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February 09, 2009


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I've been reading this blog of yours also for some time and I'll bow to you. You're doing great job, Dharma bro.

Keep up the good work and thank you for your efforts so far!

With palms together,


Thank you, Uku. I don't know what else to do with this blog now that I've published all the stories I've found. Perhaps other stories will soon appear!


I feel deeply thankful to you for starting this blog. There is not much information on women in Zen and this is just very nice of you. The only other place I found information on women practitioners is in the book - Women of the Way.


Thank you, MyoChi, for your comment.

Ted Biringer

Hello Barry,

Thank you for this wonderful blog.

I thought it might be cool to add a dialogue by a contemporary Zen Woman named Lue. Even though she is a 'fictional' character, she seems to embody the smooth and subtle characteristics of those powerful Zen women in the classics. You will certainly recognize its inspiration from the famous dialogue between Tokusan and the Tea-Selling Woman. This excerpt comes from the Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing (soon to be released from American Book Publishing).

In this section of the book, Louie Wing is relating an experience he had. Louie says:

One evening, I arrived in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, on my way to meet a man that was rumored to be a true Zen dragon. I paused at a roadside stand to buy a smoothie from the woman working there.

Greeting the woman, I said, “How are you?”

She said, “Selling smoothies.”

I could see right away that she was no ordinary vendor. I said, “Will you sell me a smoothie?”

She said, “Why do you want to buy a smoothie?”

I said, “I want to buy a smoothie to refresh my body and mind.”

Then she gestured to my pack and asked, “What are those books you are carrying in that bag?”

I said, “There are two books in this bag: one is the Shobogenzo, the Treasury of the True Dharma-Eye by Eihei Dogen, the other is a compilation of writings handed down through over eighty generations of Zen masters.”

Hearing that, the woman said, “If that is the case, may I presume to ask you a question?”

I said, “You have not found it necessary to ask my permission thus far, but if it suits you, fine, ask.”

She said, “I have heard that Buddhism teaches that there is no such thing as a self; if so, what body and mind do you wish to refresh? If you can say something to the point, I will sell you a smoothie. If you cannot say something to the point, I will not sell you a smoothie.”

I said, “If that is how you are, who will sell smoothies or not sell smoothies?”

She said, “You know that smoothies cannot refresh the body and mind, but don’t you know that smoothies refresh smoothies?”

I said, “That is true, but it is only saying eighty or ninety percent.”

She said, “How would you say it, sir?”

I said, “Smoothies smoothie smoothies.”

The woman laughed aloud, and I could not help but join her. She sold me a smoothie, and enjoyed one herself as I stood sipping mine at the edge of the road. After awhile she said, “You must be here to see Dean Frank.”

Happy, though not surprised, that she knew of the man that I was seeking I asked, “Do you know him then?”

“He is my son. He told me you might show up here.” She said, “He will be happy to see you again.”

“There must be some mistake.” I said, “I don’t believe I have ever met him.”

“When you knew him he was called Daniel Dale.” She said.

I was overjoyed to hear this. “How wonderful,” I said, “Where is he now?”

She said, “He is sailing around in your eyebrows.”

“You are a smoothie,” I said.

~The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing

Ted Biringer


Hi Ted - Thank you for sharing this fabulous story! My wife likes smoothies, but I like lattes.

As for Daniel Dale - I never met him. But I did see Dick Dale (and the Deltones) perform in Southern California when I was a teen. The music still sails around in my ears!

Ted Biringer

Hello Barry,

I am not sure if you have all or part of the Raihai Tokuzui fascicle from Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo posted here somewhere or not. This writing is, in my view, the best, most extensive treatment on the equality of women in the Dharma anywhere in the classic Zen literature.

This fascicle forms Chapter 10 of the Hubert Nearman translation: “Raihai Tokuzui” - On ‘Respectful Bowing Will Secure for You the Very Marrow of the Way’”, available online at:

It forms Chapter 8 of the Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross translation: “Raihai-tokuzui” - Prostrating to the Marrow of Attainment, available online at:

Here are the more salient features of the text (from the Hubert Nearman translation):

At that time when a person undertakes spiritual training and practice in order to realize anuttara-samyak-sambodhi—that is, supreme, fully perfected enlightenment—it is extremely difficult to acquire a teacher and guide. Whether that guiding Master has the physical features of a male or a female, or whatever, is irrelevant, but it must be someone who is spiritually outstanding, one who is truly ‘with It’ here and now.

