Gender differentiation in Zen Buddhism?

In Zen Buddhism, all beings are equal in emptiness because their static dynamic form cannot be defined conceptually. Emptiness symbolizes an undifferentiated state of the absolute equality of all beings (Bose, 1993). Hence Zen rejects classification of maleness and femaleness state.

Zen believe that genuine purity and nobility are attained by being the nature self and not anything else. The true self is to overcome all discriminations and realise unity by discarding all forms of conceptual thought and tendency to differentiate and qualify (Bose, 1994).

Further, too much analytical intellect will therefore generate individualisation and separation which is not good for the unifying experience of being. Zen encourages the discarding of the current dividing mode in societies and preaches the idea of casting away tendency to rely on too focus objective reasoning (Bose, 1994).

In many current Japan rituals, male and female devotees need to be separated and seated in different sections/sectors. Priority are given to male devotees in offering of food and robes. Female devotees have to follow behind male devotees.

With the contemporary women awareness / movement, such overwhelming evident and apparent different gender orientated practices / rules are indeed gender differentiation. Zen Buddhism therefore does not seem to have changed Japanese culture in the area of gender equality. Do you agree?


Bose, K., Religion and Revolution, The Journal of Religious Studies, 23, 2, pp. 55-63 (1993)

Bose, K., The Transformation of the Self in Mahayana Buddhism, The Eastern Buddhist, 27, 2, pp. 24-53 (1994)

Alejandro Cardeinte's picture


Thank for sharing this. As you mentioned, male and female devotees must be separated and seated in distinct sections in many modern Japanese rites. And when it comes to food and clothes, male devotees are given first priority. Female devotees must follow in the footsteps of male devotees. We know that the pursuit of Buddhist practice and attainment is not bound by considerations of gender. So why do you think the Zen teachings and the practice do not go hand-in-hand?