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Lions Roar : May 2015
But after ten years of child abuse cases, there came a time when there were just too many dead children. For Oregon, 1993 was a record year. Usually there are fifteen to twenty child abuse deaths in the state annually. That year there were thirty-two. One Friday, during a particularly difficult week, Bays was called in to deal with a rape case and didn’t end up leaving work until late. On the drive home, a sappy country and western song came on the radio. “I started crying,” she says. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop.” Jan Chozen Bays is also a Buddhist teacher, a Zen roshi. She received dharma transmission in 1983 from the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and in 1985 she became the teacher for Port- land’s Zen Community of Oregon. Until her breakdown in the car, Bays’ meditation practice had kept her from burning out, as the doctor who’d held her job before her had done. Now, she needed something more. A MIZUKO KUYO is a Japanese ceremony to remember children who’ve died in their first years of life, as well as children who’ve been aborted or miscarried. It’s not an ancient tradition; it arose out of a human need in the 1960s. In the years leading up to World War II, the Japanese govern- ment was aggressively pronatal and stigmatized abortion as scandalous and even unpatriotic. Following the Japanese defeat, food and resources were scarce and the population was swollen by soldiers and civilians returning from countries Japan had occupied. Facing economic strain, the government reversed its policy and legalized abortion. Birth control was expensive and not widely available, and by 1960 two out of three pregnancies in Japan ended in abortion. “While modern medical technology made the procedure safe and efficient, and poverty and legislative sanction made it com- mon, the effect of abortion upon the psyche of the women was overlooked,” writes Bays in her book Jizo Bodhisattva: Guardian of Children, Travelers, and Other Voyagers. “People do what has to be done to survive in desperate circumstances, but it does not mean they escape without emotional pain.” Japanese women began requesting help from their religious leaders. In response the mizuko kuyo ceremony was developed and the ancient bodhisattva Jizo gained a new aspect. Mizuko Jizo became the protector of unborn, miscarried, and aborted babies, and of children who died young. Today, Mizuko Jizo is the most popular form of the bodhisat- tva in Japan. Grieving parents often purchase a statue of him to place on the family altar or at a cemetery. It can be placed in the family plot or in a Jizo garden, a special section of Japanese cemeteries featuring rows and rows of Jizos. In a certain garden in Japan, hidden among the trees, there are a thousand images of Jizo. It is said that if any of us looks carefully enough, we will eventually find our own face among them. What we discover, Bays explains, is our original face— what lies beneath the genetics of our chin, eyes, mouth, nose. “Our original face is connected to our buddhanature,” she says, “It’s a face of serenity—the serenity that’s our innate birth- right. It’s a face of happiness, like coming home when you’ve been away for a long time. Our original face sees the beauty of things as they are. That face shines out of Jizo statues, and we recognize it when we see it.” AT HER FIRST mizuko kuyo, Jan Chozen Bays used red thread blessed by the Dalai Lama to string together a cape of green-gray eucalyptus leaves. She used one leaf for each child who’d been battered to death that year in Oregon, and another leaf for each of the two babies she’d miscarried in her life. As she worked, she thought about each lost child, and her tears dripped on the leaves. Other participants made their own small garments, mostly bibs. This mizuko kuyo was being held at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center outside of San Francisco. Although the ceremony is nor- mally reserved for mourning parents, Bays had asked the cer- emony leader, Soto Zen priest Yvonne Rand, if she could attend. Left: Bays uses a scooter to get around Great Vow Zen Monastery’s large property quickly. She says it make her feel like the Flying Nun.