GUIDING TEACHERS OF BOUNDLESS WAY ZEN

 

James Myo'un Ford, Roshi 

James Ford was born in 1948, in Oakland, California. A high school dropout, James acknowledges that his first education came through twenty years of working in used and antiquarian bookstores up and down the California coast. Eventually he returned to school and earned a BA in Psychology at Sonoma State University, in Rohnert Park, California as well as an MDiv and an MA in the Philosophy of Religion at the Pacific School of Religion, in Berkeley.

At eighteen he began studying Zen with Mel Sojun Weitsman, then leader and later abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center. When Roshi Jiyu Kennett arrived from Japan he became her student, was ordained unsui in 1969, completed shuso training in 1970 and received Dharma transmission from her in 1971. Dissatisfied with the quality of his understanding, James continued studying various spiritual disciplines. These included among other traditions Gnostic Christianity and the "new age" Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan.

James married Jan Seymour-Ford in 1982. In the mid-nineteen eighties they decided to return to school. While James pursued his degrees Jan earned her master's in Library Science. In 1991 James was ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister. He served congregations in Wisconsin, Arizona and Massachusetts and recently retired from his position as senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Providence in Rhode Island.

In 1985 James became a student of the Harada-Yasutani Zen teacher Dr. John Tarrant, the first Dharma successor of Robert Aitken, Roshi. James was authorized to teach by Tarrant, Roshi in 1998. In 2005 John Tarrant gave James Inka Shomei, acknowledging him as a Dharma heir in the Harada-Yasutani Zen lineage. He is the author or editor of five books, the most recent is If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break.

In 2000 Jan and James founded the Henry Thoreau Zen Sangha at the First Unitarian Society in Newton, which quickly merged with Spring Hill Zen, then meeting in Somerville (Spring Hill now meets at the UU Church of Medford). The combined organization was named the Boston Zen Community. Since then a third group, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Zen Sangha, meeting at First Church (Unitarian Universalist) in Boston was formed. The expanded sangha renamed itself Boundless Way Zen. James was elected its first teacher. In 2006 Boundless Way Zen and the Worcester Zen Community began a process of consolidation by bringing members of the WZC onto the BoWZ Board, and electing James, David Rynick, and Melissa Blacker as its three guiding teachers. Later, Josh Bartok was elected as one of Boundless Way Zen's guiding teachers.

James is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, serving on its Board of Directors since 2014. James is considered by many people to be one of the senior teachers of Zen in North America. His website is found here.

Melissa Myozen Blacker, Roshi 

Melissa Blacker was born in 1954, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her parents were secular Jews. From them she was schooled early to have a deep appreciation of art, theater, music (especially jazz) and leftist politics. In order to understand a spontaneous spiritual experience she had when she was nine years old, Melissa began a life-long exploration of religion and psychology. In 1977 she met David Rynick and they married in 1982. Their daughter, Rachel Blacker Rynick, was born in 1986.

She attended Wesleyan University, earning her BA magna cum laude in Anthropology and Music in 1976. She went on to earn an MA in Counseling Psychology from Vermont College of Norwich University in 1991. From 1993 to 2011 she worked at the Center for Mindfulness, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where she was the associate director of the Stress Reduction Clinic, and a director of professional training and education programs. She is now teaching Zen, leading retreats, and helping to run Boundless Way Temple. In addition, she has a private practice in contemplative counseling, spiritual direction, and mindfulness consulting. Melissa is co-editor of The Book of Mu, published by Wisdom Publications in April of 2011, and her writing appears in Best Buddhist Writing 2012, published by Shambhala Publications. For more information: www.melissablacker.com.

In 1981 she and David began studying Zen with the independent teacher Richard Clarke. After twenty years with Dr. Clarke, Melissa became the student of James Myoun Ford, Roshi. In 1992 Melissa and David were joined by several friends in beginning a Zen meditation group at their Worcester home. A year later they also began a sitting group at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, where both David and Melissa had been and continue to be active members. 

Melissa was ordained a Soto Zen priest (unsui) in 2004 and completed shuso training in 2005. Advancing through the Harada-Yasutani koan curriculum she received Dharma transmission from James Ford in April of 2006. In 2006 she was elected a guiding teacher of the Boundless Way Zen sangha. In 2010 Melissa received from James Ford Inka Shomei, which is the full acknowledgment of mastery in the Rinzai lineage of Zen.

