“Is Amida Buddha a man or a woman?”

Rev. Katsu’s Reminiscence of Zimbabwe

by Rimban Katsuya Kusunoki

I was asked this interesting question. What do you think? Is Amida Buddha a man or woman? It looks like a man when I view the statue of Amida Buddha, but I was not sure when I was asked this question. I kept silent and didn’t answer anything. My uncle broke the silence.

“Amida Buddha can be either a man or a woman, and Amida Buddha can be neither a man nor a woman. Buddha is Buddha. Buddha doesn’t stay in the gender framework which we think.”

Wow! Buddha is neither a man nor a woman. Buddha is Buddha! I like this answer. This answer satisfies me.

When I was still in Lodi, CA, I showed the Lodi’s members some pictures, which I took in Zimbabwe. I applied for the Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and was sent to Zimbabwe, Africa from 1999 to 2002 as Baseball and Softball coach. I had not seen these pictures for a long time. When I compared myself in the picture and myself today, I felt that my face had become round, which meant I had gained weight, and I had lost my hair. I felt sad….

I continued looking at these pictures. One picture caught my eyes. The picture was a group picture of the Zimbabwe National Softball team. I was there as a softball coach. Most of the players were teenagers. Everybody wore the team uniform. I asked one lady. “Can you tell if these players were men or women?” She carefully looked at the picture, but she couldn’t tell if they were men or women. I told her, “The players were all women.” She looked very surprised. She might have thought they were all men. I also could not tell a Zimbabwean’s sex in the beginning. I could see that everybody looked the same. But, after a while, I was able to distinguish a man from a woman. Moreover, I was able to discern if the restaurant’s waitress was cute, or if the man in the bus was a handsome man! Once I was able to do that, my life in Zimbabwe became more enjoyable.

We are all able to distinguish various things in our everyday life. One of them is to distinguish a man from a woman. Whenever I see a person, I naturally am able to tell a man or a woman. I thought I had the right sense to distinguish a man from a woman. However, my sense to perceive gender did not work properly in Zimbabwe. I learned that my sense for gender could be fooled. My sense works properly only under certain conditions.

In ancient India and Japan, there was a custom that women could not be born into the Pure Land and become Buddha. Because there was such a custom as this, Shinran Shonin said in his hymn/Wasan,

For all people – men and women, of high station and low – Saying the Name of Amida Buddha is such That whether one is walking, standing, sitting, or reclining is of no concern, And time, place, and condition are not restricted. [CWS p. 385, Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, Master Genshin]

Whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we do, Amida Buddha reaches us and sends us Namoamidabutsu, which is the only cause of birth in the Pure Land. It doesn’t matter for Amida Buddha whether we are a good person or a bad person, which we distinguish; whether we are a high rank person or a low rank person, which we categorize. Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion breaks through our fixed ideas and he sends his great wisdom and compassion to each of us one by one.

I hope Namoamidabutsu also reaches Zimbabwe!

Gassho, Rev. Katsu