Being able to give up our limiting identities at last


Ok, honest grappling here. This is a question that probably no Shin Buddhist in the 21st century, in the Western world, has not grappled with. And I’m willing to bet that very few have accepted the traditional presentation as found in the Larger Sutra.

So I ask you: What’s your reading of the 35th vow?

If, when I attain Buddhahood, women in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters 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.

Deep gassho, Jason


Hi Jason -

Honest grappling indeed. Here’s my honest take.

When it comes to the 84,000 paths of the Sages, they all require PERFECT practice to work. Shinran says so explicitly.

Even in the first age of the dharma, in THIS particular world, Shakyamuni himself was reluctant to directly teach women as his fully devoted and ordained followers. He actually changed his mind on this one when he was persuaded to start an order of nuns - renunciate women.

Why was Shakyamuni reluctant? That’s the real question we’d need to answer to understand the 35th Vow.

My answer is, that the karma of being in a female body leaves a sentient being MUCH more vulnerable to emotional fluctuations. While that may not sound politically correct to some, the modern psychological recognition about mood shifts associated PMS, post-partum depression, menopause, etc. are simply medical facts.

Being born in a female body subjects most women to a certain kind of emotional fluctuation that most men just don’t understand. I have friends who keep track of their partners’ cycles, just so they’ll be prepared for the 5 days each month when she turns into an entirely different kind of human being, as her hormones affect her, deeply and consistently.

And of course, guys who are stupid enough to do steroids in order to muscle up are just as vulnerable - only in this context it’s called ‘ROID RAGE.

What that meant to Shakyamuni was this: as hard as it would be for a MAN to attain to any state of NON-RETROGRESSION via PERFECT PRACTICE, it would be that much harder for a woman.

That was true even in the “first age of the dharma” where Shakyamuni’s direct energetic presence helped a LOT of people get lift-off into a state of non-retrogression…something that just doesn’t happen today.

You could say the same thing about the added difficulty for a person who’s karma it was to be born bi-polar, or schizophrenic - both organic, biological syndromes that have massive psychic effects…psychic effects that make “pefect practice” pretty much impossible, even though we understand their chemical origins.

And that’s the inconceivable beauty of Amida Buddha’s work. None of it matters any more.

No matter what our karmic limitations and constraints might be - by biology, by psycho-history, by whatever - we’re all simply GIVEN the full boat of Amida’s infinite merit in that one thought moment of SHINJIN.

Even someone who is UTTERLY incapable of Buddhahood - an ICHANTIKKA as Shinran described himself- is not excluded from True Buddhahood at last.

Not excluded. Not in the least.

No…the 35th Vow is not a dismissal of women. On the contrary, like all the other vows, is part and parcel of the infinite compassion summed up in the PRIMAL vow - which blows the doors off of ALL the karmic circumstances that would doom ALL of us to endless cycles of rebirth into delusion and ignorance…as men, as women, as gnats on the behind of an elephant…or whatever.

Regardless of WHY we’re caught between those terrible rivers of fire and water in this life - caught between our lust and our rage - our emotional highs and lows - it just doesn’t matter. Our limitations will not stop us anymore.

Why? Because we have FINALLY given up trying and now are simply trusting Amida. In that simple entrusting, we are given salvation in the present - the recognition that this is our LAST lifetime as non-buddhas.

Whatever we might look like in the inconceivable Pure Land of Amida Buddha - it will be entirely free from any stain, any shadow, any darkness whatsoever.

Inconceivable. Wonderful. NamuAmidaButsu.



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