Suiko: the Abbess formerly known as Betsy

Posted by on Nov 16, 2019 in Blog | No Comments
Suiko: the Abbess formerly known as Betsy
The Abbess formerly known as Betsy

On a sweltering eve of the August full moon, I knelt before my Buddhist teacher in a beautifully-crafted Japanese-style Zendo at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel, California, surrounded by 70-some monks and visitors and received my dharma name.

I had been preparing for the ceremony for nearly two years, sewing a rakusu (patch robe), reciting buddhist prayers with each tiny stitch. I had offered incense to every altar at the center and done many full prostrations. I had (mostly) memorized the parts I needed to speak in the ceremony.

Before my teacher, Fu (Abbess of Green Gulch Farm & Green Dragon Zen Temple) spoke, she looked into my eyes. In the silence between us I felt her ask, “Are you here?” It took some minutes to hear her question through all my nervousness. Suddenly my awareness came to my body and with a rush of relief, I realized that was, indeed, present. She continued to hold my gaze in silence and then the next message came through: “I am here with you.”

It was a moment of gorgeous intimacy. Receiving the bodhisattva precepts isn’t something you do alone. It’s something you do in concert with your teacher, your fellow practitioners, and, well, all beings.

When Abbess Fu said my dharma name for the first time, something shifted in me. She said, “Suiko Ikusei: light on water, nourishing life.” Tears immediately welled up in my eyes. I felt the space around me expand. Images flooded my mind:

  • childhood summers in Lake Michigan, where my matrilineal extended family lives and where I though God lived — a connection to my roots as a Christian Scientist and my extended family who doesn’t necessarily understand or identify with Buddhism and my particular spiritual path but whom I love deeply;
  • my long history as a synchronized swimmer that began with me being terrified of water and late to learn to swim — a connection to my growth, my bravery, and the transformation of failure & fear into strength & creative expression;
  • my life as a student of Buddhism certainly but also my personal relationship to spirit that doesn’t fit into any organized religion, the subtle presences I could feel around me — a connection to my unique journey;
  • the videos I had made in grad school of light passing through water and how those videos had been a breakthrough not so much in the artworks themselves but in my understanding of my creative process and my trusting in my own intuition.

This name was so much bigger than the Buddhist context in which I received it.

I feel like the name did not come from my teacher so much as through her.

For days afterward, I walked around in a stupor.

For weeks I considered what it would mean to take on this name.

And now, I’ve made my choice. Not because I dislike the name Betsy or who Betsy has been. Not at all. But because of what I want to step into and the call to which I want to respond.

I  invite you to call me Suiko (soo-EE-koh).

I want to be called Suiko.

To be called in as Suiko.

To learn more about the ceremony, the precepts, and to see photos of the rakusu and more, pop over to the blog post on my portfolio site: suiko.art.

I deeply appreciate the efforts of people who have known me as Betsy for more than 40 years (ahem!) to make the switch. It means the world to me.

With humble gratitude,

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