Lion's Roar


GRACE SCHIRESON is the author of Naked in the Zendo and Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens, and Macho Masters.

From the very beginning of Buddhism, there was a revolutionary declaration that women were capable of achieving liberation, using the same methods as men. Inclusiveness and equality were clearly voiced by Buddha in the Samyutta Nikaya Sutra, for example, where he used the parts of a chariot to illustrate the components of the eightfold path:

Be it woman, or be it man for whom
Such chariot doth wait, by that same car
Into nirvana’s presence shall they come.

As a twenty-year-old woman, ignorant of Buddhist scripture, I experienced Buddha’s intention intuitively when I first attended retreats at San Francisco Zen Center in the 1960s. Women were present everywhere in leadership, administration, and performing ritual. In Zen, I was welcome to practice both meditation and ritual service, and this was in contrast to the exclusion I’d experienced in Judaism during my girlhood.

And yet, according to old lore at SFZC, the founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi had originally desired to build a monastery for men only. Apparently, it was one of Roshi’s disciples who convinced

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