Zen Echoes - Introduction

Classic Koans with Verse Commentaries by Three Female Zen Masters

The voices of three female Zen masters reverberate in this much-needed collection.

 

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Introduction This is a translation of a work that in Chinese is titled Songgu hexiang ji 頌古合響集 or The Concordant Sounds Collection of Verse Commentaries. Verse commentaries, or songgu 頌古, are poems inspired by stories or kōans about buddhas, bodhisattvas, and above all, the great Chan (Zen) masters of the classical period. They were composed primarily by Chan masters, the vast majority of whom historically have been male. The verses in this collection, however, are unique in that they were composed by three female Chan masters, Chan master Miaozong 妙總 from the twelfth century and Chan Masters Baochi 寶持 and Zukui 祖揆 from the seventeenth. Miaozong (1095–1170) is famous for being one of the first officially recognized female Chan masters in Chinese history. She was also known for her literary talents as well as her religious achievements, and although much of her writing has been lost, many of her verse commentaries were preserved in a fourteenth-century anthology of such verses. Over five hundred years after Miaozong’s death, the two Dharma companions Baochi and Zukui were so inspired by these verses that they each composed their own verse commentaries on the same kōans originally commented upon by Miaozong. These kōans, together with the verse commentaries by all three women, were then compiled into a collection, and the literatus-official and Buddhist layman Zhang Dayuan 張大圓 (1589–1669), who knew and admired Baochi and Zukui, wrote a preface for it and arranged for it to be printed. It is unclear how widely the printed collection circulated as an independent text, but fortunately it was considered important enough to be included in the Jiaxing Canon (Jiaxing dazangjing 嘉興大 藏經), a multi-volume collection of Buddhist canonical writings collated and printed during the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth. There they have lain tucked away since then, largely unnoticed and, until now, never translated into English. Miaozong (1095–1170) is famous for being one of the first officially recognized female Chan masters in Chinese history. She was also known for her literary talents as well as her religious achievements, and although much of her writing has been lost, many of her verse commentaries were preserved in a fourteenth-century anthology of such verses. Over five hundred years after Miaozong’s death, the two Dharma companions Baochi and Zukui were so inspired by these verses that they each composed their own verse commentaries on the same kōans originally commented upon by Miaozong. These kōans, together with the verse commentaries by all three women, were then compiled into a collection, and the literatus-official and Buddhist layman Zhang Dayuan 張大圓 (1589–1669), who knew and admired Baochi and Zukui, wrote a preface for it and arranged for it to be printed. It is unclear how widely the printed collection circulated as an independent text, but fortunately it was considered important enough to be included in the Jiaxing Canon (Jiaxing dazangjing 嘉興大 藏經), a multi-volume collection of Buddhist canonical writings collated and printed during the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth. There they have lain tucked away since then, largely unnoticed and, until now, never translated into English. Of primary interest in this book are the verses: the kōans to which they are written are all relatively well known, and annotated English translations of most of them are widely available. For this reason, and because this book is intended primarily for a general audience, I have not provided overly detailed annotations of either the kōans or the verses. It is also important to note that while these verse commentaries are unique in being authored by female Chan masters, this is not to say that they offer a distinctively female perspective on the Chan experience. But perhaps they should not be expected to, since this experience was, theoretically at least, supposed to be one unmarked by gender distinctions. What they do offer is an eloquent illustration of the fact that, in a religious milieu made up overwhelmingly of men, there were women who were just as dedicated to Chan practice, just as advanced in their spiritual realization, and just as gifted at using language to convey that which is beyond language. The popular, if undoubtedly romanticized, image of the Chan master responding to a bewildered student’s earnest queries with seemingly irrelevant statements, or alternatively, with deafening shouts and painful blows, was largely a literary product of Song dynasty China (960–1279). It was in the Song that the biographies, sermons, and above all, records of the lively encounters with great masters of the Tang dynasty (618–907) such as Linji 臨濟 and Mazu 馬祖 were widely collected, compiled (and sometimes elaborated or even invented) and circulated as individual texts.5 In addition, selections of these texts were collected in comprehensive anthologies, one of the first of which was