Saturday, May 11, 2013

Women and the Buddha's Mother (sutra)

Dhr. Seven and Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly translation, Mahapajapati Sutta (AN 8.53). UPDATED, edited by Ashley Wells
Ideal altar: chief disciples Khema and Uppalavanna (nuns), Sariputta and Mahamoggallana (monks), Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, Ayutthaya, Thailand (Rainer Lott, Steffi Esch/flickr).
Kwan Yin (
Kwan Yin (Great-wall-hikers/flickr)
There is one overarching female Buddhist figure -- Kwan Yin (originally Avalokiteshvara), Goddess (bodhisattva) of Compassion and Mercy "who looks down from on high and hears the cries of the world."
But during the Buddha's lifetime, there were five overarching women, five females of great importance, five who are rarely spoken of in spite of the fact that four became enlightened nuns with his help.

The first prominent female in the Buddha's life was Maya Devi, his biological mother. She passed away seven days later (having completed her pre-birth "mission," descending from a celestial world to the human plane to give birth to the Bodhisat then being reborn in the space-realm known as the The World of the Thirty-Three). Siddhartha, after he became the Buddha, would travel there to teach her, Sakka, and other beings there the "Higher Teachings" (Abhidharma).
The second was her sister, Mahapajapati Gotami (pictured below), who raised Siddhartha as her own from the age of seven days. She was married to the same man as her sister -- King Suddhodana, leader of the Shakya Clan, whose capital was at a major crossroads named Kapilavastu, in the vicinity of modern Bamiyan, Afghanistan, outside of modern Kabul. (For the past century or more, Nepal has officially been considered the archeological location, a notion refuted by the maverick Dr. Ranajit Pal). She later became the first Buddhist nun (bhikkhuni and first nun "elder" or theri).

Siddhartha's wife, Yasodhara (aka Bimba, Bimba-devi, Bimba-sundari, Bhaddakacca, "Rahula's mother" Rahula-mata, and the great disputant Bhaddhakaccana), was left cared for even when Siddhartha set off to find enlightenment and the end of suffering.
She stayed in the palace to raise their son with the protection of Siddhartha's parents, the title of "princess," the riches of the kingdom as the mother of the future king, and news of her husband's whereabouts and activities. Many imagine she was left heartbroken and in the dark.
Setaketu to be reborn a human
Note that upon his return his father, who also knew where he had been since he had sent emissaries to encourage him to return, tells him that faithful Yasodhara had declined all suitors offering their hand in marriage, had taken to wearing wandering-ascetic garments and sleeping on the floor rather than her high bed to be like him.
They had been together in many past lives, and they enjoyed a special connection few understood, even after his return from his successful spiritual quest. For she became a prominent nun under the Buddha. She was no longer called Bimba or Yasodhara but rather Bhaddakaccana, an enlightened disciple.

Avalokiteshvara with a thousand arms (
(Rainer Lott, Steffi Esch/
The Buddha's two chief female disciples helped him form and bring the Bhikkhuni Sangha (Order of Nuns) to enlightenment, much as his two chief male disciples (Sariputra and Mahamoggallana) did with the Bhikkhu Sangha (Order of Monks). The monastic disciple foremost in wisdom was Khema, and Uppalavanna was foremost in psychic powers.
To Gotami (the Buddha's Mother)
Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying at Vesali, at the Great Forest, in Peaked-Roof Hall.
Then [the woman who raised him as her own son, sister of his biological mother] Mahapajapati Gotami went to him, bowed, and stood respectfully to one side.

Standing there she said to him: "It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dharma in brief such that, having heard the Dharma from the Blessed One, I might dwell withdrawn, secluded, mindful, ardent, and resolute."
The first Buddhist nun, Maha Pajapati Gotami
"Gotami, qualities of which you know, 'These qualities lead to passion (angst) rather than dispassion (peace), to being fettered (trapped) rather than being unfettered (freed), to accumulating (grasping) rather than relinquishing (letting go), to self-aggrandizement (delusion) rather than modesty (humility in line with reality), to discontent (unhappiness based on craving) rather than contentment (satisfaction based on letting go, abandoning, and peaceful-detachment), to entanglement (drama or enmeshed in personal politics) rather than seclusion (serene solitude), to laziness (sluggishness, sloth, or torpor) rather than aroused persistence (zest for liberation), to being a  burden rather than being a blessing (to others)" -- all of that you may categorically regard in the following way:

"'This is not the Dharma (teaching that leads to liberation), this is not the Discipline (rules of self-discipline and restraint leading to liberation), this is not the teacher's instruction.'
"As for the qualities of which you know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion rather than being a blessing rather than being a burden (to others)' -- all of this you may categorically regard in the following way:

"'This is the Dharma, this is the Discipline, this is the teacher's instruction.'"
This is what the Buddha said. Delighted, the nun Mahapajapati Gotami rejoiced at his words.

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