Zen Master Henry Shukman — 20 Minutes of Calm, Plus the Strange and Powerful World of Koans (#560)

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“Through koans, you can meet in the boundless wonder of this other dimension of our experience.

— Henry Shukman

Henry Shukman (@mountaincloudzencenter) teaches mindfulness and awakening practices to a wide range of students from all traditions and walks of life. Henry is an appointed teacher in the Sanbo Zen lineage and is the Guiding Teacher of Mountain Cloud Zen Center. He has an MA from Cambridge and an MLitt from St Andrews and has written several award-winning books of poetry and fiction.

Henry’s essays have been published in The New York TimesOutside, and Tricycle, and his poems have been published in The New RepublicThe GuardianThe Sunday Times (UK), and London Review of Books. He has taught meditation at Google, Harvard Business School, UBS, Esalen Institute, Colorado College, United World College, and many other venues. He has written of his own journey in his memoir One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir.

Henry has also recently created a new meditation program, Original Love, which aims to provide a broad, inclusive path of growth through meditation.

Please enjoy!

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#560: Zen Master Henry Shukman — 20 Minutes of Calm, Plus the Strange and Powerful World of Koans

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to catch Henry Shukman’s last appearance on this show? Listen to our conversation here in which we discuss examining the deep wounds of childhood trauma, how the phenomenon of awakening compares and contrasts with psychotic episodes, Zen tramps, what koans are and how they guide us toward nonduality, why Henry considers the term “non-ordinary consciousness”—when applied to an awakened mind—a misnomer, if someone can have a “bad trip” through Zen, and much more.

#531: Henry Shukman — Zen, Tools for Awakening, Ayahuasca vs. Meditation, Intro to Koans, and Using Wounds as the Doorway
  • Connect with Henry Shukman:

Mountain Cloud Zen Center | LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram


  • How does Henry deal with unexpected curveballs the game of life often throws our way? [05:18]
  • “To name it is to tame it.” What are the characteristics of allowing/not allowing and accepting/not accepting, and how might someone consciously manifest them when trying to identify and correct what’s upsetting their balance? Henry mellifluously leads us through an exercise. [11:46]
  • Things to consider when we’re having difficulty pinpointing and processing the emotions we’re experiencing (to which many men in the West may relate). [25:25]
  • For anyone not familiar with Henry’s first appearance on this show, what is a koan, and how do they work? [35:14]
  • For the healthy skeptics among us: why the states toward which koans are designed to guide us aren’t “woo woo,” but scientifically documented. [47:14]
  • How can the experience of “awakening” be explained to someone who’s never experienced it? [52:01]
  • How many koans are there, and how many has Henry passed? [55:24]
  • What are the checking questions that determine whether or not a koan has been passed? Once someone has passed a koan, are they done with it? [1:00:02]
  • Sitting with Mu and Roger Rabbit. [1:04:22]
  • What isn’t a koan? [1:11:49]
  • There’s no business like Kenshō business. Is it possible for someone to experience something that might be perceived as a psychotic break if they experience awakening but don’t have a framework to make sense of it? [1:16:11]
  • Using koans for meditation. [1:25:31]
  • How does someone who is brand new to Zen separate a legitimate teacher from a charlatan? [1:27:13]
  • What is a Dharma transmission? [1:32:43]
  • Do shared psychedelic visions have anything in common with the “right” answers to a koan’s checking questions? In other words, is someone who experiences Kenshō extending their senses into the same unseen world as someone on, say, an ayahuasca journey? [1:37:42]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:57:48]


“To name it is to tame it.”
— Dr. Daniel Siegel

“A koan isn’t an annoying, boring, little, pointless thing. It’s got an incredible purpose, which is sharing this deepest reality of our existence.”
— Henry Shukman

“Inside of many of us, I believe there’s some kind of deep, primordial wound. There’s some deep, ancient grief. [But] … grief is not an enemy.”
— Henry Shukman

“I can’t believe how fortunate it is to be a human being.”
— Henry Shukman

Koans love the world so much”
— Henry Shukman

“We sit with koans because they can open us up to this boundless reality. Ongoing beyond a first experience, they train us more and more in realizing that our ordinary life and that mind-blowing reality, they’re not separate.”
— Henry Shukman

“Through koans, you can meet in the boundless wonder of this other dimension of our experience.”
— Henry Shukman


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5 Replies to “Zen Master Henry Shukman — 20 Minutes of Calm, Plus the Strange and Powerful World of Koans (#560)”

  1. Another amazing clash between “The Man with all the questions” and “The Man with most of the answers” 😉 Loved your quetion on the Masters’ legitimacy and readiness to teach and lead – If I may share my two cents – it shows to a great degree your bright, inqusitive and sceptic (in the good sense) mind. Imho. But it reminds me of what my Master says (he is in the Hindu domain) – “Faith starts where knowing and proof end”. So for a lot of things in life, proof and argument do not work. It takes Feeling and Faith. One more thing He says “Those who keep preaching, they do not Know (the Truth). And those who Know, won’t tell you”. Guess this is another way to recognize a real Master – They do not “Tell you”. They just help you Know for yourself.

  2. Shukman did a beautiful job of sharing and Ferris asked great questions. I hope more people listen to this wonderful conversation.

  3. Hearing the mention of Hakomi on the pod brought a smile to my face. Ron Kurtz, the founder of Hakomi, was a dear friend and I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with him the last decade of his life, working on capturing and cataloging his individual work to share with students. He was one of my favorite humans and hearing you talk about the practice he dedicated his life to opened my heart In the most appropriately wonderful way to receive this entire episode.