Ross Bolleter: The Intimacy of Zen Koan Practice

Discover one man’s experience of integrating Zen teachings into everyday life through decades of koan practice. In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast we meet Ross Bolleter Roshi, Zen author and teacher in the Diamond Sangha lineage. Ross shares with us stories from his many years of practice and study, beginning with how he met and became a student of Robert Aitken in the early 1980s. We hear how Aitken gave Ross his first koan to practice and eventually, together with John Tarrant, gave him transmission. Ross also discusses the relationship between koan practice and kenshō, and he shares how koan practice can transform one’s life over many years. Finally, we hear about his forthcoming book on Western koans, Crow Flies Backwards.

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Dongshan's Five Ranks

The first in-depth English commentary on the Five Ranks—a core text of the Zen tradition that teaches what can’t be taught—which contains new translations of all of the key texts of the Five Ranks cycle.

We imagine ourselves and the universe to be distinct, but within us glimmers the suspicion that we are in fact intimately connected and inseparable from all that there is. The dawning and expansion of such awareness is called enlightenment. In his masterwork—a suite of dialectical works known collectively as the Five Ranks—Dongshan, a Zen master of Old China, approaches enlightenment from five angles, using paradox and poetry to lay out a multifaceted path whereby we might discover enlightenment within this very moment.

Ross Bolleter Roshi assembles and provides commentary on all of the core texts of the Five Ranks, including the precursors that inspired it and works inspired by it. Approaching the Five Ranks from a rich and sophisticated koan perspective, Bolleter Roshi augments his explanations of the works with liberal doses of humor and storytelling, bringing this esteemed classic to life. Each part of the Five Ranks focuses differently on the relationship between the timeless realm of our essential natures and the contingent realm of life and death. They encourage us to transcend naive individualism and to bring our best qualities of compassion and wisdom intimately into our daily lives. In this regard, Dongshan’s Five Ranks lays out the path that every student of the Way must traverse on the journey to becoming a teacher.

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Ross Bolleter is a Zen teacher in the Diamond Sangha tradition. He trained with Robert Aitken and John Tarrant, and received transmission from them in 1997. Ross Bolleter teaches in Australia and New Zealand. He is a composer with numerous CD releases, especially in the field of ruined piano. His book of poems, Piano Hill, was published n 2009, and was the subject of a television documentary aired in Australia and New Zealand. He is the author of Dongshan’s Five Ranks and the forthcoming Crow Flies Backwards.