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Mahaprajapati Gautami Theri – Princess, Queen, Saint, & Sage

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Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche tells us, “While the Buddha was teaching in Tushita, the aspiration he once made to take birth in our world and teach the Dharma when it was needed resounded within him.

He then considered five things: the land where he ought to be born (Kapilavastu), the caste he should be born into (royal), the family in which he should be born (the Shakya clan), who his mother was to be (Mayadevi), and the time that was right for him to be born (when the five degenerations were on the increase). Having made the determination, he left Tushita and took birth in our world.”1

Lord Buddha is quoted as having likened his very close disciple Maha Shariputra to one who brings forth and Maha Maudgalputra to one who is like a nurse, statements that inspire us to venerate Mahaprajapati Gautami, who reared Siddhartha Gautama when her sister Queen Mayadevi had died seven days after she gave birth to the One who manifested his serene aspiration and became the Fourth Buddha in this Fortunate Age.

Queen Mayadevi had a Dream

The Jataka recounts that the day when Lord Buddha was to be conceived Mayadevi fasted and that night she had a dream. In her dream the Four Great Kings appeared to her. They are called Catur-Maharajas in Sanskrit and reside in the first of the six celestial heavens of desire. Queen Mayadevi dreamt that they took her to Himava and seated her under a sal tree.

Then the wives of the Four Great Kings bathed her in Lake Anottata and dressed her in divine robes. They then laid her on a magnificent couch in a golden palace, where the Bodhisattva in the form of a white elephant, holding a white lotus in his resplendent trunk, entered her womb through her right side.

That was the full-moon day that marks the beginning of a seven-day festival. In the dream, Mayadevi saw that she had taken part in the festival, too. The next morning she told the dream to her husband King Suddhodhana, who consulted his court astrologers.

They told him that their son would either be a Universal Monarch, a Chakravartin, or a Buddha.2

A description of persons and places that Queen Mayadevi perceived in her dream may help to more fully appreciate and acknowledge the unfailing reciprocity that continuously links all beings abiding in the innumerable realms of existence.

The life-stories of Great Arhats always point to realms beyond our own, images that can be interpreted falsely and translated wrongly. Therefore it seems important to keep in mind that, although the term deva is usually translated 'god', these beings are not in any sense gods as the term is generally understood. They are not considered to have any power over human actions or destiny, nor necessarily to have superior knowledge.

In an article entitled Of Gods and Men, a point is made that is quite necessary to keep in mind: “One of the titles given to the Buddha is that of Sattha deva manussanam, the 'Teacher of gods and men', because in the scriptures it is said that the devas themselves came to Him for instruction in the Dhamma (Dharma in Sanskrit). Their place, therefore, is below that of the highest human being, the All-Enlightened One, who is also a Visuddhi-deva, or 'god by (self-) purification.'

Beings who are reborn in the higher realms carry with them the beliefs they held when they were living on the human plane, so that 'revelations' from other worlds do not necessarily carry any more truth than those that have a human origin.

But the devas who have understood the Buddha Dhamma themselves pay respect to the human world, as being the most suitable sphere for moral endeavour and for the attainment of Nibbana (nirvana in Sanskrit).

Alone among the realms of existence, it is the human plane whereon Buddhas manifest themselves.”3 Venerable Ashin Jannakabhivamsa was very explicit, too, when he wrote, “Because of the unfavourable environments, all Bodhisattvas perform their fulfilment of ten Parami(ta)s in the human world only.

They do not live to their full term in Deva-Loka (loka means ‘realm’ in Sanskrit), instead they deliberately terminate their life-span to be reborn as human beings and practise the Paramitas (perfections).”4

We are reminded, though, that “the devas have a claim to the respect of human beings, for it was by the practice of virtue and by deeds of supreme merit that they attained to their present condition.

The reverence paid to them by Buddhists on this account is of a quite different order from the worship given to gods who are believed to be controllers of human destiny.”5 These statements inspire us to ask about the Four Great Kings who took Queen Mayadevi to Himava in her dream on the evening that Lord Buddha was conceived and to also honour these kings.

Catummahajika (in Sanskrit Catur-maharaja-kayika, in Tibetan rGyal-chen-ris-bzhi-ris) is the domain of the Four Great Kings (rGyal-chen-ris-bzhi), the lowest deva world that is situated directly on top of Mout Sumeru.

This world “derives its name from the Four Kings who dwell there as guardians of the four quarters. They keep large retinues, all of who dwell in the same world as their lords and accompany them on their travels.

These kings are mentioned as having undertaken the protection of the Buddha from the moment of his conception in his mother's womb, and they appear as protectors not only of the Buddha but also of his followers.

The Four Kings appear to have been regarded as recorders of the happenings in the assemblies of all devas. On the eighth day of the lunar half-month they send their councillors out into the world to discover if men cultivate righteousness and virtue; on the fourteenth day they send their sons, on the fifteenth day they themselves appear in the world, all these visits having the same purpose.

