Theses Master's

Disrupting Narrative, Undoing Mastery: Considering the Sandōkai, Non-Duality, and the Unmasterability of Experience

Arrey, Rachel

This thesis brings queer and postcolonial theory on themes of failure and mastery into conversation with Buddhist teachings from the eighth century Zen text the Sandōkai to argue for embodied, non-polarity based responses to domination as it shows up in spiritual practice and religious community. I posit that practices of failure suggested by Jack Halberstam in The Queer Art of Failure, and efforts to unlearn mastery offered by Singh in Unthinking Mastery destabilize narratives, particularly about the self, which shake up the solidified, static narrative underpinning of mastery. I suggest that through Zen teachings on the non-duality of experience as expressed in the Sandōkai (translated as The Harmony of Difference and Equality), this multiplicity of narratives is further destabilized and the narrative basis for mastery is shown to be ephemeral, tenuous, and fundamentally irrelevant. Instead, what is suggested is moment to moment, embodied experience of reality as it is – beyond narrative – which disrupts mastery, and with it, habits of domination.

Keywords: queer theory, failure, mastery, zen, chan, Sandokai, Sekito Kisen, Shitou Xiqian, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, Cāntóngqì, postcolonial, decolonial, non-polarity, non-duality, narrative, Buddhist, white supremacy in religious community, patriachy in religious community, orientalism in Buddhist community


  • thumnail for Thesis Final Draft for upload.pdf Thesis Final Draft for upload.pdf application/pdf 368 KB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Union Theological Seminary
Thesis Advisors
Azaransky, Sarah
Snyder, Gregory
M.Div., Union Theological Seminary
Published Here
July 8, 2022