Women Ancestors

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I just want to express my great appreciation for the speakers who came here and presented all of this material, which took a great deal of sleuthing to uncover. And I guess I want to say something from the point of view of one who has been in her life a very militant feminist, who had, you know, you have these moments of clarity in your practice from time to time, and I had a moment of clarity that to identify myself as a woman in the way that I was doing, you know, I am a woman that is not a man, you know, that kind of dichotomous identity was limiting myself to less than the whole of whatever


this is. To define this mystery that we are as anything, including gender, is limiting and makes it less than the totality of what it is. So I've been working with that out of my great habit of militant feminism, I've been working with that, and I was struck by Paula's description of how the women in Japan went about getting the recognition and authorization to be abbots, abbesses of monastic training centers for women and so forth, in a little bit different way than the confrontative way I had gone about my political action in most of my life. And I was rather struck by it. And I appreciate that point of view a lot


because I would never have come to it on my own. So that was something extremely refreshing for me about that is just to look and see what is it I want, and actually what I fought for so much was to be, you know, as much like a man as possible, and that isn't what I want, you know, but I went to a therapist once and I started out by saying, well, I've always thought if anything a man can do, I can do better. And she said, she knew me very well, and she said, I'm surprised that's your standard. And so this approach that the women in Japan took was quite different than that, and I really appreciate it. In any event, I don't know why, but that's what I moved to say as a result of this, that what we want is to grow in wisdom and compassion,


and that is not really a gender-related thing. We want the opportunity to practice and study and work with teachers so that we can grow in wisdom and compassion. That's the essential point for me at this point in my life, and anyhow, that's my main response to yesterday. Linda Ruth, I think we were supposed to give a brief response to yesterday's teaching, then give the speakers an opportunity to give a brief response. Good afternoon. I'm slightly under the weather in all senses. I have a little bit of a sore


throat, and also the rain is pretty strong, and the ride from Marin took much longer than I thought. There was a big traffic jam on approaching the bridge, so please excuse me for being late. Let's see. So we were asked to make comments about yesterday's presentation or whatever. Yeah. Well, I think what I appreciated most about yesterday was envisioning, knowing about monastic life, living in a monastery, and the close relationships and intimate, how we get to know each other so well, and then imagining or hearing about the women who were ordained by our family


members that we know a lot about, and then here are these other sort of new family members, and I was just picturing them in the monastery being Anja, and that's when I figured that one nun who took care of Dogen on his sickbed, I pictured the Anja coming into the cabin and making the bed, and I mean this is sort of a Tassajara vision, but I just, I could imagine it rather than, I don't know what image I had before of a heiji life, but somehow including that was just a wider, broader, kind of wonderful, more inclusive vision, and I also realized I had some hunger to, you know, have dialogues and Dharma talks and things from this group of women who practice with these marvelous teachers that we practice with, and I think part of that hunger comes from realizing how many flavors


there are of teaching and Dharma, and I think for me personally, I had believed, maybe, or settled on one flavor for a long time, and when it was brought to my attention, I actually had a women's meeting at, in the 70s, I think, in the 70s at Zen Center, there was a women's meeting, which I left early because I didn't know what people were talking about, but it had no interest whatsoever for me. I just wanted to sit Zazen, and that was all, so why are you griping, or what, you know, so it took a long time for me to come full circle to realize what it was that I was, what other flavors I was not looking at, not wanting to taste, not even knowing they were on the menu. So I think the uncovering of these, and also the, Miriam's suggestion of chanting the


full tree, you know, the horizontal tree, it was kind of exciting, the thought of chanting down, and then going this way, and that, and down, and over, and interesting kind of working on it, and seeing it, seeing if it would fly, and how that feels. I think the chanting of the trees, the elder women, you know, whose stories, some little stories we've got, I know people appreciate it, and at the same time, it may not be right on the mark, so. That's all I have to say this moment. Maybe there'll be more things that come up during the open discussion. Thank you. I really don't have a lot to say except for my appreciation for what Paula and Joan and


everyone has said. I always learn from Paula, and I look to her as one of my teachers, in the matter of seeing that there is an interpretation from the women's point of view, not just a feminist point of view, but the actual women that we are learning to know and learning from. And that that is a deep feminist point of view, to listen closely and honor the point of view of the women. And I look forward to hearing more from Joan. She sort of whetted my appetite for the full three-week retreat or something in which we could work through these koans together. I learned also from Linda Ruth yesterday, from her lecture, I found myself with tears


