Richard Hart served in the USMC in the mid 50’s. His spiritual path began in a substance after a “white light” experience after crying out for help with overcoming alcoholism. He went on to become an associate Methodist minister by the mid 60’s. His thirst for understanding led him to study Kabbalah, yoga, and Hinduism. His hands on approach and determination finally brought him to zen training first with Eido Shimano Roshi and then Joshu Sasaki Roshi. It was with Joshu Sasaki Roshi Richard Hart took vows and received the name Sogen. Later on, Sasaki Roshi renamed Richard from Sogen to Kendo. So it was, in Chatham New York, Kendo began the Clear Mountain Zen Center (CMZC) as an affiliate of Rinzai-ji. And it was there that his plan was to live and grow CMZC but sometimes the universe has other plans.
In the late 1980’s family matters arose and decisions had to be made. After discussions with his only sibling, his older brother, Kendo agreed to move to Malverne Long Island with his son, Bobby, to be the caretaker of his father who was suffering with Parkinson’s Disease. Kendo’s idea of the CMZC was shelved along with its official affiliation with Rinzai-ji. He thought of after the death of his father he would return to Chatham and CMZC would begin again. While on Long Island word got out that there was a zen monk holding small zazen sessions out of his house. Interest grew and so did the size of people looking to attend and practice. The six cushions in the attic room of the Cape Cod house was quickly outgrown and the nomadic journey of the second incarnation of CMZC came into being.
Space was rented and more cushions were purchased to accommodate the growing group. First it was in Long Beach, then the basement of a church in Seaford and then that church’s out building, and into space in the first floor of the old Post Office building in Hempstead and then quickly that building’s second floor.
It was at this time that four events occurred: The house in Chatham had been sold so CMZC would not be returning north, the death of Kendo’s father, and Kendo had a major stroke leaving him with partial paralysis affecting writing, speech, and walking. CMZC also began the “roadshow”. The “roadshow” was bringing zazen to the entire Island. Classes were held anywhere they were wanted from Little Neck, Queens out to Port Jefferson in Suffolk County.
After the building in Hempstead had been sold, CMZC were invited to use the garage of someone’s home in West Hempstead complete with the clomping of horse hooves on the street from the local riding academy. CMZC was then invited to share space in Baldwin when the homeowner needed the garage. Eventually, CMZC rented a storefront on Hempstead Avenue in West Hempstead. That location was the longest stay for the sangha to date.
After twelve years of Diabetes then Kidney failure with dialysis, Kendo’s deteriorating health began to affect his ability to teach. Kendo would admonish those who attended to “pay attention these are my greatest teachings!” The affects of the stroke had lessened but had not gone away. Attendance had dwindled and donations paralleled. Kendo named Donald Kengaku Zezulinski to be the new abbot of CMZC and Kendo assumed the title of abbot emeritus though he never stopped teaching. The decision to shut the door of the storefront was made and sittings became a dedicated few in the home of Kendo. And, the roadshow continued rolling on.
In the spring of 2018, Kendo Richard Hart died and his friends and students mourned his passing. His larger than life presence created a vacuum and questions for the sangha on how to move forward. On October 6, 2018 a memorial service was held for him. The date was chosen because it was his birthday and it was decided to be memorial of his laughter, fierceness, and dedication to ending suffering. Not only did the people who knew him from Long Island attended but people from the distant past (mid 60’s) attended to share the influence Kendo had on their lives.
As of January 2019, the sangha of CMZC still continues to practice. Without a permanent center, CMZC’s nomadic tradition continues echoing one of Kendo’s last statements, “I’m not going home – already home!” The center is the sangha and the sangha is the roadshow. Zazen is held in three locations in Nassau County and is willing to bring the Dharma to other locations.