I don't know how my stars are aligned today, but it feels great so far. Maybe it's the full moon, which was shining on the blinds in my new room last night. This morning, the last weekday before the clocks go forward, the zendo was gently lit during second period, and the sun was shining into the Buddha Hall as we began service. Today, just a day after International Women's Day, we commemorated Mahapajapati, the Buddha's foster mother and the leader of the first group of Buddhist nuns.
There has been a little talk recently, as indeed there was when I first arrived here and the situation was similar, that female energy is in the ascendant here at Zen Center. Personally I find this gratifying and nourishing rather than worrying or threatening (I haven't heard this latter word uttered this time, but I did hear it twelve years ago), and as has been pointed out, it is only just starting to redress several thousand years where this did not happen. Anyway, at Practice Committee this week, we decided that the food offering should be done by Victoria, Blanche and Christina, our most senior women practitioners. As they approached the altar I realised that it was the first food offering in two years than I had not been involved in; I was happy to stand and watch for once, and what I saw was the grace and dignity born of years of dedicated practice. Blanche also read this lovely statement at the outset:
Even the trunk of a huge timber tree,
However massive it may be,
Will break to bits, eventually.
Thus Gotami, who was a nun,
Is now gone out completely.
It is so marvelous a thing:
That she who has reached nirvana
Leaving only bits of bone
Had neither grief nor tears.
Know this, O monks, she was most wise,
With wisdom vast and wide.
She was a nun of great renown,
A master of great powers…
An iron rod aglow in fire
Cools off and leaves no ash.
Just like the flame once in the rod,
It’s not known where she went.
Those who are emancipated
Cross [greed and anger’s] deluge;
Those with solid happiness
Do not get born again.
[Let’s] be a lamp [unto ourselves];
[Let’s] graze in mindfulness.
With wisdom’s seven parts attained,
[Let’s] all [please] end our woe.
Susan, who was the kokyo, wrapped things up with the dedication that I mentioned last year.
While Mahapajapati had to be content with sweet water, rice and tea for her breakfast, after hitting the umpan - where I had been delighted by the vibrant colour of the new maple leaves in the morning sun - I came into the kitchen to find a unique breakfast offered by the acting tenzo: quinoa-amaranth cereal, which gave us much to talk about at the table, buttermilk scones, a colourful fruit salad with banana, kiwi, pink graperfuit and orange, topped with yoghurt. I felt healthier just looking at it.