post by Theresa Braine
“Wild Grasses. We are all wild grasses.”
With these words, Hojin Osho opened the second all-woman Zazenkai at Fire Lotus Temple, the Zen Center of New York City. Nearly 30 of us gathered, sitting in a circle, the room divided into four quarters for daisan purposes. The poetry of Otagaki Rengetsu, “Field of Wild Grasses,” set the scene and the tone:
Rather than cutting them down
To spread out or gather up,
Let the wild grasses of autumn be—-
I want to enjoy the field
Just as it is. . . .
Not wanting the grasses
Nor even to seed—
I gaze at the autumn fields
Stretching on and on.
Ensconced in the zendo, with the Temple occupied exclusively by women, those of us who participated in the day could relax in a way we didn’t know we needed—vulnerable, unkempt, observing our scraggly grasses (delusions) waving in and buffeted by the wind, without worrying, even subconsciously, about reprisals of any kind.
There was an undercurrent of common understanding, too. This temple of our female form, a form that gave the Buddha himself life, is something we all share. It made for a different approach to Zen, and senior student Seisen Lewis put a fine point on that perspective by sharing her story in her talk that morning. Seisen spoke of what had drawn her to practice—after years of resistance—and of the first time she realized, at age 16, that no one could save her but herself. She alluded to how, over the years, she has discarded approaches that felt too masculine and sought out those that spoke more to her as a woman—something many of us in the zendo could relate to.
The absence of men helped reveal the subtle feminine influence that infuses Buddhism but is not always obvious, and this came out in the liturgy, in particular. The women’s slightly thinner and higher-pitched tones echoed and hung in the zendo, steady and strong. The day proved a unique way to experience our femaleness within Zen. For me, the day made real the truth that we don’t just have the Temple. We are the temple.
Photo credit: Victoria Harjadi