Michael Mugaku Zimmerman
“In Buddhism, there is no hope.”
That was my formal introduction to Zen, a remark made by a monk teaching an introductory class at Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City. What a relief! Nothing to do. Just this! Hearing that, I never looked back. I wholeheartedly entered Zen practice.
For me, the central attraction and the essential challenge of Zen is the same: To constantly realize that my sense of who and what I am, my expectations of myself and others, my ingrained habits of mind, are all perspectives--all are true, all are partial. The same can be said of other, non-dual perspectives I attain through my practice, perspectives from which the separate “I” is seen as essentially illusory, like a circle drawn on the surface of a swift-flowing stream, a frame for a picture that is never the same from moment to moment, an arbitrary demarcation separating that which is not separate.
The practice of Zen is the practice of constantly letting go of each perspective as it arises, remaining fluid in the face of life and death. That fluidity enables us to respond to life from the present moment, not from some notion of who we are or what life should be. This does not mean that our practice leads us to dwell in some vast empty place, apart from the people around us, apart from the ordinariness of everyday life. Rather, we seek to experience life intimately, warmly, without filters, without illusions, with deep joy and amazement at the incomprehensibility of what it is to be human. Fluidity of perspective unlocks profound empathy and resulting compassion for all beings living this same life. We feel a strong resolve to alleviate their suffering, to burst the illusion of separateness and isolation endemic to human experience. We vow to approach every aspect of our daily life with this awareness.
In my teaching, I seek to awaken our ever-present awareness of the wondrousness of this moment, and to point out how enriched our lives can be by that awareness.
Michael Mugaku Zimmerman, Sensei, was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1943. He moved to Arizona as a teenager, where he finished high school and began college. Moving to Utah, he graduated from the University of Utah and then attended its law school. Following graduation, he moved to Washington, D.C., for a judicial clerkship, then to Los Angeles, where he worked for a large law firm in Los Angeles until 1976, when he returned to Utah to teach law briefly. He served as part-time special counsel to the Governor, had a litigation law practice, and served as a Justice and then Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court. In 2000, he returned to the practice of law as a partner in a multi-state firm. In 2011, he started Utah's first appellate boutique, the law firm of Zimmerman Jones Booher LLC.
Mugaku Sensei came to Zen relatively late. He first ventured into meditation in 1993 as a way to find some grounding during his first wife's year-long struggle with terminal cancer. Shortly thereafter, he met Diane Hamilton, now Musho Sensei, through their working together for the Utah courts. At her suggestion, he attended an introductory class at Kanzeon in early 1997. Soon after, he began to study with Genpo Roshi. He and Diane were married by Genpo Roshi in 1998, the year he received Jukai. They received Tokudo and became monks together in 2003, were joint Shushos during the Spring Ango in 2005, received Denkai in early 2006, and he received Dharma Transmission in December 2006, seven months after Diane. Together they have four children and Ali, the Wonder Dog.