- January 26th, 2011
Dear Friends, 1/21/11 -
I was blessed to have arrived early enough to do a personal retreat at the Hudson River Peacemaker Center, Greyston Chapel. When Noemi dropped me off yesterday she left water and food. I prepared the space and myself for the retreat. I have wanted to do a retreat honoring Roshi Sandra Jishu Holmes, the co-founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order, for many years. I was happy that the opportunity presented itself! I only met Jishu once and that was just in passing at Maezumi Roshi's funeral. I wanted to take the time to get to know her through her own words, in her journals.
Roshi Eve Marko gave a talk about Jishu, honored one, on the occasion of the 8th year of her passing. Here are some excerpts from that talk so you can get to know her too...Sandra Jishu Angyo Holmes, the Co-Founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order, Jishu was her Buddhist name. Angyo, which means peacemaker, was a name which members of the Zen Peacemaker Order received when they were installed in the Order.
She was born in California in 1941. She came out East, went to Columbia University and became a biochemist. She did early research in the AIDS disease that was only then being identified and diagnosed... around 1981, she left her work and came to live at the Zen Community of New York in Riverdale. In addition to a regular schedule of meditation, study and retreats, the Community had already begun a business, a bakery, and its next steps were in the direction of social action. That is where I met her 5 years later when I, too, came to ZCNY.
I remember her as slim, very pale, pretty, dark haired, and overworked. She was highly intelligent and deeply committed to the practice. She ordained as a priest and in 1986, when we started our first social action ministry, the Greyston Family Inn, she was named its director. The mission of the Greyston Family Inn, GFI, was to build apartments for homeless families, mostly single mothers with children. We lived in the city of Yonkers in Westchester County, which at that time had the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country. We had almost no money and no professionals in the field. The Yonkers community did not welcome us right away and we were building everything from scratch. It took us 4 years just to get the first housing project of 18 apartments purchased, renovated, and open to families.
...I remember coming to work one Saturday morning. We'd begun to hire local people in the organization, some of whom never had office jobs and needed training in office skills and equipment. I had trained a receptionist and asked her to make many copies of a newsletter to send out. The following morning I came in to discover that it was a mess. The pages were in the wrong order and they were upside down. I was tired, frustrated and angry. Jishu, who was then my supervisor, was the only one there. I walked over to her and said, "Look at this job. I don't know what do anymore. How are we supposed to get anything done with so little help?" She thought a minute, then said quietly, "It helps to know why you're here. You see all these things?" She motioned to the financial reports, construction drawings, and the many files on her desk. "I could do this with one hand tied behind my back. It's important work, but that's not the reason I'm here. The reason I'm here is to be with people."
I have here quotes from her journals which were made public after she died: "My basic form of spirituality is faith in the unknown. I believe that everything that comes into my life is for me to work with spiritually. Zazen is my ideal practice although I have to struggle with myself every day to do it. My spirituality is an inheritance from my father. He has been a seeker all of his life but could never find peace. He could never see that he is everything that happens to him. His whole world seems to be a struggle against the enemy, both internal and external. I find that my own struggles are an integral part of my spiritual path and that my awakening is very, very gradual."
... We can talk about realization, enlightenment, and dharma transmission, but those are just ideas. What is Zen? Life as it is. And as she wrote, "life as it is leaves me with me just as I am"
...I believe that in the end she learned to accept herself in the way many of us learn to accept ourselves even in the pits of our days, when we really hit bottom. It's at those times that we look at ourselves and say: "With all my faults, with all my failures, with all my doubts, I am a vessel of the dharma. And as such, I can serve. I will continue to have my doubts and misgivings, and I can serve."
And she served. She built apartment buildings and day care centers. When we got involved in AIDS work she did the initial research to get us a Certificate of Need from the government. That AIDS center is today a national model in this country for effective, compassionate work with people with AIDS. She began to teach and ultimately co-founded the Zen Peacemaker Order. And she did all that with doubts and struggle. And the struggle was transparent to all. When you lead a public life you don't have the luxury of retreating to a private space and having your struggle all to yourself. It's right out there the depression, the doubts, the misgivings visible to the entire world. And she kept on going. She practiced a lot, she realized a lot, and some of the doubts remained, for that was part of who she was.
While working with a prison inmate, she wrote: "Just as the Buddhist who said to the hot dog vendor, Make me one with everything, the good news is that you are one with everything. Just as you can't fall outside of God's loving embrace, you can't fall outside the Kingdom of God, which truly is within you. Whether you are in a state of bliss or in the profoundest hell, you are not anathema. All your paths are superintended, you have always been on the Path. You can't fall off it. Everything is conspiring to lead you home to experience your true nature. Everything you are doing now, including all the mess-ups and screw-ups and mistakes are exactly the right thing for you to learn what you need to know to move along your path. All the causes and conditions of your unique life have brought you to this moment. And given your particular set of causes and conditions you have always done your best."
She died 8 years ago, just a few days short of her 57th birthday. Had she lived she'd be approaching her 65th birthday now. Towards the end of her days she wrote: "I want results instead of process. What a trap. As I create and listen, I will be led. As I create and listen, I will be led. As I create and listen, I will be led. The process takes care of itself. Just listen. As I create and listen, I will be led."
It's so simple. It's life as it is, and if it's life as it is then it must be me as I am. I don't have to add anything extra; I don't have to worry too much, I don't have to analyze or plan or think, though all these things have their place. As I create and listen, I will be led. I just have to listen. Just listen.
I was able to conceive of and carry out the Steps To-Marrow project, walking with not-knowing and relying on the generosity of others because of my work and study with the Peacemaker Community. I wanted to share and honor these roots with all of you. I am grateful for Jishu's legacy, as co-founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order and to the Teachers and Founders of the Peacemaker Community; an international, interfaith network, stressing the integration of spiritual practice and social action through Three Tenets:
Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe;
Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world; and
Loving action for ourselves and the world.
I extend deep gratitude Roshi Holmes, Roshi Bernie Glassman, Roshi Eve Marko, Roshi Grover Gauntt and all of the other founding teachers.