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Val's Tea Talk about her Ordination

Val Szymanski comes quite regularly to the Saturday all-day sittings of the Mt. Source Sangha at Saint Aidan's in Bolinas - all the way from Cupertino. In December, Val was ordained as a Zen priest by her dharma teacher, Diane Martin, in Evanston, Illinois at the Udumbara Sangha. She gave the tea talk at our Bolinas sitting of January 11, 2003.

She spoke of sewing her okesa over months and months of Saturdays, and the changes this meant to her husband and family, and how supportive they were of her efforts to sew and sew and sew. Her okesa then had to be sent for approval to her sewing teacher in Wisconsin. She arrived at Udumbara the day after Thanksgiving, and immediately went into intensive study and personal retreat. It was the retreat -where she received teachings from her dharma teacher, her dharma sister, and others- that enabled her to enter the deep world of the precepts. It was there that she began to fulfill her ordination obligations that included the listing of those beings to whom she was grateful. A list that, after much hand-wringing and head-shaking and paper-tossing, included her parents, family, dharma teachers, two cats, and all sentient beings. Her okesa, now approved, had to be worn. The procedure involved in putting on the okesa is daunting and she had few days to learn it. Taigen helped her with it further after her ordination.

On her ordination day in December, many unexpected family members arrived. She had carried the fear and dread of head shaving throughout the sewing of the okesa. Now it was here, shining and radiant for all to behold. The ceremony began to take on the glow of celebration, and finally, with the introduction of drumming by her dharma teacher, of jubilation. She was given her Buddhist name:
Radiant Carrier of the Universal Vow.

And she was radiant giving the tea talk - she glowed. Expressing what being a priest meant to her, she dove deep and displayed a realization of gratitude, such wide and encompassing gratitude for everything - the grocery clerk, the librarian, the gas station guy, each and every being and bit of life encountered daily. She spoke so movingly, and showed such an open and vulnerable and intimate being, that tears appeared, and rolled down many cheeks. We were all in this together. She spoke of being soaked in the precepts, of swimming in them, so that, on leaving Udumbara, and going to the airport, she saw the beings she encountered with such fresh eyes. She saw, even in their brief encounters, who they truly were, and was moved by them, and made grateful. Gratitude. The Radiant Carrier of the Universal Vow was made radiant by Gratitude.

By Liz Tuomi

[Note from Taigen: It is my great pleasure that we now have a second Zen priest at Mountain Source Sangha. Congratulations to Val on this big step in her practice.]

   ©2006 Mountain Source Sangha