Steve Hagen

Eight ways not to think about meditation

wildmind meditation newsBarry Morris, The Practical Buddhist: In Zen, meditation is about sitting, standing, or walking in total awareness. Steve Hagen, Lead teacher at the Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis, MN and author of the best book on meditation I’ve ever read, Meditation Now or Never, puts it this way:

“Meditation, and it’s Japanese translation ‘Zen,’ is the practice of awareness, openness, and direct experience of here and now.

That’s what we need to know about meditation. It’s not about becoming more relaxed, healthy or even enlightened. In fact, the moment we think we’re going to get something out of meditation, we take ourselves …

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“Hidden Dimensions” by B. Alan Wallace

Hidden Dimensions, B. Alan WallaceA new book by Buddhist practitioner and writer B. Alan Wallace aims to bridge the gap between the worlds of science and of spirituality, but positing an adventurous new “Special Theory of Ontological Relativity.” Reviewer William Harryman expresses ambivalence about Wallace’s bold endeavor.

I like Alan Wallace. He is one of my favorite Buddhist scholars. In fact, I recently reviewed his newest book — Mind in the Balancevery favorably. When he is talking about Buddhism, he is in his element. There are few people writing today with a better understanding of Buddhist history and tradition, especially Tibetan Buddhism, than Wallace. When he gets into the field of science, however, he is less knowledgeable, and it shows.

At the beginning of Hidden Dimensions, his 2007 book attempting to unify physics and consciousness (from a Buddhist perspective, of course), he falls immediately into one of the common errors in trying to make sense of physics, namely the idea that consciousness — human consciousness — is an essential part of the measurement problem. Quoting his “Preface” to the book, “So quantum mechanics implies that consciousness may play a crucial role in the formation and evolution of the universe as we know it” (pg. viii). He goes on to say, in the final chapter of the book:

The notion of an observer necessarily implies the presence of consciousness, without which no observation ever takes place, and … consciousness, far from being an insignificant by-product of brain activity, plays a crucial role in the formation and evolution of the universe. (109)

Aside from the fact that the universe existed quite well without human consciousness, or any consciousness, for about 14.5 billion years, the essential flaw here is that it does not require consciousness, human or otherwise, to impact the outcome of a measurement. It simply requires the act of measurement, which only requires another electron, and contrary to popular understanding, that measurement effect is fully reversible.

Despite this fundamental flaw in his thinking, this is still a useful volume, although many readers may have a hard time staying with the abstract nature of the arguments. One of his central premises is that the mind sciences need to get beyond the notion that all subjective experience is a by-product of neuro-chemical activity in the brain. This is the same argument that people such as Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and others have been making for years. The idea is still foreign to many neuroscientists, or simply rejected.

And this is where Buddhism has something important to contribute as he gets into some of the finer points of neuroscience. For example, the notion that

[E]verything we observe extrospectively and introspectively consists of qualia, or appearances, and they are illusory in the sense that they seem to exist either in the external world or inside our heads, whereas in reality there is no compelling evidence that they are located anywhere in physical space. (pg. 51)

It’s a basic tenet of Buddhism that if we try to take apart our perceptions of self (the five aggregates), looking for the substance behind each aspect, we will eventually discover there is no self there to look at — it’s all illusory. This is what perceptual neuroscience is also coming to terms with in recent years.

Wallace does a good job of dismantling our consensus reality with his Special Theory of Ontological Reality (chapter 5). I’m not sure I buy his conclusions here — that all mental and physical processes arise from “another dimension” that exists prior to the separation of mind and matter. His conclusion seems to rest on the work of Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli and their synchronicity hypothesis. I like the theory, but I also want to see some way to test it and verify it. Wallace then cites Roger Penrose and his archetypal mathematics (“independent of the existence and culture of human beings” [pg. 56]), but George Lakoff would counter that mathematics is metaphoric language and, as such, is grounded in our physical being, not in some abstract archetypal space.

Chapter six offers some intriguing experiments to test the hypothesis of an “archetypal realm of pure ideas,” many or most of which are based on early Buddhist practices that have fallen away over the last 1,500 years. Wallace is honest to admit that without prior training, and I’m guessing he means here monastic training in the Tibetan tradition, it could take 5,000 to 15,000 hours to complete his proposed experiments testing the archetypal qualities of the five basic elements (earth, water, fire, air, space). You might see why the scientific community wouldn’t support such a project. And again, I take issue with the notion of a realm of pure archetypal ideas or forms — it’s too anthropocentric to be valid on a cosmological scale.

