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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
summer 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 35 My parents are vipassana practitioners in north- ern California, and my own Buddhism has always been in dialogue with them and with that line of dharma practice, which emphasizes psychological work and seems to employ a variety of literature from different wisdom traditions. Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to seek out what is most true. When I began meditating in college, they were incredibly supportive, and I was lucky enough to develop an adult relationship with them that was based on a mutual interest in waking up. I don’t think I would have continued practicing Buddhism if it hadn’t been for their support. Yet it was precisely my parents’ urging me to seek out what is true that made me look beyond the ways they were approaching dharma practice. Eventually this questioning led me to Japan, where I spent four and a half years in Zen training mon- asteries. Classic story of teenage rebellion, I sup- pose, but with a lot less drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I had never been satisfied with the dharma practice my parents offered me; I didn’t put roots down spiritually until I came to Japan. I don’t know why. Nothing stuck, not the way I wanted it to at least, until I started practicing in a monastery. Now I am living outside the monastery, studying the Japanese language, and as I do, I am revisiting my own ques- tions about culture, place, and practice. The questions I have about Buddhism are some- times philosophical, but these days they are most often about family, home, and belonging. Where is my spiritual home? Where can I practice seriously and deeply, in a way that is challenging and nurtur- ing, and still feel supported by people from my own culture who speak my own language? Does such a place exist? Don’t Strip It All Away At age twenty-three, gesshin greenwood moved to Japan, shaved her head, and adopted the forms of a Zen nun. Now, five years later, she’s wondering where she—and the tradition—would be without them. Last year during a public ques- tion-and-answer session at Nisodo, the Soto Zen training monastery for women in Japan, a German nun asked the abbess, “How much of the practice here is Japanese culture, and how much is true Buddhism?” The abbess, Shundo Aoyama Roshi, answered with a metaphor she often uses in dharma talks and writings: Buddhism, she said, is like a wheel turning. The outside of the wheel is everything that depends on time and place—culture, forms, lan- guage. As the wheel makes its way across cultures and time periods, the outside moves and changes. However, the inside, which is the true buddha- dharma, stays the same in every place. It takes a lifetime of practice, she says, to be able to identify what is at the center and what is on the outside. PHOTOS | (OPPOSITE) andrew cawthorn, (ABOVE) gesshin greenwood (Opposite) Gesshin Greenwood having her head shaved at Toshoji Monastery (below), Japan, 2014