Zen Women [Sale Edition]

Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens, and Macho Masters

Author : Schireson, Grace

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Book Details

  • Publisher : Wisdom Publications
  • Published : 2009
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 302
  • Size : 228 x 152mm
  • Category :
    Sale Books
  • Catalogue No : 19550
  • ISBN 13 : 9780861714759
  • ISBN 10 : 086171475X

By the same author

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Brand new. This book celebrates the traditional stories of Buddhist heroines while at the same time giving new identity and pride to modern readers male and female alike.

For centuries in Asia Buddhist women have been expressing their practice in a way that we in the West are just beginning to understand and come to terms with. Throughout Buddhist history women have had limited access to teachings and group ordination. They often had to practice within the confines of the seemingly mundane aspects of daily life in society. These women provide modern Western practitioners with fitting examples of spiritual perseverance in the face of ordinary struggles.

The non-duality so often stressed in Zen can empower us to transcend gender stereotypes and embrace our ability to live in genuine equality. The teachings of the Buddha have made their way around the globe and are constantly adapting in order to best benefit those who put them into practice, no matter where, no matter when, and no matter what gender.

"An exceptional and powerful classic with great depth, humour, and clarity." Joan Halifax.

"Encouraging, inspiring, and profoundly useful." Jane Hirshfield.

"Men and women alike will be moved by these stories of women who risked everything - sometimes even their lives - to study the Dharma. This book should be required reading for truth seekers of every faith." Lewis Richmond.

"Grace Schireson's readings of the stories and teachings of Zen's women ancestors are of far more than mere historical interest; they are of great value to all of us. You cannot find a more useful or more inspiring book on this subject." Miriam Levering.

"With passion and verve, this inspiring work is a significant step toward filling the gaping holes in Buddhist literature on women's practice. Read it, laugh, and weep - and feel empowered." Wendy Egyoku Nakao, abbess Zen Center Los Angeles.

"This book changes everything! Zen women is all about us. It resets the common understanding of Zen history with eye-opening stories. A must-read." Pat Enkyo O'Hara.

Read an extract of this title

For the past ten years I have been deepening my relationship with our female Zen ancestors. I wanted to know who they were, what challenges they faced, and how they were taught. When I began to teach, I wanted to know how they taught Zen as they lived it to their students. I wanted to know how I could relate to them and their practice across the divide of time and place. I wanted to put myself in their place when they faced decisions about taking care of their families, husbands and lovers, and students.
And I had many specific questions that related to my own practice:
How did it affect them to be taught by men? What did they feel as they tried to fit into this male practice environment, and how did their Zen training help them with their feelings? Did their practice lives and relationships differ from that of their male teachers? Did they express the Dharma in their own way for other female students? Was their teaching consistently different from that of male ancestors?

Because I wanted to know so much about these women and their experiences both personally and in their sociocultural context, this book has many voices. I describe the women in terms of their specific tradition, their historical culture, their spiritual transformations through Buddhist practices, and their personal histories. To interpret their experiences I draw upon my perspective as an ordained Zen priest and Dharma teacher, my training as a clinical and organizational psychologist, my understanding of women’s issues as a feminist, and my personal experiences as daughter, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother.

What I learned about their lives has deepened my practice and my intimacy with my roots. These women adapted their Zen practice to their lives, and their lives to their practice. They formed institutions to meet their needs and bring their practice to their communities. They found ways to support themselves and their institutions financially. In short, they faced many of the issues Westerners now face in establishing Zen Buddhism in our environment.

Part I of this book describes female practitioners as they are portrayed in the classic literature of “Patriarchs’ Zen.”2 This portrait is hardly a complete representation of how women practiced Zen. We see the landscape of monastic practice, wandering monks, and the women they encounter all through the patriarchs’ eyes. As the patriarchal perspective portrays them, women practice essentially to benefit and enlighten monks. The women bring forth Zen teaching for the principal purpose of training more monks.

Part II of this book presents a different view—a view of how women Zen masters entered Zen practice and how they embodied and taught Zen uniquely as women. The chapters depart from the usual presentations ef male masters in terms of their lineages; the women are organized by their functioning roles (founders, working nuns, Dharma heirs of famous male masters, and so on), initially with examples of each role ordered by geographical location—India, China, Korea, and Japan. The chapter on Zen Dharma heirs has examples only from China, Korea, and Japan. In the chapter on female founders, which discusses women who founded temples in different locations, we see how women’s practice developed similarly across Asia.

