When I first joined StoneWater Zen way back in 2001, I couldn’t help noticing that all the ancestors named in our services were male. Women did get a mention, however, but only as ‘all women lineage holders whose names have been lost or forgotten’. How sad, I felt, but unsurprising to me as a feminist with first-hand experience of the treatment of women in other spiritual practices. I had rather hoped that Buddhism would have magically escaped this! I took a deep breath and persevered.
What a relief it was to learn in the last few years that current US women lineage holders had researched and found many ancient women ancestors! Firstly, I was far from alone. Secondly, we could include some of them in our own services.
So now our sangha services include the names of Mahaprajapati, Soji, Ekan and Ekyu, ancient women ancestors of us all. Thank you very much to all who supported this piece of work through the Women Ancestors Group and helped this to happen.
I wonder if you would humour me now by trying a little thought experiment…
Imagine, for a moment, that you joined a sangha where all the ancestors named and honoured, both in the services and in the teachings, were female. What a strange idea! How, if at all, would your experience be different?
In January 2016, I had the honour as Ino of reciting the new service dedication including the four female ancestors. I was expecting to feel excited, possibly rather proud, maybe a sense of achievement at closing this particular gap and restoring a feeling of completeness. However, much to my surprise, I had very different experience. It could best be described as an overwhelming sense that all the ancestors, female and male, were there, in the room. All of a sudden, my little battles and ego-trips just melted away and were insignificant, and the strength of our lineage suddenly became real to me in a way it had never been before.
Of course, many sangha members may not have noticed the small changes in the service, or indeed that the new names were female. It’s not exactly obvious from the names! I hope that the fuller information now being shared about all our ancestors and their lives will add to the richness of everyone’s experience.