Because of love and deep reverence for his teacher, Guo Gu, the Florida State University professor who spoke at a recent FCM Sunday Sangha meeting, has created a thriving community of Chinese Buddhism in Tallahassee and beyond.
His goal is to make FSU one of the leading universities for Buddhist studies.
Guo Gu, whose American name is Jimmy Yu, is the founder of the Tallahassee Chan Center (www.tallahasseechan.com) and the guiding teacher for the Western Dharma Teachers Training course at the Chan Meditation Center in New York and the Dharma Drum Lineage. Chan is the Chinese precursor of Zen, which originated in Japan.
Guo Gu is one of the late Master Sheng Yen’s (1930–2009) senior and closest disciples, and assisted him in leading intensive retreats throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. He has edited and translated a number of Master Sheng Yen’s books from Chinese to English and has authored four books of his own. He is a professor of Buddhism and East Asian religions at FSU in Tallahassee.
Born in Taiwan, Jimmy first was exposed to meditation when he was four years old in 1972. He studied with one of the most respected Chinese meditation masters and ascetics in Taiwan, Master Guangqin (1892-1986). In 1980, at age 11, he moved with his family to the New Jersey and New York area.
Also in 1980, encouraged by his mother, he began learning meditation from Master Sheng Yen, who was residing in New York at the time. After a period as a bass player in two hardcore punk bands, he began to attend intensive Chan retreats in 1987 with Sheng Yen. After the first retreat Master Sheng Yen gave him the Dharma name, Guo Gu, which means, “Results From Being the Valley.”
In 1991, Guo Gu was ordained as a monk and became Master Sheng Yen’s first personal attendant who traveled with the master. Guo Gu described his former master as a man born at the margins of society who lived through war-torn China to become one of the most respected Buddhist clerics of our time and a leader who helped to carve out a presence of Chan in mainstream Buddhism in the world today.
Even though Guo Gu had left monasticism and re-entered lay life nine years before his master died, he returned from the funeral in Taiwan in 2009 and vowed to create a center in Tallahassee in Sheng Yen's honor and to carry on his work of teaching Chan Buddhism. He had received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Princeton University a year earlier and was a new teacher at FSU. All of that has come to pass.
Guo Gu is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening, published in March of this year.
In his talk at FCM, Guo Gu described a practice beginning with "progressive relaxation" of the body leading to “Silent Illumination,” a way to awaken to our true nature, aware to the unfolding of each new moment.
As he stated, "Mind, body, heart -- all one." We should follow the breath-body experience with great determination and great interest. When the whole body is relaxed, the meditation will be more beneficial. Only then can our true Buddha nature arise.
This can be described as the grounded embodied experience of just sitting in the present moment, Guo Gu taught. He also includes a period of “self-massage” while sitting after the formal meditation to practice mindfulness of movement and sensation in the body.
To Guo Gu, practice leads to Silent Illumination, which is an aspect of “correct view.” Silent Illumination isn’t a method; rather it is a metaphor for awakening to our true nature. It involves an awareness of the freshness of each moment as it unfolds. Each moment-to-moment experience is a “new beginning,” a manifestation of impermanence and emptiness. Silence is an aspect of our true nature, free from “stories” and notions of self.