A week ago Ming Zhen Shakya (to many of us simply Em, as she liked to sign her emails) passed away. She touched the hearts of many people to who she taught the Dharma, giving sensible counsel to anybody in need. We would like to share here the contributions of our sangha’s members all over the world, who tried to collect memories of years of teaching. Anyone who would like to contribute with our homage can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Viendo los diferentes recuerdos de los estudiantes de Ming Zhen Shakya (para nosotros, simplemente “Em”, como solía firmar sus correos) uno toma perspectiva de su labor. Conocí a Em allá por el año 2004 cuando recién comenzaba la universidad. El azar tuvo su parte en esto. Habíamos discutido mucho tiempo antes con mi hermana si el Zen era una religión o un estilo de decoración y había encontrado la versión española del “Séptimo Mundo” escrito por Ming Zhen. El libro me fascinó y creció en mí la idea de que en el Zen iba a encontrar un camino a muchos interrogantes sin resolver que iban cobrando forma. Aún así no me contacté con ella (mi inglés era aún muy malo en ese entonces) y preferí seguir leyendo sus ensayos. Algún tiempo después, habiendo ya intentado poner en práctica muchas de las cosas que había leído decidí escribirle, desde ya pidiéndole disculpas por mi pésima gramática. Ante mi sorpresa, no sólo me respondió sino que me aseguró que mi inglés no era malo en absoluto. Esa era su forma de confortar a quién acudía a ella. Era el sueño de todo estudiante: rápidamente captaba el estado mental de su interlocutor y buscaba una forma de enseñarle. Si uno era más bien del tipo intelectual le recomendaba lecturas de gran interés… pero si uno se aferraba demasiado a ellas, pronto le diría que “el Zen se había transmitido de corazón a corazón más allá de las palabras” y que uno debería buscar comprender por uno y no por lo que escribió otro. Ella era en ese sentido enigmática y estaba pronta a cambiar de un método de enseñanza a otro cuando el anterior dejaba de funcionar.
Poseía una increíble capacidad de análisis que le permitía poner en relieve las experiencias espirituales de místicos provenientes de diferentes religiones con un nivel académico, pero aún así, no se enorgullecía de ello, sino que con profunda humildad decía: “sólo soy una sacerdote budista”. Hace un par de años, comenzó a escribir cuentos (algunos de los cuales se pueden leer en la página de ZATMA en inglés) en los cuales se intercalaban hermosamente detalles de nuestro camino budista en la trama de personajes para nada corrientes. Leerlos es realmente un placer. Nunca dejaba de buscar nuevas formas de enseñar el Dharma.
Su capacidad de trabajo era incansable, incluso a su avanzada edad. Si uno le enviaba un correo a menudo en menos de una hora allí estaba Em respondiendo. En muchos casos, se tomaba un gran trabajo, buscando referencias, enlaces en internet o imágenes para aclarar o explicar algo.
Aún cuando ya su luz se iba apagando y ya no podía responder a los correos, cuando nos comunicábamos telefónicamente me hablaba de los proyectos para el sitio web y me exhortaba a seguir trabajando en la serie de “pequeñas historias” que venía publicando hace un tiempo ya. El Dharma lo era todo para ella.
Le estoy enormemente agradecido por su enseñanza, pero por sobre todo, por su forma de enseñar, su gran calidad humana y su enorme sentido del humor. Cuando conversábamos, su risa era tan contagiosa que era imposible contenerse y, definitivamente, sabía como contar un chiste.
No quiero extenderme más sobre sus cualidades, Em era una mujer con un gran pudor para los halagos y no me lo permitiría.
El epitafio de Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, 1207-1273) dice:
“Cuando muera, no busquen mi tumba en la tierra, sino en el corazón de los hombres”
Perfectamente, podría ser su epitafio. Una persona no muere cuando su cuerpo abandona este mundo, muere cuando es olvidada. Y así es como Em, vivirá por mucho tiempo más en nuestra memoria y en su trabajo, en la gente cuyas vidas tocó enseñando el Dharma y en su hermosa familia, de la que estaba muy orgullosa.
Each morning I walk out into my small cozy sitting room in the back of my house. I sit down with a blanket across my knees and open a small laptop and think of Em. It was from this place, on a laptop for over 12 years that I had contact with Em. Often in the early morning, in the dark, in the cold and heat, in the winter and spring I would send a question and she would respond.
There were times when I was full and ecstatic, elated with joy and God. And she would send back just a word or two telling me to enjoy the kensho while it lasted. At other times I would be on the rack of delusion or greed and she would send me a tome of words trying to help me get myself off the rack.
Sometimes the e-mails would be terse, sharp and quite exacting, at other times they would be verbose, dense and I’d need to search references and ideas on Google. But all of them were attempts to direct my mind towards something bigger, something more universal…something Em and I both called God.
We never defined God…because we both knew the inexpressible, indescribable cannot be boxed or packaged nor was God captive to any set religious tradition.
I met Em after reading one of her articles. I remember reading it and saying to myself, “This woman knows something I don’t know.” It is how our relationship began. And it was the bridge I crossed to contact her.
“Teach me what you know, Em.”
As in all relationships we weathered many things. We did not always see eye-to-eye. On her death bed she told me that our differences, many of which I vocalized, pleased her since she did not want a “Yes Man.” I laughed.
For me, her willingness to stay the course showed me more than anything her devotion to the practice of liberation and her generosity to smash and cut through the heaps of Zen baloney I had taken to be true. More than once she told me I was lucky to have found her and this Southern School of Hsu Yun. On this we agree. I was and am lucky.
Many begin this practice, but very few finish.
