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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas

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[236] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Female Beggars who is of great wisdom (mahapannanam) is Khema (Serenity).

Khema

(DPPN: An arahant, chief of the Buddha's women disciples. She was born in a ruling family at Sagala in the Madda country, and her skin was the color of gold. She became the chief consort of King Bimbisara. She would not visit the Buddha who was at Veluvana, lest he should speak disparagingly of her beauty with which she was infatuated. The king bade poets sing the glories of Veluvana and persuaded Khema to go there. She was then brought face-to-face with the Buddha, and he conjured up, for her to see, a woman like a celestial nymph who stood facing him. Even as Khema gazed on the nymph, whose extraordinary beauty far excelled her own, she saw her pass gradually from youth to extreme old age, and so fall down in the swoon of death. Seeing that Khema was filled with dismay at the sight, the Buddha preached to her on the vanity of lust, and we are told that at that moment she attained arahantship. [Here an example of a lay female attaining Arahantship.] With the consent of Bimbisara she entered the Order, and was ranked by the Buddha foremost among his women disciples for her great insight (mahapannanam).

Once when Khema was at Toranavatthu, between Savatthi and Saketa, Pasenadi, who happened to spend one night there, heard of her presence and went to see her. He questioned her as to whether or not the Buddha existed after death. She explained the matter to him in various ways, and Pasenadi, delighted with her exposition, related it to the Buddha. She is mentioned in several places as the highest ideal of womanhood worthy of imitation, and is described as the nun par excellence.

From PTS, Woodward, trans., The Book of the Kindred Sayings IV: The Salayatana Book X: Kindred sayings about the Unrevealed I: Sister Khema the Elder, pp265ff

Sister Khema the Elder

Once the Exalted One was staying near Savatthi at Jeta Grove in Anathapindika's Park.

Now on that occasion the sister Khema, after going her rounds among the Kosalans, took up her quarters at Toranavatthu, between Savatthi and Saketa.

Now the rajah Pasenadi of Kosala was journeying from Saketa to Savatthi, and midway between Saketa and Savatthi he put up for one night at Toranavatthu.

Then the rajah Pasenadi of Kosala called a certain man and said: 'Come thou, good fellow! Find out some recluse or brahmin such that I can wait upon him to-day.'

'Even so, your majesty,' said that man in reply to the rajah Pasenadi of Kosala, and after wandering through all Toranavatthu he saw not anyone, either recluse or brahmin, on whom the rajah Pasenadi might wait.

Then that man saw the sister Khema, who had come to reside at Toranavatthu. And on seeing her he went back to the rajah Pasenadi of Kosala, and said: --

'Your majesty, there is no recluse or brahmin in Toranavattthu such that your majesty can wait upon him. But your majesty, there is a sister named Khema, a woman disciple of that Exalted One, who is Arahant, an All-enlightened One. Now of this lady a lovely rumor has gone abroad, that she is sage, accomplished, shrewd, widely learned, a brilliant talker, of goodly ready wit. Let your majesty wait upon her.'

So the rajah Pasenadi of Kosala went to visit the sister Khema, and on coming to her saluted and sat down at one side. So seated he said to her:--

'How say you, lady? Does the Tathagata exist after death?'

'That the Tathagata exists after death, maharajah, is not revealed by the Exalted One.'

'How say you, lady? So the Tathagata does not exist after death.'

'That also, maharajah, is not revealed by the Exalted One.'

'What then, lady? Does the Tathagata both exist and not exist after death?'

'That also, maharajah, is not revealed by the Exalted One.'

'Then, lady, the Tathagata neither exists nor not-exists after death.'

'That also, maharajah, is not revealed by the Exalted one.'

'How then, lady? When asked, "Does the Tathagata exist after death?" you reply, "That is not revealed by the Exalted One," and, when I ask ... the other questions, you make the same reply. Pray, lady, what is the reason, what is the cause why this thing is not revealed by the Exalted One?'

'Now in this matter, maharajah, I will question you. Do you reply as you think fit. Now how say you, maharajah? Have you some accountant, some ready-reckoner or calculator, able to count the sand in Ganges, thus: There are somany thousand grains, or so many hundreds of thousands of grains of sand?'

'No indeed, lady.'

'Then have you some accountant, ready-reckoner or calculator, able to reckon the water in the mighty ocean, thus: There are so many gallons of water, so many hundred, so many thousand, so many hundreds of thousand gallons of water?'

'No indeed, lady.'

'How is that?'

'Mighty is the ocean, lady, deep, boundless, unfathomable.'

