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Craig Hase

Crestone Mountain Zen Centre

Interview Conducted by: Rachel Yokum and Penelope Morgan

Biography by: Penelope Morgan


It is slightly ironic that Rachel Yokum and I interviewed Craig Hase, a member of the Crestone Mountain Zen Centre, in the campus library. As a teenager, his mother owned a bookstore and so he’d spend his afternoons reading books. It was through books that he ended up on the path towards Buddhism. Reading Jack Karouak and other writers from the sixties and seventies inspired an interest in meditation. Hase read Thich Nhat Hanh for some meditation advice, sat down to meditate, and failed utterly. “You know, I sat down for three minutes and I felt like I was going crazy.” However, an important high school teacher later introduced Hase to a meditation teacher who was a close friend. This was not Zen Buddhism, Hase points out, although he studied it for several years, continually through college. He did summer and weekend retreats and took a year off to do a six month retreat and work. Five years ago, after a cross country trip and time studying in Hawaii, Hase met the abbot of the Crestone Mountain Zen Centre. “I felt a strong connection with him and decided I wanted to start studying here and then I came for a week and then for two months and then I just sort of moved here.”

Hase places a particular emphasis on the importance of seclusion in monastic life, its distance from culture as a space for contemplation. “As important to me as driving a car is examining, you know what it is to be alive. Having a place where people can examine what it is to be alive, having a place where people can also examine what it means to get along together. I mean, we are- we’re coming more and more into a globalist culture where we don’t know how to answer the questions that are coming up. We don’t know how to take care of the conflicts that are rising on huge global scales. I mean, these centres, in my view, are small models for how to live.” The landscaper surrounding the Zen Centre promotes the distance necessary for what Hase refers to as, spaciousness. However, his relationship to both the landscape the community of Crestone has developed over time. It was the Zen Centre itself that originally drew Hase to Crestone. “I wanted to study with this particular teacher and the more I met the people that come here, from Boulder, from Santa Fe, from San Francisco, from Germany, from all over Europe, the more I met these people the more I knew I wanted to practice with this particular group of people and this is where the centre is. This is where everybody convenes to study. And so of first that was the draw for me. And of course, it’s beautiful. You drive here the first time and you think, it’s like no place on Earth that I’ve been. But it wasn’t the landscape, or the Crestone community itself that drew me. Because I didn’t even start meeting people in Crestone until three years into being here when I started to have a more public role at the centre. So, that has developed over time and my relationship to the landscape has developed over time. Besides being beautiful it has become a home and very much influences my way of, I mean really, my way of being alive. To live here is very different than to live in Maui or any other place, or New York City, or any of the places that I’ve lived. It’s just…it’s very spacious and it brings a very…the more you’re here, the more I’m here practicing here, especially the particular kinds of practices that we do, the more I feel spaciousness and a wideness in my mind that is I think particular to this landscape.”

Buddhism is a tradition that grew from a society very different from American society, “Sometimes the things we do seem really foreign to me. We wear the black Japanese robes. We’re inheriting a tradition with its own assumptions, and background and values, and you could kind of say goals, though that’s not a perfect word for what it is.” Hase notices that several of the principles that govern behavior are foundationally different, “Some of the subtler assumptions like how you function as a group in Zen is very different from how you function in a group as a Westerner. There’s much, a much greater emphasis on the good the group and there certainly individual members of a group but there is certainly this feeling that you are contributing to a whole and that sounds very attractive but when you first run into it and its going against your personal preferences it can be very difficult to accept.” Yet, Hase goes on to point out, that we are living in a global age in which ideas that have been circulating in Buddhism for centuries are becoming mainstream in the American culture. Hase suggests that Buddhism is not so foreign at all because in way it is already extant, and needed. “There are, I think, antecedents in our own culture that have lead to people practicing Eastern traditions. There’s the transition from modernism to post-modernism. The feeling that “Truth” with a capital “T” is no longer an intelligent or acceptable alternative everything has to be lived. That context informs each situation and there’s no overarching metaphysical truth that we can abide by. I mean, these are all things that our own philosophy, our own science, and our own arts have lead us to believe. And these are the same kinds of things that Eastern traditions have been working with and developing for a long, long time. Questioning language, questioning culture. And, my view is that we’re taking this tradition that comes from another culture and we’re developing it in our own culture. I mean, we’re making it our own…its not the same as it is in Japan, and the more that we practice it and the more that we sort of realize it in our own bodies and our own context and our own groups, the less it is like Japanese Buddhism and the more it is like American Buddhism. And it’s influencing the culture. A lot of the ideas that are floating around in mainstream culture are implicitly, or explicitly Buddhist. We don’t live in a nation state anymore, really. I mean we live in a globalist culture, now…and…and every year we live more in a globalist culture.”

Throughout the interview, Hase emphasized the importance of finding space outside of culture for contemplation. This interview took place when the Zen Centre was in retreat, and it seems symbolic somehow, that Hase and another monk left their retreat in order that our group might interview them. Hase remarked that the Zen Centre was extremely politically active, but it made him sad. “You know, every culture should have a place where people can go and be outside the culture for long enough to reflect on their lives. And long enough to reflect on their roles within the culture. And…and every culture should have a location where people can challenge the culture from. This is an Asian belief certainly. Um, our getting involved in politics is absolutely necessary at this point and it is an extension of the practice and belief system of Buddhism. I don’t think it goes against what we’re doing. On a personal level I feel a little sad because our walls have become a little bit…permeable. It’s sad to me the culture doesn’t value places enough to allow them the spaces they need. We have to fight for the space that we need. And that’s sad.” Hase did not place so much emphasis on possible scenarios should drilling take place. There was one particularly hilarious reference to helicopter lifting the monastery and moving it somewhere else. He rather emphasized that something has already been lost, the recognition within the broader culture for the value of space. That, according to Hase, is no more the blame of the oil company than it is our own. “Should the culture at large value that enough to buy out the oil company’s mineral rights so that they can go on their way? I mean, to me that’s a no brainier. Of course. So…that’s what I say when the disaster’s already happened-is that there’s not a feeling as there have been in traditional cultures for time immemorial that there should be a section of the culture that is monastic or shamanistic that reflects back on the culture itself what quote wise people that you can to as an example and you can go to. Now, in reality those wise people are not always that wise, but there should be the opportunity for that.”