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A Stone Woman Gives Birth

On Dosho's blog, I offered a verse from Dogen I hadn't really sat with. What could really mean? In our Dead Dogen Society study group, I fell behind most of the students as we proceeded and stayed with section 7 of the Mountains and Waters Sutra:

"A stone woman gives birth to a child at night" means that the moment when a barren woman gives birth to a child is called "night." There are male stones, female stones, and nonmale nonfemale stones. They are placed in the sky and in the earth and are called heavenly stones and earthly stones. These are explained in the ordinary world, but not many people actually know about it. You should understand the meaning of giving birth to a child. At the moment of giving birth to a child, is the mother separate from the child? You should study not only that you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child. This is the actualization of giving birth in practice realization. 

*Kaz Tanahashi and Arnold Kotler translation, Moon in a Dewdrop, pg 99

 A woman responded, "I can tell you that I so disagree with this quote, " you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child." Talk about the infantilization of women!!!"

I said I was sorry, asked Dosho to step in, he said said no-way-Jose, so I responded that I'd I ask my teacher, Linda Ruth, but that didn't happen. There was no time for that this week, and I already gave her some other questions about 2 weeks ago, and we're turning those over. And I heard this resounding echo inside, "I'm on my own." 

Which is never true, but it is also true. Where my skin ends and another skin begins is a conventional designation, and it's true and not so true. After I googled for some commentaries on Mountains and Waters I felt even more on my own! I heard Gary Snyder and Mel Weitsman had commentaries, but I couldn't find them. Nothing popped out at me in our library, nothing on Google or Amazon. I'm surprised whole books haven't been written about this fascicle! 

Linda Ruth lead a Mountains and Waters sesshin this past summer. I didn't get to attend as I was in the fields harvesting and planting. This week, I didn't get a chance to catch the Ino for recordings of those talks, as I was in the fields harvesting and sowing cover crop. Harvesting like mad to make room for that cover crop and the rain that's coming. I did find in an old Mountain Record a commentary by Daido Loori. He says this verse is all about non-duality. "This inconceivability is the interdependent origination of the 10,000 things. All things are totally interdependent. They cannot exist without each other."

That's it!?

Monday, I baby sat Frank, a 3 year old resident of Green Gulch. We do calligraphy when we're not napping. I pick him up at his house after work and separating from his mom is really tough for him! As she was giving us a plate of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies he pulled her face close and reminded her what time she was going to pick him up. He reminded her 3 times, 6'o'clock, 6 o'clock, 6 o'clock. It seemed like a real world example of how the mother becomes the child. I remember my mother reminding me about curfew when I was a teenager. I'm certain this will switch for Frank when he's a teenager, and mom will be reminding him. 

Another real world example was this year's Coming of Age opening ceremony. In this ceremony parents circle around their children and address them like, "Emma, I remember when I first saw you..." and it usually ends in sobs. The kids, who are 12, are about to break out of this circle physically  and the parents lock arms to keep them in! The parents are crying and clinging; the kids are ready to break out. What is a child? What is a mother here? 

I think we might all be the barren woman; we are all no-self, and yet, from no-self a mother and child arise. The child is myriad things. The mother is myriad things. These myriad things do the actualization, come from enlightenment, not toward it, not the mother, not the child, but a simultaneous act of practice-realization, each part inseparable from the other part. 

Honestly, I'm in over my head here with this blog and the causes and effects of it. After some of the comments here and elsewhere, I was ready to quit a couple of days ago. Feeling a bit harangued about my lack of wisdom, I just apologize. I'm just a Zen student who likes to write, who writes to explore. I'm investigating words. The Lankavatara calls words naman-pada-vyanjana-kaya- traps for meaning. Words of a Bodhisattva are foot prints that lead to meaning. Once the meaning is grasped, the trap is useless, just extra. Writing the blog post feels good; looking back later, the "extra-ness" is painful.

 But I can't quit. I fear diligence may be one of the few things I've got going for me. 


