Urban Dharma Newsletter... August 13, 2002
New! Message Board and Forum
2. Opening a Citadel of Prayer
Women and the female in Buddhism
4. Book Review: Hidden
Spring- A Buddhist Woman Confronts Cancer.
5. Temple/Center of the Week: Zen
Center of Los Angeles
Message Board and Forum
Los Angeles Buddhist- Catholic Dialogue has a new message board
and forum which includes a Main topic section, a Buddhist topic
section and a Catholic topic section. Anyone with an interest
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That's all there is to it. Check it out.
Opening a Citadel of Prayer
Their order facing extinction, 11 Carmelite nuns end decades
of solitude and go dot-com.
life we lead, it has to go on,' one says.
in a fortress of stone, behind thick, high walls to block the
world, the Sisters of Carmel of the Resurrection pray.
monastery bristles with battlements, commanding a hill. Inside,
the 11 aging nuns walk polished halls in austere silence. Their
retreat is a blankness of white walls without end, of oak doors
shut tight. The only sound is the prayer bell chimes.
Carmelites of Indianapolis do not teach or nurse or spread the
faith, as other Roman Catholic sisters do. Private prayer is
is not a formal supplication on bended knee. It is a meditation.
They unfold their souls and they wait for words to come. The
sisters pray as they sit in their rocking chairs, watching the
birds peck seeds. They pray as they walk through the courtyard
garden, a tangle of green.
venture out of the monastery but rarely. It has been rarer still
for them to invite outsiders in. The isolation has brought them
joy. It has also brought them crisis.
Carmelites have not welcomed a new member in a dozen years.
Their average age is 70. Two sisters have died in the last few
months and another is ill.
ensure that the contemplative life they cherish will survive
them, the nuns have taken a momentous decision. They have forsaken
the seclusion that defined them.
have not given up their two hours a day of private prayer, or
their morning and evening silence. They still celebrate a daily
Mass. They still make a modest living selling altar bread and
prayer books. They still rotate the chores so each sister takes
a turn with the laundry, the cooking and the yard work.
the Carmelites of the Resurrection have opened up their fortress.
It has been a startling journey. Nuns of such simplicity that
they live on $1 a day have put their future in the hands of
an ad agency famous for fast-food commercials. Sisters who were
once so isolated they didn't know the Vietnam War had begun
have requested advice from the security director for the NFL's
Indianapolis Colts--who gave them all team T-shirts.
Carmelites hired a part-time development director, Linda Hegeman,
to represent them. She rounded up an advisory board of two dozen
prominent citizens, each with a skill she thought might help
the sisters navigate a world they had long since left behind.
advisors--most but not all Catholics--included a software designer,
a public relations specialist, an administrator from the local
Catholic college and a former city police chief, now working
security for the Colts. The group is eclectic, but effective:
Meeting every month or two, its members pushed the nuns to move
beyond their original vision of a promotional brochure to consider
a punchy online campaign that had them posting their private
prayers on the Internet.
at first, the sisters prayed over each suggestion--and ended
up taking most of them, with gusto. They now consider their
advisors as friends, hosting pizza parties for the board inside
has been a stretch," Sister Joanne Dewald says.
the arched hallways of the monastery they helped build, the
sisters with hearing aids and white hair are determined to keep
stretching. They have discovered unexpected joy in engaging
the world. Their revolution has enriched their faith. It has
also brought them hope for a future. Nearly halfway through
a five-year outreach plan, the Carmelites are speaking with
several young women who might be interested in joining.
vocation is so dear to us," says Sister Rachel Salute,
76. "To see it dying out.... " She stops. She has
been a Carmelite nun since 1953.
would go to such extremes," she says, "to prevent
your community from dying."
life we lead, it has to go on," says Sister Ruth Ann Boyle--at
age 45 the youngest by two decades. "Just as much as the
work of teachers or nurses needs to go on, the life of prayers
must go on."
a calling. It's a service," Sister Joanne says. As a girl,
she dismissed the Carmelites as "loony." Now 72, she's
the monastery prioress--and she is convinced that when women
give their lives to prayer, their devotion can help heal the
world. "It's hard to explain this life. It doesn't make
much sense," she says. "But you're drawn to it."
Joanne first suggested several years ago that the nuns consider
reaching out to young women who might feel that same mysterious
concept was not novel. As the number of nuns in the United States
has plunged--from 180,000 in 1965 to fewer than 74,000 today--many
orders have tried marketing. Dominican nuns in Michigan ran
a commercial on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with the
tagline: "Life is Short. Eternity Isn't." The Sisters
of Mercy in New York advertise in bus shelters, asking: "Do
You Have a Call Waiting?"
the Carmelites, though, self-promotion did not come easy.
other cloistered sisters--there are at most 4,000 in the U.S.--the
Carmelites of Indianapolis live sparingly, eating but one cooked
meal a day and sleeping in barren cells with barely enough room
for a bed, a desk and a chair.
decades, they were so sequestered that neighbors had no idea
whether nuns or monks lived behind the imposing turrets. The
nuns could not leave the monastery, even to visit a dying parent.
