Buddhist Women 3

Dr. Bimala Churn Law, Ph.D.

Vasitthi came of a clansmen's family at Vaisali. Her parents gave her in marriage to a clansman's son of equal position. She had a son. When the child was able to run about, he died. Vasitthi went mad with grief. She came to Mithila and there she saw the Exalted One, self-controlled and self-contained. At the sight of the Buddha the frenzy left her and she recovered her normal mind. The master taught her the outlines of the Norm. Performing all proper duties, she acquired insight, and struggling with the help of full Knowledge, she soon attained arhatship together with a thorough grasp of the Norm in form and spirit. (Th. Commy., 124-125.)

Dhammadinna came of a clansmen's family at Rajagaha and became the wife of a Setthi named Visakha. One day her husband heard the master teaching, and after hearing him he did not hold converse with her as he used to do before, but renounced the worldly life. Dhammadinna too became a bhikkhuni and took up her residence in a village. One of the great merits acquired in her previous births was her subjugation of the complexities of thought, word and deed. By virtue of this merit, she soon attained arhatship together with thorough mastery of the form and meaning of the Dhamma. Then she returned to Rajagaha and was questioned by her husband on the skandhas and the like. She answered so correctly that she was praised by the Buddha and was ranked as foremost among the sisters who could preach. (Th. Commy., 15; cf. Manorathpurani, pp. 360-363; Anjuttara N., I, 25.)

Dhamma came of a respectable family at Savatthi. Given in marriage to a suitable husband, she became converted. On her husband's death, she entered the Order. In due course she won arhatship with thorough knowledge of the Norm in form and meaning. (Th. Commy., p.23).

Mettika was the daughter of a rich Brahman of Rajagaha. She climbed a hill and lived like a recluse. She acquired insight and within a short time won arhatship (Th. Commy., p.35).

Abhaya came of a respectable family at Ujjain. She was a friend of Abhayamata. She followed her in renouncing the world, and entered the Order. In course of time she attained arhatship at Rajagaha. (Th. Commy., 41-43.)

Soma was born at Rajagaha as the daughter of the Brahmin of King Bimbisara. When advanced in years she became a lay disciple. Afterwards she entered the order of the bhikkhunis. She performed exercises of insight and within a short time won arhatship. Mara tried in vain to divert her from this path. From the Samyutta Nikaya we learn that Mara came to her and said, "That which is to be obtained by the Rishis, you are, with slight wisdom, trying to gain. That which is difficult to be obtained by great sages, you being a silly woman, want to have." She replied: " If my mind is steadfast, I must acquire it, my womanly nature will not prevent me from acquiring it." Mara then left her. (Th. Commy., pp. 66-67; cf. S.N., 1, p.129.)

Bhadda Kapilani came of a Brahman family of the Kosiya clan at Sagala. She was married to a young noble Pippali at the village of Mahatittha. When her husband renounced the world, she made over her wealth to her kinsfolk. She then left the world and dwelt five years in the hermitage of the heretics. Thereafter, she was ordained by Mahapajapati Gotami. Establishing insight she soon won arhatship. By the master she was ranked first among the bhikkhunis who could remember previous births (Th. Commy., 67 f.; cf. Manorathapurani, p.375; cf. Anguttara N., I, p.25).


Besides the women who embraced a homeless life and became bhikkhunis and theris, there were others who were staunch believers in the Buddha's dhamma. These women used to lead a domestic life, offering charities in the shape of coin and kind to theras, bhikkhunis and bhikkhus in the expectation of a happier rebirth or for the benefit of departed relations. The incidents in the life of some of these women are recorded in the Buddhist literature, and it would not be out of place here to mention them below.

Uttara, daughter of Nandaka, Commander-in-chief of Pingala, king of Surattha, was a believer in the Buddha. She used to offer to a saintly thera cold and perfumed drink as well as excellent cake and sweets for the benefit of her departed father. (Vide my Buddhist Conception of Spirits, p.48).

