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The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women

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The Hidden Lamp is a collection of one hundred koans and stories of Buddhist women from the time of the Buddha to the present day. This revolutionary book brings together many teaching stories that were hidden for centuries, unknown until this volume. These stories are extraordinary expressions of freedom and fearlessness, relevant for men and women of any time or place. I The Hidden Lamp is a collection of one hundred koans and stories of Buddhist women from the time of the Buddha to the present day. This revolutionary book brings together many teaching stories that were hidden for centuries, unknown until this volume. These stories are extraordinary expressions of freedom and fearlessness, relevant for men and women of any time or place. In these pages we meet nuns, laywomen practicing with their families, famous teachers honored by emperors, and old women selling tea on the side of the road. Each story is accompanied by a reflection by a contemporary woman teacher—personal responses that help bring the old stories alive for readers today—and concluded by a final meditation for the reader, a question from the editors meant to spark further rumination and inquiry. These are the voices of the women ancestors of every contemporary Buddhist.


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The Hidden Lamp is a collection of one hundred koans and stories of Buddhist women from the time of the Buddha to the present day. This revolutionary book brings together many teaching stories that were hidden for centuries, unknown until this volume. These stories are extraordinary expressions of freedom and fearlessness, relevant for men and women of any time or place. I The Hidden Lamp is a collection of one hundred koans and stories of Buddhist women from the time of the Buddha to the present day. This revolutionary book brings together many teaching stories that were hidden for centuries, unknown until this volume. These stories are extraordinary expressions of freedom and fearlessness, relevant for men and women of any time or place. In these pages we meet nuns, laywomen practicing with their families, famous teachers honored by emperors, and old women selling tea on the side of the road. Each story is accompanied by a reflection by a contemporary woman teacher—personal responses that help bring the old stories alive for readers today—and concluded by a final meditation for the reader, a question from the editors meant to spark further rumination and inquiry. These are the voices of the women ancestors of every contemporary Buddhist.

30 review for The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mark Robison

    I absolutely cherished this book. It is a wonderful bedside book. Each chapter is a short Buddhist story or teaching from the past 2,500 years involving a woman, then a contemporary female practitioner interprets the story, and finally a few questions are asked of the reader to help the lesson sink in. Although a few chapters around the middle felt a little weak, the overall quality is incredibly high. I found myself googling nearly every chapter’s author to see what else she’d done. If you have I absolutely cherished this book. It is a wonderful bedside book. Each chapter is a short Buddhist story or teaching from the past 2,500 years involving a woman, then a contemporary female practitioner interprets the story, and finally a few questions are asked of the reader to help the lesson sink in. Although a few chapters around the middle felt a little weak, the overall quality is incredibly high. I found myself googling nearly every chapter’s author to see what else she’d done. If you have any interest in feminism and Buddhism, this one is great. P.S. Skip the audio version, which does a horrendous job of letting the reader absorb the stories. Grade: A

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Morrow

    I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I respect the concept. I respect the attempt. They try to take 100 koans and stories that involve women. Each of the koans and stories are then followed by commentaries by various women Roshi and what not. Many of the koans are fine. But some are difficult to get around. The majority are either a) offensive because some monk is proven to be wrong because even a woman understands zen better than he or b) The old crone who is little more than a magical Negro I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I respect the concept. I respect the attempt. They try to take 100 koans and stories that involve women. Each of the koans and stories are then followed by commentaries by various women Roshi and what not. Many of the koans are fine. But some are difficult to get around. The majority are either a) offensive because some monk is proven to be wrong because even a woman understands zen better than he or b) The old crone who is little more than a magical Negro directing monks on a quest. The commentaries are fine. Some are great; some are not; most are good and interesting. My main problem is that it accidentally proves Buddhism to be just as patriarchal and anti-feminist as the Abrahamic religions. The commentaries on those of chauvinist or magical Negro varieties really try to bend over backwards to not point to the obvious patriarchal assumptions. Overall, it's a good read. But, it also makes one hope that in the next 25 Centuries Zen will be more accepting of awakened women.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Q