Then, at the assembly of devas, they submit their reports to the beings in Tavatimsa, who rejoice or lament according as to whether men prosper in righteousness or not.”6

Tavatimsa (Trayatrimsha in Sanskrit, Sum-cu-rtsa-gsum in Tibetan, “Heaven of Thirty-three”) is the second heaven of desire and is situated directly above that of the Four Kings. It is imagined halfway up Mount Meru, in the rising place of the sun, moon, stars and planets.

Beings in this realm have a life span of one thousand years, each day of which is equal to a hundred years in the Saha world (Saha-Lokadhatu in Sanskrit, Mi-mjed-kyi-‘jig-rten-gyi-khams in Tibetan), which is our world system that is filled with suffering and afflictions and is translated as “Endurance.”7

Above “Heaven of Thirty-three” with sky palaces that are like stars and planets is the realm “Conflict Free” (Yama in Sanskrit, ‘Thab-bral in Tibetan), conflict free because it remains free from any conflict with the demi-devas.

Above Yama is the fourth highest heavenly realm, which is Tushita, dGa-‘ldan, “Heaven of Joyful,” where “the devas are filled with joy at hearing the teaching of the Victorious One, Invincible.”8 It is said that Bodhisattvas are reborn in Tushita directly before their last rebirth in the world when they will attain Buddhahood.

These Bodhisattvas are called Maheshvara in Sanskrit, dBang-phyug-chen-po in Tibetan, the “Powerful Ones,” and dwell on the tenth stage of awakening. Maitreya Buddha is presiding over Tushita until times are ripe for him to manifest in the Saha world as the next Buddha in the sequence of one thousand Buddhas to appear in the Fortunate Age.9

It is said that the wives of the Four Great Kings bathed Mayadevi in Lake Anottata, which is one of the seven great lakes of Himavan (Gangs-chen, the “Himalaya“). Himavan is one of the seven snowy mountain ranges surrounding Gandhamadana (Ri-bo-spos-ngad-ldan-pa, “Fragrant Mountain Range”).

The Himavan is the place where the devas assemble to hold discourses on feast days. A wind called Sincanakavata (“sprinkling wind”) takes water from the Anotatta Lake (Anavatapta, Ma-dros-pa) and moistens Gandhamadana. The Pali Dictionary adds that Lake Anottata will be “one of the last to dry up at the end of the world.

To be bathed in its waters is to be thoroughly cleansed.”10 Furthermore, “During periods when the world does not possess a Buddha, the Pacceka Buddhas, who dwell in Gandhamadana, come amongst men and wash their faces in Lake Anottata before starting on their aerial journey for Isipatana (Deer Park where Lord Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths) or elsewhere.

Pacceka is the name given to one who is enlightened by and for himself, i.e., one who has attained to supreme and perfect insight, but who dies without proclaiming the truth to the world, hence the equivalentsilent Buddha.’”11

Queen [[Mayadevi’s] Sister in Former Lives

In 1893, the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in London published an article entitled Women Leaders of the Buddhist Reformation that offered a translation of Manoratha Purani, Buddhaghosha’s Commentary on the Anguttara Nikaya by Mabel Bode, a text that is truly sacred.

The translation of Maha [[Buddhaghoshas’s] Commentary tells us that in a former birth Mayadevi’s younger sister had been born chief among five hundred slaves near Deer Park in Vaishali (Isipatana, Benares), where one day five Pacceka Buddhas came down from Gandhamdana, incognito, begging for alms. Wealthy merchants were not willing to build them huts for their stay, but the young woman, “covering her face,” offered her services after having approached them and inquired, “These huts, that should be built, can they be built only by gentlefolk or by poor folk?”

The Pacceka responded, “They can be built by any man so ever.” The young woman then asked each of the slave-girls, “My daughters, will you always do the work of a slave for another or do you desire to be freed from slavery?” They answered in one accord that they would rather be free that very same day. She requested that they ask their husbands “to labour one day (in the week) for these holy ones.”

On the next day they all “went into the forest and brought together building materials and, dividing into parties of a hundred, they built huts for each Pacceka, having first made an enclosure of cloisters.”

The slave girls provided the Buddhas with everything beautiful and practical before the young men returned to their home in Gandhamdana. And all these women, “having spent their life in good deeds, were reborn in the deva heaven. And the chief one, vanishing from thence, was reborn in a village of weavers near Benares, in the house of a master-weaver.

“Now, on a certain day, five hundred young Buddhas came to Benares, invited by the king, and when they had come to the gate of the palace, looking about and seeing no one there, they turned back and reached the village of weavers.

