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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 43 |winter 2007 Chan master Miaozong (1095–1170), a laywoman who later became a nun, was renowned in the Buddhist world of twelfth-century China, and references to her life and teachings are found many centuries later in China, Korea, and Japan. The record of her dharma talks and conversations with students, called her “Discourse Record,” is lost now, but parts of it are quoted in larger compilations of the records of other Chan teachers. Most strikingly, her forty-three poetic com- mentaries on koans from earlier masters were collected, published, and circulated, so that they were well known, even in later seventeenth-century China, when two women Chan masters added their poems to hers. These can still be found and read today. Part of the reason she was respected in her own time and in later centuries was miriam leverinG iS a profeSSor of reliGiouS StudieS at the univerSity of tenneSSee. She haS Written Scholarly articleS on miaoZonG, miaodao, and doGen’S encouraGement of male StudentS to take Women aS their teacherS. C An Unlikely Dharma Warrior D miriam leVerinG on the life of Miaozong, a laywoman turned abbess who stood her ground in dharma battles with some of the great Chan masters of her day. women ancestors because her awakening and authority to teach was recognized by the great Linji Chan master Dahui Zonggao (1089– 1163). Dahui could be called the third founder of Chan, after Bodhidharma and Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, because he influenced all subsequent Chan and Son Buddhism, in China and Korea, respec- tively, after 1200, and also the subsequent development of Rinzai Zen Buddhism in Japan. Dahui Zonggao not only made Miao- zong his dharma heir, but he also wrote about her in his dharma instructions and spoke about her accomplishment in his dharma talks. These dharma talks were recorded by his students, and, as a result, his stories of Miaozong’s studies with him, and of her genuine and deep accomplishment, made their way into his voluminous “Discourse Record.” In Asia, all serious practitioners of Chan, Son, and Zen read his record, and thanks to him they came to know of Miaozong. Miaozong was the granddaughter of a prime minister, Su Song (1020–1101), and was therefore born into a socially privi- leged, but also very constrained, position. Had she done what was expected of her, she would have lived confined to the women’s quarters of family compounds, first that of her natal family and then that of her husband’s family. Upper-class women were never seen on the street in China and were forbidden to play any role in public life. They were not to inter- act with men outside the family and were certainly not brought up to challenge men about matters of importance. And Chan practice in the twelfth century involved challenging men. As was true of many of the young women who later became important dharma heirs and Chan teachers in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the foun- dation of Miaozong’s dharma life was laid through an experience of insight or awakening that occurred at home and without a teacher. At the age of fifteen, having never heard of Chan, the future Miaozong had a transforming insight when she focused her mind on the ques- tion, When we are born, where do we come from, and where do we go when lizAmATTheWS