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Predictions of Women to Buddhahood in Middle-Period Literature

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Predictions of Women to Buddhahood in Middle-Period Literature

Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā
Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts

This article studies narratives related to the topic of women receiving a prediction or declaration (vyākaraṇa) for Buddhahood. The texts in question—in their received form—have their place in the Indian Buddhist traditions of the Middle Period. The first episode taken up is the story of Princess Munī who receives the prediction of becoming the present Buddha Śākyamuni; this is found in the so-called “Scripture on the Wise and the Fool.” The second episode is the story of Yaśomatī who receives the prediction that she will become the Buddha Ratnamati; this is found in the Avadānaśataka. When evaluating these comparatively rare instances of predictions received by women, two aspects come up for special consideration: (a) the textual significance of variations regarding the presence or absence of a change of sex, and (b) the epistemological and soteriological consequences for female audiences of women’s narratives constructed by the third-person perspective of male monastic text transmitters. The variations document that the transmitters did not always perceive the transformation of sex into a male as a categorical necessity. This transformation may not have been integral to these narratives of the bodhisattva path as articulated by the textual communities in which these texts originated and circulated.

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