This woman, seeing the Buddhas and saluting them in a friendly way, gave them food. They, after taking their meal in due manner, returned forthwith to Gandhamadano. And the woman, after leading a virtuous life and passing through deva worlds and the world of men, was reborn just before our Teacher, re-entering life in the dwelling of the eminent Suppabuddho.”12

Mahaprajapati Gautami Theri – Great Foster Mother

The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas reports that Princess Gautami was born of the Shakyans in the royal family of King Mahasuppabuddha in Devadaha and that she was the younger sister of Princess Mayadevi.

Court astrologers had interpreted the physical features of the king’s two daughters and told him that the “sons born of the two sisters would become Universal Monarchs.” Princess Mayadevi married King Suddhodana of Kapilavastu and gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama.

Queen Mayadevi died seven days after having given birth to her son and was reborn in the Tushita deva realm.13 King Suddhodana made the younger daughter, Princess Gautami the Chief Queen.” She nursed Siddhartha more than her own son Nanda, who was born three days after his cousin.

Prince Siddhartha renounced the world, won Supreme Enlightenment, and made his first visit to Kapilavastu to see his father, King Suddhodana again. After arriving, “he went into the city to collect alms-food. His father had the opportunity to listen to the Buddha’s discourse while he was still on his alms-round and the king won Stream-Entry Knowledge. Then on the second day, Prince Nanda was admitted into the Order. On the seventh day the Buddha’s son Rahula was admitted as a novice.”

The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas adds that Buddha spent “his fifth rains-retreat period at Kutagara Monastery in the Mahavana Forest near Vesali. During that time, King Suddhodana won Arhatship under the regal umbrella at the court of Kapilavatthu and passed away the same day. Queen Mahaprajapati Gotami was then keen to renounce the world and become a Bhikkhuni (a nun),”14 but the Buddha refused her request.

A dispute then arose between the Shakyans and Koliyans over the use of the water that flows through Rohini River, now called Rowai River, which divided the two territories and kingdoms.

The Nabhasa Pali Dictionary writes that a dam was constructed across the river, and the people on the opposite sides used the water to cultivate their fields. Once there was a drought and a violent quarrel broke out between the two clans for the use of the water.

The Buddha, seeing that a battle was about to take place, appeared in the sky above the middle of the river and convinced both parties of the foolishness of killing each other for a little water. He spoke the following words to them:

Indeed we live very happily, not hating anyone among those who hate; among men who hate we live without hating anyone. Indeed we live very happily, in good health among the ailing; among men who are ailing we live in good health. Indeed we live very happily, not striving (for sensual pleasures) among these who strive (for them); among those who strive (for them) we live without striving.15

To show their gratitude to the Buddha for his timely intervention, the Shakyans and the Koliyans gave two hundred and fifty young men from each clan to be ordained under him. The princesses of the two clans wished the same for themselves and, led by Prajapati Guatami, they “went to the Buddha and asked leave to be ordained as nuns. This leave the Buddha refused and left for Vaisali.16

Not daunted, Prajapati Gautami and her companions17 had barbers cut off their hair and, donning yellow robes, followed the Buddha to Vesali on foot. They arrived with wounded feet at the Buddha’s monastery and repeated their request.”18 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas goes into details and speaks of their determination: “Having made the difficult journey of fifty yojanas, 19 their delicate feet were swollen with boils that took turns to rise and burst, looking as if they were covered with seeds of clearing-nut.

All the five hundred fair ladies headed by Mahan Prajapati Gotami who arrived at Vesali with swollen feet, bodies besmeared with dirt and dust, with tears streaming down their cheeks and in sore distress, stood in a group at the gate of the Kutagara Monastery.”

Maha Buddhaghosha also wrote that Gautami, “got the Thera Ananda to entreat the Holy One for her. And she did succeed in entering the religious life and receiving ordination, subject to the eight chief laws. And all the other women received ordination at the same time.”20

The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas lists the conditions that Lord Buddha set down when he assented to Ananda’s entreaties, saying, “Ananda, if Mahaprajapati accepts the Eight Special Rules, let such acceptance mean her admission to the Order. The Eight Special Rules are:

(1) A Bhikkhuni, even if she enjoys a seniority of a hundred years in the Order, must worship, welcome with raised clasped hands and pay respect to a Bhikkhu though he may have been a Bhikkhu only for a day. This rule is strictly to be adhered to for life.

(2) A Bhikkhuni must not keep her rains-residence at a place that is not close to the one occupied by Bhikkhus. This rule is also to be strictly adhered to for life.

(3) Every fortnight a Bhikkhuni must do two things: To ask the Bhikkhu Sangha the day of Uposatha and to approach the Bhikkhu Sangha for instruction and admonition. This rule is also to be strictly adhered to for life.

(4) When the rains-residence is over, a Bhikkhuni must attend the Pavarana ceremony at both the assemblies of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, in each of which she must invite criticism on what has been seen, what has been heard or what has been suspected of her. This rule is also to be strictly adhered to for life.

