Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Buddha's enlightened mother (video)

Andrew Olendzki (trans.), G.P. Malalasekera (Pali Proper Names), edited by Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly, Maha Pajapati (Gotami) Theri: A Mother's Blessing (Therigatha 6.6)
(Jerson Yangson) Lavinea Hopkirk as Queen Pajapati, the Buddha's mom ("Siddharta" musical)
What were the Buddha's opinions on women and nuns? explains.
Superwoman: the Buddha's mother, Queen Pajapati as Megan Fox (
The woman said to have composed this poem or gatha was Maha Pajapati, the Buddha's adoptive mother, a queen of the Shakyas. Her younger* sister was Maya Devi, co-wife of his father King Suddhodana.
  • *Tradition states that Pajapati was the younger sister of Maya. See discussion below.
Pajapati Devi was unable to conceive an heir, and the Buddha's biological mother, Queen Maya, died in childbirth [or seven days after], and Queen Pajapati raised Prince Siddhartha as her own son.
After his enlightenment, when he became the Buddha, Queen Pajapati left the palace, renounced the royal life, and became the first Buddhist nun (bhikkhuni) in history.
The third stanza suggests that her attainments included the recollection of past lives, by which she was able to verify empirically the truth of continual rebirth -- the "flowing [or continued wandering] on" (samsara) from one life to another.

This process, as she mentions, is fueled by craving and by "not understanding." In the second and fourth stanzas, Queen Pajapati declares her attainment of nirvana, final and complete liberation from all suffering, an accomplishment in this very life not the hereafter.
It is remarkable to think that when Queen Maya is remembered in the last stanza, the author has in mind not the icon of motherhood and sacrifice that Maya became in the Buddhist tradition, but a dearly-loved younger sister who died tragically young -- without ever seeing what her son had become.

Pajapati's Verses
Psalms of the Sisters (Therigatha 6.6)
The Buddha, Gandhara (Greco-Buddhist) art
Buddha! Hero!
Praise to you, foremost among beings!
You who have released me from pain,
And so many other beings, too.
All suffering has been understood [seen for what it really is].
The source of craving has withered.
Cessation has been touched by me
I have been mother and son before
And father, brother -- grandmother, too.
Not understanding what was real,
I flowed on [wandered from life to life] without finding [peace].
But now I have seen the Blessed One!
This is my last compounded body.
The on-flowing of rebirth has expired.
There is now no more rebecoming.
See the gathering of followers:
Putting forth effort, self-controlled,
Always with strong resolution --
This is how one honors the buddhas!
Surely for the good of so many
Did Maya give birth to Gotama,
Who bursts asunder the mass of pain
Of those stricken by sickness and death.

Who raised the Buddha? Pajāpatī
G.P. Malalasekera (Pali Proper Names); Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
The Buddha's adoptive mother/maternal aunt Maha Pajapati, sister of his biological mother
Mahā Pajāpatī Gotami was an eminent Buddhist nun, an "elder" (therī, a nun who has been ordained for ten or more rains). She was born at Devadaha in the family of Suppabuddha as the younger sister of Queen Mahā Māyā Devi.
Ap.ii.538 says her father was Añjana Sakka [a Shakyan/Scythian] and her mother Sulakkhanā, whereas Mhv.ii.18 says her father was Añjana and her mother Yasodharā.

Dandapāni and Suppabuddha were her brothers (cp. Dpv.xviii.7f.)
At the birth of each sister, interpreters of bodily marks prophesied that their children would be "world monarchs (cakkavattins, chakravartins). The Buddha's father, King Suddhodana, married both sisters, and when Mahāmāyā died, seven days after the birth of the Buddha, Pajāpati looked after the Buddha and nursed him.

She was the mother of Nanda [so in what sense could she not provide the king an heir as mentioned above?], but it is said that she gave her own son to nurses and herself nursed tiny Prince Siddhartha, who later would go on to become the Buddha. The Buddha was at Vesāli when his father King Suddhodana passed away, and Pajāpatī decided to renounce the world. She waited for an opportunity to ask the permission of the Buddha to ordain her.
Pajāpatī was already a stream enterer (sotāpanna), one who has won the first stage of enlightenment. She attained this eminence when the Buddha first visited his father's palace and preached the Mahādhammapāla Jātaka (DhA.i.97).
Her opportunity came when the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu [Bamiyan, Afghanistan according to Dr. Ranajit Pal] to settle the dispute between the Sākiyans [Scythians] and the Koliyans as to the right to take water from the Rohinī river. When the dispute was settled, the Buddha preached the Kalahavivāda Sutra, and a great number of young Shākiyan men joined the Buddhist Monastic Order.

Their wives, led by Queen Pajāpatī, went to the Buddha and asked to be ordained as nuns. It is said that at first the Buddha was reluctant and refused, and he went on to Vesāli.
  • That he would consent was certain because it was his goal to fully establish the Dharma (the Teaching that leads to enlightenment) in the world, and "fully" meant having the four kinds of disciples: male and female monastics and male and female lay followers. That is what being a supremely enlightened teaching buddha (sammasambuddha) is about. Furthermore, it is a custom in Asia that one accepts disciples only reluctantly to test their dedication and willingness to undertake this more arduous lifestyle. The Buddha did not preach to convert people and win disciples but only to show the truth. Many wise people then wanted more, which the Buddha made available by setting up the Sangha (Monastic Order) collectively but existing as many small monasteries and nunneries with many wandering ascetics traveling about and residing temporarily at these complexes on their travels. Only later did monastics start taking up permanent residence, but even today wandering is encouraged except for the rainy season (vassa) when monastics stay put for intensive exertion. This is, after all, a wandering ascetic (shaman, shraman) movement, not the old establishment sedentary priest (Brahmin) order.
But Queen Pajāpatī and her companions, undeterred, had barbers to cut off their hair, and donning yellow robes, followed the Buddha to Vesāli on foot. They arrived with wounded feet at the Buddha's monastery and repeated their request. The Buddha again refused, but Ananda interceded on their behalf and their request was granted, subject to eight strict conditions.

