Duluth native teaches Buddhism’s basics

by Linda Hanson, Duluth News Tribune, July 19, 2008

Duluth, MN (USA) -- Ever since he was a child growing up in Duluth, Steve Hagen desired to know truth.

<< Steve Hagen, Sensei

“I wanted to know what’s going on and to not be fooled. I wanted to know what was real and genuine and true,” he said.

That search eventually led Hagen to Zen Buddhism, which he has practiced for about 40 years. Hagen, 62, became a best-selling author of books on Buddhism and founded Dharma Field Zen Center, a meditation and learning center in Minneapolis.

On July 26 and 27, Hagen will give talks on Buddhism and meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth.

Hagen is known for making Buddhism accessible to people through his teachings and writings. Buddhism can appear daunting to newcomers, so he tries to keep to the simple basics of what the Buddha laid out, without the flavorings that foreign cultures have added to it, he said.

“What the Buddha was dealing with are universal truths,” he said.

Roger Lips, a Zen scholar from Duluth, has known Hagen for about 15 years and called him the most distinguished Zen teacher in Minnesota. Hagen has worked hard to make Zen Buddhist teachings clear to people, and he helps people clarify their thinking process and see themselves clearly, Lips said.

The two talks Hagen will give in Duluth — “Turning Understanding on its Head” and “Be a Light Unto Yourself” — center on how Buddhism is about knowing and not about believing. It may seem like a simple concept, but it’s central to the teaching and practice of Buddhism, Hagen said.

“What we think is true may or may not have to do with truth or reality, but because we believe it we often are consumed with it,” he said.

For example, consider tasting a strawberry, he said. “It’s not a matter of belief, it’s immediate.”

The title of one of Hagen’s talks, “Be a Light Unto Yourself,” reflects the last words of the Buddha. Through those words, the Buddha was telling his followers, who thought they needed him, that they needed to find their own direct experience of reality, Hagen said.

The practice of meditation helps people experience reality, he said.

“It takes quite a bit of discipline to realize what actually is happening and how it differs from what we believe,” he said.

The best way to learn meditation is with a good teacher, Hagen said.

His recent book, “Meditation: Now or Never,” is for people who are interested in waking up to actual experience, which is what Zen meditation is about, but who might not have access to a good teacher, he said.

“It’s the simplest form of meditation,” Hagen said about Zen. “Our minds are so complex, we don’t easily discover the simple.”

Rick Palm, who lives near Duluth, has been attending meditation retreats at Dharma Field since last fall. As his teacher, Hagen has pointed him in helpful directions several times through direct advice and example, Palm said in an e-mail interview.

Palm described Hagen as a decent and thoughtful man. “His teaching is clear, and he has a special ability to bring Zen to our Western understanding in his writing and talks,” Palm said. “In addition to his depth of knowledge from traditional Zen Buddhist teachings, he has a solid understanding of science and draws from Western writers to illustrate his points.”

Palm described himself as a beginning student of meditation and Zen, and said sitting meditation is the direct experience of Zen teaching. “While study is important, just studying and not sitting is kind of like reading cookbooks and not cooking,” Palm said.

Palm has dabbled with meditation at several points in his life, but last summer he began a daily practice that he skips only when something unexpected occurs.

“[Meditation] helps me see directly that I am caught up in thoughts and concepts and miss a lot of what is actually happening as a result,” Palm said. “Zen practice seems to bring balance to my day.”

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv