Judy and Charles Lief were married by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1975
A marriage in New Mexico: Anna Christine Hansen and Dixon Wolf
Tenshin and Seisen Fletcher were married by Maezumi Roshi in 1981
George Bowman and Trudy Goodman were married by Maureen Stuart Roshi in 1985
A marriage of monks: Jody Hojin Kimmel and Konrad Ryushin Marchaj—John Daido Loori
A wedding ceremony: Fern Alix and Joseph Laroccatying


Judy and Charles Lief were married by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1975

Judy Lief:

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Image 1: Judy and Charles with his mother, Ruth Lief, at their wedding in Boulder, Colorado, 1975. Photo courtesy of Judith and Charles Lief.

My husband, Chuck, and I were married in 1975 by Ven. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In his remarks, Trungpa Rinpoche talked about taking a leap and extending friendship. He emphasized that marriage was a commitment of the heart, not merely a legal obligation. The wedding ceremony consisted of making a series of offerings symbolizing our commitment to make our life together an offering to benefit others as well as ourselves. We offered a flower in order to develop exertion, incense for patience, a light for meditation, perfume for morality, food for generosity and a musical instrument for wisdom. Needless to say, it is a rather ambitious undertaking to attempt to develop such qualities, but at least we had that intention.

When you enter a relationship, you do not know if it will last. You do not know what lies ahead as you each go about your life, change, and develop. All too often the relationship falls apart with anger, bitterness, and recrimination. Even if you stay together it may be more out of habit than inspiration. Marriage can get very sticky: one moment you are holding on for dear life and the next moment want to dump everything and make your escape. Since you do not know what will happen, to get married you must be willing to take a chance.

Image 2: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Photo courtesy of George Holmes.
Image 2: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Photo courtesy of George Holmes.

Charles Lief:

In 1973 I fell in love through the unlikely vehicle of walking meditation practice. My circle of walkers moved near another circle that included Judy, now my wife for the past twenty-two years. The mix of folded hands, deliberate steps, and discursive minds proved fertile. Our relationship was challenged because of the intensity of our own, individual connections to our guru, which was, for me the most intimate, intense and groundless relationship I had ever had. Was I willing to share my teacher with my lover? My lover with my teacher?

Taking a leap, I found the relationship with Judy fueled more intense connection to practice. When it comes to falling in love and creating a marriage, practitioners of the buddha-dharma can experience a dilemma: How to work with the teachings of non-duality and non-attachment while committing to another who is by all appearances separate from us and very much an object of desire.

In speaking of love and non-dualism, Trungpa Rinpoche said: “People can’t fall in love unless they know they are lonely and are separate individuals. If by some strange mis-understanding, you think you are the other person already, then there’s no one for you to fall in love with.” We have spent much time learning the complications of this teaching, that 1+ 1 = 2. Joining to raise children, separating to pursue careers, back together to experience joy and pain, apart to do the same.

I confess an attachment to my marriage in the way I am attached to my teacher and the dharma. There is not a “take it or leave it” quality for me. Trungpa Rinpoche is dead, but our relationship continues to define who I am as a practitioner and a person. I experience the same quality of devotion in my marriage.

Judy Lief is a teacher in the Shambhala tradition, the executive editor of Vajradhatu Publications, and the editor of Shambhala Publications’ Dharma Ocean Series.

Charles Lief is the president of the Greyston Foundation, a Buddhist-inspired community development organization in Yonkers, New York, and was a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche for seventeen years.

A Marriage in New Mexico: Anna Christine Hansen and Dixon Wolf

“We were married on Guru Rinpoche Day, the tenth day of the fifth month of the year 2118 in the Tibetan calendar, the year of the Iron Sheep (July 21, 1991). My teacher, Lama Dorje, recited prayers, gave blessings, and concluded our ceremony with a Guru Rinpoche sadhana. [meditation with visualization]. Then we spontaneously spoke to our family and friends about our love. It was a joy to be married in a place where His Holiness the Dalai Lama had given teachings just months before.” —ACH

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Anna Christine Hansen and Dixon Wolf are photographers in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Photos courtesy of Anna Christine Hansen.

Tenshin and Seisen Fletcher Were Married By Maezumi Roshi in 1981

Tenshin Fletcher:

Marriage has supported me in my practice for sixteen years. I know I can rely on Seisen for accurate feedback, both positive and negative, and I don’t expect her to reinforce my own self-view. If I expect her to make me happy, that won’t work. She cannot accomplish the enlightened way for me, so I do it myself with her and vice versa. Basically, we both walk alone, except I know and she knows that we each have the deep love and support of the other.

I am attached to her company, but that is balanced with being with the sangha and doing what needs to be done.