Relatives could visit just one hour a month, talking to the
sisters through an iron grate so thick, even fingertips could
nuns' main interaction with outsiders took place through the
"turn," a wooden cabinet set on a turntable at the
front door of the monastery. Visitors would place messages or
packages in the cabinet. A veiled sister on the other side of
the wall would spin it, wordlessly, to her. Sometimes, to the
nuns' discomfort, Catholic parents seeking a blessing would
place a baby in the cabinet. The sister inside would offer a
hasty prayer, then whisk the newborn back.
extreme isolation began to ease in the late 1960s, when the
Second Vatican Council called for reforming church life and
nuns started shopping for groceries instead of having them delivered.
They ordered their first newspaper subscription. They even began
opening their morning Mass to local Catholics; on weekdays,
a dozen visitors might gather with them behind the blue glass
doors of the chapel.
now, however, the nuns keep their forays to the outside world
brisk: They buy groceries at Sam's Club (or pick up Subway sandwiches
as a treat) and then promptly return. They don't stop to chat.
They don't go out for fun. They shun what they call "clutter"--any
interaction that distracts them from prayer. Sister Joanne still
turns down invitations to address young women at the Catholic
college down the street.
it was a remarkable leap when--at the suggestion of their development
director--the sisters invited half a dozen executives from the
ad agency Young & Laramore to the monastery two years ago
to discuss marketing.
met in the reading room, the only space in the cloister that
has been decorated--with a crystal wind chime, a black-and-white
ink drawing of a mountainous landscape, a straight-backed couch
with thin pillows. The sisters gather there in a circle to pray
aloud each morning. They were uneasy letting strangers in.
executives were a bit uneasy, too. They expected the sisters
might be slightly dotty from their self-imposed exile. Instead,
they found them witty, incisive, even irreverent.
their younger years, in full black habits, the nuns drove bulldozers,
dug postholes and hammered roof beams to build the monastery.
Now, in sandals and sundresses from Goodwill, they drink diet
Mountain Dew and wrestle pillows from their black Labrador retriever,
Lucy. They watch documentaries on ancient Greece. Also, "Karate
write prayer books with inclusive language (referring to God
as "you" instead of "master"). They joke
about their years of suffering in virtual quarantine. They even
mock their own devotion to two hours a day of private prayer.
am I thinking about? I'm thinking I see a leak in the roof over
there. I'm thinking, why has this stock gone from $95 to $2,"
says Sister Betty Meluch, 70, laughing.
an hour with the sisters, Paul Knapp, president of Young &
Laramore, was captivated. He volunteered at once to take on--free--the
job of selling the nuns to the world. His firm had scored big
with clever ads that made Goodwill clothes hip and Steak &
Shake burgers saucy. The nuns were an irresistible challenge.
All he needed was a hook.
it's a steak burger or a nun, [you have to ask] 'What do you
want people to think of when they see them?' It's all about
strategic positioning," said Tom Denari, an agency vice
for that hook, the marketing team asked the nuns: "So,
what do you do?"
pray," the sisters replied.
do you pray?"
pray the news."
the sisters devour current events. They read Time, Atlantic
Monthly, the Economist, National Geographic, Arthritis Today.
Often, a sister will don headphones during morning prayers to
catch National Public Radio. After Mass (led by a visiting priest),
they take turns discussing world events that merit special prayer.
ad team wanted to play off that passion. In a flash of inspiration,
interactive Web site offers Carmelite history and a prayer of
the day. The nuns post a sample daily schedule (feed the birds,
pray, change oil in the Taurus), and essays explaining the contemplative
heart of the site is the News Perspective page, where sisters
post essays about current events--from famine in Eritrea to
pedophilia in the church, from corporate scandals to the temper
of basketball coach Bobby Knight.
like we're raising our antenna, so if someone out there has
a calling to this life and is raising her own antenna, we might
be able to communicate," says Sister Terese Boersig, 69.
http://praythenews.com was launched in March 2001, the
site has logged more than 12 million hits. Many readers return
once a week to read Sister Betty's take on the Taliban or see
what Sister Joanne has to say about Iraq.
