Women in Early Japanese Zen

Here some of the stories about women disciples are presented from the Katto‑roku., together with representative “test” questions used by the teachers to stimulate work on the koan contained in the story.
It is noteworthy how many of the stories contain poems. (Japanese literature is perhaps unique in the. world for the leading part played by women).
These stories are to be published by Routledge and Kegan Paul in the spring under the title Zen and the Ways, and some were in the talk given at the Summer School 1975.

The Bucket without a bottom

(The nun Muchaku, whose lay name was Chiyono, was a woman of Akita who married and had one daughter. In 1277 when she was thirty‑four her husband died, and she could not get over the grief. She became a nun and trained under Bukko. The story is that on the even­ing of the fifteenth day of August, when she was filling her lacquer flower‑bucket where the valley stream comes down, the bottom fell out; seeing the water spilling she had a flash of insight and made a poem to present to the teacher.

Later the teacher set her the classical koan “Three Gates of Oryu” and examined her minutely on it, and she was able to meet the questions. Again she had interviews for a long time, and in the end he ‘passed over the robe and bowl’ (authorized her as a successor to teach). The Uesugi family built a temple in Kyoto and proposed that she should become the first teacher there. The nun, conforming to the thing‑as‑it‑happened within Zen, accepted.

Since the time of the Empress Kitsu in the ninth century there have been many in Japan who practised Zen in the body of a woman, but Chiyono is thought to have been the first who becoming a nun received the full approval of a teacher in the line of the Zen of the Sixth Patriarch.)

Muchaku, whose lay name was Chiyono, came to Master Bukko and said, ‘What is Zen?’ The teacher said, ‘The heart of the one who asks is Zen: it is not to be got from the words of another.’ The nun said, ‘Then what is the teacher doing, that he gives sermons and they are recorded?’ (Bukko’s sermons in Sung Dynasty Chinese were recorded and afterwards translated and distributed to priests and laymen.)

The teacher said, ‘With a deaf man, you show the moon by pointing; with a blind man, you show where the gate is by knocking on it with a bit of tile.’

At that moment one of the deer near the Hakugendo stream gave a cry. The teacher said, ‘Where is that deer?’ The nun listened. The teacher gave a Katzu! shout and said, ‘Who is this listening?’ The nun at once went out in deep reflection, and at the water‑pipe from the ,Hakugendo she took up a lacquered wooden bucket for flowers. As she was holding it full of water, she saw the moon’s reflection in it and made a poem, which was presented to the teacher:

The flower bucket took the stream, water and held. it,
And the reflection of the moon through the pines lodged there in purity.
Bukko could not understand. a poem in Japanese, so (his disciple) Gi‑o translated by re‑writing it in Chinese and presented it to Bukko, who glanced at it and said, Nun, take the Heart Sutra and go.’

After that, she had: interviews with the master, coming, and‑ being sent away, till in the end the lacquer bucket broke, and she presented another poem of this realization:

The bottom fell out of the bucket carried by Chiyono;
Now it holds ‘no water., nor does the moon lodge there.

(In the account in Zenmon‑kaiki‑den. the version is:
Chance or design? The bottom fell out of the bucket she carried;
Now it holds no water, nor does the moon lodge there.)

After Chiyono’s death the nun Nyozen of Tokeiji used to meditate on this poem as her theme for realization. Nyozen’s lay name was ‘Takihime (or Takino according to the. account in the Buke‑doshinshu). and she had been the wife of Oi Toshiharu, a retainer of the Uesugi family. She trained under Gen‑o, the founder of Kaizoji temple, and in 1313 she, grasped the essence of Zen, presenting this poem to her teacher:

The bottom fell out of the bucket of that woman of humble birth;
The pale moon of dawn is caught in the rain‑puddles.
Tests: Explain plainly the song about the water from the water‑pipe caught in the bucket.

Say plainly what is the bucket without a bottom.
Say plainly the meaning of the song of the nun Nyozen.

These. poems were used as Koans at Enkakuji temple itself after ,Daikyo, the fifth ‑teacher. early in the ‘ fourteenth century.
At the end of, the sixteenth century ‘Heart‑sutra Zen’ became fashionable. in Kamakura; a ‘.comment’ had to be found to fit certain phrases of.. the Sutra. The poems of the two nuns came to be used as comments,, so a further test came into existence:

What are the phrases from the Heart Sutra to fit the poems of the nuns? Say!

The Gate to the world of all the Buddhas

Originally Enkakuji was a place forbidden to women, with the exception that unmarried women of a samurai family who were train­ing at Zen were allowed to come and go through the gate.’ After 1334 a rule was made that unless a woman had attained ‘seeing the nature’ she was not allowed to go up to the Great Light Hall. In time it became the custom that the keeper of the gate, when a woman applied to go through, would present a test question. According  to one Zen tradition from that time.