I’m reminded of a story that greatly influenced me when I was thinking of marriage. That is the story of an Indian prince and princess asking what they could do about their love, as they couldn’t possibly be monks. The Buddha said, “Learn to love the world as you love each other.” So that’s the kind of attachment I like to foster.

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Image: Tenshin and Seisen are co-abbotts of Zen Mountain Center. Photo courtesy of Tenshin and Seisen Fletcher.

It’s funny, but I don’t look at attachment in a traditional Buddhist way. Rather, I believe it is natural to be attached to wife, students, country, parents, etc., but that should not get in the way of the natural functioning of the dharma. If it does, then that is what should be worked on.

In Zen Buddhism, we say you should lean on nothing, and I feel in marriage that is possible, especially if you both deeply love the Buddha-dharma.

Seisen Fletcher:

When I hear “non-attachment in marriage,” it makes me think of Janis Joplin’s “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” It’s a mistake to think that non-attachment means not having deep, loving relationships. Non-attachment is the recognition that our lives are constantly changing and there is nothing that we can hold on to.

Another nice Buddhist word is “commitment.” It’s fun to maintain a committed relationship in the midst of non-attachment or not knowing. When Tenshin or I have to travel, we hardly see each other. Sometimes we are both at Zen Mountain Center and doing almost everything together. Sometimes we are in total sync and completely in love. Sometimes we are in complete disagreement and furious with each other. We’ve been married for sixteen years now. I think our marriage is continuing to flourish because we are willing to give up our notions of how things should be and embrace not knowing, and through it all maintain our commitment to work through the hard times.

At weddings, Maezumi Roshi used to say that being married is like being in a three-legged race. Rather than going through life with two legs, now the couple is going through life in the awkward position of two legs tied together. These days Tenshin and I are sharing the head priest roles at Mountain Center. I have heard that when two people share the leadership role of an organization it is like a two-headed dragon. One head tries to go one way and the other head wants to go in a different direction. But we are hoping to affirm that “two heads are better than one.”

Tenshin Fletcher is a successor of Maezumi Roshi and co-acting abbot of Zen Mountain Center in Southern California.

Seisen Fletcher is a successor of Glassman Roshi and co-acting abbot of Zen Mountain Center.

A Wedding Albulm

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Image 1: Ron and Cathy Fowling were married by Zen Master Samu Sunim in Chicago, 1997. In the Korean tradition, the couple exchanges a lotus flower; Ron and Cathy substituted anthuriums for the lotus. Photo © Jennifer Brinkman.
Image 2: Reverend Jomyo Tanaka leads a wedding procession at Mandala Buddhist Center in Vermont. Photo courtesy of Mandala Buddhist Center.
Image 3: Maezumi Roshi performing a wedding ceremony at the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1983. Photo © Don Farber.
Image 4: Abbott John Daido Loori with Amy Shoko Brown and Julie Greenwood following their exchange of rings at Zen Mountain Monastery. Photo © Melvin Adelglas.
Image 5: Kanya and David greet their wedding guests at Wat Buddharangsi in Miami, Florida. Photo courtesy of Wat Buddharanghsi.
Image 6: The Most Venerable Thich Man Giac married an American couple in a Vietnamese Buddhist ceremony at Yosemite, California, 1981. Photo © Don Farber.
Images 7 and 8: Shibata Kanjuro Sensei, who performed the wedding of Derek and Jane Kolleeny in June 1990, watches as the couple cuts their wedding cake with a sword of compassion. The cake was decorated with a Garuda bird, a double dorje, and a knot of eternity. The inscription, a quote from the sutras, read, “Things are not as they seem nor are they otherwise.” Photos courtesy of Derek and Jane Kolleeny. 

George Bowman and Trudy Goodman Were Married By Maureen Stuart Roshi in 1985

Trudy Goodman

Our innate capacity for love, trust, joyful intimate connection is the wisdom aspect of attachment. The Buddha warned us about unwise attachment—the desire to possess, exploit, control—and about the pain of clinging to anyone or anything.

Sometimes Buddhist practitioners get confused about attachment and think they’re not supposed to have it. They imagine that manifesting emptiness means not getting deeply involved with one another, not feeling what they are experiencing in their relationships.

The challenge I face in marriage is not attachment to my partner, but to my wild longings for him to be the way I want him to be. This is unwise attachment. I lose myself and focus on him.

Another challenge arises from the cultural conditioning that teaches women to fulfill themselves by orienting to others—as the source of love and happiness—the way a sunflower turns towards the sun. Even with the movement towards economic parity and raised consciousness, roles and expectations in marriage are still so different for women and men. I still give myself away too automatically, and get distracted from the deepest experience of my own being. When I deprive myself of my own pure presence of mind and heart this way, I cannot fully meet life in the form of me, in the form of him, of the many joys and sorrows. I’m caught! Restless and obsessed with the relationship!