Wallace’s next theory, A General Theory of Ontological Relativity, borrows from Einstein both in name and in spirit. He is proposing that

[T]here is no theory or mode of observation — no infallible method of inquiry, scientific or otherwise — that provides an absolute frame of reference within which to test all other perceptions or ideas. (70)

This is useful in that what he is really referring to here is the ability to take multiple perspectives (one person’s background theory may be someone else’s foreground theory”). His conclusion, in part, is that there is no way to “separate the universe we know from the information we have about it” (72). From here he brings up the idea of seeing the universe as a giant computer (a favorite — and flawed — metaphor for some physicists). He relies on information theory — all things are information — to support this metaphor. But Wallace rejects this idea and then proposes something even more anthropocentric, that the universe is a giant brain. And here he brings back my initial complaint about his book:

But whether that information exists in a computer, a brain, or a cosmos, we inevitably come back to the same point: meaningful information exists only relative to the act of informing and a conscious being that is informed. (74)

There is no convincing evidence that the universe is information, first of all, and secondly, if this is untrue then there is no need for a conscious being to be informed by it. The universe existed pretty well for 14.5 billion years without any conscious beings that we know about (unless you accept the idea of a “God” of some sort). It’s in this objectivity that theories such as these collapse.

Wallace then proposes another option to the measurement problem with the many worlds theory of physics. Beginning with the notion that when a measurement or an observation causes the collapse of the quantum wave function — one possible reality is split off from all the possible realities (this is known as the Copenhagen interpretation) — the many worlds hypothesis claims that the wave function collapse is a subjective experience, and that objectively, all the possible worlds continue to exist. According to Wallace, “This hypothesis raises the possibility that individuals may alter the course of events by their choices, aspirations, faith, and prayers” (83). This line of thought is very close to magical thinking. It might be more realistic to say that individuals may alter their perception of events, but not the events themselves.

The remainder of the book is equally challenging, including a chapter on the semi-annual meeting of the Dalai Lama with distinguished scientists, especially physicists, and a final chapter on the concept of symmetry in physics (the idea that there is a perfect or absolute reality — the “Great Perfection” — that exists independently of the material universe).

While Wallace is arguing for a first-person science throughout the book, he never offers the studies supporting such an approach (for example, Tibetan monks changing their brain patterns depending on the form of meditation they use) — granted, he has made those arguments in other books. But if you want to convince scientists to take up that approach, more detailed arguments in support of it might be useful. In the end, this is a short but challenging book. It requires an ability to think in abstractions, mostly because that is where Wallace is working with this book. If you can suspend your disbelief about some of these anthropocentric ideas — which I could not — then you might enjoy the ride he takes us on as readers. Or, on the other hand, you might just enjoy watching a great mind tackle some of the toughest questions about life, the mind, consciousness, and the universe.

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Authorized list of Buddhist books for prisons is short on numbers, high on repetition, and contains non-Buddhist titles


shadow of prison bars

The New York Times has, from a contact in prison, managed to get hold of the lists of 150 government-approved titles for the various religious traditions.

The news for Buddhist inmates is bad. The list supplied by the NYT (PDF) lacks any serious scriptural works such as the Dhammapada, does not even come close to the touted 150 titles, contains many repeated titles, and even contains a few non-Buddhist works!

One thing to be noted is that the various Christian denominations each have their own list of titles, while all the Buddhist traditions have been lumped together. Thus there are lists for Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Messianic traditions, Orthodox Christianity, and Protestants, and yet Theravadin Buddhism, Zen, Ch’an, the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land, Shingon, and Nichiren Buddhism are all treated as one tradition. The same is true of other non-Christian traditions such as Islam, where Sunni and Shia Islam are treated as one religion. It’s clear then that Christianity is being favored above other religions.

All of the texts are in English, despite many of the inmates in prison in the US being Vietnamese.

There are no texts from my own tradition, the Triratna Buddhist Community.

