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Thinking of Mother Moshan, one of the Early Zen Masters

Japanese Rinzai Zen grasp Mugai Nyodai

Thinking of Mother Moshan, one of the Early Zen Masters

James Ishmael Ford

March eighth is International Women’s Day. And, I discover my ideas turning once more to girls in Zen.

While the data are scant, nonetheless there are clear traces of girls who had been masters of the Zen approach from the starting of its emergence as a particular college in early Medieval China.

The first named lady Zen grasp is Zhongchi, one of the 4 principal heirs of the semi-mythical Bodhidharma. His story is the stuff of legend, actually, if you’ll. And with that in some methods, the weaving of a story.

I discover it vital that somebody discovered it vital when telling of Bodhidharma’s 4 successors that one was a girl. While Zen very a lot bowed to the tradition that birthed it. And did its job as a proper faith in serving to to protect the traditions of that tradition. Still, Zen at all times, at all times had a counter cultural thread. The entire nature of awakening described in Zen shatters norms, any norms, all norms.

In the ninth century, the “Golden Age of Zen” together with references to tea girls, and others who spark numerous monk’s awakening, we hear of two named girls Zen masters. Iron Grinder Liu weaves out and in of the narratives. An equal to all the male sages.

And then there’s the abbess Moshan Liaoran. She was a dharma successor to Gaoan Dayu, who in flip was an inheritor of Zhichang, an inheritor to the nice Mazu Daoyi, giving her one of the extra famend pedigrees in the forming Chan custom.

We know her by her transmitted identify. Mo means summit or peak. While Shan means mountain. So, she was known as the summit or the peak of the mountain. In her lifetime she was thought to be a serious determine in the Zen world and is alleged to have led a group of 5 hundred monastics. She is first talked about in the Jingde chuandeng lu (Transmission of the Lamp of the Jingde Period), one of the first collections of biographical accounts of Chan-lineage monks, compiled in 1004.

It features a well-known anecdote that will change into a koan.

Guanxi Xian, a pupil of the famend Linji heard of her and determined to see what he would possibly be taught. When he arrived at the monastery, the abbess had her senior monastic ask why Guanxi had come. He replied for the dharma. Satisfied she allowed him to interview her. She threw out the web, asking from the place he had come?

The monk replied “From the crossroad.” The abbess responded, “Why haven’t you removed your hat?” Guanxi sat in silence for some time, then eliminated his hat. He requested, “What about the mountain?”

Moshan, the mountain, the peak of the mountain, replied, “that peak isn’t revealed.”

The monk responded, “Who is the master of that mountain?”

She replied, “Without the form of man or woman.”

The monk gave an incredible Ho! And then requested, “Why can’t it transform itself?”

The abbess replied “I’m not a fox spirit. So, why would I transform myself?”

The monk made his bows, and have become her pupil. For three years he labored as her gardener.

Eventually Guanxi grew to become her successor. In the thirteenth century Eihei Dogen would lavishly reward Guanxi’s single minded quest for awakening, so robust that he would even examine with a girl. Not exactly lacking that the grasp who may assist him open his eye, after which information his maturing into mastery of the approach, was a girl. Guanxi himself wouldn’t neglect, famously saying “I received half a ladle at father Linji’s place, and half a ladle at mother Moshan’s. Ever since I took that drink, I’ve never been thirsty.”

In his commentary on the koan, the American Zen instructor Daido Loori cited a verse collected as half of The Venerable Ancient Teachers:

Moshan doesn’t reveal its pure summit,
however all through all time the peak is earlier than the eyes.

It’s mentioned it has no male or feminine kind,
however does distinguish the lotus amidst the fireplace.
Without kind, with out thoughts, with out intention,
changing into male or feminine simply accords with situations.
These occasions are replete with monastics and lay practitioners,
every one shines with flawless radiance.

Endless bows, Mother Moshan…

(About the picture. I couldn’t discover a picture of Zen grasp Moshan.  So, as a substitute I supply as a small deal with, a picture of Zen grasp Mugai Nyodai (1223-1298). She was the founder of Keiaiji, the first coaching monastery for girls in Japan. A Rinzai grasp, her enlightenment story is famend. She was carrying a bucket of water, when the backside fell out. Her coronary heart turned. Today Mugai is recalled as the most well-known of Japanese girls Zen masters.)


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