The Dragon Princess.
Accumulated Wisdom, recalling that Shakyamuni had devoted enormous time and effort to achieving awakening, expressed doubt that this girl could so in a moment. "It's unbelievable," he said.
Even he had finished saying this, however, this girl herself appeared and went over to Shakyamuni and made obeisance to him, expressing the thought that only he could know whether or not she is qualified to attain awakening because he alone knows that she has truly heard the Dharma and will preach the great vehicle way in order to save all beings from suffering.
Shariputra then spoke to the girl, expressing conventional belief:
"It is impossible to believe that you could speedily achieve awakening; the body of a woman is too impure even to receive the Dharma, never mind become a fully awakened Buddha! Only those who have practiced strenuously for many ages can become truly awakened." Adding that she could never become a Brahma--king, Indra, a Mara--king, a holy wheel--rolling king, or a Buddha, since they all have male bodies, he asked how she could possibly expect to become a buddha.
The girl, taking a valuable jewel she had with her, offered it to the Buddha, who accepted it immediately. Then she asked Shariputra and Accumulated Wisdom whether the Buddha had accepted the gem quickly or not. The two of them responded." Very quickly, indeed." And she said, "With your supernatural powers, watch me as I become a Buddha even more quickly!"
Then the whole congregation saw her suddenly change into a man, carry out all the bodhisattva practices, and go to the pure world in the south, where she sat upon a jeweled lotus flower, attained supreme awakening, acquired the thirty--two major and eighty minor marks of a buddha, and began to teach the Dharma all over the universe.
Shariputra, Accumulated Wisdom, and everyone else in the congregation--the bodhisattva and shravakas, the monks and nuns, the human and non-human beings accepted her teaching amid great rejoicing.
Women Can Become Buddha
Taken in context, the main purpose of this story is very clear; woman are as capable of becoming fully awakened buddhas as any of the monks who would have been the early hearers of the story. Later, this story would used appropriately to say the same thing to women. As indicated in the previous installment, chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra contains a message of universal salvation, a powerful reinforcement of the idea found throughout the sutra that all living being have within them the potential to become fully awakened Buddha.
We might also note that the sudden awakening in this story is highly qualified by Manjushri's observations about what the Dragon Princess had already attained. From his description, we know that she had already become a bodhisattva who aspired to become a Buddha. She had already made considerable progress on the Way and demonstrated great compassion before becoming a buddha suddenly. Thus, she was especially ready to become a buddha suddenly.
The Way of a Princess
There are other elements of this story that might be held up for our own benefit. For example, like Shakyamuni Buddha, the girl is a child of a king. She leaves a palace--which in a Lotus Sutra is always a symbol of luxury and comfort in order to come into this world to help others by becoming a Buddha.
Princes and princesses are supposed to stay in their palaces, where all is clean and comfortable, and settle down with another prince to produce royal heirs. Not many of us live in palaces today. Or do we? The palace can be understood as the comfort and security of tradition and conventional wisdom. Like Shakyamuni himself, the Dragon Princess, our buddha--in--the making, is a convention breaker who does the unexpected. Imagine how shocked the Venerable Shariputra and Accumulated Wisdom, both presumably monks well up in years, must have been when this young girl turned to them, demanded to know whether or not her jewel had been accepted by the Buddha quickly, and instructed them to watch her. This is not the way that young girls are supposed to behave toward their elders. It was not the way things were done then; it is not the way they are done now.
Like many great religious leaders, that girl is highly unconventional. Jesus, Saicho, Dogen, Nichiren, Mahatama Gandhi, and even Nikkyo Niwano were not conventional people. We have heard the story about Shakyamuni Buddha leaving his father's palace and his own wife and child so often that we forget that that story too is about shockingly unconventional behavior. For that matter, virtually the whole story of early Buddhism is about unconventional behavior and lifestyles--a group of young men leaving comfortable homes to become wandering beggars who encourage other young men to leave their homes and families to take up a life of begging!
The Dragon Princess resorted to unconventional behavior not to be unconventional but to make a point. She needed to get the attention of these men in order to teach them something. In other words, she was unconventional, but unconventional for a purpose of helping others. May be the world needs more people who are willing and able to be unconventional for the sake of helping others.
The Princess as a Buddha
We are told at the end of the story that, as a buddha, the Dragon Princess began teaching the Dharma all over the universe. But it is also relevant that in her very being and in her actions, she teaches the Dharma to Shariputra and the Bodhisattva Accumulated Wisdom in the process of becoming a buddha. And this is witnessed by the whole congregation, which in turn is then taught by the girl who has become a buddha. And we hearers or readers of the story are also offered an opportunity to witness this whole scenario. In this way the Dragon Princess is our teacher, one who leads us to Buddha--wisdom. It is important to see that she can be a teacher of the Dharma and a buddha for us even during the process of becoming a buddha. In challenging Shariputra and the Bodhisattva Accumulated Wisdom, though still in the body of a girl, she was already a buddha, even though they could not yet see that.
Seeing with Supernatural Powers
The idea of seeing a buddha is almost a constant theme in the Lotus Sutra. At time, seeing a buddha can be equated with being a buddha. As we saw in the story of the Buddha and Devadatta, at least one of the things that make the Buddha a buddha is his ability to see the buddha in others.
So it is not insignificant that, toward the end of the story, the Dragon Princess tells Shariputra and the Bodhisattva Accumulated Wisdom that they should watch with their supernatural ability to see. Such holy powers are nothing less than the fantastic powers of the human imagination. Shariputra ans the bodhisattva Accumulated Wisdom learned to see what others could not see--a mere girl becoming a buddha because they were enabled to transcend their normal vision and their normal, conventional ways of thinking. They were transformed by the Dragon Princess into men who could see like a buddha; they became able to see the buddha in the girl.
That is all that we are asked to do by the Lotus Sutra to use our imagination to see further and deeper than we have ever seen before; to see the buddha in other; to see the positive potential in other--both their inherent good and their good for us. It is seldom if ever easy to do this, but we already possess such holy powers, and they can be awakened through the story of the Dragon Princess--a girl who become a buddha and who is a buddha in the process of becoming.
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|Publication:||Yasodhara-Newsletter on International Buddhist Women's Activities|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2004|
|Next Article:||Building bridges between Lanka and Japan: Rev. Bhikkhuni Ryugen Tanaka.|