More early Buddhist Feminism

More early Buddhist Feminism July 8, 2010
SN 5.2
PTS: S i 129
CDB i 222
Soma Sutta: Mara Meets His Match
translated from the Pali by
Andrew Olendzki
© 2005–2010
Alternate translations: Bodhi | Thanissaro

The nun Soma has entered Andhavana (Blind Man’s Grove) near Savatthi to practice meditation. Mara, the embodiment of delusion, sees her there and desires to make her waver and abandon her concentration. He addresses her with a verse:

That which can be attained by seers — The place so hard to arrive at — Women are not able to reach, Since they lack sufficient wisdom.
[Soma replies:]
What difference does being a woman make When the mind is well-composed, When knowledge is proceeding on, When one rightly sees into Dhamma? Indeed for whom the question arises: “Am I a man or a woman?” Or, “Am I even something at all?” To them alone is Mara fit to talk!

Translator’s note:

This, in my view, is the definitive statement in the Buddhist tradition regarding the equality of the sexes. Whatever other words have crept into the literature — from ancient times to the present — whatever attitudes may have been expressed by Theras, Lamas, Roshis or Teachers over the ages, this position of thoroughgoing equality in light of the Dhamma is plainly stated by Soma, one of the Buddha’s contemporary nuns.
Soma was the daughter of the chief priest of King Bimbisara of Magadha, and was an early convert to the Buddha’s teaching. She spent many years as a lay supporter before eventually becoming a nun, and achieved awakening — like so many of her sisters — not long after joining the order.

In this exchange Mara is clearly trying to provoke and discourage Soma, but only reveals his delusion. The expression he uses literally means “two fingers’ [worth]” of wisdom. It may originally have been a reference to the domestic task of checking if rice is cooked by examining it between the fingers, but here it is obviously used pejoratively to impugn that women are less capable of liberation. Soma not only refrains from getting offended (perhaps remembering Buddha’s teaching to always “forebear the fool”), but calmly points out how ludicrous the statement is when viewed in light of the Buddha’s higher teaching about the nature of personhood.

©2005 Andrew Olendzki.

Transcribed from a file provided by the translator.

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How to cite this document (one suggested style): “Soma Sutta: Mara Meets His Match”(SN 5.2), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight, June 14, 2010,

You can also read my post on being a feminist. And my more recent post on early Buddhist feminism. And of course, some…
Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender – Jose Ignacio Cabezon (Editor). My undergrad advisor has an article in this on early Buddhism and Women that has been very influential.
Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s Women : tradition, revision, renewal edited by Ellison Banks Findly. (suggested by the great scholar and friend, Margaret). And last but not least:

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