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A Heart Blown Open: The Life and Practice of Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi Paperback – Feb 1 2012

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Amazon.ca First Novel Award - 6 Canadian Novels Make the Shortlist

Product Details

  • Paperback: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Divine Arts (Feb. 1 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611250080
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611250084
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 28.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 658 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #232,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description



ForeWord Review

“Kelly came back to the question again and again: what did it mean to be an American Zen Roshi nearing the twenty-first century?”

If Denis Kelly’s life was made into a novel, no one would believe it, so the truth, told here as accurately as possible by author and fellow Zen Buddhist Keith Martin-Smith, must suffice: Kelly crossed every inner river, climbed every emotional mountain, slayed every psychological dragon, to arrive at a place of peacefulness.

Most of us imagine that a spiritual master would be a person of high moral integrity, likely celibate, and definitely vegetarian, someone who speaks in terse mysterious phrases and smiles a lot. Someone rather like the Dalai Lama, whom Kelly has met. Kelly had a habit, begun in grade school, of telling people in authority that what they said was “bull––” and he didn’t spare the Dalai Lama that assessment. The assertion generally resulted in shock and expulsion, but not in the case of the Dalai Lama, who just smiled and told Kelly that his spiritual insight wasn’t deep enough yet. Oddly, it was his tendency to blow up at authority that led to Kelly’s heart being blown open, and to his becoming a spiritual master himself.

Kelly grew up with an abusive alcoholic father who savagely beat his sons while his mother turned a blind eye. This gave the boy a hatred of men in authority and a mistrust of all women that took him years to overcome. The only saving grace in his youth was a memory from infancy, of finding solace in a “sense of pervasive peace … a silence out of which everything arose.” Because of that fleeting but seemingly endless moment, despite all the self-ruining experiences Kelly had to go through, he was drawn to meditation and to Buddhism.

Along the way to becoming a Zen adept, he was a wealthy drug dealer, a founding member of the California “family” that in the 1970s manufactured a notably pure form of LSD known as Windowpane. Kelly believed that enlightenment, that sense of peace he had felt as a baby, could be achieved through LSD. He traveled to India and met some interesting gurus, but none who could disabuse him of the notion that satori, the goal of Buddhist meditation, was available through a chemical. He wound up in prison for that belief. Finally he agreed to bend himself to the discipline of Eido Roshi (who pronounced him to be “worth civilizing”), lived in a Buddhist monastery, and became Vise Abbot for a time.

Martin-Smith keeps Kelly’s story rolling on a fast track, just as the man’s life has been lived—the women, the violence, the good times, the regrets, the fear, and loathing, all are recounted. There is something in this book for everyone: spiritual seekers and unrepentant sinners alike will find Kelly’s ride hilarious, frustrating, poignant, and thoroughly human. The result of the journey is a new unique form of spiritual practice that Kelly, now a cancer survivor in his seventies who leads international workshops, calls “Mondo Zen”—“the radical invention that brought Zen into the twenty-first century and fully into the West.”

Barbara Bamberger Scott
August 6, 2012
(Barbara Bamberger Scott ForeWord Reviews)

About the Author

Keith Martin-Smith is a freelance writer in Boulder, CO, where he teaches Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, Buddhism, and writing.

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By C. Michael on March 10 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book after watching my husband read it, and hearing him say, "this is such a good book" every five minutes. When I got my hands on it I devoured it in a day and a half. It was the best book I have read for a long time - gripping me with each page turn. The book put words to spiritual and emotional concepts that rung true in my own life, it inspired me to be better, and it entertained me with all the amazing life stories, and Jun Po's infectious and likable personality. Keith is a gifted writer. And Kelly? Can't put words to him!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 42 reviews
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
The Cost of Transformation Feb. 8 2012
By Thomas Carroll - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I must start by explaining that I've known the central character in this story for 38 years. I found myself riveted by his presence the first night I met him at "Johnny's" house when I was a mere twenty years old. He continues to guide and challenge me and all who know him these many years later.

Readers should judge the value of my remarks with the knowledge that I will do my friend the courtesy of writing nothing here that is less than an honest appraisal of both the story and the quality of the story telling. That said, it pleases me to say that I found this to be an excellent story written near perfectly.

From the beginning pages readers are reminded of the rigidity that was the American experience in the nineteen fifties and sixty's. A man holding the intuition that real freedom was not to be had without a fight - was in for a fight. And so the story of Denis Kelly begins.

The majority of us didn't get to Woodstock or live the street scene that was The Haight in San Fransisco, 1967. But these and other highlights are our heritage as members of the Boomer generation just as much as "Abraham, Martin and John", Vietnam and Watergate.

However, in "A Heart Blown Open" we ride with an insider. We see a man - who for reasons that cannot be easily explained - a guy who was at the right place at the right time with the right mix of the "mean streets," savoir faire and nascent transcendental intuition, such that he begins to look like more than just a clever opportunist - more like a gift we gave ourselves - Conscious Creativity knowing just what it would take to push the American experience off it's static pedestal, tipping it back into the crucible of transformation.

