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Buddhadharma : Winter 2018
GESSHIN GREENWOOD 25 Japanese Zen nuns attempt to convert their hardship and oppression into gratitude. Gratitude and full engagement with life become the main practice, instead of seeking an explicit kind of enlightenment on the cushion or a drastic overhaul of society. From a Western femi- nist perspective, this is a double-edged sword. Arai writes in Women Living Zen that for nuns, “practice is acting, being, sitting, sleeping. It is when these daily activities are done in accord with the Buddhist teachings that mundane actions become practice. Displaying aware- ness of the reality of life, one nun [said], practice is ‘daily cleaning.’” After I transferred to the women’s monastery, I heard Aoyama Roshi, the abbess, give zazen instructions for the first time. She said, “Put your right foot on your left thigh, and your left foot on your right thigh. Straighten your back. Throw out any idea of Buddha or enlightenment.” So that’s how I tried to practice. For the nuns, there was no time to pursue enlightenment. We threw it away, and what was left was the whole world in front of us. Three months or so after entering the women’s monastery, I was assigned to tenzo ryo, the group in charge of the kitchen and food preparation (tenzo means “cook” and ryo is “group”). We cleaned the kitchen, washed and chopped vegetables, kept inventory of the food, and prepared and stored smaller condiments like sesame salt, pickled plum, and dried seaweed. One job that took up a substantial amount of time was the task of picking out the unpolished hulls from the polished white rice ker- nels. The hulls are hard to chew and difficult to digest, and depend- ing on the bag of rice and how well it has been milled, there could be anywhere from two to two hundred hulls floating around with the white rice. Sorting has to be done by hand, very carefully. In Japan, Zen practice looks different for men and women. For those practicing in coed settings, it became painfully clear that men’s “spiritual work”—dharma talks, dokusan, the earnest quests for enlightenment—were all made possible by women’s work.