Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Equality of the Sexes (sutra)

Wisdom Quarterly; Andrew Olendzki (trans.), Soma Sutra, "Mara Meets His Match" (SN 5.2)
Visions of enlightenment are best leading to the highest bliss (allwomenstalk.com).
Mara and nun Uppalavanna
The nun Soma has entered Andhavana (Blind Man's Grove) near [the ancient city of] Savatthi to practice meditation.

Mara, the embodiment of delusion [the great obstacle to enlightenment], the great, sees her there and desires to make her waver and abandon her concentration. He addresses her with a verse:
That which can be attained by seers --
The place so hard to arrive at --
Women are not able to reach,
Since they lack sufficient wisdom.

Burmese ten-precept Buddhist nun studies text next to monks (as1974/flickr.com).
[Soma replies:]
What difference does being a woman make
When the mind [heart] is well-composed,
When knowledge is proceeding on,
When one rightly sees into Dharma?
Indeed, for whom the question arises:
"Am I a man or a woman?"
Or "Am I even something at all?"
To them alone is Mara fit to talk!
Andrew Olendzki on Ganges, India
This, in my view, is the definitive statement in the Buddhist tradition regarding the equality of the sexes.

Whatever other words have crept into the literature -- from ancient times to the present -- whatever [sexist or patriarchal] attitudes may have been expressed by theras [elders], lamas, roshis, or teachers over the ages, this position of thoroughgoing equality in light of the Dharma is plainly stated by Soma, one of the Buddha's contemporary nuns [herself an enlightened elder or theri].
Soma was the daughter of the chief priest of King Bimbisara of Magadha and was an early [adopter of] the Buddha's teaching. She spent many years as a lay supporter before eventually becoming a nun [bhikkhuni], and achieved awakening -- like so many of her sisters [fellow nuns] -- not long after joining the [monastic] order.
A practicing nun lives joyously.
In this exchange Mara is clearly trying to provoke and discourage Soma, but [he] only reveals his delusion. The expression he uses literally means "two fingers' [worth]" of wisdom. It may originally have been a reference to the domestic task of checking if rice is cooked by examining it between the fingers, but here it is obviously used pejoratively to impugn that women are less capable of liberation.

Soma not only refrains from getting offended (perhaps remembering Buddha's teaching to always "forebear the fool[ish]"), but calmly points out how ludicrous the statement is when viewed in light of the Buddha's higher teaching about the nature of personhood. [The liberated heart/mind is a wondrous thing.]

The Enlightened Buddhist Nun Soma
Bhikkhu Bodhi translation (Soma Sutta,  SN 5.2) edited by Wisdom Quarterly
The Buddha teaching the nuns (CW)
Buddha Girl, the American nun, 2012 (WQ)
This event took place in Savatthi. Then in the morning the Buddhist nun Soma dressed and, taking her bowl and robe, entered Savatthi for alms.

When she had walked for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal, she went to the Blind Men's Grove for the day's abiding (meditation).

Having plunged into the Blind Men's Grove, she sat down at the foot of a tree to meditate.
Then Mara the Tempter, desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in the nun Soma, desiring to make her fall away from concentration (samma-samadhi), 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 the nun Soma: "Now who is this who recited the verse -- a human being or a non-human being?" Then it occurred to her: "This is Mara the Tempter who has recited the verse desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in me, desiring to make me fall away from concentration."
Then the nun Soma, having understood, "This is Mara the Tempter," replied to him in the following verses:
What does womanhood matter at all
When the mind is concentrated well,
When knowledge flows on steadily
As one sees correctly into Dharma?
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 Tempter -- realizing, "The nun Soma knows me" -- sad and disappointed, disappeared right then and there.

No comments: