During the pandemic year of 2021, most of my creative energy was poured into the Dog Days Poetry Gallery. I also did a lot of reading of essential texts from world religions. This included a number of Buddhist sutras (scriptures). Some of these captured my interest in a way that made me want to talk about them with others.
Here is a 2023 talk I gave on the theme of women in Buddhist mythology. The talk arose from an invitation to speak to the Blue Heron Zen Community in Seattle. It appears to have been well received by the Blue Heron group listeners.
My sources were two foundational Buddhist texts–the Lotus and Vimalikirti sutras. I focused on two popular narratives while referencing a few others:
“The Dragon Princess and the Pearl.” In this story, the eight-year-old daughter of the Dragon King visits the celestial court of the Buddha. She is received with skepticism by the attendant deities and divine personages. The princess presents a pearl of incomparable value to the Buddha, who accepts it. To the astonishment of the assembly of thousands in the realms of hell, earth, and heaven, she is instantly transformed into a fully enlightened being equal to the Buddha himself. Which leads everyone to ponder “What is sudden enlightenment?”
“The Goddess and Shariputra.” In this story, the historical Buddha’s closest confidante Shariputra engages in “Dharma combat” with a goddess who makes her points about gender parity through a magical game of swapping gender roles and appearances.
These myths continue to resonate in contemporary discussions around sex, gender, and power dynamics in Buddhist communities. I also referenced some of the founding mothers of Buddhism and the earlier lives of the Buddha when he was incarnated female. If you are at all interested in the larger topic, or just curious about mythology, the talk may be worth your time.
Below is a photo from the Beijing/Peking Opera archives. The figure of the Dragon Princess appears in several stories in the genre’s repertory and tradition.