    This book has a 100 reflections from the Buddhist and Zen cosmology. The reflections are done by senior women teachers. This book is not just for women. I have shared some these stories with a varied group of people. They help me look at things with new eyes (outside of my box) and reflect and explore the questions asked. Some of them are Zen wild and others of different teachings.if you have read any zen koans it’s not always easy to understand them. The teachers commentaries are about how they This book has a 100 reflections from the Buddhist and Zen cosmology. The reflections are done by senior women teachers. This book is not just for women. I have shared some these stories with a varied group of people. They help me look at things with new eyes (outside of my box) and reflect and explore the questions asked. Some of them are Zen wild and others of different teachings.if you have read any zen koans it’s not always easy to understand them. The teachers commentaries are about how they worked with them in their lifes. I found this extremely helpful; obviously cause I wouldn’t be reading it again. There are different layers. Pealing the onion. I started re-reading this 2014 soon after it came out. And picked it up often. 2019-2020 I read it thru again. And started it again in January 2021. I love this book. I read it slowly when it first came out and starting it again this year. I enjoyed reading the different dharma stories and the commentaries. Some of the stories I had heard before but each was written from a new voice and I appreciated how the writer told it from their view. I appreciated hearing the 100 dharma female teachers voices, all unique and wise and compassionate. Their commentaries were always different to my response to the story and that was a great gift, Reflecting on the teachings opened my practice in a new way. These were excellent teaching stories. . A deep bow of appreciation to everyone who made this book happen. It was generous all the way around. And a thx to my friend who suggested it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    The Hidden Lamp takes as its manifestly traditional starting point the collecting of one hundred Zen teaching stories. The radical difference is not simply that the stories feature women as students, adepts and masters, but that the commentaries and reflections paired with them are offered not by one living teacher, but by one hundred, all women, and from many lineages and Buddhist traditions. This diversity brings a palpable vitality to stories that include both the classic and the contemporary The Hidden Lamp takes as its manifestly traditional starting point the collecting of one hundred Zen teaching stories. The radical difference is not simply that the stories feature women as students, adepts and masters, but that the commentaries and reflections paired with them are offered not by one living teacher, but by one hundred, all women, and from many lineages and Buddhist traditions. This diversity brings a palpable vitality to stories that include both the classic and the contemporary, and a single reflection can suddenly shift with startling effect from a traditional way of reading to a wake-up call grounded in engagement with the collective present....

