2022-11-D1-AW: November 2022 Sesshin, Day 1: The Teachings of Maurine Stuart-roshi 1
6:13PM Nov 15, 2022
Sensei Amala Wrightson
Today is day one of our October/November seven day sesshin. It's the 30th of October 2022. And we're going to pick up where we left off three years ago when I last gave sesshin here in the zendo and explore a little bit the teaching of Maureen Stuart-roshi. And we'll be drawing on two main texts. One's called "Meetings with Remarkable Women" and with a subtitle "Buddhist Teachers in America" by Lenore Friedman. I think it came out in the 70s. Oh, no later, copyright 1987. And the other one is "Subtle Sound. The Zen Teachings of Maureen Stewart" indicated it edited by Roco Sherry Chayat. It's mainly transcripts of of talks. Whereas "Meetings with Remarkable Women" is more interview and some description of her leading a retreat. We're going to start off with a little bit of biographical material which may be repeat for for some of you if you've if you heard those talks back in 2019.
Just to say that, in terms of this, this particular teaching, you really can't beat the the old tongue masters when it comes to teisho material. But it's also good sometimes think to hear from our contemporaries and maybe they can feel a little bit more accessible we can identify a little bit more with them Maureen Stewart was born on March the third 1922. So just about a month off the the birthday of my father so one generation back from from from this person anyway. So 1922 the most influential, influential figure in her early childhood, was her maternal grandfather, Sam Haight, who worked a 6640 acre farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, with loving and meticulous care. The son of a wrathful preacher, he had little use for what he considered the platitudes and hypocrisy of organized religion. His own beliefs tended toward an idiosyncratic blend of pacifism and socialism, but he issued any and all platforms. What particularly struck Maureen was the way he created every treated every being sentient and insentient alike with respect and appreciation.
Her immediate family lived in the small town of Keeler, where her father owned a bank and her mother ran a proper house household and made sure that her three children were exposed to the important cultural refinements. Fortunately for Maureen these included music lessons, she took to the pen up piano avidly sensing its grandeur, and its potential for taking her beyond the petty minded atmosphere of small town preoccupations. In addition, she was nourished by her frequent visits to her grandparents farm with the sod roofed house, and by her solitary forays into the prairie, where she would sit absolutely still for hours at a time infused with a feeling of intimacy with every blade of grass, every breeze. It's often these childhood experiences of nature which helped you to go As to form our faith mind. We can sometimes remember very specific episodes, where we experienced oneness with things. And these these experiences really help in getting us on the mat setting. A little bit from the other book, better childhood. This is a little bit more here. When I was a very small girl, my mother said, I always needed time to just go and sit and be quiet. Our house was a very lively place. Always many people there visitors from all over many things going on. She said, I used to take a pail of cold pancakes away for the day, and go and sit somewhere quietly. I always seem to need that. At one point, I went and visited a little store and found a tiny Buddha and some incense. And I used to sit in my room with them. I must have been seven or eight. This was always a need in me a feeling that you had to every so often shut down everything just be in touch. I always went outside somewhere to a hill where there was a wind or to a swamp that had tall grasses and would sit and listen to critic to crickets and listen to birds and shut down or mental activity. She also has a little bit to say about who her grandfather here. My grandfather was a wonderful teacher, just in the way that he conducted his life. He didn't know anything about Buddhism, I'm sure. But I really feel he was a Buddhist innately. He behaved in a way that was very respectful of every living thing of every human being. He came in touch with. He never went to church, and he was a professed agnostic. Sometimes when he got really strong about it, he said he was an atheist. But he practiced a wonderful way of life. When people come to his house, he offered them whatever he had, if they needed something and he saw they needed it. He gave without any thought of return. He treated his animals and everything on his farm with the most wonderful consideration love even he was my first teacher. And I often speak about them in my talks. Really, when we get down to it, it's it's what we do that really counts not what we say or what we we profess to believe in.
When Maureen was 11 her life changed suddenly and radically. She was sent off to a school, a boarding school in Winnipeg, Manitoba. And she experienced really intense aching loneliness felt out of place and terribly homesick. But her music was to provide the solace that she needed and a chance to express emotions that were quite rigidly suppressed in the school. She stuck it out and was able to do well in all subjects except religion, which she failed because if your refusal to swallow the biblical scripture unquestioningly, I think also here of Roshi Kapleau, who started an atheist club in his school and was threatened with expulsion if he continued with it. Often the the the straw strong religious views can be expressed in resistance to religion. She began giving piano lessons at the age of 12 and continued doing so for the rest of her life. After graduating Maureen stayed on at Riverbend to teach music, continuing her own studies. At the Music Department of the University of Manitoba. She began performing in concerts through throughout the western United States and Canada, she was enthusiastically received and among her many awards was one from the French government that enabled her to study with Robair and Gabi Casa de or stasis and Nadia Bolaji at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, as well as with Alfred corto. Considered one of the greatest piano theory theorists of the century, Korto was so impressed with Maureen that he gave her free lessons. Both goulash a And Cotto were inspiring and demanding in ways that went beyond the discipline of music. Everything they did seemed imbued with a profound level of understanding and their influence on her like Sam hates, that's her grandfather was deep and life aren't wrong.
