Roselyn Stone Roshi, Winding Road, Straight Path 26.1.2022
Cecilie M Lander
Happy Australia Day 2022!
Roselyn loved Australia and would love the Australia day celebratory lunch!
My task today is to share something of the essence of our own woman Zen Teacher Roselyn Stone Roshi – Sei’un An. (RS)
If only it were as easy as in the koan Shoyoroku 49, where Ungan tried to express his essential ‘Essence’, I would say, “Just this, this!” and sit down!
[Roselyn did this zen trick in a teisho in the Geelong Street zendo just once – as a few here may vividly recall!]
Our theme this Flexi-sesshin has been on Women in Zen. Today, I am offering this reflection in profound gratitude for our primary Zen Teacher. Merv and I are pleased to report that as of yesterday, Roselyn is very much alive and will be 91 years young on the 8th February in 2 weeks’ time!
She has 2 or 3 favourite koans: as I tell her story, you may see why she likes this one:
“Carrying my staff across my shoulders, I pay the others no heed and go straight into the thousand peaks” Case 25 Blue Cliff
“Carrying my true nature across my shoulders, I pay the others no heed (in the world of emptiness, who is there to heed?) and go straight into the thousand peaks” This is the same as going out onto the verandah into the storm (last night’s koan) – the small self disappearing into the life of
the storm/ the market place/ children to care for/ the 10,000 things of our everyday lives…
Roselyn is still doing this. She has accepted her older age with grace, equanimity, and with gratitude.
Yesterday’s phone call found her well recovered from asymptomatic Covid. She was bright and cheerful though she admitted to getting frustrated with a memory that is less sharp than formerly (though it is still jolly good!) and her greatly diminished eyesight. She continually tells herself to let those frustrations go too! So you see even at 91, practice goes on…
Nonetheless, she could see and tell us about the vista from her Retirement Home window in Orillia, 60 km north of Toronto She described that her balcony is heaped with deep snow. The Lake beyond has frozen over and ice huts are appearing on the surface of the lake. These little wooden shelters serve as a small safe space in which to shelter from the elements, while the owners make a hole in the ice inside and drop a fishing line into the waters beneath!
This talk will be in 3 parts:
1. Bones – short history of her life’s movements
2. Flesh – picking out some features of her Zen eye and Zen practice
3. Essence- an ongoing analysis that will be a little different for each one of her students – and will sum up something of her legacy to each one of us.
Winding Road Straight Path is the title of her Memoirs and the basis of Mountain Moon Sangha logo. It is based on another of her favourite koans, this one from the Miscellaneous collection:
“Go straight on a narrow mountain road that has ninety-nine curves”
This koan really does sum up the structure of her life! Her life most likely has had more than 99 curves as she criss crossed our planet for a good 30 years of her life – 13 years to Japan and 16 to Australia. What Roselyn found (and which is true for each one of us) was that at any turning point, she didn’t, at that moment, know it was a turning point – but she went
straight ahead into the next moment and the next and the next – as we all must. Hands free and enjoying the ride! And Roselyn did!
To put RS into our perspective:
• In the late 1980’s Mervyn had discovered Chenresig and Tibetan Buddhism. I found and sat with the Brisbane Zen Group (BZG) in 1988. Mervyn and I were both uncovered by AMA Samy SJ in 1989 – right here in Brisbane. When the student is ready the teacher appears! And we must have been ready!
• We became Samy’s students, but he could only spend 2 weeks in Australia each year. In his visit the following year, 1990, Samy gave some lectures at the BZG where he suggested the possibility of his Dharma sister, RS to the BZG. This was taken up by BZG who I had been sitting with.
First some background on RS
• RS was born in 1931 and raised in Ontario, Canada. She pursued a
career as a physical education teacher and, after receiving her MA
and PhD, became professor. A sabbatical leave in 1977–78, when
she was 46 years of age, at the peak of academic promise, led her
into exploring new areas relative to dance, sport, exercise and play,
which took her to Japan. In 1977, she undertook some beginner’s
Zen practice under the direction of Zen Master Ko’un Yamada in
Kamakura who was already renowned for his open teaching to lay
men and women and he taught a lot of Christian Religious.
• In her second sit, she knew she was hooked. This was no longer an
academic exercise. This was a practice she simply had to follow
with her entire being!
• RS fell in love with Zen and was profoundly affected by the depth
of wisdom of her teacher.
• During that sabbatical, her kensho (awakening/enlightenment) was
confirmed and over the next thirteen years, with shorter and longer
stays in Kamakura, she completed the “examination in the room”
(koan study) and was appointed an “authorized Zen Master.”
• RS spent a total of 13 years in Japan often for many months at a
• Finally, she resigned her academic position and threw her security
into the unknown waters of being a Zen teacher.
• In Japan, she got around by riding her bicycle and using trains; she
taught English to subsidize her costs. She learnt to live simply and
resiliently, learning so much about her international Dharma
siblings – what we now call the First Generation of Zen Masters
taught by Yamada Koun Roshi. She learned a lot about Japanese
culture, language, and she loved its people.
• Many of those other folk of the First Generation of Teachers often
had a lot of Institutional support behind them. Roselyn had no
support. It was just her, as she was.
• I think this letting go of the usual material security was an
important and courageous step in Roselyn’s life. I could not do it.
She had no dependents it is true; but to throw in a good job to
follow her zen vocation was, in short, remarkable.
• In the context of Monday night’s koan, she did step out onto the
verandah of her life – not perhaps at that point to face her fears but
to accept the latest twist in her road of life – her new zen reality.
However it is expressed, she let go all her old financial and social
• She jumped into the abyss with hands outstretched and nowhere to
place her feet – an image she was fond of promoting to practice
• It was a great step in faith, in resilience, in courage and
• As we were about to find out…
Roselyn arrived in Brisbane in 1991, aged 60 years, for her first exploratory
sesshin invited by the BZG.
1992 – her first 6 months residency -Ascot. It went along with a few rocky
patches! At the end of that year, the BZG were split over Roselyn! The decision to bring her back to Australia went 13 to 12!
1993 – RS called in at Robert Aitkin’s pad on Hawaii – he was familiar with
BZG who liked to run it themselves! Roselyn takes up the story in her memoirs:
“….when we went for lunch together he leaned toward me his eyes
glinting mischievously and asked, “Well, how did your time go with the BZG?”
So I told him of the ‘defections’ — long-time members who’d decided it was more fun, if that’s the word, when they ran things themselves. Yielding to me, the teacher, decisions about who would serve as Tantô, Jikidô, Inô, Tenzô and Jisha (which, many years later I would discover my students with characteristic Aussie irreverence to call ’Santa’s little helper’)
and the chants to be used was not something they’d expected to have to do. Others, who felt drawn to the teaching of Joko Beck’s ’Every Day Zen’ left because they found my classical Zen teaching not as attractive as her modern take on Soto-school teaching and started sitting with a senior BZG member who had formally become Joko’s student. Bob smiled consolingly
and said that in his now-considerable experience this was characteristic of groups that decided to get a teacher after having functioned on their own for some time. It had happened to him more than once. “They bring you in,” he said, “and then decide it was better without you. Too stuck in their egos.”
RS suggested a split of BZG and so two successful and amicable groups formed:
• Every Day Zen and
• RS group would become Mountain Moon Sangha – and so we did and it went well for a time after that!
1993/4: Then there was a second smaller split – one of our members, Peter Hart wanted to create a monastery – but that was not Roselyn’s idea.
• Trained by Yamada Roshi, she told him: “Like my teacher and his teacher, I am committed to making serious Zen practice available to ‘householders’ (to use the ancient term), practitioners who are out in the world. I am, therefore, not interested in establishing a monastery”
• This led to another mutual and amicable split. [Peter Hart (whose wife Irene, also a sitter with us, died of cancer) has had a wonderfully fulfilling life in Zen with amazing adventures. He went on to further training predominantly in Korea but also in China and the United States. He remarried and in 2016, founded the Phoenix Zen Centre in
The Mountain Moon Sangha with Roselyn’s leadership got down to work. There was a total of ten six month residencies and 6 three month residencies in all. Roselyn gave us a gift of 16 consecutive years of teaching – for 16 years she crossed the Pacific Ocean twice a year
to teach us Aussies Zen.
Her last residency year in Australia was 2007 – and at the end of that Sesshin, Richard Herps made the decision to formally transfer from Roselyn’s to my dokusan room – thank you
Richard for that trust – and that’s how he became part of Sun Mountain Zen.