The Jingde Transmission of the Lamp (Jingde chuandeng lu 景德傳燈錄) published in 1004. This collection was followed by numerous other “lamp transmissions,” as well as anthologies comprised of accounts selected from these larger collections and designed primarily for the purpose of training Chan practitioners, although they were also widely appreciated by educated lay readers who may or may not have been interested in engaging in intensive Chan practice. These selected accounts, often in the form of so-called encounter dialogues between master and disciple, came to be known as kōan (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term gong’an 公案, which means, literally, “public case” or “precedent”). By the Song dynasty, it became common practice for commentaries in both prose and verse to be appended to these kōans. These commentaries were for the most part written by men who were Chan masters themselves, and as such could inspire and instruct aspiring students of the Way as much as the original cases themselves. One of the earliest of these anthologies was Xuedou’s Collection of Verse Commentaries (Xuedou songgu ji 雪竇頌古集 ) compiled by the Song dynasty Chan master Xuedou Zhongxian 雪竇重顯 (980–1052). It was comprised of one hundred cases, the great majority of which were selected from the The Jingde Transmission of the Lamp collection mentioned above. Xuedou, who had received a classical Confucian literary education before becoming ordained at the age of twenty-three, often chose to write his commentaries in verse. Although he was not the first to do so, it is with Xuedou that the verse commentary emerged as a fully distinct genre of Chinese Chan literature. Several decades after its publication, we find Xuedou’s collection of cases being used extensively by Chan Master Yuanwu Keqin 圜悟克勤 (1063–1135) as a basis for his own teachings. Yuanwu Keqin added his own commentaries to those made by Xuedou, and together they would become the anthology that in English is often translated as The Blue Cliff Record (Biyan lu 碧岩籙).7 The Blue Cliff Record inspired several other similar anthologies of cases appended by commentaries in both verse and prose, such as The Gateless Gate (Wumen guan 無門關), a collection of forty-eight cases compiled by Chan Master Wumen Huikai 無門慧開 (1183–1260), and published in 1228, and The Book of Serenity (Congrong lu 從容錄) compiled by Chan Master Wansong Xingxiu 萬松行秀 (1166–1246). These three anthologies, and especially the first two, enjoyed a great popularity in East Asia, not only among monastic Chan practitioners, but also the educated elite who delighted in the poetic, if often puzzling, language of these texts. In fact, so great was their popularity that some Chan teachers, including Chan Master Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗皋 (1089–1163), generally regarded to be the greatest of all the Song dynasty masters and a Dharma heir of Yuanwu Keqin himself, began to worry that their literary attractions were more of a hindrance than an aid to realization—it’s said that he even went so far as to destroy his copy of The Blue Cliff Record and strongly caution his disciples against reading it. Dahui is known for his use of a practice that involved not meditating on (much less memorizing) a complete kōan, but rather using a single word or phrase (referred to in Chinese as huatou 話頭 ) from the kōan as a tool with which to overcome the limitations of purely discursive thought and experience a reality unbounded by words. For instance, one of the most famous kōan is an encounter dialogue that already seems to be pared down to its absolute essentials: A monk asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?” Zhaozhou replied, “He does not.” Dahui, however, pares it down even further, and selects the key phrase “He does not,” which in Chinese is just one word: wu 無 (in Japanese pronounced “mu”). It is with this word that the practitioner must grapple, with a great intensity and sense of urgency, building up a tremendous “great doubt” that, if all goes well, will at some point result in a shattering insight into the true nature of reality. This method of meditative inquiry on the huatou did not originate with Dahui. However, it was he who is largely responsible for perfecting and popularizing its use—in many cases with the help of some of his female disciples, among whom the most well known was none other than Miaozong, the first of the three women Chan masters whose verse commentaries are translated in this book. After Dahui, the use of the huatou became central to many forms of Chan practice, especially in the Linji (Rinzai in Japanese) school. Nevertheless, anthologies comprised of kōans accompanied by verse and prose commentaries such as The Blue Cliff Record continued to be read, studied, and savored by lay and monastic alike. Moreover, many of the individual collections of writings and sermons (known as “discourse records” or yulu, 語錄) of Chan masters from the twelfth century down to recent times include entire sections of verse commentaries. Such was the popularity of these verses even in the Song dynasty that a Chan monk by the name of Faying 法應 (exact dates unknown) devoted thirty years