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The Swami and the Zen Master

July 7th, 2018

The Swami and the Zen Master

On a visit to Los Angeles, Swami Venketesa, one of my beloved teachers and mentors, asked me to take him to meet Zen master Roshi Sasaki.  I had met the Roshi, who later became Leonard Cohen’s teacher, when he first arrived in Los Angeles in 1966.  Just getting attracted to eastern philosophy, I heard about these Zen gatherings and went to sit with the Roshi.  The dimly lit room was filled with meditators sitting bolt upright, motionless like statues.  Every twenty or thirty minutes we would stand, quietly queue up, and take turns sitting before the sage.  

 On my first turn in front of him, I asked, “What do I do when I sit, Roshi?”

 “Just sit there”, said the Roshi, “Roshi says just sit.”

Swami Venkates always enjoyed meeting other spiritual teachers so I set up an audience.  I drove my Swami down Crenshaw Boulevard excited to witness their encounter.  We walked in and the Roshi, sitting on the floor, motioned us to sit next to him.  With a radiant smile that seemed to cover half his face, Swamiji laughed as he sat down.  Roshi joined him with some kindred belly laughter which quickly accelerated and consumed the small group of us sitting in the room.

Still laughing, the Roshi exclaimed, “Your laugh shows that you are enlightened!” and they both laughed even more hysterically.  After a short while the Swami and the Zen master hugged and we left. 

Roshi Sasaki lived and taught in Los Angeles to the ripe old age of 107.  Venkatesa passed at the early age of 60.  Both their presence and teachings continue to inspire spiritual consciousness.  



Swami Venktesa with his delightful sense of humor mentioning that God was Dog writen backwards stands out most in my memories of Swamiji...

Hi Ganga

I did quite a few week-long sesshins with Sasaki Roshi's at his Mt. Baldy Zen Center, alongside Leonard Cohen. At a private koan-answering session with the Roshi, (which all attending the sesshin were called to) I had an awakening - one of three episodes in my life, so far. Not to do with the koan, I don't think, - or maybe the koan prepared me for it. Roshi wordlessly reached over and touched, with his fingertips, my hara. My mind stopped. It is always hard to describe such things, "pure clarity" or "profound alive stillness" or "direct experience of reality" do not do it justice (and they sound so cliché). I became so alive, I stayed sitting in the zendo for hours after everyone had gone to sleep. Sasaki Roshi was a Master indeed.

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