John Daido Loori NYT obituary

via the New York Times:

John D. Loori, 78, Zen Abbot and Photographer, Dies


John Daido Loori, a photographer who found that snapping a picture mirrored the instant of spiritual enlightenment, inspiring him to start an influential Zen monastery in the Catskills, died on Friday in Mount Tremper, N.Y. He was 78.

John Loori founded an influential monastery in the Catskills.
The cause was complications of lung cancer, Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, his assistant, said.

In addition to being abbot of the monastery he started, Abbot Loori founded a worldwide Zen order, was a respected photographer and teacher and wrote 20 books on Buddhism and art.

He is to be buried in the cemetery of his Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, where each year a “Hungry Ghost” ceremony honors the dead. In 49 days, according to Buddhist belief, he will be reincarnated. The funeral will be held then, Ms. Goddard said.

Although there are many Zen centers, some larger, Abbot Loori created one of the few Zen orders based in the United States that has members from Brooklyn to New Zealand. He published a 120-page quarterly journal and offered Zen instruction on the Internet, and on an online radio station (

He set up an institute to apply Zen principles to environmental matters, hoping to bring people closer to “the inherent intelligence of wildness.” He also began a program to teach Zen to prison inmates.

Abbot Loori enforced strict rules both for monks and for weekend visitors. He safeguarded traditions like the precise, meditative Zen way of eating, and decades ago made a video of the ritual that is widely used in Buddhist circles.

But for the thousands who have come to his monastery, he offered not just the expected instruction in traditions like Zen archery but also topics like gay and lesbian spirituality. And unlike traditional Buddhist practitioners, he promoted women as leaders of Zen centers.

Richard Seager, author of “Buddhism in America” (1999), said in an e-mail message that Abbot Loori, who called himself a “radical conservative,” deserved credit for “thoughtfully reworking” Japanese Zen Buddhism for an American context. Some chants were in English.

“He is certainly representative, if not critically important for Buddhism coming to the United States,” he wrote.

John James Loori was born on June 14, 1931, in Jersey City, and grew up as a Roman Catholic. His favorite toy was a Brownie camera. He forged a birth certificate to join the Navy when he was 16 and served on an aircraft carrier.

He went to work for a company that made artificial flavors, meanwhile attending Monmouth College, Rutgers and the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.

During the 1960s, he felt his life was collapsing. He was working long hours and spending little time with his children. His marriage was shattering.

Abbot Loori was married to Nancy Decker and Joan DeRiso (both marriages ended in divorce) and had a long relationship with Bonnie Treace. He is survived by his wife, Rachael Loori Romero; his brothers Joseph Lori and Sal Salerno; his sons John, David and Asian; and four grandchildren.

He groped back from his personal crisis by starting a photo studio. His photo career included books, exhibitions and teaching jobs. In 2004 and 2005, he exhibited nature photographs at the American Museum of Natural History.

He pursued Zen even more intensely, mastering two approaches — one “just sitting,” and the other solving paradoxical riddles, called koans. A highly regarded teacher in Los Angeles asked him to start a center in the East.

In 1980, he founded the Mountains and Rivers Order along with an arts center. The complex became a monastery in 1983, after visitors wanted more rigor. At first, the Los Angeles teacher, Taizan Maezumi, was abbot of the monastery, and Abbot Loori headed the order. In 1989, Abbot Loori assumed both roles.

The monastery fit right into a Catskills spiritual scene that already included Zen, Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, yoga and various New Age centers. Abbot Loori decreed that 80 percent of the 230 acres he had just bought would have to remain “forever wild,” which meant no manicuring of the landscape.

Zen Buddhist elders nearly prevented Abbot Loori’s ordination as a monk, after seeing a tattoo peeking from his robe. A Navy souvenir, it depicted an innocent-enough anchor, but Japanese associate tattoos with criminals, and Abbot Loori refused to erase his past.

The ordination finally went ahead. But the abbot wore a bandage over the tattoo when he visited Japan, Newsday reported in 2004.

“I think they were a bit puzzled when I returned year after year and the burn still hadn’t healed,” he said.

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