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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 78 We fall asleep somewhere in the blue night. I dream of Guan Yin. She is standing before me on the plains with a full moon overhead. I walk toward her. I’m so excited to see her. She opens her arms as if to embrace me. But her arms continue to open, wider and wider, until she holds the entire earth within them. I am one of countless things floating in her arms. Her arms continue to expand until she holds the entire galaxy, then the entire universe. Nothing exists outside of her. Nothing. In the same way, Truman comes to see that she can’t impose her own template on compassion. In Tibet, she is unsettled by the images of Chenrezig, a form of Guan Yin who is depicted as male and with eleven heads and a thousand arms—an eye in each palm. But she realizes that these images are revealing the fiercer side of compassion. “If I think of compassion as doing whatever it takes to relieve someone from suffering, that might not always mani- fest itself in willow branches and purple bamboo groves,” she says. “Some illusions might take a sword or flames to cut through.” Over time, Truman understands that she’ll have to embrace the formlessness of Guan Yin. The turning point comes when she revis- its a shop filled with bodhisattva heads that have been removed from statues. The previous year she gazed at them, upset, wanting to rescue and preserve them. This year the heads gaze back, mock- ing her. “What are you looking at? We don’t mean anything.” Their beatific smiles turn sinister, and suddenly everything around her is laughing. Truman is having a glimpse of the winter of emptiness when meaning falls away, which can be terrifying. Fortunately, just at that moment a Taiwanese businesswoman named Lily appears, bringing the spring of emptiness with her. Lily is a thoroughly modern woman who speaks of Guan Yin as supersonic, as a wave and a vibration. Winter to spring, formlessness changes from a bleak absence to a presence pregnant with possibility. Finally, Truman comes to understand that, as she puts it, Guan Yin is a verb rather than a noun, and her name is a direc- tive: to perceive the world with ease. “She’s not a being—she’s a way of being.” As Truman leaves China, she realizes she has to take responsibility for her own mind and actions—to be Guan Yin rather than look for her. The whole search has been a matter of letting go, emptying space inside herself and then watching to see what fills it. The most important thing she’s learned, she says, is about being present, because that’s where Guan Yin is. The guest is beginning to understand the possibilities of being a host. The stories of the women to whom Paula Arai introduces us in Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals begin where Sarah Truman leaves off. Due to varying combinations of choice and the powerful norms of Japanese cul- ture, they take on the role of host: caring for children, grandchil- dren, and aging parents; tending their family altars; supporting each other in their shared religious practices. These practices, including strong relationships with Kannon, provide them with crucial support to live their not-very-funny lives well, and also to create small oases of guest-hood in a sometimes overwhelming landscape of hosting. The women are connected with Aichi Senmon Nisodo in Nagoya, the major Japanese training center for Soto Zen nuns. A few are monastics, while most are laywomen who come to the convent to receive teachings, take part in ceremonies, and practice various arts. For these laywomen, however, most of their religious life occurs at home, and is what Arai calls domestic Zen, or “healing in the midst of a mess.” The head of the convent, Aoyama Shundo Roshi, emphasizes the importance of support- ing laywomen because each one supports so many other people. Most of the women lived through World War II, and most have experienced significant trauma and illness. Before Arai spoke with them, few other people had ever listened to them recount their painful experiences. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the focus of their reli- gious lives is healing—but healing in a very particular sense, grounded in their understanding of Buddhist teachings. As Arai explains it, suffering comes from the mistaken sense that a per- son is unrelated—separate, alone, and unsupported. This leads to loneliness, accompanied by fear and craving for things that cannot be. Healing is experienced as a peace that doesn’t shatter in the presence of difficult events or delusional thoughts, and which is the result of a heartfelt experience of interrelatedness: each of us is integral to an all-encompassing network in which compassionate support is constantly being given and received. Prayer, for example, is less a matter of a petition to a specific figure than a request sent out through the net of interconnect- edness. At the same time, there’s a strong awareness of listening for and receiving the prayers of others. In this way each woman becomes Kanzeon, whose name means “Perceive the Sounds of the World,” or as it is frequently translated “She Who Hears the Cries of the World.” The aim is to have Kanzeon’s heart, the heart of compassion that accepts everything. You help your heart grow bigger so that everything will fit—even the things you don’t like or agree with. According to Gyokko Sensei, one of the women featured in Bringing Zen Home, “With Kanzeon you see the world not through the eyes, but through your heart-mind. Then, every- thing will appear differently. Look deep from the heart-mind... All things in the universe communicate through the heart-mind.” In contrast, rejection of outer circumstances or inner states creates negativity, which enslaves a tremendous amount of energy and calcifies into bitterness in the heart. If painful emo- tions and illnesses are seen as buddhas, too, it becomes possi- ble to “forgive” them and even develop an intimacy with them. “Healing from grief does not mean that grief will stop,” Arai says. “On the contrary, healing involves expecting and preparing for the changing seasons of grief.” Healing is a way of “holding your heart,” an orientation toward life rather than a rigid program of belief and behavior. It’s a con- stant improvisation aimed at retraining the self toward harmony with the way things are, which is interrelated and impermanent. It’s a point of view that “expects change and encourages you to see yourself as part of something big.” These women are per- fectly comfortable both adopting traditions and adapting them