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Lions Roar : November 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 60 Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara is the abbot of the Village Zendo, located in the heart of Manhattan. “If you come to sit with us early in the morning, it’s very quiet,” says O’Hara. “Then it gets very noisy, and you are never not aware that you are in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. When you step out onto Broadway, there are droves of people walking up and down the street—some happy, some sad. You know you’re a part of this vast, interconnected universe, and you’re aware of your responsibility in the world. I think that’s one of the reasons we at the Village Zendo are so socially engaged.” In 1986, O’Hara co-founded the zendo with her partner, Barbara Joshin O’Hara. The couple had been practicing at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills but they wanted a place to sit in the city as well. So it wasn’t “a center” per se that they set out to establish, just a community of people who would support each other in their practice. Nonetheless, the community grew exponentially and O’Hara’s teachers encouraged her to make it a more formal center. O’Hara complied. Yet, in terms of organiza- tional structure, the original flavor of the sangha has remained. The sangha began as a community effort and this is still true. That’s not to say, however, that the Village Zendo is without lead- ers and decision makers; all organizations need these roles ful- filled in order to function, and the zendo is no exception. O’Hara is the head teacher, but five other teachers work closely with her on teaching strategy, and each teacher—including O’Hara—has just one vote. “I respect them and they respect me,” she says. But “they can vote me down—and have.” The zendo also has a dem- ocratically run executive committee and a board to deal with the administrative functioning. This relatively flat organizational structure reflects O’Hara’s political philosophy. Before she practiced at Zen Mountain Monastery, O’Hara went to several Buddhist centers that made her uncomfortable. They were too hierarchical, too sober, too restricted. “In various commu- nities you have the people in power and the people not in power,” she explains. Of course women are not the only ones adversely affected by these dynamics. But, as a woman, O’Hara is sensitive to power differentials and the damage they can cause. Women are fre- quently aware of having been pushed aside and, as such, are sensi- tized to the issue of power. “I think it changes the way communities function when there’s female leadership,” she says. “Male teachers are often the seat of all the knowledge, all the power, all the talk. You don’t see that so much with women teachers.” In her career as a professor, O’Hara was likewise concerned with power differentials. For twenty years, she taught at New York University’s Tisch’s School of the Arts, where she co-founded a program called interactive media. At the time of its founding, “I think it changes the way communities function when there’s female leadership,” says Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara.