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The Lotus Sutra Expounds the Attainment of Buddhahood for Women – Part 1

We as Nichiren Buddhists follow the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. In this Sutra, the Buddha expounds that every being has Buddha-nature so that everyone is eligible to attain Buddhahood. This is based on the reality of the equal and great compassion that the Buddha has towards all sentient beings.


However, some people criticize the Lotus Sutra. They read it without understanding its deeper meaning. They say things like, "When I read the Lotus Sutra, it discriminates against women." The most common example of this that is given is the attainment of Buddhahood by the daughter of the Dragon-King in the Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In this story of the daughter's attainment of Buddhahood, there are some statements which can be misinterpreted and would seem to discriminate against women. This is a case where looking at the time and the country and their customs will help in the understanding of what the Sutra is actually teaching.

Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, such as the Lotus Sutra, were compiled about 2,000 years ago, and they reflect strongly the social environment and culture of the time. For example, in the beginning of the Devadatta chapter, when a king practiced almsgiving to complete the six paramitas, he offered not only his possessions and his body but also his "wives, children, menservants and maidservants" all as offerings. Living in the modern age, we do not accept the king's words as they are. We should understand the social environment of the age, be it the king's time or our present time. When we read the Sutra with our belief in human rights of this present time, we understand that the wives, children and servants have their own independent personality and human rights just as the King does. They are, in our present understanding, free and independent persons.

Nichiren Shonin, our founder, understood, believed in and received the Lotus Sutra in an age of discrimination based on ranks and status. He realized the importance of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and comprehended its deep view of human rights and the equality of all beings. It is impressive to think that in this "middle age" that he lived in that he had belief in and comprehended this spirit of equality and respect. It is this spirit which being disseminated by Nichiren Shonin which is present in our society today.


Proof of Manjusri - A daughter of the Dragon-King attains Buddhahood with a female body

In the latter half of the Devadatta chapter, a dialogue begins with Bodhisattvas Manjusri and Accumulated-Wisdom. Replying to a question by Accumulated Wisdom, Manjusri reveals that he enlightened innumerable Bodhisattvas at the palace of the dragon-king in the sea. Bodhisattva Accumulated-Wisdom praises Manjusri with gathas (verse).

Manjusri states, "In the sea I expounded only the Lotus Sutra." Accumulated Wisdom asked, "The Sutra is exceedingly profound and wonderful. This is the treasure of all the sutras. It is rare in the world. Do you know anyone who acted according to this sutra so strenuously that the one has already become a Buddha quickly?" Manjusri answered, "Yes," and introduced an eight-year old daughter of the Dragon King Sagara. The daughter of the Dragon King was clever, practiced well and "She aspired for Bodhi in ksana and reached the stage of irrevocability." She is compassionate and "has already attained Bodhi," Manjusri states.

His words obviously proved that the daughter of the Dragon King had attained Buddhahood quickly with her female dragon body. Later in the Chapter she would turn into a man, but why? This "transformation into a man" is a very important event to understand and is easily misunderstood.

Doubt of Bodhisattva Accumulated Wisdom - clinging to the attainment of Buddhahood after practicing for a long period of kalpas

Accumulated Wisdom could not believe instantly the proof of Manjusri that the daughter of Dragon King attained Buddhahood. "I do not believe that this girl can attain perfect enlightenment in a moment, said Accumulated Wisdom. That is because he was attached to a fixed thought that any person would not be able to attain Buddhahood until after seeking enlightenment for innumerable kalpas and accumulating merits by practicing austerities like Sakyamuni Buddha had done. Attaining Buddhahood after practicing for a long period of kalpas is different from attaining Buddhahood with one's present body. This concept is also stated as attaining Buddhahood in a future life by changing body. 3

Testimony of the Daughter of the Dragon King - Only the Buddha Knows

No sooner had the doubt of Accumulated Wisdom been cast to Manjusri, that the daughter of Dragon King appeared at the scene, praised the Buddha's virtue and also talked about her own attainment of Buddhahood saying, "Only you (the Buddha) know that I attain Bodhi because I heard the Dharma." The daughter talked about her own attainment of Buddhahood and vowed to save all living beings from sufferings by expounding the teachings of the Great Vehicle.

