Sangha News

Meditations & Events Schedule

Teaching Schedule

Essays & Articles

Dharma Talks

Sangha Reflections

Dharma Books

a Supporter

About MTSource




The Stories of the Women Ancestors

We deeply honor the formal Soto Zen transmission lineage of Ancestral teachers, who transmitted the Dharma to us through their efforts. We chant their names as our Ancestral lineage. The names on that list, which goes back through Shakyamuni Buddha, Bodhidharma, and Dogen, all happen to be males. Now we also honor the many other teachers in each generation who helped sustain the teaching and practice. This list includes women from India, China, Japan, and America, both ordained and laywomen, who have been inspirational to our practice tradition. We have their names in a list of Great Teachers for chanting. Here is a little about their stories. Several people named on the list below are still living, and we do not chant their names, though they are included here to offer respect.

Shakyamuni's aunt and foster mother, Mahaprajapati challenged Shakyamuni's exclusion of women from the monastic order and won women the right of ordination. She became the founder and a leader of the nun's sangha, and was considered chief among women disciples who were nuns of long standing.

Maya was Shakyamuni's mother, who died giving birth to him. Some of the sutras are addressed to her in the heavenly realm where she abides. She is also the 41st teacher of the 52 visited by the pilgrim Sudhana in the Gandavyuha Sutra.

She was known as "Khema of Great Wisdom," because she grasped the Buddha's entire teaching on first hearing it as a laywoman. She helped run the women's monastic order and is named as the most exemplary nun in the Pali Canon.

She willingly took ordination at her father's suggestion, and then was raped by an angry suitor. Due to this incident the Vinaya was changed to forbid women from solitary forest practice for their protection. She became foremost in magical power and performed miracles.

After her children, parents, and husband died, she went mad from grief and wandered the countryside. Eventually she met the Buddha, who calmly told her to recover her presence of mind, and thus she was cured. She became a highly influential teacher who brought many women to the Dharma and had many disciples.

She was called the greatest woman preacher, who converted many people and became the master of many disciples and heirs. Shakyamuni declared her words to be buddhavacana, Buddha words.

Shakyamuni's half-sister, she was considered the most beautiful woman in her country; sundari means "beautiful." She joined the nun's order originally because all of her relatives were joining: her mother, Mahaprajapati; her brother, Nanda; and Shakyamuni's son, Rahula. Shakyamuni declared her to be foremost among the nuns in meditative powers.

The daughter of the minister of King Bimbisara, she became a lay disciple upon hearing Shakyamuni preach on a visit he made to Rajagraha early in his teaching career. She was later ordained as a nun and eventually became an arhat, declared by Shakyamuni to be foremost among the nuns who strive energetically.

She came from Savatthi, where a Buddhist monastery was established in Jeta Grove. The dedication ceremony lasted nine months, during which time she decided to become a lay disciple. She was still uneasy about her life, but decided to become a nun after hearing an enlightened monk speak. She later became an arhat, and was declared by Shakyamuni to be foremost among the nuns possessing the power of the "eye of heaven," the ability to see into all worlds, near or far.

Bhadda Kundalakesa
Bhadda was a Jain at the time of Shakyamuni. She was highly intelligent and felt dissatisfied by the lack of intellectual stimulation among the Jains, who seemed uninterested in understanding truth. She engaged in dialogue with Shariputra and was praised by the community for her rapid thought and great understanding. She is the only nun to have been ordained by Shakyamuni calling her by name. Bhadda's wisdom poem includes, "Going out from my daytime resting-place on Mt. Grjhakuta, I saw the stainless Buddha, attended by the order of bhikkhus. Having bent the knee, having paid homage to him, I stood with cupped hands face to face with him. 'Come, Bhadda,' he said to me; that was my ordination."

Bhadda Kapilani
Ages ago in the time of Padumattara Buddha, Bhadda heard of a female renunciant who could recall her former lives. She determined to obtain that same power, and with her husband Kassapa (the later Mahakashyapa), she decided to live a life of austerity. Bhadda and Kassapa were married several more times in different lifetimes, including the one in which they met Shakyamuni, in which neither one of them wanted to marry, but were forced to by their parents. They agreed not to consummate the marriage, shaved each other's heads, donned saffron robes, and left home. Kassapa quickly met Shakyamuni and became a monk, but it was five years before Bhadda was able to join the newly-established order of nuns. She was declared by Shakyamuni to be foremost among the nuns who are able to remember past births.

