a zen nun meets with her teacher in a mountain landscape

Guanyin in the Pavilion Under the August Moon: 
A Series of Talks Given by Pacific Zen Women Teachers

Dharma Theme: Guanyin Manifesting in the Elements

Guanyin Manifesting in the Elements: Space, Earth, Water, Air, & Fire.
A Dharma Theme? It’s a gathering, a curation of events from our vast KALPA library, based on a theme that is current in PZI online sessions and practice. We offer you a compilation of various types of files: transcript, audio, art, music, and video—all from PZI teachers.

Introduction: The Surprise of Guanyin

Audio excerpt from Guanyin in the Pavilion under the August Moon. Allison Atwill Roshi introduces the surprise of Guanyin—anything can happen when the Goddess appears; she has no fixed form.

Audio: Guanyin Touches the Earth with Michelle Riddle

On falling: Layman Pang and his daughter Lingzhao fall together. Michelle Riddle talks about the subtle and varied flavor of Guanyin’s manifestations: her/his/their shape, form, and gender-shifting qualities. With Michael Wilding on flute, Jordan McConnell on guitar, and Amaryllis Fletcher on violin.

Fiery, Radiant Guanyin – with Allison Atwill

Guanyin manifests solutions from unseen space in any situation that is deemed “unfixable.” Fire is an ancient symbol of transformation but also shows itself, through Gunayin, as the inner radiance of all things. Every appearance has its own brightness. The koan: The great temple fire of Engaku-ji Temple in Kamakura, in which everything was burned and yet nothing was destroyed.

Audio: Guanyin’s Watery Nature with Tess Beasley

On Guanyin’s watery nature—water: the softest compound that can overwhelm the hardest. Compassion dissolves and connects us. Tess Beasley talks about the call-and-response of our relationship to Guanyin, a force greater than any striving, like Buddha at the brink of starvation opening himself to the offering of milk. We can’t know how she will call us or what our response will be. There is great intimacy and spaciousness in abiding nowhere together. She enters when we need a new path.

Audio: Guanyin’s Breath with Sarah Bender

Sarah Bender Roshi manifests Guanyin as air with Breath Sweeps Mind and the call-and-response we employ in meeting her great compassionate nature. “Appropriate response” is Guanyin’s territory. Fayan’s koan: “…the fresh breeze that arises when the great burden is set down.” Sarah presents her field notes on Guanyin as wind, breath, and release, and on the Sutra of Endless Life.

Michael Wilding Plays Music in the Fiery Pavilion of Guanyin

Michael Wilding PZI Temple Musician

Our Women Teachers:

Santa Rosa & Santa Barbara, CA

Allison Atwill Roshi

Artist and Zen teacher Allison Atwill Roshi leads leads programs in PZI’s Digital Temple and lives in the SF Bay Area.

“The Zen tradition holds the image of the Bodhisattva as its central deity—placing wholeness over perfection and discovery over self-improvement. Zen meditation and the images and language of koans offer a way of moving in the dark, and trusting in the uncertainty at the heart of every moment of life. The path appears through whatever is in front of us, whether beautiful or difficult.”


Michelle Riddle Sensei

Michelle Riddle Sensei leads programs in PZI’s Digital Temple and lives in the SF Bay Area.

Michelle first met John Tarrant at the tail end of the twentieth century, and has been involved in some way with the care and evolution of PZI for decades. She worked for many years in radio, television, and digital media, and more recently with an investment company that focuses on wine grape vineyards.

“I’m interested in how koans help with the discovery of freedom in our lives, and in the creative possibilities for manifesting that freedom.”

New York, NY

Tess Beasley Roshi

Tess Beasley Roshi is a koan teacher based in New York, and also serves as Pacific Zen Institute’s Board President. She is currently completing her PhD in Jungian and Archetypal Psychology.

“I am particularly interested in the ways Zen and depth psychology complement each other to kindle creativity and transformation.”

The Feminine Principle in Daoism & Chan Zen: The Vast Valley Spirit that never dies

This is a reference to the great feminine dark that holds us all.

Women Ancestors of Our Lineage


First Woman Ancestor Prajnatara, d. 457 CE
Various historians now believe that the Buddha’s 27th Indian ancestor was a woman. A student of Punyamitra (Buddha’s 26th ancestor), she was leader of the Sarvastivadin sect of Buddhism. To escape the war and chaos of the Hun invasion in northern India, Prajnatara moved south to the city of Kanchipuram. It was there that Bodhidharma became her student and dharma heir. She allegedly directed him to travel to China following her death, in order to spread the dharma.


