Monk on a Mission

Written by Gerry Kopelow (Winnipeg Free Press, July 2003)

Sensei Doug Duncan is a monk on a mission. On July 15 he will be crossing the Pacific Ocean, travelling from his home base in Kyoto, Japan to begin a coast-to-coast teaching tour in North America.

Like his root Guru, the Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche, who has travelled the world for fifty years, Sensei Doug is in almost constant motion. In the last eighteen months he has taught in Egypt, the Galapagos Islands, Thailand, and Burma.

When one of the principal teachers of the Soto Zen school of Buddhism in Japan asked him, “Where is your temple?” Duncan replied, “On the road”. “Aha!”, responded the older monk, “You do it the original way.”

Twenty six hundred years ago, the historical Buddha, Guatamo Sakyamuni, instructed his followers to wander and teach for nine months out of every year. The other three months were intended for contemplative study in one location. From this pattern came the monastic traditions that persist today.

On this trip, the transplanted Canadian meditation master has a double purpose. On their way from Calgary to Winnipeg by car, Duncan and some of his meditation students from Japan will be scouting for land in south-central Canada. Sensei Doug says that as Buddhism attracts a following in North America, students will need a supportive location in which to do meditative work. A Regina native, he wants to build a meditation and healing centre in the heart of the continent.

Sensei Doug is an experienced teacher in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Asked what makes his version of this ancient Buddhist tradition of special interest, he says, “Nothing.” When pressed to elaborate, he offers the following: “It is what this group does not offer that marks the difference”.

“Most of the spiritual teachings on the planet now are good and viable means to awakening if practiced and followed as they were intended. However, their message and methods were presented many years ago and the metaphors and examples and even the thinking are difficult for modern beings,” explains Sensei Doug. “Also, foreign teachings, like Buddhism, may come with social and cultural trappings that have little to do with the path of realization in the 21st Century. And so-called ‘New Age’ teachings adopt aspects of the older traditions, but often have no coherent path of practice.”

Sensei Doug is known for his warm, humorous, and effective teaching style. “We do not offer hype without method but we also don’t ask folks to take on out-dated cultural forms that may hinder more than they help.”