In a blog posted yesterday on the Huffington Post, Soto Zen priest Norman Fischer called for the full inclusion of women in American Soto Zen Buddhism and “all religions.” For 15 years—since a female student approached Fischer tearfully, lamenting the lack of women in the lineage they chanted each day—Fisher has worked to include women in the American Soto Zen tradition by chanting the names of a lineage of women and by advocating the giving of women’s lineage documents in all Soto Zen initiation rites. Fischer speaks about the founding of the American Soto Zen Association of America, the frustrations of trying to negotiate an affiliation between the Japan Soto Zen organization, and the pitfalls of deferring to ancient religious traditions:

There is no doubt in my mind that ancient religious traditions, despite all their baggage and painful histories, are still very valuable — the moreso in this present scientific materialistic age when human confusion and the search for sustainable meaning are as drastic as ever. There is simply no way to match the amount of experimentation, discussion, literature, history, tradition, doctrine and know-how that is embedded in these age-old discourses and institutions. Starting all over with new practices, theories and doctrines, or mixing and matching what we can find from various religions as it suits us is OK. But is simply not as good, not as deep and not as thorough. Yet we can’t ignore that all the great religious traditions (Buddhism included) were created in feudalistic contexts, in which women were oppressed, gays and lesbians vilified and injustice of all sorts supported. These things have to be changed. Religion has to be updated drastically in order to be preserved, and it seems to me that the issue of full inclusion of women is pivotal in this process. In American Soto Zen (but certainly not in Japanese Soto) we have maybe for the first time in any continuous ancient religious tradition full inclusion for women. In American Soto, women can be fully ordained priests, abbots and Zen masters and can take their places side by side with men, sharing status and leadership equally. And now, finally, women’s names are not only chanted in services but handed out on official lineage documents to all ordained Zen Buddhists — men as well as women.

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