Identity-Politics and Zen

Zen Master Seung Sahn on the issue of gender equality and identity:

One day, the American Zen practitioner, Barbara Rhodes, was speaking with her teacher about the situation with women teachers in the East:

“At one point I asked him if there were any women Zen masters in Korea, and he said, ‘Oh no, of course not. Women can’t attain enlightenment.’ He said it with a really straight face and then walked into the kitchen. I followed him in and said, ‘I’ve been with you for two years and you’ve always said just to believe in yourself. How can you say women can’t get enlightened?’ He just stared at me and pointed his finger and he said, ‘So you’re a woman?’ In other words, I had grasped hard on the man/woman concept. He was saying that you can’t attain enlightenment if you hold on to that self-identity. I really liked that approach.”

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