By David Jones
As I try to accumulate wisdom from the many Wisdom Traditions, I have a strategy for tackling texts.
I try to honor the words as well as the writer first by simply meeting the words where they are. Once I think I’ve got that, then I try to start unearthing meaning. Doing this means I might get a different understanding than another reader. I also honor that realization.
Mine is mine, theirs is theirs.
I think that’s a point made when Buddha said to Great Adornment Bodhisattva “Good sons… while the teaching is the same, the meanings differ. Since the meanings differ, so too the understandings of living beings differ. And since understandings differ, so too attainments of the Dharma, of its fruits, and of the Way differ.” (Gene Reeves, The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, chapter 2, paragraph 28)
I believe it’s good to share different understandings; not to say one is right and another is wrong, but to see that both are paths to wisdom. Regardless of the traditions or their texts, I believe this can be achieved by anyone.
So: The Dragon King’s Daughter (The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, chapter 12, paragraphs 26-36).
Leading up to this is a meeting involving Buddha (Shakyamuni), Abundant Treasure Bodhisattva, a lower bodhisattva named Accumulated Wisdom Bodhisattva, and a lot of monks.
So they talked for a while, and eventually Accumulated Wisdom said to Abundant Treasure, “It’s getting late and it’s a long drive home, so let’s get going.” But Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Hang on. There’s a bodhisattva here named Manjushri I want you to meet.”
Manjushri rose out of the ocean (on a flying lotus flower with a thousand petals) where he had been teaching the Dharma to the beings living in the realm of Sagara the Dragon King.
Pleasantries were exchanged, but Accumulated Wisdom Bodhisattva was kind of ready to leave, so he got down to business: “So Manjushri, how many beings did you teach and transform?”
Manjushri replied “I’d run out of numbers if I tried to count them all.” On cue, countless bodhisattvas on their own flying lotuses rose out of the sea and presented themselves to the assembly.
Accumulated Wisdom offered Manjushri a poem of praise, and then focused on one little point related to earlier comments about the Buddha’s enlightenment: “This Dharma is awesome. But can anyone use it to become a Buddha quickly?”
Coincidence doesn’t exist in this Sutra; pretty much every question is just a set-up for a teaching or insight.
Manjushri replies, “Well, there just so happens to be a little girl who fits the bill: the Dragon King’s 8-year-old daughter. She knows all the things to know, she is compassionate and wise. In just a single moment she achieved everything to the point of being beyond backsliding, and now she’s poised to become a Buddha herself.”
Accumulated Wisdom’s eyebrows rose so high that they floated in the air above his head like Snoopy’s.
“Wait a second. I know for a fact that Shakyamuni Tathagata worked for untold eons before he could achieve Supreme Awakening. You’re telling me a little girl could do it instantly?”
Just then Accumulated Wisdom came to an awkward stop because the girl showed up. She offered Praise Verse to Buddha, and then Shariputra (who was really not happy with this whole situation) got in her face.
“Look little girl, you think you can attain awakening just like that? Well, you can’t, and you know why? First, you’re female and a female body is a vessel of filth and impurity, not a place for the clean and undefiled Dharma. Second, it takes a looooong time to reach that goal. Third, did I mention you’re a girl? Seriously, there are five things a female can’t do: you can’t be a king in the Brahma realm, you can’t become Indra (a Shakra), you can’t become a devil king (Mara king), you can’t become a wheel-turning saintly king (sage king) and you can’t have a Buddha body. Where do you get off thinking you’re all that?”
The Dragon Girl produced a jewel that was more valuable than all the worlds put together. She offered it to Buddha, and he accepted it.
“Ok, see how I just did that?”
“Pretty fast, right?”
“Yeah, fast. So?”
“Then hold on to your cowboy hats and watch me do this… even faster!”
Instantly she switched genders, began her bodhisattva practice, teleported to the world called Spotless, achieved awakening, and taught the Dharma to everyone everywhere. All this faster than Keanu Reeves could say “Whoa!”
Every being everywhere saw this happen, and they rejoiced and offered her praise. The world shook, everyone received their own assurance of awakening, and there was dancing well into the night.
Accumulated Wisdom and Shariputra just quietly nodded in acceptance. Roll credits.
Sadly, some people today point to this as proof that only men can become the Big B. Women just can’t; even this person who had made it 99.8% of the way by age eight couldn’t, simply because she was a girl! Like the only way she could hope to do it was if she became a man, and who knows how many rebirths *that* was gonna take.
They may even point to the fact that she had to switch genders before she could even get on that road. I think this misses the whole point: that someone’s limited understanding of what was possible was not enough to affect what actually was possible.
Notice in the account that, even after she swapped genders, the account still respected her preferred pronoun of “she/her?” The body and gender they saw was her outward appearance but not her authentic self. Regardless of having a buddhakaya (Buddha body, that is, a body bearing all the signs/marks/qualities of a Buddha, including a penis), she was still authentically a girl.
Also, it’s like instant gender change was doable but being a female Buddha wasn’t. Sheesh!
Accumulated Wisdom and Shariputra didn’t even say “Oh. Okay then.”
Finally, I believe this passage doesn’t exist to prove patriarchal views are correct but instead demonstrate how limited and unwise they can be.
There’s more to say about this story, about the significance of Accumulated Wisdom Bodhisattva being the first skeptic, about the girl being eight years old, and about Buddha staying out of the way and letting the little girl handle her business. So much more.
But I’ll just stop here. Be well.
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Editor: Dana Gornall