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Image 1: Kobun Chino Roshi (far left) and Mu Deung Sunim (far right) pose with Trudy Goodman and George Bowman at the reception.

Bothpartners need to be making this wholehearted effort.

Attachment is a given in the steam heat of marriage, of committed relationship. Without wise attachment, how can we empathize and care for the pain of each other? Or feel compassion and acceptance?

When attachment is me pulling and pushing, seducing and abandoning, it is unwise. When attachment is seen, clearly, with humor, warmth, and understanding, I am released into the infinite tenderness of universal life.

George Bowman

Yun-yen said, “Every day there’s hard work; who do you do it for?”

Pai-chang: “There is someone who requires it.”

Yun-yen: “Why not have him do it himself?”

Pai-chang: “He has no tools.”

One of the great koans for American dharma students is how to manifest one’s true nature in a committed relationship. Those of us who have practiced Zen in a serious way for many years realize in the bottom of our hearts that life is nothing but movement in relationship. In our clear moments we know that our big mind is continually falling in love with its temporal expression in this arising and falling-away world. In my less clear moments I can remember the deep connection with the one I love and try to act as if I were encountering some aspect of her.

From the perspective of this wisdom, the continual movement of relationship between Big Mind and your particular self and the so-called other is nothing but the activity of your self.

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Image 2: The late Maureen Stuart Roshi prepares the alter before performing the wedding ceremony.

Letting them melt in the light of awareness can feel like a great loss, an insult, or an injustice. Passionate inquiry is required to sustain presence in such moments. That melting process provides a freedom, love, and energy that is not dependent on any ideal or image, spiritual or otherwise.

Trudy Goodman, a therapist who works with children and families, was ordained as a lay Zen Buddhist in 1974. She has studied in the Zen and Vispassana traditions.

George Bowman is a Buddhist priest in residence at the Cambridge Buddhist Association. He received dharma transmission from Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1992.

A Marriage of Monks: Jody Hojin Kimmel and Konrad Ryushin Marchaj

On October 19, 1997, Jody Hojin Kimmel and Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, two senior monastics in the Mountains and Rivers Order at Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, were married in a spiritual union ceremony created by John Daido Loori, the monastery’s founder and abbot. Kimmel is program coordinator at the monastery; before entering into full-time monastic training, she worked as an artist and taught ceramics, drawing, and painting. Marchaj coordinates public relations for the monastery and its publishing wing, Dharma Communications. Before becoming a monk, he worked as a pediatrician and psychiatrist. At the opening of the ceremony, John Daido Loori described the nature of a spiritual union and how it departs from a marriage of laypeople.

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None of this is applicable to these Mountains and Rivers Order monastics, who have taken formal life vows of simplicity, poverty, selflessness, and stability. They have made a vow not to procreate children and not to maintain a family. They have given their lives to the service of the dharma, to the service of all beings, and are committed wholeheartedly to accomplish the Buddha’s way.

The form that we use for this ceremony is not that of a normal Buddhist marriage. It is much more like a monastic ordination. The uniqueness of this union is that it is essentially a spiritual partnership based on monastic vows. It is a merging of the spheres of spiritual and personal vows. It is not a union that is concerned with procreation, legal rights, property, or material wealth, because of the precedent of monastic vows. Rather, it is a simple and pure spiritual bonding of two people’s commitment to their respective life’s work with their personal vows to each other. It is very tempting and easy to try to equate this with models available in our society, but it is something quite different—unique, profound, and solemn.

John Daido Loori

A Wedding Ceremony: Fern Alix and Joseph LaRocca

Fern Alix and Joseph LaRocca were married at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center in Santa Rosa, California, on July 27, 1997, by Dave Joko Haselwood, a student of Jakusho Kwong Roshi. The ceremony combined liturgy from the San Francisco Zen Center, the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, and material written by Fern and Jospeh.

Image 1: Dave Joko Haselwood sprinkles water over the bride's veil.
Image 1: Dave Joko Haselwood sprinkles water over the bride’s veil.

The bonsho bell begins to ring. Joseph says it is time to go. I hear the flute and cello in the zendo as I walk in. Everyone is seated in a semicircle around us. We sit seiza in front of a little altar in front of the big altar. Joseph’s nine-year-old niece hands Joko a small bouquet of flowers. Joko starts his prostrations. I wonder what Joseph’s family thinks. I hope that they are comfortable. I look to my right. I see solemn looks. I look to my left. I see a big smile on Kwong Roshi’s face. My shoulders drop. I smile. My teacher is here. He made it back from Poland in time! I am relaxed as Joseph and I get up and light our candles with the altar candle and bring them back to the little altar in front of us. Joko gives his opening statement:

“On this twenty-seventh day of July, we have come together for the marriage ceremony of Fern Alix and Joseph LaRocca. May they continue to deepen their life with each other and with all sentient beings.”

