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Buddhist women’s conference

30 Jul

Dear Friends,

The Sakyadhita Conference was over a month ago. Please forgive my silence. I’ve been sick, during and after the conference and also in a deep transition state. I will just write a little now.

The conference was an immersion in the varieties of Buddhist women – particularly the many kinds of nuns. Those of us in Japanese traditions, wearing black and having wide lifestyle choices, were very few. I made friends with a wide range of nuns who lived with full vows – celibacy, wearing robes all the time, living monastically, depending on gifts for food and shelter any day. Just one example: a woman from Australia, in the Tibetan lineage, who was raising money to support children in India – and wouldn’t think of taking any of the donations to support herself. She had lived at a homeless shelter, in a van, on a beach, and was currently on her mother’s couch. So she’s raising money to start a monastery so Western monastics in Australia will be able to live the full monastic life.

Meeting these women, it didn’t seem like the vows took anything from them at all – but liberated them to fully live out the Dharma, each in her own particular way. That’s probably an extreme oversimplification.

Just two women came to my workshop, titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change.” We had a lovely discussion, and after the conference was over we walked together to “the peak.” On our way up, Janet (a Hong Kong local) took us to a Buddha carved into the hillside – Amitabha. We spent an hour there, finding it difficult to leave.

At the top of the hill was an ordinary park, with a water fountain, exercise stations, grass, and a tree identification walk. Janet and Sophie returned, I continued – wanting to spend as much time as possible. My way has been to notice where I’m drawn, to have conversations with those, and to be present as fully as possible. What those conversations mean, I don’t know. I’ve said that humans are not the only conscious beings on the planet; this is how I try to work with that understanding.

I asked this tree to give fertility in my work. Thought she said yes, but I stopped again on the way back and she said let go, let go, let go; trying is the obstacle.

The tree with the great roots offered endurance.

The waterfall was full of light, life, youth. She did not give permission to share photos, except of this formation which seemed to me like the face of the spirit of the falls. I could have stayed forever.

Coming back down the hill, I went back toward the Buddha. This time I saw another figure in the rock wall: a carved dragon and phoenix. So I stopped for conversation. Something important happened here; I’m still trying to realize it. I asked if they had something to tell me; they said “We’ve been doing this forever.” (This is the dance of creation.) I asked if I could give them something, and they said no – they didn’t need a thing. And I asked if they would help me. The response felt like laughter: “You are just a speck on the waves of the universe. You are nothing.” I felt an incredible lightness, the weight of the world suddenly off my shoulders.

The Buddha was a little gentler, offering laughter. And – what is this?

I never thought I was singlehandedly trying to stop climate change, yet the words I’ve used about the Alliance have suggested that its purpose is to organize (beings of all kinds) for the healing of life on earth, including human consciousness. Suddenly I realized that I was engaged in trying to make things happen. Some of my friends immediately understood. Beth said that letting go makes one more effective.

So I got sick. It turns out it wasn’t just jet lag, it was shingles, and I’m just beginning to return to functioning while my body still hurts. During that time, I interviewed and got a position in a psychotherapy clinic – so I’ll be reactivating old skills, doing work I like, and spending about half my week doing that professional work. It feels like the right step at this time.

I’ll write a separate note about things happening on the farm, and a volunteer day this coming Saturday.

But next Sunday, August 6, I give a dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, in St. Paul. Here is information, if you’re in the area and would like to come. Look for “Sunday community service.” Address is at the bottom of the page.

Love,

Shodo

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Update from Sakyadhita Conference

23 Jun

I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference, just checking in after the first two days.

We began the conference with a series of sacred chants, from nuns in different traditions. It was beautiful. I would like to send more photos, but I’ll post them on the blog; this one is from Theravadin nuns of India, Burma, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Then we had brief welcome speeches, a ceremony of lighting the altar.

Most of the conference will consist of panels of speakers, on a variety of topics related to Buddhism and to women.The first day panels were mostly stories of Buddhist women across cultures, and specifically in Hong Kong where we are meeting. The second day was “Mindfulness across cultures” and “Building healthy families and communities.” Tomorrow will be sessions on Social Action and on Buddhist Education. Nearly everyone is speaking in English, though it’s a second language for most of them.

My roommate, a scholar, gave a talk yesterday. She was researching feminism in monastics in the area where she does research. After a nun said “I’m not a feminist” Linda began investigating. Her current thought, after four interviews and some study, is that they reject the conflict associated with feminism; nuns and monks cooperate; but they accept women’s strength. I really liked her process of inquiry.

I’ll write more as we go through the conference. And I’ll send pictures.

It’s very hot, and there’s a long walk from my residence hall to the meeting space, but once I’m there I can stay all day. I’ve met some Zen women that I know, and we’ve sort of bonded with the other monastics wearing black robes – mostly Nichiren tradition. (It’s okay if that means nothing to you.) The variety of styles and colors of robes is beautiful and amazing. I didn’t know where the pink robes come from (Vietnam), or the all-white ones (Nepal). Gray are China and Korea, maroon are Mongolian or Tibetan Buddhism, black are from Japan, and there are lots of brown or gold ones. The Theravadins (classical Buddhists) come in a wide variety – you can see them in the first photo of chanting. (A Nepali nun with minimal English helped me identify where the various robes were from.)

A moving thing has happened twice now: a lay person walks up to me, bows, and hands me a small red envelope. I bow in return and accept the envelope. Each time, 20 Hong Kong dollars – worth maybe $2.50 or so – but it’s amazing to me. There are hundreds of monastics here; I don’t know how many of them have received this gift, but I know it is to be accepted warmly and with gratitude. Receiving a gift (whether asked or not) compels a certain quality of life – to live wholeheartedly, to be worthy of the gift.

It is amazing to be here. Also exhausting, but that’s okay. My workshop is two days from now.

 

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