My Dharma sister, Malgosia Jiho Braunek, died in Poland the 23rd of June after a long illness. One week earlier, when I learned she was in palliative care, I flew to Warsaw to spend time with her and her family.
When I arrived in her hospital room, I met an emaciated but radiant face with a huge smile and beautiful green piercing eyes. Here she was with her light and strong presence, with her warmth and indefatigable love for life and for people.
In the meantime, her sangha was holding a vigil sesshin full of tears, full of love and devotion for their beloved teacher who, in her struggle with sickness for the entirety of the previous year, had given them the most direct teaching imaginable on the great matter of life and death.
Two days before her passing, in the bed of her hospital room, surrounded by a few senior students, she gave Hoshi (the position of Dharma Holder) to one of them. Without many words, she took the time to look closely into the eyes of each of them–one by one–and finally said: I love you all so much.
That was where her teaching came from, directly from her heart. So connected with her own heart, she inspired others to go deep into themselves and find the way to the source of their own lives, the source of their being, their heart.
And for her, what had been her way?
As a very young and beautiful actress, it took only a few films to make her into a star, a colorful and provocative figure, a symbol of freedom in the gray communist Poland of the end of the Sixties.
But soon she started to question the star system and, being so immersed in acting, she became scared of losing herself, of losing her true identity in it.
At a peak of her career, her decision to walk away from acting altogether came as a shock to her devoted public.
Together with her husband, Andrezj, she started on a spiritual quest which brought them, through many différent encounters and practices, to Zen. She became Genpo Roshi’s successor in 2003 and founded Kanzeon Sangha Poland.
Many years after she stopped acting and after already being a Zen teacher, she came back to it, confident that in being fully herself she could now be whatever role she was offered and chose to be. She was not playing any more, she was just being.
“The great actress with no mask” as Lupa, a famous Polish theater director, who directed her in the recent years, spoke of her a few days ago.
Her return to acting was not easy for some of her Zen students, wondering which of the two, the famous actress or the Zen teacher, was standing in front of them.
But that was the gift she shared so generously and so lovingly with so many people: her capacity to embrace unconditionally as One Body the mother, the wife, the student, the teacher, the public actress, the intimate friend and so many more, including the fantastic clown she was, with a laughter that lasted until the end of her life with us and that will resonate in us forever.