The Enlightenment of Women

The following article discusses the enlightenment of Devadatta and the dragon king’s daughter from the Lotus Sutra. When we develop confidence about our innate Buddhahood, all our attributes will work to increase our happiness.

Often in movies and on TV shows, good guys are good-looking, and bad guys are bad-looking. Most of us seem to think that the happy are good and beautiful. But for those of us with moral frailties and less-than-perfect bodies who don’t have enough money for nipping and tucking, where shall we turn for the inspiration and encouragement to achieve authentic happiness, just as we are, in our present circumstances?

The “Devadatta” chapter of the Lotus Sutra provides an important clue as to how we can create happiness in both our minds and bodies.

Davadatta was Shakyamuni’s treacherous disciple who attempted to kill his teacher and cause a schism in the Buddhist Order. For this reason, in the Buddhist tradition, Devadatta was regarded as symbolic of evil, and therefore, in many sutras, he was depicted as being denied enlightenment. In the Lotus Sutra, however, Shakyamuni prophesies this evil man’s enlightenment.

The dragon king’s daughter is a character whose enlightenment is depicted in the “Devadatta” chapter of the Lotus Sutra. She “has just turned eight.” Yet, through the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, she “in the space of an instant conceived the desire for bodhi and reached the level of no regression.” However, Shariputra, one of Shakyamuni’s main disciples, objects: “But this is difficult to believe. Why? Because a woman’s body is soiled and defied, not a vessel for the Law.”

So, to demonstrate the enlightenment she had already attained to those unbelieving men represented by Shariputra, the dragon girl magically transforms her appearance into a man and then into a Buddha endowed with the Buddha’s magnificent bodily features and characteristics.

Sadly, Shariputra’s understanding of the “actual proof” of happiness is here shown to be, literally, skin deep. Before her transformation, the dragon girl presents a “precious jewel worth as much as the thousand-million fold world” to the Buddha, who immediately accepts it.

The act symbolically explains that the dragon girl recognised the hitherto unknown gem of Buddhahood in her innermost life. This discovery was then acknowledged by the Buddha’s acceptance of the jewel.

The dragon girl was young (as if to insinuate her immaturity and lack of intelligence), and she had what many considered to be ugly physical features ¨C a scaly, reptilian body. In her sex and body, the dragon girl was doubly removed from the possibility of attaining enlightenment, according to the misogynist viewpoint of some Buddhist scriptures.

The dragon girl, however, was the opposite of what many thought. In the words of Boddhisattva Manjushri, who converted her, “Her wisdom has keen roots.” She is “kind, compassionate, benevolent” and “gentle and refined in will, capable of attaining bodhi.” Furthermore, the dragon girl herself expresses confidence about her Buddhahood, “I have attained bodhi ¨C the Buddha alone can bear witness to this.”

Despite the judgment cast on her because of being a female with her unusual appearance, the dragon girl revealed her supreme potential of Buddhahood, and her example inspired the suffering multitudes, filling their hearts with “great joy.”

Regarding those episodes of Devadatta and the dragon girl, Nichiren Daishonin writes: “The fifth scroll contains the very heart of the Lotus Sutra, for it reveals that the dragon king’s daughter attained Buddhahood in her present form. Devadatta represents the spiritual aspect of enlightenment, and the dragon king’s daughter the physical aspect.”

The enlightenment of the dragon girl teaches us how to create happiness in our physical selves. When we develop confidence about our inner Buddhahood just as the dragon girl did, all our physical attributes, however imperfect, will start working to increase our genuine happiness and inspire many others. Our bodies come in all sizes and shapes, unique to each of us. Just as one can make an attractive and comfortable home out of an imperfect house, we can transform our bodies into wonderful homes for our appreciative minds.

The Lotus Sutra offers a more realistic and hopeful approach to the authentic happiness of mind and body than the imaginary happiness of the good and the beautiful made in Hollywood.

(Adapted from an article in World Tribune, October 24, 2003)