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Department
Religious Studies
Course
RELIGST 2TT3
Professor
Mark Rowe
Semester
Spring

Description
  Women  and  Japanese  Buddhism   Amrit  Sandhu   Women  and  Japanese  Buddhism:  Tales  of  Birth  into  the  Pure  Land,  written  by  William   Deal,  provides  valuable  insight  into  the  status  of  women  during  Japan’s  Heian  period.  The   Heian  period  marked  the  growing  popularity  of  the  Tendai  sect  and  desire  for  birth  in  the   Pure  Land,  achieved  through  invocation  of  Amida  Buddha’s  name  (nembutsu)  in   combination  with  the  esoteric  teachings  of  the  Lotus  Sutra  (Deal  177).  The  Devadata   chapter  of  the  Lotus  Sutra  tells  the  story  of  the  eight-­‐year-­‐old  daughter  of  the  Dragon  King   who  is  told  by  an  assembly  of  bodhisattvas  that  her  female  body  is  barred  by  the  five   obstacles,  the  five  births  denied  to  women,  from  attaining  salvation  (Deal  178).  The  dragon   girl  then  instantaneously  transforms  into  a  man  and  ascends  to  Buddhahood.  Deal  further   notes  that  the  women  described  in  stories  of  birth  in  the  Pure  Land  are  mentioned  as   merely  reciting  nembutsu  and  not  having  any  deeper  interaction  with  the  Lotus  Sutra,   suggesting  their  inability  to  understand  the  true  profundity  of  the  text  (178).  Furthermore,   these  women  remain  nameless,  referred  to  only  by  their  relationships  to  men,  and  are   depicted  as  being  extremely  compassionate  and  pious  prior  to  achieving  enlightenment,   ready  to  renounce  their  female  bodies  from  which  they  feel  spiritually  detached  (Deal  178).     The  end  of  the  eighth  century  marked  the  beginning  of  the  Heian  period,  however   despite  the  Tendai  sect’s  adoption  of  the  Lotus  Sutra,  the  true  significance  of  the  Devadata   chapter  remained  unexplored  until  Nichiren’s  interpretation  of  the  text  during  the   Kamakura  period  (Mori  279).  Consequently,  the  misogynistic  notion  of  women  being   unable  to  achieve  enlightenment  permeated  the  mid-­‐Heian  period  (Mori  279).  This   perception  of  misogyny  became  one  of  the  prevailing  cultural  norms  of  medieval  Japan,   likely  rooted  from  Buddhist  doctrines  originating  in  India.  Yet  the  story  of  the  dragon  girl  in   the  Lotus  Sutra  may  itself  be  seen  as  a  refutation  of  the  misogyny  prevalent  in  Indian     Women  and  Japanese  Buddhism   Amrit  Sandhu   society  at  the  time  of  its  compilation,  and  it  is  probable  that  those  responsible  for  its   compilation  had  great  empathy  for  women.  The  Devadata  chapter’s  mentioning  of  the   prejudicial  five  obstacles  imposed  upon  women  is  not  condoning  misogyny,  but  instead   contesting  it  by  affirming  women’s  capacity  to  achieve  enlightenment.  Nichiren,  and  a   significant  portion  of  his  followers,  would  later  interpret  the  story  as  mirroring  the   sociocultural  adversity  imposed  upon  women  at  this  time  and  demonstrating  the  true   salvific  potential  innate  within  (Mori  283).  The  dragon  girl,  at  the  age  of  only  eight,  is  able   to  defy  the  derisions  of  the  bodhisattvas  and  by  extension  the  prejudice  imposed  upon  her   by  a  misogynistic  society  –  a  society  in  which  it  was  becoming  increasingly  difficult  to   achieve  enlightenment  as  the  age  of  mappō  came  (Deal  177).  This  age  of  decline  of  the  
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