Henjo Nanshi (変成男子)

The term Henjo Nanshi refers to the idea that a woman, who has been thought to have great difficulty in becoming a Buddha since ancient times, is able to accomplish it by once changing into a man. The idea originates from a scene in Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra, where an eight-year-old dragon girl (the daughter of the dragon king Sagara) attains Buddhahood.

This kind of idea, that could be taken as a reflection of the predominance of men over women, is not found in early Buddhist sutras. However, the idea of women's difficulty in attaining Buddhahood spread after Shakyamuni passed away, and the idea of Henjo Nanshi may be cited in Mahayana Buddhism to deny such misogyny.

After the Meiji Restoration, however, patriarchy based on Confucianism was expanded not only to the former samurai (warrior) class, but also to farm and merchant families at large, and the idea of Henjo Nanshi came to be dealt with, throughout the world of Japanese Buddhism including various schools of the Hokke Sect, as a basis to justify misogyny based on Confucian patriarchy, and a slogan that says "women cannot become any Buddha" in literal terms. Since then, partly because of growing nationalism, some sects including Nichiren Shoshu (a Buddhist sect founded by Nichiren) abolished nunhood.

According to a theory the term Henjo Nanshi refers to a situation where a woman takes the tonsure to renounce the world. Especially after Japan's defeat in the Pacific War in 1945, the Constitution of Japan, in which gender equality is declared, was promulgated and predominance of men over women based on Confucianism was denied according to the indication of the occupying forces, which resulted in the interpretation of Henjo Nanshi being shifted from one, which is that a woman can become a Buddha by changing into a man, to another, which is that a woman demonstrates her Buddhahood by her male appearance.

In addition, there is controversy as to whether the description in the Lotus Sutra means Buddhahood after changing into a man or Buddhahood just as a woman who she is, and whether the dragon should be regarded as the dragon god classified in Tenbu (deities who resides in the heavenly realm, one of six realms in which the souls of living beings transmigrate from one to another), in terms of Rokudo (six realms of reincarnation) or Jikkai (ten spiritual realms), or as an animal inferior to human beings.

[Original Japanese]