John Daido Loori (June 14, 1931 – October 9, 2009) was a prominent American Zen roshi and founder/abbot of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism and the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York. Loori was an artist, possesor of a keen Zen mind and continues to leave monumental imprint on American Buddhism. A strict follower of form, Loori firmly discarded the idea that American Zen was somehow flighty or limited. Working previously as a sailor in the Navy and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey (as was my dear Grandmother), some have described Roshi as militaristic (as some also describe my Grandmother) and he also taught photography at my almamater ~ Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Trained by Taizan Maezumi-roshi and receiving Dharma transmition along with other notable Zen teachers including Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, Charlotte Joko Beck, Jan Chozen Bays and Gerry Shishin Wick, Loori dug in deep and created an atmosphere of intense practice and constant striving. While I never had the chance to meet John Daido Roshi, his teachings and books were both practical to address the needs of lone home-practitioners like myself while still focusing on the Monastic needs of his own community.
A wonderful story reccounted by Sean Murphy in his book “One Bird, One Stone“, had Loori-roshi entertaining some families at a retreat at Zen Mountian Monastery. Introducing himself as the “Wizard of Mount Tremper” he would tell stories around a campfire to the children at the retreat. When asked one night if he could perform a magic trick, Loori stated that he could and asked the child to breath in and then breath out. At the exhale, Loori stated
“That is magic”
So for his constant commitment to Zen, his desire to drive a Monastic stake into upstate New York and his dedication to weirding out kids everywhere, I dedicate this post, this magic breath and my next Schlitz to John Daido Loori.