Jôkei Sensei: “Exiting zazen from the meditation room”

- through Fabrice Groult

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Jôkei Sensei is since June 2018 the new abbess of the Demeure sans Limites. In this interview, she evokes the mission of this Sôtô Zen temple founded more than thirty years ago and her own journey from her discovery of Zen to her enthronement as abbess of the place.

What role does a Zen temple like the Demeure sans Limites play in our society at the start of the XNUMXst century?

La Demeure sans Limites has existed for more than thirty years. One of the objectives of Joshin Sensei, the founder of the temple, was to go out zazen of the meditation hall. We offer people who come here some tools to do that. Our goal is to help people bring back this moment of peace, of tranquility that they feel and live at Demeure sans Limites in their daily lives, once they have left. This place is made for lay people. It works for them and thanks to their contributions. Some arrive here quite physically or morally tired. Our role is to help them see things from another angle, to learn to free themselves from the weights (exaggerated or unfounded worries, life in the past and in the future) that exhaust them. The practice exercised here can, for example, allow them to walk in full awareness between the metro station and their place of work, avoiding being tossed around by worries.

I see us a bit like a decompression chamber that we use before returning to the world. However, we do not live outside the world. We have exchanges, links with the villagers. We do our shopping in the village and pay our taxes and insurance like everyone else. Of course, we live away from the world and can offer people who come to spend a moment with us time to breathe. We may also help to heal their wounds a little or to put some balm on them. In such a way that they leave lightened, less stressed, more confident and freed from their fears, with the desire to implement changes in their lifestyles.

La Demeure sans Limites is located in the middle of the countryside. How important is life in the great outdoors to you?

It's essential. The implementation of Temple in Ardèche country in the middle of fields and on the edge of a forest helps the people we welcome to reconnect with nature, with natural rhythms, with the seasons, to confront heat and cold. Men are also part of nature, which we tend to forget. Here, away from the hustle and bustle of the world, people also reconnect with silence. It is this silence that allows you to refocus.

When did you realize that you were destined for monastic life?

I encountered zazen, this silent sitting without support, in the 1990s. I had never practiced meditation or yoga before. The seat, legs crossed, was then very uncomfortable for me. But the silence and the access to a certain depth appeared and filled me immediately. It was a real discovery. Since then, I have never stopped practicing zazen.

“I see us a bit like a decompression chamber that we take before returning to the world. »

I first practiced in a small group in the Vaucluse where I lived, before coming to the Demeure sans Limites. Here, I was seduced – and favorably impressed – both by the abbess who animated it and by the place, the way of life and the teachings of the Buddha – and in particular that of the Four Noble Truths – which were offered there. I wanted to live the way that felt right to me. I particularly appreciated these times of zazen which punctuate the day. I came more and more frequently to the Demeure sans Limites before settling there, then being ordained a nun there in 1998.

Were the retreats you did in Japan, at Nisodo, this monastery for training nuns of the Soto school, important steps for you?

These retreats at Nisodo were essential for me. I lived for more than ten years at the Demeure sans Limites with Joshin Sensei. But I still had difficulty finding my place there. I was missing a person who plays the role of mirror. It was decided that I would go to Japan for three months in this training center for nuns of the Sôtô school, where I found women who had made the same life choice as me. So Joshin Sensei sent me there three times for periods of three months. Then I went back to live there longer between the end of 2010 and April 2013.

What is the teaching you received from your Japanese master, Aoyama Roshi, that you consider the most important?

Aoyama Roshi and Joshin Sensei taught me the importance of opening the heart, but also constancy and rigor. One of Aoyama Roshi's most salient character traits is that she is always laughing. It is at the same time joyful and very light. This attitude is not something innate, but the fruit of a long work on itself. She makes fun of the nuns she trains with great benevolence and love. Just as she laughs at herself. She also has an amazing capacity for work. She doesn't stop! She frequently lectures and writes extensively; she is the author of dozens of books. She can, however, be quite sharp when she judges that the lay people who come for retreats are not taken care of sufficiently well and in a benevolent manner. She came to Ardèche in June 2018, on the occasion of my enthronement as abbess of the Demeure sans Limites.

How do we know if we are in the right direction with respect to the Way? If one transmits an authentic Buddhism?

Here, we rigorously respect the line, the rhythms and the schedules that were taught to me and transmitted to me by Joshin Sensei, my master, who remains very present, and by Aoyama Roshi. I don't make an important decision without talking to Joshin Sensei about it. When I see people leave lightened and with a smile, I tell myself that we have done a good job.

How do you proceed to safeguard the essence of Zen Buddhism, while adapting the practices of the Sôtô school to the era, the culture and the characteristics of the territories where these temples are established?

You have to adapt, but be careful not to go too fast. We have, for example, stopped using chopsticks during meals and now use spoons. On the other hand, we have kept the ritual of eating from bowls while simplifying it a lot. It is an important ritual in that it highlights living together and presence in the world. We adapt by being careful not to keep form for form's sake. Our Japanese masters and teachers tell us that it is up to us Europeans to find the way to adapt practices and teaching to our lifestyles. Soto Zen Buddhism has been established in Europe for forty years. It's still brand new.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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