Part III explores how women’s practice provides flexible and pragmatic solutions to issues arising in contemporary Western Zen centers. Our sincere efforts to bring Buddhism to the West have resulted in our building residential centers for Zen monastic training. These training centers provide a precious opportunity for Westerners to come to Buddhist practice, but the centers have also had difficulty offering trainings that could most broadly benefit Buddhists living with family and working in the world. Since women historically have more often practiced within a family context and also needed to earn money while practicing, their more flexible approaches may help us more effectively integrate Buddhist practice into Western lay life.

WHEN A MALE TEACHER returned from an early North American conference of Zen teachers, one of his female students asked him,
“How many women teachers were included in this conference?” The male teacher answered, “We were all women.” A long, confused silence followed.
This interaction brought up the tension between female students questioning the Zen establishment about women’s representation, and it also pitted the student’s insight against the teacher’s wisdom and authority Women exchanged glances and silently wondered whether we as women will be empowered to participate fully in Zen or not, and more immediately, whether we can even ask this question and continue to be accepted in a Zen community in which a male teacher can say that “we are all women.” Do we as women not get it, or does this male teacher not get it? Fifteen years ago the women present looked uncomfortably at one another, perplexed at our bind, but didn’t challenge his answer. Today I would cut through that confusion by asking him politely, “How many of you women teachers used the ladies’ room at this Zen conference?”

It took twenty of my more than forty years of Zen practice to go beyond being intimidated by that “Oneness” thing (“We are all women”), a response that Zen teachers use to wiggle out of the possibility that within Zen there is gender discrimination. Doubtless there is the One. It shows itself as rocks, mountains, and rivers—and as men and women. Or, as stated in the Zen literature, “To understand that all is one is not enough.”1 The One reveals itself through myriad unique formations— even men and women. Why was it so difficult to talk about women and their place in Zen?

My own questioning arose as a request for more information, not a complaint about unfairness. But no matter how carefully I posed the question about women and Zen’s history my questions still somehow challenged my teachers’ personal authority and the teachings of Buddhism. If there were mistakes such as gender discrimination in the formation of the Buddhist institution, or if there were flaws in the Buddhism our teachers had received from their teachers, what then was the basis of their teaching authority? Understanding how volatile the questioning was becoming, I felt I had to change the course of the inquiry if I wanted to stay in the Zen community. I also felt that in order to pursue this topic I needed to make sure that I was not caught by my own self-clinging as a female Zen person. It was essential that I move beyond my personal wound, my sorrow and anger about a long history of neglect and, even worse, a purposeful elimination of women from Zen’s history.

My purpose shifted. I stopped questioning what had gone wrong with Buddhism and why women Zen teachers had been excluded from the historical record; instead I began to see my function, in this current generation of Zen teachers, to be creating a conduit for these women’s past practices to honor them and bring them forward. I wanted to collect the teachings from our Zen grandmothers and carry them to our Zen granddaughters—the women who were still on their way to entering Zen practice. I wanted to find my own practice as a twentieth-century Western woman. And I wanted to help contemporary Zen practice find its way to a more balanced perspective.

By moving beyond an idealization of Zen I have developed a more mature love of, and responsibility for, Zen practice. I have moved beyond the question of why and how female Zen ancestors had been erased from Zen’s history. I have sought to identify these erased women and put them back in the Zen practice I loved. I believed that their story, once told, would validate their life work and at the same time correct the mistaken tendencies that had silenced their voice. And I believed that they could help me find my own voice. I was not surprised to learn that other women also longed to hear about these female Zen ancestors.
My mission became finding the traces and scraps of these individual Zen women’s stories and piecing them together. How had these women expressed Zen, and what could they teach US? By learning about their complex and contextualized lives, might my own practice take deeper root in this female body? The search became stronger for me after my priest ordination in 1998, and even more urgent as I took the teaching seat that year. What was I supposed to do? Who could I turn to as a role model? The more deeply I entered practice, the more I wished to express my own Zen practice on the most personal level. I did not want to imitate the male masters. What did I do as a female Zen priest with a husband, children, and now grandchildren? These questions led me to this current study of my own—our own—female Zen ancestors.