  1. “ at the moment of giving birth to a child, is the mother separate from the child? ”

    the answer is no and that's actually very strongly what dogen's teacher (tiāntóng rújìng) taught, as per his poem


    the whole body is a mouth

    hanging in space

    not caring which way the wind blows

    east, west, south or north

    all day long it speaks of Prajna Paramita for everyone

    ting-ton, ting-ton, ting-tong

    at the moment of birth you don't have to ask linda ruth, the answer is already there for you !

    like Mount Tamalpais or the fog over san Francisco bay !

    : o )(

  2. I'm always so practical - I find Tanahashi too poetic. I'm studying Genjokoan right now from four translations, and much prefer Hee-Jin Kim, a scholar rather than a teacher. Katagiri admired his writing greatly. So look around for someone else with lots of footnotes.

    As for all these pesky people who like to correct you, you could start a blog that people have to apply to you before they can read it.

    You like to write. So do I, I sympathize.

    1. I was really looking for a commentary like Katagiri's Each Moment is the Universe, except about Mountains and Waters!

      You know, this whole thing is about engagement for me, so to be corrected, or pestered, or insulted- that's fine. It makes me try harder- I'm the one who opened my mouth in the first place, right?

    2. the question of translations, veracity of the original text and plain missionizing to a certain point of view by the translator so the translations are some sort of political - religious document is a huge issue in zen (and any religion actually ! ?)

      when I started zen, I took the translations at face value, but in fact one learns they are mostly voynich, that is, deliberately designed to be nonsensical but appear to be profound !

      this unfortunately is the way the human mind works and why great masters like dogen and basho are so rare................

      but you can read in plain English Emily Dickinson, a very zen mystical poet and actually translations of the sufi mystic sa'di being prose are usually quite readable if you try and put yourself into the mindset of the medieval islamic culture a bit !

      one thing people don't appreciate about dogen is he had quitea traumatic and adventurous life, not some bookworm, that's one thing I liked about john loori, an interesting and fullish life, but the generations that have followed are just babies in terms of life experience and unfortunately it shows !

      I have been trying to tell kogen that he doesn't fit either at green gulch or the san Francisco zen center because his life experience is too broad, those who have blinkers on to buy into centers the way most people do, they don't like those without blinkers and remove them at the first opportunity ! :o(




  3. I like how you stuck with this. Brought a small exchange online into life. I can see how the person over at Dosho's blog read sexism in that line. And no doubt, there's plenty of sexism to be dealt with in the old teachings. At the same time, there's so much more there. Other translations and commentaries may or may not be helpful. Trying harder may or not be what's called for.

    In this case, it seems to me that circumstances were just enough. The universe brought you what was needed, and you digested it enough to offer something in return.

  4. Eventually I felt that wall of "trying harder is not called for." The week was so busy, my attempt unfruitful, and I promised to respond, so I did it.

    The inherent patriarchy is hard to negotiate. In fact, I won't. I'm all for throwing it out!

    1. basically it requires to go the extra mile and then another ten, imo this is the huge advantage of celibacy and why there's nothing of substance from the married and in relationships in zen !

      it's not black and white but one needs a background of a huge period of one's life as celibate just because the road is too crucifying to travel along with anyone else !

      imo zen today is a toxic toad of inappropriately applying a celibate approach to what is obviously not celibate !

  5. Thank you for taking my discomfort into you consciousness. I am always aghast at the men who write about giving birth and being a mother. Only in very unhealthy relationships does the mother become the child. The mother must be the tree that bears fruit and shelters the new life; never a seedling herself. Only this way can persons and families continue to go forward in their attainment of the fullness of the universal sacred spirit.

  6. I'd like to offer a different point of view.

    I'm a mother of two young daughters and a Zen practitioner. Earlier this summer, when I was rereading this Dogen passage:

    “You should study not only that you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child.”

    I thought it made perfect sense. I want to sit at the park with my toddler and just make birthday cakes out of woodchips. I want to sit at the table with my kindergartner and color whatever it is that pops to mind, not judging or worry that it’s “good”—just coloring. I want to stop making dinner for a minute when the girls invite me to dance. I want to roll on the floor and giggle. I want to let go of all the foolishness and horror of the adult world and just be. Just be a child. At least for a little bit.

    The reason I practice is for my girls. For my husband and family. For my mother who always told me she wanted world peace every time I asked her what gift I could give her. It’s going to take a lot of practice, I know.

  7. Thank you for a beautiful response.

    Deep bow,


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