as she talked about being who we are at the moment is really good enough, right? It's who we are at the moment. I think that we're trying to make connections back decades and centuries and across many thousand miles. And we're asking of these women from the past that they give us clues to help us with our own practice and help us meet our own needs in our own situation. And it's a delicate balancing act, because sometimes they speak to us very directly and


sometimes we want to see things there that perhaps aren't there. And so it seems to me that the kind of work that we're all doing together of getting to know and finding our women ancestors is something that we can do best together with all kinds of voices, all kinds of scholars and practitioners and working women and mothers and housewives. And so I really applaud your effort to reach across these apparent barriers of time and space to make a connection with these women. I think at some point in my own work on this, I came to see it as a kind of an offering


that I was making to women who lived in the 12th and 13th century, that somehow I didn't know how translating their words was going to make a difference, but I could offer that in honor of what they had done and who they are. It felt good to do that. Well, for the opportunity to share some of this information, it doesn't mean anything to me unless there are people who can learn from it. And that's always been my prayer, that since I've been able to study and learn these things and especially being in between both cultures, Japanese and American, that that seemed like that was my calling, so to speak, to be this bridge.


And you're helping me realize this prayer, and I'm very grateful. And seeing from just how Buddhism has transformed as it goes into each culture and over each time period, and I don't know a lot about American Zen, and seeing how you all are creating it is very exciting, and that you are consciously trying to learn the names of your ancestors is, I'm not sure, we don't have any records that people did that before. And that's why you don't have a chart that you can just add onto. And that you're consciously trying to get these names of female ancestors is a wonderful


contribution that American Zen can make to the Buddhist world. And also looking forward to the ritual that we're going to try and begin creating this afternoon, and I'm sure it'll be a long time in process, refining it to just suit what is appropriate for this community at this time. The ritual that I have to present of what the nuns do in Japan today is not specifically about recognizing women ancestors per se, but I think you can get some hints and some ideas from it. I don't want to segue right into it. I just wanted to put a flag up and say what happened in Japan is not what's happening


here. The needs here are different. The goals, I think, are different because you have different situation, and that you're doing something exciting. And if I can be a resource person, that's my greatest pleasure. And I guess Joan has arrived, so she can speak. So I'll talk more again about the ritual. They put the microphone on me, so I guess I'm expected to speak. Could I have a context? Some comments on yesterday, just briefly. Right? Comments about yesterday? Good afternoon.


I'm glad to see so many of you back, and I apologize for being late. It's raining elephants and giraffes in the North Bay, and the traffic was very bad. There were a lot of accidents on the freeway. Well, I came away from yesterday really happy. I think that's the simplest way to say it. It was such a pleasure for me to hear Paula and Miriam's work. I think it's so important, and it gives us so much material to work with. And I'm really grateful to them for doing the hard work of knowing the languages and ferreting out the texts and presenting them to us in a way that's tremendously useful. So I know that from some of the comments yesterday and in earlier discussions that Zen centers in a kind of ongoing process of thinking about questions of lineage and chanting lineage and all of that. And in my own teaching, those same questions, of course, have arisen.


And I learned a lot yesterday that was helpful to me in my own thinking about these questions. So I'm just delighted to be here and grateful to Zen Center for honoring all the mothers this way this weekend. And I wish you all a very happy Mother's Day. I want to start first with just a really good thank you to you all. As I told a few people here, I'm not only a woman practicing Buddhism to this day, I'm also writing a dissertation on this topic. And as a student doing this, you spend all your time in your little office with your computer. It's very easy to feel like you're just you doing this with all your books and your computer. And sitting in a room full of people having this discussion, it's really lifeblood to me. That's very wonderful. I also really ask him why he has been very happy.


Really mulling a lot of what came up with the story of Eshun again, which has always been, you know, it sort of eats me because I think it's really important. And then part of what Blanche was talking about in her comments is the real balance I find with this work between being yourself, being who you are at the moment. And really sort of standing for what you believe in. And I'm trying to make life better for other women. I think a lot of gratitude in the 70s, my mother and her friends having their consciousness raised in sessions in the living room, you know, my sister running around or, you know, further back, the suffragettes being pulled screaming out of political meetings where they weren't allowed. The fact that, you know, I can be writing a dissertation or holding down a job or wearing pants or sitting in a practice like this.


