Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Buddha's chief FEMALE disciple

G.P. Malalasekera, Pali Proper Names; Amber Larson, Ashley Wells (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

The Perfection of Wisdom
Khemā Therī was fully enlightened (an arhat) and the chief female disciple of the historical Buddha, who declared her "foremost in wisdom."

Khemā was born in a ruling family at Sāgala in the Madda country. Her skin was of the color of gold, and she became the chief consort of King Bimbisāra, a stream winner and prominent disciple of the Buddha.

Khemā would not visit the Buddha who was staying at the Bamboo Grove (Veluvana) because she had heard that he spoke disparagingly beauty and she was very beautiful and infatuated with her beauty.

The king asked poets to sing the glories of the Bamboo Grove to persuade Khemā to go there and see the Buddha.

Modern Western Theravada nuns, California
When she finally came face to face with the Buddha, he used his mystical powers to conjure up in her vision a female with he beauty of a celestial nymph (akasha devi), who stood behind him fanning him.

Khemā was stunned that the Buddha, a celibate teacher and wandering ascetic, associated with beautiful women. She gazed at the nymph, whose extraordinary beauty far excelled her own.

Fully enlightened, wise and beautiful Khemā became a Buddhist nun (bhikkhuni).
Then the Buddha with his powers caused the nymph to rapidly age. Khemā saw her pass suddenly from youth to extreme old age then fall down in the swoon of death.

Seeing that happen so suddenly, Khemā was filled with disenchantment and dispassion at the sight.
  • [She for a moment stopped craving, grasping at, and clinging to things. She let go and was therefore able to see things as they really are, to discern the True Nature of reality. And that Truth sets one free.]
Then the Buddha seized the opportunity to preach to her on the fleeting vanity of lust. Because she was momentarily open to hear the message, at that very moment she attained enlightenment.

With the agreement of King Bimbisāra, she entered the Nuns' Order (Bhikkhuni Sangha) and was ranked by the Buddha as foremost in wisdom (mahāpaññānam aggā) among his female monastic disciples (A.i.25; Dpv.xviii.9; see also MA.iv.168f.; Bu.xxvi.19; J.i.15,16).

Past lives

Ancient palace in Shakya Land/Afghanistan
In the time of Padumuttara Buddha the person who was to become Khemā was a slave. Having seen that Buddha's chief female disciple, Sujāta, give him three cakes, she was inspired.

That same day she sold her hair and gave that Buddha an offering of alms food.
Wise Khemā Therī, Buddhist nun
In Kassapa Buddha's time she became the eldest daughter of King Kikī of Benares named Samanī. With her sisters she observed celibacy for 20,000 years [because the normal human lifespan was much longer at that time, and there are times when it gets up to 80,000] and built a monastic dwelling for that Buddha.

Khemā learned the Mahānidāna Sutra, having heard the Buddha teach it. In the time of Vipassī Buddha she became a renowned preacher of the Dharma.
And during the time of both Kakusandha Buddha and Konāgamana Buddha, she had great monastic complexes built for the Buddha and his male and female monastic disciples (AA.i.187f; Thig.139-44; ThigA.126ff; Ap.ii.543ff; DhA.iv.57ff; cf. the story of Rūpa Nandā at DhA.iii.113-9).

Once Khemā was at Toranavatthu, between Sāvatthi and Sāketa. King Pasenadi, who happened to be spending one night there, heard she was nearby and went to see her. He questioned her as to whether or not the Tathagatha [the Perfected One, someone who is fully enlightened and accomplished] existed after death.

Khemā explained the matter to the king in various ways, and Pasenadi was delighted with her exposition. He then related his meeting with her to the Buddha (S.iv.374ff).

Khemā is mentioned in several places (e.g., A.i.88; ii.164; iv.347; S.ii.236) as the highest ideal of womanhood worthy of emulation, where she is described as a nun (bhikkhuni) par excellence.
Khemā is identified with the mother in the Uraga Rebirth Tale (Jataka iii.168), the queen in the Rohantamiga Rebirth Tale (J.iv.423), and in the Hamsa Jataka (J.iv.430). She is Queen Khemā in the Mahāhamsa Jataka (J.v.382) and the princess in the Mahājanaka Jataka ( Source
  • Khemā Therī: one of the two chief female disciples of Dhammadassī Buddha (Bu.xvi.19; J.i.39). 
  • Khemā in the Anguttara Nikaya Commentary (AA.ii.791) (on A.iv.347) speaks of a Khemā Upāsikā in a list of lay Buddha women.
  • Queen Khemā was the wife of King Brahmadatta of Benares. She dreamed of a golden peacock preaching and wished that her dream would come true. Although the king tried every means in his power, the wish could not be fulfilled, so the queen died. See the Mora Jātaka (J.ii.36). 
  • Khemā was the chief queen of King Brahmadatta of Benares who dreamed of a golden deer preaching the Dharma, and her wish to see her dream come true was fulfilled (J.iv.256). For details see the Ruru Jātaka. 
  • Khemā: chief queen of King Brahmadatta of Benares (J.iv.334) with a story similar to that of Khemā in the Mora Jataka. Details at Mahā-Mora Jātaka.
  • Khemā: queen consort of King Brahmadatta of Benares (J.iv.413) (J.iv.423). See Rohantamiga Jātaka. 
  • Khemā: queen consort of King Seyya (Samyama) of Benares. She saw a golden swan in a dream and wished to see one in real life (J.v.354). She is identified with Khemā Therī (J.v.382). For details see the Mahāhamsa Jātaka.

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