Bhadda Kaccana Yasodhara
Yasodhara was Shakyamuni's wife. Although she wanted to join the order of nuns from the beginning, Mahaprajapati thought it would make establishing the order more difficult, so Yasodhara stayed behind. Later she was able to join the order and was declared foremost among the nuns who attained great supernormal powers.

Kisagotami was Shakyamuni's cousin; however, she grew up in another household in poverty. She married a rich banker's son, but was mistreated by her husband's relatives until she had a child, whom she loved deeply. But the child died young and she went mad, carrying his corpse from house to house. The Buddha told her he would cure the child if she could find a mustard seed from a home that had never known death. When she realized this was impossible and that all beings suffered together, she became a nun. Shakyamuni declared her foremost among the nuns who wore coarse robes.

Singalaka mata
She was declared to be foremost among nuns who are released by faith.

She was declared to be the most skilled in spreading metta among the nuns.

Shrimala was Queen of Kosala, daughter of King Prasenajit and Queen Mallika. She was hero of the sutra, The Lion's Roar of Queen Shrimala, named after her, one of the earliest Yogacara sutras. Therein, in response to Shakyamuni Buddha, Queen Shrimala proclaims ten vows and expounds the teaching of Buddha nature.

Prabhuta was a beautiful young woman devotee who lived with 10,000 woman attendants in a large mansion is the center of the city of Samudrapratish-thana. She was the 13th teacher of the 52 visited by the pilgrim Sudhana in the Gandavyuha Sutra. (Twenty of the 52 teachers were women, including goddesses; a selection of these women is included among these women ancestors.) Prabhuta had as a vessel an enlightening liberation that was an inexhaustible treasury for manifesting goods. According to beings' wishes, she endlessly dispensed food, drink, couches, clothing, flowers, fragrances, jewels, and conveyances. She especially represented the practice of tolerance.

Sinha Vijurmbhita
Sinha vijurmbhita was a nun who sat on lion thrones under each of the many treasure trees in the splendorous Sunlight Park in Kalingavana. She was 24th teacher visited by the pilgrim Sudhana in the Gandavyuha Sutra. Under each tree she taught various groups, including gods and goddesses, birds, serpents, and bodhisattvas of diverse levels. She gave Mahayana teachings to those who had not heard them, and to those who had she offered specific different samadhi instructions.

Vasumitra was an extraordinarily beautiful woman who lived in a jewel-encrusted house in the city of Ratnavyuha. Those who knew no better castigated her as a temptress. But for those of various types of beings who were attracted to her, she taught ultimate dispassion through physical contact, including holding hands, embracing, and kissing. She was the 25th teacher in the Gandavyuha Sutra to be visited by the pilgrim Sudhana, who was sent to her by the nun Sinha vijurmbhita.

Gopa was a Shakyan girl in Kapilavastu who in a past life was the daughter of a courtesan, and vowed to always be practice companion to a prince, who later became Shakyamuni. Gopa was the 40th teacher visited by the pilgrim Sudhana in the Gandavyuha Sutra, and represents the 10th or ultimate stage of bodhisattva development. She taught Sudhana how to practice awareness of ultimate reality right in the midst of the world.

Zongchi was the daughter of an Emperor of the Liang dynasty of 6th century China. She became a disciple of Chan founder Bodhidharma. In Dogen's Shobogenzo chapter Katto "Twining Vines", she is named as one of his four Dharma heirs; although Bodhidharma's lineage continued through another of the four, Dogen emphasizes that each of them had complete understanding.

Shiji (6th cent.)
Her story is in the "Ancestor's Hall Collection" of koans, or awakening stories. She once arrived at a temple and did not remove her hat, as etiquette required. She told the head monk she would only do so if he could "say something." He did not, so she left, stimulating him to find a true teacher.

Wujin Cang
According to lamp transmission sources, she was a nun devoted to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, who recited it to Huineng, the future Sixth Ancestor. Though illiterate he intuitively could elucidate the sutra, thus she helped confirm his awakening. She provided him room and board for a while before he visited the Fifth Ancestor.

