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I came across this rather gender progressive comment from Nichiren

If we examine the Flower Garland Sutra, the first sutra to be preached after the Buddha attained enlightenment, we find that it is a Mahayana work preached by the Buddha in his aspect as the Thus Come One of the reward body. Thus, to the voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, and others, it was like daytime to an owl or nighttime to a hawk; though they listened to it, it was as though they did so with deaf ears or blind eyes. This being the case, though people hoped that the sutra would enable them to pay back the four debts of gratitude, because it speaks disparagingly of women,3 it was hardly possible for them to repay the debt of gratitude owed to their mothers with the sutra.

which is footnoted with

3) For example, the Daishonin cites the passage “Women are messengers of hell who can destroy the seeds of Buddhahood. They may look like bodhisattvas, but at heart they are like yaksha demons” with regard to the Flower Garland Sutra. This passage is cited in A Collection of Treasures as a quotation from the Flower Garland Sutra.

http://www.nichirenlibrary.org/en/wnd-2/Content/264

I can't for the life of me find this or anything like it in my Cleary edition of the Avatamsaka. (I believe it is there, I've read all sorts of misogynistic passages in sutras, I just can't find it)

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I downloaded the Chinese translation of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra and did a few searches for patterns with different combinations of words that are likely to appear there (e.g. 女 "woman", 地獄 "hell", 種 "seed", 夜叉 "Yaksha"). I found quite a few phrases, but none of them looked like the cited passage. My knowledge of classical Chinese is very rudimentary, so I may be mistaken. However, the search inside the Cleary translation on the Amazon website doesn't show any such passage either. So if it is there at all, I think it's more likely that the quote is a summary/paraphrase of a larger chunk of the sutra, and not a direct translation.

EDIT: I found a classical Chinese/classical Japanese phrase that is the source of your quote:

女人地獄使。能断仏種子。外面似菩薩。内心如夜叉。

It can be found in this text at 7-094. Unfortunately, there is no information about the author nor the date when it was written. In any case, it is definitely not modern Japanese, so I don't think it was written recently. It seems to be a Nichiren commentary to the Lotus Sutra.

EDIT 2: The above quote is preceded by "華厳経云", which means "Avataṃsaka Sūtra says". That explains why the passage is commonly (and incorrectly, as we may conclude) attributed to this sutra.

EDIT 3: I found information about the origin of the quote, which, in light of the facts presented above, we can regard as conclusive:

This statement is not found in the extant Chinese versions of the Flower Garland Sutra. However, A Collection of Treasures written by Taira no Yasuyori during the Jisho era (1177–1181) cites it as a quotation from the Flower Garland Sutra.

  • cool, I re-googled it and hit on 2nd theory of the actual source of the quote. – MatthewMartin Feb 13 '15 at 19:26
  • Nice! And based on your answer I managed to find what looks like the original Classical Chinese/Classical Japanese quote. – michau Feb 13 '15 at 21:42
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I think I might have found the actual source.

In an anthology of Japanese Literature, I find almost the exact same text, in what looks like a modern fictionalized discussion between two monks, one who says the quote is from Vasubandhu's "The Treatise on Consciousness-Only" I haven't confirmed that, because I can't find the full text of it.

  • If I understand it correctly, "The Treatise on Consciousness-Only" was not written by Vasubandhu, but it's Xuanzang's commentary to his works. Again, I grepped through the Chinese original (zh.wikisource.org/wiki/%E6%88%90%E5%94%AF%E8%AD%98%E8%AB%96), but didn't find anything that looks like the quote. – michau Feb 13 '15 at 22:00
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The concluding chapter of the Avatamsaka is the Gandavyuha, widely regarded as a sutra in it's own right. The Gandavyuha honours women more than any other sutra that I know of. It tells how a pilgrim named Sudhana discovers a succession of teachers, including 22 who are female. Each of the 22 female teachers gives Sudhana a vitally important insight into the true nature of reality, including the Indra's Net principle of interconnection and inter-reflection.

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