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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
96 Buddhadharma: The PracTiTioner's QuarTerly I found her fascinating right from the start. Born in 871, her full name was Liu Tiemo, and she was a student of Guishan, the other character in this koan. It appears she had her own temple and was considered an equal to the male teachers she met. In one encounter, Zen master Zihu asks, “I have heard of Iron Grindstone Liu. They say you’re not easy to contend with. Is that so?” And she replies, “Where do you hear that?” He continues, “It’s conveyed from the left and right.” She replies, “Don’t fall down, Master.” The dialogue ends with Zihu driving her out of the room, beating her with a stick. Here is a little hint of Liu’s capacity to blend the relative world (not easy to contend with, and heard about from left and right) with the absolute, as she tells Zihu not to fall down among these sorts of unhelpful comparisons and judgments. I so much wanted to be like her—an Iron Woman, as Grace Schireson describes her, tough and more like a man than a woman. She was so far from who I—a young, small, and timid woman— could ever dream of being. In studying koans, though, it’s important to look beneath appearances. Perhaps Liu had found a way to solve the koan of being a woman in Zen. Liu’s teacher, Guishan, was a student of Baizhang. In one of my favorite Zen stories, which takes place when Guishan was still a student, his teacher asked him to see if there was any fire left in the stove. Guishan searched the ashes and was unable to find anything, at which point Baizhang himself poked in the ashes and found an ember. Showing it to Guishan, he said, “You said you didn’t see anything— but what about this?” As students, we lose faith in the teachings on a regular basis. A true teacher helps the student find the glowing ember opposite | Isn’t It About Time to Ride An Ox Too? (1984)