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Subtle Sound

Subtle Sound: The Zen Teachings of Maurine Stuart is a collection of talks by the late Canadian-American Buddhist master, mother, and concert pianist who was sometimes called "Ma Roshi". It's edited by Roko Sherry Chayat. The Foreword by Edward Espy Brown begins:

Reading over these talks by my friend and teacher Maurine Stuart Roshi, I am struck by a simple fact. There are no secrets here. Nothing is revealed. If you are seeking to get an insight or saying that does something for you, you will find nothing in these talks. What is found will be in your yourself, your own treasure. As Dogen Zenji said about a good teacher, "Even if the wood is bent, placed in skilled hands its splendid merits immediately appear." Maurine wants you to know the splendid merits that are yours.

This is Maurine's great gift, her genius, her realization—to give you your independence rather than taking it away. This is far more difficult than it sounds. The temptation to which many teachers succumb is to offer insights and understandings, brilliant and articulate words that often leave the student feeling dumb and unworthy, dependent on the teacher for the next spiritual fix, for the right understanding. Maurine is careful to let you stand on your own: "We are working together, sitting together, helping each other, but not in a way that we become dependent on each other's help. . . . We have a clean, clear friendship, without expectations and without demands." (From "The Illusion of 'I'") Maurine was not someone who needed to impress or dazzle anybody with her understanding. She was simply intent on awakening others to what was already theirs.

Editor Sherry Chayat in her Introduction tells of Maurine Stuart's complicated life. Their meeting is charmingly auspicious:

My first encounter with Maurine was at a weekend sesshin at the Zen Studies Society's New York Zendo Shobo-ji. It was in the early part of 1970, soon after I had become a member. During sesshin, we women slept on the carpeted floor of the second-floor library. We would stow our sleeping bags and other belongings in a walk-in closet, where we also kept our meditation robes. That first morning, having been thrust by the shrill tones of the shinrei (wake-up bell) into a mixture of grogginess and panic, I rolled up my sleeping bag, got in line to use the bathroom, then scurried into the closet to change into my robe. Certain I couldn't last through pre-dawn morning service and zazen without something to eat, I pulled a bag of dried fruit from my coat pocket, and sat down among the sleeping bags underneath the coatrack.

An imposing woman with beautiful red hair came in as I was furtively nibbling away. Caught, I held out the bag to her. Picking out one apricot with exquisite grace, she smiled, and suddenly all my ill-defined, stomach-clenching sesshin fears melted away. After sesshin ended, I had a chance to speak with her, and was struck again by her warmth, dignity, and humor.

Excerpts and images to follow ...

(cf. Not Always So (2009-07-04), No Beginning, No End (2013-03-24), Charlotte Joko Beck (2014-08-18), No Expectation (2015-01-02), ...) - ^z - 2017-01-03