Melissa is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association.

David Dae An Rynick, Roshi 

David Rynick was born in 1952, in Houston, Texas. He grew up in upstate New York, where his father was a Presbyterian minister with a great faith in a God who is present in our every day lives. He spent his senior year in high school as an exchange student in Nagasaki, Japan. David earned his BA cum laude in Sociology in 1974 from Wesleyan University. For the next decade David studied and taught pottery, aikido and dance improvisation. In 1984 he earned an MA degree in studio art at Wesleyan. In 1977 he met Melissa Blacker and they married in 1982. Their daughter, Rachel Blacker Rynick, was born in 1986.

Starting in 1984 David began teaching art at a private high school and in 1990 became headmaster, a job he continued until he became a full-time life and leadership coach and consultant in 2003. He currently works with religious leaders and churches as well as with individuals who want to more fully align their lives and their values.  David is the author of This Truth Never Fails, published in 2012.

In 1981 David and Melissa began studying Zen with the independent teacher Richard Clarke. Since 1991 David has been studying with George Bowman, the first Dharma successor to the Korean Zen master Seung Sahn. Zen Master Bowman has also studied extensively with the Japanese Rinzai master Joshu Sasaki, and his Single Flower Sangha shows the marks of both traditions. In 1992 David and Melissa were joined by several friends in beginning a Zen meditation group at their Worcester home. A year later they also began a sitting group at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, where both David and Melissa had been and continue to be active members.

David is an ordained Soto Zen Priest and received Inga, formal recognition as a Zen teacher and Dharma heir from George Bowman in October, 2005. In 2006 he was elected a guiding teacher of the Boundless Way Zen sangha. In 2011 he received full Dharma transmission from George Bowman, marking David’s emergence as a fully-ordained lineage holder in the Linji tradition.

David is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association

Josh Mu'nen Bartok, Sensei  

Josh Bartok is the abbot (head teacher and spiritual director) at the Greater Boston Zen Center. Josh graduated from Vassar College in 1993 with a degree in Cognitive Science. While at Vassar, Josh began his Zen practice with John Daido Loori, at Zen Mountain Monastery, and then lived there for 18 months upon graduating--formally leaving the Mountains and Rivers Order in 2000. He is a Dharma heir of James Myo'un Ford, Roshi in both of the roshi's lineages: the ordained Soto Zen lineage of Jiyu Kennett, and the koan introspection lineage of John Tarrant. Additionally, Josh's Dharma teaching is influenced by the Zen teaching of Ezra Bayda and Shin (Pure Land) Buddhism as taught by Shinran Shonin, and interpreted by Tai and Mark Unno.

In August of 2012, Josh was elected a guiding teacher of Boundless Way Zen. He is a full member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association and the American Zen Teachers Association, and is a Friend (nonvoting member) of the Lay Zen Teachers Association. Josh has served on the Board of Directors for the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and on the planning committee of the first-ever Next-Generation Dharma Teachers event that took place at Garrison Institute in July of 2011. 

In 2000, together with Rod Meade Sperry, he founded Spring Hill Zen in Somerville/Medford, and shortly after met James Ford, with whom he and several others help found the Zen Community of Boston, which later became Boundless Way Zen. Josh was the first president of the leadership council of ZCB/BoWZ.

He is the co-author, with Ezra Bayda, of Saying Yes To Life (Even the Hard Parts), and theauthoring editor of Daily Wisdom, More Daily Wisdom, Lama Zopa Rinpoche's How to Be Happy, and Lama Yeshe's When the Chocolate Runs Out. As senior editor at Wisdom Publications, Josh served as in-house staff editor for almost 200 books in all traditions of Buddhism.

In 2014, Josh graduated with Master's of Science in Mental Health Counseling, from UMass Boston. Independent of Boundless Way Zen and the Greater Boston Zen Center, Josh now has a private practice of Buddhist Pastoral Counseling and Contemplative Therapy in Central Square, Cambridge.

Recreationally, Josh is an amateur photographer who shows locally and regionally. His work is influenced by John Daido Loori, Kaz Tanahashi, as well as sumi-e and abstract expressionist painters. His photos can be seen online at www.shobophoto.com.