She was formally ordained as a Priest of Soto Zen Buddhism on Dec. 7th, but I couldn't get her on the phone at the Great Vow Zen Monastery until last night. She is in excellent health and good cheer, though as bald as an egg due to the head-shaving ceremony prior to her ordination.
We had a good long talk about family goings-on, but even more about where she is and what she's doing. She's even in a picture on their website (she is in the immediate foreground), though this is prior to her ordination. She is now officially a priest, and according to her the majority of preparing for that was living a year of postulancy, and then making her own Buddhist robes. This seems a bit like living a year of being a Padawan, and then making your own lightsaber, but I didn't point that out to her. She knows, I'm sure.
I had this image of the monastery being basically full of small Japanese men, and Alison. (Reverend Yuko, now...) However, it turns out that about everyone that lives there is actually anglo, which I find interesting. There are what Alison calls "ethnic Buddhists" in the area, who are apparently delighted that so many Americans are taking an active interest in Zen, and following the dharma. I was even more interested to hear that many teachers of Zen in Japan are keenly interested in coming to America, because there's a popular conception that Zen practice in Japan is very static, whereas it is vibrant and alive over here. Maybe it's a West Coast thing, but I know most people here look at me wall-eyed when I tell them I'm a Buddhist. I'm surprised to hear that there is such an active interest,but also encouraged. Maybe in time there will be genuine religious and philosophical tolerance in America.
I was also interested to hear that while all Buddhist robes are of the same design and cut, the color of the robes varies by region - for Indians they are saffron, for Koreans, grey, and for Japanese, black. Since Zen is a Japanese tradition, Alison's robes are black (and her under robes are of a traditional Chinese pattern, with sleeves down to the ground. I wonder if that's dangerous in icy conditions?) .
Anyway, Alison and I talked for a while, and basically caught up. She's not travelling anywhere for the holidays, and Bo'Haatsu, the Enlightenment Festival has already passed so the big event at the Monastery is already done. Though she says they do have a Christmas party at the Zen monastery.... I wonder how many Catholic monasteries have Bo'Haatsu festival parties? And what's a party at a Zen monastery like, anyway?
When we'd gotten all caught up - or at least as much as one can in a short time, I finally had to sign off to pick up some party supplies at Ikea. I said, "Good bye, Girly-Sue. I mean... Reverend Girly-Sue! Be excellent in everything you do."
I hope I managed to express both my great pride in her achievements and successes - and also that fact that I am, and will remain, her older brother. It was great to talk to her. She's sending me pictures from her ordination, and I can't wait to see them.