Five tests were in use at the gate of Enkakuji:

The gate has many thresholds: even Buddhas and patriarchs cannot get through.
If you would enter, give the pass‑word.
The strong iron door is hardly to be opened.
Let one of mighty power tear it off its hinges.
Vast outstretched in all directions‑no door, no gate.
How will you recognize the gate?
84,000 gates open at the same time.
He whose eye is single, let him see.
What is it? this gate by which
All the Buddhas come into the world. Tokeiji Mirror Zen

(Tokeiji was a training temple for women, of which the first teacher was the nun Shido, widow of Tokimune. There was a tradition that Shida had her realization when meditating before a mirror; following the tradition of the founder, there was a mirror over six foot in diameter hanging in the meditation hall at Tokeiji. Part of the train­ing of the nuns was to polish it and meditate facing it. Each. of the successive teachers wrote a Japanese poem on the subject of the mirror, and these poems finally became koans for the nuns and others.. When a nun began to attain Samadhi on the poem, the teacher would put certain “tests” which had to be answered out of Samadhi‑experience and not by quotation. It was sometimes required to give a “chaku‑go” or Zen comment; at Tokeiji this was often an individual ‘ expression, but it was also allowed to quote from Zen classics, if the nun knew any phrase from one which seemed to her to express her experience. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, quotations from the Zenrin­kushu anthology of Zen phrases became more and more frequent. In later centuries it became necessary to find one specific phrase in order to be passed through the test.

As an example, here are the first eight poems composed on the Mirror by the first eight teachers at Tokeiji; these were presented as’ koans to the nuns, and some of the replies recorded by‑the‑hun Myo‑to from interviews in the year 1596 are here added, from’ the records of Tokeiji. The master was’ Sampaku, the 156th teacher of Enkakuji. He did not necessarily pass all these “comments” and answers.)

The poem of the founder, the nun Shido:
If the mind does not rest on anything there is no clouding
And talk of polishing is but a fancy.

Test: If the mind does not rest on anything, then how will things be seen or heard or known or understood?
Comment: Rising and sinking according to the current.
Going and coming, no footprint remains.
Test: A mirror which does not cloud and needs ‘no polishing’. Set it before the teacher now.
The poem of the second ‘ teacher, the nun Runkai:
Various the reflections, yet its surface is unscarred;
From the very beginning unclouded, the pure mirror.

Test: When it reflects variously, how is it then?
The mind turns in accordance with the ten thousand things.
The pivot on which it turns is verily in the depths.
Test: From the very beginning the mirror. unclouded..
How, then are there reflections of Karmic obstacles. in it?
Comment: Within the pure mirror never clashing against each other, An­
The reflections of pipe and bamboo’ in harmony.
Test: ‑‑‑ Show the pure, mirror right before the teacher’s face.
Comment: Heaven and earth one clear mirror­
Now as of old, luminous and majestic.

The poem of the third teacher, Shotakil.
As night falls, no more reflection in the mirror,
Yet in this heart they are darkly seen

Comment: In the dark night, things in front of the. mirror are. seen no more by the eye, yet. images are reflected in. the heart, and in face of them we go astray.
‘ When we have passed beyond this path of illusion, then our gaze pierces through even the darkest night to see the sun‑Buddha ever shining everywhere, illumining all.

Test: What is the colour and shape of that heart which sees in the dark?

The poem of the fourth teacher, Junso:
Reflections are clear yet do not touch the eye,
And ‘ the I facing the mirror is also forgotten.

Test: If you think the reflections are there but do not touch the eye, this is‑already a dust on the mirror; then what is the meaning? Try and see!
Comment: When it is said that they. do not touch the’ eye, it means that the eye is not joined to awareness; there is no agitation in the heart. So there is not even the thought that they do not touch the eye.
Test: What is the state of the mirror when the I has been forgotten? (To this test the nun had to demonstrate directly without re­course to words).
Test: What is the difference between’ forgetting‑I Zen and Void Zen (Ku‑zen)?
Comment: Aspiring to heaven but not seeing heaven. Searching for earth but not seeing earth.

Poem of the fifth teacher, the former princess Yodo:
Heart unclouded, heart clouded;
Rising. and falling are yet the same body.

Test:Heart unclouded, what is that?
Comment: Ten thousand miles without a cloud, ten thousand miles of heaven.
Test: Heart clouded, how is that?
Comment: In spring clouds rise round the mountain And in the cave it is dark.
Test: Rising and falling, how is that?
Comment: The moon sets, and in the pool no reflection; A cloud is born and the mountain has a robe.

Poem of the sixth teacher, Jinbo:
Even when there is no mirror to reflect the things
Every time one looks, there is a mirror reflecting them in the heart.

Test: Mat is this looking?
Test: What is this reflecting heart?
(To these tests the nun had to demonstrate directly without recourse to words.)

Poem of the seventh teacher, Ryodo:
If someone asks, do the reflections shown in the pure mirror die away and perish?
First let them say where the reflections are. 

Test: Right now the teacher asks,‑ where are the reflections? Answer well! Where are they?
Comment: Shut the door and push out the moon, Dig a well and chisel space apart.

