Gurus At Large

“Guru” means venerable teacher.

by Hogen Roshi

* Hogen’s Biography
* Regarding Abortion
* Regarding God and Gods
* Parable Of The Apples
   (regarding racial issues)
* Priorities

Hõgen Roshi — BIOGRAPHY

Roshi Hõgen Berman was born in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, in 1925. During World War II he served in the United States Navy in both the Africa-European and Far East Theaters of war. Later, he once again served in the United States military forces in both Korea and Vietnam.

After World War II, he pursued under graduate studies at the Universities of Texas, California, Wisconsin, and graduate studies at The Universities of Colorado and Maryland. His major fields of study were Industrial Psychology and Management, with secondary studies in American Literature. Many of the ten post World War II years were expended immersing himself in various Christian religious beliefs and practices; believing man’s search for peace of mind and understanding was attainable through such doctrines and practice.

In l957 he was exposed to The Buddhist doctrine. Eighteen years later, in 1975, he was ordained a Novice Soto Zen Buddhist Monk. In 1977, he was promoted to the rank of Shûso (i.e. Teacher), and in 1979 he received transmission (Inka) from his Zen Master, Hõun Bugen, Takagi Roshi. Subsequently he studied and practiced with Theravada Buddhist Monks in Sri Lanka and Thailand and Tibetan and Nepalese Mahayana Monks in Nepal.

While living in San Diego, California, during the period 1977 through 1980, Hõgen was senior incumbent and Master of East Tennei Zen Center and operated “The Buddhist Information Center of Southern California.”

Rather than being thought of as representing Buddhism from a lofty sounding position of “Zen Master,” Hõgen prefers that other stream walkers and mountain climbers consider him simply a fellow traveler on the Buddha’s Path. However, having climbed this mountain and waded in this stream for forty years, perhaps he can assist others by carrying the map and compass and point out some of the pitfalls and a safe sure route to the mountain peak. In this respect he quotes the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw when he said: “I’m not a teacher, only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead; ahead of myself as well as you.”   Metta,  Hogen


Some people say that Buddhist doctrine should be four – square against abortion. Still others say that the Buddhist doctrine already teaches that abortion is wrong – because the precepts tell us not to kill or intentionally bring harm to any living being.

Well, that certainly seems reasonable, except that some of us interpret the essence of Buddhism as advocating the ideal of “self reliance” (of course recognizing our inter-relationship and inter-dependence on all other living beings). One should also note that the Buddhist precepts are not commandments. For example the precept not to kill or bring bodily harm to another being means that we should not entertain such thoughts or perform such actions if we wish to avoid suffering and unsatisfactory conditions in our life. It simply tells us to be careful of how we exercise our volition because we will reap the effects of each act – either mental or physical.

With regard to abortion, there is also the argument concerning the life status of the fetus; is it a living being during that first month or so after conception when an abortion would normally be accomplished? I don’t know and those that are supposed to be wiser than me, i.e. Doctors and Lawmakers, apparent-ly cannot decide if the fetus is, or is not, a living being. I do note that in most Buddhist writing it mentions “sentient beings” and I am inclined to believe that the fetus, during that first month or so, has not yet developed to the maturation point of a reasoning and thinking being.

Another facet to be considered is the Law of Karma; that is, the law of cause and effect. Every volitional action has a natural follow-on effect or reaction. Under – or within Buddhist doctrine it is taught that each being must contemplate the optional actions in each circumstance and take action that will avoid suffering for the thinker and those other living beings within their sphere of influence. Thus, if they, “the individual” considers-ERs the fetus a living being and elects to have an abortion – “they” will experience the natural follow-on effects; suffering. On the other hand, if they do not consider the fetus a sentient living being (yet), and they elect to have an abortion – they too will experience the natural follow-on effects; perhaps suffering – but also possibly relief and re-lease from anxiety, strain and worry. Some people think that the effects in both cases will be the same, because the same act was performed and the same words have been used. Not true. The person in the first case will experience great suffering because she thought it was wrong and did it regardless. The second person will probably experience no suffering at this time because she did not think the fetus was a sentient living being. She may change her mind later in life and then experience guilt and suffering. The degree of suffering experienced by any and all individuals is just that – it is individualistic. It depends upon ones moral code of correct conduct and one’s character. As we know these aspects of human beings nature can differ greatly from person to person. (Of course this excludes consideration of man’s political laws governing any given society.) Thus, while I as an individual may elect to take one stand on the abortion issue, you may elect to take a totally different point of view. This does not make you wrong and me right. It makes our beliefs different and I would be a fool to say you are wrong and mine are totally correct.