The bell rings and we chant the Heart Sutra from the chant cards we placed on the chairs. Then Joko talks to us about the Three Treasures:

Image 2: The marriage altar is prepared with rings, malas, water, candle, and vows.
Image 2: The marriage altar is prepared with rings, malas, water, candle, and vows.

“Second, the truth of life is to live. Through stillness in life we learn something which enables us to have a positive way of life. Please treat each other with deepest respect. To realize this, day after day, is your greatest teacher. Please know each other intimately.

“Third, to live is to be lived. Giving is receiving. Surrendering to each other is to surrender to your true Self. Please know that you live once and are lived by your wife, husband, families, friends, and all beings. Your marriage will give confidence to you and others around you. Please take good care of each other continuously. Kindness and consideration even in anger and adversity are the doors of compassion. And love is the fruit of compassion. May I express joy that you are taking a new step forward in life. This day is made possible not only because of your sincerity and purity of heart, but through the benevolence of the Buddha, your parents, and the whole society. It is my deepest wish that you remain wholehearted as husband and wife throughout your life with the same deep feeling that you are experiencing now.

“Faith, love, respect ,and kindness are the sustaining virtues of marriage. They give us strength to be open to each situation, and help us realize that everywhere we turn we meet ourselves. It is my wish that you both evolve together and keep in mind that the expression of gratitude is the greatest treasure. May you help each other realize your true Self.”

Joko then recites the Five Precepts, ringing the bell before each one.

“We nourish ourselves and each other by living according to the Five Precepts:

1. In every way we can, we allow our deepest Self to appear.

2. We take full responsibility for our own life, in all its infinite dimensions.

3. We affirm our trust in the compassion and wisdom of our own body, which through our path shows us non-attachment.

4. We are committed to embrace all parts of ourselves, including our deepest fears and shadows, so that they may be transformed.

5. We affirm our willingness to keep our heart open, even in the midst of great pain.”

Joko asks if we will maintain them and we each answer, “Yes, I will.” We gassho, and then Joseph picks up the wedding vows we created.

“We are beginning this marriage because we love, respect, and care about each other,” he reads. “As your husband, I will strengthen our love, speak honestly, listen openly, and love and cherish you as always, as I do now. May we live joyously, freely, laugh freely, and support our marriage through the trials and triumphs to come. May we achieve peace for ourselves and the world around us. With continued love, friendship, and trust, I accept you, Fern, as my partner in life. May our great journey together in this world, as husband and wife, begin today.”

Image 3: The wedding unfolds with a candle-lighting ceremony.
Image 3: The wedding unfolds with a candle-lighting ceremony.

juzus: “Buddhist beads symbolize Awakened Mind.” He purifies the beads and offers one to me. It is the wrong one, the one intended for Joseph. I gassho and receive it in both palms, turn to Joseph and place it over his left wrist. He looks at me, frightened, and whispers, “It’s the wrong one!” “It’s okay,” I say. He smiles. We both gassho. Then Joko offers one to Joseph, and he places it over my left wrist. I wonder if Joseph will use his.

Joko then explains the meaning of the rings: “Precious metal rings symbolize long life, not only in years, but in all the infinite dimensions of each moment shared.” He purifies my ring and offers it to Joseph, who turns to me and places it on my finger. We both gassho. Then I give Joseph his ring.

“It gives me the greatest honor to present the Precepts to you both,” Joko says. “By receiving these Precepts, you have entered the Way with all sentient beings. Let us all meditate in silence.” Our five-minute meditation ends with the sound of the bell.

Joko purifies wisdom water over an incense urn, anoints his head with a wet willow leaf, gets up and anoints me and Joseph individually. He swishes the willow leaf toward parents, and friends, and re-anoints himself. He then signs our certificates. Joseph and I kiss. I feel smiles in the room.

Joko then asks if anyone would like to speak. Joseph’s mother offers us best wishes. My only living relative, my brother Allen, wishes us well. I look around as if to prod my friends to speak up, but they remain silent. Joko speaks: “Through the benevolent guidance of the Buddha, family, and friends, this marriage of Fern and Joseph has been auspiciously sealed. Let us all celebrate!”

We leave the zendo and head for the limo as people toss rose petals at us. The best man, David, hands me a glass of champagne and says, “Congratulations! What does it feel like to be married?”

“Just like it felt yesterday,” I reply. “And just like it will feel tomorrow.”

Fern Alix LaRocca, a financial advisor, has studied Soto Zen Buddhism under Kwong Roshi for sixteen years. She lives in San Francisco, California.

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