After the death of George Floyd in 2020, racial trauma and healing began entering mainstream conversation. Yet, beneath all of this lie deeply rooted feelings of pain, suffering, and fear. To find freedom from these, Chan teacher and Buddhist scholar Dr. Jimmy Yu (also known as Guo Gu) suggests that the solution lies in the power of awakening to relationships.
He joins the C.A.F.E. 229 program in October 2021, streaming in virtually from the Tallahassee Chan Center in Florida, for a discussion on this topic with host Dr. Peter Lin. Dr. Yu begins by pointing out the importance of relationships in Buddhism:
“Typically, when someone asks what is the essence of Buddhism, they may point to the teaching of emptiness, the teaching of interdependence, or selflessness, the teaching of wisdom and compassion; all of these things actually point to relationships.”
But, according to Chan Buddhism, or Chinese Zen, why do relationships matter? Dr. Yu explains that they can be “interpreted as dependent origination, which points to the interdependence of all things.” He gives an example of this by pointing to the wooden altar resting behind him:
“[It’s] a piece of wood. Wood comes from a tree; trees come from seeds, and there needs to be various conditions to bring about this tree; sun, oxygen, quality of soil, and then the lumberjack, and then all these different things come together. Buddhist teaching focuses on that.”
Dr. Yu further elaborates how understanding relationships have a positive effect on how we positively engage with others and our world:
“When we practice the way we relate to the body, the way we relate to other people, if we see and start to experience and cultivate and embody this way of recognizing, validating the interconnectedness – the relationship of everything and everyone – then our choices, and our decisions, and our priorities change. And that leads to wisdom. That insight is wisdom, and how it manifests is compassion.”
See the video above for our full program.
About Our Guest
Jimmy Yu, Ph.D, also known as Guo Gu (果谷 Guǒ Gǔ), is a Chan Buddhist teacher and Buddhist scholar. In the 80s, he was the bassist for American hardcore bands Death Before Dishonor and Judge. After his hardcore straight edge days, Dr. Yu pursued the Dharma path and became a monk under Chan Master Sheng Yen. He was Master Sheng Yen’s translator, attendant, and assistant in leading Chan retreats.
Dr. Yu experienced his first breakthrough in 1995 and was subsequently given permission by Sheng Yen to teach Chan independently to monastics and lay people throughout the world. His subsequent experiences of Chan were recognized by other teachers in both the Chan and Japanese Zen Buddhist traditions.
In 2000, Dr. Yu left monasticism to pursue academia. He received an MA degree in Chinese Buddhist studies from the University of Kansas in 2002 and a Ph.D. from Princeton University’s Department of Religion in 2008.
Dr. Yu is currently an Associate Professor of Religion at Florida State University, teaching courses in East Asian religious traditions, especially Chinese Buddhism and late imperial Chinese cultural history. His research interests include the cultural history of the body, Buddhist monasticism, Chan/Zen Buddhism, and popular religions within the broader context of 15th to 17th centuries China.
Dr. Yu is also the founder and teacher of the Tallahassee Chan Center in Florida and founder of the socially engaged intra-denominational Buddhist organization, Dharma Relief. As one of the few teachers carrying on the living wisdom of Chan Buddhism in the West, he has a unique ability to bring profound Buddhist teachings to life through concrete methods of practice. Dr. Yu has touched the hearts of many students across the globe where he leads multi-day, intensive Chan retreats in different countries.
Learn more about Dr. Yu here.
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