Where are the Women? Here are some of them!

An update from the SWZ Women Ancestors Group by Miranda Wayu Forward

In September 2015, I wrote a piece for the SWZ website entitled ‘Where are the Women?’ about the invisibility of women in our chants, dedications and lineage, how this feels as a woman in the sangha, and the research which has been done to rediscover and include the women ancestors in the history of our tradition. It was very moving and heartening for me to get such an open and enthusiastic response from Sensei and from our sangha in general.

This is some of what’s happened since then:

A mailing list was started for sangha members interested in the issue – we currently have 24 people on this list. If you’d like to be added, please let me know.
The Women Ancestors Group was launched at the Crosby sesshin in October 2015. Anyone is the sangha is welcome to join – in practice, some of us meet in Liverpool and keep in touch with everyone else through the mailing list.
In January 2016, the new Dedication to the Identity of Relative and Absolute Sutra was agreed by Sensei and Roshi and is used in SWZ services. Here is the new wording:

Buddha Nature pervades the whole universe existing right here now.
In reciting the identity of relative and absolute, we dedicate its merits to:
The Great Masters Shakyamuni Buddha; Bodhidharma; Daikan Eno;
Tozan Ryokai; Eihei Dogen; Keizan Jokin; Mahapajapati; Soji;
Ekan; Ekyu; all successive ancestors through Koun Taizan.
May we appreciate their benevolence and show our gratitude by accomplishing the Buddha Way together.

The four new names are those of female ancestors – Mahapajapati, Soji, Ekan and Ekyu. We’ve been gathering information about them and their links with the male ancestors.

So no longer does the dedication need to say ‘all women lineage holders whose names have been lost or forgotten’. The first time I heard the men and women ancestors’ names being chanted together in our service, it felt as if the ancestors were there in the room – a very powerful experience for me.

We now have many resources on the teachings and stories of women as well as men who have led and inspired our tradition. As Caplow and Moon explain, ‘while the lamp of Buddhist women’s wisdom has been burning through the centuries, its light has been hidden from view’. As the lamp is uncovered, this ‘addresses an absence for both men and women… [and is] for the benefit of everyone.’

Caplow, F. and Moon, S. (eds.) (2013) The Hidden Lamp, Somerville, MA, Wisdom Publications.