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Saturday, Aug. 19, 2006

TaoZen: synthesizing life practices of the sages


Masahiro Ouchi stands before a group of 30 assorted individuals in Be Yoga, a studio in Tokyo's Hiro-o (including five dishy-enough French men to make one English guy joke that among so many women he has never felt so disadvantaged) and introduces us to the essence of the spiritual and therapeutic practice he has formulated: TaoZen.

News photo
Masahiro Ouchi has distilled 35 years of study into 15 minutes of daily rejuvenation: "Just as we wash our faces, everybody needs to wash their spirit every day." ANGELA JEFFS PHOTO

Three hours later, we put together all the elements Masahiro has taught us for what he calls a 15-minute daily rejuvenation practice. A mix of Zen and Taoist practices to increase health and physical and emotional balance, relax and clear the mind and develop happiness and joy, it leaves participants so glowing and unwound that plans are laid to meet on a regular basis.

I meet Masahiro twice more after this, catching him between more workshops and any number of meetings. The day before we first met, Masahiro had taught in English in a temple in Hiro-o. The day after, he was in Osaka, teaching in Japanese in a hotel chapel. Since then he has been busy with more three-hour seminars and daylong or weekend workshops. Next week, he returns to the U.S., where he is senior instructor, founder and director of the Healing Tao Center of New York and founder of the TaoZen Association.

From Akita, Masahiro went to Keio University to study law, but escaped halfway through to India. It wasn't that he knew what he wanted to do, he says, but rather he always knew what he didn't want to do. "The idea that life is a bunch of regrets was alien."

While traveling, he met someone he thought he wanted to share his life with, and his parents forced him to choose between her and them. "When I said I chose both, they disowned me." Now it's OK, but for a long time it wasn't.

He says that even his generation needs to go beyond the tribalism of being Japanese. Ethnocentricity is crazy, a waste of opportunity and potential: "We should be able to talk, touch, laugh with and get mad at anybody and everybody and still remain friends. There's a long way to go. But it is coming!"

Looking back, Masahiro believes the seeds of an interest in Zen were sown at an early age. "From around 11 or 12, I liked to hang out in the local Zen temple, napping, watching the monk ring the bell." (At Bon he went back after many years and was amazed at how much smaller everything seemed.)

In between studying with his first teacher of major influence, Hiroshi Motoyama in Tokyo, master Li Jun Feng and, for the last 25 years in New York, world-renowned Tao master Mantrak Chia, Masahiro sought answers and happiness here, there and everywhere. Along with tai chi, qigong, yoga and various meditational practices such as Zen, Kundalini and transcendental meditation, he worked with a theater group in Tokyo and explored Gestalt and Feldenkreis in the States. "Each and every experience created a new shift within me."

Slowly all the practices Masahiro had learned over the years began to merge. He went back to yoga last year in order to become certified, not because he was interested in "asana" (poses) but for the breathing and "prane" ("qi" in India). "Inside we are a polluted ocean. Breathing helps purification from inside out." Yet there was a part of Masahiro that worried: maybe it was disrespectful to all the great sages and teachers to draw them together. "But then I thought, 'No, we are all one and the same, so why keep them apart?' "

Two years ago, he began teaching TaoZen and formed the TaoZen Association. Usually a shy and self-deprecating kind of person, he realized it was "time to put my face out there."

Quite how TaoZen fits in with all his other mainstream activities is a bit of mystery. Living near Central Park and with an office in Chelsea, Masahiro owns the marketing company Momo International, and is busy developing new products with his partner and his wife. "Another interest is how to integrate spiritual practice and daily business and social life."

In addition, Masa has shot 200 hours of film about Puerto Rica's national voice, the singer Danny Rivera. "I'm making a documentary about the loss of identity. Like Japan, Puerto Rican society is changing fast, and I want to record the beauty, the pride, the sense of family and community while it remains intact."

"Now I plan to fly to Japan four times a year to build up TaoZen Life Practice, am ready go anywhere and teach in any kind of place. There is such interest, such need."

All the running around in late July and early August appears to be paying off in so many ways. He has made a simple DVD showing basic practices. Met the publisher of his book "Inner Smile" (due out later in the year) and held discussions about a workbook for dream practice.

Masahiro marvels that it took him so long -- 35 years of studying one method at a time and then teaching the method -- to realize the limitations. "Life in practice is not linear. It spirals up and down, from side to side. Sure, some people like complicated linear paths; they like using their minds. Others say, 'I can't meditate' or 'Yoga doesn't suit me.' Rather than find one suitable method, I bring all the great learnings into one practice. Anybody can do it, and I believe that just as we wash our faces and brush our teeth, everybody needs to wash and clean their soul and spirit every day."

That 15-minute practice at Be Yoga included a basic and effective meditation practice (Inner Smile meditation and the Six Healing Sounds), and several qigong movements, including phoenix and tiger breathing, spinal breathing, and swimming dragons.

But this is only the beginning. Masahiro had developed three levels in the TaoZen system, plus any number of healing methods and programs, including TaoZen Abundance Practice, TaoZen Aging Well Program, Mindful Dying and Celebrating Life, and Healing Love. There are also special training sessions, and a full schedule of workshops and retreats.

"Last month I was teaching in Alvin Ailey's studio in New York. October I'll be facilitating a three-day retreat at the Garrison Institute, run by a Tibetan group, two hours upriver on the Hudson. I'll be back here again at the end of November."

Tao, he writes in his primer "TaoZen," is letting things flow -- going with the flow. Zen is opening oneself -- being with the oneness. When one opens, one flows. When one flows, one is open.

Telephone contacts in Tokyo for regular TaoZen practice: Sarah (090) 6539-9384 or Lionel (090) 3435-6320. Web site: www.taozenlife.com


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