visitors from around the globe have e-mailed prayer requests
to the Light a Candle page. Those prayers have opened the nuns'
eyes to the struggles they left behind when they took their
vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. So many asking for
help finding jobs, Sister Ruth murmurs. So many asking for help
than three dozen women have contacted Sister Joanne online to
talk about Carmelite life, including eight who seem genuinely
drawn. One woman explained that the Web site had awakened the
same joyous feeling she felt when she prayed at the monastery
years before. "It made me wonder once again," she
wrote, "whether I am called to religious life."
outreach campaign forced the sisters to wrestle with the modern
world in ways they had never imagined.
have prayed much over whether to sell their books through the
Web site. They reluctantly agreed--on advice from Mike Zunk,
the Colts security chief--to conduct background checks on any
woman who applies to enter the monastery.
dramatic, the sisters have found themselves, for the first time,
under pressure to produce something.
nuns who write the News Perspective face a deadline every Monday.
They dread it. For years, they have let their thoughts unroll
in languor. As they put it, they have focused on being, not
doing. Now, they must direct their musing to a particular topic,
then commit their prayers to paper. "A chore," Sister
Joanne calls it.
the sisters cannot imagine again withdrawing behind the veil.
is transformative," Sister Terese says. "We're not
Sister Joanne: "I don't think we could."
nuns have found joy in breaking down their cloister. For years,
they were convinced that steeping their souls in solitude brought
them closer to God. Now, they find spiritual strength from their
readers' words on the Web site.
they pray for a mother to recover from cancer, for an end to
civil war, for a raise, for a safe journey, the Sisters of Carmel
of the Resurrection feel they are performing a great service.
no longer pray for the world. They pray with it.
Bibliography: Women and the female in Buddhism.
following is a selection of books about women, the "divine
feminine", and the female influence in Buddhism. Most of
the books are by women, although male authors are also included.
Where possible the number of pages and ISBN are given...
Aitken, Molly Emma, ed. Meeting the Buddha: On Pilgrimage in
Buddhist India. Riverhead Books (Tricycle), 1995 (370pp).
Allione, Tsultrim. Women of Wisdom. London: Arkana, 1984 / New
York: Arkana, 1986. ISBN 0-14019-072-4 (282pp). A selection
of life stories of great Tibetan women teachers, with a lengthy
introduction to the topic of women and the female principle
in Tibetan Buddhism.
Bartholomeusz, Tessa. Women under the Bo Tree: Buddhist Nuns
in Sri Lanka. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Batchelor, Martine. Walking on Lotus Flowers: Buddhist Women
Working, Loving and Meditating. London: Thorsons/Harper Collins,
1996. ISBN 0-7225-3231-8.
Batchelor, Martine and Brown, Kerry, eds. Buddhism and Ecology.
Cassell, 1992. ISBN 0304303756 (114pp.).
Beck, Charlotte Joko. Everyday Zen: Love and Work. San Francisco:
Harper & Row, 1989. ISBN 0-06-060734-3.
Beck, Charlotte Joko. Nothing Special: Living Zen. San Francisco:
Harper & Row, 1994. ISBN 0-06-251117-3 (277 pages). See
also the review by Fumyo Mishaga.
Benard, Elisabeth. Chinnamasta: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu
Tantric Goddess. Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.
Beyer, Stephan. The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. A study of Tibetan
beliefs and practices concerning Tara, the Bodhisattva of compassionate
Blakiston, Hilary. But Little Dust. Cambridge: Allborough Press,
Blofeld, John. Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition
of Kuan Yin. Boulder: Shambhala, 1978. A study of Avalokiteshvara,
the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in the female forms of Kuan Yin
(Chinese) and Tara (Tibetan).
Boucher, Sandy. Opening the Lotus: A Woman's Guide to Buddhism.
Boston: Beacon Press, 1997. "An introduction to Buddhist
philosophy and practice for women." ISBN 0-8070-7308-3
(hardcover), list $18.00 U.S.
Boucher, Sandy. Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the
New Buddhism (387pp). San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988. An
extensive series of interviews with women active in North American
Byles, Marie B. Journey into Burmese Silence. London: George
Allen & Unwin, 1962.
Cabezón, José Ignacio, ed. Buddhism, Sexuality, and
Gender. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Campbell, June. Traveller in Space: In search of female identity
in Tibetan Buddhism.. London: Athlone Press, February 1996.
ISBN 0-485-11494-1 (236pp.)
