Henry Shukman

Spiritual Director

Henry Shukman has trained with several Zen teachers, particularly the roshi’s Joan Rieck, John Gaynor, Ruben Habito and Yamada Ryoun Roshi, as well as with teachers and mentors in other traditions. Henry has received dharma transmission (inka shomei and sanmotsu) from Yamada Ryoun Roshi, Abbot of Sanbo Zen, and is a Shōshike (Authentic Zen Master) of the Sanbo Zen lineage of Kamakura, Japan. He works with his dharma colleague Valerie Forstman on the programming at Mountain Cloud, as well as offering teachings. He is also a certified mindfulness teacher.

In addition, Henry is an award-winning author and poet. His struggles as a youth, combined with a spontaneous awakening experience at 19, paved the way for him to develop a well-rounded approach to spirituality and meditation, under the guidance of his teachers – one that includes both compassionate concern for the sufferings of the world and the great liberating power of awakening as its foundation. Henry is the founder and teacher of the Original Love Program, a comprehensive non-sectarian guide to meditation practice, and is co-director of the Rio Grande Mindfulness Institute.

Professional background

Henry Shukman has an MA from Cambridge and an M.Litt. from St Andrews, and has written several award-winning books of poetry and fiction. His essays have been published in the New York Times, Outside and Tricycle, and his poems in the New Republic, Guardian, Sunday Times (UK) and London Review of Books. He has taught writing and literature at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, has been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow of Poetry at Oxford Brookes University, and Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust.

Personal background

Henry grew up in Oxford, UK, where his parents were professors. His early love of poetry led to an interest in Chinese Zen poetry, and ultimately to becoming a writer and poet for many years. In time it also led to his getting into Zen meditation, though his first practice was Transcendental

Meditation. He suffered from severe eczema from infancy into his 20’s, along with associated psychological problems, and meditation was a key element in a long journey of healing, in addition to various styles of therapy. He has written of his own journey in his memoir, One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir. (Counterpoint, 2019).


From a student:

I feel like Henry is one of the best teachers out there. I feel like he has the goods and he delivers the goods. Henry appeals to the heart/mind and mind/intellect. He is comforting, relevant, and interesting. I like the way that he is casual and down to earth while simultaneously teaching some pretty important things for personal well-being, happiness, and true peace.  Henry is funny, he keeps it light, and he breathes life into Zen as he relates it to real life. He lets us know that enlightenment is possible and guides us in rigorous practice while also letting us know how to take breaks and take care of ourselves. Henry’s teachings are pure, refined by the heart of his understanding and experience. It makes a difference when heart essence teachings are shared by someone whose actions come from their true heart.

Podcasts, Interviews, & Guest Appearances

The Tim Ferris Show 
20 Minutes of Calm and the Strange and Powerful World of Koans
Zen Tools for Awakening, and much more

Waking Up / Making Sense Podcast with Sam Harris
The Koan Way and Original Love, two series on the Waking Up App
The Way of Zen: A Conversation with Henry Shukman

Waking up with Brook Sprowl
What is Authentic Spirituality with Henry Shukman (video)

Success with Purpose with Harry Goldberg
How Meditation Heals your Grief & Pain with Henry Shukman (video)

First Human Podcast with Richard Atherton
Finding Zen with Henry Shukman (video)
Click here for the podcast

ManTalks: Henry Shukman with Connor Beaton
Zen Awakening: It’s Not What You Think

Orthogonal: Henry Shukman with Michael Hewett
Zen Graffiti, First Awakenings, and Integrating Unconditional Love

High Existence Podcast with Nic Stubbs
Healing vs Awakening, Zen Koans and the Antidote to Aloneness

The Kevin Rose Show
The Mysterious/Unsolvable Zen Koans

Being Well Podcast with Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson
The Heart of Zen with Henry Shukman

Deconstructing Yourself Podcast with Michael Taft
Talking about Zen Koans

Buddha At The Gas Pump (BATGAP) with Rick Archer
Conversations with “ordinary” spiritually awakening people Episode 521: Henry Shukman

The Ultimate Health Podcast with Jesse Chappus
Henry Shukman on Experiencing a Spiritual Awakening

Henry’s MemoirOne Blade of Grass

One Blade of Grass tells the story of how meditation practice helped Henry Shukman to recover from the depression, anxiety and chronic eczema he had had since childhood and to integrate a sudden spiritual awakening into his life. By turns humurous and moving, this beautifully written memoir demystifies Zen training, casting its profound insights in simple, lucid language, and takes the reader on a journey of their own, into the hidden treasures of life that contemplative practice can reveal to any of us.

Review blurb by Rodger Kamenetz
Henry Shukman’s autobiographical journey from childhood trauma to healing teacher, from the glamorous life of a successful young writer to the quiet of the meditation cushion, from the torment of eczema to the ecstasy of no-self, fascinated me all the way, in part because Shukman can articulate both inner and outer experience with poetic precision and nuance.  He manages to capture here how one might have a profound experience just this side of ineffable, and how it might become central to a person’s life. There is Zen wisdom here for those who want to learn more about Zen, presented in the most unpretentious way possible, with writing that resonates in the heart and mind long after it is read. You will meet in One Blade of Grass many great teachers, and one more who stands among them and shines with them all.

~Rodger Kamenetz, author of The History of Last Night’s Dream and The Jew in the Lotus

Dharma Talks

Henry has a variety of dharma talks on our Mountain Cloud youtube channel. Here we’ve highlighted a couple talks to get you started:

Original Love: Henry describes love as the origin. This origin is primordial absence in Taoism or emptiness in Buddhism. It’s basically coming to the point where there is no thing, simply nothing at all. These are words are trying to label an experience of this very moment. Henry is calling it original love: an utter falling away of everything.

Zen is the Mind of Beauty: Henry reads a selection of writing and discusses the four jhanas – deep states of meditation absorption that make us recognize the wonder of existence.

Getting Started with Meditation, Guided By Henry

The practice of meditation can bring many benefits: greater attention and awareness, the settling down of our emotional life, a growing sense of goodwill and kindness, and a desire to be of help in this world. The latest brain-imaging technology is showing what meditators have sensed for millennia—that the brain circuitry associated with relationships, compassion, attentiveness, peace and joy is all amplified in long-term meditators.

Meditation practice can also help resolve our most deep-seated existential questions. Who am I? What is this world? What is life, what is death? Why am I here? What should I do? Traditionally, Zen offers a way to investigate these matters, and ultimately to resolve “the great matter of life and death.”

Henry created a series of video and audio talks for those new to meditation. They are ideal for newcomers and useful for those who need a refresher about meditation basics.

Listen to the first video talk, Fundamentals of Why We Sit.

Click here for Henry’s short Introductory talks.

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