The Buddhist list (see below) has a number of peculiarities. There seem to be in fact only 94 titles on the list, of which 68 are books, the remaining titles being audiovisual media. It’s unclear what has become of the rest of the 150 titles. The Protestant list alone features no fewer than 213 print titles!

Another peculiarity is the repetition on the list. Shunryu Suzuki’s classic, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” appears at least three times (and that’s out of only 60 books!). “Dzogchen Teachings,” by Chogyal Norbu is repeated. The list appears to have been put together in great haste. Many of the authors’ names are mis-spelled, with “Pena Chodron” instead of “Pema Chodron” for example. Her “The Places That Scare You” is featured twice.

At least three of the books (“JivanMuktiviveka,” by Swami Vidyaranya, “Crest Jewel of Discrimination,” by Sri Shankasa, and “Talks With Ramana Maharshi”) are Hindu rather than Buddhist texts, and another, “Opening the Door to Bon,” is about a non-Buddhist Tibetan tradition. “The Journey To The Sacred Garden,” by Hank Wesselman is a text on Shamanism.

Yet another peculiarity is the absence of canonical texts. It’s unclear whether these are given a pass, so to speak, and don’t have to go through a selection process. The absence of the Bible from the Catholic list would seem to indicate that this might be the case.

The numbering is erratic, and runs from 1 to 33, then 13 to 29, then 43 to 60.

The NYT notes that the lists are not dated and that there’s no no way of knowing whether they are still current. Our examination of hidden data on the document, however, reveals a date of 3/22/07 — many months before the policy of censoring religious books was announced. There’s no indication of who prepared the list. We can only hope that this is a rough draft.

Wildmind is still waiting for an official response to our Freedom of Information Act request for an official copy of the list.

Here are the 60 print titles from the NYT’s document:

1) Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction, by Richard H. Robinson, Willard L. Johnson, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Wadsworth Publishing, ISBN: 0534558585, 2004 (5 ed.)th An introductory book to Buddhism that covers the teachings and practices of a wide range of schools and traditions.

2) The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History & Teachings, by Donald S. Lopez Jr., HarperSanFrancisco, ISBN: 0060099275, 2002 A book that contains information on the practices of a wide range of schools and

3) The Teaching of Buddha, compiled by the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Buddhist Promoting Foundation), ISBN: 4-89237-011-8, 1985 (110 ed.)th Provides selective passages from many Buddhist scripture. This book is found in hotels,
and institutions.

4) Essential Buddhism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs and Practices, by Jack Maguire, Pocket Books, ISBN: 0-671-04188-6, 2001 Provides a practical summary of the different schools and practices of Buddhism.

5) Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen, Broadway Books, ISBN: 0767903323, 1998 This book explains basic Buddhist teachings from the Zen Buddhist perspective.

6) Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Bantam Books, ISBN: 0553351397, 1992 This book applies the basic Zen Buddhist teaching of mindfulness to everyday living.

7) The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Random House, Inc., ISBN: 0676903692, 1999 This book applies the basics teachings of Buddhism to modern struggles from a Zen Buddhist perspective.

8) Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Penguin Group, ISBN: 1573222887, 2004 This book guides the reader through Buddhist ways of dealing with emotions such as anger, fear, and jealousy.

9) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, by Shunryu Suzuki, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 0834800799, 1973 This book is often considered as one of the classic explanations of Zen Buddhism to
Western audiences.

10) Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen, by Shunryu Suzuki, Edward Espe Brown, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN: 0060957549, 2003 A follow-up book to the above listed Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

11) Everyday Zen: Love and Work, by Charlotte Joko Beck, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN: 0060607343, 1989
This book applies the basics of Zen Buddhism to the struggles of everyday life.

12) Woman of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom, by Sallie Tisdale, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0-06-059816-6, 2006 This books traces women Buddhist masters and teachers, and gives us an understanding
of women’s contribution to Buddhism.

13) Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Riverhead Books, ISBN: 1-57322-568-1, 1995 This book compares Buddhist and Christian themes and scripture.

14) The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, by the Dalai Lama, Howard C. Cutler, Penguin Group, ISBN: 1573221112, 1998
A book that applies basic Buddhist teachings as explained by the Dalai Lama to modern daily struggles.

15) Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, by Dalai Lama, Nicholas Vreeland, Little, Brown & Company, ISBN: 0316930938, 2002
This book lays out a path of Buddhist practice to increase one’s compassion.

16) Awakening the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, ISBN: 0767901576, 1998
This book explains basic Buddhist teachings and practices from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.

17) When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 1570623449, 1997
This book explains how one can face the struggles of modern life through the Buddhist teachings. The author is from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

18) The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Pema Chodron, Shamabala Publications, ISBN: 978-1590304495. 2001

19) Buddhism for Beginners, by Thubten Chodron, Snow Lion Publications, Inc., ISBN: 1559391537, 2001
This book explains the basic teachings of Buddhism from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective.

20) Wake Up To Your Life, by Ken McLeod, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0-06-251681-7, 2002
This books provides models for developing meditation and insight.

21) What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula, Grove Press, ISBN: 0802130313, 1974
(Revised ed.)
A book that covers the basic Buddhist teachings from the viewpoint of the Theravada school. The Theravada school is practiced in South and Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. In the West, a type of Buddhist meditation called Vipassana meditation is popular and Vipassana meditation comes from the Theravada school.

22) A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promised of Spiritual Life, by Jack Kornfield, Bantam Books, ISBN: 0553372114, 1993
This book explains the practice of Buddhist meditation in an American context. The author has studied Theravada Buddhism and Vipassana meditation.

23) Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 157062903X, 2002
This book applies Vipassana meditation to the struggles of modern life in America.

24) It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, by Sylvia Boorstein, Harper San Francisco, ISBN: 0062512943, 1997
The book covers the basic Buddhist teachings in the context of modern American life. The author is a known teacher of Vipassana meditation.

25) Everyday Suchness: Buddhist Essays on Everyday Living, by Gyomay M. Kubose, Dharma House, ISBN: 0964299208, 2004
A book that covers basic Buddhist teachings with daily experiences. The author is from a Japanese Buddhist tradition.

26) The Buddha in Your Mirror: Practical Buddhism and the Search for Self, by Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin, Ted Morino, Middleway Press, ISBN: 0967469783, 2001
This book covers the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, a type of Japanese Buddhism that has some popularity in the US.

27) River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism, by Taitetsu Unno, Doubleday Publishing, ISBN: 0385485115, 1998
This book is an introduction to Shin Buddhism, a popular form of Buddhism in Japan that is quite popular in the US.

28) First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening, by Susan Murcott, Parallax Press, ISBN: 1-888375-54-X, (2006)
This book provides historical insight into how Buddhism became one of the first religions to welcome women.

29) Mindfulness in Plain English by H. Gunaratana, by Corporate Body of the Buddha, ISBN: 0861713214,
Fundamentals of the basic Buddhist meditation are outlined to include: the how why, when, where and answers to problems common to implementing the discipline of meditation.

30) Mindfulness: Path to the Deathless by Ajahn Sumedgo, Corporate Body of the Buddha, ISBN: 1870205014, (!987).
Reference handbook to Buddhist meditation.

31) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki, Shunryum ISBN: 0834800799, Weatherhill, Inc. ISBN: 1590302672 (2000).
Succinct introduction to Zen practice as it discusses posture and breathing in meditation as well as selflessness, emptiness and mindfulness.

32) Describing the Indescribable by Hsing Yun, ISBN: 086171866, Wisdom Publications (2001).
Buddhist commentary on the importance of balanced insight and emotion in the spiritual path.

33) Only Don’t Know by Seung Sahn, ISBN: 1570624321, Shambhala Publication (1999).
Letters written by a Zen Master answering questions about work, relationships, and suffering.

13) The Myth of Freedom , by Chogyan Trungpa, Publisher :Shambhala (1976) ISBN:1-57062-933-1
Shows how our attitudes, preconceptions, and even or spiritual practices can become chains that bind us to repetitive patterns of frustration and despair.

14) The Wings to Awakening, by Thanissaso Bhikkhu, Publisher :The Dhama Dana Publication Fund (1996) ISBN: N/A
Details the disciplines, teachings and practices of Hinayana Buddhism.