You know, in a lot of ways, the result of this suffragette, you know, screaming in the courthouse, you know, demanding her point. On the other hand, you know, I mean, so I look at the story of Eshun and I say, okay, I think it's great and righteous that I have these opinions about it. And then on the other hand, I see the way in which it irks me. And there is part of the problem, right? Because it's not just that I'm wanting to go out and do something. I'm also irked. And this is an issue. And Paula talks about Eshun really, you know, being willing, no matter, being willing to do anything to practice, being willing to do anything to get the Dharma and not feeling like she needed to, you know, fight the good fight. Or the idea that everything that there's really aren't these distinctions of gender and that you're just fully within that. And I really see that. And it's in my own sense of being irked that I see that most clearly. And so I'm sitting here and having these conversations and talking about ideas and talking about


these divorcee women or these women who are self-immolating or have to escape out to, you know, to be sitting for a couple of years to be able to divorce. It's okay, New York. Any number of these kinds of things, I really, I really find myself on that balance. And I think I see us all sort of, some more than others, I suppose, really in that space. And how do you walk the line between those two things? And that's one of the reasons it's so wonderful because it really, it brings up for me all these questions about why do I do what I do and why are we having these conversations? And it was clear we wouldn't. I think that there's a very, for me, a very important distinction between my ego or self


that I create as a woman and the feminine principle in the practice. And as long as the energy in exploring these women's issues is not about me and what I can be and how I can have more position or power or accomplishment, but really about if the feminine side of life has been left out of this picture, how is it that we benefit all beings by including the feminine principle in our practice? So I think that's really important. And like you, my exposure as a 20-year-old to Zen 33 years ago, when I read that story about the woman who burned her face, having been a valley girl coming from L.A. and 20 years old, was incomprehensible. And I've struggled with it for these 33 years trying to make sense of it. And finally, for me, I realized that each one of us brings a kind of courage to this practice, doing things that we couldn't have imagined, letting go of things that we


couldn't have imagined. Each of us has something to face in order to enter the practice, something we need to let go. And so when I realized that, I realized that I, too, am hurt and that I give up what I have to give up in order to practice. I appreciate the words that you brought and also the life stories of the women that preceded us. And it struck me while I was reading the flyer that both Miriam and Paula, you're at Southern University. And one question that I'd like to ask is, and also John, is what are the conditions that have supported the work that you're doing, as women, that have allowed you to bring forth these other women?


The, my university has allowed me to do this work, but they have certainly not regarded it as important. And they keep talking about when am I going to write the big book that's about the mailmaster that I started with. And I received quite a bit of support at Komazawa University, the Soto Zen School University in Tokyo, where, again, there was a, definitely the idea that Buddhist studies would have been studying the mailmaster and studying the women masters was women's studies. This was different. It was not Buddhist studies. On the other hand, they accepted me as a member of their community and helped me with work through the translations and think about the meaning of the koans.


And that was really wonderful. And over the years, I've seen the great scholar there begin to talk about the way in which the mailmaster, in fact, supported his women disciples or had important women students who went on to be teachers. This is a new theme in his writing about this great teacher, Daiei Soko. I think Paula has been a support and other women scholars and the students, of course, have been a great support, because while my colleagues aren't of the generation that has been influenced by the kind of reflections that you bring, our students, of course, are


thinking about gender all the time. So that has been a considerable support as well. Well, actually, the person who's been my guide in all this has been Mary. When I was first choosing my dissertation, we have the same mentor. He didn't talk to me for a year. He would look the other way when I walked down the street. But it turned out it was because he was worried I'd never get a job. But I knew the questions that Mary was asking and working on women in Chan. And so just knowing that she was doing that gave me the courage to just persevere and


say, I'm going to do this. And so I was finally accepted in the academy, and Mary was on my dissertation committee, and I'm sure helped make sure it went. She gave a lot of feedback that helped. The main people who have been the support have been the nuns themselves. If Aoyama Sensei, the abbess, had not supported me, I would be nowhere. And in my particular university at Vanderbilt, I'm the only female in the department. And so they're all tenured except me. They're all men, all tenured. No one works in Asia. But they see me as someone that they have to make sure is happy. And I think they're sincere. They're genuinely trying to get the resources.


They read through my grant proposals and really come up. Why does this keep going on and off? How's this? Can you hear? So I've been very, very supported at Vanderbilt. Not that people know the details, but all the faculty in the department will do anything they can to make sure I get what I need to work. And I think having Mary's generation plowed the way, and I get the benefit from it. That's very true. It's great. So if you hold it like this, there's going to be some echo because it's not stable.


So don't worry about the echo. Oh, I would. Tenuously. Yeah. How is this? Can you hear this? Okay. See where I am relative to my mouth. I think I'm saying and then it doesn't.


Oh, more like that, like that, like, okay, how's that? Pardon me. Okay. So I think, to be honest, I would have to say that for maybe a couple of decades, my relationship with Zen felt like a kind of unrequited love where I sure felt passionate about it, but I wasn't really sure that I could find a place in it. I, for myself, feel tremendously full for having found the Koan way, which does it for me. You know, it was just an absolutely miraculous revelation to me to begin Koan study. And I had a very good teacher, and I had a teacher who was tremendously supportive of women and desiring to empower women. So I think that was very helpful. I haven't found that kind of support among my.


My way. So I think that that. Let me let me back up and say that another another very important element of support was that when it was first proposed to me that I might teach, my reaction at an ego level was not in this life. You know, I just I couldn't imagine that that would be possible. And one day when I was sitting with this question, the ancestors sort of came into the room, you know, and they sat down and they didn't leave. And it's a way in which to understand that decision. That that there was something else that I could accept or refuse the offer. But if I did it just out of my ego level, that that wasn't the deepest way to address the question. So I would say that sense of connection with the ancestors, particularly had a relationship


with my siblings, has been has been really, really important. And finally, what sustains. It was a wonderful vocation is is the people I work with, the sincerity of their practice, their hunger for the Dharma, their hunger for the presence of both the feminine and the woman, distinction in their in their practice. That that keeps me going. I very. And handed this gift for a while to make sure that I pass it on to the next generation. And that's because of the beauty and the power and the strength I see in practitioners of the next generation. They ought to hold it.


You know, they'll do a wonderful job. Or. Well, I felt very happy and it reminded me of the Sakyadita conference that I just went to in Nepal with almost three hundred fourteen Buddhist women. And I was much like this. And this was back in January. And it was we found conference and I was there as well as other scholars and women. Women as Buddhist teachers or just women in general.


And if you ever get the opportunity or have the money or the inspiration or the time to go to a Sakyadita conference, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to be around all these women, all most of them, who is from Korea, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, United States, Australia, all over, all wearing different color robes, all from different traditions. And every morning, a different kind of meditation. And one day we were sitting and I came in a little late. I didn't know who was leading the meditation. And at the end, we started chanting the Heart Sutra in Japanese. And actually, they didn't really know what to do with me. There were just two sotos and a priest there and they figured it out. And we were able to eat and sit with the ordained women or with the nuns.


And they called us sister. It was really wonderful. But that was just a little advertisement. And I think I'll be from Minnesota. And it's really wonderful to gather this way. Can I add a note that the Sakyadita conference has been held every two years for the last several years. And they always choose a site where the women in the local area can benefit from having this international attention because many women in Asia do not get much support for their practice. And so going to one of these conferences means you're going to some place like it's been held in Cambodia, in Nepal, in Sri Lanka. And the Singaporean nuns want to hold it, but they don't have any problems. They have enough finances.


And so it's not going to be held in Singapore for any foreseeable future. And so since this just happened in February, it'll probably another two years before it happens somewhere in Asia. Thanks. Okay. So coming closer, we're going to show the video over here. So you know the magic of how to put it on. Oh, other side. This is green.


I'll just try. Okay. Choose a verse. Okay.


Okay. With mentioning the method. The method. They accomplish their goal. Not always on. And that may have some. Okay.


Okay. Okay. Okay.


Okay. Okay. You know the... This is this huge ceremony. And this is at the end of the huge ceremony. If it were done just...