The Buddhist doctrine does stipulate that you will bring unsatisfactory conditions into your life if you bring harm to another living being – and we cannot argue with that. The question that each of us must answer for ourselves is – is the one month old fetus a sentient being and which action will bring the least amount of harm into our life and the lives of those within our sphere of influence? Regardless of which action we take or advocate, we eventually must pay the price for even entertaining the thoughts “for” or “against”; we will experience the follow-on effects of exercising our volition. — Metta Hogen


It doesn’t seem likely that a God or Gods would create problems and suffering for mankind – but I think they or it does. If one believes and the God or Gods do not come through when asked – the believer begins to doubt and that is the start of suffering. On the other hand if one does not believe, in some societies he/she will be looked down on and therefore suffer from social pressure and black balling.

Personally a God or Gods do not bring any suffering to my door. It isn’t just a simple case of my not believing in the existence of a God, I can’t see any proof of a God to make me believe, nor can I say that I disbelieve. I simply don’t know if there is a God or Gods and cannot see any way in this life cycle that I could prove either position before going to my grave.

It is interesting to note, when studying history, the actions of mankind in the name of such Gods or a God. Why would they have to go to war because one faction of society believes differently than another? I think the position God believers should take, if one believes and has a close relationship with his/her God or Gods and it brings happiness and joy into their life, then it is good and they should continue and even strengthen their belief. However if such belief does not bring joy and happiness into their life, I suggest the God(s) be cast aside and a new belief system found. As an example, the aborigines in Taiwan worship and pay homage to a village God and they make offerings to him as long as things are going well for the village. When things go bad, they fire that God and adopt a new one.

I know one thing about the God or Gods, if it or they exist, they must love Buddhist followers. Such human beings are very self-reliant, they never go to the God or Gods and ask for favor of any kind and they live their life attempting to be morally excellent. They believe if there is such a God who is a fatherly figure, that no parent would want his children to kneel before him and Kow tow in a subservient manner. If there is such a God how could he not love Buddhist followers? — Metta Hogen


In my neighborhood there are now 37 homes and 36 families. One of the homes is empty and up for sale. Of the 36 families, we have 15 that are white Caucasians, six are Afro American, three are mixed Caucasian and Korean, Two are mixed white and Afro-American, Seven are mixed Japanese and Caucasian, One mixed Korean and Japanese, one mixed Caucasian and Chinese, and one family where they all are Chinese. Most, but not all of the families have children.

Recently, I guess because everyone knows I am a Buddhist teacher and I’m the oldest person in the subdivision, it was brought to my attention, by one of the racially mixed families, that their children were being discriminated against by some of the other neighborhood children. This particular family was a mixture of Afro – American and Korean. The father of two boys asked me to speak to the other kids and try to cut the problem off before it became more serious.

I had all of the neighborhood boys and girls come and meet in my backyard (the parents were invited too, but not many showed up). All of the children came – I think because we were serving ice cream and soda, but only a few parents showed up. After everyone was settled down, I explained why we were there – because some of the children looked different from others. I told them that those who felt that way were not wrong, because if we just looked around, indeed we did all look different from each other. Even those of us that had the same colored coats and jackets were different – and some of us had different colored skin from others – even though they may have had the same racial mixture.

Then we took a short walk around my yard and the garden area. I pointed out the various fruit trees in out yard – Plum, Pear, Cherry, Pear-apple and particularly the three Apple trees. I asked them if they could tell me how each of the Apple trees were different – other than their size. The sharp-eyed kids quickly observed that the fruit, the apples on one tree were a deep red, on another they were yellow, and on the crab-apple tree they were green. Other than the color of the fruit we decided that all the trees pretty much looked the same, but the big difference was in the color of the apples. We discussed this difference in skin color and we all agreed that the color of the skin on the apples didn’t necessarily make one apple better than the other, it just made them a little different.

After picking two or three apples from each tree, I asked them to examine the Apples and see if they could find anything about them that was the same. To make sure each child had a piece of the three different Apples we had cut them into pieces. They were bright children and they quickly observed that the insides were all the same. They claimed that the difference was with the skin on the outside and not what was on the inside.

I simply said, “yes indeed.”

Nothing more was said, but I could clearly see the awakening of insight in their eyes and the eyes of the parents who were present. Some of the older kids were explaining it to the younger ones. It was not a great event, but maybe a seed was planted that some day that will bear a color blind fruit in the future.

Maybe. After all, what would the point of this life be if it was without hope?

==Metta, Hogen


Richard — the man from Boston, sent me this story and I thought you all might find it interesting and perhaps useful at some point in your life.

One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.”

Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?”

He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?”

By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted.

Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? A project that YOU want to accomplish? Time with your loved ones? Your faith, your education, your finances? A cause? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all.

So, tonight or in the morning when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life or business?

Then, put those in your jar first. — Metta, Hogen

  • August 22, 2019