Lingzhao (8th cent.)
She was the daughter of the famed Layman Pangyun, and herself noted as an adept. For most of her life she traveled with him in poverty, seeking teaching and doing cave meditation. She is the model for Fishbasket Guanyin (one of the 33 forms of the Bodhisattva of compassion) and much admired for the simplicity and confidence of her practice.

Ling Xingpo (8th -9th cent.)
She is mentioned only in the lamp anthology story of Mazu's heir Foubei in the Jingde Chuan Denglu Collection of 1004. Her accomplishment and comments form the bulk of his story, as she defeated and taught him. She was also highly praised by the great Zhaozhou, who exchanged poems with her.

Liu Tiemo ("Iron Grinder Liu") (9th cent.)
A nun disciple of Guishan Lingyou, she taught Zen in a style described as "precipitously awesome and dangerous." Her ability to test the true mettle of Zen adepts brought her the name "Iron Grinder." She appears in Case 60 of the Book of Serenity and Case 24 of the Blue Cliff Record, exhibiting steel-like strength in Dharma combat.

Moshan Laoran (9th cent.)
Moshan was well known in her time and referred to by many later writers. She is one of the women role models cited prominently for their wisdom by Dogen in his essay Raihai Tokuzui "Paying Homage and Acquiring the Essence," and she is also cited in his other writings. Moshan was a disciple of Gao'an Dayu and is the first woman Dharma heir in the official Chan transmission line, with a chapter in the important Chinese transmission of the lamp anthology the Jingde Chuan Denglu. Moshan is the first recorded woman who was the teacher of a man, Guanzhi Zhixian, who had previously studied with the great Linji (Rinzai). Dogen notes that Zhixian's willingness to overcome his cultural resistance and study under a woman was a sign of the maturity of his bodhisattvic intention.

Miaoxin (9th cent.)
She was a nun disciple of Yangshan, in whose monastery she served as Director of external relations. In that capacity, seventeen monk guests accepted her as Master when she clarified for them the meaning of the story about the Sixth Ancestor's saying about the banner and the wind. She is cited as a role model in Raihai Tokuzui.

Daoshen (late 10th-early 11th cent.)
She was a Dharma heir of Furong Daokai (Fuyo Dokai), a master who helped revive the Soto line in China when it had declined. She had two male heirs.

Huiguang (12th cent.)
She was Abbess of Dongjing Miaohui, an important large convent, and was heir of Kumu Facheng, a major heir of Furong Daokai. She wore a purple robe given by the emperor, from whom she received her Dharma name. Her story is recorded in the Pudeng Collection and her sermons were also recorded. Renowned for eloquence and erudition, she taught in public to mixed assemblies of male and female monks and preached to the emperor.

Gongshi Daoren (d. 1124)
Heir of Cixin Waxin, she was a nun, teacher, and poet. She wrote the "Record on Clarifying the Mind," which circulated throughout China. She was well-married but left her husband, asking her parents to allow her to be ordained; but they refused. Thereafter she practiced in solitude. She was awakened after reading the Huayan Patriarch Dushun's "Contemplation of the Dharmadhatu." After her parents' death, she ran a bathhouse and wrote Dharma poetry on the walls to engage her customers. She was praised by eminent masters like Yuanwu and Foyan, and finally became a nun in old age.

Yu Daopo (12th cent.)
She was the only Dharma heir of Langye Yongji and apparently remained a laywoman. She was awakened upon hearing Linji's teaching of the "true man of no rank." After she bested the master Yuanwu, he recognized her accomplishment. She was sought out by many monks for dialogue and teaching, but she referred to every monk as her "son."

Huiwen (12th cent.)
She was a Dharma heir of Foyan Qingyuan, a prominent Linji teacher. Her sermons were recorded and story told in both the Liandeng and Wudeng Collections.

Huiwen's Dharma heir; her sermons were recorded and her story is told in the transmission collections.

Wenzhao (late 12th cent.)
She became a nun at the age of seventeen and wandered in search of teachers. Eventually she became abbot of five different convents as a reformer of the Vinaya (Precepts) tradition within Chan. She had a male heir. Her story is recorded in the Pudeng Collection where her sermons were recorded. She wore a purple robe given by the emperor.

