Philippe Rei Ryu Coupey: A life outside the nails in the service of zazen

- through Sophie Solere

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A former disciple of Taisen Deshimaru, Philippe Coupey is a master of the Zen Soto school. For forty-five years, he has divided his life between the practice of zazen and writing.

He has the quiet assurance of sons of good families, the laughing eyes and crooked smile of those who have lived several lives. "I can't stay in the nails", he slips half fig, half grape. Born in New York in 1937 into a wealthy family, he was, after studying literature at Saint Lawrence University in the Big Apple, a uranium prospector, house painter, social worker, translator and editor. “I spent quite a bit of time living in the desert and on the prairie as a uranium prospector,” he explains, his brow furrowed and his gaze far away, sitting in his room at the Domaine de Bordigné. , in the Sarthe, where he came, at the end of February, to direct the sesshin Sans Demeure. " It was tough. We were all armed, and sometimes we had to use them. It was difficult to stay legal. We were sometimes in the illegality, but without ever doing harm to others. I have known the courts and spent moments of my life in prison. »

Yoga and karate enthusiast

The life of this yoga and karate adept took on a new course four years after his arrival in France in 1969, shortly after the events of 1968. Everything happened in 1972, at the Zen Dojo in Pernety, the day he met the one who will become his master: Taisen Deshimaru. He quickly became one of his closest disciples and worked alongside him to write several books transcribing his teachings as The Voice of the Valley (1979) The Lion's Roar, Zen Rinzai and Soto Zen (1994) et Zen and Budo (2014)

For forty-five years, Philippe Rei Ruy Coupey, an ordained monk and one of the first generation teachers of Soto Zen, has lived to the rhythm of zazen. Waking up every day at 5:30 a.m., he joins the Zen dojo in Paris well before the session, which begins at 7:30 a.m. He created his own sangha in 2001, the Sangha Sans Demeure, which brings together some 300 practitioners mainly in France and Germany. For many years, he has been a teacher and spiritual referent in some thirty dojos in France, Germany, England and Switzerland. His life is divided between zazen and writing. "He doesn't take himself for God. He does not set himself apart, while being aware of his role. He is close to his followers. He is aware of his shortcomings and works on them”, explains Françoise Sho Jaku Lesage, who became his disciple a few years after the death of Étienne Zeisler. In Paris, they are a good twenty to practice every morning except Monday. There are three zazen per day, morning, noon and evening. Philippe Coupey teaches there on Wednesdays. “Teaching is also done on a daily basis by having a coffee with Philippe. We can also call him when we need him. His door is always open. When my mother died, he was the first person I called. He said to me: "Pass" and we talked," says Juliette Heymann, who became one of his disciples in the late 1990s.

A Homeless Sangha Council

The Zen master has been working for several years to pass the baton to some of his disciples. Forty of them now lead sesshins in France, Germany and Switzerland. In 2019, he began to set up a Council of the Homeless Sangha to help it in its functioning, "to ensure its continuation and development and avoid its dispersion", in his own words. “So that we can continue like this, if I withdraw a little, and also when I am no longer there”, he wrote in August 2019 in a newsletter.

“Philip does not take himself for God. He does not set himself apart, while being aware of his role. He is close to his followers. He is aware of his faults and works on them. »

In 2006, in favor of autonomy from Japanese ecclesiastical supervision, Philippe Coupey spoke out in favor of the autonomy of the Paris Zen Dojo. Result ? He was banned for eight years from running summer camps in the Gendronniere, the flagship of Zen Soto in Europe. He says he understood and accepted this sanction. “Now that I have taken a little distance, I have one foot in the International Zen Association (the AZI, created in the 1970s by Master Deshimaru, is the oldest and most important Zen association in Europe) and one foot outside. And it's much better,” he says.

In 2011, Philippe Coupey initiated the Zen Simple Assise Network. His goal ? Allow the disciples of Deshimaru who left the International Zen Association (AZI) to create their sangha throughout France and Europe to meet once a year, while each retaining their autonomy. “We are different, but we can practice together. I was immediately summoned by the AZI who thought that this initiative had been launched out of mistrust towards them. It is not the case at all. Everyone is welcome in the Simple Sitting Zen Network”, he slips with bright eyes.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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