Balding guy, 5’8”, 175 pounds, big smile when happy, slow heart rate and slow rate of breathing, slow to speak, often wearing suspenders, the tan of someone who works frequently outdoors. When he puts his hand on your shoulder, you feel the weight of his hand.

When he comes to you as chaplain, that body is the instrument, that is the flesh and bone, breath and touch that conveys his experience and his training. That experience comes from many sources, but professionally it comes from three traditions: Rinzai Zen Buddhism, the training of physicians, and the world of hospital and outpatient chaplaincy.

If we talk credentials, he served as faculty at the School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii for fifteen years. His early years there were spent in Family Medicine, helping to establish the residency program, teaching medical students, and doing collaborative research on the therapeutic elements of that patient-physician relationship. Later, once he joined the Office of Medical Education, he began traveling widely, lecturing at schools that include Williams College, Harvard Medical School as well as medical schools in Japan, Taiwan, China and Korea.

But how did an intellectual with a PhD in Physical Geography become a medical school faculty member? It started with the beginning of his Zen training in 1971. But by leaving the world of energy balance microclimatology in 1984 he was able to train full-time for three years at Daihonzan Chozen-ji, a Rinzai Zen monastery in Honolulu. There, he found that when he set aside his compulsion to analyze, he had a body that engaged in a far richer world than the one defined by his thoughts. And with that body, he found that the sensation of compassion was as visceral as breathing or walking. He also found that somehow his breath was all that kept him sane during his wife’s difficult pregnancy and then the many painful conversations with physicians after his son was born and before he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Somehow that sense of breath and understanding of compassion were seen as valuable to the medical school in Hawaii and they hired him after his monastic training was finished.

After many more years of intense training to refine that breath and posture, his teacher acknowledged him as a Zen master in the Chozen-ji lineage. In 2006, he left his academic life for the woods and meadows of rural Wisconsin. There, he founded a Zen Dojo where he could offer formal Zen training to students from across the United States as well as China and Europe. He also continues teaching about therapeutic relationships to health care professionals in the US and in Japan, holding the position of Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. There he is a teacher in the popular “Healer’s Art” course developed by Rachel Naomi Remen.

While the Zen teaching kept growing and deepening at Spring Green Dojo, he also sought to work with peoples’ suffering by becoming a chaplain. His first part-time position as a hospital chaplain was awarded simply on the basis of his Zen training and his familiarity with the world of hospital medicine, but there developed a hunger to find out how chaplains are actually trained. He knew Zen priest training; he knew physician training; but how was a chaplain trained to face all the suffering he or she would encounter in an emergency room, in an intensive care ward, in a room late at night with a patient who survived a suicide attempt?

So he underwent the first phase of Clinical Pastoral Education at a hospital in southern Wisconsin, undergoing a very intense three months of learning, an experience that is now being described in a book he is writing, a book with the working title of “Wrestling with Angels: A Father Becomes a Chaplain.”

Today, that monk continues to write, speak, and train Zen students. He serves on the Board of Directors for Daihonzan Chozen-ji in Honolulu, for Wisconsin Betsuin/ International Zen Dojo in Madison, and for the Institute for Zen Leadership in Baltimore.

Contact Gordon at gmgreene@wisconsinzen.org

Recent Presentations

  • “Learning to Suffer” – seminar for Rhodes Scholars, University of Oxford.
  • “The Technology of Zen Training” – Consciousness Hacking Group, San Francisco, California.
  • “We are all disabled” – presentation during the week-long visit by the choreographer and actor who created the award-winning Enter the Faun documentary, Madison, Wisconsin
  • “A Buddhism of Breath and Bone” – four-part series of public talks, Madison, Wisconsin.
  • “The Body of Zen” – Trinity Church, New York City. This was a workshop for thirty dancers and bodyworkers, the first step in developing a teaching relationship with the Feldenkrais Institute.
  • “Conducting the Conductor: A Zen Master Listens to Music” – National Opera Center, New York City.
  • “The Manual Labor of Chaplaincy” Greater Madison Area Chaplains, Madison, Wisconsin.
  • “Zen and Activism” First Unitarian Society, Madison, Wisconsin.