If you’re feeling the tug of life’s deepest matters, (and our extensive Zen FAQs haven’t hit the mark)
you might wish to formulate your heart’s query here for PZI’s mysterious Tea Lady.
Then make your bows and step away.
The Tea Lady is on dragon time and will respond accordingly.
Ask the Tea Lady
Type your question here:
A Tea Lady Koan Story: Deshan’s Enlightenment
One day, Deshan kept asking Longtan for instruction till nightfall.
Longtan finally said, “The night is late. Why don’t you go to bed.”
Deshan thanked him, made his bows, raised the door curtain, and left.
Seeing how dark the night was, he turned back and said, “It’s pitch black outside.”
Longtan lit a lantern and handed it to Deshan.
Just as Deshan reached for it, Longtan blew it out.
At that, Deshan came to sudden realization and made a deep bow.
Longtan asked, “What have you realized?”
Deshan replied, “From now on, I will not doubt the words of the old master who is renowned everywhere under the sun.”
The following day, Longtan ascended the rostrum and declared, “There is a man among you whose fangs are like trees of swords and whose mouth is like a bowl of blood. Strike him and he won’t turn his head. Someday he will settle on the top of an isolated peak and establish my way there.”
Deshan brought his sutra commentaries and notes to the front of the hall, held up a torch and said, “Even if you have exhausted abstruse doctrine, it is like placing a hair in vast space. Even if you have learned the vital points of all the truths in the world, it is like a drop of water thrown into a big ravine.”
He then burned all his commentaries and notes. After making his bows, he left.
Before Deshan had crossed the border, his mind was full of resentment and his mouth speechless with anger. He wanted to go the way south, intending to refute the doctrine of the “special transmission outside the sutras.” When he got to the road to the province of Rei, he asked an old woman if he could buy refreshment from her.
The old woman said, “Your Reverence, what are all those books you are carrying in the cart?”
Deshan said, “Those are commentaries on the Diamond Sutra.”
The old woman, “In that sutra, it says the past mind can’t be caught; the present mind can’t be caught; the future mind can’t be caught. Your Reverence, with which mind are you going to take refreshment?”
This one question tightly shuts Deshan’s mouth, but hearing the old woman’s words, he still did not completely die away. He asked her, “Is there a Zen master near here?”
She replied, “Master Longtan lives a couple miles away.”
After Deshan arrived at Longtan’s, he was entirely defeated. It must be said that his former and latter words are not consistent. It seems that Longtan, forgetting his own unsightliness, took too much pity on Deshan. Seeing a live charcoal in Deshan, he immediately threw muddy water over his head to extinguish it. Looking at the whole affair coolly, I think it is just a farce. —Wumen’s Commentary
A Koan for Travelers Finding Themselves at a Wayside Tea Hut
The coin lost in the river is found in the river. —PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 64
A Dharma Talk with David Weinstein & Rachel Boughton, 2016.
A woman called Yu worked in town making doughnuts. She used go up to visit the local Zen master and asked him lots of questions. He gave her the koan, “The true person has no rank.”
One day a beggar outside her shop was singing “If you haven’t heard the song, how can you find your way to the lake?” When she heard this, her heart and mind opened. She laughed she woke up, she understood.
Then she threw her doughnut pan onto the ground. Her husband asked, “Have you gone crazy?” She just answered, “This isn’t in your territory,” and ran up the hill to see her teacher, who, even from a distance, could tell that something had happened.
He asked, “Who is this true person of no rank?” She immediately said, “There’s a woman of no rank with six arms and three heads, working furiously, smashing Flower Mountain in two with one blow. Her strength is like the ever-flowing water, which doesn’t care about the coming of spring.”
—PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 75
Women in Zen
This is our Women in Zen page.
Chan’s complicated journey from China to the West involved pilgrimages between monasteries, and encounters along the way with mysterious Tea Ladies. Some of these Women in Zen and Chan became teachers, and were ordained as Dharma Heirs and Zen Masters.
Refuge in Convents
Women particularly have often found themselves victims of tyranny in both Japan and the West, and in both parts of the world the convent was historically available as an alternative to the more extreme solution of social alienation. It provided a way out; a sanctuary and asylum for those whom the world would break in its grip.
Michelle Riddle tells the enlightenment tale of the woman whose teacher asks her to fill a sieve with water.
A teacher said, “It’s like filling a sieve with water.”
The student, a woman, thought about this for some time, but didn’t understand. The teacher took a sieve and they went to the sea.
The student poured water into the sieve and it poured out again. “How do you do it?” she asked.
The teacher threw the sieve out into the ocean, where it floated for a moment and then sank.
—PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 58