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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
62 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 2 Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen masters. This started when Blanche and Norman were co-abbots in the late 1990s and is completely part of our everyday practice now. NORMAN FISCHER: As far as I know, there is no policy on the books that there has to be gender parity in the leadership, but I think there is an informal understanding that we want that, and we feel uncomfortable if there’s an imbalance. A while ago, it looked like we might end up with three male abbots, and many men and women alike said, “Whoa! This is not great. We really should have some gender balance.” So even though there’s no formal policy, I think we’re doing really well in terms of gender balance, compared to diversity in general. I think that’s a thornier issue. We’re working on it, but it’s hard to have a diverse population. STEVE STÜCKY: It is very difficult. I agree with Norman that Zen Center does pretty well on gender balance. We have an informal way of keeping it in mind when we make decisions not just about the abbess seat, but other leadership roles as well, including chair of the board, president, vice-president, and so forth. Another aspect of gender that’s come up is working with the LGBT community. Just last week the diversity committee was discussing how transgendered people should use the baths at Tassajara. We’ve worked with that in various ways, and it’s sometimes hard to reach a comfort level for everyone involved. We try to directly face the issues that come up with all aspects of diversity. We’ve made specific efforts in our staff trainings to address issues of class and racism. It’s something we’re paying attention to, but we’ve not been able to change the balance within Zen Center much beyond the surrounding social structure and context in which we exist. It will take time, but eventually we’ll have much more of a diverse population racially, and even with class, which is harder to see and more complex to address. BLANCHE HARTMAN: It’s really a thorny issue, because if we don’t have sufficient numbers of diverse members, then each new person of color who comes in the door doesn’t see a community they feel that they can fit into. They don’t see themselves here. Making this a welcoming place for anyone who comes through the front door is critically important, and something that we’re working on all the time. But it’s difficult: until there is enough presence of people of color, and teachers of color, who are fully engaged and visible within the community, it will be very hard for new people of color to find a home here. MARY MORGAN: We have a diversity committee, and a diversity coordinator creates programs for different marginalized communities and educates our residents and leadership about diversity issues. Still, a lot of people don’t necessarily think about different people’s experiences when they walk into Zen Center. People who are in the majority see people like themselves all around and take that for granted. It takes a conscious effort to ask: what would it be like if I didn’t see myself here? How would that feel? It’s the same with gender parity; it requires a conscious effort all the time. I think if many people in the sangha were not mindful of those issues, we wouldn’t have as many women as we currently have in our leadership. All these diversity or inclusion issues require a deep mindfulness to keep them on the front burner. Governance and Authority BUDDHADHARMA: Governance is another challenge as many communities move away from the traditional leadership model, in which authority is focused on the teacher. Zen Center had an extremely painful experience with the departure of Richard Baker, Suzuki Roshi’s chosen successor, and was forced to think deeply about issues of governance, authority, participation, and transparency. What is the model now? MARY MORGAN: I think that’s another ongoing process. For a couple of years we’ve been engaged in a trial effort to shift from having two co-abbots to three abbots. We are experimenting with having an abiding abbot or abbess at City Center—currently that’s Christina Lehnherr—and an abiding abbot or abbess at Green Gulch—currently Linda Cutts. Each abiding abbess focuses primarily on her respective local 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. —Norman Fischer Green Gulch Farm, ca 1981. (Left to right) Pam Chernoff, Mayumi Oda, Elizabeth Sawyer, Iva Jones, Chris Fortin, Rusa Chu, Amy Richmond, Katherine Thanas, Gordi Yalda. (TOP)PHOTOSTEPHWENDERSKI,COURTESYOFSFZC;(INSET)BARBARAWENGERBARBARAWENGER