The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Monday Mindful Morsel: Daughters of Emptiness

by Lydia Anderson
March 31, 2014
Mon, 03/31/2014 - 12:30 -- landerson

This week’s morsel comes from Daughters of Emptiness, a collection of poems from Chinese Buddhist nuns spanning sixteen centuries. The selection below includes poetry from the early and mid-Ming Dynasty (1368-1600), and includes a biography of each poet.

One-Eyed Jingang. This nun got her name from the fact that she lost the sight in one eye as a result of reading the Diamond Sutra (Jingang jing) with great single-mindedness. She was known for her simple and straightforward personality and lifestyle, and for giving away everything that she received. Every time she preached on the Diamond Sutra, crowds of monks, nuns, and laypeople, including many officials and literati, would gather to listen to her and engage her in dialogue. Many were converted to Buddhism after having heard her preach. She died when she was over seventy years old, having predicted the day of her death.

Male or female: why should one need to distinguish false and true?
What is the shape in which Guanyin would finally take form?
Peeling away the bodhisattva’s skin would be of no use whatsoever
Were someone to ask if it were the body of a woman or that of a man.

Jixing entered a nunnery as a young girl, perhaps because her family was too poor to raise her. When she grew older, she visited a number of Buddhist masters and appears to have had an enlightenment experience as the result of her practice. She then took to wandering around begging for food. She made no effort to shelter herself from wind and rain, and bathed in the cold river. At first people took her for a madwoman and would not feed her. She gained a reputation for being able to forecast the future, however, and soon people found that blessings seemed to visit the household that invited her in as a guest. She also acquired a reputation for her wisdom and insight, expressed in simple and straightforward language.

I urge those of you who aspire to enlightenment—
In aspiring to enlightenment you must be diligent!
If your mind is not completely sincere,
You will wallow forever in the bitter sea!
The great earth is vast and without limit,
And sentient beings are too many to count.
Yet how many people are there with the sense
To leap out of the bitterness of samsara?

Wuwei, who hailed from Xiaoshan in Zhejiang Province, apparently decided very early on in life that she would remain unmarried. She also decided to adhere to a vegetarian diet and dedicate herself to Buddharecitation. At the age of twenty, she was tonsured, after which she built herself a small hermitage and devoted herself to Pure Land practice. Despite her ill health, when she was thirty she began to travel around the country visiting various pilgrimage sites and Buddhist masters. Sometime during the early 1500s she attracted the attention of the court in Beijing, and was summoned to the capital to give teachings as well as to receive an honorary title from the emperor. She then returned to her hermitage, where she lived out the rest of her life. After her death, a stupa was built on Mount Guan in Jiangxi to house her relics.

After sixty-four years of working and toiling,
I’ve managed to achieve a samadhi of wisdom.
At dawn, I’ll let it all go and head home to the West,
And the bright moon will blanket the earth just as before.

To read more from Daughters of Emptiness, click here.

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