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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
melissa myozen blacker 93 startled and challenged many of the assumptions I had been carry- ing. The student asked, “Can a woman attain awakening?” The teacher said, “No.” After the gasps subsided, he said, “And a man can’t either. No man, no woman, no attaining.” As I continued my journey into the heart of Zen practice, I held this story close. Wanting to be a good Zen student, I did my best to ignore the differ- ences in gender that were so obvious and strong in my life. I worked hard to view gender as empty, but as time went on, I had to admit this view was limited and not really useful in helping me solve the koan of being a woman in the world of Zen. How do I understand my gender within the context of Zen teach- ings? Am I a woman? Am I not a woman? Could there be some way to embrace my gender without it getting in the way of my Zen prac- tice? I’ve found myself circumambulating these questions for the last thirty-five years of my Zen training and teaching. Being a woman in Zen was problematic from the start. My first teacher found me physically attractive and seemed unable to keep himself from letting me know this—a betrayal of trust that came on gradually and eventually ended with my leaving him. I was a slow learner in this area, confused by his insistence on our potential sexual connection. Not only were both of us married but my hus- band was also one of his students! I found myself flattered by his attention, but I knew deep in my bones that the sort of relationship he wanted was not about the dharma. My sangha brothers and gay sisters were free to be themselves with this teacher, but I felt trapped in my woman’s body, limited to being an object of desire rather than a whole person. Being a woman of Zen was problematic from the start. my first teacher found me physically attractive and seemed unable to keep himself from letting me know this.