Gerry Shishin Wick, whom I’ve never met in the flesh, but who I’ve known for years now through correspondence as well as following his teaching career is pretty much a one off, a genuine American original.
Gerry was raised lightly Jewish, not precisely secular. Then in 1965 while he was pursuing his doctorate in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and inspired as so many of us of a certain generation were by Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen, he started sitting at the San Francisco Zen Center. Something like my own experience a couple of years later, he sat regularly and attended talks, but didn’t enter into the center’s life.
In 1969 Gerry went on to do post doctoral work in nuclear physics in England, where he lightly explored various Hindu groups. But, the important moment for him came when Sochu Suzuki, a senior disciple of the Rinzai master Soen Nakagawa, came to London for a while and led some meditation but more lectures and discussions at the Buddhist Society. Inspired by Sochu Roshi, he joined with a handful of others to form a regular sitting group with retreats. After a year the roshi, left but the lay teacher Katsuki Sekida came for six months, and the group continued under his guidance.
Shortly after Gerry returned from England in a career shift to go to San Diego to teach Oceanography, he joined a session led by Sochu Roshi and Eido Shimano, then a sensei. Gerry asked if the sensei knew anyone in the San Diego area and was pointed to Ray Jordan, a professor at San Diego State University who led a group. Through that group he met Joko Beck, and through her he began studying with Taizan Maezumi at the Zen Center of Los Angeles.
Shishin, which means “Lion Heart” in 1990 became the sixth of Maezumi’s twelve Dharma successors.
When he published his memoirs “My American Zen Life” this year, Shishin asked me to read it and if I felt I could, to endorse it. I did. And I certainly felt I could endorse it. I wrote, “Shishin Wick is one of the signal Zen teachers of our day, and this memoir gives us a peek into why that is so. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the spiritual life, and particularly our Zen way.”
There have been several Zen memoirs written over the past decades, and this is a particularly valuable addition to the literature, digging into the path of Zen as it really is. Shishin describes his encounters with his teachers and fellow students with compassion, but also clear eyes, and with that shows the ordinary, and difficult, and extraordinary possibilities of the Zen way as we can take it up here in America today.
If that’s interesting to you, you might want to read this book.