Jean-Luc Foisy informs me that after the death of Albert Low, the Montreal Zen Centre went through an “inevitable period of confusion with regards to who was going to do what. A lot of people had relied on Albert’s presence. He was really the center of the Centre. He was the founder, as you know, and what he built was quite remarkable. The way he dedicated his life to the teaching, the books he wrote, the time and energy and effort he invested created what I guess we call in our language a ‘Dharma’.”
Towards the end of Albert’s life, Jean-Luc served as his attendant, “helping him physically to go to sit for the dokusan to meet the people, to go to the zendo when he was still doing the teishos. And I could definitely appreciate the pain and the difficulty that he was going through. And also his stubbornness, his determination to carry on until his last breath. It was quite remarkable. So after he died, I was invited to join the board.
“The fact that he did not appoint a successor left most of the senior members in an unknown zone. And I find that was actually pretty wise of Albert.” He smiles and chuckles softly. “It’s a very good way – let’s put it this way – especially for the long-term people to reflect, ‘Are you in or not? Are you willing to carry on with this in spite of the difficulty? Are you able to get along together? Are you able to work this out together? And if not, you might as well move onto something else.’ And that’s what many people did, to be honest. I guess I was determined to stay. I have a huge debt of gratitude towards the work that he did, and, as a result, for me it’s a no-brainer. I just cannot go away. So anyway, shortly after I became a part of the board, I took the role of president.”
Not long after Albert’s death, Jean-Luc along and two other senior students – Monique Dumont and Louis Bricault – attended a sesshin in Philadelphia offered by Jeff Shore of Hanazono University in Kyoto.
“I was not really interested in working with another teacher, but Louis insisted. And I am happy he did because it was very interesting to meet somebody completely different from Albert in a personality perspective and from a teaching approach as well. Having worked with Albert for so many years, for me, he was the absolute. There was nothing other than that, and nothing was possible other than this approach, this way of being a teacher. So that kind of opened up a door, I would say.”
Jeff was invited to offer a sesshin in Montreal, which led, as Jean-Luc puts it, “to a lot of concern. Especially some of the long-term members were not able to adjust to this style that Jeff had. You know, he was very amiable, very open, not as autoritaire as Albert was. It was a completely different style, and many people were not able to adapt. And they were questioning, ‘Is this going to be the new teacher in the Montreal Zen Centre?’ And there were people saying, ‘Well, he should not be.’”
At Jeff’s suggestion, Jean-Luc and Louis continued holding the introductory workshops the center offered and facilitated short retreats.
“Jeff said his only reason to be in Montreal was to support the community to go through this transition so that we – among ourselves with our own resources – would be self-sufficient. I took this very seriously, and as a result, I engaged even more into the community. And so we started to do retreats. I started to do what we traditionally called teisho, which we then called ‘Dharma talk.’ One thing I learned from Jeff – and I thought was very interesting – is that the early Buddhism, it was not the master talking and the people listening silently. It was someone talking to people and gathering their input, their feedback, their impressions, their questions, and that – I find – is a very, very interesting way to work.”
Jean-Luc admits readily that he is not formally authorized. “I am kind of on my own doing this. Albert left some material, and I feel a very strong connection with his Dharma and with him. And the feeling is clear: as much as I’m willing to engage, he’s there. As simple as that. And it is not only him, but it’s the whole line of people who dedicated their lives to this . . . this . . . And I don’t have a name for it. But when you line up with this, you feel really a very strong support. And yet you are always in the dark, always in doubt, always wondering if this is the right thing to do.
“So, in a nutshell, that’s where we’re at in the Montreal Zen Center right now.”
I am reminded of the decision taken by Walter Nowick’s students to keep the Morgan Bay Zendo operating on their own after he withdrew from teaching, and, for that matter, of what Toni Packer established with her Springwater Center. These are the outliers. It is a model that probably wouldn’t satisfy people searching for an authorized lineage, but it is a model that appears to work for people who are more interested in practice and community than in formalities and orthodoxy.
Further Zen Conversations: 101-02; 131-33.