(5) A Bhikkhuni who has committed a Sanghadisesa offence must undergo penance for a half-month, in each assembly of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis. This rule is also to be strictly adhered to for life.

(6) A Bhikkhuni must arrange for ordination by both the assemblies of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis for a woman novice only after two years probationary training under her in the observance of six training practices. This rule is also to be strictly adhered to for life.

(7) A Bhikkhuni should not revile a Bhikkhu for any reason whatsoever. This rule is also to be strictly adhered to for life.

(8) Bhikkhunis are prohibited from exhorting or admonishing Bhikkhus with effect from today. Bhikkhus should exhort Bhikkhunis when and where necessary. This rule is also to be strictly adhered to for life.”21

Most excellent Ananda spoke with Gautami, “Great foster mother, you yourself are one who has been duly admitted to the Order of Bhikkhuni the moment you adhere strictly to these Eight Special Precepts.”

Mahaprajapati Gotami responded: “Venerable Ananda, just as a young maiden who is in the habit of decorating herself with flowers, with her hair washed and brushed, or a man in like manner would eagerly receive lilies with out-stretched hands for planting on their heads if and when offered, so also I am prepared to adhere to the Eight Special Rules with great delight and due respect till I breathe my last.”(Her enthusiastic acceptance of the Eight Rules constituted automatic admission into the Order.)”22

The Licchavi Kings of Vesali then “built a large nunnery for Mahaprajapati Gautami and her retinue of five hundred Sakyan princesses. Prajapati was a role model for all the nuns but specifically so to other ladies of noble birth. She encouraged and helped them to adjust to the solitary and austere life of novice nuns.”23

Lord Buddha instructed and gave Mahaprajapati Gautami a subject to meditate and she became an Arhat. In Maha Buddhagosha’s words, “When thus admitted to the Order, Prajapati, having approached the Teacher and made obeisance to him, stood on one side. And the Teacher preached the Doctrine to her, and this woman, instructed by the Teacher in ecstatic meditation, attained Arahatship. And the other five hundred nuns, at the end of the discourse to Nandaka attained to Arahatship. Thus did this story arise.”24

The Great Chronicles states that “Mahaprajapati Gotami Theri won Arahatship after hearing the Samkhitta Sutta.25 The five hundred Bhikkhunis later won enlightenment at various levels after hearing the Nandakovada Sutta.”26 In the Commentary, Buddhaghosha reports: “Afterwards, the Teacher, seated at Jetavana, when assigning places to the Bhikkhunis, exalted Prajapati to the chief place among those who are great in experience.”27 Lord Buddha said: “Bhikkhus, among my Bhikkhuni disciples who are of long-standing in the Order, Mahaprajapati Gotami is the foremost.”28

Venerable Radhika Abeysekera quoted Mahaprajapati Gautami’s words: “In gratitude, Prajapati paid reverence to the Buddha and to her beloved sister, Maya, who had brought the Noble Baby into the world, as follows:

Buddha, Hero, homage to you,

O best of all beings who released me and many other beings from pain.

All pain is known: craving as the cause is dried up;

The Noble Eightfold way has been developed, Cessation has been attained by me.

Formerly I was mother, son, father, brother and grandmother;

Not having proper knowledge I journeyed on (in samsara) without expiation.

I have indeed seen the Blessed One; this is the last body.

Journeying on from rebirth to rebirth has been eliminated;

There is now no renewed existence (for me).

I see the disciples all together,

Putting forth energy, resolute always with strong effort.

This is homage to the Buddhas.

Truly for the sake of many, Maya bore Gotama.

She thrust away the mass of pain of those struck by sickness and death. ‘”29

Mahaprajapati Gautami Passes Away

We wish to present the full account of the passing of Mahaprajapati Gautami just as it is handed down to us and available in The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas.

“From the Sutras: Life Stories of the Historical Bhikshunis. The Story of Mahaprajapati Gotami Theri.

“When Gotami Theri was of 120 years' age, she was residing at a bhikshuni monastery which was in the city of Vesali (as a rule bhikshuni monasteries were set up inside the town or village). The Buddha was then staying at the Mahavana Monastery near Vesali.

One morning, after collecting alms-food in the city and finishing her meal, Gotami Theri entered into the attainment of Arahatta phala for a predetermined period. After rising from the Jhana30 attainment she remembered the long series of her acquisition of merits in her past existences and felt very delighted. Then she reviewed her life-span.

She saw that it had come to an end. She thought it proper to inform the Buddha at Mahavana Forest about her approaching death as well as bidding leave of her passing away to his colleagues who had been a source of her inspiration, such as the two Chief Disciples and co-resident Ariyas.31 Then only she would return to the monastery and pass away.

