(Here I originally said that with this Desmond became the first Irish koan Zen teacher. But, of course that isn’t true. Maura O’Halloran was the first. And, today, there’s also Barbara Joshin O’Hara, Sensei, heir to Josho Pat O’Hara Roshi. Thanks to all for the corrections.)
In the Japanese inheritance Denkai, or precepts transmission, does two things. First, for a priest, like Gando, it completes the ordination process begun when one undergoes shukke tokudo, home leaving ordination, or, sometimes also called unsui tokudo, clouds and waters ordination. The second is that it is the first official step in formal authorization as a Zen teacher.
Of course this journey for Des began a long time ago. And as with any good story it has bends and turns.
Desmond was born November 26th, 1964. He began his Buddhist practice in his native Ireland when in 1981 at sixteen, he read the Three Pillars of Zen. In 1984 he moved to England to join the monastery at Throssel Hole, where he practiced for a year. Desmond then met Ajahn Sumedho at a talk at the Buddhist Society in England, who invited him to the recently formed Amaravati monastery in Herefordshire. He lived with the monastic community there for two years, before traveling to Japan to continue the study of Zen.
Desmond spent four years in Japan practicing at Bukkokuji with Harada Tangen Roshi and Hakuhoji with Chigen Sakimura Roshi. He then traveled throughout East and South Asia, practicing with various teachers. In 1991 he moved to the United States and entered Zen Mountain Monastery, where he studied with Daido Loori Roshi. Over the next eight years he would study with Loori, Maezumi Roshi, and Tenshin Fletcher, Roshi.
In all he would spend a total of fourteen years in Zen monastic training. While at ZMM he also met Will Suion O’Neill. After leaving the monastery at the beginning of 2000, he returned to Ireland, completed his college work, becoming a psychotherapist. In 2008 he and Will made life vows to each other, then when marriage equality was affirmed in New York state in 2011, they married.
We were introduced by Josh Bartok (now roshi) in 2011, and I felt an immediate rapport. His insight and life experiences and, well, his left field sense of humor, blend together into a very interesting person. As a person of Zen I’ve known few as fiercely dedicated to the great matter. We proceeded growing deep together while continuing the investigation of the Harada Yasutani koan curriculum. Desmond completed the formal program in 2014. Of course, none of us actually completes koan work, and as an authentic person of the way, he knows that. He brings grace and humility as well as insight into this project.
And for the past several years I’ve watched as he has begun to manifest in his role as a practitioner/teacher. In 2014 Desmond and Will settled in Sacramento, California, where Will is an Emergency Room nurse and Des continues his psychotherapy practice. Together they started the Sacramento Zendo, where Des is resident teacher. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll check their group out.
The Denkai ceremony here in Long Beach was assisted by Blue Cliff Zen Sangha leaders Jan Seymour-Ford and Dr Chris Hoff, and witnessed by Sensei Gesshin Greenwood. I am so grateful to each of them, particularly Gesshin who had to cross the Los Angeles metroplex in thick traffic, and Chris who came immediately from the Los Angeles Airport having just returned from leading some workshops in Washington, D.C.
Having had the good fortune to come to know his heart and mind intimately, I believe Gando Osho will become one of the signal Zen teachers in our time and place.