Māra Meets His Match (Samyutta Nikāya 1.5.2)

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

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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 Somā, one of the Buddha’s contemporary nuns.

Somā was the daughter of the chief priest of King Bimbisāra 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 sistersnot long after joining the order.

In this exchange Māra is clearly trying to provoke and discourage Somā, 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. Somā 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.

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