by Wendy Egyoku Nakao, July 10, 1998
I invite the women of our Sangha to gather and explore the practice and lineage of women. Here are a few thoughts to get us started.
Several years ago while I was visiting ZCLA, Nyogen Sensei asked me to give a talk about my experiences as a woman in practice. I had never talked about this before. During the talk, a young woman in the zendo began to cry. Every now and then I would glance her way and wonder what was happening: had she lost a child? Ended a relationship? She cried and cried. I wondered what was triggering these unstoppable tears?
The following day Nyogen Sensei mentioned to me that she was still crying, and he had gently asked her if she could tell him why. “It just had not occurred to me,” she said, “that a woman could be a Buddha.” A few years later when I met her again, the emotions of that moment suddenly surfaced. “I felt a powerful rush of energy, and I could not stop it,” she said when I asked her if she remembered that moment. “It was so organic, so natural. Something just opened up.”
So those tears were not of sorrow as I had assumed, but tears of discovery, of joy, and of empowerment. Still today I feel a stirring deep within myself when I remember that moment. I have come to recognize this stirring as the energy of the feminine, dormant for so long, reclaiming itself and flowing fiercely forth.
So when I reflect upon the practice of women, I begin by affirming the obvious. The obvious is that for an immeasurable, hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions, trillions of kalpas, women have practiced, manifested, realized, and accomplished the Buddha Way. Who are all these women whose names have been forgotten or left unsaid?
In growing up in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, I have chanted daily the lineage of Patriarchs. During my Dharma transmission retreat, I bowed to the Patriarchs at least three times each day, all 81 of them. By the second day, when my teacher Roshi Glassman came to hold dokusan for me, I asked, “Where are the women?” The next day, I asked with more urgency, “Where are the women?!” And by the fourth day, it was “WHERE ARE THE WOMEN!”
As I began to explore my female Buddha ancestors, I sensed the lineage of women as a spiral, moving in wide, all-encompassing circles. I sensed, too, that in swallowing and promoting the male-dominated forms and milieu of my inherited tradition, I had concealed myself as a woman to myself and to other women. Here I was a woman stepping into the shoes of the patriarchs, so-to-speak. So where were the matriarchs? Where were the women to mentor me?
Women too often seem to find it necessary to whisper this concern (if they do so at all), almost as though to speak this issue out loud is to reveal a lack of understanding about the true dharma, among other things. In awakening to the wisdom of non-duality, do we not awaken to our fullness as human beings? The implications of this awakening have yet to manifest in the societies and environments in which Buddhism lives. Can we women trust ourselves to reveal the means that will illuminate this wisdom?
One day while flying across the country in the womb of a United jet, words about my female ancestors flowed forth. I offer a draft (without the footnotes) for your consideration, and I look forward to this exploration with the women of the sangha.
The Lineage of Women
(a working draft)
From ancient times, living female Buddhas have accomplished the Way. The spiritual attainment and practice of females have flowed in a continuous yet hidden stream to the present time.
All Buddhas pass through Prajnaparamita, the Mother of the Buddhas. From the blackness of her womb, Buddhas appear and disappear, sometimes as male, sometimes as female. The proclamation of the World-Honored One, Shakyamuni confirms women as Buddhas.
In the Lotus Sutra, the World-Honored One proclaimed the prophecy of the attainment of Buddhahood for the nun Mahaprajapati, the nun Yashodhara, and the 6,000 female disciples present. Upon hearing these prophecies, they said in the presence of the Buddha: “World-Honored One, we have heard these prophecies and our minds are peaceful and satisfied. “
Among the early nuns we can also sing the names of Mitta, Tissa, Sumana, Upasama, Visakha, Khema, Uppalavanna, Sundari-Nanda, Vaddhesi, Patacara, Uttama, Bhadda-Kundalakesa, Nuanduttara, Dantika, Sakula, Siha, Dhammadina, Kisagotami, Vasetthi, Ubbiri, Patacara-Pancasasta, Isidasi, Bhadda-Kapilani, Mutta, Capa, Dhamma, Citta, Vimala, Addhakasi, Padumavati, Ambapali, Anopama, Abhirupa-Nanda, and Jenti.
The seven-year-old daughter of the dragon king Sagara achieved enlightenment in an instant. Of her attainment, Great Master Dogen said, “At the time a female became a Buddha, everything in the universe was completely understood. What person would hinder her from entering the restricted territories thinking that she had not truly come into this world? The merits of her attainment exist right now, illuminating the whole universe.”
Great Master Bodhidharma transmitted his marrow, skin, flesh, and bones to four disciples, three monks and a nun. Great Master Keizan transmitted the dharma to the nun Sonin. The nun Mo-shan, disciple of Kao-an Ta-yu, taught the monk Chih-hsien. The nun Miao-hsin, disciple of Hui-chi, enlightened seventeen monks. Iron Brush Liu and Kuei Shan played equally in the fields of joyous samadhi.
The World-Honored One also named laywomen among the four major practice groups. With the lion’s roar of a Buddha, laywoman Queen Srimala first taught the Buddhadharma to laywomen, then to her non-Buddhist husband, followed by laymen. An old woman helped to clarify the mind of Te-shan. Antoku Inden Kasho Myokei Zenni, the mother of Taizan Maezumi Honored One, bore seven sons who became monks and raised them in the pure Dharma realms. From ancient times, laywomen have accomplished the Way.
All the great masters know that paying homage to female adepts and females acquiring the essence is the living spirit of the ancient Buddhas. The lineage of the Matriarchs is to be revered. Now this lineage lives as you. Please cherish this forever.