I give this book four, instead of five stars because the dialogue is at times written in a way that made it less than transparent - occasionally, I lost the story because of the words. This said, I think that overall, Keith Martin-Smith, (who I do not know), has done a great job as a writer and entrepreneur - moving this book from it's initial inspiration all the way to the hands of readers like myself. Not an easy job. Thank you Keith!

JunPo Denis Kelly is the most dangerous man I've ever known. And this, because he is free - unbounded by cultural conditioning. At the same time this is a man who embodies unselfish love and integrity such that I would not hesitate to place my money or my loved ones in his hands.

The value, the purpose of including words like these in a book review is to indicate for potential readers, the quality of the teaching that radiates from the book - from it's beginning pages where we see echoes of our own experience and our worst nightmares - to the end where like a well composed sonata, all melodic, in this case, plot and thematic tensions are resolved with credibility and satisfaction.

I knew Frank - Denis Kelly, the wild man. Now I know JunPo Roshi - Denis, the wiser man. I love them both. Readers will be introduced to a friend they have been waiting to meet as they turn the pages or even find themselves drawn to sit Sesshin at one of his retreats. Either way, all receive an introduction to the man and 21st Century Zen - the Mondo Process JunPo has molded with deep respect for tradition and realism.

If you are "spiritually inclined," read this book and you may find yourself inspired to actually Awaken! If you simply want to read a Really Great Story - read this book! And you too, may find yourself inspired... to Awaken.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Adoring Fictional Biography Jan. 27 2013
By TJ - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A Heart Blown Open is Keith Martin-Smith's adoring, fictional biography of so-called Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi. I read this book from beginning to end but found myself wondering why I continued at least a dozen times.

Despite the author's syrupy attempts to sway the reader to his side, an objective eye is likely to see Kelly's life as monstrously narcissistic and self-centered. When Kelly abandons his wife and child we are told this is something he had to do to save them from his fear of turning into his father. Running a large LSD manufacturing ring is for the good of the country. An affair with a student's wife is okay to pursue because it is done out of love.

Time and again, this "Zen Master" makes selfish choice after selfish choice and the author asks the reader to sympathize with his subject. The reason behind Martin-Smith's adoring rationalization of Kelly's poor behavior isn't revealed until the end of the book where we learn that Keith Martin Smith is a student and champion of Kelly's Mondo Zen making him entirely too close to his subject to pen an objective biography.

In the end I'm glad I read this book because it serves as a reminder that just because a person has a shaved head and eastern name or title doesn't mean a person is wise or insightful or deserving of adoration.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating biography Jan. 30 2012
By Steve - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having sat a sesshin (long retreat) with Jun Po and met him a few times in between, I was eager to read this biography.

It arrived on Friday afternoon and I had it finished on Sunday afternoon. Yes, that good. Denis Kelly's life is simply fascinating. Nothing more to say than just that. What else do you need? -- drugs, partying, sex, violence, more sex, wealth, money, travel to exotic places, cancer, catastrophe, heartache, and a long but engaging spiritual awakening.

It's like "Eat, Pray, Love" for dudes, only far more interesting and better written.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Incredible Read. Inspired to have a book group around this book. Feb. 7 2012
By M. Lam - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I got this book knowing the quality of Keith Martin Smith's writing and of his intimate relationship with his teacher, JunPo. What surprised me and delighted me about reading the book was how authentic and transparent he was about the process of his teacher's awakening. Not one to gloss over the difficult and shameful moments, but using them as fuel to awaken, JunPo allows his biography to be a tool for the readers' ability to awake. I am inspired to practice more meditation after reading this book because of how clearly it showed the transitions of consciousness from a conventional viewpoint to a post-conventional viewpoint, and finally to an integral viewpoint. With out using the weight of the integral theory, Keith Martin Smith tells a lucid story about the growth and evolution of consciousness itself through the wildly entertaining ride of his teacher.
To be transported into the world of JunPo's wild life was pure pleasure but to have the added effect of using its transparency to map my own being was invaluable.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A heart blown open by bad writing... Jan. 5 2014
By Sara L Szmodis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I tried with this book--I'd met Roshi Kelly at a Zen gathering and was interested in his story so I thought I'd be thoroughly engrossed for a few days reading this book.

Sadly, that did not happen. It's not that Denis Kelly's story is uninteresting or without merit--it's that the writing in this book is so fawning and worshipful that Keith Martin-Smith appears more like a mincing toadie than the author I think he could be. It's unfortunate for both Denis Kelly and Martin-Smith that this is the case as with engaging writing, this book could be a powerhouse. It fails miserably on that count, so much so that it was an insufferable read that I am very glad to have put behind me.