When a female monk who has realized both the Way and the Dharma becomes head of a temple, male monks who, in seeking the Dharma, wish to train under a Master will join her community, respectfully bowing as they ask her about the Dharma, for she is a splendid model for their training and study. It will be for the trainee like receiving something to drink when he is thirsty.

The first time Rinzai chanced to see Shikan coming his way, he suddenly grabbed hold of him, whereupon Shikan responded, “As you wish.”

Releasing him, Rinzai said, “I was just about to give you a thumping.”

Thereupon, Shikan became Rinzai’s disciple.

Later, Shikan left Rinzai’s temple and paid a visit to the female Master Massan, whose name means ‘the peak of the mountain’.

Massan asked him, “What place have you recently come from?”

Shikan replied, “From Luk’ou.”

Massan said, “Why haven’t you put a lid on that mouth of yours?”

Shikan was at a loss for words. Accordingly, he respectfully bowed, as one does when performing the ceremony of taking a Master.

Arising, Shikan asked Massan, “What could this mountain peak be?”

Massan replied, “Its apex does not emerge.”

Shikan asked, “What kind of person dwells in this mountain?”

Massan answered, “One whose characteristics are neither masculine nor feminine.”

Shikan asked, “Why do you not transform yourself into a male?”

Massan replied, “Not being a fox spirit, why should I transform myself into anything?”

Shikan respectfully bowed. Then, giving rise to the intention to seek Buddhahood, he served her as the temple’s head gardener for three years.

Later, when Shikan had become head monk of his own temple, he said as instruction to his community, “I received half a ladleful when I was with your grandfather Rinzai and the other half when I was with your grandmother Massan. Now that I have completely drunk a whole ladleful, it has been nourishment enough to satisfy me even to this very moment.”

Now that you have heard of this way of his, you may hanker to know something about those former times. Massan was a model disciple of Master Daigu and had the strength and authority from the Transmission line to be a spiritual jō for Shikan. Rinzai was a Dharma heir of Ōbaku Unshi and had the strength and authority from his single-minded meditation to be a spiritual ya for Shikan. Ya is a respectful Chinese word for father, and jō is a respectful one for mother. Meditation Master Shikan’s respectful bowing to the female monk Massan Ryōnen and his seeking the Dharma from her is a model of intent that we should follow. It is an example of constancy and integrity for those of us who study the Way in these latter days of the Dharma; it can be said to break down the barriers erected by discriminatory thinking.

The female monk Myōshin was a disciple of Kyōzan. At the time when Kyōzan was engaged in selecting a monk to serve as the temple’s Head of Foreign Relations and Secular Affairs, he asked, among others, the monks who had long served in offices, as well as those seniors who had served as his personal attendants, which person would be ideal for the post. Since many opinions were voiced, Kyōzan finally said, “My disciple Myōshin is, indeed, a woman; even so, she has the strength of will associated with courageous men. Surely, she should be appointed Head of Foreign Relations and Secular Affairs.” All the members of the community concurred with him, and Myōshin was then given this post. At that time, none of the other dragon elephants in Kyōzan’s community thought ill of him or of her. Although this post was not one of the truly lofty positions in a temple, as the person appointed, she would no doubt have been conscientious in her service.

One day while she was serving in this post, a group of seventeen monks from the independent state of Shu [which is now part of Szechwan Province] arrived on a Zen-style pilgrimage to call on Masters and inquire of the Way. Intent on going up to seek an audience with Kyōzan, they were lodged in the temple for the night. While resting, they began an evening discussion, taking up the account of Great Ancestor Daikan Enō’s ‘wind and banner’, but what each of the seventeen said was not on track. At this time Myōshin, who was in the room next door, overheard what they had said and commented, “Seventeen blind donkeys have, to no avail, worn out who knows how many pairs of straw sandals without ever having caught sight of the Buddha Dharma even in their dreams!”

