The short and pithy Sutta of Sister Soma (Soma Sutra) stands as one of the clearest (and most unequivocal) illustrations of Buddha’s teachings on the equality of women.
Of course, Buddha directly told the Sangha that women are the equal of men in spiritual attainments in an even more direct way:
“Women, Ananda, having gone forth are able to realize the fruit of stream-attainment or the fruit of once-returning or the fruit of non-returning or arahantship.”
There are several Suttas in which women are teaching. Of course, Buddha ordained women as Nuns. The first Nun ordained was his Aunt (and adoptive mother) Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, sister of Maya, the Buddha’s mother.
The Soma Sutta describes the story of Soma the nun meditating in a Grove when she is assailed by Mara — much as Shukayamuni Himself was attacked under the Bodhi tree. Mara, the great Doubter, the Evil One, is often interpreted to be one’s inner subconscious doubts or defilements, but equally can be thought of as a manifestation of Evil, depending on your perceptions and attainments.
Soma makes it clear that she is more than capable of handling Mara in a show of spiritual fortitude that is an inspiration to all practitioners.
At Savatthi: Then, early in the morning, Soma the nun put on her robes and, taking her bowl and outer robe, went into Savatthi for alms. When she had gone for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal she went to the Grove of the Blind to spend the day. Having gone deep into the Grove of the Blind, she sat down at the foot of a tree for the day’s abiding.
Then Mara the Evil One, wanting to arouse fear, “horripilation,” (sic) and terror in her, wanting to make her fall away from concentration, approached her and addressed her in verse:
“That which is to be attained by seers — the place so very hard to reach — women can’t — with their two-inch discernment –attain.”
Then the thought occurred to Soma the nun: “Now who has recited this verse — a human being or a non-human one?” Then it occurred to her: “This is Mara the Evil One, who has recited this verse wanting to arouse fear, “horripilation,” and terror in me, wanting to make me fall away from concentration.”
Then, having understood that “This is Mara the Evil One,” she replied to him in verses:
“What difference does being a woman make when the mind’s well-centered, when knowledge is progressing, seeing clearly, rightly, into the Dhamma. Anyone who thinks `I’m a woman’ or `a man’ or `Am I anything at all?’ — that’s who Mara’s fit to address.”
Then Mara the Evil One — sad and dejected at realizing, “Soma the nun knows me” — vanished right there.
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Author | Buddha Weekly
Josephine Nolan is an editor and contributing feature writer for several online publications, including EDI Weekly and Buddha Weekly.