Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Patriarchy and sexual ethics in Chan/Zen

Patriarchy and sexuality have historically isolated women from practicing Chan and Zen. Miaozong is one woman who refused to be oppressed by her societal obligations. One of Chan Master Yunan's (1063-1135) primary students, Miaozong, asked this question when Master Yuan challenged her request to study Chan.

"Does the Buddhadharma distinguish the difference between male and female forms?"

Her answer revealed a deep understanding of Chan that related back to the exchange between the 5th Chan Patriarch Hongren and the 6th Chan Patriarch Huineng (678-713). When initially denied acceptance into Hongren's monastery because  Huineng was uncivilized, a southern Chinese peasant, and thus incapable of studying Zen, Huineng replied to Hongren, "As far as people are concerned there are north and south, but how could that apply to buddha-nature?"

The 20th/21st centuries have seen the blossoming of women in Chan/Zen studies. Needless to say, the conflict between patriarchy and spirituality has led to a preponderance of ethical crises in many centers/monasteries. At the heart of these ethical crises is the relationship between teacher and students.
Do teacher and student have sex together or not? What's the harm?

For two excellent investigations into sexual ethics, consult Stephen Batchelor's Shaping the Future at and Zen Women, beyond tea ladies, iron maidens, and macho masters, by Grace Schireson (available in the public library).

Attention:  Who amongst us can write the best chan huatuo (zen koan)? 

To solve the huatuo, here are some suggestions that Zen master Dahui (1089-1163) gave to  Miaodao (a Zen sister of Miaozong).

The huatuo read,  "It is not the mind, it is not the Buddha, it is not a thing; after all, what is it?"

    1. You must not take it as a statement of truth.
    2. You must not take it as something you do not need to do anything about.
    3. Do not take it as a flint-struck spark or a lightning flash.
    4. Do not try to divine the meaning of it.
    5. Do not try to figure it out from the context in which I brought it up.

What's the winnings in this great Zen contest?   Well, first let's decide if after all this meditation, is there even a WHO to award?  You can use the comment section to post your mind boggle!


ATTENTION: there will be no class this November 11th due to school Remembrance Day closure.  There will however be a silent sitting this Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30. R.S.V.P. Adrian please. 

Also check  out:
Master Cheng Yen in Facebook; 
and the Western Chan Fellowship at

Call Adrian at 250 898 8201,
Please notify me if you wish to be removed from the email list.

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