The same idea arose in the minds of the five hundred Bhikshunis of Sakyan origin. (The touching events concerning the passing away of Gotami Theri will now be told based on: The Chiddapidhanani, volume one, chapter twelve, by Mahavisuddharama Sayadaw, and the Apadana, Khuddaka Nikaya, IV. Only a gist of those texts is given here.)

“The Buddha's foster mother, Gotami Theri thought, ‘I am not going to live to see the passing away of my son, the Buddha, nor that of the two Chief Disciples, nor that of my grandson Rahula, nor that of my nephew Ananda. I am going to pre-decease them all. I shall seek permission to pass-away from my son, the Buddha now.’ The same thoughts passed in the minds of five hundred Bhikshunis of Sakyan origin.

At that moment the earth quaked violently. Unseasonable rains thundered in the sky. The guardian spirits of the Bhikshuni monasteries wailed. The five hundred Bhikshunis went to Gotami Theri and told her about the wailing of the guardian spirits and Gotami Theri told them her plan to pass away. The five hundred Bhikshunis also told her their plan likewise. T

hey all asked the guardian spirits of the monastery to pardon them if they had offended them in any way.

Then, casting her last glance at the monastery, Gotami Theri uttered this verse: ‘I shall now proceed to the unconditioned (Nirvana) where there is no ageing or death, no association with beings or things one dislikes, no separation from beings or things one holds dear.’ Among those who heard these words, those who had not rid themselves of attachment, men and devas alike, wailed miserably (the touching scene of their lamentation is vividly described in the Pali text).

“When the Bhikshunis came out of their monastery along the High Street, devotees came out of their homes and, kneeling themselves before Gotami Theri, wailed, expressing their deep distress. Gotami Theri spoke words that helped quell their sorrow. (Her words rich with the Doctrine may be gleaned from the Pali text. This remark also applies to other stanzas that she was to utter later on.)

She uttered nine and a half stanzas to allay the lamentation of the citizens of Vesali. When she got before the presence of the Buddha, she informed the Buddha of her impending death and asked the Buddha's approval to release her life-maintaining thought process in verse, sixteen in all, beginning with the words: ‘Aham sugata te mata tum ca vira pita mama.’

The Buddha gave his approval in a stanza. After that she recited five stanzas in praise of the Bhagava.

“Then she asked permission of the Sangha, the Venerable Rahula, the Venerable Ananda and the Venerable Nanda, to approve of her passing away in two stanzas (beginning with the words ‘asivisalayasame’), describing the futility of worldly existence The Venerable Nanda and Rahula, who were then Arahats, took the words of the great Theri as inspiring emotional religious awakening, but as for the Venerable Ananda, who was still training himself for Arahatship, they caused much sorrow and lamentation, expressing his grief in a stanza beginning with, ‘Ha santim Gotami ya ti.’ The great Theri solaced her nephew with words of wisdom.

“Thereafter, the Buddha asked Gotami Theri in the following verse to display her supernormal powers: ‘Gotami, for the sake of those fools who have doubts about female devotees attaining Enlightenment in my teaching, to enable them to shed those doubts, display your supernormal powers.’

The one-twenty-year old Bhikshuni complied by showing her supernormal powers, such as from being one to become many, from being many to become one, to become visible and to become invisible, to pass through a wall or a mountain, etc.

Then she walked in mid-air, holding Mount Meru as the prop on which the great earth rested as an umbrella and turning upside down this miraculous umbrella. She created an atmosphere of intense heat as when six suns arise simultaneously, etc. Having complied with the Buddha's request, she came down and, making obeisance to the Bhagava, sat in a suitable place. She said, ‘Venerable son, I, your foster mother, am 120 years of age. I have grown old. I have lived long enough. May I be allowed to die.’

“The audience, stunned by the miraculous powers displayed by Gotami Theri, asked her, ‘Venerable One, what was the extent of merit you had performed to be endowed with such power and capability?’

And Gotami Theri related to them the successive acts of merit she had performed since the days of Padumuttara Buddha down to the last existence. Then the five hundred Bhikshunis rose up to the sky as a cluster of stars, captivating the eye of the audience, displayed their supernormal powers and, having obtained the Buddha's approval to wind up their miraculous feats, made obeisance to the Bhagavan and sat in a suitable place.

They recounted to the Bhagavan in verses how much they owed to Gotami Theri. Then they asked the Bhagavan's permission to pass away.

“The Bhagavan said, ‘Bhikshunis, you know the time to pass away.’ Thus having obtained the Buddha's approval, they made obeisance to the Bhagavan and returned to their monastery.

The Buddha, accompanied by a large number of devotees, saw Gotami Theri off up to the entrance to his forest abode. There the great Theri and her five hundred Bhikshuni disciples made their last obeisance to the Buddha together. Then the five hundred Bhikshunis entered the city and sat cross-legged in their respective dwellings at the monastery.