Miaocong (1095-1170)
Younger sister-in-law of Gongshi Daoren, who inspired her, she had married a scholar-official, but gradually devoted herself to spiritual pursuits. She became a student of Dahui Zonggao, under whom she was enlightened. She was known as outspoken and unconventional. She was ordained in 1162 and became abbess of Cishou nunnery, where she had Dharma heirs. She and Miaodao are considered the two most important women teachers in the Song period.

Miaodao (12th-13th cent.)
She had many recorded sermons, and was a Dharma heir of Dahui. She lived as a laywoman in a monastery. Her awakening in 1134 had a great impact on Dahui's teaching. Several stories about her are used to illustrate the fear male monks had of sex and how this held them back, as when she appeared naked in the zendo in order to show them that the disturbance was in their own minds. She received Imperial approval to be a teacher and abbot, and was eventually ordained. She was invited to "ascend the Hall" of the monastery which sponsored her convent and to teach the monks there. Her teaching concerned the limits and necessity of teaching with words.

Zenshin (late 6th cent.)
She was ordained in 584, the first Japanese of either gender to be ordained as a Buddhist monk. In 588, she traveled to Korea for monastic training and eventually established a thriving female order in Japan.

Zenzo (6th -7th cent.)
Both were ordained shortly after Zenshin and traveled to Korea and trained with her, helping to establish Buddhism in Japan. Within four decades of their ordination in 623, the order they established with Zenshin included 569 nuns and 816 monks.

Komyo (701-760)
An Empress and the first member of the Imperial family to be ordained in 749, she profoundly shaped the contours of Buddhism in ancient Japan. At her urging, her husband the Emperor Shomu established national temples for both men and women. Her monumental contributions, including supervising copying of many sutras, had a lasting impact.

Tachibana Kachiko (786-850)
The Saga empress, she sent a Japanese monk to China to bring back a Chan/ Zen teacher, as she had heard about Chan from the great Japanese Shingon founder Kukai (Kobo Daishi), who had visited China. The monk she sent found the national teacher Yanguan Qian, who sent to Japan his disciple Yikung (n.d.; Jap.: Giku). Yikung first taught at a subtemple of Toji, the great Shingon temple in southern Kyoto. Later, the Saga empress founded Danrinji in the Arashiyama area in western Kyoto, where Yikung was the first abbot. Danrinji (destroyed by fire in 928) could be said to have been the first Zen temple in Japan, although Yikung later returned to China without having established an enduring Zen lineage there. But the first Japanese Zen practitioner was a woman, Tachibana Kachiko, who became a nun.

She was an aristocrat and distant relative of Dogen. She became a nun in 1225 after her husband died, was a disciple of Dogen, and donated money and a large lecture hall to Dogen at Kosho-ji.

Ryonen (early 13th cent.)
She was one of Dogen's main disciples, though ordained elsewhere, and her high understanding was noted in writings of other masters. Dogen wrote a few Dharma notes especially for her, praising her accomplishments, in the Eihei Koroku. She was an old woman before her ordination and died before Dogen.

She was a nun disciple of Dogen. He performed a memorial jodo for her father at Eiheiji in 1246.

Egi (early early 13th cent.)
She was ordained as a Daruma-shu nun, but became a disciple of Dogen's at Eiheiji. She spent more then twenty years with him and attended his sickbed. She also helped Koun Ejo in the transition following Dogen's death. There is indication that she helped to record the Shobogenzo Zuimonki.

Joa (late 13th cent.)
She was a nun disciple and heir of Kangan Giin (1217-1300), who was a disciple of Koun Ejo and established a prominent Soto lineage in Kyushu. Giin had many nun disciples. Joa was given the practice of venerating and copying the Lotus Sutra.

Senshin (late 13th cent.)
Another nun disciple of Kangan Giin, she practiced devotion to relics.

Mugai Nyodai (1223-1298)
Considered one of the most important women in Rinzai Zen, she was heir to Mugaku Sogen, the founder of Engakuji. After her transmission, she established the temple Keiaiji, the first sodo for women in Japan. She is also known as Chiyono. Her enlightenment story is famous. She was carrying a bucket of water when the bottom broke out; at that moment she awakened.