As the Truth of Buddhahood is described in the Expedients chapter of the Lotus Sutra, it states "Only the Buddhas attained the reality of all things." The testimony of the daughter of Dragon-King is all reasonable and true. Manjusri, who enlightened the daughter, admitted her attainment of Buddhahood, but for other people gathering there, it was hardly to be believed that it was immediate unless the daughter would show her appearance as a Buddha. As what they felt at least was what a Buddha should look like. "I need to see it to believe it," was the attitude of the group.

Doubt of Sariputra - Clinging to Five Impossibilities of Men

Sariputra asked the daughter questions as a representative of the whole audience. This part of the chapter is the most common to be misunderstood as being discrimination against women. "You said that you had attained unsurpassed enlightenment before long. This is difficult to believe because the body of a woman is defiled and not a recipient of the teachings of the Buddha. How could you attain unsurpassed Bodhi? The enlightenment of the Buddha is far off It can be reached by those who accumulate the practices and perform each of the Six Paramitas with strenuous efforts for innumerable kalpas. Also a woman has five impossibilities. She cannot become 1. the Brahman-Heavenly-King, 2. King Sakra, 3. King Mara, 4. a wheel-turning¬holy-king, and 5. a Buddha. How could you become a Buddha quickly while being a woman?"


In Sariputras words, "The enlightenment of the Buddha is far off," is about attaining Buddhahood after practicing for a long period of kalpas. This is the same doubt that Bodhisattva Accumulated Wisdom was having. Sariputra also mentions that the body of a woman is defiled, and there are five impossibilities that would make her unable to become a king of a heavenly realm, a king in the human world or much less become a Buddha. This is discrimination against women, which is not the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. This idea is being presented here as a wrong idea, to be denied as incorrect thought.

Sariputra, who is recognized as the wisest disciple of the Buddha, threw out this doubt to the multitude. This kind of prejudice against women had been flourishing in Buddhism during the time before the Lotus Sutra and in the society of ancient India. In the society of ancient India, distinctions of rank, of caste and of sex were important social concepts. Women had to deal with sexual discrimination as being impure or evil. Sakyamuni Buddha denied the caste system and established a Buddhist sangha (community). He also accepted a group of women's wishes to establish a sangha for nuns. It is recognized as a revolutionary event in the Eurasian world at that time. He was slowly changing the ideas of the society. However, from the beginning of the Buddhist sangha and the acceptance of nuns, women were still subjugated. Women were considered a disturbance for monks and also as transgressors of the law, so precepts for nuns were much stricter than for the monks. Their status in the Sangha was not equal to the monks at first.

The idea that women would not be able to attain Buddhahood due to their five impossibilities appeared in Buddhist scriptures that were formed after Sakyamuni Buddha's death. Since the thirty-two major marks of any Buddha were described as characteristics of a male body, a woman couldn't be a Buddha. This misconception was used to discriminate against women inside and outside of the sangha. Therefore, women were dealt with as being not able to attain Buddhahood unless they were reborn as men. In the Lotus Sutra, the Devadatta chapter denies the strong idea of the five impossibilities of women for the first time.

In the next issue we will discuss the expedients that the Daughter gives to show her enlightenment to the ignorant multitude and see that even in today's society, discrimination is present in many forms. We need to study the Lotus Sutra and understand the concepts of equality that it brings. There are no castes, status or physical features that make us more or less sentient beings in this world. We are all here together. 5

(From the booklet, "Think of Human Rights" published by the Department of
Provision of Human Rights of Nichiren Shu in March 31, 2000.)

Gasshō __/\__ Yō kō, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.