15) Insight Meditation, by Joseph Goldstain, Publisher: Shambhala (2003) ISBN: 1-59030-016-5
Explains favorite Dharma Stories, key teachings and answers the most asked insight meditation.

16) Jivan Muktiviveka, by Swami Vidyaranya, Publisher: Wedanta Press (1996) ISBN: 81-7505-882-5
Deals with how the spiritual aspirant can overcome fear, addiction, and illusion and become the jivanmukta or liberated soul.

18) Working With Anger, by Thubten Chodron, Publisher: Snow Lion (2001) ISBN: 1-55939-163-4
This book presents a variety of Buddhist methods for subduing and preventing anger.

19) Talks With Ramana Maharshi, by Ramana Maharshi, Publisher: Inner Directions (2000) ISBN: 1-878019-00-7
This book is in question/answer format and deals with a universal approach by directly pointing to the truth of our intrinsic nature .

20) The Journey To The Sacred Garden, by Hank Wesselman, Publisher: Hay House (2003) ISBN: 1-4019-0111-5
This book shows us how we can tap into peace that lies within us all the time.

29) Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, by Jay L. Garfield Publisher: Oxford (1995)
ISNB: 0-19-509336-4
A clear and eminently readable translation of Nagarjuna’s seminal work. Nagarjuna was a prominent Buddhist Saint.

43) Teachings from the Mani Retreat, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Publisher: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive (2001) ISBN: 1-891868-10-1
A day by day account of the teachings given by the Lama at the inaugural Mani Retreat including the rituals, meditation, mantra and chanting etc…

44) Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, Publisher: Weatherhill (1970)
ISBN: 0-8348-0079-9
How to practice Zen as a workable discipline and religion in one’s dally life,

45) Opening the Door to Bon, by Nyima Dallpa, Publisher, Snow Lion (2005) (ISBN: 101-55939-246-0)
A complete handbook for the fundamental practices of the Ancient Bon Tradition of Tibet.

46) Dzogchen Teachings,by Chogyal Norbu, Publisher, Snow Lion (2006) ISBN :10-1-55939-243
A complete guide to the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet.

47) Dzogchen Teachings,by Chogyal Norbu, Publisher, Snow Lion (2006) ISBN: 10-1-55939-243
A complete guide to the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet.

48) The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh, published by Beacon Press (1975) (ISBN: 0-8070-1239-4).
Anecdotes and practical exercises as a means of learning the skills of mindfulness being awake and ware.

49) Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein, Publisher :Shambhala (1987) (ISBN: 1-57062-805-X)
Teachings & practices of insight meditation which are the understanding of our bodies, minds, lives, and to see clearly the true nature of experience.

50) The Torch of Certainty , by Jamgon Kangtrul ; Publisher :Shambhala (2000) (ISBN: 1-
This text describes the Four Foundation Practices that all practitioners of vajrayana Buddhism must complete.

51) Enlightened Courage, by Dilgo Khyentse; Publisher :Snow Lion (1993) (ISBN:1-55939-023-9)
The author presents the Seven Point Mind Training, brought to Tibet by the Indian Master Atisha, which is the very core of the entire practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

52) Living at the Source, by Swami Vivekananda; Publisher :Shambhala (1993) (ISBN: 1-57062-616-2)
Writing and talks of Swami Vivekandanda on the concerns of contemporary men and women who seek to live a spiritual life in the midst of everyday activities.

53) Make Your Mind an Ocean, by Lana Yeshe; Publisher :TDL Publications (1999)
Gives helpful tips to calm our mind according to the Buddhist tradition.

54) Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps Publisher :Tuttle Publishing (1998) ISBN: 0-8048-
Four books in one and are the main Zen writing of Zen Buddhism.

55) Between Heaven and Earth, by Shi Bo, Publisher: ISBN: 1-59030-050-5
Calligraphic characters and historical and legendary anecdotes to gives a fascinating overview of the evolution of seven seminal Chinese writing styles.

56) Seared Calligraphy of the East, by John Stevens, Publisher :Shambhala (1981) ISBN: 1-57062-122-5
Covers topics as the history and spirit of Eastern Calligraphy, the are of copying religious texts, the biographies of important Zen Calligraphies.

57) The Places That Scare You, by Pena Chodron, ISBN: 1-57062-921-8, published by Shanbhala, (2001).
Teaches how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and other complete with faults and imperfections.