Lakhuma lived near one of the gates of Benares. She used to offer a spoonful of rice to the bhikkhus when they entered the town by that gate. Thus she acquired the habit of offering charity. In the asanasala (rest house), she used to prepare seats for, and supply water to, the bhikkhus. She was established in Stream Entry. After death she was reborn in the Tavatimsa heaven. (Vide my Heaven and Hell, p.50.)

A daughter of a certain upasaka of Rajagaha was very much devoted to Mahamoggallana. One day she welcomed the thera, offered him a seat, worshipped him with a garland of sumana flower and gave him sweets, etc. On her death, she was reborn in the Tavatimsa heaven. (Vimanavatthu Commy., 179-179.)

Mallilka was the daughter of a Brahman steward of the Sakya Mahanaman. On her father's death she was taken by Mahanaman to his house. She was at first named Chandra. She made a wreath which satisfied Mahanaman so much that he changed her name to Mallika. One day Mallika went to the garden with her food, and just then the Blessed One passed them collecting alms. Mallika thought of offering her food to the Buddha, and the latter knowing her thought held out his bowl. She put her offering in it and wished at the same time that some day she might be free from slavery or poverty. One day Pasenadi carried away by his horse in the heat of the chase came to Mahanaman's garden. There he saw Mallika. Re- quested by the king, Mallika rubbed his feet with a towel. As soon as she did so the king fell asleep. When he awoke he found out who she was, went to Mahanaman and married her. She was then taken to Sravasti and in time she brought forth a son named Virudhaka (Rockhill, Life of the Buddha, pp, 75-77), and also a daughter. (S.N., I, p. 86). This story is nothing but a Tibetan version of the story of Pasenadi and Vasabhakhattiya. Cf. Svapnavasabhadatta of Bhasa.

Again we read that Mallikadevi went to the Buddha and asked him thus, "What is the cause of a woman's getting an ugly appearance, bad habit, wretched state and poverty in this world? What is the cause of a woman who is of this nature becoming very rich and influential? What is the cause of a woman who is of good appearance and lovely becoming poor and uninfluential, and vice versa? "The Buddha answered thus: " The woman who is very hot-tempered and who gets angry for slight reason becomes poor and ugly if she does not offer any charity to the Samanas or Brahmanas, but if she offers charity to the Samanas or Brahamanas, she becomes rich and influential although she is hot-tempered." The Buddha further said "She who is not hot-tempered and does not become angry for slight reason becomes poor and influential if she does not offer any charity to the Samanas or Brahmanas." Mallika admitted that on account of her hot-temper and peevish nature she had an ugly appearance, but she, on account of her previous charities, became a queen. She further said that she would treat properly the daughters of the Ksatriyas, the Brahmanas and the other householders who were subordinate to her. She became a devotee of the Buddha, being very pleased with him. (Anguttara Nikaya, II, pp. 202-205).

It is noteworthy that once Mallika was asked by Pasenadi whether she had anybody dearer to her than her own soul. She replied in the negative. Pasenadi was asked the same question by his wife, and he too answered it in the negative. She then went to the Buddha and related the matter to him. The Buddha said that they were right in holding that there was nothing more favourite than one's own soul. (Udana, p.47;cf. also S.N., 1, p.75.) Once Pasenadi invited Buddha to teach Dhamma to queens Mallika and Vasabhakhattiya as they were desirous of learning it. Buddha asked the king to engage Ananda for the purpose as it was not possible for him to go every day. Mallikadevi learnt it thoroughly, but Vasabhakhattiya was not so mindful of learning Dhamma. (D.C., 1, 382). It was Mallika who saved the life of many living beings who were brought for sacrifice to save Pasenadi from the evil effect of hearing four horrible sounds at midnight by inducing him to go to the Buddha instead and to take instructions from him. (D.C. vol. II, pp. 7-8). After her death, Mallikadevi had to suffer in the Avici hell because she deceived her husband by telling a lie about her misconduct. (D.C., III, 119f.).

