Sonin’s Bow of Verification

http://www.geocities.com/odamachi2/yokoji2.jpg

The photo above might be Yokoji, the monastery established by Keizan in about 1320 on land donated by Sonin, a woman who became one of Keizan’s successors. Bernard Faure’s book, Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism has more about her and her close relationship with Keizan.

Keizan was born in 1268 and studied with several of Dogen’s direct descendants. Almost all of the surviving Soto lineages come through him. He seems to have been a quite broad-minded medieval fellow, especially supportive of woman’s practice.

Here’s a dialogue that I pieced together from Faure’s book:

Sonin was asked by Keizan about her understanding of temporal conditions and was at first unable to answer. Afterward she eventually had an insight and went to see Keizan in his cell.

Keizan asked Sonin, “The year is coming to an end, the springtime is arriving. There is an order in this. What is it?”

Sonin replied, “On the branches of a shadeless tree, how could there be any seasonal knots?”

Keizan asked, “At such a time, what about it?”

Sonin bowed.

Keizan said about this, “These were her first extraordinary words. I noted them down for future generations.” Keizan then transmitted his Dharma robe to her.

A number of things interest me here. First is the matter of temporal conditions. Like now. Second is how Keizan invited her to investigate them. No dead sitting here either. Third is the shadeless (or shadowless) tree – how can that be? And in the midst of emptiness, what this about seasons?

Finally, Keizan transmitted to her based on her insight. What we can see from the story is that she bowed. How could Sonin have bowed that would have led Keizan to give her his Dharma robe?

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