female bodhisattva
translation by Hubert Nearman, for Shasta Abbey
Translator's Note:
There is a long-standing Indian tradition which holds that Hannyatara was
a female monk who was renowned for her extraordinary spiritual prowess.
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The Twenty-seventh Ancestor, the Venerable Hannyatara of eastern India, was once invited to dine with an eastern Indian king. After the meal, the king asked her, “All the other monks have recited Scriptures to me, so why have you alone not recited them?”

The Ancestor replied, “In my humble way, what I breathe out does not conform itself to external conditions and events, and what I breathe in does not take up residence in the realm of my skandhas. The Scriptures that I recite are always like this. Thus they are comprised of hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of scrolls, not just one or two scrolls.”

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[...] [The Venerable Hannyatara] is our Founding Ancestor, and we are her distant descendants. What the Venerable One is now putting her full strength into saying is that not only does what she exhales not conform itself to external conditions, but external conditions do not conform themselves to what she exhales. Even though external conditions comprise her head and eyes, her whole body, and her whole heart and mind, her carrying them about when she comes, when she departs, and when she comes back again are simply her ‘not conforming herself to external conditions’. ‘Not conforming oneself’ means going along with completely; thus, it means participating in the rough and tumble of daily life. Even though her breathing out was an external condition, it was her not conforming herself to external conditions. Innumerable eons have come and gone, but people have not yet understood the ebb and flow of breathing in and breathing out. Be that as it may, the moment has come, right now, when you can understand it for the first time, so pay attention to ‘not taking up residence in the realm of one’s skandhas’ and to ‘not conforming oneself to external conditions’. This is the moment when external conditions, for the first time, permit the exploration of such things as ‘breathing in’. This moment has never been before, and it may never be again: it is just now.

‘The realm of the skandhas’ refers to our five skandhas, namely, our physical form, our sensory perceptions, our mental conceptions, our volition, and our consciousness. The reason why she does not reside in these five skandhas is because she is in a realm that the five skandhas have not yet reached. Because she chose the right key to unlock this, the Scriptures that she recited were not merely one or two scrolls; they were hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of scrolls which she was continually reciting. Although ‘hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of scrolls’ gives us the general idea of ‘many’, it is not just some measurement of ‘many’. Her ‘not taking up residence in the realm of her skandhas’ made her exhalation of a single breath equivalent to hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of scrolls. At the same time, this is not something which can be measured by discernment that is either tainted or untainted, nor is it to be found in the realm where thoughts and things are either tainted or untainted. As a consequence, it is beyond the measurements of what one having intelligence knows, beyond the conjectures of what one having knowledge discerns, beyond the considerations of what one lacking intelligence knows, and beyond the reach of what one who is ignorant discerns. It is what Buddha after Buddha and Ancestor after Ancestor trained to realize: it is Their Skin and Flesh, Bones and Marrow, Their Eye and Fist, Their Head and Nose, Their traveling staff and ceremonial hossu, Their leaping beyond and Their every little bit of behavior.
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(Zen Master) DOGEN ZENJI'S (道元禅師)
(Gender Inclusive) STUDIES OF THE WAY (學道) | (INDEX)
95-Fascicle SHOBOGENZO (正法眼蔵) & Other Writings
Photo (Top): Female Bodhisattva (third eye also in her hand): earlywomenmasters.net