Mallikadevi made the following arrangements on the occasion of Pasenadi's offering a unique gift to the Buddha and the bhikkhus:

1. She made a canopy with Sala wooden parts, under which five hundred bhikkhus could sit within and five hundred outside.

2. Five hundred white umbrellas were raised by five hundred elephants following five hundred bhikkhus.

3. Golden boats were placed in the middle of the pandal, and each noble daughter threw scents in the midst of the bhikkhus.

4. Each Khattiya princess fanned the bhikkhus.

5. Golden boats were filled with scents and perfumes. (D.C., III., pp. 184 f.)

The daughter of queen Mallika was also named Mallika. She was the wife of General Bandhula. She was childless for a long time. Bandhula sent her to her father's house. On the way she went to the Jetavana to salute the Buddha who was informed by her that her husband was sending her home as she was childless. The Buddha asked her to go to her husband's house. Bandhula was informed of this fact and thought that the Buddha must have got the idea that she would be pregnant. The sign of pregnancy was visible in her, and she desired to drink water and bathe in the well-guarded tank of the Licchavis. Bandhula with his wife visited the tank and he made his wife bathe and drink water therefrom. (D.C., I, pp. 349-351.) Mallika, wife of Bandhula, and daughter of a Malla king of Kusinara, offered worship to the relic of the Buddha with plenty of perfumes and garlands and also an ornament named mahalata which was very valuable. In consequence of this, she, after death, was reborn in the Tavatimsa heaven where she was bedecked all in yellow. (Vimanavatthu Commy., 165.)

Vajira was a bhikkuni who was tempted by Mara when she went to the Andhavana forest to meditate. Mara came to her and asked her, " Who has created the being? Wherefrom it has come, and. where will it go?" She said, "The aggregation of five skandhas constitutes the being." Mara then left her. (Samyutta Nikaya, I, PP. 134-135.)

Cira bhikkhuni was given a robe by an upasika of the Buddha. This message was declared by a Yakkha in the streets of Rajagaha saying that the giver by giving a robe to Cira who was free from fetters, could acquire much merit. (Samyutta Nikaya, I, p. 213.)

Uttara and her husband were serving a banker at Rajagaha. Once the banker went to attend a famous ceremony, and Uttttra with her husband was at home. The husband of Uttara went to cultivate in the morning. Uttara was going with cooked food to her husband in the field. On the way she met Sariputta who was just rising up from nirodha-samapatti (meditation on cessation) and offered the food to him, with the result that she became the richest lady of Rajagaha, and her husband became a banker named Mahadhanasetthi. (D.C., III, pp. 302 f.)

Punna was the maid-servant of a banker of Savatthi. Once she was asked to husk a large quantity of paddy. While engaged in husking the paddy at night, she went outside the house to take rest. At this time Dabba, a Mallian, was in charge of making arrangements for the sleeping accommodation of the bhikkhus who were guests. Punna with some cakes went out to enquire of the cause of their movements with lights at night. The Buddha went out for alms by the way in which Punna was. She offered all the cakes to the Buddha without keeping any for herself. The Buddha accepted them. Punna was thinking whether Buddha would partake of her food. The Buddha did partake of it in her house. The effect of this offering was that Punna obtained the fruit of Stream Entry where the offering was made. (D.C., III, pp. 321 f.)

Rohini was Anuruddha's sister. She was suffering from white leprosy. She did not go to her brother as she was suffering. Anuruddha sent for her and asked her to build a rest- house for bhikkhus to get rid of her sin. She kept the rest-house clean even when it was under construction, and she did this with great devotion for a long time. She became free from her disease. Shortly afterwards the Buddha went to Kapilavatthu and sent for Rohini. The Buddha told her that she was the queen of the king of Benares in her former birth. The king was enamoured of the beauty of a dancing girl. The queen knowing this, became jealous of her, and to punish her she put something in her cloth and bathing water which produced terrible itching all over her body. On account of this sin, she got this disease. She obtained the fruit of Stream Entry and the colour of her body became golden. (D.C., III, pp. 295 f.)