'Even so, maharajah, if one should try to define the Tathagata by his bodily form, that bodily form of the Tathagata is abandoned, cut down at the root, made like a palm-tree stump, made something that is not, made of a nature not to spring up again in future time. Set free from reckoning as body, maharajah, is the Tathagata. He is deep, boundless, unfathomable, just like the mighty ocean. To say, "The Tathagata exists after death," does not apply. To say, "The Tathagata exists not after death," does not apply. To say, "The Tathagata both exists and exists not, neither exists nor not-exists after death," does not apply.

If one should try to define the Tathagata by feeling, — that feeling of the Tathagata is abandoned, cut down at the root ... . Set free from reckoning as feeling is the Tathagata, maharajah, deep, boundless, unfathomable like the mighty ocean. To say, "The Tathagata exists after death ... exists not after death," does not apply.

So also if one should try to define the Tathagata by perception, by the activities (sankhara), by consciousness ... set free from reckoning by consciousness is the Tathagata, maharajah, deep, boundless, unfathomable as the mighty ocean. To say, "The Tathagata exists after death ... exists not after death," does not apply.'

Then the rajah Pasenadi of Kosala was delighted with the words of the sister Khema, and took pleasure therein. And he rose from his seat, saluted her by the right and went away.

Now on another occasion the rajah ... went to visit the Exalted One, and on coming to him saluted him and sat down at one side. So seated he said to the Exalted One:--

'Pray, lord, does the Tathagata exist after death?'

'Not revealed by me, maharajah, is this matter.'

'Then, lord, the Tathagata does not exist after death.'

'That also, maharajah, is not revealed by me.'

(He then asks the other questions and gets the same reply.)

'How then, lord? When I ask the question, "Does the Tathagata exist? ... does he not exist after death?" you reply, "It is not revealed by me." Pray, lord, what is the reason, what is the cause why this thing is not revealed by the Exalted One?'

'Now, maharajah, I will question you. Do you reply as you think fit. Now what say you, maharajah? Have you some accountant ... ' (the rest is exactly as before).

'Wonderful, lord! Strange it is, lord, how the explanation both of Master and disciple, both in spirit and in letter, will agree, will harmonize, will not be inconsistent, --that is, in any word about the highest.

On a certain occasion, lord, I went to visit the sister Khema, and asked her the meaning of this matter, and she gave me the meaning in the very words, in the very syllables used by the Exalted One. Wonderful, lord! Strange it is, lord, how the explanation both of Master and disciple will agree, will harmonize, in spirit and in letter, how they will not be inconsistent, — that is, in any word about the highest.

Well, lord, now we must be going. We are busy folk. We have many things to do.'

'Do now what you think it time for, maharajah.'

Thereupon the rajah Pasenadi of Kosala was delighted with the words of the Exalted One and welcomed them. And he rose from his seat, saluted the Exalted One by the right and went away.

From the Psalms:

[This is what we are told was what Khema was told by Gotama as she watched the phantom figure of the Nymph age in front ofher eyes.]

"They who are slaves to lust drift down the stream,
Like to a spider gliding down the web
He of himself has wrought. But the released,
Who all their bonds have snapt in twain,
With thoughts elsewhere intent, forsake the world,
And all delight in senses put far away."

[ Did you remember to SNAP FINGERS? This is also Dhammapada, ver. 347]

[One time thereafter] And as she sat one day in siesta under a tree, Mara the Evil One, in youthful shape, drew near, tempting her with sensuous ideas:

MARA: 'Thou art fair, and life is young, beauteous Khema!
I am young, even I, too — Come, O fairest lady!
While in our ear fivefold harmonies murmur melodious.
Seek we our pleasure.'
KHEMA: Through this body vile, foul seat of disease and corruption,
Loathing I feel, and oppression. Cravings of lust are uprooted.
Lusts of the body and sense-mind [?Footnote says: i.e., the Khandas] cut like daggers and javelins.
Speak not to me of delighting in aught of sensuous pleasure!
Verily all such vanities now no more may delight me.
Slain on all sides is the love of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Rent asunder the gloom of ignorance once that beset me.
Know this, O Evil One! Destroyer, know thyself worsted!
Lo! Ye who blindly worship constellations of heaven,
Ye who fostering fire in cool grove, wait upon Agni [God of fire],
Ignorant are ye all, ye foolish and young, of the Real,
Deeming ye thus might find purification from evil.
Lo! As for me I worship th'Enlightened, the Uttermost Human,
Utterly free from all sorrow, doer of Buddha's commandments.'


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