“Mountains, rivers, and the whole earth”: Koan interpretations of female zen practitioners

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© 2018 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Though recent years have seen a critical reappraisal of Buddhist texts from the angle of performance and gender studies, examinations of Zen Buddhist encounter dialogues (better known under their edited form as “koan”) within this framework are rare. In this article, I first use Rebecca Schneider’s notion of “reenactment” to characterize interpretative strategies developed by contemporary female Zen practitioners to contest the androcentrism found in koan commentary. Drawing on The Hidden Lamp (2013), I suggest that there are two ways of reading encounter dialogues. One of these, the “grasping way,” tends to be confrontational and full of masculine and martial imagery. The other, the “granting way,” foregrounds the (female) body and the family as sites of transmission, stressing connection instead of opposition. I then argue that these “granting” readings of encounter dialogues gesture towards a Zen lineage that is universal, extended to everyone, even to the non-human.





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Van Overmeire, B (2018). “Mountains, rivers, and the whole earth”: Koan interpretations of female zen practitioners. Religions, 9(4). pp. 125–125. 10.3390/rel9040125 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22367.

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Van Overmeire

Ben Van Overmeire

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Duke Kunshan University

Hi, I’m Ben Van Overmeire. Currently, I’m Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Duke Kunshan University. I’m working on a book on how modern autobiographical narratives of Zen life incorporate koan, medieval Zen riddles such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “What was your name before you were born?” My work has appeared in Religions, Contemporary Buddhism, The Journal of the Buddhist-Christian Studies Society, The Journal of Popular Culture and other publications.

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