About a week ago, my good friend and Zen teacher, Paul Wonji Lynch, died. I met Paul online more than a decade ago, and immediately I was overwhelmed by his great compassionate heart. Even though we had only just met, he offered to help me, a complete stranger, with my Zen practice. Soon we began meeting weekly via Zoom. Sometimes the topic of conversation was formal Zen practice (kong-ans in particular); while many other times it was just two friends enjoying each other's company.
In Paul I found a great friend, mentor, confidant, and teacher. I learned many things from him, but I suppose the greatest gift he left me was our friendship. Paul's heart was enormous. He never said "no" to anyone in need. For him, life was an opportunity to explore the mysterious nature of reality and to help our fellow beings.
Two phrases that encapsulate his approach to teaching Zen (and life, in general) were "How may I help you?" and "What is this? Don't know."
He encouraged all of his Dharma friends and students to greet the world with open arms, asking "How can I help the world?" And he practiced what he taught: Paul selflessly engaged with students all around the globe, never asking for compensation or recognition. He was a living bodhisattva of compassion.
Paul inherited the teaching of Don't-Know mind from his teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn. This approach asks us to investigate our lives so deeply that the the conceptual interface that so often imprisons us drops away, leaving spacious awareness and freedom.
Through Paul I was able to ordain with the Five Mountain Zen Order and make many Dharma friends. I was able to become a Zen teacher myself, and hopefully to make a positive difference in this world through the Buddhadharma.
Despite all of that, I miss my friend. It saddens me to know what I will never have another chance to meet Paul online for our Wednesday meetings again. He was a great friend, whom I will never forget. I chose the above and below photos of Paul because there were so many facets to him. He was irreverent, fun-loving, humorous, sensitive, and playful; while also stern, serious, and no-nonsense.
If you knew him, then you know what I mean. There's no way that I can possibly repay him for all of the time that he offered me; all that I can try to do is embody the great compassion and friendship that he showed me.
Thank you for everything. For all of the good laughs we shared, and the countless hours we spent together. And for making all of this possible. Without you and your unwavering commitment to others, none of this would ever have happened.
I love and miss you.