In the Golden Age

Even a good person obtains rebirth in the Pure Land; how much more so the evil-doer. People of the world are wont to say, “Even an evil-doer obtains rebirth in the Pure Land; how much more so the good person.” At first glance this seems more reasonable. But in fact it is contrary to the purpose of the Original Vow of Other-Power.
Shinran, Tannisho

It is not widely acknowledged in the sutras that a bodhisattva may have a strong cynical streak. From the Institute for War and Peace Reporting:

“Then the glorious times of the ‘Golden Age’ came, and my father could no longer manage to feed our large family,” she said, in a bitter reference to the “Golden Age” of prosperity declared by Turkmenistan’s president, Saparmurad Niazov, better known as Turkmenbashi.

“We went hungry. And then a neighbour suggested to my father that he sell his daughter to visitors, and this money would help the family to make ends meet. Despair made my father agree to it. It happened once, and then again and again.

“However, it didn’t help our situation, so I had to move to the capital where there is more demand for women like me and the pay is better. I don’t keep the money I earn — I send it home for my brothers and sisters.”

I can just barely comprehend how a mother might sell herself to provide for her children, as another woman interviewed for this story said she does. But for a teenaged girl to risk disease and death and undergo daily humiliation in order to provide for her siblings strikes me as beyond heroic. And yet I know there are tens of thousands of young women like Amantach the world over. Whenever I hear the phrase “family values,” I think of this.

I’m sure I don’t need to dwell on the horrible injustice, how women in male-dominated societies are expected to sacrifice themselves for others. (“One day I will kill myself,” says the mother.) And you could certainly argue – as I might argue myself – that idealizing these women, likening them to bodhisattvas, only compounds the wrong that is being done to them. They are real, suffering human beings.

But in gassho we evil-doers all come to give ourselves up. Only the power of a pure intention, an undeserved grace, can save us. In gassho . . .

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