Ekan (d. ca. 1314)
She was the mother of Keizan and became abbess of the Soto convent Jojuji. She was an ardent devotee of Kannon, which helped promote this bodhisattva throughout Soto Zen. Keizan praised her for unfailingly teaching Dharma to women. Her influence led to his vow to help all women everywhere in her memory.

She donated a large amount of land to Eikoji for Keizan's building plan. He ordered that ceremonies be done in her honor forever.

Shido (early 14th cent.)
Shido was a fully authorized Rinzai priest who in 1285 founded the convent Tokeiji in Kamakura as a refuge for abused or dismissed wives, which it remained. Her dialogues became widely used as teaching stories.

Shozen (early 14th cent.)
She was a disciple of Keizan and Sonin's mother, but remained a householder with considerable money and power. She donated land to the temple. Keizan said the sangha would honor her forever in an annual ceremony.

Mokufu Sonin (14th cent.)
She was a disciple of Keizan and the daughter of Shozen. She was ordained in 1319. She and her husband (Myojo, ordained a few years later) gave a great deal of land to Keizan and invited him to found Yoko-ji after dismantling their family home to allow this. She received dharma transmission in 1323, and was the first abbot of Entsu'in, an important convent. Keizan called her the reincarnation of his grandmother and said that he and she were inseparable.

Kinto Ekyu
She was Keizan's disciple and the first Japanese woman to receive Soto Dharma transmission.

Myosho Enkan (early 14th cent.)
She was Keizan's cousin and became abbess of Entsu'in after Sonin, and later abbess of the convent Ho'oji that had been founded by Ekan.

Soitsu (mid 14th cent.)
She was a Dharma heir of Gasan Joseki (1275-1365), an important disciple of Keizan, and she had female heirs of her own.

Third teacher of Tokeiji, she fended off a rape with spiritual power.

Eshun (ca. 1364-?)
She was the sister of the prominent Soto teacher Ryoan Emyo (1337-1411), abbot of Sojiji and other temples. Her brother refused to ordain her or sponsor her because she was beautiful and would be a sexual temptation to the monks. So she shaved her head and scarred her face with red-hot tongs. After she was ordained she surpassed all the monks in Zen debate. When her death was near she performed her own funeral by lighting a bonfire and sitting upright in its middle. When her alarmed brother arrived and asked if it was hot, she said, "For one living the Way, hot and cold are unknown." There is a memorial statue to her at which people make offerings at Saikoji in Odawara.

Soshin, Onaa Tsubone (1588-1675)
Born into a prominent samurai family, Onaa married at fifteen and had three sons before divorcing and residing at a subtemple founded by her father at Myoshinji, an important Rinzai Zen temple complex in Kyoto, until she remarried several years later. Later she was given a position in the Tokugawa shogun's household in Edo (Tokyo). There she instructed the court ladies in Zen, also supported Confucian scholars, and gradually came to have substantial influence in the government. She studied with the noted Rinzai master Takuan Soho (1573-1645), introduced him to the shogun, and by some accounts inherited Takuan's Dharma. She was ordained a nun, Soshin, in 1660 and made abbess by Tokugawa Iemitsu of the new Rinzai temple Saishoji in Edo, even though her husband was still alive. At Saishoji she had many women students, and left two lengthy Zen writings.

Bunchi Jo (1619-1697)
An imperial priestess who became a Zen abbot at a time of significant political change; she was renowned for painting and poetry.

Ryonen Gensho (1646-1711)
She became a nun at 26, leaving behind her husband and children. She entered the Rinzai training monastery Hokyo-ji, but was denied ordination by two masters because her beauty would distract the monks. She burned her face with a poker and was then ordained by Haku-o. He certified her enlightenment and she became abbot of Renjo'in and a respected poet.

Satsu was a brilliant and iconoclastic disciple of Hakuin from age 16-23, and then his Dharma heir. She continually engaged him in Dharma combat. Hakuin eventually told her to get married and have children to bring Zen into practice of everyday life, which she did.

She became a prostitute as a teenager in order to support her family after her father lost his work. Despairing this fate, she was advised by Hakuin "to consider who does this work" and to find practice possible in all situations. She awakened after fainting in fright when a bolt of lightning struck nearby. Hakuin certified her awakening and sometime later, after more work as prostitute, she married, and then eventually became a nun with her husband's approval.

