(Following the defeat of Japanese fascism in 1945, the US government, as part of its policy of re-militarising Japan as a buffer zone against the imagined threat from Communist China, encouraged people in the West to train in the very Japanese martial arts and fascist philosophy of distorted Japanese Zen Buddhism, that had only just recently been used to kill Westerners on the battlefield. Below, Thomas Cleary exposes a central fault in modern, Japanese Zen.)
The distinction made between men and women in ordinary Taoist practice is part of the science of this life and has to do with the physiological difference between the sexes. As seen in the work of Sun Bu-er, the feminine Tao of life includes the practice of deliberate and harmonious menopause as part of mastery over the physical body.
In the present treatise, it will be seen that the primary distinction made is in the location of the attention when generating psychosomatic energy to circulate through the body. Men ordinarily use the lower abdomen, but this is proscribed for women, who are to use the sternum instead.
The inner circulation of psychosomatic energy is commonly used for health and well-being, but misapplication of the collection procedure is universally held to be harmful.
Those familiar with present-day Zen cults of Japanese origin will immediately notice in the following text the distinction made between Taoist practice for females and males in terms of the location of the attention in beginning sitting meditation.
One of the unfortunate results of the uncritical importation of deteriorated forms of Japanese Zen Buddhism into Western countries, where a relatively large number of women attempt to practice Zen, is that many women have been taught to sit with the attention in the lower abdomen, a method Taoists claim is harmful to females.
It is in fact nearly impossible to find any indication of this practice in authentic traditional Chan or Zen texts of China or Japan. It was popularised by the famous eighteenth-century Zen teacher Hakuin, but as part of a therapeutic regimen, as it had been in the comprehensive Chinese school Tiantai Buddhism from which Chan partly derived.
There is no evidence, furthermore, of Hakuin having taught any of his many female students to keep their attention in the abdomen as a regular practice, but many later Zen teachers seem to have made it a standard procedure for everyone regardless of other conditions.
Perhaps this distortion was fostered by the popularity of Zen among males of the samurai caste, and later by association of Zen with martial arts, in which the focus of attention in the lower abdomen has a special function.
In martial arts, of course, the motion of the practitioner has the effect of rapidly redistributing the accumulation of energy and thus offsetting the attendant dangers of this technique. According to the Taoist science of life, focus of attention on any part of the body involves potential danger and should not be done too long or too intensely. Specific dangers accompanying attention on the lower abdomen in females, and attention on points in the head in both females and males.
In Japan, the deterioration of the original system of which concentration on certain physical locations forms a part is evidenced in the use of the term tanden (“elixir field”) exclusively for the lower abdomen. The original Taoist system defines three elixir fields, not just one; the lower abdomen is but one of these, called in Taoism the lower elixir field. Again, it might be to theorized that the fragmentation and oversimplification of this system in Japan might have been due to centuries of dominance of male military associations with Zen.
The present treatise on spiritual alchemy for women also makes it clear that this type of exercise is done only in the beginning of practice, until a certain effect is realized. Here again Zen cults of Japanese derivation that have people repeat the same exercise – particularly the exercises of placing the attention in the abdomen or on the breath – over and over again for tears on end present clear evidence of stultifying deterioration.
Cleary, Thomas, Trans, Immortal Sisters – Secrets of Taoist Women, Shambhala, (1989), Pages 91-92 of Introduction