When we walk into a house where the furniture is all out of place, foot wear strewn around, unwashed mugs and plates scattered here and there, washed and unwashed clothes piled in corners, a guest who walks in for the first time, feels like putting things in order. Our life is pretty much like this. We try this and that, continue to do this and drop that, then pick that up again and drop this, we try out something new, retain something old. This goes on and on and on through this endless voyage of life. Somewhere, life brings us to a spot where we have tried the this and the that and all of that and now we are up against the wall with nothing further that we feel drawn to try. At this point, a point of contact arises in us, and when we notice that, we feel like the universe supports us to put things in order. This is when we are prepared to uphold and move along with the cosmic order. We’re up against the wall. Ordination happens and things start to fall in order.
When my Master (spiritual father in India) passed on 14th of May 1999, I felt totally shattered and in complete chaos. Now what? I recalled with nostalgia the words he said to me a little before his passing – “You are a half baked cake!” During the prayer class, he said – “From now on you will be called Gayatri Devi”. I was surprised at my new name. I travelled with my Master to a small village where he installed a temple over his mother’s grave in his home town. After the ceremony, I left back to the temple where I lived with my master in the Blue Mountains. I found there a big parcel of dried fish that came in the mail addressed to my Master. This was unusual. I instantly called him and for the first time, I used my new name – “Gayatri Devi here, someone from Hyderabad has sent a parcel of dried fish, what would you like me to do with this?” In the ashram, we don’t eat or cook fish. He laughed and replied – “Oh, that’s because in an interview I talked about a Roasted coconut chutney that my mother used to make, and added that it would taste good with a little dried shrimps. You may open it out and distribute it to the families in the village.” Okay , I said and just before I cut the phone, he said – “ I just received a letter from a ‘Gayatri Devi’, we don’t want two Gayatri Devi’s. Remove the Devi. “Okay, so is there anything else”? He said – “Wait, and it will follow.” mmm interesting!
Unexpectedly after his demise and my wandering about in the Himalayas, I ended up at Tassajara Zen Monastery. I was Jiko for evening service, standing outside the Abbots cabin with my teacher Ryushin Paul Haller who was Doshi one evening during summer guest season. I was wearing a Black Phiran (Traditional Kashmiri woolen outfit), holding the burning Incense with two hands. He said to me –“How nice it would be if you had a rakusu on”. By now, I had been practicing at Tassajra for a while. This stuck in my head and we started talking about it. When I came over to the city center, Shohaku Okumura Roshi was doing a Genzo-e Retreat (It’s a unique offering, which focuses on the study of Shobogenzo a collection of works by great Mast Dogen Zenji). This time the great Japanese scholar Shohaku Okumura Roshi was teaching the ‘Virtue of the Okesa’ – Kesa Kudoku where he talked about the Funzo-e (rag robe). I was most touched by how the monks in the past would find fabric that had no attachment, like cloth used to cover the dead, or material used by ladies during menses or child birth, or material bitten and chewed by rabbits or material partly destroyed by fire, anything that is discarded. They would clean and wash it, and dye it in ochre or kashaya color, cut it into pieces and sew it together. All this is done with a sense of humility, deep concentration on every stitch centered on breathing with a chant.
I told my teacher, that is a great idea. I would make a funzo-e. He agreed reluctantly, but set forth several guidelines. Each fabric should be bleached and dyed in blue color. I was never inspired to make one with brand new fabric. So began my hunt for rags. The first piece was a black handkerchief that Brother David Steindl Rast threw down from his pocket when I told him about it. He said – ‘That is discarded’. Later I asked for rag pieces from teachers who I felt were not attached to the material. Tenshin Roshi, Zenkai Roshi, Jordan Thorn, Mark Lancaster, Kosho and Sonja Gardenswartz. I brewed and brewed all summer through the summer guest season at Tassajara. I bleached in the afternoon during lunch break at the laundry area and dyed in blue over a blazing stove top at night, when only the baker and I were around. I put it all together with a lot of help from the crew I worked with at the stone office, the lovely Siobhan, Ann Baker and Elizabeth. I soon had to leave to India, when I ran into Vicky Austin and she provided the last neck piece. I had no time to bleach or dye it. It was a piece from Okusan’s (Suzuki Roshi’s wife) Kimono, which she left with Vicky for such projects. It was a deep purple piece. This was my lay ordination, where I was given the name Ji Kai Shindo (Compassion Ocean, Heart/Trust way), at an informal ceremony in the Abbots Dokusan room at City Center.
Several years later, again back at Tassajara my teacher Ryushin Roshi decided to ordain me as a priest, when again I had to return to India due to some problems with the visa. I had not sewn an Okesa (priest robe). Ryushin Roshi picked up an old Koromo from the Abbots cupboard, a kimono, and a jubon. He found an Okesa in the sewing room made by an unidentified person (in the days of Okusan, some young Japanese women used to help sew okesa’s). And my dear friend Judith Randel passed on to me her worn out old zagu (priest bowing cloth). There I was in the middle of the Ventanna Wilderness, bowing and vowing to my ancestors and teachers in India, receiving the robes and the bowls into a Japanese Tradition. My teacher Ryushin Roshi said at the end of the ceremony – “One world right here! I am an Irish man, ordaining an Indian woman, into a Japanese Tradition, right here, in California!
Now I wonder how things fall in order. The half baked cake started to bake further. Being Shuso is yet another ordination said Abbess Linda Ruth Cutts.