The commitment of a nun in the city

(Hosetsu Laure Scemama)

There exits several styles of life for a Zen monk or nun. I would like here to present an account of the style of life of a nun who is totally engaged in city life.

In Japan, monks live in the temples. The can have a family and children, but they all live in the family temple. The Abbott’s wife (who is not a nun) has her own position in the temple and assists her husband in his mission. What’s more, she has received a special ordination and wears a Rakusu.

When Master Deshimaru came, there was nothing … neither temples nor monks … the situation was untouched. With his faith and incredible energy, he created in 15 years more than 150 dojos in Europe at the head of which he appointed disciples who were, moreover, not always well trained… but, nonetheless, all that worked. He also presided over numerous ordinations of Bodhisattvas, monks and nuns amongst his practitioners.

Traditionally in Japan, temples operated on the donations from lay people and the monks were taken care of by the temple. In Europe the situation is different. Given that the population is not Buddhist there are few donations offered to Buddhists. It was therefore necessary that the monks and nuns provide for their own material needs and so the majority worked for a living.

Even today, in the different Sanghas that continue the mission of Master Deshimaru in Europe, the majority of monks and nuns live in towns working in society and there are many who have families and children. They practise in a dojo and participate in Sesshins. Since that time however some monasteries have developed such as Kanshoji in the Dordogne and that of Ryumonji in Alsace where residents live and practise permanently in the monastery.

The life of a monk or nun who lives in the city can take on different forms; most work, often to support their families and therefore have little time for their practice. For those who are the most involved (often responsible for a Dojo), they must succeed in managing everything at the same time, and that is difficult. Others live in the city but have chosen to organise their life so as to consecrate themselves full-time to the Dharma. That is my situation and it is that life that I would like to elucidate.

I have practised for more than 35 years and I have known all the possibilities that I have just listed above: I have worked and I have raised children at the same time practising daily in a Dojo where I had responsibilities; I have lived for 5 years in the temple at La Gendronnière and then I established a Dojo in a town which has now become the Centre Zen of Limoges.

When I speak of engagement in the City, one might think that it is a question of social engagement – working in humanitarian projects, being a chaplain in a prison or in a hospital. Certain Buddhist monks do such work and that is excellent; but I made a different choice … that of consecrating all my time in practising and in transmitting the Dharma and only the Dharma as is done by any monk living in a monastery. That choice is my contribution to society, my engagement in the city.

Since twenty years ago (my children having grown up and left home) I no longer have the requirement to earn my living and I have made myself completely free. I no longer work in society and I consecrate my life full-time to the Dharma. I live in town in an apartment, alone, and I spend my time with the Centre Zen in Limoges where I practise each day when I am not travelling and where I teach daily and participate in the development of this Sangha which is growing bigger each year.

Of course, in the Dojo we do Zazen, ceremonies, we eat guen-mai, we sew the Kesa, we do samu as is done in all dojos and temples, but I dedicate a lot of time to each person and I observe the evolution of each practitioner; I am completely available. It is this availability that I consider essential for helping practitioners and for transmitting the dharma. This availability is at the heart of the transmission from person to person. By doing this I follow the example of my master Minamizawa Roshi who has always shown towards me, and towards others, a complete availability.

Thus, one works in the human realm and also in the field of the Dharma. It is in this spirit that the Sangha of Limoges evolves … in trust and intimacy …and, as a result, the newcomers arrive often motivated by word of mouth.

When I was in Japan, I met Egawa Roshi who presented me with a calligraphy on which he had written “A person meets a person, who meets another person … “. Of course, as is done everywhere else we organise conferences, put up posters and distribute brochures … but, in the end, it is a person who meets another person. And these individuals that arrive, we welcome them with kindliness but without doing too much and without being condescending.

In addition to my involvement in the dojo, I am secretary General of the AZI and Vice-President of the monastery Kanshoji, which implies a large amount of volunteer work that completely fills each day. In addition, I travel often either going to a Sesshin or travelling each month to meetings in Paris.

It is my Gyoji. I do not have any other activity; I do not have any hobby. It is the complete life of a nun, the body and spirit of a nun completely committed in the Dharma – and it is a beautiful life and I would not change it for another.

Of course, people often ask me “what do you do to not have to work for your living?” My reply is: it is a choice and if you make this choice you must have the means to accomplish it. Each of us has a life and the solutions are not the same for each person, but it is feasible for all monks and nuns.

It is said: “Understand that on receiving the ordination of monk or nun you will never be without food, nor clothing nor a roof over your head”. A monk does not need more than that to live. I have always had faith in that statement and I have always confirmed it to be true during my life.

Of course, this requires that we reduce our material needs, and that is my situation. Even if I live with a very small income, I live well, I don’t have need of anything and I find in this style of life an enormous freedom that I appreciate immensely, without taking into account the privilege – dare I say, the luxury – of working for and consecrating one’s life for what one believes in. In brief, this choice of lifestyle is the choice for a life that is free and available for practising and transmitting the Dharma.