“At that time many male and female lay disciples of the Buddha, seeing the time had come to see the last of the Noble Ones, gathered around to pay their last respect, beating their chests in great sorrow.

They threw themselves down on the ground like a tree uprooted. Gotami Theri caressed the head of the eldest of the female devotees and uttered this stanza: ‘Daughters, lamentation leads only to Mara's domain and is therefore in vain. All conditioned things are impermanent, they end up in separation, they cause endless agitation.’ Then she told them to return to their homes.

“When alone, she entered into the First Jhana of the Fine Material sphere and upwards, stage by stage, till the jhana of the neither-consciousness-nor-non-consciousness, and then downwards, stage by stage, to the first jhana of the Fine Material sphere. Thus upwards and downwards she dwelt in the eight mundane jhanic attainments. Then she dwelt in jhanic attainment, beginning from the first jhana up to the fourth jhana. Arising from that jhana she realised complete Cessation of the aggregates just as a lamp goes out when the oil and the wick become exhausted. The remaining five hundred Bhikshuni disciples also realized complete Cessation.32

“At that moment the great earth quaked violently. Meteors fell from the sky. The skies rumbled with thunder. The celestial beings wailed. Celestial flowers rained from the sky. Mount Meru tottered like a dancer swaying. The great ocean roared as if deeply troubled. Nagas, asuras, devas and brahmas expressed their emotional religious awakening in such words as ‘impermanent are all conditioned things, they have the nature of dissolution.’

Devas and brahmas reported the death of Gotami Theri and the five hundred Bhikshunis to the Buddha. The Buddha sent the Venerable Ananda to inform the monks. Then, accompanied by many monks, the Buddha joined the funeral procession which took this order:

(1) men, devas nagas, asuras and brahmas marched at the head, followed by

(2) the five hundred Golden hearses of five hundred Bhikshunis with multi-tiered roofs created by deva Visukamma wherein were placed the remains of the Bhikshunis on their cots, and these hearses were borne by devas;

(3) then followed the hearse of Gotami Theri, the Buddha's foster mother, which was borne by the Four Great Deva Kings;

(4) then followed the Samgha and the Buddha. The whole route from the monastery to the funeral ground was canopied and all along the route were placed streams, pennants, while all the ground was strewn with flowers. Celestial lotus flowers came down thick and fast as though they were hanging loosely in the sky. All sorts of flowers and perfumes wafted in the air. All sorts of music, singing and dancing took place in honour of the departed noble Arahats.

“During the progress of the funeral procession both the sun and the moon were visible to the people. Stars were shining in the sky. Even at that noon the sun's rays were cool like that of the moon.

In fact, the occasion of Gotami Theri's funeral was surrounded by even more wonderful happenings than on the occasion of the funeral of the Buddha himself.

On the occasion of the Buddha's funeral there was no Buddha nor the Venerable Sariputta and monk elders to supervise the funeral proceedings, whereas on the occasion of the funeral of Gotami Theri there were the Buddha and the monk elders such as the Venerable Sariputta to supervise the proceedings.

“At the charnel-ground after the remains of Gotami Theri were incinerated, the Venerable Ananda picked up the relics and uttered this stanzas, ‘Gone now is Gotami. Her remains have been burnt up. And soon the passing away of the Buddha, the much anxiously awaited event, will take place.’ The Venerable Ananda collected the relics in the alms-bowl used by Gotami Theri and presented them to Buddha.

Thereupon the Buddha held up the relics for the audience to view and spoke to the assembly of men, devas and brahmas thus: ‘Just as a big tree full of hard core standing firmly has a great trunk and that great trunk, being of impermanent nature, falls down, so also Gotami who had been like a big tree trunk to the Bhikshuni Samgha is calmed (i.e., has entered Nirvana).’

The Buddha uttered altogether ten stanzas for the benefit of the audience on that memorable occasion. (These ten stanzas with text and word-for-word meanings may be gleaned by the reader in the Chiddapidhanti to his delight.) Here ends the story of Mahaprajapati Gotami Theri.”33

Radhika Abeysekera wrote: “The Buddha walked behind the carriage that carried her body. In this way, by example, the Buddha showed us that we should respect and honour our mothers for the care and love that they have given us when we were too young to take care of ourselves.

Hundreds of monks and nuns followed the carriage to the cremation ground. The casket was then placed on a sandalwood pyre and sprinkled with jasmine and other fragrant oils. The Licchavi kings then lighted the pyre.

“The relics of Mahaprajapati are said to have turned white like glowing pearls. Ananda collected the relics and handed them over to the Buddha and later to the Licchavi kings. A Stupa was built by the kings to enshrine Mahaprajapati’s relics. Women from all over the world pay respect and homage to Mahaprajapati in gratitude for initiating the Order of Nuns.”34

Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche asks us to honour the Great Arhats and to think of them with devotional prayer, “Please consider us with compassion,” so that we are inspired to practice our aspiration. Thrangu Rinpoche encourages us, “To achieve our wish, we aspire to be able to realize Mahamudra, the true nature of mind.

