Di Lan was born into a family of three doltish brothers. Their parents were lax on the boys, but very strict with her. Their village was small and provincial and when Di Lan first bloomed into womanhood, she greatly confused the towns-people who relentlessly teased and mocked her, calling her lady-boy and other abusive terms.


By Henry Blanke

Show me your body before you were conceived.

Disciple Di Lan sat brow to brow before Master Sed Ohn. Suddenly, Di Lan’s eyes pierced her own robes down below. Then Master Sed Ohn’s gaze fell to her open robes and exclaimed, “a fiery lightning bolt has struck!” With that, they were enlightened.

Di Lan was born into a family of three doltish brothers. Their parents were lax on the boys, but very strict with her. Their village was small and provincial and when Di Lan first bloomed into womanhood, she greatly confused the towns-people who relentlessly teased and mocked her, calling her lady-boy and other abusive terms.

So, Di Lan decided to leave her family and set out in search of a wise teacher. Wandering the countryside, she happened upon an old washerwoman who listened to her story and advised her to seek out the teacher Dongshan Lianjie. Di Lan finally found his monastery and asked to be permitted entry, but was abruptly denied. She waited three days and nights in the snow. On the fourth morning, Di Lan severed a forefinger and placed into the slot of the monastery’s outer door. She hoped this would convince Master Dongshan of her sincerity and ardent desire for liberation.

In this, she, in part, succeeded.

Di Lan, with the Master sitting like an unmoving mountain before her, was intimidated and a long silence enveloped the room. Then Dongshan spoke:

“You have demonstrated your desire to practice here. But do you not understand that desire and attachment are what we are trying to quell in our practice?”

Di Lan pondered this a moment, then answered.

“My only desire is to point to the moon. But now I cannot. However, the moon is reflected in my heart.”

The Master nodded solemnly, rang the bell and Di Lan left his quarters. She was allowed to stay on at the monastery as a lay practitioner, then became a novice nun and two years later, was ordained. Four years after that, she went to her old teacher and told him that while she was more grateful to him than she could properly express, she felt that she must move on and find another teacher.

“Yes, you have learned much here. You have even pointed to the moon with your heart. But I agree. Go to Caodong province. There is a great teacher there who is better suited to your predelections.”

And, with that, they bowed to each other a final time and bade farewell.

After weeks of walking from village to village with her alms bowl in hand, Di Lan at last came to the great monastery at Caodong. Here her experience was similar to the one she had years ago at her old Master’s monastery. She appeared at the outer gate, but was ignored by the monks busily going about their chores until an old monk approached her. He asked where she was from and why she had traveled such a long way.

He told her that a girl such as her should not be wandering the countryside.

“But I am not a girl”, she told him, “and I have come seeking insight and wisdom.”

“Not a girl? Do you not know that lying defiles the precepts? Now go away!”

Later that night after zazen, the old monk motioned to Di Lan to join him in the court yard.

“I know what you are,” he whispered. “I am the same way. When I first came here more than four decades ago, it was because I could no longer bear the rejection of my family and being shunned by the village I lived in. But even here I feared that the others might ostracize me if they discovered my secret.”

“And all this time you have told no one?”

“No one. Not even the Master, though I have always believed that he suspected.”

Di Lan thought for a moment then told the old monk that sometimes it is better to flourish privately than to offend others. But she also said to him that so many sutras (those that he must be deeply steeped in) point to the realization of non-duality as being the highest level of a attainment.

“We must reveal ourselves if only for the sake of those now suffering as we have.”

“I am too old. I fear that it falls to you to take up this challenge.”

The next day a note appeared nailed to the entrance to the Buddha Hall. It read:

“Neither girl nor boy, boy nor girl. What mystery is there when their robes unfurl.”

Di La watched as the monks gathered around what had been written, whispering urgently among themselves. Just then, she was summoned to the Master’s chambers.

“Was it you who penned that poem?” In reply, Di Lan opened her robes revealed her naked form. The Master gazed at her appraisingly.

“I see now. You embody non-duality. You must show that to the others.”

Di Lan began to try to explain the difficulties and possible consequences such news may bring, but the Master rang the bell dismissing her. She did as the Master had instructed and one by one the other monks came to him voicing their objections, but Dongshan summarily rang them out, often with a sharp thwack on their heads from his staff.

Later that year at Rohatsu sesshin (the most challenging of all) Di Lan impressed and gained the respect of the others by the uprightness of her posture and her rock-like stillness during zazen. She remained in meditation during kinhin and kept so through the night as the others slept. Then something happened. Recognizing that a lightning bolt had struck, the head monk grabbed Di Lan from her cushion and practically hurled her into the dokusan room. The Master immediately recognized her sudden illumination. Sometime after, Di Lan was given inka.

25 years later, Di Lan, now fully transmitted, was appointed abbot after Dongshan retired. The old monk had died and was given a place of honor in the monastery’s burial ground. She had transformed the monastery into one which now attracted seekers from far and wide—those with the genitals of a man who identified as women, others with female genitalia who identified as men as well as those with ambiguous genitalia eventually made up a majority of the monastery’s monks.

The new abbot looked upon them all with great empathy and compassion and saved them from the cruelties of provincial life. And all was well, and all was well, and all manner of things was well.

Not he nor she, neither she nor he

But one and no one

Buddha laughs with delighted glee.



  • This is a piece of fan fiction created by the author—these are not actual events


Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall


Henry Blanke is a long time Soto Zen Buddhist and enjoys writing poetry and essays, jazz music and cooking Italian food for friends and lovers. He lives like a monk in Queens, NY.




Were you inspired by this post? You may also like:


The Record of Empty Hall: One Hundred Classic Koans {Book Review}

Zen Master Michael Scott: Dharma in Everyday Life