Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Daughters of Emptiness - Preface

Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns

Preface

Buddhist poetry constitutes an important, although often undervalued, tributary of the Chinese poetic tradition: anthologies and other sorts of collections often included the works of monk-poets such as Hanshan and Jiaoran of the Tang dynasty as well as the Buddhist-inspired verse of many of the great poets of the tradition, such as the Tang-dynasty poets Wang Wei and Po Juyi and the Song-dynasty poet Su Shi. Less known, however, is the fact that there were also a significant number of poet-nuns as well as ordinary laywomen who wrote Buddhist-inspired verse. They were by no means numerous: if the idea of men becoming monks and abandoning their familial responsibilities was never fully accepted in Confucian China, the notion of women becoming nuns and failing to fulfill their procreative duties or, as the case might be, leaving the protective shelter of fathers, husbands, or sons, was looked upon with even less favor. Still, whether due to warfare and displacement, difficult personal or financial circumstances, or simply determined religious aspiration, many women did become “daughters of emptiness.” And, as this selection of translations demonstrates, many of them did write poetry; and some of them wrote very good poetry indeed.

Poems by Buddhist nuns are to be found scattered in various different sources; a very, very few in collections of their own, somewhat more in anthologies of women’s poetry, and many others embedded in biographical and other sorts of anecdotal and historical accounts. None are available in the annotated editions that have often been compiled for their more famous male counterparts.  Lacking these editorial and scholarly supports, I have had to rely even more than usual on the generous advice and expertise of many colleagues and friends. First of all, I wish to express my appreciation to Professor Wilt L. Idema of Harvard University, who has been a wonderful mentor in the art of translation, and has consistently provided me with sometimes much-needed encouragement and support. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Professor John McCrae of Indiana University for encouraging me to rethink some of my translations and for clarifying my introduction, as well as to my colleague at Washington University, Professor Robert E. Hegel, who kindly read the introduction to this book and offered his usual succinct and insightful editorial advice. The editorial advice and moral support of these colleagues has been generous indeed; any errors of  fact, translation, or interpretation remain, of course, mine alone. I must also express my appreciation to Edward S. Macias, Executive Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Washington University for allowing me to take some time from teaching and administrative duties in order to be able to focus more single-mindedly on research and translation. Last, but by no means least, I want to express my gratitude and admiration for the expertise and dedication of the editorial and production staff at Wisdom Publications: they have been a pleasure to work with from beginning to end.

I would like to dedicate this book to my parents, Robert and Carolyn Grant, who early on provided me with an abiding appreciation for the beauty and power of the written word, as well as with constant reminders of what Chinese Buddhist poets have always known: that which is of greatest importance often lies far beyond words.

Beata Grant
St. Louis, Missouri
August 15, 2003

 

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© Beata Grant, Daughters of Emptiness (Wisdom Publications, 2003)

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