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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
79 winter 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Reviews When you take this story up as a koan and bring it into your meditation, quite different meanings emerge. Ling- zhao’s throwing herself down obliterates the idea that there is a helper and a helped, suggesting that we are all falling together. It acknowledges that in some cases the most pro- found response to another’s difficulty is the willingness not to flee—by either abandoning the situation or escaping into “helping”—but rather to be willing to stay and accompany. Her father’s final remark becomes a comment on what it’s like when we relate to each other without self-consciousness. Instead of some third person judging the event, the one who fortunately isn’t looking is us—that is, our own inner ten- dency to monitor and pass judgment, distancing us from our interactions even as they’re happening. How free it is when we aren’t keeping score! Zen Women focuses on the present-day in part 3 and aims to show how we can learn from the ancestors about “practicing with loved ones, practicing while working in the world, and adapting our training institutions to fit our actual lives”—developments which Schireson and many others see as essential to Zen’s survival in the West. This is extremely helpful in some cases, as when the author points out that women denied monastic life had to develop their own home- centered practices, and since home practice is what most Westerners choose for themselves, our ancestors’ adaptations and solutions could teach us a great deal. The discussion of relationship and sexuality feels less helpful, perhaps because it’s hard to do justice to these subjects in a few pages. Gener- alizations about male and female psychology are presented as self-evident, and a lot is left out. For one thing, there’s no explicit mention of lesbians or homosexuality, which is understandable when looking at ancient records but not so much when we’re talking about the present. The reader can only hope that phrases like “family and marital relation- ships” are intended to include arrangements other than the nuclear heterosexual one. For a book in which the costs of exclusion and erasure are so powerfully described, it’s a puz- zling omission. The author’s problem-centered psychological approach does begin to feel limiting. While it’s certainly possible that the emphasis on the difficulties of women involved in mainstream, institutional Zen is justified, it’s not the full picture. There is post-patriarchal Zen, in which the problems the author lays out are no longer central, or in some cases even relevant, to the experience of practice and community. In the end, readers will find their own relationship to the material, and I can imagine rich discussions among friends and in practice centers coming out of reading the book together. Because of Grace Schireson’s work, our understanding of Zen is more whole. Now we have these ancestors to accompany, teach, and inspire us.