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Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens, and Macho Masters Paperback – October 27, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"So here's the thumbnail review: read this book." (Buddhadharma)

"Encouraging, inspiring, and profoundly useful. A kind of Blue Cliff Record for our own time." (Jane Hirshfield)

"An exceptional and powerful classic with great depth, humor, and clarity." (Joan Halifax, abbess of Upaya Zen Center)

"This book changes everything! Zen Women is about all of us. It resets the common understanding of Zen history with eye-opening stories. A must-read." (Pat Enkyo O'Hara, abbess of the Village Zendo)

"These pages come alive with the power to inspire." (Sojun Mel Weitsman, abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center)

"Full inclusion of women is the single most revolutionary development in religion for our time. This book is crucial for anyone who wants to understand contemporary spiritual practice." (Norman Fischer, author of Sailing Home)

"Men and women alike will weep to read these stories of generations of Zen women who risked everything-sometimes even their lives-to study the Dharma. This book should be required reading for truth seekers of every faith." (Lewis Richmond, author of Work as a Spiritual Practice)

"With passion and verve, this inspiring work is a significant step towards filling the gaping holes in Buddhist literature on women's practice. Read it, laugh, and weep-and most of all, feel empowered." (Wendy Egyoku Nakao, abbess of the Zen Center Los Angeles)

"Fascinating and delightful. This book will overturn many long-held stereotypes about Zen." (Ruben L.F. Habito, author of Living Zen, Loving God)

"Zen Women opens, onto millennia and across continents, women's places in Zen. The word beyond in the subtitle charges us to pass by the common yet limiting images of our possibilities as Buddhist women and move toward those that make us proud and ready to build an American Zen. Schireson is making a new record for the future. She seeks to resolve contradictions and missing stories in the record not by claiming victimization of women and calling for restitution but by revising the record and reinterpreting the Zen lineage for our own time. The stories function as case studies of women's social engagement and encouragement for women's leadership in the sangha and in society." (Inquiring Mind)

About the Author

Grace Schireson is a Dharma teacher in the Suzuki Roshi lineage empowered by Sojun Mel Weitsman, abbot of Berkeley Zen Center. She has also been empowered to teach koans by Keido Fukushima Roshi, chief abbot of Tofukuji Monastery in Kyoto Japan. Grace is the head teacher of the Central Valley Zen Foundation and has founded and leads three Zen groups and a Zen retreat center, in California. Grace is also a Clinical Psychologist who has specialized in women and families. Married for over forty years, she has two sons and three grandchildren.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 086171475X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0861714759
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
From the first bhikkhunis to Bodhidharma's woman disciple, this book takes another look at Zen's rich history, making a strong argument for the inclusiveness of Zen practice, as opposed to the (often) exclusiveness of its institutions. Also interrogates the notion of a typically theatrical machismo as the only true expression of Zen practice.

Having said that, the author has no axe to grind, preferring to invite these women to the table of Zen's official history and, whenever possible, let them speak for themselves, rather than simply lament (and lay blame for) their often historical exclusion.

Excellent, incredibly important book.
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Someone just mentioned this book as a potential book to read in my Zen community. This is what I posted in response:

"I actually had problems with that book, to the point I had to just stop reading it. In my opinion, the author has a clear agenda and I disliked her constant dismissing of the stories of female teachers in the lineage as being too masculinized. I thought it belittled and did a disservice to what few women teachers in Zen history that we have stories about. As a woman who enjoys being female yet who is drawn to things or acting in ways that our culture stereotypes as male or masculine, I don't think that I am somehow not an authentic female because of it. I respect and admire the stories of the tough Zen women and "iron maidens" that have gotten passed down through the generations. While some of the author's research was compelling, it was lost in the constant criticism of these stories as not truly representing women. I, for one, relate to these stories! But by the author's account I don't really count as a real woman so that doesn't matter.

So I consider "Zen Women" to be more of a feminist polemic... more fit for a Women's Studies class about theories of gender constructions in narrative histories... than any sort of record or reverential account of our female Zen ancestors. I sort of like to imagine one of these "iron maidens" whacking Grace Schireson over the head with a kyosaku.

I far prefer Sallie Tisdale's book Women of the Way as a record of women's stories in the lineage. It includes early Indian Buddhist women ancestors but also includes many Chan and Zen female ancestors... without the annoying critical interpolations that bog down Zen Women."

So keep in mind what you're getting when you buy this book. If you want to be inspired by stories of female Zen ancestors, you may be disappointed, as I was. The author has no more respect for these women than the patriarchs who ignored and neglected their stories.
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Format: Paperback
Grace Schireson's Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens and Macho Masters is a must read. It is a thought provoking, honest reflection and engagement with Zen history. Without being heavy handed or dismissal of the tradition, she re-envisions a honest critique of the prevailing assumptions about Zen. These assumptions revolve largely around the male monastic interpretation of Zen that have excluded the reality of the experience of women in Zen practice. By re-thinking the role of women in Zen, Schierson allows for a more inclusive, original, and creative approach to Zen. I highly recommend her work. She shares many wonderful stories about the women that made great sacrifices to practice Zen. It will be an empowering read for women and men, and those of us that may have intuitively felt something was missing from Zen, and knew there was more to this wonderful practice.
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Format: Paperback
Grace's work "Zen Women" is a very rich exploration of what women bring to - and take from - Zen Buddhist practice. Its stories and histories provoked several weeks of enthusiastic, engaged discussion from even the quietest readers in our Zendo's book club. Whatever combination of religious study, Zen practice, and interest in women's issues brings you to this book, the reading (and, if fortunate, discussion) of it will reward you.

In specific - This text includes lives of active & engaged compassion as part of Buddhist practice. A surprising side-effect for our Zendo was inspiration of organized charitable work as a natural outgrowth of practice. This will linger with us as a book that changed us for the better.
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The gift of this book is to us, the readers. Grace Schireson has devoted herself to Women's Zen practice. ( Read 'women' as anyone disenfranchised.) These stories, many haven't been told before, give us a flavor of what it has been like to be a woman finding her way in a male dominated practice. They are grouped into chapters by focussing on founders, convents, sexuality, work, dharma heirs, family. This way we get to see our own lives in the lives of the historical women. Their stories are still alive for us. We can let the energy from the past guide in our lives now whether we are lay practitioners, nuns, priests, from other traditions, whoever we are we have lessons to learn from these women who came before us.

Grace Schireson helps us learn in her fun, factual, forward, fascinating style. Yes, a Great Gift to give to us and a Must Read for women and men who want to continue a path of empowerment
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Buddhism is, much like many world religions, male dominated. "Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens, and Macho masters" is an exploration of women in regards to the Buddhist faith. From early women who embraced Buddhism and how their adherence differed from the men, the early nuns of Buddhism, and how the women of today follow the faith, "Zen Women" is insightful and answers many questions, a top pick for any woman with an interest in Buddhism, or anyone with a general interest in the philosophy.
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