A shelf mushroom growing from the side of a tree spurred John Pulleyn’s interest in Zen Buddhism. He was walking through the woods with a friend the summer before his senior year at Oberlin College when he saw the mushroom and muttered aloud that it was disgusting.
“Well you know, Alan Watts would say it’s your mind that’s disgusting,” his friend told him. That thought caught Pulleyn off-guard, but he warmed to the idea.
“For some reason I just said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s right,’” Pulleyn said. “It’s just my mind. It’s just this idea that I have. So I said, ‘Who’s Alan Watts?’ ”
That question started it all.
Watts was one of the first people to bring Zen Buddhism to light in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. Pulleyn spent the next year reading more Buddhism books than textbooks. He discovered one particular book, The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau, which solidified his desire to learn the practice in real life. The book taught him how to sit and meditate.
Pulleyn will be a teacher-in-residence for the Mystic Heart Program during Week Two. The program, which is a Department of Religion initiative, brings in meditation leaders from various world religions and traditions.
Morning meditation sessions are held weekdays from 7:15 to 8 a.m. at the Main Gate Welcome Center, and are open to anyone with a gate pass. More in-depth meditation seminars are held from 12:30 to 1:55 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Hall of Missions, and silent meditations are held from 7:15 to 7:45 p.m. Thursdays in the Main Gate Welcome Center.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in history, Pulleyn went to the Rochester Zen Center, a Buddhist community run by Kapleau in Rochester, New York, and never really left. He currently serves as the head of Zendum at the center, operating as the chief of staff and training.
Zen, a school of Mahayana Buddhism, was born in China about 1,500 years ago. At a time when most people were studying scriptures, doctrines and the words of the Buddha, the Zen school devoted itself to a teaching beyond mere words and letters.
“What Zen really got at the time, and it’s really almost post-modern, is that talking about something and the thing itself are two different things,” Pulleyn said.
The practice is about learning with the body and the mind to be one with yourself and with everything else in the world around you. To be awake, aware and present in the given moment is the goal is Zen Buddhism.
The word “Buddha” means “the awakened one,” so Pulleyn said anyone can connect with his or her Buddha nature if they can simply learn to be fully awake.
Pulleyn’s Tuesday and Thursday seminars will be titled “Doing Nothing and Leaving Nothing Undone: Zen Meditation in Action” and “Committing to Action Without Clinging to Results: The Buddhist Approach to Meditation,” in which he will focus on applying Zen techniques to your everyday life.
“What’s most important is just to make it a habit of life to not be daydreaming and not regretting the past and not be thinking about the future, but just be completely present in this moment,” Pulleyn said.
Meditation sessions are open to people of any religious faith or tradition, and anyone can attend any day of the week, regardless of previous or no experience with meditation practices.