The Hidden Lamp

‘Magu, Nanquan and another monk were on pilgrimage. Along the way they met a woman who had a teashop. The woman prepared a pot of tea, and brought three cups. She said to them, “Oh monks, let those of you with miraculous powers drink tea.”
The three looked at each other and the woman said, “Watch this decrepit old woman show her own miraculous powers.” Then she picked up the cups, poured the tea, and went out.’

There are a few stories like this from the golden years of Chinese zen, where the presumption or pomposity of various male monks gets punctured by a woman. We are invited to imagine her as not being a practitioner in the traditional sense, but her understanding gets the better of the supposedly wiser men. In a few cases, happily, the men realise their shortcomings and vow to match the women’s wisdom, or even follow her as a disciple.

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