By Taikyo, Mariana and Laurel
The Enso Healing Altar is like many home altars—symbolic and grounding—created as a personal space to share with others. It came into being early in the ZMM pandemic quarantine, first as a conversation between two nurses in residence about grief, gratitude, fears and hopes for a future that could transform suffering into healing. Talking with other residents, they began to gather items—a Medicine Buddha, an altar cloth from a blue hospital scrub, a hand-made bowl—sharing the urgent feelings of concern for those who were on the front lines.
Both were going through transformations themselves. After five and a half years working in emergency rooms and maternity clinics, Laurel found herself searching for a contemplative shift. She contacted the ZMM training office, visited for a month, and decided that Zen practice offered the space and support for a fuller life to unfold. Then came Covid-19 and her commitment began evolving in unexpected ways. Mariana had arrived the year before after her first job out of nursing school, treating cancer patients in a hospital, left her feeling that western hospital medicine was likely not the way for her healing path to go.
Despite certain pressures to return to the active work force, both Laurel and Mariana felt the need to re-define a response to the emerging health crisis. Both chose to remain in residence and offer their knowledge, experience and many diverse talents to this community. Refraining from immediate, tangible service requires holding a certain tension. This tension brings many to Zen practice—to face the suffering in the world and in each of us—while traveling the Bodhisattva path of wisdom and compassion. Zen practice can be the right way to serve, but for many the question is: How do I make this real?
Laurel drew the Enso that adorns the altar as an offering of awareness and remembrance. Mariana listed all those whose lives were lost, threatened or put on the line day after day. They added a verse from Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva (see below) as a dedication of life energy, intention, and wholeness, to the altar.
Laurel focused on the moments of transition before and after the Monastery’s scheduled zazen practice. 7am and 7pm, are the traditional shift-change times in hospitals across the country. (This currently coincides with the 7pm shout-out cheers for healthcare workers in many cities.) This naturally became the time to offer incense and silently witness the immense impact and dedicated responsiveness of those who have continued to serve throughout the pandemic. Although not a formal part of Monastery practice, it has become some residents’ personal liturgy to stop by, witness and offer.
At the official dedication, Mariana and Laurel officiated with Hojin Sensei for the sangha, offering the Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo chant and a dedication which named many of those who continue to serve in the places and situations where they find themselves:
Kannon Bodhisattva perceives and responds to the cries of the world, bringing courage, steadfastness, and comfort to all suffering beings. In recognizing the Bodhisattva’s many hands and eyes, we vow to be one with…
Those who are ailing, those who have died, vulnerable families, healthcare workers, cleaning staff, grocery employees, those in prison, pregnant people, emergency responders, everyone whose country has turned their back on them, bus drivers, MTA workers, those without homes, survivors of domestic abuse, migrant workers, refugees, those afraid to seek medical care, those who can’t afford medical care, the elderly, nursing home staff and residents, healers, wanderers, sick children, those who feel afraid, those who are despairing, all those who are alone.
May the hands and eyes of great compassion nourish all beings throughout the world, and may we realize the Buddha Way together!
All Buddhas throughout space and time. All Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas, Maha Prajna Paramita.
From Shantideva’s Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life—
May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector of those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.