Chayat, Roko Sherry, ed. Subtle Sound: The Zen Teachings of
Maurine Stuart, with a foreword by Edward Espe Brown. Boston:
Shambhala, 1996. ISBN 1-57062-094-6. A collection of teachings
by the late female Roshi Maurine Stuart - a principal American
student of Soen Nakagawa Roshi and a teacher at the Cambridge
Chödron, Pema. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate
Living. Boston: Shambhala, 1994. The author is the abbess of
Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada, and a senior student of
the late Ven. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Chödron, Thubten. Open Heart, Clear Mind. Ithaca (NY):
Snow Lion Publications, 1990. Thubten Chödron is the seniormost
female teacher within the Foundation for the Preservation of
the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), a Tibetan Buddhist organisation
founded by the late Lama Yeshe.
Chödron, Thubten. Taming the Monkey Mind. Lutterworth,
Leicestershire: Tynron Press, 1990.
Chögyam, Ngakpa. Rainbow of Liberated Energy: Working with
Emotions through the Colour and Element Symbolism of Tibetan
Tantra. Forthcoming, Aro Books; formerly Longmead: Element Books,
Coleman, Rev. Mary Teal (Ven. Tenzin Yeshe). MONASTIC: An Ordained
Tibetan Buddhist Speaks on Behalf of Full Ordination for Women
David-Neel, Alexandra. Magic and Mystery in Tibet (321pp).
Dowman, Keith. Sky Dancer: the secret life and songs of the
Lady Yeshe Tsogyel. London: Arkana, 1989; originally London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984. ISBN 0-140-19205-0 (379pp).
A sacred biography of the Tibetan yogini Yeshe Tsogyel, consort
of Padmasambhava and regarded in her own right as a great mystic,
teacher and lineage-holder.
Dresser, Marianne, ed. Buddhist Women on the Edge: Contemporary
Perspectives from the Western Frontier. North Atlantic Books,
1996. ISBN 1556432038 (321 pages). The CIIS Bookstore says of
this book: "The essays ... explore issues of gender, race,
class, and sexuality; lineage, authority, and the accessibility
of Buddhist institutions; monastic, lay, and community practice;
the teacher-student relationship; psychological perspectives
and the role of the emotions; crossscultural adaptation and
appropriation; and how spiritual practice informs creativity,
personal relationships, and political/social activism."
Drolma, Delog Dawa. Delog: Journey to Realms Beyond Death. Padma
Edou, Jérôme. Machig Labdrön and the Foundations
of Chöd (244pp). Ithaca (NY): Snow Lion Publications, 1995.
A book about the Tibetan Buddhist practice of chöd, founded
by the great female mystic Machig Labdrön.
Ehrlich, Gretel. Questions of Heaven: The Chinese Journeys of
an American Buddhist. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997. "A haunting
pilgrimage to one of China's holy mountains." ISBN 0-8070-7310-5
(hardcover), list $20.00 U.S.
Feldman, Christina. The Quest of the Warrior Woman: Women as
Mystics, Healers and Guides. London & San Francisco: Aquarian,
1994. ISBN 1-85538-323-3 (239 pp). The author co-founded Gaia
House, a retreat centre in Devon, England. She is also an international
adviser to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
Feldman, Christina. Woman Awake: A Celebration of Women's Wisdom
Friedman, Lenore. Meetings with Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers
in America. Boston: Shambhala, 1987.
Galland, China. Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna
(392pp). New York: Viking, 1990.
Grimshaw, Anna. Servants of the Buddha: Winter in a Himalayan
Convent. London: Open Letters, 1992. A woman from Lancashire
visits a Ladakhi Buddhist convent.
Gross, Rita M. Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History,
Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany: State University
of New York Press, 1993. (The online journal CyberSangha offers
a review of this book.)
Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang. Guide to Dakini Land: A Commentary to
the Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Vajrayogini. London: Tharpa,
1991. A guide to the Highest Yoga Tantra practice of the female
Halifax, Joan. The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting with the
Body of the Earth. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
ISBN 0-06-250369-3 (240pp). A personal and very moving journey
in which Halifax "weaves diverse themes of deep ecology,
shamanism and Buddhism into a colorful literary tapestry"
[Andrew T. Weil]. An appendix includes the Precepts of the Order
of Interbeing by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Havnevik, Hanna. Tibetan Buddhist Nuns. Oslo: Norwegian University
Press, 1990. The definitive work on the subject.
Hopkinson, Deborah, Michele Hill, and Eileen Kiera, eds. Not
Mixing Up Buddhism: Essays on Women and Buddhist Practice. Fredonia
(NY): White Pine Press, 1986.
Horner, Isaline B. Women Under Primitive Buddhism. London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1930 (reprint Delhi: Motilal Barnasidass,
Kabilsingh, Chatsumarn. A Comparative Study of Bhikkhuni Patimokkha.
Chaukhambha Oriental Research Studies, vol. 28. Varanasi: Chaukhamba
Orientalia, 1984. On the vows and rules of fully ordained nuns
(bhikkhuni [Pali] or bhikshuni [Sanskrit]).
