Master Joan

Dear Friends,

I am just settling down after nearly thirty hours of flying…and trying to comprehend what I have been through this past month. Vietnam was powerful enough…with the people rising from the ashes of war to foster the strongest economy in southeast Asia. The journey there was a return for me after seventeen years, to witness so much change, so much resilience. And with tremendous growth, the environmental problems of the past and present are very present. Dioxins do not disappear. They have a long life in the soil and flesh and the numbers of those with birth defects is notable. Agent Orange is something that we laid into the life of Vietnam, plus landmines…and now industry. So pollution is not inconsequential, among other problems. But life in Hanoi is bubbling and alive; swimming in the waters of Halong Bay and Phu Quoc was healing for me especially, and the time with the mountain people took us deep into our hearts, meeting the children as well as old Viet Cong who fought to win their war.

I then traveled to Nanjing, China, joining my friend Kaz Tanahashi and other Chinese and Japanese people, including dear Mayumi, for marking the 70th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre. I am too road-weary to go into detail, but to say it was like attending a war crimes trial is not an understatement. Listening to the testimony of survivors of the massacre tell their stories was nearly unbearable. Watching Japanese people cry in shame was also heartbreaking. But truly, you must read Iris Chang’s book The Rape of Nanjing. It is gripping and terrifying. How could this have happened, a true holocaust in the cruelest manifestation, and so few in the world taken note? Please read this book. It blew my mind.

I went with Kaz to Nanjing three times to prepare for this gathering, but I had no idea of the magnitude of the atrocities until a few days ago when I heard survivors testify. And to consider that some Japanese deny this happened is absurd and disturbing. So this provided a chance for some truth and reconciliation.

Kaz asked me to lead the panel on rape as a weapon of war. Chinese women scholars presented powerful evidence concerning Japanese soldiers torturing and raping Chinese women and children and taking girls and women as sex slaves. Japanese women spoke of the sexual and moral issues that beleaguer the sexist Japanese male culture. It was a very heavy and long afternoon. We had already heard testimony of rape and sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers of Chinese women and children the day before from survivors. And to tell you the truth, I felt for the many Japanese men in the audience. The women did not hold back. And I was relieved as a woman to hear such strength from my Asian sisters. It was an unbearable five hours of testimony…a lot to bear witness to and life-changing for me, as i have not known any horror as this.

All the sessions were filmed, so I hope to have a copy of this session for the sangha. It speaks volumes as to why i am dedicated to the spirit of Zen we carry at Upaya: a practice that does not deny the wounds of war, including the war between the sexes.

I also wondered often if those who come after us will find themselves in Baghdad one day, doing what we did this past week. There can be no reconciliation without truth.

Two hands together,
Roshi Joan