Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Women's Lineage Papers

By Peter Levitt

As part of a concerted effort undertaken by certain North American Zen communities to redress a significant historical wrong, this was among the first lineage papers in Buddhist history that acknowledges and honours Buddhist women ancestors.  Relying on years of research, performed mostly by women scholars in the academic world, it was created on behalf of the Salt Spring Zen Circle in British Columbia through the efforts of Zen teachers Zoketsu Norman Fischer of Everyday Zen and Eihei Peter Levitt of the Salt Spring Zen Circle.  It was designed by Barbara Cooper from Los Angeles.  In November 2007, on Salt Spring Island, male and female students of these two teachers were given this women’s lineage paper as part of their lay ordination ceremony, thus helping to end an overwhelming historical silence regarding women ancestors in Zen. The women’s lineage paper was bundled together with the male lineage paper traditionally given at this ceremony, and the two papers were received by the ordainees together.

The wheel of women ancestor names begins with the name of Shakyamuni Buddha’s mother, Mahapajapati, at the bottom, just to the right of the space at what would be the six o’clock position.  The names then ascend in a counterclockwise direction.  Names of women ancestors from India, are followed by ancestor names from China, Japan, and North America.  Of note is that at the top of the enso, in what would be the twelve o’clock position, the words “unknown women” appear.  This is to acknowledge the countless women whose sincere practice helped to nourish Zen and Buddhism throughout history but whose names, for a variety of reasons, were forgotten, suppressed, or left unsaid.

At the bottom of the wheel a blank space was left so that each new ordainee could have their name written in, and thereby be embraced by the ancestors.


Alongside his work as a Zen teacher, Peter Levitt is an accomplished poet, and most recently published Within Within. You can visit his website here, and you can contact Peter Levitt directly at his email address, levgram[at]


jewelheart said...

nice. Very nice.

wendy said...

Mahapajapati was the Buddha's aunt, not his mother, yes? Lovely creation - I want one! Thanks, WLewis