David Bernstein remembers Shinzan Roshi

I was fortunate to go on sesshin with Daizan Roshi to Gyokuryuji in 2009. Shinzan Roshi made an immediate impression. Through the brilliance of his teaching, Shinzan Roshi was able to take complex Zen concepts, distil them down and make them personally relevant to everyone in the room. I learnt a great deal during the two weeks I spent at his temple.

David Bernstein with Shinzan Roshi

David on the left, Daizan Roshi next to him and Shinzan Roshi on the right

I was also struck by how effortlessly Shinzan Roshi could embody any particular role. One day I was working in the temple garden, when I was approached by an old man in gardening clothes. He patiently explained to me how I could use the trowel I was using to pull weeds out of the ground. I assumed he was a temple groundsman. Then it dawned on me – I’d be talking to Shinzan Roshi himself!

Shinzan Roshi took on another guise in the sanzen room. He would be direct, to the point, and quite fearsome. More than one person on the retreat compared him to a samurai warrior. When it was time for us to have sanzen, we would all line up with some degree of trepidation! But on other occasions he would be chatty and relaxed. And when we had to get up early one morning to go to Kyoto, he came out to see us and waved us off with a smile on his face. One of the other retreat participants who was sitting next to me on the bus said that he felt like he’d been seen off by his kind grandfather.

In both his words and actions, Shinzan Roshi was able to fully embody Zen practice. He left a very strong impression on me.