She gave many, many strong, robust konks to my head and cut away many subtle material desires from my path. As the Dharma became clearer, my gratitude grew bigger. And I suspect both will continue. I do not feel the loss of Em. I feel an eternal Presence that includes her. She was and is my teacher. She continues to teach me like a resounding echo along the great procession. Who would not be grateful? I am forever grateful.
I will close with two poems someone sent to me.
The Lesson Of The Falling Leaves
The leaves believe
Emma was my religious center. She taught me about the mystical side of religion. This collided with my academic studies but soon, they both made sense together. Em was my religious teacher, confidant and friend. She allowed me to see the other side of every conversation. A true blessing and gift that I live with with everyday. She will be sorely missed. It I will surely see her again…
I first met Ming Zhen Shakya through her book, The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism. After reading it, I had a lot of questions and decided to contact her for help. Her first teaching was an awakening. She first showed me how stupid and sectarian I was and then accepted to train me.
She showed me my ideas were too small, too constricted. I thought one school of religion was better or worse than another school. While being grounded in the Chan tradition, this venerable teacher showed me again and again how a true spiritual seeker finds light and love beyond words, no matter what his religion or cultural background might be. I did not have to be so small-minded.
I continue to be amazed at the amount of teachings she left (articles, booklets and books). I remember once telling her there are so many very profound things almost hidden in some of your articles, why don’t you put them together into an easy to find and useful series for everyone to read. She answered with humor and faith, “Those who need them will find them at the right time.”
This approach was certainly one of her strongest teachings. Trust the Dharma. She applied Linji’s word “give the mind what it needs.” I needed to know about faith. I needed to see my ignorance and clannish view. And she knew that I did. She always followed and advised her students with just what they needed at the right time.
Another of her strongest teachings to me was to root my practice in my daily life, not in some exotic, perhaps conjured up life. She taught me to see how changing diapers was where I needed to practice.
I remember how she insisted on what I would call recognizing the taste of Zen which meant not to limit myself to the authority of any school, master or tradition. She continuously pointed to the universal nature of life and pushed me to manifest it in my very own way. It is how she lived. Her life, her books and articles show the universal nature of life and is the wonderful treasure she has left behind.
Just like Grand Master Jy Din Shakya, who had the courage and strength to adapt his centuries old Chinese Chan tradition to his Western disciples when he founded our Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun ; our dear Ming Zhen Shakya had that same immense courage and patience to pass on the Dharma to her students in a consistent, harmonious and direct way.
I was struck by the amazing and simple way in which she shared the very diverse Dharma that her life was. She never departed from her beloved Masters’s teachings (WeiYin Shakya and Fo Yuan Shakya) and insisted in transmitting the Heart of their Zen. Yet, one had to study a lot to be this venerable woman’s student. She gave many reading suggestions from her immense knowledge and practice of Alchemy, Taoism, Vedanta, Kashmiri Shivaism, Mahayana Buddhism, Pure Land and, of course, Chan and Zen Buddhism. She was skilled in language and had an uncanny ability to “translate” from one spiritual or religious tradition to another.
Her humility was evidenced by her ability to remain a strong presence in the Dharma and rarely spoke about her own life outside of spiritual matters. Her insight of the Dharma was often shared using down to earth examples from the common and ordinary things of life.
The short message she chose for her last teaching is a good example. She does not want to be remembered or admired, but points to what is admirable to remember.
What does she leave us?
She leaves us an imprint of the Dharma. A trace of actions and teachings manifested through years of teaching. The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun is the manifestation of her work with Grand Master Jy Din Shakya. And her teachings are a very personal manifestation of Hanshan, Hsu Yun, Wei Yin and Fo Yuan Shakya as she rooted them in her very body and mind.
I am a bit apologetic or even hagiographic here… that is probably true…but to put it simply, this Old Sun of a woman was my Dharma Teacher. She was a wonderful teacher. I find it difficult to find the words because there are no words to describe the relationship with her. I am speechless and silent and in union with this beautiful silence.
I vow to share this simple and profound practice for the rest of my life as a Dharma teacher. I sincerely hope that we all carry her Dharma heritage, and the heritage of Grand Master Jy Din Shakya, through our Zen Order and the vast amount of teachings she left us.
May our Zen Order and her teachings shine love and light beyond space and time.
To me, Em was like a grandma. Actually I can say that in some ways she was more than a grandma. She was always there when you needed her and she always had the amazing ability to make you see things in different perspectives, especially when facing challenges and problems.
Sometimes there wasn’t the need to explain a situation to her because she would figure it out before you could even finish.
I had the good fortune to be in constant contact with her for many years beginning in 2003 when I began to practice. She was a person that you would always want on your side, no matter if it was for spiritual reasons or material worries.
She had the amazing capability to be able to speak about any subject. I never got bored with her company.
I wish that I had been able to be next to her on her final journey.
One thing is for sure, she was an important part of my life and she will always be part of me.
She will be missed very, very much.
There have been few situations in life that have caused me to be at a complete loss for words. Anyone who has, with dedication, practiced Zazen for a sufficient length of time will understand some of those moments. Moments outside of moments. Some of our most ecstatic and blissful experiences allow us to step out of the raging rivers of time and view, however briefly, the majesty of this existence. Because of those moments, this life reveals itself as full of meaning and wonder and a purpose all its own. Because this path, by its very definition, is a long and solitary sojourn there are very few who are able to aid and succor us. At some point in our lives we find ourselves crawling along the floor of our darkest cave, scraping the walls and falling this way and stumbling that. Either by some miracle or act of desperation we experience a light. For some the light was so brilliant and majestic that it became another form of blindness. Stumbling from our caves we found ourselves flailing amongst the trees in the forest of all our vanities.