In 1989, after receiving Dharma Transmission from my teacher, I considered what I wanted to do going forward. In Dharma Transmission, your teacher tells you that having received a lot of good training in Zen, it is time to share what you’ve learned. So I asked myself these questions: what do I want to share, how do I want to share it, and what else might be needed to prepare me?
It wasn’t hard to answer those questions. I had known I wanted to start a residential women’s practice center since 1983, when that idea jumped into my head at Tassajara Monastery. I envisioned a place where women lived together and encouraged each other’s spiritual insights so they could share them coherently in a male-dominated Zen world and perhaps bring about some balance. The vision was never intended to exclude men, just to bring women into the conversation. I also knew that I wanted to work with children, in whom the future rests. And children bring beginner’s mind to spiritual practice, which means they raise questions that need to be asked but generally are ignored by adults. Finally, I saw the need to make the practice accessible to lay practitioners, and I wanted to find a way to do that.
To prepare, I wanted to return to Japan and explore more about how Zen practice developed there. After Katagiri Roshi’s death in 1990, I spent six months at a temple near Kyoto, doing daily zazen, sitting monthly sesshins, and working on a translation of Dogen Zenji’s “Bendowa.” I also felt the need for solitary practice, which I did in 1992-1993 in a cabin made available to me in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In 1994, a local Buddhist parent asked me to start a Family Practice, something I had begun at Minnesota Zen Center in the late 1970s. We started in her living room. Lay practice began when a few people in Asheville requested opportunities for zazen and study groups, and this developed into the Zen Center of Asheville.
Great Tree Temple has been in this building for fifteen years. When I ask myself those same questions today, the answers are the same: Women’s Practice, Family Practice, and Lay Practice. Great Tree is a perfect place for all of this, and Zoom has expanded the possibilities in ways I hadn’t imagined. Now people I know from the past join us from many places on the continent, people who are new and want to find out more about practice can also join from anywhere, and there is much potential for the future.
As the young folks reach their late teens and early twenties, I have great hope that they will continue to see the value of this practice and keep it alive for the future. For that to happen, I believe it is very important that older adults who have benefited from this practice lead by example, being present and sharing insights as the embodiment of Dharma. This is Sangha. Let’s keep paying it forward.