"While it may seem trite, it may well be so: no Mahaprajapati no Buddha. While this point may be argumentative, as the Buddha and then his stepmother/aunt is essential to women followers being recognized as true followers of The Way, by the World Honored One. How do we acknowledge the role played by these early women ancestors/ Below is Norman Fischer's take on this:
About 15 years ago, when I was abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, a woman came into my formal interview room early in the morning, sat down and burst into tears. This was surprising, considering she was a pretty rough looking woman, with lots of leather, piercings and tattoos. I asked her why she was crying and she said, "Today in service, like every day, we chanted the Zen lineage and it was all men! I feel such pain for all the women left out over the generations. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/for-full-inclusion-for-wo_b_772357
The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha is in its third year of compiling a database on sixty-seven women ancestors beginning with Mahaprajapati and going through Chiyono. The intent is to make this an integral part of Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha (FSZS): Practice Path Guidelines. The next step is to join the database with one for male Soto Zen Ancestors. We may then look at similarities and differences of teachings offered by men and women in close geographic proximity and similar timeline. To date, seven different members of Falmouth Soto Zen have been involved in research.
The remainder of these notes are fromYoshin Amy Wilson who has researched our Soto Zen woman ancestor MItta, an early follower of Buddha and Mahaprajapati
Shakyamuni Buddha said to Mitta, you became a nun
Now become one who delights in friends,
Become morally skillful for the sake of
That unsurpassed safety from all
That holds you back.
From First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening by Susan Murcott
To be reborn among the gods
I fasted and fasted
every two weeks,
day eight, fourteen, fifteen
and a special day.
Now with a shaved head
And Buddhist robes
I eat one meal a day.
I don’t long to be a god.
There is no fear in my heart.
From Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women translated by Charles Hallisey
Addressing herself, repeating what was spoken by the Buddha to her.
The name you are called by means friend, Mitta,
you became a nun out of faith,
now become one who delights in friends,
become morally skillful
for the sake of that unsurpassed safety from all that holds
Mitta’s name means “friend.” Mitta was one of the Five Hundred, and is known for having become enlightened through her own strenuous effort in a very short time. A member of the Sakyan tribe, she was from the Sakyan capital of Kapilavatthu in Northern India. Notes from the Therigatha say she was a concubine of the future Buddha.
First Buddhist Women:Poems and Stories of Awakening, by Susan Murcott,
In these verses, Mitta speaks about the change from lay believer to ordained nun.
Mitta was driven by desire—to be reborn among the gods, in the body of a god. As a woman who worked in a harem within a caste system, physical beauty and appearance was highly valued, and a means of survival for her.
Mitta’s wish to have the body of a god—both male and perfect—to me, represents power as she understood it. craving—and what ideas of perfectionism does my mind conjure? Mitta clung to strict religious rites and I can identify with her impatience for personal change. Being with Mitta’s words, questions arise. When am I striving for relief from suffering of the mind?
What is happening when spiritual attainment comes up as a very rigorous schedule of fasting, as were the practices of her environment. The first verse suggests anxiety may have driven her strenuous practice. What is the middle way in practice? What is the right effort in this story?
Her strenuous effort brought about transformation. As an ordained nun, in the second verse she looks back and can see the changes in herself—not only in her appearance and her lifestyle but in the genuine ease and peace and contentment she has found within.
Her dharma name means friend, a teaching and path unto itself. It places her in relation to all beings as friend. It describes a path that has inherent joy and delight as skillful wisdom is developed. As a friend to all, she is in sangha with all beings, including her own mind.
Yoshin Amy Wilson
Fischer-Roshi was correct to act as he did along with so many others since the start of the current millennium, to record and give voice to these ancestors.
Sangaku Dan Joslyn