As a young child, I had a profound experience of the presence of God. Growing up in what was called the Bible Belt and the Cotton Belt of the United States, I believed every word of the King James Bible to be literally true. I gave my life to Christ and felt called, at nine years old, to be a minister. My parents greeted my religious zeal with ambivalence and skepticism, and pointed out to me the hypocrisy of certain members of our family whose actual lives often contradicted their espoused Christian beliefs. The rest of my life so far may be seen as an ongoing endeavor to be faithful both to my deepest experience of spiritual reality and to embody that in my life with personal integrity, wholeness, and a commitment to love, justice and peace in the world.
My journey to integrate what I know and experience of myself and ultimate reality that both transcends and includes the personal, has taken me from fundamentalism to progressive Christianity, into Depth Psychology, through a time of great emptiness, darkness and loss of everything I believed in, to Zen Buddhism. Through my practice of Zen, I have been able to realize that nothing is lost, everything matters, and I am not separate from all that I previously considered as “other.”
As a Soto Zen priest and Christian pastor, I claim them both, feel claimed by both Jesus and Buddha, and see them and me as “not two.”
This website is devoted to an ongoing global conversation among people, somewhat like myself, whose spiritual practice compels them to look at more than one religious tradition for the deepest sense of integrity, truth and realization. This is what Zen calls “a conversation among the weeds,” since all our concepts, words and phrases are but a “finger pointing to the moon.
We welcome you to join us in this conversation.
Following a Psychological and Spiritual Path Through Education and Training
For some of us, our psychological and spiritual journeys have been pursued, at least in part, through education and training. For me, my choices about education and training were tied, heart, mind and soul to my psychological and spiritual quest.
From the writing of my application to attend Columbia College with an essay on my search for the meaning and purpose of life, my education unfolded as my quest required. Not having found my answer to my questions, I moved across Broadway to Union Theological Seminary where I received my B.D. then began my parish ministry in Maine where I was ordained into the United Church of Christ.
From there it became clear that psychology was a crucial part of my spiritual journey. Originally trained in Transactional Analysis and Gestalt Therapy, I moved on to a full-time three year program in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the Blanton Peale Institute here in New York. That work was acknowledged by Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts when they awarded me a Doctor of Ministry in Psychology and Clinical Studies.
I expanded my studies into Analytic Psychology and Psychoanalysis under Ann B. Ulanov, a Jungian analyst, in the Department of Psychiatry and Religion at Union Theological Seminary, where I was awarded an S.T.M. and a Ph.D. My dissertation was published as a book by Paulist Press in 2000, with the title Journeys Into Emptiness: Dōgen, Merton and Jung and the Quest for Transformation. (See page on “Books” on this website for reviews).
In addition to my private practice, I have taught several courses at Union Theological Seminary: Religious Vocation, Journeys into Emptiness, and in the Spring of 2013, I will be teaching The Psychological Dimensions of Inter-religious Dialogue and Double Belonging.
I have also taught a course on Sex, Culture and Power at the Blanton Peale Institute; a course on The Interpretation of Dreams at the Harlem Family Institute; and Marriage and Family Issues and Alcoholism, Addiction and Recovery in the Pastoral Counseling Department of the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health.
I was Director of the South Nassau Family Counseling Institute in Rockville Centre, Long Island, N.Y. for two years, supervising a staff of seven therapists and conducting a Pastoral Studies program for clergy.
I am a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, a Clinical Member of the American Association of Marital and Family Therapy, and a Member of the American Psychological Association.
I have served churches in Maine, Boston and the New York area.
I am an ordained Soto Zen Buddhist priest at the Village Zendo in New York, where I study and practice Zen under Roshi Enkyo O’Hara.
I have been active in Buddhist/Christian dialogue as well as the Buddhism and Psychotherapy Dialogue and presented papers at conferences in Seattle, Los Angeles and Kyoto, Japan.I have been guest lecturer and retreat leader at Wisdom House and the Passionate Holy Family Retreat Center, both in Connecticut; at Riverside Church, St. James and Broadway United Church of Christ in New York.
In addition being open for referrals for psychotherapy, I am available to give lectures, workshops or retreats in the intersections of Psychotherapy, Christianity and Zen Buddhism. I have been in private practice of psychotherapy in Manhattan for over thirty years. My office is in the Lincoln Towers, a short walk from Lincoln Center.
About Dharma Names
In the White Plum Sangha, of which the Village Zendo in New York is a part, Dharma names are given to Zen students by their teachers when a student makes a commitment to follow the precepts of the Buddha way. At the time of writing my first book, I was a student of John Daido Loori, Abbott of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, N.Y. When I took the precepts from him, Daido gave me the name of Jingen, 神元, which is a Romanization of the Japanese characters Jin 神for God, and Gen 元, for source. My name therefore meant, “God is the source of my life,” and “My life is the source of God.” Thus my name as the author of Journeys Into Emptiness is Robert Jingen Gunn.
When I asked Roshi Pat O’Hara to be my teacher, as is customary, I received the precepts again from her, and was given the name Kaizen, meaning “unfolding Zen.” Later, when she ordained as a Soto Zen Buddhist priest, she gave me the priest name of KaKu, 歌空, meaning “Song of Emptiness.” Thus my name as author of the forthcoming One Bright Pearl: a Spiritual Memoir , as well as Jesus, Buddha, Mind, will be Robert Kaizen Kaku Gunn.
I am very blessed to have two beautiful, wonderful daughters (a completely objective statement!), Allison and Lara, a great son-in-law, Mario, and four very-different-from-each-other, powerful, adolescent grandsons, Mario,Jr., Yakiim, Isaac and Xavier.
I am also blessed to have a tremendously loving younger sister, Jeanne, and a younger brother, Bill, who, as I wrote in the Essay section, is an inspiration for my own life.
My former wife, Susan, remains an essential part of my family. We work together however we can on behalf of our daughters and grandsons. We support each others’ relations with each other person in the family.
My family is crucial to me. We certainly don’t always agree. In both politics and religion, we may be very far apart and can argue into the wee hours about our different points of view. We have known much heartbreak, struggle and conflict.
Serious spiritual practice requires a lot of time, energy and attention. As with all our commitments, family needs vie with spiritual growth needs, and the most important thing is to respect each other’s spiritual or religious practice and support each other’s practice, all the more when we disagree or don’t understand why others in the family don’t see things the way we do.
I mention family because it is one of the places where the tension between our commitment to diversity and our commitment to our own spiritual path can be very difficult. Working with those differences within the family becomes an essential part of our spiritual practice itself.
I welcome your feedback from any of the readings here, or your response to this website. Most of all, I welcome your sharing of your story of your own spiritual journey, especially if you are interested in interreligious dialogue, you practice in two traditions, or you are interested in the dialogue between Depth Psychology and religion.
Robert Kaizen KaKu Gunn