AMA SAMY (Gen-Un-Ken) is the founder of Bodhi Sangha and resident master of Bodhi Zendo in the mountains of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Born Arul Maria Arokiasamy of Indian Christian parents in Burma in 1936, AMA Samy moved to India after the Second World War. Driven by poverty, his parents put him in the care of his maternal grandfather, a devotee of a Muslim saint, and who considered it his sacred duty to tend the burial shrine of the saint. The grandfather died soon after in an accident, leaving the young boy without support or guidance. However, he managed to finish school and then joined the Jesuit order.
In the course of time AMA Samy became a priest but his heart was still restless for God. 'During my Jesuit training and studies my spiritual life became quite empty and lost,' he has said. 'I had come seeking liberation and God-experience but I did not find them.' He turned to the Upanishads and they opened up his heart and mind. He began visiting Hindu ashrams, but while they inspired him they failed to give him what he was seeking. Then he met the ascetic Swami Abhishiktananda and became eager to follow him as a homeless mendicant. Abhishiktananda did not encourage him on that path and introduced him instead to the teachings of the south Indian Advaitic sage Ramana Maharshi. Moved by Ramana's vision, AMA Samy devoted himself to finding the answer to the question the great sage poses: Who am I? For a while he was a wandering mendicant but eventually settled down as a hermit near a holy shrine in Dindigul district, where the village people fed him. He suffered many privations but persisted in his quest and finally came to awakening with the question that he had set himself. But he felt that he still needed to have his realisation tested and authenticated.
About this time he had a fortuitous meeting with fellow Jesuit and long time missionary in Japan, Father Enomiya Lasalle. Lasalle not only introduced him to Zen but also helped him go to Japan to train under Yamada Ko-Un Roshi in Kamakura. Yamada Ko-Un was the chief disciple of Yasutani Haku-Un Roshi who, in turn, was the disciple of Harada Dai-Un. Harada belonged to the Sōtō school of Zen but he also trained in the Rinzai school of kōan Zen. Harada's disciple Yasutani integrated kōan Zen with the Sōtō approach of zazen, and Yamada Ko-Un continued this practice. Yasutani and Yamada together started the Sanbo Kyodan School, which was one of the first Zen schools in Japan to accept foreigners as students.
Yamada Ko-Un confirmed AMA Samy's awakening. Then AMA Samy went on to complete the course of kōan study under Yamada and so deepened his own realisation. In 1982 he received authorisation to teach from Yamada Ko-Un Roshi and was given the Dharma name Gen-Un-Ken, meaning Dark Cloud.
Yamada Ko-Un Roshi died in 1989.
AMA Samy began teaching Zen in the early eighties. In 1996 he established Bodhi Zendo near the village of Perumalmalai and not far from the former hill station of Kodaikanal. His centre offers Zen training all year-round in both the Sōtō and Rinzai methods. The Bodhi Sangha, AMA Samy's community of students and disciples, is spread around the world. And so he spends a few months every year traveling abroad, teaching and helping his students.
AMA Samy says, 'I am often asked to what religion I owe my allegiance. I stand in the in-between of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. I stand true to Christ, true to Zen, true to the human heart-mind'.
(This information about AMA Samy taken, with adaptations, from Zen Heart, Zen Mind: The Teachings of Zen Master AMA Samy, Compiled and edited by Sridevi Rao, Cre-A: Chennai, 2002,