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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
92 Buddhadharma: The PracTiTioner's QuarTerly F rom my early days in Zen, this koan from The Blue Cliff Record (it also appears as Case 60 in The Book of Serenity) has been an important story for me. As a woman studying Zen with a male teacher, I was delighted to find someone like Iron Grindstone Liu, a woman who appears to have had such a deep and playful relationship with her male teacher, Guishan. The cases in The Blue Cliff Record were collected by the eleventh- century Chinese master Xuedou Chongxian. Each one has a line-by- line commentary by the twelfth-century master Yuanwu Keqin. These comments provide reflections that are sometimes quite mysterious. And this is as it should be. Koans show us a way to engage directly with the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of consensus (binary) reality and absolute (empty) reality. In consensus reality, everything is the way it is and can be compared with other things that are the way they are: snow and rain, sun and moon, left and right, man and woman. In the realm of the absolute, however, these distinctions disappear. The discursive human mind of a Zen practitioner moves back and forth between these two views. Koans are one of the many tools available for a Zen teacher to help her student find a way to live in both worlds simultaneously. As a woman studying Zen, I had heard Buddhist teachings that females were less able than males to practice the dharma and recog- nize their awakened nature. This belief was not surprising. Having grown up in the U.S. in the 1950s, the assumed inferiority of women was the air I breathed. And though the feminism that emerged in the 1960s helped me see through these assumptions, I continued to struggle with them. It was hard for me to challenge the patriarchal culture that surrounded me; in some part of my deep unconscious mind, I carried the idea that I was less than a man. Still, I was deter- mined to practice feminism and live a life of equality between men and women. At one point early in my Zen studies, I witnessed a public con- versation between a female student and her male Asian teacher that