58) When Things Fall Apart, by Pena Chodran, ISBN: 1-57062-969-2, published by Shambhala, (1997).
Provides sound, heart advice for dealing with difficult times.

59) Crest Jewel of Discrimination, by Sri Shankasa, ISBN: 0-88748-034-5, published by Vedanta Press, (1947).
Sharkara shares his philosophy on the nature of reality, and how to live a righteous life.

60) The Buddha and his Teachings, by Samuel Bercholz Publisher: Shamblala (1993) ISBN: 1-57062-960-9
A collection of classic and modern Buddhist texts that provide insight into the teaching and practice of Buddhism.

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A quest for truth led Hagen to become Zen master (Pioneer Press, Minnesota)

His own unfolding life has led Steve Hagen from his hometown of Duluth to a path of spiritual questioning and the study of Zen Buddhism.

He founded Dharma Field Zen Center, a meditation and learning center in Minneapolis, and has written a best-selling book on Buddhism. And he’s part of the first generation of American Zen teachers.

In his books, the Zen teacher tries to dispel misunderstandings about Buddhism. He also tries to help people understand how their thinking can lead to difficulties, such as longing and loathing, and suggests ways to avoid those ways of thinking.

Hagen, 58, receives phone calls and mail from spiritual seekers worldwide. Some show up at Dharma Field.

Hagen’s early life growing up in Duluth’s Bayview Heights neighborhood was marked by the death of his father, Maurice, who died from a brain hemorrhage when Hagen was 6.

His mother, Mildred, moved her family to Duluth’s West End neighborhood because she wanted to live closer to her church, Salem Lutheran Brethren. She worked odd jobs to support her family before getting a job in the laundry at the former Cook Home. She also received help from her extended family.

The youngest of three children, Hagen said he was a very serious kid. He liked science because it was no-nonsense.

“I wanted to get to the truth,” he said. “I wanted to understand the world. After the sudden death of my father, I just wanted to know what’s going on here.”

His eldest brother, Dale Hagen of Duluth, said Steve Hagen always had a questioning mind.

“When he got to junior high, we had long, serious philosophical discussions that were unusual for a kid his age,” he said. “We talked about the cosmos, about the universe.”

Drawn to Buddha

After graduating in 1964 from Denfeld High School, Hagen attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth. About 1967, Hagen took a course called “Nonwestern World View.” He already had been interested in Eastern philosophies, but the course made him want to learn more.

Increasingly, he felt drawn to Buddhism.

“The thing that appealed to me about Buddhism was that it wasn’t selling anything,” he said. “It’s not a belief system. It’s about examining your life.”

During the late 1960s and early ’70s, Hagen moved around and worked odd jobs while studying science, philosophy and Buddhism on his own. He had majored in biology in college and got a job with a salmon research project in Alaska. Among his other jobs were photographer, surveyor, janitor and bridge inspector.

Hagen ended up in the Twin Cities, working for the University of Minnesota in a soybean research project and saving money to go to Japan to study Zen Buddhism. A year later he learned Dainin Katagiri, a Zen Buddhism master, was teaching at the Minnesota Zen Center in Minneapolis. Hagen became one of his students.

In 1978, at age 32, Hagen was diagnosed with a severe case of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments knocked out the cancer and he remains cancer-free. Hagen believes his meditation practice helped him through the treatments.

Becoming a master

Katagiri ordained Hagen to begin a deeper study of Zen Buddhism in 1979 and sent him to a Buddhist training center in Japan. Hagen also studied with a Zen master in Japan and later went to France to study with Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Zen monk from Vietnam.

In 1989, Hagen received dharma transmission – permission from Katagiri to teach. Katagiri died the next year from cancer.

Soon, students began seeking out Hagen at his Minneapolis home.

Roger Lips, a Zen Buddhism scholar who lives in Duluth, said Hagen is an excellent original thinker and author.
Katagiri was one of the greatest Japanese Zen teachers to come to the United States, Lips said. Being a dharma heir to Katagiri gives Hagen good credentials as a Zen teacher, he said.

Hagen is part of the first generation of American Zen teachers. There are about 50 in the United States, Lips said.

Original article no longer available…

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