Suppavasa, a daughter of a Koliyan was pregnant for seven years, but she did not give birth to any child. After seven years, labour pain began and she suffered terribly for seven days, but no child was born. She requested her husband to go to the Buddha and to salute him on her behalf, reporting the matter to him. Her husband went to the Buddha and informed him. The Buddha desired that Suppavasa would give birth to a son without any pain and disease. While the Buddha was expressing this desire, a son was born. Her husband was sent again to invite the Buddha to her house for seven days. The Buddha accepted the invitation. The Master took his meal there for seven days and converted both of them (Udana, pp. 15-17; Cf, D.C., IV, 192-193). Suppavasa used to give alms daily to five hundred bhikkhus. (Dhamapada Commy.,1, 339.) She became the foremost of the upasikas offering the best food to the Buddha. Buddha told her the good effect of offering food, and he further said that an offerer by offering rice offers the lease of life, beauty, happiness and strength. The offerer in return obtains celestial life, celestial beauty, happiness and strength. (Anguttara Nikaya, II, pp. 62-63).

Another bhikkhuni of some repute was Nakulamata. When her husband was ill and was ready to die, free from anxiety, she told him not to worry, that she knew spinning and weaving and management of household affairs and children. She also told her husband that she would never remarry after his death, as both of them lived the life of a recluse for sixteen years. She informed her husband that after his death she would meet the Buddha and the bhikkhu sangha. She also promised to observe the precepts. She also told her husband that she was one of the female devotees who fully observed the precepts, controlled the mind, had strong faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Samgha, and who became fearless and did not depend on others except the Buddha for support. (A.N., III, 295 f.)

Bojjha was a devotee who approached the Buddha, who preached to her the reward of observing the precepts and the Sabbath. The Master said to her. "Happiness obtained by observing Sabbath is sixteen times greater than that enjoyed by the sixteen countries." (A.N., IV, pp.259-260.)

Velukantaki Nandamata was a devotee of the Buddha. She gave offerings to Sariputta and Moggallana. Referring to this the Buddha said, "A giver must be pleased before he gives dana; his mind must be pleased while giving dana and after giving dana. The receiver of the offering must be free from passion, hatred and delusion. The consequence of such a gift is immeasurable". Nandamata gave such a gift to Sariputta and Moggallana, and she obtained immeasurable consequence of the gift. (A.N., III, 336-337. ).

Nandamata was once repeating the Parayana Sutta of the Sutta Nipata in a sweet voice. King Vessavana was going from north to south, and he waited there till Nandamata finished her repetition and then praised her much. Nandamata told Vessavans that the merit he acquired by praising her would be beneficial to him. Vessavana gladly assented and said that her merit, which had been acquired by her gift to Sariputta and Moggallana, would thus be beneficial to him also. (A. N., IV, p.63 f.)

Migasala was an upasika who went to Ananda and said, "According to the instruction of the Buddha, a brahmacari and an abrahamacari go to the same place after death and enjoy the same amount of happiness." Ananda went to the Buddha to have this problem solved. The Buddha said that the lay devotee was ignorant and uneducated and therefore she could not realize it properly. The Buddha further said, "Even a householder may acquire the same amount of merit as acquired by a brahmacari who does not fulfil his duties properly."

Dinna, a bhikkhuni, was asked by her husband about sakkayaditthi, sakkayanirodha, ariyatthangikamaggo, samkhara, nirodhasamapatti, manner of rising up from nirodhasamapatti and vedana. Dhammadina gave satisfactory answers to all the questions. She said, "Five upadana khandhas constitute, sakkayaditthi. Tanha means sakkaya samudayo. Destruction of tanha means sakkaya nirodha. The noble eight-fold path is the means of attaining sakkayanirodha. Ignorant people take the five upadana khandhas jointly and separately as atta (soul); the learned and noble disciples do not take them in this sense. Those who obtain nirodha samapatti are stopped one after another. The three kinds of vedana are sukha, dukkha and adukkhamasukha (M.N., 1., 299 f.)

