On Departing Monastic Life: A Good-Bye Talk from Kisei Sensei

The Video above is a full talk given by Kisei Sensei about her departure from Great Vow Zen Monastery. The text below is a pared down version where she addresses the next steps and why she is transitioning out of monastic life at this time.

People have been curious why I am leaving Great Vow Zen Monastery.

Honestly I am too.

I received Dharma transmission a year and a half ago. This is full authorization to teach Zen. While I didn’t think I was ready for such a title. It set me into a deep inner process. One of questioning the tradition and my place in the tradition.

Even before I formerly started practicing Zen, I have had a vision of an Awakened Society. What does Bodhisattva practice look like on a large scale? What does Awakening look like in public, how does it affect our social systems–our ecological systems? What would the world look like if more people endeavored to live from presence, compassion and love? If people practiced mindfulness, meditated, looked into the nature of suffering, took responsibility for their lives?

I have also always been interested in the feminine. Being in a patriarchal religion was difficult for me. I made a point to stay connected to the women ancestors–wondering what would have been different if the buddha was a woman, or a trans-man or a non-binary person. What would the expression of monasticism look like?

The feminine in spirituality honors the mystery, makes space for unknowing, the dark, the process of the world soul, creativity, dream, nurturing, justice-making, ceremony,  love. It doesn’t divide the whole into the material and the spiritual; but sees our living breathing bodies, this collective body, the earth body and the body of the cosmos as one interconnected whole.

I am feeling called back into the world to bring the dharma to people who may never step foot into a monastery. To be more active in the climate justice movement. I am working on developing a course series to explore together in community how to apply the dharma teachings on working with difficult emotions to the emotions that are arising collectively around the climate crisis. Emotions like fear, hatred, anger, numbness, doubt, despair, grief.

The dharma can help us re-imagine ourselves and this world anew.

Because when we empty out of our self-centered thinking; wisdom and compassion are freed up to flow through us. Love can be practiced for ourselves, in our personal relationships and in how we engage with the living earth and the collective.

I am starting a Spiritual Counseling practice where I can integrate the practices of meditation and mindfulness, with dreamwork, process art and ceremony / ritual. With the intention to aid in the healing, transformation and awakening of individuals, communities and the planet.

Check out my website. Subscribe to my mailing list for updates on classes, events, meditation gatherings and new teachings.

Dream work and process art can help us integrate our shadows, the beautiful and the ugly parts of ourselves that we have disowned. It can also aid in rediscovering our resilience, creativity and resourcefulness. 

What if we all lived from our inner sense of belonging? What if we didn’t buy into the inner critic’s judgements? 

Ceremony and ritual bring the sacred into the fabric of our lives. 

In the Zen tradition abbots of the monastery are often named for the mountain that the monastery inhabits. A way of capturing that inter-permeation of place and mind. Here at Great Vow, I have learned to hold a big view of the monastery; the grounds, the residents, the distant sangha, the buildings, etc. 

As I move I imagine the circle of concern to have space to grow. Though this heart appears small, it includes the entire world.

I don’t know what is going to happen. Chozen says that being a Zen priest is the ability to turn on a dime. As I turn out to the world with open hands now, may my practice continue to turn-over the depth of wisdom that is cultivated in places like this.

I am moving to Trillium House. I will be continuing to teach in ZCO, on Thursday nights at Heart of Wisdom, eventually in the mornings at Heart of Wisdom. I am scheduled to co-lead four weekend retreats here at Great Vow, and three sesshins in 2022.

I am also going to be teaching Mindful Eating through Pause Meditation. I have a course beginning on February 22nd. And hope to offer a course on Embodying Presence, Love and Resilience in the Climate Crisis with them as well.

Check out the Mindful Eating Course!

Kennyo and I continue to love each other very much and will be exploring long distance relationship.

I don’t know who will be the next abbot. I was pleased with Shokan and Myoyu’s leadership during this last retreat and feel like the monastery is in good hearts and hands. My departure is giving the other ordained new opportunities to grow into leadership and teaching roles, training the next generation of Zen priests. Some who may stay and some who may leave and some who may return.

Poetry has been a blessed way for me to honor this transition. I want to share a poem I wrote in celebration of Chozen Roshi and really the teacher/student relationship. The relationship with a spiritual teacher is particularly intimate and challenging. Zen teacher’s are usually not people who want to encourage your ego, so teachings can sometimes feel harsh in their directness. I feel grateful to have had two teachers who loved me enough that they were willing to poke and prod, and cut away my delusions. Despite my misdirected anger and resistance.

She held up the sky

It was a dark night

The kind that allows

The stars to extend their rays

Like hands reaching


Touching Earth

In hues of

Golden delight

Become that sky she said

And it was day and I was night

And the milky way

That river of stars

My body

Perhaps i never came back 

She held up the sky

And I entered

Mind pock marked by black holes

Space dancing across cerebellum

Between gray and white matter

Inside each synapse

As galaxies flow through my nostrils

And comets descend my colon

A cosmos in the making

It ain’t always pretty

This universe

But its what we are

I am happy to stay in touch. Please feel free to email me, amy.kisei@gmail.com

From Amy Kisei Sensei, www.amykisei.org