of his life to collecting 2,100 verses by 122 different Chan monks. This collection, the original edition of which is unfortunately no longer extant, was published in 1175 under the title of The String of Pearls Collection of Verses from the Chan School (Chanzong songgu lianzhu ji 禪宗頌古聯珠集). Nearly a century later, an otherwise unknown Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) monk by the name of Puhui 普會 edited and expanded Faying’s original collection, resulting in an anthology composed of 3,050 verses by 426 different authors. Published in 1317 under the title of The Comprehensive String of Pearls Collection of Verse Commentaries from the Chan School (Chanzong songgu lianzhu tongji 禪宗頌古聯珠通集), this expanded collection was eventually incorporated into the Chinese Buddhist Canon, where it can be found today. Among the verses added by Puhui were many composed after the 1175 publication of Faying’s original collection—including, for the first time, the verses composed by Miaozong, the most well known of the three female Dharma successors of Dahui Zonggao. It is these verses that, many centuries later, would inspire the seventeenth-century nuns Baochi and Zukui to each compose verses in response both to the original cases selected by Miaozong and to the verses she wrote to accompany them. Miaozong was arguably the most well known of the three women Dharma heirs of the eminent Song dynasty Chan master Dahui Zonggao (to whom I will refer simply as Dahui from now on). Dahui was a teacher who both nourished and acknowledged the spiritual potential of his female disciples. In the numerous collections of his sermons, letters, and writings, one can find numerous accounts of his interactions with his women students, including at least fourteen nuns and twenty-seven laywomen. In one Dharma instruction, for example, we find him telling a female lay disciple about Miaozong’s spiritual attainments and suggesting that if the disciple made a real effort, she might well become a second Miaozong. (Nearly five centuries later, we find Zhang Dayuan claiming that Baochi and Zukui had indeed achieved this goal and could be regarded as spiritual “reincarnations” of their twelfth-century predecessor.) The most important source for biographical The most important source for biographical information regarding Miaozong is a biographical account found in the Precious Mirror of Gods and Humans (Rentian baojian 人天寶鑑) compiled by the Northern Song dynasty poet-monk Tanxiu 曇秀 and first published in 1230. The information provided by Tanxiu’s account, when supplemented by additional bits of information gleaned from other sources, and in particular, the writings and letters of Dahui himself, makes it possible to paint a fairly detailed portrait of Miaozong Miaozong came from a very illustrious and scholarly family: her grandfather, for example, was the scholar-official Su Song 蘇頌 (1020–1101), who after passing the highest national civil examinations in 1042, subsequently held a series of high official posts, including that of Vice Prime Minister. Su Song was a veritable polymath, known among other things for his poetry writing, his art collecting, and his scholarship in the areas of astronomy, pharmacology, and cartography. He was also a mechanical genius of sorts, famous for having devised, and later written a treatise about, a water-driven astronomical clock. While we know very little about Miaozong’s early life, we can assume that, like other women of her time who were born to distinguished gentry families and unlike most of their less-privileged sisters, she was afforded a solid education, which included studying the classic works of Chinese literature, philosophy, and history, and learning to write poetry. In this account, we are told that even as an adolescent, Miaozong had already begun to ponder such existential questions such as where and what we are before we take birth, and where and what we will be after we die. After contemplating these questions with great intensity, she apparently had what one might call a first experience of awakened insight. Unaware that this experience represented anything out of the ordinary, she kept it to herself and dutifully acquiesced to her family’s arrangements for her to be married to a young scholar-official from a good family like hers. Even after marriage, Miaozong’s early religious inclinations continued unabated, and she began to visit different eminent Chan monks in search of spiritual guidance. According to Tanxiu, one of these masters opened their interview by asking Miaozong pointblank, “How can a beautiful woman from the inner quarters expect to engage in the matters of great gentleman?” Miaozong’s reply was equally straightforward: “Is the Buddhadharma divided into male and female forms?” Master and student then embarked on a “Dharma exchange” from which, we are told, Miaozong emerged victorious. In the Dharma instruction addressed to one of his female lay disciples quoted earlier, Dahui even goes so far as to state that Miaozong received confirmation of her enlightenment from each and every one of the eminent masters that she visited during this time. Although after her marriage Miaozong visited