There was an Upasika named Suyata who destroyed three bonds and obtained the first stage of sanctification. (S.N., V, p.356.)

Nanda, sister of the king of Kosala, was a bhikkhuni. While going through the sky at night she instructed Kalasoka and bhikkhu sangha to purify the bhikkhu sangha by driving out bad bhikkhus and protecting good bhikkhus (Sasanavamsa, p.6).

There was another woman named Nanda who was the wife of a householder named Nandasena who lived in a certain village near Savatthi. She had no faith in the Buddha. She was very hot-tempered and used to abuse her husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law. On her death she became a preta. One day she appeared before her husband and gave him an account of her past misdeeds. The husband made gifts for her sake to the bhikkhus, and Nanda was released from her miseries. (P.D. on the Petavathu, pp. 89-92.)

Revati was the daughter of a householder of Benares. She had no faith in the Buddha, and was very uncharitable. For some days she was forced by her parents to do meritorious deeds in order to win Nandiya, a neighbour's son, as her husband. After marriage, Nandiya made her follow him in his meritorious deeds. Thereafter Nandiya had to go abroad. He asked his wife to continue all the meritorious deeds. Revati did so for seven days. Then she stopped all meritorious deeds and began to abuse the bhikkhus who had come to her house for alms. Nandiya, on his return, found that all his acts of charity had been discontinued. After death Revati became a hellish creature. On his death Nandiya became a devata. He saw with his divine eyes that Revati had become a hellish creature. He then went to her and asked her to approve of the meritorious acts done by him. As soon as she did so, she became a devata and resided with Nandiya in heaven. (B.C. Law, Buddhist Conception of Spirits, p.79.)

Samavati was the queen of king Udena of Kosambi. The harem containing Samavati with 500 female attendants was burnt down while Udena was in the royal garden. The matter was referred to the Buddha, who said, " Each upasika had gone according to her kamma, some have become sotapanna sakadagami and anagami and so forth (Udana, p.79).

There was a maid-servant named Birani engaged by Asoka Brahmana to give food daily to the sangha which was enough for eight bhikkhus. This she used to do with devotion, with the result that after her death she was born in a vimana (celestial abode) in the sky. (Mahavamsa, p.214.)

Rupananda was Buddha's step-sister. She thought that her eldest brother renounced the world and had become a Buddha. Her younger brother Nanda was a bhikkhu and Rahulakumara had obtained ordination. Her husband too became a bhikkhu and her mother, Mahapajapati-gotami, became a bhikkhuni. She renounced the world thinking that so many of her relatives had renounced the world. She did not go before the Buddha as she was proud of her beauty, while the Buddha used to preach the impermanency and worthlessness of form. The other bhikkhunis and bhikkhus always used to praise the Buddha in her presence and tell her that all ,having different tastes, became blessed by seeing the Buddha.

Nanda thought of going to the Buddha with other bhikkhunis but she would not show herself to the Buddha. Ananda came to know that Nanda had come with the bhikkhunis. The Buddha desired to lower her pride in her beauty by showing the bad effect of it. By his miraculous power the Buddha created a most beautiful girl who was engaged in fanning the Buddha. Nanda seeing her beauty found out that her own beauty was much inferior. The girl was seen gradually attaining youth, the state of a mother and then old age and disease and death. Nanda, seeing this, gave up her pride in her beauty and came to realize the impermanence of beauty. The Buddha, knowing the state of her mind, delivered a suitable sermon and she became an arhat after hearing it. (D.C., 111, pp. 113 f.)


From: The Indian Antiquary, 1928, pp.49-54 (1928.03), 65-68 (1928.04), 86-89 (1928.05)

Source: Center for Buddhist Studies, National Taiwan University,