Women have been lineage-holding Zen masters for centuries, although their stories are less well-known than many of their male counterparts. Chàn Master Dàhuì Zonggao (c. 1089-1163) officially recognized a Female Lineage Holder, thereby establishing a precedent that seems to have been overlooked by subsequent generations of Chàn Teachers.
In the Tenth Century CE, for the first time in an official Imperially Sanctioned Chàn Genealogical History, two Sung female monks were recognized as Masters of Chàn. Their names were Miàozǒng Chánshī and Miàodào Chánshī. In addition, their teaching and writing was officially recognized as Chàn Buddhist activity, teaching, and writing in China.
Miàodào Chánshī was also known to her contemporaries and in subsequent genealogical histories as Jiguāng Dàshī (Great Teacher Light of Concentration). Furthermore, she was the first person of either sex to experience a great awakening using the Huàtóu method under the guidance of the founder of Kānhuà Chàn (kongàn introspection) practice in the Línjì Chàn lineage, Dàhuì Zōnggăo. As a result of her experience, she became Dàhuì's actual first dharma heir; an important teacher of women and men, and a participant in the early Southern Sung revival of Línjì. She and her teacher Dàhuì blazed the way toward a more widespread acceptance of women Chàn teachers as lineage members within a Chàn community.
Two of our root teachers, Zen Master Seung Sahn and Ven. Dr. Thích Thiên-Ân, were progressive Chàn Masters of the 20th Century. Both of these teachers were steadfast in their direction of equanimity and teaching. They both ordained women as well as giving them Dharma Transmission. Both Zen Master Seung Sahn as well as a Dharma Heir of Ven. Thích Thiên-Ân openly ordained and gave transmission to at least one openly LGBT community member each.
Ven. Thích Thiên-Ân ordained married men and women, and Zen Master Seung Sahn decided to make a special class of ordination for married practitioners, which he called the Bodhisattva Monk. We continue this tradition with what we call our "priest" ordination.
We continue to make strides in our direction of non-discrimination, and the evolution of Chán Buddhism as it moves forward into the 21st Century Western world. We may be criticized for this by some, but to quote the words of the Founder of Daoism, Lǎozi, “If you seek for the approval of others, you become their prisoner.”
We don’t make changes idly or indiscriminately; rather we look within ourselves to ask what we feel is fair and just and compassionate. It is important to recognize both that there has been systematic misogyny in the history of Buddhism, and that the Buddha (in the Lotus Sutra, chapter 10) makes it clear that monks, nuns, and laypeople can all become fully awakened Buddhas. It is our goal to help all beings achieve liberation from suffering, including that of institutionalized biases.
From the Lotus Sutra: "O Medicine King, if someone should ask you what type of living beings shall in the future become Buddhas, you should point out to him that these very people in the future certainly shall become Buddhas. Why is this? If a good man or good woman receives and upholds, reads, recites, explains and teaches, or writes out even a single sentence of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, or makes various offerings to the sutra text of flower, incense, beads, powdered incense, paste incense, burning incense, silk canopies, banners, clothing, music, or reverently joined palms, that person should be looked up to in reverence by those in all worlds and should receive offerings befitting the Thus Come One. You should know that this person is a great Bodhisattva, one who has accomplished Annuttara samyak sambodhi."