Yesterday I was in Weston-Super-Mare for the Buddhist funeral of John Crook. John was a Chan (Zen) master and teacher of the Western Chan Fellowship. His style of retreat and teaching was a unique mix of the orthodox Chan from his own Chinese teacher, Japanese Zen from his first teachers, a wild and shamanistic Tibetan Buddhist element which he’d gained first hand from extensive travels in remote regions of Ladakh and Tibet, and psychotherapeutic techniques going back to the Encounter movement of the 60s. In the course of a day on his retreat you could experience hours of silent sitting, deep and challenging personal interviews, physical exercise, long hill walks, dharma talks covering the religious, the political, the psychological and the plain daft, strictly measured ritual and, on occasion, Greek dancing to hissy old bouzouki cassettes. All this in an ancient farmhouse with no electricity, punctuated by (actual) cordon bleu vegetarian meals taken, of course, in silence.
John was no new age dabbler. He had a PhD in animal behaviour and was a lecturer in psychology at Bristol University. He invented new research techniques in cross species study, and his travels in Ladakh were part of his studies of societies and their evolution. He claimed that in Buddhism he found a way to understand the mystical experiences of his childhood and youth without giving up his intelligence and rationality.
I found him not only wise, but also self-critical in a serious way and self-mocking in a funny way. But he had a grasp of what I can only think of as magic – the power to pull together ideas, sounds, touch, words, light and the feeling of risk – to bring you to a fuller appreciation of the sheer beauty of life.
He died not long after his 80th birthday and it was a life with hardly a wasted moment. Thank you John for so much.
Tell Tale Songs
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