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Thread: Zen Women: Chapter 2, Pages 11 - 20

  1. #1

    Zen Women: Chapter 2, Pages 11 - 20

    Hi everyone! We will be moving on to the first part of Chapter 2, if everyone is ok with that.

    Reminder: the "three sacred sentences" practice does not have to be applied here

    In this chapter, Schireson introduces some of the stories that have been preserved about women participating in Zen through the ages. These women tend to fall into some distinct categories. The first two types we will discuss here are the “Nuns Who Could Be Men,” including Moshan Liaoran and Iron Grinder Liu, and the “Token Nuns,” including Zongchi and Miaoxin.

    Schireson asks a key question on page 16: Did Zen create Iron Grinders, or did Iron Grinders gravitate to Zen practice? Are women who are naturally “tough” attracted to Zen, or does Zen force women to shed their feminine, nurturing characteristics and become "tough?" Is what we perceive as “toughness” an essential aspect of Zen practice, or does “softness” have a place in practice as well?

    We are lucky to have some women’s stories preserved through Dogen’s writings. Did Dogen do justice to women such as Zongchi and Miaoxin?

    清 道 寂田
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  2. #2
    "Toughness" I think is sometimes confused with size, muscle mass and aggression, but I like to think it is more like "perseverance," which is Right Effort; of that, women have plenty, and are also willing to share. In Paula Arai's study of nuns in Japanese monasticism, she fills many pages with anecdotes of perseverance, in particular the story of the abbess who, during the firebombings, ran through the glass-littered streets barefoot to report the status of the abbey. To me that's toughness; though the abbess might have simply said of it that one must simply do what one must do. _()_

    shonin sat today and lah
    I'm a visiting unsui from Bird Haven Zendo. Take what I say with a box of salt. Mmm!

  3. #3
    I like what Shonin said about toughness meaning perseverance. I don't know if Zen/Chan as it was practiced at the time these stories took place would have attracted women who had little softness, but for me, practice helps me soften, although it also helps me to persevere.

    On (Warm)
    Kai (Sea)

  4. #4
    Bonus question (that just occurred to me after reading these comments ) Does being soft sometimes take toughness?

    Nurturing patience often takes self-awareness, self-control, wisdom and skill. “Macho toughness” can be a knee-jerk cop out for many. However, gentle, thoughtful disciplinary toughness can also be a skill.

    I feel the same as others here, of all genders, in that I often learn and grow much faster in a nurturing environment than in a boot-camp like one. (Although I will choose boot camp for myself sometimes when I know I am up for the challenge and need some ego checking). One size does not fit all or every situation.


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    清 道 寂田
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  5. #5
    Hi all

    Just to say I have done a recording of the Dogen fascicle Raihai-Tokuzui (Bowing to the Attainment of the Marrow) which is mentioned a few times in this chapter, if anyone wishes to listen. It is quite notable for its tone of gender equality in 13th century Japan.

    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  6. #6
    Member Onka's Avatar
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    May 2019
    Rural Queensland, Australia
    The words enquiring, resiliance and perseverance sit better with me these days than toughness. I still think of toughness in regards to the life I've stepped away from. I think these words encapsulate the toughness Schireson talks about when talking about Women seeking out the Dharma. I think that seeking the Dharma required these characteristics and these characteristics were needed in order to survive let alone demand their voices be heard. So I don't think Zen created toughness, nor do I believe that toughness was required by Women to practice Zen. I know it's semantics but hey...

    I think we're lucky that Dogen preserved some Zen Women's stories and although he appears to promote Women's Zen practice I'm not convinced that this actually occurred upon his arrival back in Japan. From what little I know let alone understand about Dogen is that he seemed a man of contradictions. Perhaps due to the socio-political climate or perhaps due to the Japanese Buddhist climate at the time.

    As for the bonus question "does being soft sometimes take toughness"? Absolutely! Toughness AND a shedload of discipline for this new practitioner. I sometimes feel pressure to re-engage with my previous life and I honestly believe that if it wasn't for my reputation and things I've done I would not be able to explore 'softness' and have such an easy time of walking away. In saying this it's important to divulge that I was terribly critical of people who talked the talk but didn't walk the walk, and critical of those I described as "radical until they finished university" or "liberals playing at being radical". In other words I'm an arse.

    穏 On (Calm)
    火 Ka (Fires)
    aka Anna Kissed
    Resident Anarchist.
    Pronouns:She/Her They/Them.
    Life's too serious to be taken seriously.
    No Gods. No Masters.

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