean tradition there has always been monks and or lay people who might feel a connection to monastery life but for whatever reason, need to practice most of the time away from others.

 The Korean word for house is “Am” which also refers to a hermitage. I feel an immense calling to our practice and to share it with others. Since I’m a householder and not a monk it seemed natural to turn my home into a place for spiritual work too.

So Jeong Won Am has appeared. For me it works well, but I would like to live at PZC someday too.
I find most people have a hard time practicing when they live alone. This is not a judgment but what I’ve heard from others. It’s good to practice with the Sangha a least once a week if you can. Chanting is where I notice the difference the most. 108 Bows is also nice when done as a group action. During sitting I don’t have to worry about clicking my beads so much compared to when sitting with a group. How about you? Do you live in a hermitage? How is it for you?

 BZ:Is it open to who want to come and practice?
On Saturday mornings I have started a long sitting group of three fifty minute sitting periods with walking in between. If you’ve been to PZC before or have some experience with meditation than you are welcome to come. I do ask people email me and let me know they are coming 48hrs in advance so we can go over the details. 

A place to practice.

BZ:.How long do you practice in KWS?

Three years. 

BZ:The Taego Order also accept lay monks. Do you intent to ordenate as lay monk?

 I was interested in possibly becoming a Dharma Teacher in the taego order and not a monk. That path seemed clearer. Dharma Teachers in the Taego order-Jong take the same 10 major and 48 minor precepts that Kwan Um Bodhisattva Teachers take. Since I enjoy practicing the the precepts that seemed like a worthy path to try. So to be clear I had not intention of being celibate or considered a monastic.

BZ:Is it possible participating in two different orders or you have to choose one?

I participated in two semesters of Taego-Jong seminary. It became clear after some time I´d have to choose one school or the other. For me Zen Master Seung Sahn´s teaching is the clearest and most simple, so the decision to only be affiliated with Kwan Um was easy. I prefer the direct experience of sitting, bowing and chanting as well as working with haw-du and kong-ans, while the Taego order seemed more focused on scholarly pursuits. I still maintain a good relationship with my Taego order teachers and classmates and support them as they continue to grow in the in the West. 

BZ: How do you know this Zen School and did you ever practiced in others styles first meet KWS?

I first heard of the Kwan Um School of Zen in the late 90’s… I had a lot of ideas then about the world, organized religion, etc… so I never came to the Zen Center. I would read the teachings and think, “Ah! I get it.” And things like that, but no direct experience of my own just understanding about other people’s experience. I lived and worked my whole life down the road from PZC and never went! I heard about “Those crazy Buddhists” from time to time growing up but never went… Anyway back then I read a little Bodhidharma, and Chan Master Hsu Yun, and of course Zen Master Seung Sahn but no real meditation practice. For a short time I practiced Chinese martial arts in a style called Choy Lee Fut. The styles founder was required to study and practice Buddhism for ten years before his teacher, who was a monk, would teach him any martial arts. I always found this impressive especially because he was already considered a great Master himself. So I stayed connected to Buddhism that way too. It wasn’t until 2009 I began practicing and eventually Kwan Sahn Sunim (since disrobed and is Jason Quinn) appeared in my life and really showed me the way.

BZ: A lot of people live close PZC and never had there, isn't it? And a lot come from others countries.

Yes, it true! I meet people all the time who live close by or in the same town even that never even knew it was here. We are so fortunate to be part od an International Sangha. World peace happens everyday here when you have Russians, Czachs,Americans, Koreans, Brazilians, ecc all living and practicing under the same roof. 

BZ:.How many precepts you have and who is your teacher?

 I have Five Precepts. This moment is the true teacher. My Guiding Teachers are Zen Master Bon Haeng, Zen Master Soeng Hyang, Nancy Hedgpeth JDPSN and José Ramírez JDPSN. I also practiced with a few other teachers in our School. I feel very fortunate to have this Karma. I don’t feel the need to identify with one teacher in particular.

BZ:What is the importance to have precepts?

This is up to everyone to decide themselves. However there is something to be said for making a public commitment to the direction of your life. 

BZ: As part of the staff in PZC what's your job?

 I work in the office as the Director. How can I help you? 

BZ: Do you think is important live close a Zen Center or live as resident to improve our practice?

We all have our own individual Karma so it’s not always so black and white. Practicing with a group is important so I would encourage everyone to if they can. Since I’ve never lived in a Zen Center I can’t say whether or not being a resident would improve their practice. For some yes, other no. Everyone must see for themselves, try it. 

BZ:What would you suggest to do to who cannot access a zen center or a zen group?

 Start bowing, chanting and sitting. Maybe a group would form around me. Also there are many videos and other media available of Dharma talks, chants, practice etc. to get anyone started. I would also try and do exactly what you are already doing and visit places like PZC once a year. You can always invite a teacher to come to you too to give a public talk and generate interest.

 BZ:Many people have afraid to talk or they feel uncomfortable. I saw that you gave your first dharma talk recently. How was?

 Part of our practice is to do the things we find scary and uncomfortable, but not everyone is cut out to give Dharma talks too. If we find these ideas and feelings are controlling us then we need to return to our center and our practice. I you can do this then anything is no problem. I had fun with it and hope the people listening did too.

 BZ:.Are you still an activist?

 Sure, but I’m not involved with any political parties or organizations anymore. I once saw someone pick up a piece of trash off the sidewalk and throw it away. They are an activist too. 

BZ:.How do you act in your daily life to practice what you learned in Zen Buddhism? 

Each moment is just like this…::typing red font on a screen:: a combination of What is this??? Don’t Knowwwwwwwww…Bodhisattva Action, moment to moment.

BZ:.How martial arts helps you in your daily life?

 I don’t really practice anymore. I do a little Lohan Qi Gong sometimes. However when I did practice I was in the best shape of my life. 

BZ:I saw your dog Buster (picture) sitting on the mattress. Is he practicing with you?

Follow the example!

(Smille)Yes, Buster Blue is often sitting on the cushion next to me. However he usually sleeps through morning bows!

BZ: Has anyone else in your family who has practiced and practiced in Zen Buddhism, except your dog?

 Not that I’m aware of…my fiancé Emily will occasionally do bows with me, but I don’t believe she considers herself to be practicing.

BZ: What interest you beyond Zen Buddhism? Do you play something, sing, and write poetry, paint,ecc?

Yes, I’ve done all these things and enjoy them all very much. These days in between Zen Center and home life I also enjoy playing baseball, pool (billiards), or music with friends. I’m very simple, in my point of view.

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