We ask for their blessings so that the conditions favourable to achieving our goal will occur.” In the same instructions, Thrangu Rinpoche taught, “Generally, there are sons of mind.

For example, the son of body is Rahula. Sons and daughters of speech are the Shravaka Arhats who heard the Dharma speech of the Buddha. Sons and daughters of mind are the Bodhisattvas because in the future they will become Buddhas and therefore like the regents of the Buddha.

In this way, we meditate on all of these beings in the space in front of us. Even if we do not meditate on them in the space in front, we should think that they are actually looking at us with the eye of wisdom.”35

Photo taken in the Garden of Pullahari Monastery in Nepal by Ven. Khenpo Karma Namgyal.

May virtue increase! Selected, arranged & written by Gaby Hollmann, June 2006

1 Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Life of Buddha & the Four Noble Truths, Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone & Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2001, pages 5-6. - The five degenerations are explained by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye the Great. They are the degeneration in terms of lifespan, views, emotions, beings and time. See Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds. Translated & edited by the International Translation Committee of Kunkhyab Choling founded by the V.V. Kalu Rinpoche, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, 1995.

2 The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C.B. Varma, in the site of Indira Gandhi National Center of Arts, India: 073. – Chakravartin is the Sanskrit term for “universal emperor,” Khor-lo-rgyal-po in Tibetan, the highest secular position of a ruler who appears during the best periods of history.

3 Francis Story, Of Gods and Men, in: The Light of Dhamma Journal, vol. III, no. 3, 1961, in: 6.

4 The Abode of Devas, from ‘Abhidharma in Daily Life’ by Ashin Jannakabhivamsa. Translated by Prof. Ko Lay, 1999, in the site:, 2004. 5 Francis Story, Of Gods and Men, ibid. - See Dr. Peter Della Santina, Nagarjuna. A Good Friend, in the site:, 2005.

6 Nabhasa Dictionary of Pali, Catummahajika. - The Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary presents the Sanskrit names of the Four Great Kings: Dhritarashtra in the east, Virudhaka in the south, Virupaksha in the west and Vaishravana in the north.

7 See Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds, ibid., page 250. - In Tibetan: “'jig-rten - world: 'jig the destructible environment which the inhabitants, sentient beings depend on, rten, in their confusion it is therefore called 'jig-rten. It is the external environment with its continents and subcontinents, Mount Meru, the sun and moon, etc. - 'jig-rten-gyi-khams - realms of world, world sphere, world-system. A universe comprised of Mount Sumeru, four continents and eight sub-continents.” Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary, online.

8 Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds, ibid., pages 118-119.

9 See Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds, ibid., page 265.

10 Nabhasa, Anotatta; Himava. - The Tibetan-English Dictionary states that Gangs-chen-ti-se is Mount Kailash and “ma-dros-pa - Lake Manasarovar, name of a naga who lives there. Naga King Anavatapta, who inhabits Lake Manasarovar. ‘Who Never Warms Up.’” Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary, online:

11 Nabhasa, Pacceka. – The Tibetan-English Dictionary provides the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms and offers a short translation of a Pacceka Buddha: “rang-rgyal - solitary sages, the self-centered buddhas, pratyekabuddha, solitary conqueror/realizer; (rang-sangs-rgyas) solitary realizer(s). Self-centered Buddha, self-buddha, solitary enlightened one.” Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary, ibid. – Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye presents the differentiation between pratyekabuddhas and shravakas: “The proclaimers (shravaka, nyan-thos), along with the solitary sages (pratyekabuddha, rang-sangs-rgyas) are adherents of the Individual Way. Proclaimers are so called because they listen (nyan) to the doctrine, practice it, and then cause others to hear (thos-par-byed-pa), in this case not what they have heard but what they have achieved. Alternatively, proclaimers are so called because upon hearing (thos) about buddhahood or its path, they proclaim (sgros) it to others without practicing it themselves.” Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds, ibid., page 263. Furthermore, “Solitary sage: a saint of the Individual Way who attains liberation without relying on a teacher in that lifetime.” Ibid., page 265.

12 Women Leaders of the Buddhist Reformation (from Monaratha, Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the A.nguttara Nikaya). Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1893. Scanned & edited by Christopher M. Weimer, 2002, in the site: Internet Sacred Text Archives. – In Nabhasa we read that Suppabuddho as well as Dandapani were also the names of Gautami’s brothers. See Nabhasa, Suppabuddho.

13 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas writes that Mayadevi was born in Tushita “by the name of Santusita.” Nabhasa writes: “The Buddha visited Tavatisma immediately after the performance of the Twin Miracle at the foot of the Gandamba tree, on the full moon day of asalha, and there, during the three months of the rainy season, the Buddha stayed, preaching the Abhidhamma Pitaka to his mother (who came there to listen to him), seated on Sakka's Pandukambalasilasana, at the foot of the Paricchattaka tree.