Poem of the eighth teacher, the nun Kanso:
Clouded over from beginning less ages is the pure mirror:
When polished, it reflects‑the holy form of Amida.

Test: What is this polishing? Speak!
Test: Declare the form of Amida.
After this second test had been passed, a suitable comment had to be supplied.
One of them was:
This body the Lotus Paradise, this heart indeed Amida.

Note: There is a record of one of the training retreats at Tokeiji in 1596, attended by 108 nuns. 46 of them who were taking Kamakura Zen koans composed their own comments.. The teacher did not pass all of them.
There were 17 nuns who were at the stage of having to submit comments on the classical Chinese koans, and 8 of these composed Japanese‑style poems for the occasion; the others presented phrases from the Zenrin‑kushu anthology.
35 of the nuns were passed through their koans., The , nun Myotei distinguished herself by passing the notoriously difficult koan called the “Four Katz! shouts of Master Rinzai.” The details of all the koan answers and comments at this training session were recorded but kept as secret records.

The Flower Hall on Buddha’s Birthday

The nun Myoan of Tokeiji practised Zen in interviews with Tanei, the seventy‑fourth teacher at Enkakuji, who set her as koans the’ poems composed by Yodo (fifth abbess of T6keiji and a former princess) and her attendants.
These poems were on the theme of gathering and arranging the flowers on the birthday of Buddha. The poem of Yodo is:

Decorate the heart of the beholder,
For the Buddha of the flower hall. Is nowhere else.

Tests: By what do you recognize the heart of the beholder?
Say how you would decorate the flower hall.
If it is to worship a Buddha who is nowhere else than in the heart, what do you want with a flower hall? Say!

The poem of Ika, a former court lady, is: :
Throw away into the street the years of the past.
What is born now on the flower dais,
Let it raise its new-born cry.

Tests: When the years have been thrown away into the street,.
What is it that is born in their place?
Let the teacher here and now listen to the new‑born cry.
Where is the flower dais?

The poem of the nun Myoko is
Born, and forgetting the parents who bore it
The parents who are Shaka and Amida.

Tests:, What does the poem mean?
Where is the birth?
Where are Shaka and Amida?
Speak a word of when parents and child come face to face.

The poem of the nun Atoku, another of the attendants, is
Coming out: from the Buddha-womb to become myself
Now let it ring out ‑ the Dhama’s new‑born cry.

Tests: What is it like in the Buddha‑womb?
Let the Dharma’s new‑born cry ring out.

The teacher Tanei used these poems of Yodo and the attendants, sung by them on the birthday festival on April 8, as koans for the nuns of Tokeiji.  And in the Kamakura temples, these and other koans on everyday things were given first, instead of classical Chinese koans,to novices and nuns who had scanty literary attainments.

The Paper Sword

In 1331 when Nitta Yoshisada was fighting against Hojo Saduioki, a chief retainer of the Hojo family, named Sakurada Sadakuni, was slain. His wife Sawa wished to pray for the dead man; she cut off her hair and entered T6keiji as the nun Shotaku.’ For many years she devoted herself to Zen under the seventeenth teacher at Enkakuji, and in the end she became the third teacher of Tokeiji. In the Rohatsu training week of December 1339, she was returning from her evening interview with the teacher at Enkak‑uji, when on the way a man armed with a sword saw her and was attracted by her beauty. He threatened her with the sword and came to rape her. The nun took out a piece of paper and rolled it up then thrust it like a s sword at the man’s eyes. He became unable to strike and was completely overawed by her spiritual strength.. He turned to run and the nun gave a Katzu shout, hitting him with the: paper sword’. He fell and then fled.
Test: Show the paper sword which is the heart . sword, and prove its actual effect now.

The Sermon of NunShido
At the Rohatsu training week of 1304 at Enkakuji, Master Choke! (‘Peach‑tree Valley’‑the fourth teacher of Enkakuji) gave his formal approval. (inka) as a teacher to the nun Shido, the founder of Tokeiji. The head monk did not approve of the inka being granted to her, and asked a question to test her:
‘In our line, one who receives the inka gives a discourse on the Rinzai‑roku classic. Can the nun teacher really brandish the staff of the Dharma in the Dharma‑seat?’

She faced him and drew out the ten‑inch knife * (carried by all women of the warrior class) and held it up: ‘Certainly a Zen teacher of the line of the patriarch should go up on the high seat and speak on the book. But I am a woman of the warrior line and I should declare our teaching when really face to face with. a. drawn sword. What book should I need?’

The head monk said, ‘Before father and mother were born, with what then will you declare our teaching?’ The nun closed her eyes for some time. Then she said, ‘Do you understand?’ 
The head monk said, A wine‑gourd has been tipped right up in Peach‑tree Valley;
Drunken eyes see ten miles of flowers.’

Tests: Before father and mother were born, What was the sermon?

Listen to the sermon of the nun Shido. These two tests were used from the time of the seventeenth teacher in Enkakuji itself, but at Tokeiji two more were also added:
What is the meaning of the poem which the head monk made?
Are its two lines praise or criticism?


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