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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
Thich Nhat Hanh, and bell hooks—provided a nec- essary counterpoint to the radical political ideology I was used to, and which I felt ultimately strength- ened and supported my antiracist feminist goals. Despite, or perhaps because of, my views on oppression, hierarchy, and power imbalances, and a wild and rebellious nature that despises conven- tion and rules, I had the odd karma of ordaining in a Japanese Zen monastery with a Japanese monk and undergoing the bulk of my priestly training in a traditional and hierarchical Japanese convent. I took on training within this Japanese system partly because it forced me to confront, on a daily basis, my aversion to and discomfort with power, silence, rules, ritual, work, cold, heat, rice gruel, pickles, fish, boiled pumpkin, communal bathing, obedience, conformity, endurance, and most other aspects of monastery life. Monastic practice severely restricts the ways in which our small, limited selves can create comfort and familiarity; it carries with it the explicit goal of loosening our attachment to our own egos, allowing us to find stability, integrity, and peace of mind that transcends external situations. It was in confronting and becoming intimate with my aversion and discomfort that I was able to release my attachment to things being a certain way and, in doing so, find a kind of freedom. Now that I am back in the United States, I have the additional freedom to question the benefits of traditional hierarchical monastic structures, as well as many of the Buddhist concepts I previously took for granted. A lot of my energy in Japan was spent dealing with my own anger when I experienced xenophobia (manifesting as being prohibited from participating in certain jobs and ceremonies due to my accent or foreigner status) and sexism (being relegated to traditionally feminine roles such as making tea, as well as explicit sexual harassment). In one instance at the convent, I voiced a com- plaint to a nun I respected about being passed over for a training opportunity in favor of a younger Japanese nun. “Practice is not about choosing the kind of job you want,” she told me. “It’s about performing your assigned job to the best of your ability.” That tough-love Zen “wisdom”—the invoca- tion to “just say yes”—has sat with me as a kind of koan ever since. Is it true that dharma practice is simply about accepting external conditions with- out question or complaint? I have certainly found freedom in letting go of my attachment to external conditions, but years after that conversation with the senior nun, I have begun to see that using Bud- dhist teachings to silence pain is a kind of violence. Dharma is a powerful weapon that needs to be examined—whether we are using the dharma like Manjushri, cutting through delusions with the sword of wisdom, or as a weapon to silence the voices of others. Dharma becomes a weapon when we impose our own truths, realization, and Buddhist termi- nology onto others without bearing witness to individual, specific pain. I often see the discourse of ultimate reality or ultimate truth being used to negate suffering, diverse identities, or experiences of injustice. I do it too—I love Buddhist philosophy and ethics so much, I sometimes fall back on Bud- dhist terminology without considering the unique circumstances of the person in front of me. GessHin GReenWooD is a Zen priest who trained in Japan. she is currently a master’s candidate in east Asian studies at the University of southern California. Her first book, Bow First, Ask Questions Later, is due to be released in 2018. Dharma becomes a weapon when we impose our own truths, realization, and Buddhist terminology onto others without bearing witness to individual, specific pain. sydneyangel 38 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 7 ➤ continued on page 80