East Yorkshire resident John Hart, a former teacher at Driffield School, has been a ‘practising’ Buddhist for more than 20 years, having first developed an interest in the Eastern “approach of life” when Christianity failed to ignite in him any tangible sense of contentment. As his interest in Buddhism deepened, John increasingly felt the need to “teach” others how to meditate. As a result, he decided to become a “Zazen” tutor, and he now regularly takes classes in Bridlington.
Here, in an enlightening interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, John chats candidly about the rewarding yet often excruciating nature of meditation, and his belief that people should be free to believe in what they want without feeling pressured by others to conform to different ways of thinking and “being”...
Hi John, how are things?
Hi, I’m fine thank you.
So how long have you been interested in Buddhism?
Since I was fourteen, so about a hundred years. Well, twenty anyway.
What was it that first snared your interest in the Eastern “approach to life”?
I was brought up as a Christian and was an altar boy, but I had many questions about Christianity that I couldn’t get answers to. I had an uncle who was studying for a theology degree, and he was studying Buddhism as part of that. He had some books at his house. When I looked at them, it made much more sense to me compared to what I was hearing in church.
Have you done any travelling in the East?
Yes, I go to Flamborough frequently. Sorry, I’m being facetious. If you mean Japan, where Zen is from, then the answer is no. It would be nice to go to experience the culture, but it isn’t necessary from the point of view of Buddhism, because that is more concerned with here... and now.
As a practicing Buddhist, what do you believe?
That’s a good one. I’m not sure that I believe anything. Zen Buddhism isn’t a belief system; it’s a practice, a way of looking at the world around us. Alternatively, I suppose I believe that it is possible to experience your life more clearly.
Why do you think more and more people in the Western world are “meditating” upon Eastern philosophies?
I’m really not sure about that. At first, I thought it was because they were becoming more rational and less inclined to believe in rituals and the supernatural. However, if one looks at the types of Buddhism that are popular in the West, it is often the more supernatural and ritualistic sects that Westerners are going for. On the other hand, Buddhism is perceived as valuing ideals that appeal to many people here, such as non-violence, and respect for the ecology. The Dalai Lama generally gets good press, too, so maybe people want to be a part of all of those things. Or could it be that many of us feel we lead incredibly hectic lives and want to calm down a bit?
What motivated you to start teaching meditation classes?
I teach “Zazen”, which is often referred to as meditation. But, really, it is just sitting with no objective. I think meditation can imply other things sometimes. I teach Zen because I value the clarity it gives me in my everyday life, and I want to help other others who want to experience that, too.
Have you found that your experience as a music teacher in East Riding secondary schools has helped you to help those seeking enlightenment because of the high level of patience such a vocation has inevitably instilled in you?
I hope it has helped me to be able to teach a little better, and it possibly makes it easier to get difficult concepts across to others. “Zazen” is incredibly simple, but when we try to explain it to others, words get in the way, and it becomes incredibly complicated.
Do you “sit” on a daily basis, or purely when you feel the urge to de-stress and take stock?
I sit every day. You know when you want to type in a “Word” document that you have previously used and you delete it first so you can start again? Well, it’s like that.
Would you say that meditation is something that’s easy to learn for people who have never considered it before?
It’s easy for most people to learn the physical posture, but it is something I have been learning to do over the last twenty years. Sometimes, it is really easy; other times, it can be excruciating.
Your interest in Buddhism aside, you are an accomplished musician. Which is your instrument of choice, and have you ever been in any bands?
I’m a sax player and have been fortunate to play with loads of bands all over the world. Many sax players don’t really “join” bands; we just do bits of session work, then perhaps tour with them while they promote that album.
Are you running meditation classes at present? If so, how can people find out more?
East Yorkshire Zen Group meets every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in Bridlington. You can find out more information at http://www.dogensangha.org.uk/yorksgroup.htm or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, for those folk who are perhaps skeptical of “Zazen”, what would you say in order to try and win them over to your positive way of thinking?
I think scepticism can be healthy. There is a lot of nonsense out there. I’m not evangelical. If you think it’s not for you, that’s fine. Enjoy your life. However, if you want to find out for yourself, then find a teacher. Reading about Buddhism isn’t the same thing as practising Buddhism. Reading the menu doesn’t stop you from being hungry.