Bringing Zen Home

Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals

Paula Arai
Copyright Date: 2011
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  • Book Info
    Bringing Zen Home
    Book Description:

    Healing lies at the heart of Zen in the home, as Paula Arai discovered in her pioneering research on the ritual lives of Zen Buddhist laywomen. She reveals a vital stream of religious practice that flourishes outside the bounds of formal institutions through sacred rites that women develop and transmit to one another. Everyday objects and common materials are used in inventive ways. For example, polishing cloths, vivified by prayer and mantra recitation, become potent tools. The creation of beauty through the arts of tea ceremony, calligraphy, poetry, and flower arrangement become rites of healing.

    Bringing Zen Homebrings a fresh perspective to Zen scholarship by uncovering a previously unrecognized but nonetheless vibrant strand of lay practice. The creativity of domestic Zen is evident in the ritual activities that women fashion, weaving tradition and innovation, to gain a sense of wholeness and balance in the midst of illness, loss, and anguish. Their rituals include chanting, ingesting elixirs and consecrated substances, and contemplative approaches that elevate cleaning, cooking, child-rearing, and caring for the sick and dying into spiritual disciplines. Creating beauty is central to domestic Zen and figures prominently in Arai's analyses. She also discovers a novel application of the concept of Buddha nature as the women honor deceased loved ones as "personal Buddhas."

    One of the hallmarks of the study is its longitudinal nature, spanning fourteen years of fieldwork. Arai developed a "second-person," or relational, approach to ethnographic research prompted by recent trends in psychobiology. This allowed her to cultivate relationships of trust and mutual vulnerability over many years to inquire into not only the practices but also their ongoing and changing roles. The women in her study entrusted her with their life stories, personal reflections, and religious insights, yielding an ethnography rich in descriptive and narrative detail as well as nuanced explorations of the experiential dimensions and effects of rituals.

    InBringing Zen Home,the first study of the ritual lives of Zen laywomen, Arai applies a cutting-edge ethnographic method to reveal a thriving domain of religious practice. Her work represents an important contribution on a number of fronts-to Zen studies, ritual studies, scholarship on women and religion, and the cross-cultural study of healing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6013-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Nara Kōmyō Yasuaki

    I first met Paula Arai in the winter of 1988 upon the introduction of Aoyama Shundō, a former student of mine who has now become a renowned abbess of the Zen nuns’ training monastery, Aichi Senmon Nisōdō. At that time, Ms. Arai was a young rising scholar doing research for her first book on Zen nuns. She has kept me apprised of her work during engaging conversations in my offices and temple, and in coffee shops. Now Dr. Arai has fulfilled her promise by producing not only a singular volume on the history and practices of Sōtō Zen nuns, but...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    When I was beginning the field research for this book, I had the tremendous good fortune to listen once again to one of Sōtō Zen’s greatly respected scholar-Zen masters, Suzuki Kakuzen Rōshi. He had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer; although he was in the advanced stages of progression of the disease, he kept up a rigorous teaching schedule. Everyone who saw him during this time commented how he glowed with an incandescent wisdom. He was teaching about the Dharma with an urgency and clarity that surpassed even his brilliant publications and lectures at Komazawa University—the highly prestigious Sōtō...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Mapping the Terrain
    (pp. 1-28)

    I began my relationships with the twelve women whose experiences form the basis of this book by sharing this event in my life. In doing so, I opened my heart, creating a safe place for them to share their similarly intimate experiences. It is only in the context of close relationships of trust and mutual respect that healing can be qualitatively studied and understood.¹ Therefore, to begin such a study requires an invitation to share in the suffering and vulnerability of others. Feigning an objective observer’s distance, especially in the Japanese relationally driven cultural context, would yield little about the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Way of Healing: Yudō 癒道
    (pp. 29-64)

    The healing way of my Japanese Buddhist consociates involves discipline, ritualized practices, and expanding perspectives. Expanding perspectives facilitates a different experience of life for these women and transforms their relationships with events, circumstances, and people, including themselves. As I searched for the source of their practices and understanding of healing it became clear that their healing path is grounded in a Buddhist worldview. With this development, the medical analogy of the root Buddhist teachings on the Four Noble Truths took on new significance. This medical analogy appears in early texts (fifth century BCE), with no precedents identified in other literature,...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Personal Buddhas: Living with Loss and Grief
    (pp. 65-107)

    Yamaguchi-san was raised on preparing to die. Not in a dark way, but in a realistic way. “My dad [a Buddhist priest] said we are designed to die. These words stick with me.”³ Death is not feared because it is understood in resonance with Kishi Iban Zenji’s poetic illustration given at a funeral: “The moon sets but does not leave the sky.”⁴ Remembering teachings of Uchiyama Rōshi, Aoyama Rōshi spoke about death during a Dharma Talk at her nunnery. “Water does not disappear, it just moves around. We want to scoop it up. So, when it is returned to the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Domestic Zen: Living Esoteric Wisdom
    (pp. 108-166)

    Zen in the daily life of a family is creative and flexible. Unlike its monastic counterpart, which thrives on control, discipline, and impeccable cleanliness, domestic Zen is at home with the chaotic, emotional, and messy lives of people struggling with their families, health, and jobs. This sphere of Zen has not received much scholarly attention. One reason is researchers can gain relatively ready access to Zen texts and many monastic institutions, while the practices performed by individuals and families in their homes are, by their very nature, hidden from public view. Vulnerability reveals this hidden side of Sōtō Zen, the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Healing Power of Beauty
    (pp. 167-203)

    Beauty is the center of the Japanese women’s practices and locus of their healing. Indeed, the highly ritualized and aestheticized dimensions of Japanese culture are brought together in their way of healing. All ritualized activities the women engage in as part of their healing have an aesthetic dimension. The ones I highlight in this chapter focus on the explicit creation and appreciation of beauty. The types of aesthetic practices in which they engage include calligraphy, painting, poetry, music, flower arranging, and tea ceremony. They draw on the long traditions each of these arts has in Japanese culture, where aesthetic refinement...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Revealing the Healing Realm of Zen
    (pp. 204-216)

    Healing courses through the lives of contemporary Japanese Zen women, revealing a realm of Zen that thrives in the painful dramas and quietly heroic triumphs of the domestic sphere. Mapping new territory in Zen, this study demonstrates how ritualized activities transform emotionally intense moments—charged with fear, pain, and untamed anger—into healing. Examining ritualized activities woven into daily life illuminates a side of Zen that is as at home with kitchens crowded with three different types of unmatched recycling containers as it is with the impeccably refined aesthetics of breathtakingly beautiful flower arrangements placed in the foyer. This qualitative...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-240)
  13. Kanji Glossary
    (pp. 241-244)
  14. Bibliography of Sources Cited
    (pp. 245-254)
  15. Index
    (pp. 255-262)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-266)