Can anyone become enlightened?

Buddhism teaches that everyone has the capacity for awakening. By following the path of practice the Buddha laid out, we can all eventually free ourselves from suffering, no matter who we are.

That said, most schools of Buddhism also teach that we each achieve enlightenment according to our karma—the consequences of our thoughts and actions—and we may have a pile of negative karma that will take a lot of work to clean up. The more skillfully we work at following the path, the better. It may take a long time, but we’ll get there.

It is true that some scriptures—and teachers in some traditions—posit that being born with a female body is the result of negative karma. A number of sutras contain stories and passages that suggest a male body is required in order to become fully enlightened. The Buddha’s own body reportedly bore “the 32 marks of the great man,” at least one of which pertains specifically to male physiognomy. But most scholars and teachers agree that these marks are not meant to be taken literally.

The teachings in which the Buddha says that both men and women can attain enlightenment far outweigh the contradicting ones. Female members of the Buddha’s own family who joined his monastic community became enlightened beings. The Buddha’s example shows that it’s the mind that awakens, not the body—and the mind is beyond gender.


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