What have I learned from four female zen masters? Part 1

Some of the things I’m very interested in are our efforts as a collective and as individuals to balance the masculine and the feminine power in our world and in us. This made me think recently about how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to meet and work together with four female zen masters: Małgosia Braunek (Poland), Barbara Wegmüller (Switzerland), Catherine Pagès (France) and Eve Marko (U.S.).

In this post and the next three ones I’m going to share what I’ve learned from these four extraordinary women. Actually, I’m still trying to embrace these lessons and adapt them into my own life. I intend to share my very personal reflections and memories about these four modern, spiritual women.



I met Małgosia Roshi (roshi means old master and is a title for a Zen teacher) at the time when she already was an experienced zen teacher and, at the same time, slowly resuming her actress career. She became my formal zen teacher but to my sense for her forms and rules were always secondary in relation to people. When I was preparing myself to receive jukai (the zen precepts) and traditionally had to manually sew my rakusu, (a rectangular piece of fabric made of patches that represents the robe of the Buddha) I have to admit that actually my two best friends who are very good at sewing with a machine wanted to contribute to this process and sewed almost all of it for me. She accepted that and moreover was able to share with me my appreciation for them. When I confessed with big embarrassed that I started leading, on my own, the Big Mind process with groups without any formal training or her permission, she answered: „O.k., so it’s clear that you are driven to that. We have to organize some training for people like you”. When I was in a very difficult moment in my life and starting doing a practice of a thousand zen bows per day to speed up my growth, she tried to convinced me to reduce the number of bows and be more gentle with myself. She could share her teacher’s place in her zendo (a zen meditation hall) with teachers from different traditions, including priests, rabbis and monks, but also with her own students. Her zendo was also open for children, who would always make lots of noise, and even for dogs. Such openness and flexibility in life and relationships I wish to attain myself one day.



What I wanted to learn the most from her was integration. Over the years I witnessed her being very much involved with her family, with our sangha (the zen group she led) but also with her theatre and film career and with her friends who had nothing to do with Buddhism. She was committed to and very involved with everything she was doing. She loved art, especially music and film, but she was also crazy about shoes and good vegetarian food. I loved it when she once decided to advertise a face cream for women over 60. When I asked her after her second remission of cancer, what she was going to do now, she answered: „Mariola, everything necessary in my situation!”

At the end of her life she was deeply concerned with and interested in a holistic approach of cancer treatment. Her testimonials and spirit are now held by the foundation „Bądź!”, led by her daughter Orina, which works to open the Polish medical system to a more holistic point of view and practices.



To me her most important characteristics were her wonderful smile and big, open heart. I don’t really think you can learn that but you can definitely practice it. This is the biggest teaching I have received from her. She made herself very available and present in our relationship, but for many years I wasn’t even able to see and receive that. And when I finally did and expressed that to her she replied: „I’m very patient, I can wait”. She also was a zen master who was able to apologize for her own mistakes in a relationship.

When she was already very ill, I visited her once with my fiancé in the hospital. At the end of our visit she said: „if I live longer I will not plan anything anymore”.

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