Also present at the time was a lay worker who overheard Myōshin’s disapproving comment about the monks and told them what she had said. The seventeen, to a monk, felt no rancor at Myōshin’s disapproval, but instead, felt embarrassed at not being able to say what Daikan Enō was talking about. Accordingly, they put on their formal robes and, making an offering of incense, respectfully bowed to her, requesting her to respond. Myōshin said to them, “Come right in front of me.” The seventeen had barely taken a step towards her when she said, “This is not the wind moving, nor is This the flag moving, nor is This your mind moving.” Upon her expressing the Matter in this way, the seventeen, to a one, fully understood. They bowed, as disciples do when offering respect to their teacher. They immediately returned to the western state of Shu, without ever having gone up to visit Kyōzan.

Truly, her level of spiritual understanding is not surpassed even by those thrice wise and ten times saintly; her speech and actions are in direct descent from the Buddhas and Ancestors. For this reason, even today, when there is a vacant post for an Abbot or one who teaches in the Abbot’s stead, we should invite a female monk who has realized what Dharma is to take the position. Even though a male monk be one of greater age and longer residence, if he has not realized what Dharma is, why would you want him instead?

In present-day Sung China, there are female monks who have hung up their bowl bag in a temple. Should word get around that one of them has realized what Dharma is, an imperial decree will be issued by a government office that she should be appointed Abbess of her own temple, and as a result, she will begin to teach in the Monks’ Hall of the temple in which she is presently residing. The community of monks from the Abbot on down will go to seek her Teaching, and stand there listening to her Teaching, with the male monks asking her to answer their spiritual questions as well. This has been, and still is, the standard procedure. Once such a woman has realized what Dharma is, then she is truly an Old Buddha, so we should not look upon her as we did in the past. When we are having an audience with her, our contact will be from a new and special standpoint. When we meet her, we should face her with an attitude of ‘today is today’, regardless of how things were in the past. For example, a female monk to whom the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching has been Transmitted should respectfully be bowed to and asked for the Teaching by those in the four stages of arhathood, those who are pratyekabuddhas, and those thrice wise and ten times saintly, and she will acknowledge this bow. Why should only males be worthy of respect? Boundless space is simply boundless space; the four elements are simply the four elements; the five skandhas are simply the five skandhas. And they are no different for women. When it comes to realizing the Way, everyone may realize It. In any case, anyone who has realized what Dharma is should be deeply respected: do not concern yourself with whether it is a man or a woman. This is a most excellent rule of the Buddha’s Way.

In the name of that enlightenment which is unsurpassed, why have they passed over reverencing someone—be it male or female—who has truly realized that Teaching which is to be revered? It is simply because their resolve to esteem the Teaching is shallow and their determination to seek the Teaching is not broad in scope.

And also, even today there are people, wretched from their folly, whose unconverted thinking has not gone beyond looking upon women simply as objects in the world of sensual desire. Disciples of Buddha should not be this way. Should you detest women because you think that they must be objects in the world of sensual desire, would you also detest all men? What causes staining and defilement to arise is treating men as comprising one world and women as another. In addition, looking upon someone as being neither male nor female is also to treat that person as ‘an object apart’; even looking at that person as though a phantasm or an illusory flower is likewise treating him or her as ‘an object apart’.

And also, in T’ang China there have been foolish and befuddled monks who, having given rise to the intention to commit themselves to the Way, have said, “I will never look at a woman in this or any future lifetime, no matter how long such a life may be.” On what teaching is this vow founded? Is it founded on the rules of society? Or on the Buddha’s Dharma? Or on the teachings of some non-Buddhist? Or on the doctrines of some distracting demon from the world of sensual desire? What fault is there in being female? What virtue in being male? When it comes to being wicked, there have been men who were wicked; when it comes to being virtuous, there have been women who were virtuous. To respectfully ask to hear the Teaching and to long to leave the world of delusion behind certainly do not depend on one’s being male or female. When people have not yet cut themselves off from their delusions, they are equally attached to delusion whether they be male or female. When people cut themselves off from delusion and reach certainty as to what is Real, again, there is no dividing line between males and females. Further, should you vow never to look at a woman, ought you to forsake women even at the moment when you take the Bodhisattva Vow to save all sentient beings from suffering, howsoever innumerable they may be? Were you to forsake women, you would not be a bodhisattva, so how could you speak of Buddhist kindliness and compassion? This vow to never look at a woman is simply the raving words of one who has drunk too deeply of the wine that those who rigidly follow the Lesser Course are wont to brew. No one of any station should believe this to be what Truth is.

And also, should you despise women because you think that in ancient times they have committed some offense, then you must despise all bodhisattvas as well. Or, should you despise women because you think that at some later date they will surely commit some offense, then you must despise all bodhisattvas who have given rise to the intention to realize Buddhahood. If you despise women in any such ways, you must despise every single person, so how will you make manifest the Buddha’s Dharma? Words like the ones uttered by such monks are, sad to say, the wild remarks of foolish people who do not understand what the Buddha taught. If the matter were like this vow, did the Venerable Shakyamuni and the bodhisattvas who were alive during His lifetime all commit offenses? Have Their enlightened minds been shallower than yours? You would do well to quietly think about this. Since the Ancestors and Masters associated with the Treasure House of the Dharma, as well as the bodhisattvas who lived during the Buddha’s lifetime, did not take this vow, as part of your training and study you should look to see whether there is any place in the Buddha’s Teachings where this could possibly have been taught. Were the matter like this vow, not only would you fail to ferry women to the Other Shore, you would also be unable to come and hear a woman who, having realized what Dharma is, has come out among the people to give voice to the Dharma for the sake of people in all stations of life. To fail to come and hear her is to fail to be a bodhisattva and, consequently, to be outside the Path of Buddhism.

If we now take a look at present-day Sung China, among the monks who seem to have trained and practiced for a long time, there are those who are uselessly counting the grains of sand in the ocean and are drifting on the waves that arise upon the sea of birth and death. But there are women who seek out a spiritual friend to train under, and diligently do their training until they become a teacher and guide for people of all stations. It is like the old woman who threw away her rice cakes rather than selling them. Sad to say, even though her customer was a male monk, he was so busy counting sand grains in the ocean of Scriptural writings that he had still not seen what the Buddha was teaching, even in his dreams.

Now, when we look at a ‘Training Ground’ where they say female monks must not enter, male field hands, simple rustics, farmers, and woodcutters are given entrance with impunity, to say nothing of rulers, high ministers, officials of all types, and councilors: whoever is male may enter. Were we to discuss the understanding of the Way of a field hand, say, and a female monk, or the spiritual level they have realized, what quality would we ultimately come to ascribe to each? No matter whether we are discussing the matter in worldly terms or in Buddhist ones, the place that a female monk may realize cannot possibly be realized by a field hand or a simple rustic. Small nations that are excessive in their turbulent and riotous behavior, first of all, have left the traces of their excess. How lamentable that there is any place where a disciple of that Kindly Parent of the Three Temporal Worlds, upon arriving in a small country, is barred from and may not enter.
~Shobogenzo, Raihai Tokuzui, Hubert Nearman

I hope you find this helpful.



You are sharing such best knowledge! I opine, that will be compared with great bollywood ringtones at the mp3 ringtones sites.

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Wow what a great site, I read that the origins of Zen Buddhism are ascribed to the Flower Sermon, the earliest source for which comes from the 14th century. It is said that Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a dharma talk.

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About Zen Women

  • The role of women in the development of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism is poorly known. There have been imaginative attempts to construct a female lineage during the Tang Dynasty, but documentary records are quite limited. While reading through the case records over the past decade, I've noted stories involving female practitioners. This weblog compiles those stories in a single location.
  • May these posts benefit all practitioners.


  • I’m truly grateful to everyone who leaves a comment on this blog. Even though many comments are generous and thoughtful, I rarely respond. Thank you for your understanding.

American Zen


  • I extend grateful appreciation to my daughter, Susie, who designed this site; to Zen Master Seung Sahn, for crossing the ocean; and to all beings for their never-ending encouragement and teaching.
  • May we together attain enlightenment and save all beings from suffering.

Women Teaching Zen