Roshi Merle Kodo Boyd passed peacefully at her home in Durham, NC, on Sunday, February 20, 2022. A recent transplant to Durham, Boyd was a cherished member of the RCWMS Board of Trustees.
In an article in Lion’s Roar marking Boyd’s passing, Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao writes that Boyd was “beloved for her keen wisdom, gentle kindness, and big love. Possessed of a fierce and independent spirit, Boyd was the first fully transmitted African American Zen teacher in the United States. Her life as a Black woman, particularly those experiences that shaped her throughout her childhood in a segregated but nurturing community in Houston, TX, and her life in the buddhadharma were intimately interwoven. She was fond of saying, ‘You can’t fall out of your life.’”
Boyd’s reflection for Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Hundred Years of Awakened Women, published in 2014, illustrates this tension. She chose Chiyono’s enlightenment poem: “With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together, and then the bottom fell out. Where water does not collect, the moon does not dwell.” Boyd writes:
“We are conditioned to keep the bucket from falling to pieces. Unique personal circumstances can intensify this general conditioning. I was in the first generation of southern black children consciously raised to enter integrated schools. In such circumstances, everything seems to ride on ‘keeping it together,’ especially in public, and so we were conscientious and hypervigilant in order to prevent disaster.
“And yet we Zen students have chosen a path that calls us in the opposite direction. In spite of our conditioning, we are called to awareness rather than vigilance. We are on a path of ‘no water, no moon.’ Our conditioning tells us that it is a risky path, and yet we sense its offer of freedom and feel called to take it.”
Merle’s life and writings will continue to guide us. We are grateful to have shared time with her, and send our deepest condolences to her family and friends.
Boyd lived in Texas for much of her childhood, finishing high school in Houston. She graduated from the University of Maine and received a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from New York University and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Hunter College in New York City. For much of her adult life, she worked as a clinical social worker and therapist in Middletown, NJ, primarily with veterans of the Vietnam War. She is survived by her husband, Ken Boyd; daughter, Malaika; and her many Dharma brothers and sisters.
Zen Center of Los Angeles will hold a main service for Boyd around April 9th, 2022.