Friday, July 18, 2008

Can Women attain Enlightenment?

Rurui Shi (China) and Buddhist nuns (bhikkhunis) studying

Sister Soma's Sutra
Bhikkhu Bodhi (translator)

Then, in the morning, the bhikkhuni Soma dressed and, taking bowl and robe, entered Savatthi for alms. When she had walked for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her almsround, after her meal, she went to the Blind Men's Grove for the day's abiding. Having plunged into the Blind Men's Grove, she sat down at the foot of a tree for the day's abiding.

Then Mara the Evil One, desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in the nun Soma, desiring to make her fall away from concentration, approached her and addressed her in verse:

That state so hard to achieve
Which is to be attained by the seers,
Can't be attained by a woman
With her two-fingered wisdom.

Then it occurred to Soma: "Now who is this that recited the verse — a human being or a non-human being?"

Then it occurred to her: "This is Mara the Evil One, who has recited the verse desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in me, desiring to make me fall away from concentration."

Then Soma, having understood, "This is Mara the Evil One," replied to him in verse:

What does womanhood matter at all
When the mind is concentrated well,
When knowledge flows on steadily
As one sees correctly into [phenomena].

One to whom it might occur,
"I'm a woman" or "I'm a man"
Or "I'm anything at all" —
Is fit for Mara to address.

Then Mara the Evil One realizing, "The nun Soma knows me!" sad and disappointed, disappeared then and there.

108 Female Saints of the World
TRANSLATION: "Soma Sutta" from Discourses of the Ancient Nuns (BL 143), translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1997). Copyright © 1997 Buddhist Publication Society.

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