When I met Master Keisen, a Zen Monk, on April 22, he was sitting at a table, wearing his traditional robe, waiting for the “Quantum Zen” press conference to begin, at the Romanian Peasant Club in Bucharest.
What immediately caught my attention were his shoes. He was wearing a pair of really stylish brown loafers (or were they burgundy?), that my mind instantly associated with “lawyer”, “banker”, “financial consultant”. But a Zen Monk?
One way to explain the fashionable shoes vs. the regular buddhist sandals is to say that Master Keisen, who has been a practitioner of Zen Buddhism for 30 years, is also Dr. Vincent Vuillemin, the head of the Engineering Department of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research).
And, just as Zen functions in non-duality, Master Keisen Vuillemin was to speak, later that afternoon, uniting his spiritual and scientific perspectives into one source of inspiration, to a packed auditorium at the Romanian Peasant Museum, about the relationship between science and Zen Practice.
Dr. Vuillemin’s passion is Quantum Physics. One of the experiments he took part in won the Noble Prize for Physics. His top project now, at CERN, is the resumption of LHC (Large Hadron Collider) operations. LHC, the world’s largest scientific experiment, is a particle accelerator whose main mission is to test several predictions of high-energy physics, like the existence of the Higgs boson.
The amplitude and importance of this project, as well as its costs, are impressive. Over 10,000 scientists and engineers from more than 100 countries (including Romania), as well as hundreds of universities collaborated in is funding and building. The project’s budget has reached, so far, USD 9 billion, making LHC one of the most expensive scientific experiments of all times. If it works, treatment for cancer, to mention just one “small” benefit, will become painless and much more effective.
The Master talks science but he uses words of wisdom that come from his deep spirituality :”Your way of observing determines what it is that you observe”, or “You look at the world the way you are, and it is the same when you look at the microscopic world.” And my favorite: “Time is just a measure of what changes, it doesn’t really exist.”
It is clear that Master Keisen did not come to Bucharest, at the invitation of the Mokusho Zen House and Seeds for Happiness Center, to promote his particle accellerator. He is here to give of his wisdom as a Zen practitioner to as many people as possible. I find, by looking at the fully-packed auditorium at the Peasant’s Museum who came to listen to him (the conference did have a catchy name: “Quantum Zen”), this was a clever strategy to bring in people who might not have come to hear “just” a Zen Monk talk about Zen. It’s funny how we tend to disassociate the practice of spirituality from our “real” daily life, especially in business and politics.
There are obviously people with a passion for science in the room – you could tell by the questions they ask. The young girl wearing an all-fuchsia outfit, a Physics student, asks the most “non-spiritual, non-scientific question” of all: “So, what exactly can I do to win the Noble Prize? Is there a sort of Zen meditation that could help me?” The Master laughs and answers something funny, but then he very firmly adds that Zen brings no material benefit to the practitioner, that its doesn’t fulfil any goal and that no one should sit down in zazen with a purpose, because zazen will take him further away from it.
“Zen”, he tells us, “is not a religion”. “It is a practice of life. It is a very practical discipline to understand deeply oneself, who we are, what is our mind really. The mind, in Zen, is not separated from the body. Zen practitioners develop a knowledge about themselves. Science is the knowledge we have about our world. But, in fact, as Quantum physics shows, we are not separated from our world. So knowledge of oneself and knowledge of our universe go together.” He adds: “Zen is closer to science than religion could ever be, because Zen has no dogmas.”
Master Keisen spoke little about LHC during his presentation at the Peasant’s Museum. He did say that the accellerator will run in 2010 and 2011 with a pause in 2012. He focused on showing us how science, particularly quantum physics, is connected to Zen. In his case, the connection between CERN and Zen is not reduced to his being a Zen Monk. He tells me at the press conference, before his presentation, that 15 people from CERN practice zazen meditation weekly, under his guidance. When I ask how he convinced 15 scientists to “sit still” for one entire hour without thinking, he tells me, with a smile: “There were actually 20 in the beginning, but only 15 made it.”
Buddhist meditation is widespread in the United States and Western Europe. There are few places in Romania where a novice could find guidance, like the Mokusho Zen House.
If you know nothing about Zen, you might remember a line from one of the scenes in The Last Samurai, where Tom Cruise was learning to fight the samurai way (and getting beaten by his counterpart). Trying to resist his opponent and focus to regain his strength, he gets this advice from one of the people watching the fight: “No mind.” This is the one purpose of zazen.
The “Quantum Zen” Conference was just the first of four events where Master Keisen shared his vision, during his stay in Romania.
He also spoke at the “Seeds for Happiness” Center, the next day, about Zen practice and daily life.
Mokusho Zen House (a Zen temple in Bucharest) hosted two full days of Zen practice lead by the Master, on April 24 and 25, where practitioners as well as people who wish to be initiated in zazen were invited to participate.
Dana Costache, personal development writer and speaker
What is Zen about?
1. Concepts are misleading: the truth of perception depends on a deeper insight. Perception is the construct of knowledge. A false perception will lead to false knowledge.
2. The principle of form and emptiness: according to this, form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Form is an aggregate of conditions: it arises into being and exists because of other conditions arising. It is empty of intrinsic qualities. Form is therefore called emptiness.
3. Seeing the true nature of things: Zen does not attempt to question the existence of things but rather focuses on the manner in which things exist. By seeing the true nature of things, one can express a deeper compassion, or true compassion for everything.
4. The essence of Zen practice was explained by masters as “Turn the light and illuminate back.” The light is a metaphor for awareness.
How Zen principles can govern your life:
- Keep finances simple: simplicity in all financial matters should be a goal
- Break free from your possessions. Things are not a reflection of the self and one should find one’s own path.
- Make do with the bare essentials. Add something to your life only if it has a functional purpose and fills a need. Decide what is not essential and eliminate it.
- You should represent yourself to the world truthfully, without pretense. This will save you from “keeping up with the Joneses” which may lead to bankruptcy. As a result, the chances of falling into the trap of debt from unnecessary spending will diminish.