In writing this biography of Murshid Samuel Lewis, I've arrived at the point in the story in 1919 where Samuel Lewis, a young man of 22, first meets Nyogen Senzaki, a Buddhist teacher carrying forward the Rinzai Zen transmission he inherited from his teacher Soyen Shaku, who was the first Buddhist teacher to visit America.
The abbot of Engaku temple in Japan Soyen Shaku had spoken at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. He came to San Francisco afterwards. Later he left two students, the professor D.T. Suzuki who he instructed to familiarize the world with Buddhist teachings, and the monk Nyogen Senzaki who he told not to teach until he understood American psychology. Murshid Sam said on several occasions that Senzaki had been told he wouldn't understand Western psychology until he understood what money meant to Americans. He also instructed Senzaki to wait 20 years before establishing a Zendo.
In one of his introductory lectures on meditation Rev. Senzaki said, "Students of Zen are all Bodhisattvas. They wish to become buddhas, and to attain realization by meditation, so as to enlighten all sentient beings." And he suggested that those who came to sit with him in the Zendo he ultimately founded take the Fourfold Vow:
"However innumerable sentient beings are,
I vow to save them all.
However inexhaustible my evil passions are,
I vow to exterminate them all.
However immeasurable the sacred doctrines are,
I vow to study them all.
However difficult the path of the Buddha may be,
I vow to follow it to the end."
Senzaki then compassionately said, "Those who take this Fourfold Vow are bodhisattvas, regardless of whether they be monks, nuns, laymen or laywomen. You should, therefore, respect yourselves, as well as respect others."
Samuel Lewis a few years later in 1923 was instrumental in arranging a meeting between Rev. Senzaki and Hazrat Inayat Khan, his Sufi teacher. They both entered into Samadhi together, and Senzaki's account of it is beautiful and humorous.
A wonderful thing about this lineage of Buddhism is that it is inclusive and universal in its teachings, and clear and practical in its instructions. Senzaki and Inayat Khan became close friends and it was Hazrat Inayat Khan who first got Samuel Lewis to take the Fourfold vow of the Bodhisattva.
Senzaki invented the name "The Mentorgarten" which was the structure he originally used to work with people. He said, "It is a sort of club for studious people, rather than a school or church with exclusive meaning. The name was adopted, because I am very fond of the theory of Froebel’s Kindergarten. You see, my dear friends, the whole world is a beautiful garden where many dormant seeds of happiness lie. They would blossom and bear fruit if cultivated and I am only too glad to be a faithful gardener and offer my service for this great Kindergarten. Generally speaking, I am a Buddhist but I do not belong to any sect of the churches. I call myself Zen-Buddhist because Zen is the essence of Buddhism and I am satisfied with the teaching as far as I have studied in the past years.
Years later Murshid Samuel Lewis inherited Senzaki's library and writings and when he started a center in San Francisco for people to gather for teachings, he called it the Mentorgarten. He said then that the one thing Senzaki had forbidden was speculation. Senzaki's large trunk containing his many writings and texts, and his tea set was in the meeting room.
May all beings be well,
May all beings be happy,
May all beings be peaceful.
Love and Blessings,
Feel free to download the text Sufism and Zen by Nyogen Senzaki