I have read Grace Schireson's 'Zen Women' in the last couple of weeks, and found some helpful perspectives on how we can practise in the west as well as on gender and sexuality. There was one passage that stuck with me, but I wasn't sure how to address it until I started reading Norman Fischer's 'Taking Our Places' as part of the preparation for this year's Coming of Age program, which starts this weekend.
Here is the passage from 'Zen Women': "In Sung dynasty China (960-1279) the number of Buddhist nuns included in the census in the year 1021 was 61,239. The number of Buddhist monks was recorded as 397,615, creating a male to female ratio of 6.5:1. Yet very few nuns are remembered and, of those who are, there are even fewer teaching records. Surely out of sixty-one thousand nuns a few must have offered some deep teachings!"
This is from the introduction to 'Taking our Places': "Our particular lineage of zen, founded by Shunryu Suzuki, puts little emphasis on enlightenment. It's not that we are unconcerned about enlightenment, or that we are opposed to it. Enlightenment is certainly important...But just as important, or more important, as a sign of readiness to teach Zen is a person's simple human maturity. Maybe someone is not very enlightened, or not enlightened at all. But if he or she is mature, it is good enough, for as Suzuki Roshi taught us, it is the ongoing practice, carried out with balance, faith, perseverance, kindness, and willingness to reach out to others, that is the most important thing. To practice like this takes a quiet and stable maturity".
I know I have had, and I suspect it is a common thing, fantasies about becoming completely enlightened and then living like one of the charismatic zen masters that we can read about in any of the koan collections or old zen stories. I think of this as the zen equivalent of wanting to be a rock star when I was a teenager, and I am also perfectly at ease with the knowledge that this is not very likely to happen. The ease comes from a strong faith that the sincere continuation of practice that Norman outlines is in itself beneficial. In all probability I am not going to be the next Dogen, but I will be one of the great assembly. I have often thought about all the monks, probably 397, 610 out of the 397,615, who didn't make it into the koan stories. Does that mean their life was of no account - of course not. So while it is true and sad that we do not have such an extensive record of the women teachers who came before us, it is also true that we have no record of almost everyone from the great assemblies. And yet, of course, we owe the continuance of the teaching to them as much as to the charismatic zen masters.