Maureen loved France, and really immersed yourself and all the culture that it had to offer. And in one day, in a used bookstore store, she came across a book on Eastern philosophy. And in it, there was a brief reference to meditation in the last chapter of the book, the teachings so Zen was the title of it. And it's it impressed her, although she wasn't to really act on that impression for many years. I knew right away that this was it. She told me that when I returned to the United States, there didn't seem to be any process through which I could learn more about Zen.
She got married, she had children. They were living in New York City. And one day she was watching television while she did housework, and she says there was a small man with bushy eyebrows talking about Zen. And of course it was DT Suzuki. So she she felt she was on on track. Now for something right? Not far from where she lived on another morning after taking her children to school was she discovered a small brass plaque saying Zen study society. whist at first street and she knocked on the door and a young monk came up and she asked if she could learn about Zen and he stuck a piece of paper in his hair in her hand and close the door. And it was a sheduled for sittings.
A few days later, while she was walking in Riverside Park, she encountered another Japanese monk, a small thin figure with large translucent ears and a shaved head wearing the black robes of a Zen monk and sneakers. And this she found out later was Hakuin Yasutani Roshi what was the chance in a city the size of New York that she should bump into Yasutani Roshi.
She went to workshops at the Center study society introductory workshops try to find time between her duties looking after her kids and and shortly after this, she went to the Zendo and saw a sign up sheet for a week long Shane led by Yasutani Roshi and this was to be her initiation by fire into into Zen
she received a quote she she signed up and then received a call All from somebody saw asking whether she could sit still, and whether she could get up early in the morning, that those were the two criteria that you had to pass in order to be able to go to the machine. The day came, Maureen boarded the train to Clarenville they were having their retreat in a theosophical societies retreat center with several other Zen students, and their excitement was evident for the conductor came over and asked them where were they off to? We're going to a place in the mountains someone explained. Will they be entertainment, a floor show? He asked. Not quite sure of what she meant. Maureen found herself saying, Oh, yes, the floor show goes on all day
when they arrived, the place was quite strange, a little gloomy. And the first job was to clear out all the furniture out of the main room and and creators Endo.
She gets, she gets asked by in an interview with Yasutani before the start of the session, whether she was here to do bomb poo Zen or to become enlightened, and she didn't really even know what they were talking about. But whatever she said was was okay because she was ushered into the sea she and she she says the flies were terrible, just constant. No one told me anything about the the many rituals, the bowing. And at the end of the day, I decided it was just impossible to go on. I had made a mistake. I had had it with the sin stuff. The sense of also included barked commands and atmosphere of general hysteria. This is this is the tradition that we inherited or Roshi Kapleau inherited when he came and started giving sessions in United States. Students were urged toward Kensho. Through shouting, exhorting, and the liberal use of the Kiyosaki. To make matters worse, the pain from an old skiing accident was making the for 14 or so hours sitting in the cross legged posture, physically unbearable. She called her husband and told him that she was ready to go home, reminding her of how much she wanted to go. He encouraged her to try for one more day. I stuck it out. She says through nights of hideous laughter on the part of one of the students and through days of terrible pain and things did get better. Once Yasutani wrote or she heard about this injury, she he encouraged me just to sit any way she could. And she eventually as people here will relate to manage to find a posture that she could maintain through necessity, and she was able to stay till the end of the session. And more than that, she says, By the fifth day, I was hooked. I knew I would go to every single session from then on. And she was to develop in spite of his extreme methods to develop a strong appreciation for Yasutani Roshi. She says the most resistant student finally knew that he was there for them. present with wholehearted effort to wake them up, that the boundless vow to save all beings was compressed into his more frail body.
Little bit of background information about Yasutani Roshi his biography he came from an extremely poor family and his mother actually left him at a temple because, at least in part because she couldn't feed them when he was only four years old, but he refused to eat or talk. And finally the monks had to ask his mother to come and take him back because he was wasting away. A year later, he did in fact, go off to a small Rinzai Temple, which had a school and he was educated there in what he describes as being by a very strict but affectionate priest. But you can imagine this this trauma in his background of being at the age of four being abandoned at this earlier monastery, what effect that might have had on him and his life.
