Larkin and the dharma

P'arang Geri Larkin past
The Still Point years

Pick up any of Buddhist teacher Geri Larkin’s books, and within a few paragraphs you’re treated to her funny, irreverent and utterly down-to-earth teachings on Zen Buddhist practice.   Her books are a delight to read, yet her teachings are always serious and thoughtful.

I became interested in P’arang Geri Larkin’s books because she trained and was ordained as a Dharma Teacher in the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary of the Toronto Zen Buddhist Temple under Ven. Samu Sunim.

Once I had read her first book, “Stumbling Toward Enlightenment,” I continued to follow her through her books to the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was a Dharma Teacher; through her move to Detroit to become the Founding Teacher of Still Point Zen Buddhist Centre; and eventually her move to Eugene, Oregon, because her writing readily explained Zen Buddhist ideas in an entirely reader-friendly and enjoyable way.

Try, for instance, “Building a Business the Buddhist Way” for a new spin on entrepreneurship that guides readers through the process of starting or expanding a right-livelihood business, while enjoying real satisfaction and remaining true to themselves.  [Before her career change, Larkin was a management consultant with Deloitte & Touche,  so I’d say she knows what she’s talking about on the business side of things too.]

I’ve just finished reading her latest dharma book, “Close to the Ground.”   And as always, she has effortlessly captured me as a reader….again.

As a tiny example, here’s her take on a well-known Zen story:

The main thing to remember along the way is that our life is what our mind makes it out to be.  We always get to choose.

In a famous story about Hakuin, one of Zen’s great patriarchs, a samurai comes to him for a teaching.  He wants to know the difference between heaven and hell.

Hakuin’s response?  “You dumb-ass!”

The samurai is immediately pissed beyond belief.  “I’ll kill you!

Hakuin looks at him.  “That’s hell.”

The samurai freezes in place.  Then he bows to the old monk.

“That’s heaven,” Hakuin says.

In the end we have to work on our mind alone.  It is solitary work.  Wise words can only encourage us to keep going.

At some point, when I’ve finally read my way through the twenty-odd books sitting on my desk waiting, I’m going to grab all my Larkin books, sit down, start at the beginning, and read them all over again.  Joy!

[Curses!  I just searched through my bookcases and discovered that I’ve given all the others away – every last one!  It’s a bad habit I have, since few of my “loaners” ever find their way back to Mama – and I can never remember who I loaned them to anyway.   Ah well, I suppose, in the greater scheme of things, it’s all okay.




Geri Larkin
Geri Larkin today

Overview of “Close to the Ground”
From Barnes and Noble: )

After all the bliss and generalized euphoria we might experience along our spiritual path, what’s left are the karmic knots of conditioning that still need unraveling. Untying them is the work of spiritual warriors — that is, all of us. The seven factors of enlightenment are a grease to loosen them, all the while keeping us upright in our efforts: mindfulness, the investigation of phenomena, energetic effort, ease, joy, concentration, and equanimity.

In Close to the Ground, longtime Buddhist teacher Geri Larkin uses stories from her own life to share some of the gifts that these factors bring.   Because she refuses to be anything special, her stories are our stories; her humor, our humor; her heartbreaks, our heartbreaks.  In this book, readers discover (or rediscover) that they have many more tools available to help with this work of “life and death” than they realized.

About the Author:   The daughter of an IBM executive and an artist, Geraldine Kapp Willis [Geri Larkin is her pen name] grew up in various cities in the United States and in Sydney, Australia.

After earning a doctorate in policy analysis, she joined Deloitte & Touche as a management consultant in 1988.

Later, Larkin attended the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary, where she was ordained as a dharma teacher. In 1999 she started Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple in the heart of Detroit, where she was guiding teacher for its first five years.

Larkin is the author of nine books on Buddhism, including Stumbling Toward Enlightenment and The Still Point Dhammapada.  These days she lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she writes for magazines, babysits, volunteers at community feeding programs that serve poor people – and practices as much as possible, “given that there aren’t many years left.”   Many of her author royalties have been donated to the Eugene Right Livelihood Fund.

The Books:

  • Stumbling Toward Enlightenment [ISBN 1-58761-329-8]
  • Building a Business the Buddhist Way  [ISBN 0-89087-888-9]
  • Tap Dancing in Zen [ISBN 0-89087-889-7]
  • First You Shave Your Head  [ISBN 1-58761-009-4]
  • The Still Point Dhammapada: Living the Buddha’s Essential Teachings [ISBN 0-06-051370-5]
  • The Chocolate Cake Sutra  [ISBN 0-06-083695-4]
  • Plant Seed, Pull Weed  [Gold Book Award Winner,
    ISBN 0-06-134904-6]