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Book Review: The Hidden Lamp

2013 November-December
Elizabeth Wolf

Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women

Edited by Zenshin Florence Caplow and Reigetsu Susan Moon

Wisdom Publications

Buddhism has come a long way. Nearly extinct is the notion that one has to be born in a male body to become enlightened. Vital is the influence of female dharma teachers around the globe. Yet historical (and even contemporary) women’s voices are largely absent from much of the world’s Buddhist teachings.

The Hidden Lamp aims to complete this “broken circle.” In this collection of 100 stories of Buddhist women from the time of the Buddha to today, we meet queens, slaves, nuns, wives, teachers, courtesans, and old women whacking oxen with a stick. All shed light on the path.

Though the editors use koan and story interchangeably, expect no leisurely stroll through this dense forest. Slow down, the teachings say. Look in. Wake up. While the rational mind is flummoxed by “the sound of one hand clapping” and the like, deeper faculties go to work. Some of the stories buzz around all day; others sting immediately. Enlightenment occurs everywhere, anywhere: at home, on a mountaintop, in a brothel.

Serious dharma students will perhaps best appreciate the context and gravitas of this long-awaited volume, but seekers from any tradition (or none) can find illumination from this generous source of light .

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