For details see Vin.ii.253ff.; also A.iv.274ff. There was some question, which arose later as to the procedure of Pajāpatī's ordination, which was not formal. When the nuns discovered this some of them refused to hold the uposatha with her. But the Buddha declared that he himself had ordained her and that all was in order (DhA.iv.149). Her full ordination (upasampadā) allegedly* consisted in acquiescing in the eight conditions laid down for nuns (Sp.i.242).
  • The recent scholarship of Ayya Tathaloka reveals that this is a historical falsehood. The fact is the Buddha made no such edict, as is clear from reading the Bhikkhuni Vinaya, where a question arises as to the seniority order of males and females, which would never have been a question had these eight special rules (garudhammas) been a condition of nun's ordination. See Wisdom Quarterly and the Ayya Tathaloka on
After her ordination, Pajāpatī came to the Buddha and worshipped him. The Buddha preached to her and gave her a subject for meditation. With this topic she developed insight and soon after won arahantship, while her five hundred companions attained to the same after listening to the Nandakovāda Sutta.

Later, at an assembly of monks and nuns in Jetavana, the Buddha declared Pajāpatī chief of those who had experience (rattaññūnam) (A.i.25). Not long after, while at Vesāli, she realized that her life had come to an end. She was 120 years old; she took leave of the Buddha, performed various miracles, and then passed into parinirvana, her many companions passing with her. It is said that the marvels that attended her cremation rites were second only to those of the Buddha.

It was in the time of Padumuttara Buddha that Pajāpatī made her resolve to gain eminence. She then belonged to a clansman's family in Hamsavatī, and, hearing the Buddha assign the foremost place in experience to a certain nun, wished for similar recognition herself, doing many good deeds to that end. After many births she was born once more at Benares, forewoman among five hundred slave girls.

When the rains drew near, five nonteaching (pacceka) buddhas came from Nandamūlaka to Isipatana seeking lodgings. Pajāpatī saw them after the treasurer had refused them any assistance and, after consultation with her fellow slaves, they persuaded their several husbands to erect five huts for the nonteaching buddhas during the rainy season, and they provided them with all of their requisites.

At the end of the rains retreat, they gave three robes to each. After that she was born in a weaver's village near Benares (Varanasi on the Ganges river) and again ministered, this time to a great number of pacceka buddhas, sons of Padumavatī (ThigA.140ff.; AA.i.185f.; Ap.ii.529 43).
It is said that once Pajāpatī made a robe for the Buddha of wonderful material and marvelously elaborate. But when it came to be offered to the Buddha, he refused it. He instead suggested that it be given to the Monastic Order as a whole.
  • Why would the Buddha, the son of this woman, refuse a gift? To make it a great gift with much more karmic benefit (merit) to the giver and the receiver. It is far better to make an offering to the Sangha as a whole than to any individual in it. If one gives to the Monastic Order headed by a buddha, one gives to that buddha as well as to the many stream enterers, once returners, nonreturners, and arhats in it -- which, of course, would be exponentially more meritorious than simply making an offering to any one of these enlightened individuals, as a whole a "field of merit for the world."
Pajāpatī misunderstood and was greatly disappointed, and Ananda intervened. But the Buddha explained that his suggestion was for the greater good of Pajāpatī. And, moreover, it would serve as an example to those who might wish to make similar gifts in the future.

This was the occasion for the preaching of the Dakkhināvibhanga Sutra (M.iii.253ff.; MA.ii.1001ff.; this incident is referred to in the Milinda p.240).

The Buddha had a great love for Pajāpatī, and when she lay ill, as there were no monks to visit her and preach to her --  that allegedly being against the special rules --  the Buddha allegedly amended the rule and went himself to preach to her (Vin.iv.56).
Pajāpatī's name appears several times in the Rebirth Tales (Jātakas). She was the mother monkey in the Cūla Nandiya Jātaka (J.ii.202), Candā in the Culla Dhammapāla Jataka (J.iii.182), and Bhikkhudāyikā (or Bhikkhudāsikā) daughter of Kiki, king of Benares (

Mahā Pajāpatī Gotami ("Great Pajapati of the Gotama Clan") was so called because, at her birth, augerers prophesied that she would have a large following; Gotamī was her clan (gotta) name (MA.i.1001; cp. AA.ii.774).
There is a story of a nurse employed by Pajāpatī who was born in Devadaha. She renounced the world with Pajāpatī, but for 25 years was harassed by thoughts of lust until, at last, she heard Dhammadinnā preach. She then practiced meditation and became an arhat, a fully enlightened person (ThigA.75f.).
  • Cold wave affects North India (Jan. 2017) North India was gripped by a cold wave during January 2017, affecting several North Indian states, including Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Harayana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. The lowest temperature in Gulmarg due to the cold wave was recorded at -12.4 °C (-9.7 °F). The banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar froze due to the low temperatures....Several army camps in Kashmir bound sectors were damaged and many people died in avalanches near the Line of Control.

No comments: