Thursday, December 15, 2011

No discrimination of women in the salvation of Amida Buddha - explanation of the 35th Vow



revised on September 23rd 2019

If one reads the 35th Vow of Amida Buddha without carefully understanding its meaning, he might come to the conclusion that there is a prejudice against women:   

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, women in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions who, having heard my Name, rejoice in faith, awaken aspiration for Enlightenment and wish to renounce womanhood, should after death be reborn again as women, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[1]
“Womanhood”, like “manhood” is just a limited form for us living in samsara or the world of delusion and suffering. In reality, our true nature or Buddha nature is not of women or men, so upon birth in the Pure Land of Amida where we attain Buddhahood, we naturally “renounce” our womanhood or manhood – that is, we do not define ourselves by these terms. With birth in the Pure Land we become Buddhas and go beyond the limitations of being a woman or a man. So, this Vow does not look down on women, but it shows that women are equally treated by the salvation of Amida Buddha.

In his Letters[2] Rennyo Shonin often especially addresses women. Here are just a few quotes:

“Amida Tathagata alone graciously vowed to save such persons as you and long ago made the 48 Vows. Among these vows, beyond promising in the 18th Vow to save all evildoers and women, Amida then made a further Vow, the 35th, to save women because of the depth of their evil karma. You should have a deep sense of gratitude for Amida Tathagata’s benevolence in having undergone such painstaking endeavours.”[3]

“Let all women living in the present age deeply entrust themselves with singleness of mind to the Amida Tathagata. Apart from this, they must realize they will never be saved in regard to the afterlife, whatever teaching they may rely upon.”[4]

“Women who have renounced the world while remaining in lay life and ordinary women as well, should realize and have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that there is deliverance for all those who simply rely deeply (single-heartedly and steadfastly) on Amida Buddha and entrust themselves to that Buddha to save them, bringing them to Buddhahood in the afterlife.  This is the Primal Vow of Other Power, the Vow of Amida Tathagata. Once they have realized this, when they then feel thankfulness and joy at being saved in regard to the afterlife, they should simply repeat “Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu”.[5] 

“Because the bodily existence of women is defined by the five obstacles[6] and the three submissions[7], they are burdened with deep evil karma exceeding that of men. For this reason, the Buddhas of the ten directions can never, by their own power, bring any woman to Buddhahood. Yet Amida Tathagata, having made the great Vow (35th Vow) that He himself will save women, delivers them. Without entrusting herself to this Buddha, a woman is unable to become a Buddha.
What attitude should a woman have, then, and how should she entrust herself to Amida Buddha and become a Buddha? By just entrusting herself solely to Amida Buddha (with no double-mindedness, with steadfast, and with the single thought that Amida saves her in regard to the afterlife) a woman will readily become a Buddha. If this mind is free of the slightest doubt, she will unfailingly go to the land of utmost bliss and become a splendid Buddha.”[8]
“We must realize that, unbeknownst to others, all women have deep evil karma; whether of noble or humble birth, they are wretched beings. How, then, should they entrust themselves to Amida?
The answer is that women who rely firmly and without any anxiety on Amida Tathagata and accept that Amida saves them in regard to the most important matter, the afterlife, will unfailingly be saved. If, leaving the depth of their evil to Amida, they simply rely singleheartedly on Amida Tathagata to save them in regard to the afterlife, there is no doubt that Amida, fully
knowing those beings, will save them. Whether there are ten people or one hundred, they need not have the slightest doubt whatsoever that all – each and every one – will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. Women who entrust themselves in this way will be born in the Pure Land. They should entrust themselves ever more deeply to Amida Tathagata, realizing how shameful it
is that until now they have not trusted such an easy way.”[9]

“All women – if they are concerned about the afterlife and have a sense of reverence for the Buddha Dharma – should simply entrust themselves deeply to Amida Tathagata, cast off the sundry practices, and rely single-heartedly and firmly on Amida to save them, bringing them to Buddhahood in the afterlife. They should have no doubt whatsoever that such women will be born without fail in the land of utmost bliss.”[10]
Especially in the letter “On Women Attaining Buddhahood”, Rennyo Shonin speaks about the 35th Vow of Amida Buddha, which he calls “the Vow of Women’s Attainment of Buddhahood”:
“Amida Tathagata himself made the supreme great Vow concerning women who are abandoned by all other Buddhas[11], thinking, ‘If I do not save women, which of the other Buddhas will save them?’
Resolving to go beyond all other Buddhas and save women, He meditated for five kalpas; undergoing practices for numberless kalpas, He made the all-surpassing great Vow. Thus it is Amida who originated the incomparable Vow, “Women’s Attainment of Buddhahood”. For this reason, women who deeply rely on Amida and entrust themselves to Him to save them in regard to the afterlife, will all be born in the land of utmost bliss.”[12]
All these passages prove that there is no discrimination against women in the salvation of Amida Buddha. Especially because other practices or religious systems might discriminate women, Amida wants to reassure them that in His case, they need not worry about anything. Although His Primal Vow already made no discrimination among sentient beings, He wanted to make another Vow to be sure that nobody will never ever say that women are not included in His salvation. Thus, we may say that the 35th Vow supports the 18th Vow by emphasizing that all beings, including women, are born in the Pure Land and become Buddhas if they fully entrust themselves to Amida.






[1] The Three Pure Land sutras, translated into English by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, revised second edition, BDK English Tripitaka12-II, II, IV, Numata Center for Buddhist translation and Research, 2003, p.18
[2] Gobunsho or Ofumi.
[3] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA, p.22
[4] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA, p.99
[5] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA, p.108
[6] Some Buddhist traditions state that a woman has five karmic obstacles: she cannot become 1)  king of the Brahma heaven, 2) Indra (king of gods in the heaven of the Thirty Three gods), 3) a Mara king, 4) a universal monarch (cakravartin), or 5) a Buddha (although Buddhas can manifest in female form).
[7] In Confucian tradition a woman was expected to submit first to her father, then to her husband, and finally to her son. Even if nowadays or in various countries, such submissions are no longer a rule, a woman might be generally, greatly attached to her family, perhaps more than a man especially when it comes to children, which is a cause for many karmic obstacles.
[8] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA, p.112
[9] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA, p.118-119
[10] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA, p.121
[11] “Abandoned by all other Buddhas” in the sense that other Buddhas do not have a special vow to save women. like Amida has, without recquiring any virtue or spiritual capacity on their part. This, of course, is true for men too, as  Amida also does not recquire any virtue or spiritual capacity from them.
[12] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA, p.123

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