By Beata Grant
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Extra info for Eminent Nuns: Women Chan Masters of Seventheenth-Century China
Sweeping away [notions of ] self and other, time becomes sparse: Cutting through the bonds of attachment, space becomes spare. 24 We find a similar admiration of a woman’s rejection of the womanly pleasures in another portrait inscription, this one composed for the nun Daoyu by the early seventeenth-century master from Sichuan, Yinyin Faxi. Her old granny spirit [laopo qi ] is extraordinary, Such that men would find it difficult to compete. She takes no pleasure in combs, makeup, or embroidered gowns; Instead she shaves her head and dons the formal robes of the sangha.
37 This does not mean, however, that the ideal of complete transcendence of gender was abandoned. In the discourse records of Chan master 34 eminent nuns Yuan’an Benli (1622–1682), a Dharma successor of Muchen Daomin, we find four texts addressed to the abbess Fanjing Zong of Universal Radiance Convent (Puming an). One of these texts was composed on the occasion of the nun’s going into solitary retreat; one was an inscription for a portrait; and two were eulogies written after her death, on the occasion of the sealing of the tomb ( fenggang) containing her ashes.
It is here, I suggest, that we can perhaps begin to see some of the various nuances of response to the more visible participation of women—and especially of Chan Buddhist nuns and even Chan masters—in the early and mid-seventeenth century. For many of these men, it is clear that for a woman to become an honorary man, she must renounce the supposed “weaknesses” of her sex, including attachment to family and to sensual pleasures, especially beautiful clothes and adornments. Perhaps because portraiture inevitably raised issues of physicality and the body, some of the best examples of this view of female renunciation are found in inscriptions composed for portraits of nuns.
Eminent Nuns: Women Chan Masters of Seventheenth-Century China by Beata Grant