Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Dragon King's daughter and other ramblings.

I've been meaning to speak about this topic, which generally deals with the role of women in Nichiren Buddhism, for quite a while.

Being a woman myself, it is obviously something close to my own heart, but I do believe that any person with a genuine humanistic spirit, be they a man or a woman, should be interested in the topic of equality.

Discrimination is discrimination, whether it's done on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, pizza topping preference, IQ, it is still discrimination, and as such it is not conducive of a happy society based on humanism and fundamental respect. In many ways, discrimination is the polar opposite of respect.

Every person has their journey, and most of the people who have a strong religious faith (I would think), have their own reasons to believe their faith to be superior to the others. This is not arrogance or, indeed, discrimination, it is simply natural. If our religious faith is deeply rooted in our daily life and is at the centre of the way we approach life, the world, and the way we behave, then obviously we would only place so much importance on something that we have chosen as the best possible way to become happy.

Even as a Fukushi, I have made my own journey in Buddhism and I have explored other religions before making the adult choice of settling onto this one. I studied the major world's religions and although I am not by any means an expert in any of them (I'm not an expert in Buddhism, either), I know enough to strengthen my faith in Buddhism as the best religion for me.

I am not going to go into a complete list of reasons why, and I'm certainly not going to list what the other religions are "doing wrong" so to speak.

Anyone reading my blog can probably come to their own conclusions.

What I would like to do is to talk about one important aspect: the complete and utter egalitarianism of Nichiren Buddhism.

I have yet to find a religion that, from its origins, does not discriminate between men and women, usually somehow considering women as subordinate and inferior to men, imperfect versions of men, impure creatures and sometimes the source of all evil.

Nichiren Buddhism, from its early days, expresses with utmost clarity that men and women are absolutely equal. This, in Buddhist practical terms, means that they both possess Buddhahood, they both are endowed with unlimited potential, they both can tap into that potential and express their Buddha nature here and now.

As Nichiren himself said:

There should be no discrimination among those who propagate the five characters of Myoho-Renge-Kyo in the latter day of the Law, be they men or women.
(The true aspect of all phenomena, WND, p.385).

As Wikipedia says "Many of [Nichiren's] most famous letters were to women believers [e.g. Nichimyo, Nichinyo, the lay nun Konichi, among many others], whom he often complimented for their in-depth questions about Buddhism while encouraging them in their efforts to attain enlightenment in this lifetime."

We have to remember that at the time of Nichiren's preaching, a Buddhist doctrine named henjo nanshi was rampant. This doctrine basically denied that women could attain buddhahood unless they first transformed into men. Pure and simple Buddhist misoginy.

And yet, Nichiren rejects this doctrine fully on the basis of the Lotus Sutra. It is therefore in the original teachings of Shakyamuni that this basic principle of equality is presented.

Mainly, this is shown in the 12th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, where the parable of the Dragon King's daughter is told.

quoted from here
dragon king's daughter
[竜女] ( Jpn ryunyo )
Also, dragon girl or naga girl. The eight-year-old daughter of Sagara, one of the eight great dragon kings said to dwell in a palace at the bottom of the sea. 
[...T]he dragon girl conceived the desire for enlightenment.
[...] When Manjushri asserts that she is capable of quickly attaining the Buddha wisdom, Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated challenges him, saying that even Shakyamuni attained enlightenment only after fulfilling the bodhisattva practice for many kalpas, and that she cannot become a Buddha so easily. Just then the dragon girl appears in front of the assembly and praises Shakyamuni Buddha. Shariputra then speaks to her, saying that women are subject to the five obstacles and are incapable of attaining Buddhahood. At that moment, she offers a jewel to the Buddha, transforms herself into a male, and instantaneously perfects the bodhisattva practice. She then appears in a land to the south called Spotless World and manifests the state of Buddhahood without changing her dragon form. [emphasis mine]
With the thirty-two features and eighty characteristics of a Buddha, she preaches the Lotus Sutra to all living beings there.The dragon girl's enlightenment has important implications. First, it refutes the idea of the time that women could never attain enlightenment. Second, it reveals that the power of the Lotus Sutra enables all people equally to attain Buddhahood in their present form, without undergoing kalpas of austere practices. Perhaps the social circumstances in which the Lotus Sutra was compiled did not allow the dragon girl to be depicted as attaining Buddhahood without first becoming a male. But the transformation occurred instantaneously, not in the next life, and in this respect differs significantly from that of other, provisional teachings, which hold that a woman must be reborn as a man and then practice bodhisattva austerities for innumerable kalpas in order to become a Buddha.

Now what I personally find really interesting is this:

Do not these interpretations make clear that, among all the teachings of the Buddha’s lifetime, the Lotus Sutra is first, and that, among the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, that of women attaining Buddhahood is first? For this reason, though the women of Japan may be condemned in all sutras other than the Lotus as incapable of attaining Buddhahood, as long as the Lotus guarantees their enlightenment, what reason have they to be downcast?
(The Sutra of True Requital, WND, p. 930)

Allow me to speak quite plainly. Basically, here Nichiren is not just saying: 
 "This Lotus Sutra thing is in my opinion the best of all the teachings, and oh, by the way, it allows women to reach enlightenment as well. How cool is that?"

What he is saying is that one of the main reasons he considers the Lotus Sutra the superior teaching is especially the fact that enables women to attain enlightenment. 

Why is that?

This final passage might be enlightening - pardon the rather awful pun. All the emphases are mine.

With regard to the debt of gratitude owed to our parents, our father may be likened to heaven and our mother to the earth, and it would be difficult to say to which parent we are the more indebted. But it is particularly difficult to repay the great kindness of our mother.
If, in desiring to repay it, we seek to do so by following the non-Buddhist scriptures, such as the Three Records, the Five Canons, or The Classic of Filial Piety, we can provide for our mother in this life, but we cannot hope to do anything for her next life. Although we can provide for her physically, we will be unable to save her spiritually.
Turning to the Buddhist scriptures, we find that, because the more than five thousand or seven thousand volumes of Hinayana and Mahayana sutras teach that it is impossible for women to attain Buddhahood, it is impossible to repay the debt owed to our mother. The Hinayana teachings flatly deny that a woman can attain Buddhahood. The Mahayana sutras in some cases seem to say that a woman may attain Buddhahood or may be reborn in a pure land, but this is simply a possibility mentioned by the Buddha, and no examples of such a thing actually having happened are given.
Since I have realized that only the Lotus Sutra teaches the attainment of Buddhahood by women, and that only the Lotus is the sutra of true requital for repaying the kindness of our mother, in order to repay my debt to my mother, I have vowed to enable all women to chant the daimoku of this sutra.

(The Sutra of True Requital, WND, pp.930–931)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of my ramblings.

If you are interested in reading more on the topic, please turn to this wonderful essay:

A History of Women in Japanese Buddhism: Nichiren’s Perspectives on the Enlightenment of Women by Toshie Kurihara.

It is truly brilliant (and saved me a lot of time in looking for quotations).

Happy chanting!

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