(It is said that, during this time, at certain intervals, the Buddha would return to earth, leaving a seated image of himself in Tavatimsa to continue the preaching while he attended to his bodily needs, begging alms in Uttarakuru and eating his food on the banks of Anotatta, where Sariputta waited on him and learnt of what he had been preaching to the devas.) The Commentaries state the view, held by some, that had Maya been alive the Buddha would not have shown such reluctance to bestow ordination on women.

This view, says Dhammapala is erroneous.

It would have made no difference, for it is the dhammata of all Buddhas that women shall be ordained, but subject to certain important restrictions. The mothers of all Buddhas die very soon after the birth of their son, because no other child is fit to be conceived in the same womb as a Buddha.” Nabhasa: Maya.

14 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid.

15 The Dhammapada Stories from Khuddaka Nikaya. Chapter XV: Happiness (Sukhavagga). The Story of the Pacification of the Relatives of the Buddha, verses 197-199. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, Burma Pitaka Association, Rangoon, 1986, in the site: - See Nabhasa, Rohini.

16 The Buddha had been called to Vaisali, the Kingdom of the Licchavis, during the 5th year after his enlightenment to cure the area of a disease inflicted by spirits that were attracted to the decaying corpses of the many citizens who had died due to a heavy drought. The Buddha “recited the Ratana Sutta and 84 thousand beings were converted. After repeating this for seven days, the Buddha returned to Rajagriha.” Nabhasa, Vesali.

17 The Great Chronicles describes the companions as “(…) the five hundred deserted wives.” The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid.

18 Nabhasa, Mahapajapati Gotami.

19 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid. – Yojana, dpag-tshad in Tibetan, is translated as “league” for the ancient Indian measure. The “length of the yojana differs in the systems of the Wheel of Time Tantra and The Treasury of Phenomenology. In the system of phenomenology, a yojana is 16,000 cubits; in the Wheel of Time system it is 32,000 cubits. Taking 18 inches as the equivalent of a cubit – the unit of length based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger – a yojana in the Wheel of Time would be 9 miles or 1.48 km, and a yojana in the phenomenology system would be 4.5 miles or 7.4 km.” Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds, ibid., page 266. 20 Women Leaders of the Buddhist Reformation (from Monaratha Purani, Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the A.nguttara Nikaya). Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1893, ibid. 21 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid. – See Guide to Tipitaka. Admission of Bhikkhunis in the Order. Compiled by U Ko Lay, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., 1984, pages 20-22, in: Buddha Net.

22 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid.

23 Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha by Radhika Abeysekera, in the site: Paw Dhamma 4.

24 Women Leaders of the Buddhist Reformation (from Monaratha, Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the A.nguttara Nikaya), ibid . 25 Samkhitta Sutta: from the Samyutta Nikaya.

26 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid.

27 Women Leaders of the Buddhist Reformation (from Monaratha, Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the A.nguttara Nikaya), ibid.

28 The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid.

29 Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha by Radhika Abeysekera, ibid.

30 “The great Buddhist commentator Buddhaghosa traces the Pali word jhana to two verbal forms. One, the etymologically correct derivation, is the verb jhayati, meaning to think or meditate; the other is a more playful derivation, intended to illuminate its function rather than its verbal source, from the verb jhapeti meaning ‘to burn up.’ He explains: ‘It burns up opposing states, thus it is jhana,’ the purport being that jhana ‘burns up’ or destroys the mental defilements preventing the development of serenity and insight.” 01.

31 Ariya in Pali (arya in Sanskrit) is said to be a practitioner who develops and cultivates the Four Noble Truths that Lord Buddha presented at Deer Park, which, if realized, “lead to the utter destruction of ill.” Nabhasa, Ariya. - The term was translated as ‘Phag-pa in Tibetan and means “exalted, noble” for this reason.

32 The eight kinds of jhana, “higher states of perception,” are: “Insight Knowledge, the Power of Creation by Mind, the Psychic Powers, the Divine Power of Hearing, Knowledge of the Minds of others, Knowledge of Past existences, Divine Power of Sight, Knowledge of Extinction of moral intoxicants.” The Suttanta Pitaka from the Digha Nikaya, in: Guide to Tipitaka, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., 1986, in the site: Buddha Net &

33 From the Sutras: Life Stories of the Historical Bhikshunis. The Story of Mahapajapati Gotami Theri, in the site: See also The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas, ibid.

34 Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha by Radhika Abeysekera, ibid.

35 An Aspirational Prayer for Mahamudra of Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa and a Commentary by Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Translated by John Rockwell, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland & Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, 2001, pages 40-41. See The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa. Commentary by H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2006.