many eminent masters from the Jiangsu and Zhejiang area, she did not meet Dahui until sometime in 1137 when she was living in Jiahe 嘉禾 (present-day Jiaxing 嘉興, in Zhejiang province), where her husband had been assigned a new official post. It so happened that around this time, Dahui happened to stop in Jiahe on his way to take up a post as abbot at a monastery on Mount Jing 徑山, located just outside of Hangzhou. When Miaozong heard about this, she immediately went to pay her respects, but when she saw Dahui, she simply bowed and left without saying a word. Something about her caught Dahui’s attention, however, and turning to a lay official who had studied with Dahui for many years and who was now accompanying him on his journey, he remarked, “That laywoman who was just here has definitely seen something that is as startling as a ghost or spirit. However, because she has yet to face the hammer and tongs, the forge and bellows, like a ten-thousand- tonship in a blocked harbor, she is still unable budge.” In other words, Dahui recognized that Miaozong had already attained a degree of realization, but that without the guidance and challenge of a master, she would be able to go no further. It was customary for local officials to request visiting monks, especially if they were as eminent as Dahui, to deliver a public sermon while they were in the area. Thus it happened that the following day, Miaozong’s husband— perhaps at the urging of his wife—invited Dahui to give a Dharma talk. Both he and his wife were in attendance, of course, and at one point in his talk—again according to Tanxiu’s account—Dahui looked out over the assembled audience and said, “Today among you there is a person who has seen something. I inspect people as would a customs official— no sooner do I see them coming, then I know whether or not they have dutiable goods.” After the talk was over, Miaozong, knowing that she was the person being referred to, approached Dahui and requested that he select a Dharma name for her, thus indicating her desire to study with him. Dahui then gave her the Dharma name Wuzhuo 無著, which means “nonattachment.” The connection made, the following year, Miaozong made her way to Mount Jing, where Dahui was now living, in order to participate in the three-month intensive summer retreat.12 Miaozong’s subsequent exchanges, or so-called“Dharma battles,” with Dahui in many ways form the heart of her biographical accounts, as indeed they do of most biographies/hagiographies of eminent monastics, and would become quite famous. Dahui himself describes many of these exchanges in his own writings, often using them to instruct and inspire other practitioners, especially other female practitioners. One of the first of these, which I here paraphrase rather than translate, took place during the summer retreat mentioned above. According to Dahui’s account, during one of his sermons he raised the story of Yaoshan Weiyan 藥山惟儼 (774–827) who, intrigued by this new Chan teaching that claimed not to rely on study of the scriptures, went to the great master Shitou Xiqian 石頭希遷 (700–790) seeking further elucidation. However, instead of explaining it to Yaoshan, Shitou simply commented: “Being this way won’t do; not being this way won’t do. Being this way and not being this way both won’t do.” Seeing Yaoshan’s utter confusion, Shitou sent him off to the great Mazu and eventually Yaoshan “got it.” As she listened to Dahui recount this story of Yaoshan and Shitou, Miaozong also “got it,” although she at first she kept her realization to herself. However, another member of the congregation, an official and lay practitioner, was convinced that he too had “got it,” went immediately to Dahui’s quarters and said, “I understand it!” When Dahui asked him how it was he understood it, the official replied by restating Shitou’s enigmatic words, although with the addition of three strings of Sanskrit syllables transliterated into Chinese, none of which have any clear meaning: “Being this way won’t do, soro shabaho. Being that way won’t do, xili shabaho. Being this way won’t do and not being this way both won’t do, soro xili shabaho.” When Dahui heard this, he refrained from either confirming or rejecting the official’s insight. Later, however, he asked Miaozong what she thought of the man’s words. She laughed and, as if to change the subject, said, “Guo Xiang commented on Zhuangzi 莊子. Those who know say that it was actually Zhuangzi who commented on Guo Xiang.” Guo Xiang 郭象 (d. 312) was the author of an unfinished commentary to the famous classical Daoist text known as the Zhuangzi attributed to the fourth-century BCE philosopher Zhuang Zhou 莊周, who was also known as Zhuangzi or Master Zhuang. By reversing the roles of author and commentator, Miaozong may have been suggesting that the official’s “comment” on Shitou’s original statement was inadequate, to say the least. And, of course, by so suggesting, she was demonstrating to Dahui that her own insight was more on target. Although Dahui clearly agreed, instead of saying as much he too shifted the topic of conversation, this time asking her about a story involving Chan Master Yantou Quanhuo 嚴頭全奯 (828–87). This story, another