WRITTEN BY London Swaminathan

Post No.7658

Date uploaded in London – 6 March 2020   

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MAHA PRAJAPATI GAUTAMI ( correct spelling of the woman’s name given above in Pali language) was the daughter of Suppabhudda of Sakyan village of Devadaha. She was the younger sister of Mahamaya, (Mahaa Mayaa), mother of Siddhartha Gautama. Both the sisters were married to King Suddhodana. Queen Mahamaya died seven days after giving birth to Siddhartha. Her sister became the Queen and took care of Siddhartha and nursed him as her own child. She gave birth to a son called Nanda and a daughter called Sundari nanda. She entrusted the care of her own children to nurses and she herself raised Siddhartha.

After the attainment of wisdom, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha paid a visit to Kapilavastu and delivered a few discourses. King Suddhodana became a lay convert and others in the family joined the order. After the death of Suddhodana, Gotami became dejected and determined to renounce worldly life. At that time a war broke out between Sakhyans and Koliayans over drawing water from river Rohini. Both the clans lost lot of people in the fight. Several widows approached Gotami and wanted to become Buddhist nuns. Buddha was residing at Vaishali at that time. But Buddha turned Gotami’s request to become a nun on a previous occasion.

So Mahapajapati Gotami and 500 women had their hair cut, put on yellow robes and then went to Vaishali city to meet the Buddha. He was very unwilling to form an order of nuns. But his chief disciple Ananda begged to him to give permission. He insisted that equal opportunity should be given to women to attain salvation. Buddha at last permitted women to become nuns and imposed eight conditions. Even a Queen must obey a young (man) Bikshu, who just joined the order. Considering the weakness of women, he made men superiors. A bikshu can admonish a nun/ bikshuni, but not vice versa. Other conditions were also like these.

MAHAPAJAPATI Gotami did meditation and attained perfection soon. She lived up to the age of one hundred and twenty and was declared by the Master as ‘the oldest and most experienced of ordained nuns’. Buddha did not show any special considerations to her.

It is said that on one occasion he refused to accept the excellent robe made by her with extraordinary materials. She was very much disappointed and even Ananda’s intercession on her behalf was of no avail. He ordered her to give it to Sangham. But Buddha paid her several visits when she was on death bed and gave her suitable discourses . He altered only one rule. Previously no monk should go near the bed of a sick bikshuni. Now that rule was changed.

The Theri gatha, story of Nuns, attributes a few gathas to her. She offered her respects to Buddha saying that he saved many a being from the world of suffering. She practised eight fold path and it was her last birth.

Theri gatha

The only Pali text which throws any light on the spiritual attainments of women is the Theri Gaathaa, a small text containing only 522 stanzas said to have been uttered by several nuns giving expression to their joy at the attainment of highest spiritual goal, ‘nirvana’. The commentary on this text Paramaththa Dipani furnishes us with biographical accounts of Theris, but many of them seem to have been drawn from imagination.

Source book – Great Women of India, Advaita Ashrama,Almora 1953