Monday, June 6, 2016

In Memory of Zenkei Blanche Hartman (1926-2016)

Zenkei Blanche Hartman from Boundless Life: A Chronicle Dedicated to Zenkei Blanche Hartman

Zenkei Blanche Hartman (1926-2016) was a Soto Zen teacher practicing in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. From 1996 to 2002 she served two terms as co-abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center. She was the first woman to assume such a leadership position at the center. A member of the American Zen Teachers Association, Blanche was especially known for her expertise in the ancient ritual of sewing a kesa, called Nyoho-e, the practice of sewing Zen ceremonial robes in the lineage of Sawaki Kodo Roshi, which she had learned during the 1970s from Kasai Joshin Sensei, formerly of Antaiji. She taught this unique form of Zen practice to hundreds of students at the San Francisco Zen Center, and played an important role in establishing the practice in North America.

Lou and Blanche Wed from Boundless Life:
A Chronicle Dedicated to Zenkei Blanche Hartman
Born in Birmingham, Alabama to non-practicing Jewish parents in 1926. Blanche was educated in the Catholic school system in the early 1930s, but in 1943 her family moved to California, where her father served in the military. After taking up biochemistry and chemistry at the University of California she married Lou Hartman in 1947, giving birth to four children. In the late 1950s she found work as a chemist, though by 1968 she began questioning the direction of her life. She and her husband began sitting zazen regularly at the Berkeley Zen Center in Berkeley, California in 1969, and in 1972 the two entered Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. The couple lived at all of the other San Francisco Zen Center sites, including City Center and Green Gulch Farm. Shuun Lou Hartman passed away in 2011.

In 1997 Blanch and Lou were both ordained as priests by Zentatsu Richard Baker, and Blanche was given the Buddhist name Zenkei, meaning inconceivable joy. In 1988 she received shiho from Sojun Mel Weitsman, and in 1996 she became installed as co-abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center. Zenkei Blanche was the first female abbess of the City Center, having served just after Tenshin Reb Anderson and Sojun Mel Weitsman. One reason Blanche accepted the position of co-abbess, serving two terms from 1996 to 2002, is that she understood the need for women to have a role model. Among others, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, author of "The Way of Tenderness," was a student of Zenkei Blanche Hartman, who ordained her in 2008.

To read the San Francisco Zen Center's obituary in memory of Zenkei Blanche please click here, as well as the blog, Boundless Life, dedicated to Zenkei Blanche's life.




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