Question: The 35th Vow of Amitābha Buddha (阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó) says that ‘if there are women who hear my name (i.e. are sincerely mindful of it), with joyful faith, give rise to Bodhicitta, and loathe the female body, after the end of their lives…’ (有女人，闻我名字，欢喜信乐，发菩提心，厌恶女身，寿命之后… ), they will not again have female forms. Why was this vow made? What is ‘wrong’ with having female form?
Answer: This vow was definitely not made due to sexism, but out of pure compassion. If Āmítuófó is sexist, he would not have made this vow for any women at all. With great compassion, note that this vow will also work without reaching his Pure Land; if choosing rebirth elsewhere with his blessings. As the female form is subject to more bodily pain and discomfort, this vow was made to offer a way out of such repeated suffering.
Unique to female anatomy, there is much unwelcome suffering due to menstruation, labour pains, menopause and such. Also, sadly, as history continues to show, from ancient times until today, even with the rise of movements for sexual equality, there remains much socially unfair discrimination due to gender — from First to Third World countries, at virtually every strata of society, even for those more rich and powerful.
It is sometimes mistaken that females cannot be born in Pure Land, which is of course not true. When Āmítuófó’s Pure Land is reached, as a world of equanimity and equality, there will be no gender differences there. There is also no need for female anatomical parts like the womb or breasts, as there is no painful childbirth or exhausting child-rearing in Pure Land.
Being the Land Of Ultimate Bliss, there is no physical and mental suffering in Pure Land, including those listed above due to the female form. Interestingly, even popular portrayals of Guānshìyīn (观世音) and Dàshìzhì (大势至) Bodhisattvas (菩萨) in Pure Land are not truly female. For example, despite feminine dressing, they have neither breasts nor other aspects of the female figure. Of course, they can skilfully manifest any form to guide other beings to Pure Land.
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