At 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.
Grace Schireson on Amazon.com
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Grace’s Blog at Sweeping Zen