A Heart Blown Open: The Life & Practice of Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi Paperback – Feb 1 2012
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A HEART BLOWN OPEN: THE LIFE AND PRACTICE OF ZEN MASTER JUN PO DENIS KELLY ROSHI
"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
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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While few of us would choose to live life with the intensity of a Junpo Roshi / Dennis Kelly, or be as motivated as he was to exorcise his demons and from there attempt to make a real difference in the world, I believe his story is the story of our age, it is the story of all of us trying to make sense and find fulfillment in the insane world we live in. To my mind this is the value of the story. And yet the story can be read as a novel. From child of a dysfunctional family, to family man, to drug czar, to fugitive from the law, to convict, to multiple "deaths" (a climbing accident that broke half the bones in his body, cancer, and bankruptcy), to successor in a major Japanese Zen lineage, to New Age / integral guru welcome into Ken Wilber's living room, Junpo both personafies and exagerates the existential struggles of our time. Even if we can't understand why he did the things he did (I personally feel the man has some kind of death-wish), he lived a life of epic proportions. The story is bound to entertain and inspire, and Keith Martin Smith has produced nothing less than a masterpiece.
Final note: there are some comments in these reviews about the legitimacy of Junpo's lineage, due to abuse allegations around his teacher, Eido Roshi. As far as I know Junpo's "Mondo Zen" movement has no ties to Eido Roshi or any other Zen lineage, it's his own creation as Junpo left to do his own thing. This includes work with the highly respected Mankind Project, which I have experienced first hand. See Kaith Martin's Smith other book about Junpo which gives some information about the Mondo Zen approach through interviews with Junpo. See also very interesting and free interviews from Tripp Lanier that are available online.
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.
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.
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.
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