Chanting the Names Once Forgotten in Buddhadharma Spring 2014

Categories: Empty Nest Zendo News

Women Ancestors LineageAt long last, the Women Ancestors document, spearheaded by Myoan Grace Schireson, Peter Levitt, Norman Fischer and others, is being shared widely. The Spring 2014 issue of Buddhadharma shows the lineage document along with article by Grace about its history and significance.  You’ll find the full article here. See an excerpt below:





Chanting Names Once Forgotten
The Zen Women Ancestors Document

A quiet movement to reshape our understanding of Zen lineage and history is bringing attention to the forgotten names and voices of women in the tradition. Grace Schireson explains how the Women Ancestors Document came into being and what it means for us.

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The Women Ancestors Document is a  testament to the contributions of historical  women dating back to the early days of Indian  Buddhism. Through their participation and  commitment to the dharma, they help us see how  change occurs through persistence and skillful  means. Studying how change and innovation have  occurred previously in Zen practice confirms that  even when women’s presence in monasteries was  strictly forbidden, some were still able to enter,  train, and ascend to teaching positions. Women  did so through the wholehearted support of male  insiders—either awakened male Zen masters or  male colleagues.

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Our women Zen ancestors left home to enter  the realm of physically arduous monastic practice.  Rarely did these women Zen masters receive the  recognition and financial support awarded to  their male counterparts. They survived by banding  together, offering sustenance to their communities  through clinics and schools in exchange for  material donations. Women’s teaching generally  differed from the great masters, who lived in remote locations and extolled the transcendence  of all worldly attachments. Women expressed  their humanness and longing to actualize their  vows amid daily life—even as they lived with worldly attachments.
A shining example of the feeling found in women’s practice is captured in the poem “As a Nun Gazing at the Deep Colors of Autumn” by the Japanese nun Rengetsu:

Clad in black robes I should have no attractions
To the shapes and scents of this world.
But how can I keep my vows,     
Gazing at today’s crimson maple leaves?

Women’s Zen teaching laments the loss of loved ones and extols the beauty of life. No matter how deep their practice, their human heart is exposed. This is a wonderfully alive teaching for Western Buddhists, most of whom practice in the midst of family, work, and community rather than in silent monastic settings. Learning about Zen’s ancestral women and how they expressed practice in their family, art, and community can be a bountiful source of inspiration for Westerners.


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