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Thursday, September 05, 2013


I have been reading a stiff, rather dry but worthwhile dissertation written and accepted in the 1980s and published later as a book (as often happens) called Women Living Zen. (If you follow that link, before fainting at the price, note that used copies are available. Whew!)

After studying with one of her mentors in Japan for a year, Arai, the doctoral candidate, had this story related to her:
In a small, inconspicuous nun's temple in Nagoya, a hardy Zen nun, Nogami Senryo, tried to live according to Dogen's teachings with her entire being. Though little known beyond the temple's walls, her daily life was plain testimony to her supreme realization of Buddhist truth. She dedicated herself to caring for this nun's temple, Seikan-ji, while training a quiet but alert nun, Kuriki Kakujo. Kuriki, the current head nun of Seikan-ji, arrived under Nogami's tutelage at the age of eight. With a sense of awe, respect, and a hint of trepidation, Kuriki remembers how Nogami raised her on the classical Zen dictum: "Zadastsu Ryubo. (Die sitting. Die standing.) This is the way of a monastic."….
Many Zen masters (male, notably) are famous for dying in the lotus position, or while standing in the attitude appropriate to preparing to make prayerful prostrations. It's said to be proof of their attainment in this matter of enlightenment, though I detect a hint of patriarchal one-upsmanship in the telling. Perhaps that's why Arai's informant, presumably Kuriki-sensei herself, had hesitated to tell this story of a nun -- she did not wish the memory to be sullied by a misunderstanding.
Nogami Senryo repeated this like a mantra as she strove to live each moment with pure and relentless concentration. On a crisp afternoon, the 17th of November, 1980, Nogami's adamantine voice pierced the silence: "It's time for zadatsu ryubo!" Not knowing what to expect, Kuriki rushed to the dim hallway where she saw Nogami slowly walking toward the bronze sculpture of Sakyamuni Buddha sitting full-lotus on the altar in the Worship Hall. Arriving in time to witness the ninety-seven-year old nun in simple black robes take a final step to perfect her stance, Kuriki pealed, "Congratulations!" as Nogami died standing.
Women Living Zen, 153-4, Paula Kane Robinson Arai

To me this is a wonderful story, though it does not seem to appeal much to others to whom I've related it. What is it I like so much here? Perhaps the simple dedication. If a path appears to you to be truly your path, why dawdle idly along the way? 

I try (yes, yes: "Do, or not do. There is no try") to approach the garden in this spirit. Laziness creeps in. But the plants are giving me (and other creatures!) their all; shall I not do the same for them?


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