Kabilsingh, Chatsumarn. Thai Women in Buddhism. Berkeley: Parallax
Kalyanavaca, editor, The Moon and Flowers - A Woman's Path to
Enlightenment Birmingham:Windhorse Publications, 1997. Brings
together essays written by nineteen women who have been ordained
within the Buddhist tradition.
Khema, Ayya. Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. London: Wisdom Publications,
1987. An introduction to Buddhist practice by a German-born
bhikshuni (fully ordained nun) of the Theravada tradition.
Khema, Ayya. When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West.
London: Arkana, 1991.
Khong, Chan. Learning True Love: How I Learned and Practiced
Social Change In Vietnam. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.
King, Sallie B., trans. Passionate Journey: The Spiritual Autobiography
of Satomi Myodo. Boston: Shambhala, 1978.
Klein, Anne C. Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists,
and the Art of the Self (307pp). Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.
(Click here to see a reproduction of a thangka of Yeshe Tsogyal
in the form of Dechen Gyalmo, the Great Bliss Queen.)
Kunsang, Erik Pema. Dakini Teachings: Padmasambhava's Oral Instructions
to Lady Tsogyal. Boston: Shambhala, 1990. ISBN 0877735468 (189pp.).
Kunsang, Erik Pema. The Lotus-Born: the life story of Padmasambhava.
Composed by Yeshe Tsogyal. Boston: Shambhala, 1990. ISBN 0877738696
Law, Bimala Churn. Women in Buddhist Literature. Varanasi: Indological
Book House, 1981.
Levine, Norma. Blessing Power of the Buddhas (155pp). Describes
observable physical manifestations, e.g. relics and other sacred
objects, of the Buddhas' blessings.
Majupuria, Indra. Tibetan Women (Then and Now). Lashkar, India:
M. Devi, 1990.
Murcott, Susan. The First Buddhist Women: Translations and Commentaries
on the Therigata (219pp). Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1991.
Neumaier-Dargyay, Eva K. The Sovereign All-Creating Mind - The
Motherly Buddha: A Translation of the Kun byed rgyal po'i mdo.
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Norberg-Hodge, Helena. Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh.
Vintage, 1991. Preface by H.H. the Dalai Lama, introduction
by Peter Matthiessen.
Norman, K.R., trans. The Elders: Verses II: Therigatha. London:
Pali Text Society and Luzac & Company, 1971.
O'Halloran, Maura. Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind. Riverhead Books
(Tricycle), 1994. Lovely story of a young Irishwoman who became
a recognised Zen master in Japan.
Palmer, Martin and Ramsay, Jay with Kwok, Man-Ho. Kuan Yin:
Myths and Propecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion. London/San
Francisco: Thorsons (HarperCollins Publishers), 1995. ISBN 1
85538 417 5 (226pp).
Pao-Ch'ang, Shih. Lives of the nuns: biographies of Chinese
Buddhist nuns from the fourth to sixth centuries. Trans. by
Kathryn Ann Tsai. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1994. ISBN
Padmasuri. But Little Dust : Life Amongst the Ex-Untouchables
of India . Birmingham:Windhorse Publications, 1997.
Paul, Diana Y. Women in Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in
Mahayana Buddhism. Berkeley: University of California Press,
1985; formerly Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1979.
Rhie, Marylin M., and Robert A.F. Thurman. Wisdom and Compassion:
The Sacred Art of Tibet. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991. A
magnificent large-format book of sacred art (statues and paintings)
from Tibet (from the art exhibit of the same name). Includes
depictions of numerous female Buddhas, bodhisattvas and protectors.
Rhys-Davids, C.A.F. and Norman, K.R., translators. Pitakas/Khuddaka:
Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therigata). Headington, Oxford:
Pali Texts Society, 1989. ISBN 0860132897 (233pp).
Roberts, Bernadette. The Experience of No-Self. Boulder, Colorado:
Shambala, 1984. A practising Catholic's experience of anatta
Salzburg, Sharon. Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
(193pp). Shambhala. Co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society
and Barre (Massachusetts) Center of Buddhist Studies.
Savvas, Carol D. A Study of the Profound Path of gCod: The Mahayana
Buddhist Meditation Tradition of Tibet's Great Woman Saint Machig
Labdrn. Ph.D. dissertation: University of Wisconsin-Madison,
1990 (493 pp). A detailed study of the origin and practice of
chöd with translations of many essential texts and commentaries.
Seneviratne, Maureen. Some Women of the Mahavamsa and Culavamsa.
Colombo: H.W. Cave & Co., 1969.
Shaw, Miranda. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tibetan Buddhism.
Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-691-03380-3
(291pp). A riveting look at the little-known role of female
teachers and lineage-holders in the Vajrayana tradition. Essential
reading for Tibetan Buddhist women.
Shin, Nan (pseud.). Diary of a Zen Nun: Every Day Living. New
York: E.P. Dutton, 1988.
Sidor, Ellen S. A Gathering of Spirit: Women Teaching in American
Buddhism. Cumberland (R.I.): Primary Point Press, 1987.
Srimala, Breaking Free : Glimpses of a Buddhist Life Birmingham:Windhorse
Publications, 1997. The remarkably honest, moving, and often
very funny story of a woman's journey to spiritual freedom.
Subhuti (Alex Kennedy). Women, Men and Angels. Birmingham: Windhorse
Publications, 1996. An exposition of the provocative views of
Sangharakshita, the founder of the Western Buddhist Order/FWBO,
on women and men in the spiritual life.
Tsomo, Karma Lekshe, ed. Buddhism Through American Women's Eyes.
Ithaca (NY): Snow Lion Publications, 1995. ISBN 1-55939-047-6
(180 pp). A selection of essays "by practitioners from
the Theravada, Japanese Zen, Shingon, Chinese Pure Land, and
Tibetan traditions, who share their thoughts on Buddhist philosophy,
its practical application in everyday life, and the challenges
of practicing Buddhism in the Western world."
Tsomo, Karma Lekshe, ed. Sakyadhita: Daughters of the Buddha.
Ithaca (NY): Snow Lion Publications, 1989. Lekshe is a bhikshuni
(fully ordained nun) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and is
Secretary of Sakyadhita International. She founded the Jamyang
Chöling Institute for Buddhist Women in India and is currently
in the Philosophy Department at the University of Hawai'i. This
book is a collection of essays and presentations by women who
attended the first international conference of Buddhist women,
with significant content relating to the ordination of nuns.
Tsomo, Karma Lekshe. Sisters in Solitude - Two Traditions of
Buddhist Monastic Ethics for Women - A Comparative Analysis
of the Chinese Dharmagupta and the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada
Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutras. New York: SUNY Press, 1996. ISBN
0-7914-3090-1 (paperback) or 0-7914-3089-8 (cloth), 192 pp.
This landmark book is the first translation into English of
two versions of the Bhikshuni Pratimoksha Sutra, the precepts
and rules of conduct for fully-ordained Buddhist nuns.
Tulku, Tarthang, trans. Mother of Knowledge: The Enlightenment
of Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal, by Nam-mkha'i snying-po, ed. Jane Wilhelms.
Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1983. Another translation (see
Dowman, above) of the sacred biography of the Tibetan yogini
Willis, Janice D., ed. Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and
Tibet. Ithaca (NY): Snow Lion Publications, 1989; reprinted
Willson, Martin. In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress.
London: Wisdom Publications, 1986.
Wilson, Liz. Charming Cadavers: Horrific Figurations of the
Feminine in Indian Buddhist Hagiographic Literature. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Hidden Spring: A Buddhist Woman Confronts Cancer
is the nature of all things that take form to dissolve again."
- the Buddha
October 1995 I went to a hospital in Oakland, where I live,
for the medical test known as a sigmoidoscopy. Although I had
been experiencing symptoms, I did not for a moment anticipate
that there could be a serious problem. I expected to be told
that I had some minor, easily corrected condition. But the test,
instead, opened the door into the world of hospitals, surgery
and chemotherapy. The sigmoidoscopy showed a large tumor in
my colon; a later colonoscopy confirmed it to be malignant.
In a week I was having major surgery, and a month later began
a course of chemotherapy that was supposed to last forty-eight
weeks. My work, my intimate relationship, my home, my relations
with friends, my body — every element of my life seemed
sucked up into a dizzying vortex.
one still point in this turning world was the Buddhist practice
I had been cultivating for twenty years. The formal meditation
practice served me: all those hours of sitting still while emotions
raged in me, while my body clamored for relief, while my mind
tortured me in myriad ways. I had learned to be there for it
all — to attend to my sensations, recognizing in that
moment, as painful or imperfect or frustrating as it was, that
this was the actual texture and content of my life. And then
to experience its changing — because I noticed that nothing
ever stayed the same — and to know these thoughts, emotions
and sensations as the incessant flow of phenomena. This practice
had steadied me through major crises in my life, providing a
reliable base point to which to return, no matter what else
was going on. During those years I had been cultivating, as
well, an attitude of spaciousness, acceptance, compassion for
others and myself. This training and its attendant cast of mind
served me in the most trying times of my encounter with cancer,
and sometimes deserted me. My years of work with a unique and
powerful teacher gave me some tools to meet the requirements
of the illness and its treatment, when I could, and the compassion
to be patient with myself and begin again, when I couldn't.
