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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 17 so we needed teachers of color to teach the dharma with that understanding. These were not empty words. Blanche made sure to transmit the light of Buddha to teachers of color, to feminists like herself, to queer folks—to those who were ostracized on a path that claimed love. She made sure to bring into the tradition those who would normally be overlooked in a practice so precise and potentially rigid. She embraced the intellectual, the loud, the audacious, the radical, the unassuming, and those who were absolutely lost and speechless in the Zen world, leaving behind a varied cohort of dharma heirs. She wanted to shake up the dharma and wake up the world. One of her heirs, Myozan Joan Amaral, recalls, “She wouldn’t give up on you. If you were sick, she’d be mak- ing you a pot of ginger tea, and she would bring it right to your door. If there was a knot in your thread, she would patiently—her full mind of faith activated—stay with it until it came loose. If there were tea leaves stuck in your teapot, she would blow those suckers out.” “I’m just ordinary,” Blanche would say to us. This was not an effort to make herself small but rather an expound- ing of where she centered her greatest teaching effort. She taught that because of birth and death, we are all ordinary. She often spoke of awakening to the fact that she too would die; a heart attack in 1989 left her with a new sense of grati- tude for simply being alive. “You live differently,” she said, “if you stay with the awareness that you are going to die.” During months of trying to heal from two falls and a hip fracture as well as a hip replacement, she remained alert during her stay at a seniors’ facility. She entered the hos- pital on May 8—her birthday—with a bacterial infection. According to Shosan Victoria Austin, her longtime dharma sister, Blanche was singing one of her favorite songs, “This Little Light of Mine,” in the active process of dying. Blanche met with her family one last time in the hospital, then died after everyone had left for the evening. She understood life, had lived it fully, and was ready to go. T o know her, one needed only to sew alongside her. It was as if she was holding your hand with each stitch. After being taught by Kasai Joshin Sensei, a teacher in the lineage of Sawaki Kodo Roshi, she transmitted the practice of sewing robes, or nyoho-e, to students across the country, gently waking up delusion as she went. If you acted as though you knew what you were doing and boasted about how good your stitches were, she would frown and say, “This is zazen,” bringing you back to the profound ordinariness of life. If you were struggling, she would smile and say, “This is zazen,” and you would remember to breathe. In this way, you could know her heart—and your own. Zenkei Blanche Hartman passed into the great mystery at 12:30 a.m. on May 13. The first woman abbot of San Fran- cisco Zen Center, she was a pivotal force in the development of Zen in this country. Blanche completed dharma transmission under Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1988 and was installed as abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center in 1996. While the use of abbot and priest in the lineage is meant to equalize the titles between genders, Blanche preferred using abbess and nun to highlight the turning of the dharma wheel for women in Soto Zen. She wanted to make the statement that women had arrived, and it was time to shift the ways of long-stand- ing Buddhist institutions and traditions. Blanche stood for change—and compassion. Blanche was, in all things, gentle. But she was not quiet. This humble Zen master roared. She spoke strongly with students and teachers when she felt it was needed. She stood up for justice at the Zen Center and in the world. Then, in one leap, she would turn around to claim her mistakes and ignorance; she would be the first to say she was not perfect. Once, she said she did not fully understand racism, Zenju earthlyn Manuel is a dharma heir of Zenkei Blanche hartman and a teacher at Still Breathing Zen Meditation Center in east Oakland. She is the author of The Way of Tenderness and the editor of Seeds for a Boundless Life, a collection of hartman’s teachings. a Gentle roar Longtime Ask the Teachers contributor zenkei Blanche Hartman passed away in May at the age of 90. Zenju earthlyn manuel remembers her kindness, quiet power, and contribution to American zen. PHOTOgRAPHy | renshin bunce