The Matriarchs

During the morning ceremony at the Nottingham Zen Group we chant the names of the Zen Patriarchs. This is something which is done daily at Zen temples and also during a sesshin. We do this out of deep respect and gratitude to the ‘fathers’ who have transmitted this practice to us.

On Sunday 11th June 2017 we did something different at the Nottingham Zen Group, we chanted the names of the Matriarchs for the first time. We expressed our deep respect and gratitude to the ‘mothers’ of Zen.


Women, though often unrecognised, have always had a role in Buddhism right from the time of the Shakyamuni Buddha.

In the first Sangha of the Buddha and during Shakyamuni’s life, women taught the Dharma, and some of them to numerous disciples. Afterward, the Mahayana asserted the total equality of women and men as far as Buddha’s Dharma is concerned.

In China, there is a woman among the shiho transmitted by Bodhidharma. After that, we find sixteen awakened women during the Song dynasty: they were renowned abbesses of monasteries and convents, also teaching men who valued their wisdom and their realization.

In Japan, Master Dogen also put forward the role of the women. In the “Shobogenzo Raihai Tokuzui”, he says: “Why should the men be considered as superiors? Space is space, the four elements are the four elements, the five aggregates are the five aggregates, and women are such also”. After him, Keizan, who strongly supported the equality between women and men in Zen practice, had a Dharma heiress. – François Loiseau

A list of 54 Matriarchs (to be in harmony with the 54 Patriarchs) comprised of nuns and laywomen was researched by Francois Loiseau. The names of women famous for their awakening, their wisdom, their compassion, their benevolence, as well as for the role they played in the transmission of Buddha’s Dharma were chosen.

Among these are …

  • Mahapajapati Gotami, founder of the sangha of the bikkhunis.
  • Patacara Pancasata, great Vinaya teacher.
  • Sanghamitta who transmitted the nuns order of India to Sri Lanka.
  • Dhammadinna, great Buddhadharma teacher who gave the shiho to numerous disciples.
  • Utpalavarna who symbolizes the salvific power of the kesa.
  • Jingjian, the first known Buddhist nun in China.
  • Zongchi (Jap. Soji Myoren), who received the shiho from Bodhidharma.
  • Moshan Liaoran (Jap. Matsuzan Ryonen), first heiress of the Dharma in the Chan transmission.
  • Miaohsin (Jap. Myoshin), quoted by Dogen in the “Shobogenzo Raihai Tokuzui
  • Daoshen, heiress of Fuyo Dokai who contributed to the revival of the Soto lineage Soto in China.
  • Zenshin, first person (man or woman) of Japan to receive the Buddhist ordination.
  • Komyo who contributed to the creation of the national system of Buddhist training monasteries for women.
  • Tachibana Kachiko, considered as the first Zen disciple of Japan.
  • Egi, sister of the Dharma of Koun Ejo, whom she helped a lot in the transition  period.
  • Mugai Nyodai, first female Zen master in Japan.
  • Myosho Enkan, abbess of the first Soto temple for women.
  • Konto Ekyu, first woman to receive from Keizan the complete shiho in the Soto Zen.

It is wonderful to see these women now being recognised in our tradition and, in some temples and dojos, to hear their names chanted alternately and equally with the same gratitude as we do the mens. This is certainly something we will continue to do at the Nottingham Zen Group.

Below is the complete list of names starting with the 6 anterior Buddhas plus Shakyamuni (Kako Shichibutsu)…

  • ▸ Bibashi Butsu Daioshō
  • ▸ Shiki Butsu Daioshō
  • ▸ Bishafu Butsu Daioshō
  • ▸ Kuruson Butsu Daioshō
  • ▸ Kunagonmuni Butsu Daioshō
  • ▸ Kashō Butsu Daioshō
  • ▸ Shakyamuni Butsu Daioshō
  • Mahamaya Daioshō
  • Ratnavati Daioshō
  • Srimala Daioshō
  • Prabhuta Daioshō
  • Mahapajapati Gotami Daioshō
  • Khema Daioshō
  • Sundarinanda Daioshō
  • Patacara Pancasata Daioshō
  • Bhadda Kundalakesa Daioshō
  • Sumana Daioshō
  • Kisagotami Daioshō
  • Dhamma Daioshō
  • Uppalavanna Daioshō
  • Bhadda Kaccana Daioshō
  • Soma Daioshō
  • Baddha Kapilani Daioshō
  • Singalaka Mata Daioshō
  • Samavati Daioshō
  • Sanghamitta Daioshō
  • Prasannasilla Daioshō
  • Dhammadinna Daioshō
  • Sukha Daioshō
  • Subha Daioshō
  • Utpalavarna Daioshō
  • Jingjian Daioshō
  • Soji Myoren Daioshō
  • Shiji Daioshō
Lingzhao Daioshō
Ling Xingpo Daioshō
  • Matsuzan Ryonen Daioshō
  • Ryu Tetsuma Daioshō
  • Myoshin Daioshō
  • Daoshen Daioshō
  • Huiguang Daioshō
  • Huiwen Daioshō
  • Fadeng Daioshō
  • Yu Daopo Daioshō
Mujaku Daioshō
  • Miaozong Daioshō
  • Qinguo Daioshō
  • Zhidong Daioshō
  • Wenzhao Daioshō
  • Zenshin Daioshō
  • Komyo Daioshō
  • Tachibana Kachiko Daioshō
  • Ryonen Daioshō
  • Shogaku Daioshō
Egi Daioshō
  • Mugai Nyodai Daioshō
  • Kakuzan Shido Daioshō
  • Ekan Daishi Daioshō
  • Mokufu Sonin Daioshō
  • Myosho Enkan Daioshō
  • ▸ Konto Ekyu ▸ Daioshō

Sangoku dento rekidai soshi
Narabini Somon Kodo Daiosho
Mokudo Taisen Daiosho

  • I would like to say a special thank you to François Loiseau for giving me his permission to quote and use his research to create this article.