I have tried to reveal how I applied the practice and benefited
from the Buddhist perspective in many of the most difficult
situations, hoping that my experience may be of use to the next
person who opens that door.
entry into the rich sustaining tradition of Buddhism began in
1980 when I began to sit on a pillow and meditate. For the first
three years I thought I would just learn how to do the meditation,
and have nothing to do with the "furniture" of the
religion out of which it comes. Even so, because I am a curious
person and like to orient myself in a new activity, I began
to study the texts of Buddhism, listen to what teachers said,
learn about the Asian roots of Buddhism; as I understood more,
I turned to Buddhist principles to shed light on my experience.
In a difficult situation, I would hark back to my reading or
the insights I had gained in meditation, and ask myself what
would be the action that would best promote the welfare of all
the twenty years' time since I first sat down on a pillow and
tried to pay attention, I have been doing meditation with more
or less faithfulness, both by myself and with groups and with
my principal teacher Ruth Denison in her center in the Mojave
Desert of California. Ruth is one of the first-generation Western
women who brought Buddhist practice to us in the United States.
She had studied and meditated in Burma with a noted Theravada
Buddhist teacher, who asked her to return here to teach. I myself
went to Asia, where I lived for a short time as a Buddhist nun
in Sri Lanka, and stayed in monasteries in Thailand and Burma.
As part of my life as a writer and teacher, I regularly study
the texts of Buddhism, and keep on meditating.
of all I have tried to apply the Buddhist principles in my daily
life. That morning in the G.I. (Gastro-Intestinal) Laboratory
at Summit Hospital gave me an opportunity. I remember the doctor,
a tall African-American man, talking to me after the test was
completed. "When the growth is that big, we're ninety percent
certain it's cancer. I'm calling your doctor right now. We want
you in the hospital for major surgery in a week."
am not a very spiritually adept person. Mostly I plod along,
failing often, succeeding sometimes in my efforts at concentration
and right action. But my years of practice and study had given
me an understanding of life's task. So that when I received
the news of cancer, I understood, Oh, yes, what is required
of me now is that I be fully present to each new experience
as it comes and that I engage with it as completely as I can.
I don't mean that I said this to myself. Nothing so conscious
as that. I mean that my whole being turned, and looked, and
moved toward the experience...
from the test, with the doctor's voice echoing in my head, I
walked up the back steps to my house. "Well, I'm fifty-nine
years old," I thought. " I've published four books,
I've experienced marriage and many intensely engaging love affairs,
I've done honest political work, I've traveled, I've lived my
life as fully as I could. If this is the end, that will be all
I walked in the door, through the kitchen and into the living
room where Crystal lay on the couch. She had been up most of
the night working on a music project; I had seen her sleeping
there when I left an hour or two earlier. Now she sat up and
looked at me, her face creasing with concern. "What is
it?" she asked. I walked across to the couch, knelt on
the rug and burst into tears. Crystal put her arms around me,
as I choked out the news. And then she too was crying, as both
of us felt the sadness of the coming ordeal, the terror that
my life might end.
practice does not prevent anything, it does not shield us from
anything. It softens and opens us to meet everything that comes
The Zen Center of Los Angeles
old and what's new at ZCLA
Zen Center of Los Angeles has a 30-year history as a Zen
training and practice center. Always changing to meet the needs
of its members, it now grows under the leadership of a 3rd-generation
American Zen teacher, Sensei Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Abbot. Sensei
is a successor of Roshi Bernie Tetsugen Glassman who was Maezumi
Roshi's first successor. ZCLA continues its strong tradition
in the practice of zazen and Zen Buddhist liturgy, and now includes
the path of service and the path of community.
Temple Seal was passed to our new abbot on June 12, 1999.
of ZCLA: Our masthead now reads "Buddha Essence Temple."
It sounds new, yet it's old. "Buddha Essence" is the
translation into English of our Japanese name "Busshin-ji."
Our zendo has a new look based on its use for zazen and
talks. Our old Manjusri Bodhisattva presides over zazen and
sesshin from a new altar. A newly carpeted area lets us gather
to hear and participate in talks.
is a new Kanzeon Room near the interview room where the Bodhisattva
of Compassion will encourage private reflection.