Myotei (17th cent.)
A nun who studied at Enkakuji and sometimes used her own nudity as a teaching device, she distinguished herself by passing the most notoriously difficult koans of Rinzai Zen.

Teijitsu (18th cent.)
She was head of Hakuju-an, a women's temple next to Eiheiji where Soto nuns stayed (because they were no longer allowed to stay at Eiheiji). This was a time of increasingly strict prohibitions on women in social and political life, and female monastics were given less and less independence. She and Teishin are some of the last women of the period whose names are known. She was probably a disciple of Menzan Zuiho.

The illegitimate child of a geisha and a samurai, she was adopted by a temple priest. As a woman she could not inherit the temple, but her training had been very strong, in the sutras but also in calligraphy, pottery, and jujitsu. She entered court life, but left to request admittance to a monastery. Refused because of her beauty, she scarred her face with the grill of a hibachi, renouncing her power as a woman in order to enter the monastery.

Mizuno Jorin (1848-1927)
Hori Mitsujo (1868-1927)
Ando Dokai (1874-1915)
Yamaguchi Kokan (1875-1933)
These four nuns established the Aichi-ken Soto-shu Niso Gakurin (commonly called Nigakurin) on May 8, 1903, nine months after the Soto-shu regulations prohibiting women's education facilities were lifted. They were key figures in re-opening Soto Zen to women after centuries of increasing limitations. All four spent their entire adult lives striving to create monasteries for women at a time of tremendous political and social upheaval.

Nagazawa Sozen (mid 20th cent.)
A disciple of Harada Sogaku in his Soto lineage with considerable Rinzai influence. She was "stern and grandmotherly," and trained many nuns and laywomen under difficult sociopolitical conditions. She was head nun at one of Tokyo's most important nunneries, Kannonji, and was renowned for keeping women's practice alive during the war.

Nogami Senryo (1883-1980)
She practiced in an inconspicuous temple in Nagoya and lived thoroughly and energetically according to Dogen's teachings, and the mantra "Die sitting; Die standing" Zadatsu Ryubo. She did die standing in front of the Buddha image in the Worship Hall at age 97.

Kojima Kendo (1898-1995)
She was a mid-century activist and spent almost her entire long life as a nun. She was the first leader of the Soto-shu Nun's Organization, which was supported in part by Koho Zenji (Keido Chisan) when he was abbot of Sojiji. In that capacity she worked tirelessly to gain equality for female monastics. Some of her demands, such as allowing women to teach independently again, were finally achieved at the end of her life. She was also part of other international Buddhist organizations, and represented the interests of women throughout the Buddhist world. She died at very old age.

Taniguchi Setsudo (1901-1986)
She was a Soto nun who established an orphanage for survivors after World War II. She devoted the rest of her life to the orphanage (assisted by Kojima Kendo), guided by Dogen's four bodhisattva methods: generosity, kind speech, beneficial activity, and cooperation.

Yoshida Eshun (1907-1982)
An heir of Hashimoto Roshi and abbess of Kaizenji Temple in Nagoya, she taught robe, rakusu and okesa sewing and brought this craft to the United States in the early 1970s, particularly transmitting these skills to Tomoe Katagiri and Zenkei Blanche Hartman.

Kasai Joshin (1914-1985)
A disciple of Yoshida Eshun and then of Sawaki Kodo Roshi, she assisted in the transmission of Nyoho-e sewing to Suzuki Roshi's students, particularly to Zenkei Blanche Hartman.

Aoyama Shundo (1933-)
Since 1970 Aoyama has been abbess of the Aichi Senmon Nisodo in Nagoya, a center for modern monastic Soto Zen nun practice. She was the first woman to receive graduate level study at the Soto sect's Komazawa University, and through her numerous books and travel she has become a popular teacher in Japan and beyond.

Ruth Fuller Sasaki (1893-1967)
One of the first Westerners to train in Japan in the 1930s, she studied with D.T. Suzuki, worked as a translator, and brought some of the first Zen books into English, including Zen Dust and The Recorded Sayings of Layman Pang. She was married to Sokei-an Sasaki, a pioneer Rinzai teacher on America. She later restored Ryosen-an, a subtemple of Daitokuji, as the First Zen Institute of America and served as priest there, the first American priest at Daitokuji.

