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Lions Roar : January 2019
my teaching appeals to them, and most of them said they wanted something that was open to the masculine, yet without the martial quality of traditional Zen. They liked the softer approach I offer, particularly in terms of body work—meditating in a position of ease as opposed to a position of tension, that kind of thing. “I remember giving a talk about not being heard and not being seen as a woman. After the talk, a man came up to me and said, ‘You know, you’re also talking about me and my life.’ That really helped me to see that in dealing with issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, that kind of thing, we’re talking about everybody’s experience.” O’Hara says she has seen Western Buddhism become more individualized in the time she’s been practicing. “When I began, there were large groups of practitioners that belonged to different, distinct traditions,” she says. “But because of the popularization of meditation and mindfulness, I think that the ordinary person’s understanding of the various traditions is much less now. I love things to be spread out and popularized, but with that comes a dilution and a superficial understanding. It also brings out people who want to take advantage and use the language just to make money. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Some of each. The good part is more people are hearing about it. At the same time, we’re losing some of the depth of study that I personally hold sacred.” O’Hara’s media training also plays into her view of Western dharma. “There is a shift in the way that we take in information,” she says. “So if you’re sitting at home, listening on your computer about meditation, and you’re not actually doing it or practicing it, then it becomes just another cloud of information floating by. There’s this disembodied aspect to digital media that trou- bles me. I think that has an effect, because if you are having all of your experiences passively, you’re not activating yourself.” O’Hara feels that one modern contribution to Buddhism has been “more direct social justice work, and the ability to speak about social justice, which many of us have gotten from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions. Turning the other way, the Buddhist view of interdependence, that we’re not these separate beings, has seeped into many Western discussions. This has helped elevate the value of compassion.” O’Hara says she had an experience on an airplane that put things into perspective for her. “I was flying over the Midwest,” she says, “and I looked out and saw this little house and all this land around it. Then I saw this other little house and all this land around it. And I thought, ‘I can understand why they think they’re independent. They don’t see that all that land is one. They don’t see that we’re all interconnected, that we’re sharing the air and we’re sharing this earth. They just see it in these little pieces.’ “That was an insight. I try to have compassion for those who don’t agree with my view. That’s our job.” ♦ PHOTOSBYA.JESSEJIRYUDAVIS Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara in conversation at Village Zendo. O’Hara’s teaching is fueled by interconnection: “We’re sharing the air and sharing the earth.” LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2019 47