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Guy

    Among my favorite Zen teachings are the Old Lady stories, where some pompous Zen master thinks a great deal of himself and has his bubble burst by a woman who has no apparent status (like the famous tea seller who confronted the King of the Diamond Sutra and made him realize he knew nothing). Probably my favorite is a good-natured one, about a Zen master who wasn’t pompous at all, and understood the spiritual depth of all people. “An old woman went to hear Master Hakuin give a lecture. He said, ‘ Among my favorite Zen teachings are the Old Lady stories, where some pompous Zen master thinks a great deal of himself and has his bubble burst by a woman who has no apparent status (like the famous tea seller who confronted the King of the Diamond Sutra and made him realize he knew nothing). Probably my favorite is a good-natured one, about a Zen master who wasn’t pompous at all, and understood the spiritual depth of all people. “An old woman went to hear Master Hakuin give a lecture. He said, ‘Your mind is the Pure Land, and your body is Amida Buddha. When Amida Buddha appears, mountains, rivers, forests, and fields all radiate a great light. If you want to understand, look into your own heart.’ “The old woman pondered Hakuin’s words day and night, waking and sleeping. One day, as she was washing a pot after breakfast, a great light flashed through her mind. She dropped the pot and ran to tell Hakuin. ‘Amida Buddha filled my whole body. Mountains, rivers, forests, and fields are all shining with light. How wonderful!’ She danced for joy. “‘What are you talking about?’ Hakuin asked. ‘Does the light shine up your asshole?’ “Small as she was, she gave him a big push, saying, ‘I can see you’re not enlightened yet!’ They both burst out laughing.” I had actually read this story, and Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat’s[1] reflection on it, in Lion’s Roar. Imagine my delight when I discovered there was a whole book of these things. It’s a nervy project on the face of it. First you find a hundred of these stories, which are bound to vary in quality. Then you choose a hundred different women to comment on them, without knowing how deep their understandings are or how well they write. I won’t claim every entry is uniformly excellent, but it’s amazing how good many of them are. This is the kind of anthology where I limited myself to one story per night, because if I hadn’t I would have raced through it so fast that I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of it. Also, despite the short bios, I invariably looked up the commentator on the Internet to find out what else she had done. And I often sneaked a peek at the next day’s story without reading the commentary, I was so interested. I might look up the next day’s commentator as well. It took me forever to get through this book. But I loved taking a long time. I looked forward to it every night. Some of the stories are about contemporary women, like Darlene Cohen and Joko Beck (two of my favorites). Many well-known teachers are among the commentators, and they all seem matched with stories that interest them. I have no idea how this project came together. But I wasn’t surprised at its high quality when I saw Susan Moon’s name on it. Everything she’s done is excellent. Florence Caplow—a new name for me—also has a remarkable pedigree. A few of the stories are startlingly sexy. “Miazong said, ‘Do you want a Dharma interview or a worldly interview?’ “‘A Dharma interview,’ replied Wanan. “Miazong said, ‘Then send your attendants away.’ She went into the room first and after a few moments she called out, ‘Please come in.’ “When Wanan entered he saw Miaozong lying naked on her back on the bed. He pointed at her genitals, saying, ‘What is this place?’ “Miazong replied, ‘All the buddhas of the three worlds, the six patriarchs, and all great monks came out of this place.’ Wanan said, ‘And may I enter?’ Miaozong replied, ‘Horses may cross; asses may not.’” So much for Wanan. You have to wonder what a worldly interview would have been. Other stories have a wonderful irreverence. “One day her father peeked into her room and saw her sitting on a copy of the Lotus Sutra. ‘What are you doing, sitting on this precious scripture?’ he shouted. ‘How is this wonderful sutra different from my ass?’ she said. Darlene Cohen also had a great capacity for irreverence. “About two weeks before Surei Darlene Cohen passed away, she was lying on the small sofa of her living room and a few students were there. In true form, Darlene announced matter-of-factly, ‘I don’t believe in karma or any of that shit.’” A few are just great stories. They don’t seem to be koans at all. “The Australian nun chi Kwang Sunim had the opportunity to meet a 102-year-old Korean nun, Kye Jeon Sunim, who had meditated for years. When Chi Kwang came into her presence, the old nun was sitting upright, with a rosary of black beads and a rosary of white beads twirling together in her left hand, silently repeating her mantra and gazing into space in front of her. The old nun grabbed Chi Kwang’s hand and pulled her close. “When Chi Kwang yelled in the hard-of-hearing nun’s ear, ‘I’m a foreigner!’ the old nun held up the mingled black and white beads and said, ‘Let’s practice together.’ “When Chi Kwang asked the old nun about her past, she replied, ‘What past?’ Then the old nun smiled and said, ‘Let’s become enlightened together.’” In addition to having marvelous content, The Hidden Lamp is a beautiful volume, with an extensive index, bios of the commentators, and a helpful glossary. The book is obviously a labor of love. I’m not much of a man for anthologies—I prefer to delve into single author—but I can’t recommend this one too highly. [1] I can’t speak too highly of this teacher. Not only does she have some wonderful articles at Lions Roar, she wrote the single most inspiring definition of Zen I’ve ever read. www.davidguy.org

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    This book is about Zen/Buddhist koans (stories) featuring women, followed by an interpretation by a woman Buddhist practitioner. Each koan and interpretation take no more than 5 minutes to read. However understanding/digesting this takes time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dee Michell

    I enjoyed 'hanging out' with these many women, ancient and contemporary, who practice Zen Buddism. I don't want to rush out and identify as a Buddism, but there was much to learn and appreciate. I enjoyed 'hanging out' with these many women, ancient and contemporary, who practice Zen Buddism. I don't want to rush out and identify as a Buddism, but there was much to learn and appreciate.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Luke Stannard

