Though familiar with the concept of meditation at an earlier age, Ven. Jo Jo began the practice of Buddhist meditation in the summer of 1980 at the age of thirteen as a result of his involvement in the martial arts. Many martial arts teachers would introduce their students to meditation since it’s important to train the mind when you’re training in a discipline that can potentially harm another person. However, it was his Japanese master that had the greatest affect on his meditation. This master demanded meditation practice and would withhold teaching various martial arts techniques until he was confident the student possessed a particular level of attainment in the meditation practice — the two went hand-in-hand.
Ven. Jo Jo studied under this master for many years until he passed away in 1992. Some time later, around 1995, he began spending great amounts of time in the Cascade Mountains alone in pursuit of mental cultivation, so much so that many of his friends jokingly called him the mountain man because he spent so much time in the mountains.
About 2002, the pursuits of everyday life were loosing their flavor and his thoughts began leaning toward becoming a Buddhist monk. By 2003 he had reacquainted himself with some of the local temples and began training under their teachers with an eye toward ordaining in the future. Come 2005 he had firmly made up his mind and left for monastic training, and in the spring of 2006 he was ordained.
Master Yeung, the Japanese master Ven. Jo Jo initially trained under, was Chinese on his father’s side and Japanese on his mother’s side. He spent his early childhood in a Chinese Shaolin monastery learning kung fu and Buddhism before he went to Japan to live with his mother. In Japan, he continued his martial arts training with jujutsu and various other Japanese styles of martial arts, as well as continuing his training in Buddhism, specifically Japanese Zen.
The early training Ven. Jo Jo received under this master was traditional in the sense of living with him at every opportunity, such as on weekends and during summer vacations from school. This sort of constant contact between the student and master allows the greatest opportunity for course correction within the practice, using everyday situations as lessons for learning how the mind works, as well as a reliable method of monitoring the progress of a student’s practice.
Master Yeung, in spite of being traditionally trained, encouraged Ven. Jo Jo to seek out other teachers from other schools of Buddhism and to work towards uncovering the Buddha’s actual teaching beneath all the cultural additions. In this way, Ven. Jo Jo grew up learning Theravāda Buddhism as well as Japanese Zen. It was from this early exposure to different styles and teachings that he gained a well-rounded understanding of the Dhamma and learned to stay true to the Buddha’s teaching as opposed to maintaining fervent loyalty to a specific school or denomination, a trend that continues to this day.
For the ten years following Master Yeung’s death, Ven. Jo Jo maintained the regimen of four to six hours of daily meditation practice that Master Yeung had instilled in him from the very beginning. Much of this time would be spent in the mountains for long meditation retreats, some as short as a few days and some as long as four months. During these secluded times in the mountains Ven. Jo Jo would increase his mental cultivation training with formal sitting meditation near lakes and rivers, as well as indulging in long walking meditations through the forest. During the time not spent in formal meditation practice, he would spend his time recounting and contemplating the teachings and guidance he had received from Master Yeung.
When the decision was made to reconnect with Buddhist centers and their teachers, around 2002, it was with the intention on becoming a Buddhist monk. It was at this time, due to circumstances, that he became involved in Korean Buddhism through Ven. Zen Master (ZM) Sungsahn’s Kwan Um School of Zen. Though Ven. Jo Jo was unable to study directly under Master Sungsahn, he was fortunate enough to personally learn from several of his disciples such as ZM Bonhaeng, Ven. Shimhae, and Jeff Tipp; again choosing to live in the Buddhist center, a practice he learned to value from his time spent learning under Master Yeung.
Ven. Jo Jo started his monastic training at Taego Temple in California, a temple modeled after the traditional Korean temples and built by the American monk in the Korean Zen tradition, Ven. Muryang. This training was under the direction of a traditional Korean monk. It was through these means, after initial training, that Ven. Jo Jo came under the tutelage of Ven. ZM Jingak, a Korean monk in the lineage of Ven. ZM Seoong. It was under the guidance of Ven. Jingak and his many connections to Haein Temple in Korea that Ven. Jo Jo learned how to be a Buddhist monk, again receiving much valued teaching and guidance. After a time, Ven. Jo Jo came to Korea to finish his training in Baekyang Temple where he received guidance and teaching from Ven. ZM Susan, the Dhamma heir of Master Seoong, and Ven. ZM Amdo.
Presently, Ven. Jo Jo has Korean ZM Ven. Hyaean as his occupational advisor (eunsa seunim) and has the Singaporean ZM Ven. Nian Hui (a.k.a. Ven. Thitadhammo) as his master while still maintaining connections with other masters he has trained under in the past. In the spirit of Ven. Jo Jo’s experience with both Theravāda and Zen, Master Nian Hui is a natural choice given the fact that he is ordained in the Theravādin Dhammayuttika Nikāya of Thailand and has received Dhamma transmission in Chinese Rinzai Zen, as well as likewise ever seeking to dig beneath the cultural additions to Buddhism and discover for himself what the Buddha actually taught.