Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

When people ask this Zen master where he got his training, he likes to say "IBM". Ordained directly by Shunryu Suzuki, (commonly seen as having brought Zen to the West) Les Kaye is a man who exemplifies "Zen" by his own being.

Point blank, someone once asked him: "What would you do if you have ten minutes left to live?" While most people would think, debate and ponder, Les Kaye immediately and confidently replies with a smile, "What's wrong with what we're doing?"

Experiencing the simplicity, contentment and care that Les brings to each moment can almost floor you. It's as if you, in that moment, are the most important thing that ever existed for him. On September 25th, we have the privilege of hosting an evening with Les Kaye. Please RSVP for more details. The event is hosted in our home and there is no cost to attend.


In 1961, a young man recently employed as an engineer at IBM in its heyday, attended a party at the home of a friend. Perusing the bookshelves of his hostess, he discovered a book that was to change his life and, thereafter, those of many others over the next twenty five years. The man was Les Kaye; the book was The Way of Zen by Alan Watts.

Not long after, Les found his way to San Francisco Zen Center and became a direct disciple of Shunryu Suzuki in 1971. While many students dropped out of "corporate life" and conventional lifestyles, Les worked diligently to find the spiritual in everyday life: he worked at IBM for 30 years, raised a family with his wife Mary, and stayed engaged in society. At the same time, he was also serious about his Zen practice, doing various intensive summer retreats. Currently, he is the abbot of Kannon Do, a Zen meditation center in Mountain View that he founded in 1979.

In his popular book -- Zen At Work -- Les offers his own experiences as proof that the distinction between the sacred and profane exists only in our small minds; that, in reality, making coffee, brushing our teeth, driving the freeway and changing the baby's diaper are equally potent for endless joy, if we allow them to be.

Randomly Selected Quotes

When I arrived at (Suzuki Roshi's) room, he was in bed. He said to me, "I have cancer." I was shaken. I asked him about an operation, and he said no treatment was possible. Then he asked, "Do you have a question?" Without thinking, I said: "Standing by the ocean, we see the crashing waves. From a distance, we see the calm, wide water itself." Closing his eyes and looking very tired, he said: "It is just so."

"Our main emphasis should be on our effort, not its results."

"In Zen practice, we don't ignore confusion when it appears; we actually welcome it. When confusion arises in our practice, it means that we have discovered something new. The feeling of confusion is an indication that we are trying to understand something. So welcoming confusion is actually an expression of wisdom."

"Instead of putting limits on seeing, hearing, or thinking capacities, we should settle ourselves on the quiet that is inherent in the busyness and noisiness of daily life. It is necessary for us to face the world, to fully embrace it, so we can see it as it really is."

Midway through the radio interview, the moderator asked me, "What techniques do you use to encourage people in their meditation practice?" With some pride, I said that we did not use special techniques, such as visualizations, enigmatic riddles, promises of spiritual attaintment, or strict discpline.

Kobun then spoke up. He said, "We use the most important technique -- people's own sincerity." Hearing his words, I was staggered, as if I had been struck by an icy ocean wave. My spine tingled; I began to perspire. I felt numb and giddy as my mind seemed to float and expand. His few words went directly to the heart of spritual understanding, cutting through the analytic limitations of my own rational answer.

More: Evening With Les Kaye: No Traces