Celebrating our Sensei

          Celebrating our Sensei and the Joys of Lineage

The Zen tradition is rooted in deep reverence for lineage, deep reverence for the evocation of wonderment and curiosity, and deep reverence for awakening and the Bodhisattva path. 

Kisei Sensei recently described lineage traditions as old growth trees. They grow and spread and hold an ever-changing display of fauna and flora. Sometimes they lose a limb. A new branch appears, perhaps reaching in a new direction but supported by the depth and stability of a large and faithful trunk. This trunk is the tradition itself, untroubled by our woe begotten hearts, the cries of passion and torment. A strong tradition is a vessel for the human experience. Its reach is wide and deep and offers the safety and unruffled presence that we need in order to step forward on the Bodhisattva path. 

Perhaps the branches of these trees are the humans that decide to embed themselves within the trunk. Each branch is distinct from the others, all reaching towards the light. 

Last year in July, following the wild and unpredictable spring of 2020, Kisei disappeared into the Zen chrysalis of a transmission ceremony where, carefully tended to by her teachers, Hogen and Chozen Roshi, she would emerge a week later, somehow the same and somehow completely new, as a Sensei, as teacher in the White Plum lineage, as a branch with an ever deepening connection with Tree. 

In the Genjo Koan Dogen writes:

When the need is great

The function is great

When the need is small 

The function is small

The need was great. The monastery gates had crashed suddenly and decidedly closed at the start of the pandemic. As they shut the unexpected world of the zoomniverse opened and Great Vow was suddenly launched into a whole new and sometimes very complicated way of leading and offering retreat practice and connection. 

How the great old growth tree of Zen holds up to this modern fast-paced world of constant technological innovation is a conversation for another day. 

The need was great. Kisei Sensei stepped bravely and resolutely forward into this strange new world. In the past year and a half she has taken on way more than could be said in this short summary. Just as Dogen describes in the Fukanzazengi: “If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains.” 

She grasped the point. In the last year she has co-led most of the sesshin and short retreats offered at the monastery. She stepped fully into the job of training director. She orchestrated the quarantine policy and the admittance of new residents during a global pandemic, and she began offering Sanzen and guiding new students. Kisei is also a foundational figure in moving forward with ZCO’s commitment to  Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and to Climate action. 

How does the great old tree of Zen hold up in this fast-paced modern world? It is held up by the individuals who commit their lives, their bodies and their hearts to the practice. Held up by the bones and marrow of the ancestors past, present, and future. 

Kisei Sensei is part of the centripetal force of the collective awakening project of the human species. This is not confined within the gates of this particular monastic community, but the world at large. This is not defined by a particular lineage or tradition but aided by it, supported by it and given shape. 

It happens to be the shape of Zen. The shape of a Sensei, stepping forward, and shining her beautiful light, to be one more flame in this sometimes dark and confusing world.