version of which appears later as case 33, tells how Yantou worked for a while as a ferryman transporting people back and forth across a lake.14 One day a woman passenger carrying a baby in her arms turned to Yantou and asked, “Where did this baby that I am holding in my arms come from?” Yantou replied, in good Chan master fashion, by smacking her with his oar. Unfazed, the woman said, “I have already given birth to seven children, six of whom never encountered a true friend. Nor will it be any different with this one.” And so saying, she threw the child into the water. The deeper meaning of this rather horrifying tale most likely hinges on the word “true friend” (zhiyin 知音), which literally means “someone who understands the sound.” The expression refers to a famous story of a man who could always and immediately understand the feeling behind his friend’s zither-playing— so much so that when he died, his musician friend, despairing of ever again being understood in this way, broke the strings of his instrument and never played again. In Miaozong’s verse, the true friend refers to someone on the same spiritual wavelength: in other words, the mind-to-mind connection that Miaozong appears to have established not only with the ancient Tang master Shitou, but also with Dahui himself. Writing a verse to give to the master was a traditional way for a student to articulate his or her understanding, and Miaozong responded to the story of Yantou with what would later come to be regarded as one of her signature verses: A leaf of a boat drifts across the vast stretch of water; Lifting and dancing his oars, he sings to a different tune. Mountain clouds and ocean moon: both are tossed away; The battle won, Zhuang Zhou’s butterfly dream carries on. In this verse, Miaozong plays on the images of boat and oar from the story of Yantou the ferryman, although what is tossed into the waters is, somewhat more poetically, not a baby but rather the clouds over the mountain and the moon over the sea. She also indirectly echoes her earlier comment regarding Guo Xiang and the Zhuangzi by referring to the famous story about how Zhuang Zhou the philosopher, upon waking from a dream in which he was a butterfly, wonders if perhaps he is now a butterfly dreaming he is a human. Miaozong also echoes the sound metaphor implicit in the term “true friend” with the phrase “he sings a different tune”—which is often used in Chan to refer to someone who has come to experience the world with an awakened mind. In this way, all the elements of the “Dharma battle” between Dahui and Miaozong— stories, questions, comments, and poem—become an affirmation of her spiritual insight. On yet another teaching occasion, Miaozong offered Dahui the following verse: In a flash, I have touched the very tip of my nose; All my clever tricks have melted like ice and shattered like tiles. What need was there for Bodhidharma to come from the West? The Second Patriarch bowed to him three times all for nothing! If you still insist on asking what is this and how it could be: An entire brigade of straw bandits has suffered a huge defeat! In the poem he wrote in response to this one, Dahui explicitly acknowledges Miaozong’s awakening, something he had not done before. Dahui’s poem reads as follows: Since you have awakened to the living intention of the patriarchs, Cut everything in two with a single stroke, and finish off the job. Facing karmic occasions one by one, trust to your original nature; Whether in the world or out of it, there is neither excess nor lack. I compose this verse as a confirmation of your awakening. The four types of awakened beings and the six unawakened may worry, But you needn’t worry—even the blue-eyed barbarian has yet to get it! Up until now, we have talked solely about Miaozong’s encounters with her teacher, Dahui. However, there is a story (and it may indeed be only a story) of a very different sort of an encounter, found in a preface to a poem in a 1254 anthology of Chan writings. It tells of an encounter between Miaozong and Wan’an Daoyan 卍菴道顏 (1094–1164), the head monk at Mount Jing who would also become one of Dahui’s Dharma heirs.17 Wan’an is described as disapproving of this woman and of the fact that his teacher had gone so far as to allow her to stay in the abbot’s quarters. Aware of his male disciple’s feelings, Dahui insists that Wan’an call on Miaozong himself. When the monk shows up at her door, Miaozong asked him whether theirs is to be a worldly meeting or a Dharma meeting. When Wan’an assures her that it will be the latter, Miaozong tells him to dismiss his attendants and then goes back into her room. A little later, she calls for him to enter, and when he does, he finds her lying stretched out on her bed completely naked. The shocked monk then points at her exposed private parts and asks, “What kind of place is this?” “The buddhas of the three worlds, the six patriarchs, and the great monks everywhere all emerge from here,” answers Miaozong. Wan’an then asks whether or not he will be allowed to enter, to which Miaozong cuttingly replies, “It allows horses to cross, but it does not allow asses to do so.” When Wan’an does not respond, Miaozong