Zongchi, Dharma Heir of Bodhidharma, 700s CE
She was the daughter of an emperor of the Liang dynasty in 6th century China, who had converted to Buddhism when he took the throne. Zongchi received permission from her parents to be ordained at the age of 19, but she was soon disillusioned with the rarified life of the convent, and left. She eventually found Bodhidharma teaching under a tree, and became his disciple. She was one of his four dharma heirs. Although Bodhidharma’s line continued through patriarch Huike, Soto master Dogen remarked that each of his four heirs had a complete understanding of the teaching. Zongchi is also known by her title, Soji, and by her nun’s name, Myoren.

Moshan Liaojan, 1000 CE

The first and most influential Song genealogical history, the Chingde Record of the Transmission of the Flame, which was completed in 1004 and presented to the emperor in 1009, contains only one full biographical record of an enlightened woman teacher and lineage member, a nun named Moshan Liaojan, who was a contemporary of Linji (d. 866) during the latter part of Tang dynasty (618-907).

One woman and 950 men have biographies in this text delineating the Chan lineages that were politically and institutionally relevant in the Song. Thus, at the beginning of the Northern Song (960-1127), Chan represented itself as an almost exclusively masculine preserve.

Miaoxin, 840-895 CE

Miaoxin was a disciple of Yangshan Huiji and was gatekeeper at his temple. When 17 monks came to meet and debate Yangshan, she gave them turning words while washing their dishes. They returned to their homes before meeting Yangshan, knowing they had accomplished their goal of meeting an enlightened master. She is also cited as a role model in Dogen’s Raihai Tokuzui. In Japanese, her name is Myoshin.

“She has the determination of a person of great resolve.
She is truly the one qualified to serve as the director of the office for secular affairs.” —Citation by Yangshan

The Pang Family

Chan Ancestor Laywoman
Pang & Family,
700s-800s CE

Layman Pang was sitting in his thatched cottage one day studying the sutras. “Difficult, difficult,” he said, “like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree.”
“Easy, easy,” said Laywoman Pang,“like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed.” “Neither difficult nor easy,” Lingzhao said, “like the grasses growing. Bright, bright grass.”


Lingzhao, 762-808 CE
Koan: Layman Pang Falls Down—Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans, Case 75

Lingzhao was the daughter of the famous Layman Pang and Laywoman Pang. For most of her life, she traveled with her father, in poverty, seeking teachings and doing cave meditation. 

Yangshan Huiji

Miaodao, 1200s-1300s CE

“Yuanwu, who organized the The Blue Cliff Record at a place called the Blue Cliff, had a great and talented disciple in Dahui, who
worked in a collaborative way that reminds me a bit of us at PZI. He worked with a woman called Miaodao, and he had a bunch of students, a few of whom were very talented.

But the primary person he collaborated with—and they were very close—was this woman called Miao. And with her practice they workshopped the whole idea of huatou, the head of the phrase—just taking a little piece of the koan and concentrating on it.”

—John Tarrant, from a Koan Innovation Class at PZI

Throughout the Northern Song (960-1127) a series of Chan genealogical histories were written, presented to the emperor, and included in the Buddhist canon.

In the Southern Song (1127-1279) the representation of the reality of men’s and women’s participation in Chan in the official genealogical histories began to change. [source]

Miaodao was an important teacher with many recorded sermons and records, and a dharma heir of Dahui Zongghao (1089-1163). Her story is presented in the Lien-teng collection of koans associated with the Dahui lineage. For a time, Miaodao lived in a monastery as a laywoman. Several stories about her are used to illustrate the fear that male monks had of sex, and how this held them back. She appears naked in the zendo in order to show them that the disturbance is in their own minds. Miadao received Imperial approval to be a teacher and abbot. She was eventually ordained with Daiye of Kinzan Mountain. Her teaching was partly about both the limits and necessity of teaching with words. She was invited to “ascend the Hall” of the monastery which sponsored her convent and teach the monks there, the only certain record of this happening. (However, Dogen wrote that this happened a number of times with women masters.) She is also known by in Japan as Mujaku.

Women’s Bathhouse

Zen Master and Poet Zhidong Gongshi Daoren,1050-1124 CE

Gonshi Doren studied with Chan Master Sixin Wuxin of the Linji School.

When she was quite elderly, but before she had become a nun, she opened a public bathhouse. On the door to the bath she posted these words:

Nothing exists, not even dirt, so why are you bathing?
Even a speck of dust – where would it come from?
Say something true and then you can enter the bath.
If the ancient spirits can only scrub your back, how could I, the founder, bring purity to your mind?
If you want to be free from dirt you should first make such an effort that your whole body sweats.
tI is said that water can wash off dust, yet how can people realize that the water itself is also dust?
Even though you suddenly wipe away the distinction between water and dirt, you must still wash it all off when you come to this bathhouse.

Xizhu Convent in Jiangsu

Her father refused to allow her to become a nun, so she studied Huayen Buddhism at home. After her parents’ death, her brother still refused to allow her to ordain. When he died, Gonshi Doren studied with Sixin Wuxin, who certified her awakening. Later, she opened a bathhouse outside a monastery, and wrote mondo verses on the walls, inviting her customers into debate. When she wrote a pamphlet called The Record on Clarifying the Mind, it was circulated widely and approved by many masters, making her famous. She ordained in late life and became head of the Xizhu Convent in Jiangsu province, China.

Gongshi Daoren:

Self and other are never different
The many things in the world are just reflections
Bright, full, holding both principle and practice,
Completely experienced, filled with
the absolute. Every single thing holds all things,
This continues layer upon layer without end—
Moving still, it never stops, this interpenetration.

Huiwen, 1100s CE
Dharma heir of Foyan Qingyuan
(a.k.a. Longman), Linji School

Fadeng,1100s CE
Was Huiwen’s heir, a.k.a. Great Master Wuxiang.

Huiguang, d. 1165 CE
Studied with Caodong priest Kumu Fazyeng and became his dharma heir. Taught monks, nuns and lay people.

Wenzhao,1100s CE
She was abbot of five different convents in her life, helping to spread Chan among many women. She had at least one male heir.

Mugai Nyodai

Mugai Nyodai, 1223-1298 CE

Mugai Nyodai is considered one of the most important women in Rinzai Zen. Studied with Enni Benen and Wuxue Zuyuan (1200s) and was the first woman in Japanese history to be recognized as a Rinzai Zen Master. She was dharma heir to Mugaku Sogen, the founder of Engaku-ji. After her transmission, she established the temple known as Keiai-ji, the first sodo for women in Japan. She is also known as Chiyono. Her enlightenment story is famous: She was carrying a bucket of water when the bottom broke out. At that moment she was awakened, and exclaimed: “No more water in the pail!”

Ekyu, 1280 – 1300? CE
She was Jokin’s Keizan’s disciple and the first Japanese woman to receive Soto (Caodong) dharma transmission.

Entsu-in Temple

Myosho Enkan
She was Joking Keizan’s cousin and became abbot of Entsu-in after Mokufu Sonin.

Kakusan Shido, 1252-1305 CE
Founder of Tokei-ji, a Rinzai convent


Yodo, 1318-1396 CE
Fifth abbot of Tokei-ji, teaching poetry and koans.

Soitsu, 1300s CE
Heir of Gasan and had female heirs of her own.


Yoshihime,1500s CE
Was the daughter of a general and became famous for her “warrior Zen”stance when barred from entering Engakuji for a lecture.

Ryonen Gensho

Ryonen Gensho, 1646-171 CE
Rinzai training at Hokyu-o, Later ordained by Haku-o

Zhiyuan Xinggang,1597-1657 CE
Dharma transmission from Tongshen (1593-1638)

Tachibana no Someko,1660-1705 CE
She was the concubine of a Japanese feudal warlord. Several of her children died young and she became depressed. This changed after an awakening experience through koan study with Master Ungan of Ryukoji.

Satsu, 1700s CE
Disciple and dharma heir of Hakuin Ekaku. Hakuin later certified her enlightenment. She eventually became a nun.

Mugai Nyodai, 1223-1298

Hakuin’s Snail


Ohashi, 1800s CE

Ohashi spent her young life in a brothel. She was terrified by lightning. One day, during a violent thunderstorm, she sat zazen on the veranda of the brothel in order to face her fear. A bolt of lightning struck the ground in front of her and caused her to lose consciousness. When she awoke, she saw the world in an entirely new way.