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Lions Roar : March 2018
sexual harassment, to the point of callous brutality, by powerful men in politics, entertainment, journalism, business, and elsewhere. Recall that this is only the latest round: this stuff has been happen- ing for a long time (and male Buddhist teachers own their share of the guilt). Although the stories are all different, a clear pattern emerges. Powerful men drunk on their own power imagine that women exist as characters in their distorted fantasy lives. It’s an illness, but not an isolated one, given the norms and values of our world. From time immemorial, males have domi- nated and abused females, and we all bear the scars. The full equality, dignity, and inclusion of women is not only just and long overdue, its absence over the centuries unspeakably sad—it is a necessity. And it is unsettling. Let’s be hon- est about this. These revelations stir up many disturbing feelings. All men have soul-searching to do. How much have we colluded without intending to? How much have we thoughtlessly enjoyed our privilege? Who among us can say that we are entirely free of our own less spectacu- lar but equally unfair and thoughtless words and deeds? We take the moral high ground with trepidation. There is always something we have overlooked. That early morning at Green Gulch, I got up from the interview and immediately began insisting on the chanting of a wom- en’s lineage along with the male lineage. We met resistence, but in a few months we began chanting a women’s lineage in daily service. Today, as far as I know, all Western Zen centers chant a women’s lineage along with the male ancestors. That young tattooed woman? I never saw her again. Perhaps she was a goddess sent by the buddhas for the benefit of this poor blind fellow. ♦ males. I had long recognized the injustice of this, but what can you do? It was a fact, one that I took for granted. That someone could be emotionally overcome by chant- ing this list had never occurred to me. But when I saw this woman weeping I suddenly felt the pain she was feeling. The all-male Zen lineage wasn’t just an unfortunate piece of history. It was a symptom of a much larger outrage, a far deeper sorrow. It was as if the entire human history of men overlooking, oppressing, and committing violence against women washed over me. I was overwhelmed with the enormity of it. In Mahayana Buddhism, awakening isn’t personal liberation. It is awakening to the reality of others and what their lives are really like. From earliest times, Buddhism’s key insight was that self as we normally conceive it is an imprisoning illusion, causing all our suffering. In Mahayana Buddhism this teaching takes the form of radical compassion, which flows from the heartfelt understanding that the sufferings and joys of others are our own. As a Zen practitioner, I had long appreciated this intellectually. But it became real on the day that young woman wept. I practice zazen, study teachings, and go to retreats not just to find some peace but to open my heart a little wider, to expand my capacity to be unsettled by suffering. When I practice metta or tonglen, I am quite specifically hoping to extend my love and compassion. Prajna wisdom, the practice of tran- scendent understanding, shows me a point of peace at the heart of suffering that enables me to sustain my caring. It isn’t always easy—it is not supposed to be—but it can be beautiful to extend a caring heart. Yes, to care about others in pain is to increase one’s suffering. But compassion is the most liberating, the most wonderful, of all practices. It comes from the life-changing experience of true empathy—of really feeling how someone else experiences their life. I have thought of this lately while reeling from the spate of revelations of ZOKETSU NORMAN FISCHER is a Zen teacher, poet, and founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation. His recent books include What Is Zen?: Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind (co- authored with Susan Moon) and the poetry collection Magnolias All At Once. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 14 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE