Not Mixing Up Buddhism

I found this story in Teachings of the Buddha, and I do not get it. If you get it, or have an interpretation thereof, please write in the comments:

Not mixing Up Buddhism

Once a monk on pilgrimage met a woman living in a hut. The monk asked, “Do you have any disciples?”

The woman said, “Yes.”

The monk said, “Where are they?”

She said, “The mountains, rivers, and earth, the plants and trees, are all my disciples.”

The monk said, “Are you a nun?”

She said, “What do you see me as?”

He said, “A layperson.”

The woman in the hut said, “You can’t be a monk!”

The monk said, “You shouldn’t mix up Buddhism.”

She said, “I’m not mixing up Buddhism this way?”

The monk said, “Aren’t you mixing up Buddhism this way?”

She said, “You’re a man, I’m a woman — where has there ever been any mixup?”

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Not Mixing Up Buddhism

  1. It would be really helpful to know precisely where this anecdote comes from. It “reads” like a Zen koan, but the only reference I could find to it is in the title of a book — Hopkinson, Deborah, et al. **Not Mixing Up Buddhism: Essays on Women and Buddhist Practice**. New York: White Pine Press, 1986.

    The classic koans mostly date from Tang Dynasty China, but teachers do make up new ones all the time, or revise old ones for new purposes. You’d probably have to ask Hopkinson, Deborah, et al. where this one came from and what it “means.” Otherwise, don’t spin your wheels over it.

    • Ted

      Thank you for that information! Yes, usually the book mentions the source of the story, but for this particular one, it only says “translated by Thomas Cleary,” which probably doesn’t help much.

  2. Beth

    I think I kind of get it. The monk doesn’t think the woman in a hut is a real nun because she doesn’t have any “real” disciples. So the woman calls the monk out, saying that he’s not a real monk if he can’t see that she is her own kind of nun. He accuses her of “mixing up” Buddhism, to which she implies that he is an egotistical male.

    • Ted

      Hmm, that’s an interesting point. I saw, too, the tension between the two genders. I’ll be posting more stories from the book I’ve been reading, and some of them delve into what I guess you could call “Buddhist feminist material.” I’d be interested in your thoughts about it.

  3. Beth

    When I re-read it, I think perhaps the monk could also have meant that a buddhist monk/ nun is supposed to be the disciple of nature, not that nature can learn from a human. The nun’s answer is still the same, “You just don’t get it, because you’re a man.”

  4. I think it is commenting on the difference between dogma and dharma. The monk sees things that pertain to being monk or nun as most important (disciples, title, ritual) while the old woman sees the practice and the intent as more important.

    The monk sees things as “monk” or “layperson” but those things are constructs that we build with expectations while “man” and “woman” are more basic facts. I like when the old woman says that the monk can’t be a monk because he is viewing things through constructs such as “layperson”

  5. Agree with John’s reading of this. The monk is trying to pin this hermit-nun down into recognizable categories, her mind is as spacious as the sky.

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