Making Zen your own

A Reflection from Patrick Kundo Eastman, Roshi

I have just received my copy of the latest issue of the Mountain Record from Zen Mountain Monastery.  The theme for this issue is “Ancestors”.  I am interested in the first article  from Shugen Sensei on case 28 from the collection of koans “Transmission of Light” I do so because it has some bearing on our reflection on Bodhidharma in our study for 2016’s theme on ‘making Zen your own’.   Apparently the general scholarly opinion these days is that Prajnatara  who was Bodhidharma’s teacher was in fact a woman.  So Shugen goes on to write that ” She holds a special place within our lineage.  She is aid to have been an orphan who lived  on the streets and didn’t even know her own name – a very good beginning for a Buddhist master!.  She made her living by begging and one day she encountered Punyamitra who became her teacher and made her his Dharma heir. She then travelled to the Southern part of India and met Bodhidharma there and recognised his potential. As a woman she would have had a significant influence on Bodhidharma.  Whatever it was certainly then comes down to us as we reflect on Bodhidharma and see how he becomes alive in our own lives.

Shugen goes on to write, “This can prompt us to reflect on the fact that we are ah the recipient of innumerable currents in life – through the lives of others – streaming into and influencing our own lives. How many thoughts and questions , how many words and actions of others have influenced us to wonder about things, led us to the dharma?  How many acts of kindness, or words of inquiry or concern have we received that helped lead us to this very moment ?  How is it that on this very day we can study these teachings , learn these practices , be tested in our understanding and be in intimate contact with a spiritual process that began over 2,500 years ago?