The other very major influencer, who became his main her main teacher was so Nakagawa, the abbot of your Takuji. So Nagar of course was also very important for Roshi Kapleau. His first teacher when he got to Japan, and the one who guided home to Harada Roshi is her Shinji and way he also met Yasutani Roshi.
So, Maureen, God has herself along to every single session she could through through the years that Yasutani Roshi was visiting. And, and then also afterwards with ADA Roshi abem Die BISAZZA
ventually her family and she moved from from the New York area to
where there was a
symbolises Buddhist society in Cambridge. She also describes her
encounter with so in Roshi an evening sitting in the New York Zendo in 1968. She says she felt a remarkable connection like an open channel. She found so in Roshi, his teaching style quite different from that Yasutani Roshi. So Ian Roshi preferred to allow students to ripen at their own rate. His Zen was inspiring and it's palpable profundity, he often said through keen enough to keen he. And as teisho and Doxon meetings were filled with spontaneity, humor, loving kindness and poetry. He was passionately fond of theater, music and literature, and was famous in Japan for his haiku. kurta and Beethoven were among his favorite Western artists. And at the conclusion of the session that some of the participants, the participants were treated to the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony symphony. This urbanity and and love of, of music and literature and so forth, was one of the things that was helpful to Roshi Kapleau coming from the states Give him a sort of a gentler slope to get involved in seeing and get to the point where he was ready to undertake the strict training offered Hoshi ng but Solon was the one that judged when that was the time and sent him off to produce a sheen there. So as a no doubt as a musician, this this love of of music and so forth was also very attractive to Maureen Stewart. And more than that they had this deep affinity which is really so important within Zen training.
A certain point Maureen received a rock solid ditch book pakai ceremony and was given the name you're on which means subtle sound the title of this book.
So eventually Maureen became the
office holder of the Cambridge Buddhist Association and came to be in charge of the Zen practice. At the visit of the Zendo and Cambridge son Roco. Cherie Chaya, the editor of this book, writing she says, students had found Maureen even in her suburban home and Chestnut Hill, were a single cushion in a corner of her living room and soon drew others. The group quickly outgrew that space. So Maureen set up a Zendo in what had been a basement playroom. Once the two women met, it wasn't long before Mrs. Mitchell is Elsie Mitchell, who's very key and starting off this organization. Mrs. Mitchell was relying on Maureen in many capacities, from leadings, as in at the Cambridge Buddhist associations Endo, to taking over the correspondence a library responsibilities. All of this activity was bound for more in spirit. A warm report developed between the two, each of whom spoke of the other as her teacher, and Mrs. Mitchell was a most inconspicuous yet steadfast supporter. She made it clear that Maureen was not to worry about financial matters. If something was needed, it mysteriously appeared so a real partnership developed between these two women in in they're bringing Zen to the people of Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were to purchase a large building a three storey brands, brown shingled house and the plaque practice they have flourished with many people coming to cert. She eventually was to split split from the folks that diaper Satsu over IDOs unethical behavior.
Although she no longer practice with a lo Roshi in 1982, Maureen returned to diversity Zendo we're in a private encounter at the old Lodge. So a Nakagawa Roshi transmitted his Dharma to her. Tell your students to call the Roshi, he said, and that was that no ceremony, no authentication, no formal recognition, no lineage papers. He in fact said not a word about it to anyone else. It was Perhaps his greatest con for the transmission definitely Outside the scriptures in keeping with his unconventional spirit
how to communicate this formless transmission. What proof did she have? Immediately, rumors started flying, and there was no small degree of disgruntlement. Perhaps she had made the whole thing up wanting some formal recognition. Perhaps this was simply another of Solon Roshi, eccentric ads, and mischievous taste. No one quite knew how to receive this information, which quickly spread along the Dharma grapevine. As for Maureen herself, after dutifully communicating what Solon Roshi had asked her to, she told her stream Students, please just call me Maureen. It was not in her nature to seek credentials or titles. She simply went on as she had before wearing the same robes keeping the same busy schedule of sesshin daily practice piano recitals and lessons spending time with her children traveling.
Ultimately, it's the students who make the teacher not the correct papers or the right ceremonies.
Our tradition, the first example of that was Roshi Kapleau, who had split with with Yasutani Roshi over a number of things including the behavior of Aikido by diver Satsu. And so he didn't he didn't have the, the correct papers you could say, but over time many many people have found did find him to be a fine teacher who could who could act as their spiritual midwife. And this is what we see also with Moreno that she she was able to connect with people and offer the Dharma. She didn't teach the koans she hadn't gone through the Khan curriculum was so NACA Roshi, so it was based on Mu Jukai Mu most of her teaching.