Baiho Sesshin Trudy Dixon (ca. 1939-1969)
She was an early student of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi who transcribed and edited his classic book of talks, Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. Suzuki Roshi described her as a "real Zen master."

Maurine Myo-on Stuart (d. 1990)
A student of Yasutani and Soen Nakagawa, ordained by Eido Shimano of Dai-bosatsu, Stuart was leader of the Cambridge Buddhist Association for eleven years, and was named Roshi by Soen Nakagawa. Also a concert pianist, she had many Zen students of her own.

Mitsu Suzuki (1914-)
Wife of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, after his death in 1971 for many years, until she returned to Japan in 1992, she remained at San Francisco Zen Center to help guide students at the center he founded. She taught the Way of Tea as a means of developing Americans' practice, and remained a steadying example.

Houn Jiyu Kennett (1924-1996)
Kennett Roshi was the first Western woman (and one of the first Westerners ever) to train at Soji-ji. She was ordained in Malaysia, transmitted in Japan, and given inka by Keido Chisan (Koho Zenji), the Abbot of Soji-ji. She came to the United States in the 1960s and eventually founded Shasta Abbey, a traditional training monastery for both men and women.

Gesshin Myoko Cheney (1931-1999)
She entered Zen training in Los Angeles in 1967 under Joshu Sasaki Roshi. She was ordained a year later and became an Osho in 1972, acting as director and vice abbess of both Mt. Baldy and Cimarron Zen Centers. In April 1985 she received Dharma Transmission from Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Man Giac in the lineage of Vietnamese Rinzai Zen. She taught in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Florida.

Sandra Jishu Angyo Holmes (1941-1998)
She was the second Abbot of the Zen Community of New York. Along with her husband, Roshi Bernie Glassman, she co-founded the Zen Peacemaker Order, an international order of social activists engaged in peacemaking. The two also co-founded the Interfaith Peacemaker Community including peacemaker villages around the world.

Joanna Macy (1929-)
A Buddhist scholar and social activist, she has practiced extensively in both the Sri Lankan Theravada and Tibetan Vajrayana traditions. Her teachings of Deep Ecology and Deep Time informed by Western systems-philosophy as well as Buddhist thought have helped practitioners uprightly face the unconscious despair of difficult times and helped foster awareness and connection with future generations of beings.

Shunpo Zenkei Blanche Hartman (1926-)
First coming to Zen under Suzuki Roshi, Zenkei became the first woman abbot/abbess of San Francisco Zen Center from 1996 to 2003. She also is a sewing teacher and has helped transmit the traditional practice of sewing Buddha's robe throughout the United States.


This list was developed through research by Jiden Ewing, and was edited by Taigen Leighton.

Sources consulted include: Arai, Paula. Women Living Zen. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Austin, Shosan Victoria. Class on Women Ancestors, October 23, 1999, unpublished transcript.

________. Women Ancestors list, unpublished.

Bodiford, William. Soto Zen in Medieval Japan. University of Hawaii Pres, 1993.

Clouds in Water Zen Center. "Our Great Matriarchs." http://www.cloudsinwater.org.

Hsieh, Ding-hwa, "Images of Women in Ch'an Buddhist Literature of the Sung Period," in Peter Gregory and Daniel Getz, Buddhism in the Sung. University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Levering, Miriam. "The Dragon Girl and the Abbess of Mo-shan: Gender and Status in the Ch'an Buddhist Tradition" in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 5, no. 1 (1982).

______. "Miao-tao and her Teacher Ta-hui," in Gregory and Getz, Buddhism in the Sung.

______. "Onaa no Tsubone, Soshin-ni" unpublished paper, AAR annual meetin, 2004.

Murcott, Susan. The First Buddhist Women: Translation and Commentary on the Therigatha. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1991.

Tisdale, Sallie Jiko. "A Line of Women."

Women Active in Buddhism Pages: Female Teachers in Buddhism - Zen/Ch'an. http://members.tripod.com/~lhamo/2zen.htm.

Return to top of page

   ©2007 Mountain Source Sangha