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Lions Roar : November 2019
a mountain, despite severe pain in her knees. Even when crossing paths in the bathroom in the middle of the night, she is gracious, properly dressed, and full of decorum. Once, as we passed through darkened halls on the way to the Buddha Hall just before bedtime, we saw an old woman with her head covered in a towel, arranging flowers as if they were tiny buddhas. We wondered who had wan- dered in to help. Then the woman’s head turned slightly. It was her. To sit across from Aoyama Roshi and drink tea is to sit with a mountain. She laughs occasionally, teaching through her presence, and as she does, you see the result. You feel the journey of a five-year-old girl who became a Zen master—the hard work and the struggle and the joy. She changed the landscape of Zen. If you are a nun, you are acutely aware, in that encounter, that she has done it all for you. She did it for all of us. We present one of her teachings: AS WITH MUCH OF SOTO ZEN in Japan, there is a lot that Westerners don’t know about the world of Japa- nese nuns. At the forefront of their lineage and training is Shundo Aoyama Roshi: an enigma, a rock star, a laugh- ing buddha, and a fiercely dedicated, humble practitioner of the Way. One American monk described her as a mountain—a mountain on fire. Aoyama Roshi, eighty-six years old, entered temple life at age five. Now the abbess of Aichi Senmon Nisodo, or Women’s Monastic College, she learned the traditional nun’s way, and then later also explored the traditional monk’s way, as well as the scholar’s way. A few years ago, she was awarded the title of Shike-kai Kaicho, or Master of Zen Masters, making her the highest-ranking nun in the history of Soto Zen. For Zen women, this is a very big deal—to have a nun teaching monks is virtually unheard of, and Aoyama Roshi trains Zen masters, not novices. As a Zen master’s master (or a nun’s nun) she has broken through Zen’s glass gate. Along the way, Aoyama Roshi has had many detractors, both male and female. Nuns were not allowed to have their own disciples until around 1947, and sexism dominates Japanese Soto Zen, histori- cally and today. Training opportunities for nuns remain scarce, and the belief that only men can be enlightened persists. Fortunately, Roshi has also had many supporters. Her dedication to bringing the dharma to all beings, regardless of gender, guides her and inspires others. How best to describe such a person? Her lectures fall from her lips like poems, challenging us and enchanting us with their beauty. She sits zazen like INSIDE BUDDHADHARMA Zen’s Glass Gate TENKU RUFF and YUKO WAKAYAMA YAMADA introduce us to the life and teachings of SHUNDO AOYAMA ROSHI, the Japanese nun who has changed the landscape of Zen. The Zen term kanshiketsu literally means “shit-stick.” In China, a monk calling on Zen Master Yuen-men (d. 949) asked, “What is a buddha?” Yuen-men replied, “A dried shit-stick.” When the abbot or any of the teach- ers is away from a temple for a week or so, the novices think nothing of it. But if there were no toilet paper, they would quickly feel its absence. Shit-sticks, which were used in former days for the same purpose, could be washed and used any number of times. Shit-sticks become dirty to clean us. If these are not bud- dhas, what is? Out of gratitude for them, I recognize the shit-stick as a buddha. And this makes me wonder whether, if I were given a filthy task, I would be able to tackle it with the same attitude that I would deal with any of the duties of abbess. Would I happily take pride in it? I would probably complain, compare it unfavorably with other work, and be tor- mented by a feeling of inferiority. Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama said, “Violets are violets. Roses are roses. Bud- ding, blossoming, fading, aging, becoming diseased—all are stages. As we go through these stages ourselves, let us bloom and grace the present moment of eternity.” In the mundane world there are count- less roles and degrees of status. In the world of truth, the world of the Buddha, however, nothing is useless. Everything is equally important, irreplaceable, and pre- cious. Nothing is inessential. If there were no toilet paper, we would not get through the day. If a garbage truck did not come around once in a while, we would be in serious trouble. Getting smeared with excrement or covered with dirt is the ultimate form of buddhahood. We may think we understand this, but when it is Shundo Aoyama Roshi has been described as a “mountain of fire” whose lectures “fall like poems from her lips.” PHOTOCOURTESYOFDAI-ENBENNAGE LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2019 23