What I appreciate about western buddhism is that it continues to grow and transform with each new generation of western buddhists. I like what Thich Nat Hahn says about buddhism – how it basically needs to adapt to the social and psychological structure of the culture it enters. It need not be so regimented as it travels from country to country. Here in this country, as I continue to learn more about western buddhism, I am seeing that feminism has played a strong role in how buddhist practice is manifested. For example, women can be zen priests in this country (and Japan), but only nuns in more traditional buddhist countries. I couldn’t imagine belonging to a religion (here in my own country) where women are limited in their roles. A prefect example of this western belief played itself out at the Zen Center this weekend.
They had the Mountain Seat ceremony, which only happens every few years. The Mountain Seat basically means it is the changing of the guard with the abbot position. My teacher, Paul Haller, stepped down after nine years as the abbot. He has been replaced by Christina Lehnherr, an out lesbian, which I personally appreciate.
While I was sitting in the Buddha Hall yesterday during the Descending portion of the ceremony, I looked around and took in all of the diversity that the Zen Center really does have. I know that it has been criticized in the past for being Japanofiles and not very warm, but the truth is, there is room for everyone there. Sure, anyone who is anyone was in attendance for this auspicious weekend, but the ceremony itself invited great warmth and humor. This says a lot about Paul’s tenure as abbot. He held strong to the dharma during his tenure, but also welcomed diversity and an old-fashioned appreciation for the simple joy of zazen. Christina, a seasoned practitioner herself, will offer a lot to the Zen Center. Her clarity, focus, and deep appreciation of the dharma will transmit out to the entire community.
I helped in the kitchen all afternoon. It was a bit of a zoo, but all of us “animals” for the most part seemed to enjoy ourselves. Special shout-outs go to Dana Velden, who made a lovely dessert, but more importantly, maintained this sweet calmness during the hustle and bustle of all of the kitchen’s activities. And I heard her apple crisp dessert was the talk of the veining! (I chopped some of those apples!)
A friend of mine recently shared on her Facebook page that she is feeling a bit of a p ersonal crisis around the church she is raising her children in (also, the same church that she was raised in). She has received some very contemplative and compassionate feedback from friends, which has been refreshing to read. It makes me appreciate what I have in my life these days in my own buddhist practice. For example, my job has been very challenging lately. I almost did not go into the Zen Center to work in the kitchen yesterday because I was not sure I had the mental energy to “chop vegetables” amidst the intense preparations for the Mountain Seat ceremony. But standing there in the kitchen, chopping onions, crying from the chemicals being emitted, I just had this moment of gratitude for being a part of a larger sangha, deeply supported by the 2,500 year old dharma. Then, while hearing everyone share their gratitude toward Paul during the actual ceremony, and hearing him joke about how he felt like he was at his own funeral (he later joked with me that in Ireland people don’t speak nicely about you until after you died), my heart just filled up. Make no mistake, my heart felt pain again today as I drowned myself in the misery of my self-suffering over my current job situation, but my job is not my sole identity. Thank God!
Religion is a tricky thing. It is personal, it is political. It is simple, it is complex. The permanent impermanence of my life continues to unfold as I grapple with work, chopping onions, and showing up for life.
Today on our hike, my dog caught a scent of something off trail and burrowed her way into a thorny bramble. She actually abandoned her favored pine cone with the hope of finding a treasure at the other end of the new scent. I kept calling her back to the trail, but she was relentless in her search, until all of sudden, it got very quiet. I thought maybe she found a dead animal and was quietly feasting on it, but when I got over there, I saw that she has basically nestled herself into this bramble, and gotten so cozy that she just lay there for a few seconds, perfectly content in her newly discovered nest. It was the cutest thing. But it also got me thinking that we should all live like that. Letting go of our attachments (her pine cone obsession), be curious to new scents, and appreciate the comfort of novelty in the moment. Within moments, she jumped up, hopped back onto the trail, found her pine cone cone, and continued down her path. (She lost the pine cone moments later, never looking back…)
Or, as Hoitsu (Suzuki Roshi’s son) shared with Paul in the ceremony yesterday, “The thing about climbing down a mountain, is when you get to the bottom, yo will see that there is another mountain waiting for you.” We all laughed at this. Because it’s true.
There will always be mountains.