In 1984, I saw NACA go or she died. And
she really then then had to find find her independence. Without his his physical presence. She rechart writes, In the wake of Simon Roshi, his death, Maureen's wisdom light grew ever brighter. Turning her unflinching gaze on her personal life, she resolved to uproot all traces of self deception. This included eliminating the glass or two of wine she had been relying on each evening to dull the painful recognition that her marriage was over. What resulted was a fierce clarity by which she was able to proceed with the very difficult yet necessary step of separation and in eventual divorce from her husband. When Maureen was diagnosed with cancer, in 1987, she never exhibited a moment of self pity or fear. If anything, the level of intensity at which she customarily lived was raised several notches. plans had already been made for travel to India, with a small group of students. She made the choice not to have the advice surgery, and despite the uncertainty about her condition, she went off and had a marvelous time conducting zazen under a descendent of the Bodhi tree, beneath which Shakyamuni Buddha had realized the fundamental birthless and deathless SNESs of at all. She did return and and have to go through months of tests and and disagreements between doctors over over the best course of action, but she continued through increasing weakness to attend sesshin after see Shane.
She never seemed to pace yourself despite the fretful expected pressures of concern on the part of many of her students, her family and her friends, she brushed any attempts at commiseration aside and refused to discuss her condition. And she never complained even toward the end, when she was hiding little notes to herself regarding the effectiveness and timing of various pain medications. her demeanor was that of a fierce warrior woman. Maureen set through Rohatusu 80 in 1989, and the weekend 16th of January 1990, with an all but constant cough but she said nobly and fully present
she decided where her ashes were to be sprayed after she died. And people got the feeling that she was she was teaching them or preparing them for her person.
At this time she she conducted a memorial service for one of her students, Vietnamese student, and in the the talk she that she gave us part of the memorial service, she said the following. With this memorial service, we remember with tender reverence the members of our families who are no longer living, let us realize that the ones whom we remember today, existed before this birth, and that time, they were without and at that time, they will without a body, then substance was added to that spirit and they were born. Let us be clear to us that the same process of change which brought them to birth, eventually brought them to death, in a way as natural as the progression of the seasons. May we remind ourselves that we are not to fall into a complacent state of mind, where we are insensitive to suffering beings. Yes, we must cultivate a peaceful mind, firm and imperturbable but we must keep the heart sensitive to the needs of others. The way is epitomized in the canon sutra, Canon grows arms without ceasing to reach out to every cry for help. It has tried to extend extend this compassionate wisdom over the whole universe.
Living with cancer, Maureen was vibrantly vigorously alive. When the time came to go. She opened her arms to death the way she had embraced every moment of her life. She entered the hospital in February of 1990. The following weekend, 25 students set sesshin at their Zendo.
The family gathered around and she passed away on the 26th of February surrounded by her children. Her last words were wonderful peace, nobody there. She didn't leave any Dharma Heir or establish her lineage.
And ChIAT writes that her legacy was all inclusive. Everyone who came into contact with her whether as a Zen student or as a piano student, a casual visitor or a family member, felt change for having known her. Maureen was endlessly grateful to the many people in her life who had helped and courage and and supported her in her music and her same practice. To her body SAT was Bow was added the driving full force of her sense of obligation, teaching, imparting her own understanding to others was her means of repaying those debts. It's it is so for all of us we we pay forward
we we express our gratitude by becoming Dharma vessels
bye bye by upholding this practice that we have inherited this form that we practice and when we come to see Shane sesshin really is is an extraordinary human creation a living, dynamic container for our spiritual strivings. And it relies on us for its vitality for its authenticity.
Help more in tourism during those last months is not the opposite of sickness. Although our habitual way of thinking is dualistic in reality, we all are all living with good cells and bad cells simultaneously, in a condition of utter impermanence. She referred to the 17th century Japanese Mark monk Taku and Soho who wrote 100 poems he called Dream poems. At the end of his life, he summoned his students and said, after I've died, please bury my body in the mountain behind the temple, cover it with earth and go home. Read no sutras hold no ceremony, receive no gifts. Let the monks wear their robes, eat their meals and go on about them to work as a norm on normal days. He was asked by his disciples for some last word, and he said, I have no last word. But then, in his fireman, final moment before he died, he took up his brush and wrote the Chinese Chinese character for dream, you may, who then put down the brush and died. This one character dream. Maureen commented in one of her talks, symbolizes for taco and the reality of the Dharma. It went beyond talking or not talking. Is it or isn't it? Just a dream, when we realize that we in the universe are just a dream, when alive? We are alive through and through, and everything around us is alive. Life is a dream. Death is a dream. Heaven and earth and all things under the sun are just a dream. And we'll stop there and recite the four vows