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Showing posts from March, 2017

How Stella Got Her Bodhicitta Back

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This year I had two New Year's resolutions. The first was to rekindle my bodhi mind. After five years practicing Zen in Japan, wearing the right clothes and getting all the right credentials, I found myself in the odd predicament of having little to no bodhi mind. Bodhi mind (or bodaishin in Japanese) is the mind that seeks awakening. It is the mind that wants to get up early and sit. It's the mind that asks, "What is Buddha?" According to Dogen, it's also (paradoxically?) the mind that vows to postpone our enlightenment for others. I think of it like a small flame. It is the bright part of our practice.

Like a flame, though, bodhi mind needs air to survive. It needs freedom and space. The blessing and curse of Japanese monastic practice is that the form is so strict. You sit zazen whether you want to or not. You chant whether you want to or not. While establishing discipline is useful in many ways, the flip side of severe discipline is that it extinguishes bodh…

Zazen and Menstrual Blood Hell

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In medieval China and later Japan, a Buddhist cult developed around a sutra called the "Blood Bowl Hell." At that time, people believed women were inherently impure due to menstrual blood and pregnancy, and so this sutra described a special hell for women in which, I kid you not, women were trapped in giant pools of menstrual blood, abused by demons, and forced to drink the blood. Women believed that if they carried around copies of this sutra, or were cremated with copies of the sutra on their bodies, they would be able to escape the Blood Bowl Hell. There are some pretty fun illustrations of this hell.

Many religions and cultures have viewed women as inherently impure, and Chinese and Japanese Buddhist culture was no different. Throughout the Buddhist world, it was widely believed that women could not attain enlightenment and needed to be reborn in the body of a man to achieve salvation, and different traditions and institutions have different takes on this. What's int…

Failure is the Mother of Success: What Editors Have Taught Me About Life

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In Japan there is a phrase 失敗を繰り返すことで、成功に至る、which means something like "repeated failure leads to success." In China and Taiwan there is a similar phrase, "Failure is the mother of success." And within Zen communities especially, you often here the phrase "100 misses, one bull's eye." In one of her essays, Aoyama Roshi described how she requested a famous Zen master make a calligraphy for her that just said "100 misses." No bull's eye. Just the misses.

I've been thinking about this recently as I plan and brainstorm my next book. For nonfiction books, the first step towards publication is querying agents or publishers, and then submitting a book proposal. While I am excited to write and put my ideas out there, I know that I will inevitably get rejected many times before I get accepted. This this is how life works, and professional writing, all the more so!

The first article I ever published took over a year to pitch, write, edit, and p…

(Beyond) A Day Without Women

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Today is International Woman's Day, and I'm striking for the Day Without Women. I was unsure whether or not I was going to strike (is it a privilege? Don't I owe it to my students? Won't I get penalized?), but was encouraged to by my Feminist Theory professor, an incredible and inspiring woman who literally wrote the book on intersectional feminism. You can listen to her NPR interview here. She cracked everyone up the other day in class when we were talking about "post-feminism." There are some think-pieces out there about moving "beyond' intersectional feminism and "beyond" online activism. She was like, "We've got so much work to do! Can we please figure out intersectionality first before we move beyond it?"

There are so many good essays to be written about the importance of this day and how we can build from it-- how to better fight for trans women, women of color, women in prison-- but fuck, guys (I mean folk? I mean y'…

Medicine Buddha

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There is something about 2am. I work until 11pm then stumble into bed at midnight, after a day of teaching and studying. I'm asleep immediately but wake up at 2am with my heart pounding, in a panic. There's no story, only sleeplessness and my beating heart. Or I work until 11 and then can't sleep. I'm too wired from a day of looking at screens, a day of thinking thinking thinking, reading, pushing. I lie in bed until 2am, my heart pounding, and then take a melatonin.

When I am at a monastery, insomnia is never a problem. Waking up at 4am and then doing physical labor all day does wonders for your sleep patterns. But for those of us who live in houses, who work 9-5 jobs, the reality is that our existence is a constant barrage of tasks, errands, thoughts, anxieties, screens, meetings, and more screens. It's like driving for hours in a hot car. When you get out, the heat follows you. It takes a long time to cool down.

In Tokugawa era Japan, Soto Zen priests popularize…