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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


[235] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Female Beggars who have been here a long time (rattannanam) is Mahapajapati Gotami.

Mahapajapati Gotami

(DPPN: An eminent Theri. She was born at Devadaha in the family of SuppaBuddha as the younger sister of Mahamaya. At the birth of each sister, interpreters of bodily marks prophesied that their children would be cakkavattins (wheel turners = movers and shakers). King Suddhodana married both the sisters, and when Mahamaya died, seven days after the birth of the Buddha, Pajapati looked after the Buddha and nursed him. She was the mother of Nanda, but it is said that she gave her own son to nurses and herself nursed the Buddha. The Buddha was at Vesali when Suddhodana died, and Pajapati decided to renounce the world, and waited for an opportunity to ask the permission of the Buddha. [Footnote: Pajapati was already a sotapanna.] Her opportunity came when the Buddha visited Kapilaavatthu to settle the dispute between the Sakyans and the Koliyans as to the right to take water from the river Rohini. When the dispute had been settled, the Buddha preached the Kalahavivada Sutta (Sn.vv.862ff), and five hundred young Sakyan men joined the Order. Their wives, led by Pajapati, went to the Buddha and asked leave to be ordained as nuns. This leave the Buddha refused, and he went on to Vesali. But Pajapati and her companions, nothing daunted, had barbers to 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. The Buddha again refused, but Ananda interceded on their behalf and their request was granted, subject to eight strict conditions.

After her ordination, Pajapati came to the Buddha and worshipped him. The Buddha preached to her and gave her a subject for meditation. With this topic she developed insight and soon after won arahantship, while her five hundred companions attained to the same after listening to the Nandakovada Sutta. Later, at an assembly of monks and nuns in Jetavana, the Buddha declared Pajapati chief of those who had experience (rattannunam). Not long after, while at Vesali, she realized that her life had come to an end. She was one hundred and twenty years old; she took leave of the Buddha, performed various miracles, and then died, her five hundred companions dying with her. It is said that the marvels which attended her cremation rites were second only to those of the Buddha.

It is said that once Pajapati made a robe for the Buddha of wonderful material and marvelously elaborate. But when it came to be offered to the Buddha he refused it, and suggested it should be given to the Order as a whole. Pajapati was greatly disappointed, and Ananda intervened. But the Buddha explained that his suggestion was for the greater good of Pajapati, and also as an example to those who might wish to make similar gifts in the future. This was the occasion for the preaching of the Dakkhinavibhanga Sutta [MN 142](M.iii. 253ff) The Buddha had a great love for Pajapati, and when she lay ill, as there were no monks to visit her and preach to her — that being against the rule — the Buddha amended the rule and went himself to preach to her.

[Note: We, as laymen today, should note especially this explanation of the power of gifts in that it provides us even today with the ability to make powerful good kamma. A gift made to the Order, is of greater power than a gift made to a living Buddha. To make such a gift, one must find an initiated member of the Order and make the gift with these words, or words to this effect: "May the Good Sir accept from me this gift to the Order of Bhikkhus."]

From the Psalms:

Buddha the Wake, the Hero, hail! All hail!
Supreme o'er every being that hath life,
Who from all ill and sorrow hast released
Me and so many, many stricken folk.
Now have I understood how Ill doth come.
Craving, the Cause, in me is dried up.
Have I not trod, have I not touched the End
Of Ill — the Ariyan, the Eightfold Path?
Oh! But 'tis long I've wandered down all time.
Living as mother, father, brother, son,
And as grandparent in the ages past --
Not knowing how and what things really are,
And never finding what I needed sore.
But now mine eyes have seen th'Exalted One'
And now I know this living frame's the last,
And shattered is th'unending round of births.
No more Pajapaati shall come to be!
Behold the company who learn of him --
In happy concord of fraternity,
Of strenuous energy and resolute,
From strength to strength advancing toward the Goal --
The noblest homage this to Buddhas paid.
Oh! Surely for the good of countless lives
Did sister Maya bring forth Gotama,
Dispeller of the burden of our ill,
Who lay o'erweighted with disease and death!