declares the interview over and turns over on her side. The embarrassed monk, not knowing what else to do, quickly leaves the room. When Wan’an later tells Dahui about this shocking meeting with Miaozong, Dahui remarks, “It is certainly not the case that that old beast lacks insight!” And so again we see Miaozong presumably operating on a level of understanding that far surpassed many of Dahui’s male disciples, whether monastic or lay. When Dahui recounts his exchanges with Miaozong during her first summer retreat with him, he refers to her as Madame Xu, which means that she was still a laywoman at that time. In fact, it was not until 1163, the year Dahui died and most likely after her husband had died as well, that Miaozong was officially ordained as a nun. At this point she was quite advanced in years and no doubt planned to spend the rest of her life in seclusion. However, she had already become quite famous and greatly admired for her spiritual insight and strict discipline. As a result she was asked to serve as abbess of the Zeshou Nunnery 資壽庵, which was located on the outskirts of what is today the city of Shanghai. A number of sermons delivered by Miaozong during her time as abbess have been preserved, as well as a handful of Dharma exchanges with her students. The first sermon she gave upon ascending to her new position, a portion of which I have translated below, provides a sense of the religious authority—the authority of a Chan master—with which she taught: Once the essential teaching of Chan is conveyed, then that of the Buddhist Canon is completely finished. Once the command of the patriarchs is carried out, then the ten directions are completely cut off. When the two vehicles hear it, they flee in fear. When the bodhisattvas of the ten stages reach it, they still doubt. The best of the lot, however, will understand without being told. Even methods powerful enough to shift the placement of the stars and constellations, and stratagems that can appropriate the enemy’s flag and drums—even these are no more than the show of empty fists. How could they be of any real significance? When it comes to the path to transcendence, sages do not transmit anything, and students do nothing but toil over forms, like monkeys grasping at their own reflections. What Śākyamuni Buddha transmitted at Vulture Peak came at an opportune time. He elaborated upon the three vehicles, each according to the faculties and capacities of his listeners. Beginning at the Deer Park with his teaching of the four noble truths, he ferried hundreds of thousands of beings [across the river of samsara]. Today I, the mountain monastic—together with this world and all other worlds, with the buddhas and patriarchs, with the mountains, rivers and great Earth, the grasses and trees, woods and forests—appear before the four-fold assembly, each of us turning the great wheel of Dharma. Everyone’s radiances blend and crisscross like a jeweled silken net. If there be a single blade of grass, a single tree, that does not turn the wheel of Dharma, then one cannot call my sermon today a true turning of the great wheel of Dharma. . . .” Miaozong only resided at the Zeshou Nunnery for a few years before she retired, and in 1170 she died at the age of 76. Although long lost, there does appear to have been a collection of her sermons, poems, and other writings published before her death,19 and it is possible that the verse commentaries later collected in Puhui’s Yuan dynasty anthology may have been culled from this earlier collection. Most importantly, Miaozong’s fame as a realized female Chan master would continue to inspire later generations of spiritual aspirants—in particular women who might otherwise feel that the demanding, and in many ways highly masculine, practices of Chan were beyond their capabilities. [ABRIDGED 15-24] This work, as far as I know, is the only such extant collection of female-authored verse commentaries in Chinese. In fact, it would appear to be one of the reasons it was first printed at all: as Zhang Dayuan exclaims in his preface, it is a collection that “elevates womankind and puts to men to shame.” In other words, while they may not necessarily reflect a uniquely feminine perspective as such, in composing these verses, Miaozong, Baochi and Zukui were claiming for themselves the same religious and spiritual authority as their male counterparts, no more and no less. Moreover, verse commentaries such as these also served to pay homage to earlier masters in the tradition, much like the tradition of “matching rhymes” in the Chinese secular poetic tradition, whereby a poet would compose a poem using the same rhymes as those of an earlier poet. Thus, the fact that the two seventeenth-century women Chan masters felt moved to follow the example of their twelfth-century female spiritual ancestor points to an awareness and appreciation of a distinctly female lineage within an overwhelmingly patrilineal, if not entirely patriarchal, tradition. In the end, however, what is important is not that these verses are composed by women, but simply that they are worth savoring, whether for their poetic qualities or their spiritual suggestiveness, or both.