An Interview with Sensei Enkyo O’Hara

March 17, 2003

Source: Tricycle

On March 17, 2003 Tricycle reported that "Sensei Enkyo O’Hara is abbot of the Village Zendo, in Lower Manhattan. A Zen priest, she is a dharma heir in the Maezumi-Glassman line of the White Plum Sangha of Soto Zen Buddhism. She serves as an elder in the Zen Peacemaker Order, part of an interfaith network integrating spiritual practice with peacemaking and social action... [She said in an interview] 'in the sixties I participated, as so many did, out of anger, in demonstrations. I can remember that at one demonstration against the war in Vietnam, I suddenly realized that these young men going off to war were victims themselves. They were not the enemy. This was confusing to me. And so for a few years I stepped back from social activism. I had grown up thinking that there was always an enemy. So to suddenly discover that there was no enemy—but that there was still injustice—was very difficult. At that time I was reading about Buddhism; I wasn’t practicing, I was an armchair Buddhist. I was trying to find answers by reading, but it was only by sitting, and the experience of oneness, and of only taking care of what’s in front of you, that I was finally able to approach activism in a different way.'" O'hare went on to say, "In Zen-- and I'm not talking about Buddhism, I'm talking about Zen--a primary teaching is that there is no one way. The minute you hold to any one principle to the exclusion of others, you've missed the point... This is a very difficult idea to accept: although we all want a path, a right way, we can't have the kind of certainty we crave. There's always the other side... You just have to trust that your practice, your awareness of your oneness with all beings, and your compassion will be activated in each moment. And also know that of course you have to act, and you may not be acting appropriately... But Zen can tell you how to work with the suffering you experience. A lot of people I see every day have been living with fear since 9/11, especially here, downtown, just blocks from Ground Zero. This kind of death has been going on all over the world, and continues even now, but it's new here in Manhattan. When someone comes in to dokusan [in Zen, a private interview with the teacher] and asks, 'Why did this happen?' I'm not going to address that. I'm going to ask, 'Where are you feeling the fear that you're feeling right now? Can you show me that fear?' It comes down to 'Where are you right now?'"