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Lions Roar : January 2019
this is a whole different way,’” she remembers. “I’ve always been questioning and rubbed up against accepted beliefs, and I think Zen does that. It says, ‘Wait a minute, don’t just accept the accepted reality. Look deeper.’ That has always appealed to me.” At UC Berkeley, O’Hara studied English literature and did doctoral work at New York University in media ecology. She worked as a professor in New York, traveled to many countries, and became a single mother. She read Buddhist texts throughout but couldn’t find a good situation where she could practice in earnest. “As a single parent I found it extremely difficult to enter into any Buddhist com- munity with a young child,” she says. “It was a difficult time because I knew that I had a passion for the dharma, but I couldn’t find a home that seemed condu- cive to my idea of mothering.” Then, while in Europe in her mid- thirties, O’Hara went to register for a tai chi workshop in a Buddhist monastery and ended up studying Zen instead. “I finally really sat down and got good instruction on posture and breathing,” O’Hara recounts. “It was like coming home. It was the most amazing thing.” O’Hara went to different Buddhist centers to try to find one that suited her, A S A YOUNG WHITE GIRL growing up in Mexico, as a single parent in a Buddhist sangha, and as a gay woman teacher of Zen, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara has always felt like an outsider. Her spiritual journey has been a search for connection. “In Zen, there’s this quality of the vast integration of everything. We can’t miss that just because we’re sepa- rate, or think we’re separate,” says O’Hara, who is abbot of the Village Zendo in New York City and a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Family. “Our practice reminds us that we have a responsibility to the rest of the beings around us at all times.” O’Hara grew up in the border town of Tijuana and attended Catho- lic school in the United States in the 1940s. “I have always felt like an out- sider, since I was a child,” she says. “First, everyone at my school was Mexican but me, and while I spoke Spanish, I was still the ‘gringa.’ And because my stepfather was a dark-skinned Mexican and I saw how he was treated in certain situations, I’ve always also been very sensitive to issues of prejudice and bias and privilege.” O’Hara discovered the Beats when she was in high school. “I read my first Gary Snyder poem and thought, ‘Oh, It Takes a Village Zendo Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara’s Search for Connection A lifelong outsider, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara leads a warm and engaged Zen community in New York’s Greenwich Village. LINDSAY KYTE profiles one of Buddhism’s leading woman teachers. PHOTOBYCHRISTINEALICINO As a little girl growing up in Mexico, Pat Enkyo O’Hara keenly felt “other.” She is seen here riding her horse in Tijuana. LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2019 43