Zen Ven. Patrica Bennage Established A Zen Temple After Studying Zen in Japan
07-24-2018    The Morning Call
<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt" align=center><SPAN lang=EN-US><EM><BR>Patricia Bennage<BR><BR>Participants walking while meditating (kinhin) around Mount Equity Zendo<BR><BR>Zen Seeds Reflections of a Female Priest</EM><BR><BR></SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>By Tim Blangger, The Morning Call, July 01, 2006 </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Patricia Bennage arrived in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Japan</st1:place></st1:country-region> in the mid 1960s as a classically trained dancer. She wanted to learn Japanese culture and its Noh Theater, which includes ceremonial dance. When her graduate studies ended, she faced a difficult decision.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Would she stay in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Japan</st1:place></st1:country-region> and teach English as a second language, one of the few jobs non-Japanese could hold in the country? Or, would she return to the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">United States</st1:place></st1:country-region> and continue her career as a classical dance instructor?</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>As it turns out, she choose neither, opting for a third path, a literal and figurative journey that would end when she became one of the few women Zen Buddhist priests in 1989 and one of only a very few Western women to have studied Zen Buddhism in Japan.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Bennage is now the abbess, or head, of the Mount Equity Zendo near <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Williamsport</st1:City></st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Once she made her choice to stay in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Japan</st1:place></st1:country-region> and study Buddhism, Bennage went on a Zen-like trek to the 88 Buddhist temples scattered around the country.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>She had no agenda, no itinerary and no goal beyond her desire to ''follow the Zen path in earnest,'' she says.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>She eventually found a teacher. ''He lived in a small temple made out of soy sauce vats turned upside down,'' Bennage, 67, recalls.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The meditation hall was an old bus with the seats removed. Bennage thought, ''If this is a temple, there is nothing holding me back.''</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Bennage stayed for a year, living in her own small hut, which was also constructed from recycled soy sauce vats.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''It was about six feet in diameter, enough room for a futon and a small desk. There were three hooks in the ceiling to hang your sitting robe, your work robe and your ceremonial robes,'' she says.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Creature comforts were minimal. There was no central heating, no hot water. When the weather got cold, Bennage wore a pair of uninsulated rubber boots.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The temple was poor and survived on donations of food and basic materials, including rice bowls and robes.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''If you have a heart for the [Zen] way, you'll always have enough to eat and enough to wear,'' Bennage was told.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''That was very clear cut. My only conditions for [Zen] practice were that I should sit down and shut up and live,'' she says.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>After a year her teacher, Omori Sogen Roshi, sent her to a women's monastery in a larger city.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''I needed to blend in with others,'' she says. She describes the years she spent in her second temple as ''deep Zen boot camp.''</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''Luckily, I had lived in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Japan</st1:place></st1:country-region> for several years at that point. I knew the language. I knew the dialects. Ballet discipline also helped. You don't get to be a paid dancer unless you stick to it. [Dancing] is very competitive. You have to be constantly learning or you don't last.''</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The monastery experience taught Bennage to be more sympathetic. With her blonde hair and blue eyes, she was a minority in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Japan</st1:place></st1:country-region> and the experience offered her a first-hand glimpse into how it feels to be different, the ''other'' in society. It was something she wouldn't have experienced if she had returned to the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">United States</st1:place></st1:country-region> rather than pursuing her Zen Buddhist training.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Bennage spent eight years at the women's monastery before she left and began her senior training, which took another four years.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Her studies included the five precepts of Buddhism: Don't kill, don't steal, don't indulge in sexual misconduct, don't lie and don't take intoxicants.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''I was very, very, very lucky,'' she says of her becoming a Zen priest.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''If I hadn't found a teacher, my life might have been very different and I don't think it would be as fulfilling.''</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Once she took her Buddhist vows, or precepts, and completed her senior roshi training, her name became Patricia Dia-En Bennage Roshi.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Bennage returned to the United States in 1989 and slowly helped establish a Zen temple, the Mount Equity Zendo, in a small Quaker village about 20 miles east of Williamsport in Lycoming County. Zendo is a hall used for meditation.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''When I left the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">United States</st1:place></st1:country-region>, [President] Kennedy had been assassinated.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>When I returned, the Berlin Wall had fallen. A lot had changed,'' Bennage says.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>She decided to return in part because she was the eldest and only daughter of an elderly mother who ''would likely need my help at some point,'' Bennage recalls.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Having her mother move to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Japan</st1:country-region></st1:place> was out of the question. ''There was no central heating. There was no television'' for her to watch, says Bennage ''I also realized there were enough Japanese teachers in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Japan</st1:country-region>, and not enough Zen teachers in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">America</st1:place></st1:country-region>. I was needed more back home, so I thought I should be able to open a temple here.''</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>When Bennage came home, her mother was living in an apartment in the former Quaker manor, which would eventually become <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Mount</st1:PlaceType> <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Equity</st1:PlaceName></st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Bennage gave Buddhist instruction in a small room in the apartment she shared with her mother to students she collected through word-of-mouth.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>As the circle of students grew, Bennage decided to rent the property at <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Mount</st1:PlaceType> <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Equity</st1:PlaceName></st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>She was formally installed as the abbess of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Mount</st1:PlaceType> <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Equity</st1:PlaceName></st1:place> in 1995 when a delegation of some 40 Japanese priests and officials arrived at the former Quaker village for the ceremony.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''When I returned [to the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">United States</st1:place></st1:country-region>], my mother was a tremendous help. She did grocery shopping. She sewed napkins. She helped with the dishes. She'd sit in with meditation with us.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>''She passed away last year, but she was such a gregarious, outgoing person. People saw her as a bridge. I'm forever grateful,'' Bennage says.</SPAN></P>
Editor: Wang Xinyu
   
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