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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
FALL 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 61 to study with a woman teacher and be ordained there. But not long after that he actually ordained a woman himself. He was not sure he understood how to train women. But I guess the women who were there let him know that they thought he could—and he did. I also think there was something conscious about inviting me to be the first woman to take on the abbot seat, even though I happened to be one of the oldest at the time. I don’t think it’s a significant consideration now. The attitude now is, of course a woman can be abbot. For people who have been practicing for a long time, it doesn’t really matter what their gender is; it matters what their practice is. STEVE STÜCKY: In our morning service liturgy we do the traditional chant of the names of our Chinese and Japanese male Zen ancestors. But people may not realize that Zen Center has also adopted a chant recognizing the women ancestors who have sustained and supported this practice from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha to the present day. We recite a list that begins with some of the nuns named in the Therigatha, the “Verses of the Elder Nuns,” and then continues with female is really a key to how Zen Center is able to sustain itself and offer what it has to others. Residential practice is the key training component in our system of rotating people through various leadership positions. BLANCHE HARTMAN: Using the traditional method of training, people have the opportunity to train as a director, treasurer, guest manager, head of the kitchen, head of the zendo, or work leader. Each of these senior staff positions is talked about in Dogen Zenji’s teaching—this goes back to the traditional versus modern question. We just did a mountain seat ceremony for Gaelyn Godwin in Houston, Texas. The last position she held before she left Zen Center was director of the monastery at Tassajara. In the course of their training, every one of the senior staff has had an opportunity to develop their leadership skills in these various traditional roles. NORMAN FISCHER: The Zen Center training program applies to non-residents and long-standing practitioners as well. Zen Center practice takes in the whole of a person’s life. It’s not just a place where you access and learn something about Buddhism, and then go back home and figure out what to do with it. Even as a non-resident, your whole life is involved. You have relationships with teachers and sangha peers. Everything in your life—your economic life, your psychological life, sometimes your romantic life—everything is involved in your practice. It’s pretty thorough. So when the leaders of Zen Center are considering students’ practice, they’re considering all these things. It’s quite complicated and impressive, when you consider how many people are involved. I think it’s unique not only in the Western world but in Buddhism in general to have this full-life practice and full-life commitment. Gender and Diversity BUDDHADHARMA: Buddhism comes here from generally homogeneous, patriarchal, and conservative societies. Zen Center has been and remains a leader in reforming Buddhism to reflect contemporary American values such as gender equality and diversity. What is the history of that effort and what is its focus today? BLANCHE HARTMAN: Suzuki Roshi came here at a time in American history when women were pushing against the assigned roles that they had had for many years. It was a lively topic all over the country, and naturally it came up in Zen Center as well. Suzuki Roshi didn’t personally ordain the first woman student he felt was ready to be ordained because he had never ordained a woman before. He sent her to Japan Suzuki Roshi always kept zazen at the center of his focus. There were many unusual things that he did— for example, letting men and women practice together from the get-go —but zazen was his anchor point. —Blanche Hartman PHOTOGRAPHERSUNKNOWN,COURTESYOFSFZC City Center on Page Street in San Francisco, ca 1969 PHOTOS:(TOP)YANAEDWINMURPHY;(RIGHT)ROBERTBONI,COURTESYOFSFZC