Our small group of faithful practitioners supported RS with accommodation, pocket money, entertainment. She was, in short, every members responsibility for the 6 months she was here.
But we were just so keen! Any Zenkai, Intensive or sesshin with RS meant that we did our best to ‘show up’. Not only that, we fought to get into the dokusan line. Thinking back now– were we as greedy as I think we were? Richard, did we make room for all the others doing ‘mu’? I am sure RS would have made sure that everyone who needed to see her did so!
We really seriously greedy students were Jan Millward, LiYea Bretz, Jean Wilson, Gary Cam, Matt Love, Merv and I – the 7 of us worked as hard as we could to devour the Zen curriculum! This was such a unique opportunity and we were not about to waste it! But it surely was nice to have 6 months each year where we were not so self-driven! RS of course
went back to Canada where she spent the winter teaching her local group of sitters in her unit in Toronto.
Looking back – we were not a monastery. Yet during Roselyn’s residencies, we were a very close knit community that would pass as monastic in so many ways; yes we were all part of the Mountain Moon Zen householder community. We turned up to every event possible; we did working bees together and held lots of social activities. As Roselyn would always say, we do everything together in zen – and so we did. It was not without the
occasional arguments and egos getting bruised!
RS facilitated a cauldron of zen enthusiasts who fitted the definition of Householder lay Zen practitioners.
Because of her close association with Sanbo Zen in Kamakura, we hosted Kubota Roshi in Brisbane and later held the annual Kenshukai here in Brisbane and hosted the current Abbott, Roun Yamada, to that event.
In turn several of us visited and sat in sesshin in the Kamakura Zendo which had been built all those years ago right beside where the Yamada family lived.
FLESHing it out: Roselyn – flesh on the bones: (7 points, there may be more)
1. RS had and has a Passion for Zen.
a. The greatest gift. The Pearl of great price.
b. She was caught on her second day of sitting in Japan. She spent 13 years as learner balancing her life between Canada and Japan then 16 years in
compassionate service to Brisbane Aussies
c. Zen was her vocation.
d. She had a passion for sharing / teaching the gift of Zen with those who wanted it enough to do the hard yards.
e. She had little time for those who were dabbling, or half hearted, or for those who wanted a quick kensho and then thought they had the loot. They were only cheating themselves as she so often reminded us.
2. RS was and is adamant: To do Zen you must have a teacher. One teacher.
a. A student-teacher relationship is one of mutual trust, responsibility and
accountability. But they are different roles. They cannot be merged.
b. Earlier I mentioned the word she used – to “yield” – sometimes it is to “submit’.
i. Unfashionable at present as it smacks of oppression.
ii. The difference of course is that the student willingly allows this to happen – it requires trust in the teacher. The karmic connection between teacher and student. No small matter.
iii. There should be no clinging by the teacher – that was RS practice as it is
mine. The student is free to go and the teacher may make no attempt to
find out why. Not clinging – very important.
iv. Of course, the student is totally free to leave the teacher at any point.
c. Think about the magic of what we do in F2F dokusan – the bell rings, the
student bows and leaves. Often stumped for an answer, sit with it longer …
i. Growth in humility
ii. Growth in not-knowing
iii. Done out of grandmotherly care as RS used to say so often!
d. RS had total gratitude for her Teacher Yamada Roshi. She wrote:
i. “I have had some wonderful teachers in various disciplines in a fortunate
life, but none compares with him.”
3. Show up to practice.
a. Discipline and serious practice was important – Life and death are serious matters.
b. The discipline was strict but always tempered with a wonderful sense of humour and laughter.
c. She truly demonstrated strong back, soft belly!
i. RS loved the Japanese mythical Buddha Hotei – this particular figurine
always sat on her Butsudan
d. But RS could be a little bit scary (and was sometimes even described as
‘formidable’)! Coming in late, skipping sitting, wearing coloured clothing –
these only went so far with RS – her expectations often exceeded mine!
i. Genuine errors e.g. getting bells and times wrong, were always forgiven,
and always corrected so that the next time, it might be right!
ii. Strong back – but tempered with compassion; RS was never mean
spirited and the next laughter was usually only a breath away.
e. A regular question she would be asked: What book or books might you
recommend to someone interested in reading up on Zen?
i. RS: “I don’t.
ii. If you want to know what it’s like to ski, put on the skis and go down the
hill; if you’d like to know what Zen is, sit under the guidance of a
properly authorized teacher. “
f. This hasn’t changed. In our phone conversation with RS yesterday, I asked
whether she had access to Audio books.
g. “Yes she replied but I don’t want more words about Zen. I would rather
continue my open-eyed meditation on the vast lake out my window. I am so
fortunate that I can”
4. Clarity – get clear & get clearer, there’s no end to the process – clean the sooty window.
a. Never think you have arrived/ got it.
b. Grasping the fact of zen for oneself is a life changing experience – don’t be short changed.
c. Many zen teachers soften the need for Kensho. Not Roselyn. “You don’t know the taste of tea till you have tasted it. The taste of zen is losing oneself in a kensho experience.”
d. Then that is only the beginning. Personalise that experience into the maturity of knowing “vast and wide” for oneself.
5. Be prepared to be vulnerable
Being thrown out of the dokusan room without fear or favour comes initially as a shock – does one ever quite get used to it?
RS cheerfully shared her own vulnerabilities – especially when she had major vision challenges during one of her residencies with us.
She warned us not to expect her (or ourselves) to be superhuman – she grieved her dramatic loss of vision as we all grieve when personal stuff happens
Don’t turn away…. Grief is also the fact of Zen
We lived this too when one of our sitters Steve- was killed in a MBA when he hit a cow. RS spoke movingly at his funeral. “Steve is”, she said …
6. RS: The power of Story
RS enchanted us with her teisho that always involved her escapades and exotic adventures that surrounded her Zen training in Japan.
Her stories involved so many of the Sanbo Teachers of the First Generation
marvellously exciting dynamic group of people. It was truly an oral tradition as she shared memories of all the names we eventually came to know as people!
Willigis, Masamichi, Rueben and Maria Habito, Anna Maria, Gundula, Tom
Hand, and so many more…
The Yamada household Kamerkura Zendo had become an enchanted place in my imagination after Roselyn’s telling of stories about it; how fortunate we are that in due course, we could experience it for ourselves and add our own memories.
7. The ‘body of work’.
The job and joy of a zen teacher: Passing on the Dharma – seeing the joy of successors arise and carry on the teaching → bringing people to realization.
RS has 9 Successors: 7 in Australia, 2 in Canada
Mervyn Lander Gô’un Ken, Cecilie Lander Gô’en An, Li-yea Bretz Sei’un An (II), Matthew Love, Garry Cam, Jean Wilson, Jan Millwood dec.
2 in Canada: Carolyn Seburn and Dragan Petrovic
As well, 5 “grandchildren” in the Dharma – Arno, Glen deceased, Sue, Richard W and Richard H.
8. Mervyn and I have glimpsed something of this dynamic body of work going on here in this virtual Flexisesshin.
The work goes on – we have been blessed with all of you, a wonderful community of sitters who have all done your part – listening, sitting, chanting, giving talks, ringing bells, organizing rosters, keeping time, making comments … the work goes on down the lineage of dedicated women and men who practice not-knowing, who bear witness
to the facts as they arise, and who grow in compassion, care and appropriate action.
Let me say that Roselyn’s legacy lives on in each one of you!
So what of Roselyn’s Essence?
This Flexisesshin we heard Richard emphasise Joan Halifax Roshi’s phrases of Strong back, soft belly. Roselyn would agree
Show up – Roselyn to a tee!
Don’t turn away – RS to a tee
And Sue spoke of Susan Murphy Roshi: recognizing the precariousness of life, dropping ideal perfectionism and being real…
Roselyn would agree – and she would add some adventure and laughter to the mix !
In the dokusan room, RS was an adept ‘grandmotherly’ midwife, an amazing listener,
always with balanced gravitas and lightness in a delightful, unified mix. RS’ dokusan room was fun! Even when I got ‘chucked out’!
Yesterday at 91 years, her laughter and gratitude “for a fortunate life” remain infectious and tangible.
Roselyn had the will, the courage, the determination, the passion and the clarity of her Zen eye to make a difference by living her second half of life as a zen teacher and we are all the better for it.
My 2 favourite Roselyn Essence expressions are:
1. “Do your best” This was Roselyn’s blessing as she presented our teaching kotzu.
2. “We sit together always”.
Thank you Sei’unAn Roselyn Roshi.
We are forever grateful.
We sit together always