    A huge part of history I wouldn’t have known. Of all the things I really appreciate about the psychology of Buddhism it’s most clear downfall is the same as most religions. Misogyny. It’s fascinating to learn about Buddhism from a different perspective. It’s a shame that over thousands of years women have been forced to sit quietly while men’s desire to drive the cause persists. Surely a profound and enlightened religion, but one that’s supposed to pride itself on equanimity. I’m sure part of th A huge part of history I wouldn’t have known. Of all the things I really appreciate about the psychology of Buddhism it’s most clear downfall is the same as most religions. Misogyny. It’s fascinating to learn about Buddhism from a different perspective. It’s a shame that over thousands of years women have been forced to sit quietly while men’s desire to drive the cause persists. Surely a profound and enlightened religion, but one that’s supposed to pride itself on equanimity. I’m sure part of the problem is the mirror of the worlds misogyny projected onto Buddhism, but the greater hypocrisy still lies in the customs of the religion itself. Thankful to have read this and to have begun to learn from more Buddhist women than the great Pema Chodron.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Buddhism is at least half female; who knew! The wise broads whose words are featured in this collection are strong, inspiring, and witty. One can easily open it up to any page at anytime and soak enlightenment up from the short but moving koans and reader reflections. This is going on the reread list!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Naomi Ayala

    This is a beautifully designed book. I really enjoyed the koans, the length of the commentaries, and how the book was organized. The Glossary and Background Information sections were really helpful. It was a great bedside book and, while some sections were much stronger than others, it was an overall good read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    I have not finished it, but this is the kind of book that you read a story and contemplate on the story and the koan for a period of time. Being that koan meditation is not a primary form of meditation for me, I will be reading from this book for many years.

  12. 4 out of 5

    AJ Debnam

    It was okay. I could only relate to a few of the stories. The book was a bit to “girl power” for me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lee F.

    Remarkable...so long though I could not hang on

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I didn't read the whole book, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for but instead I went with my intuition and read what I was drawn too. I didn't read the whole book, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for but instead I went with my intuition and read what I was drawn too.

  15. 4 out of 5

    John Dean

    Be whoever you are and use it to benefit others

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marian Semic

    An excellent treasury of zen stories and loans from often overlooked women zen masters. I loved this book and will refer to it often.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    The Hidden Lamp is not a book to read in one sitting, it is a reference to draw on now and then and a rich source of feminine wisdom. It is a compilation of one hundred stories, some a mere paragraph long, each one chosen by one woman and commented on, sharing a contemporary perception of how that text speaks to her. My complete review here at Word by Word. The Hidden Lamp is not a book to read in one sitting, it is a reference to draw on now and then and a rich source of feminine wisdom. It is a compilation of one hundred stories, some a mere paragraph long, each one chosen by one woman and commented on, sharing a contemporary perception of how that text speaks to her. My complete review here at Word by Word.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Darleen

    A thoughtful collection of Buddhist stories mostly about women that inspires reflection on the spiritual path, Truth/truths, and life. A real breath of fresh air in terms of Buddhist thought since these stories include not just the well-known and esteemed spiritual teachers, but also the potential teachers in each one of us in our moments of awareness and presence.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    Fabulous collection of wisdom, compassion, great guidance -- could be a daily reader and I've enjoyed a group that discussed the koans. The insights to our current life is essential nourishment. Deep Thanks to the editors who brought this to us, and to the dedicated women who persevered through anguish, confusion, and jour essential goodness to realize wholeness, kindness, contribution. Fabulous collection of wisdom, compassion, great guidance -- could be a daily reader and I've enjoyed a group that discussed the koans. The insights to our current life is essential nourishment. Deep Thanks to the editors who brought this to us, and to the dedicated women who persevered through anguish, confusion, and jour essential goodness to realize wholeness, kindness, contribution.

  20. 5 out of 5

    David Monroe

    First of all thank you Florence Caplow for sending me this book! Some of the stories were beyond me but on the whole the greatest part of this book was the changes that occurred in the lives of those I read about.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Dienst

    I found this excellent compendium of stories about women in the dharma helpful, especially in combination with the reflections by teachers. This collection does the important work of making women's wisdom more visible. I found this excellent compendium of stories about women in the dharma helpful, especially in combination with the reflections by teachers. This collection does the important work of making women's wisdom more visible.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    The stories have completely pulled me in. so many wonderful things to meditate on across the ages and lands. A beautifully assembled and commented book that pulled my heart stings in every which way while guiding me to think, and not just go with the pressure.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vijay R. Nathan

    An excellent and engaging read that helps because it is not just a collection of Zen koans / stories but with commentary which makes it all the more interesting and lively.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

    <3

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michaela

    Enjoyed this book two ways. One in the reading of it. Two in remembering the purchase of it from a unique store with a dear friend.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rinzan Pechovnik

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rhea

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karin

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Grace

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