Hall: Our new Buddha Hall is our old Godo. Here Shakyamuni
Buddha, the original temple image of ZCLA, presides over religious
the Buddha Hall, we chant the Prolonging Life Kanzeon Sutra
(Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo) and the Gate of Sweet Nectar
(Kan Ro Mon) in English and chant the names of our lineage
in their own original languages — Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese,
and English, experiencing a new intimacy with what's older than
old. We also chant the names our women ancestors.
service is the Gate of Sweet Nectar, when we blow the
conch shell to declare the raising of the Bodhi Mind and invite
and feed the hungry spirits. Members bring nonperishable food
offerings which are collected for a neighborhood food bank.
Hall: Maezumi Roshi's old residence (formerly the Inryo)
is the new home of our history as a sangha. Photographs of our
teachers, and our teachers' teachers, pictures of our early
days, mementos, and calligraphy are displayed. This building
eventually will house ZCLA's archives, and be used as a library.
It is also used for meetings and classes.
in the Dharma Hall, we share our life experiences in Practice
Circles, which are based on the Three Treasures of Buddha,
Dharma, and Sangha. Though circles are new to ZCLA, human beings
have been gathering in this way since time immemorial.
House: The Sangha House has always been a hub for members
and newcomers to ZCLA where the news of the moment and inter-sangha
news is posted on bulletin boards, and calendar and program
information is available. Our new dining room and the ZCLA Bookstore
are housed on the ground floor.
In the midst of our historical Shuso pines, a hand-carved Kanzeon
Bodhisattva now graces our backyard, providing a new site
for outdoor religious ceremony and meditation. The mural on
the back wall of the Sangha House lends its creative energy
and its unifying message to ZCLA.
ZCLA continues its strong tradition of Zen practice and study.
Zazen and interviews are offered at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
from Wednesday through Friday, with zazen and a talk on Thursday
evening. Saturday and Sunday schedules include 8:30 a.m. Service,
Zazen, Working Together, and Lunch, as usual. We continue to
offer introductory classes at various levels every Sunday morning
whether the center is open or closed. Newly offered on the weekends
are Training and Practice Circles and a Day of Reflection on
circles led by Sensei Egyoku and practitioners are ongoing,
forming around various themes and needs of the members: for
example, there are Precept Circles, occasional Men's Circles,
Women's Circles, Twelve-Step & Zen Practice Circles, and
Family Circles. Healing Circles are based on the teachings of
Unknowing, Bearing Witness, Right Action, and Letting Go. We
are also exploring the Way of Council as a means of strengthening
Sesshin led by Sensei Egyoku or a senior student takes
place monthly. Each sesshin uses a study text, which participants
read and study together. Koan, sutra study, shikantaza, working
and living together, the precepts, service to self and others,
and compassion practices are among the means used to study the
in October 1997, Sensei Egyoku began Intensive Practice/
Study Months, which focus on specific practice themes. October
was devoted to the Buddhist compassion practices, and a Head
Trainee was installed for a year. In addition to three month
long intensives, each Head Trainee will undertake a personal
dharma study project which will be presented to the Sangha.
Each will end their year of training with Dharma Combat. Under
this system, successive Head Trainees will have overlapping
and interfaith programs include talks by visiting Zen teachers,
Shabbat service and High Holy Days are led by Rabbi Don Ani
Shalom Singer Sensei, and an annual spring Christian/Buddhist
retreat led by Fr. Robert Jinsen Kennedy Sensei.
programs also include community involvement and emphasize
bearing witness and engaged Buddhism. In addition to supporting
our neighborhood food bank, our regular Working Together
Practice periods will occasionally extend into the street
— we'll do street cleanup and begin to explore ways we
can interact with our diverse neighborhood. We are developing
programs for Children and Families, all with an emphasis
on Zen practice reflecting the all-inclusiveness of our 20th
Century American lifestyles.
We welcome as members all who endeavor to live the Buddha's
Way, encompassing all life situations. Practitioners range from
young children to those in their 70's and are from many cultural
and economic backgrounds. Some members run satellite sitting
groups in their homes, teach beginning zazen to newcomers, and
develop meditation programs such as at the Los Angeles Juvenile
ZCLA is supported by its members and friends. The Zen Mountain
Center, formerly a branch of ZCLA, is now an independent center.
expects that current income will adequately support its programs,
staff, and operations. For capital improvements, such as badly
needed roofing, extensive painting, plumbing improvement, or
new building projects, we will fundraise and explore the possibility
of obtaining grants. We hope to expand ZCLA's small endowment
fund through the generosity of its supporters.
Towards the Future: The Zen Center of Los Angeles/Buddha
Essence Temple continues to build on the strong foundation laid
by the many people who have come and gone through our temple
gate. As Zen practitioners, we continue to look at our lives
and the way we live through Zazen, Religious Ceremony, Service
to Self and Others, and to Community. How we live our lives
together is a primary commitment for our thriving city community.
Sensei Wendy Egyoku Nakao
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