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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


[237] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Female Beggars who are of great Mental Power (iddhimantanam) is Uppalavanna.


(DPPN: One of the two chief women disciples of the Buddha. She was born in Savatthi as the daughter of a banker, and she received the name of Uppalavanna because her skin was the color of the heart of the blue lotus. When she was come of age, kings and commoners from the whole of India sent messengers to her father, asking for her hand. He, not wishing to offend any of them, suggested that Uppalavanna should leave the world ... . she very willingly agreed and was ordained a nun. Soon it came to her turn to perform certain services in the uposatha-hall. Lighting the lamp, she swept the room. Taking the flame of the lamp as her visible object, she developed tejokasina [the firelight concentration device], and attaining to jhana, became an arahant possessed of the four special attainments (patisambhida — "the four branches of logical analysis"). She became particularly versed in the mystic potency of transformation (iddhivikubbana = IDDHI = the power; VI = re; kubbana>karoti = to weave, to build, form, make; American Indian (and StarTreck) Shape Shift, The power to re-make the form). When the Buddha arrived at the Gandamba-tree to perform the Twin Miracle (A fantastic story: --also from DPPN: The miracle of the "double appearances." When the Buddha laid down a rule forbidding the exercise of supernatural powers by monks — following on the miracle performed by Pindola-Bharadvaja (see above) — the heretics went about saying that henceforth they would perform no miracles except with the Buddha. [This is not stated well: they would not perform any miracles unless the Buddha also performed a miracle — a challenge they hoped they would not have to meet and which would put them on equal footing with the Bhikkhus, since then neither group would be able to prove superiority in the ability to perform magic feats.] Bimbisara reported this to the Buddha, who at once accepted the challenge, explaining that the rule was for his disciples and did not apply to himself. He, therefore, went to Savatthi, the place where all Buddhas perform the Miracle. In reply to Pasenadi, the Buddha said he wold perform the miracle at the foot of the Gandamba-tree on the full-moon day of Asalha (asajha=june/july; in the seventh year after the Enlightenment). The heretics therefore [desperate] uprooted all mango-trees for one league around, but, on the promised day, the Buddha went to the king's garden, accepted the mango offered by Ganda [as his food offering for the full moon day meal], and caused a marvelous tree to sprout from its seed. The people, discovering what the heretics had done, attacked them, and they had to flee helter-skelter. The multitude, assembled to witness the miracle, extended to a distance of thirty-six leagues. The Buddha created a jewelled walk in the air by the side of the Gandamba. When the Buddha's disciples knew what was in his mind, several of them offered to perform miracles and so refute the insinuations of the heretics. Among such disciples were Gharani, Culla Anāthapiṇḍika [first I have heard that he had any supernormal powers], Cira, Cunda, Uppalavanna and Moggallāna. The Buddha refused their offers ... Then, standing on the jeweled walk, he proceeded to perform the Yamakaptihariya (Twin Miracle), so called because it consisted in the appearance of phenomena of opposite character in pairs — e.g., producing flames from the upper part of the body and a stream of water from the lower, and then alternatively. Flames of fire and streams of water also proceeded alternatively from the right side of his body and from the left. From every pore of his body rays of six colors darted forth ... [I heard it slightly differently described as: with the body divided into quarters, one half of the upper body would face, while the other half would face to the side, and the same with the lower half of the body; water would spout from the ear facing to the side, while flames would spout from the mouth facing to the front. This would happen while "pacing back and forth" (and switching the sides from which the water and flames would spout) while preaching Dhamma.]), Upppalavanna offered to perform certain miracles herself, if the Buddha would give his consent, but this he refused. Later, at Jetavana, in the assembly of the Saṅgha, he declared her to be the chief of the women possessed of iddhi-power ...

The books give several episodes connected with Uppalavanna. Once a young man named Ananda, who was her cousin and had been in love with her during her lay-life, hid himself in her hut ... and in spite of her protestations, deprived her of her chastity. It is said that he was swallowed up by the fires of Avici (A General Term for Hell = Uninterupted Pain) ... It is said that this incident gave rise to the question whether even arahants enjoyed the pleasures of love and wished to gratify their passions: "Why should they not? For they are not trees nor ant-hills, but living creatures with moist flesh." The Buddha most emphatically declared that thoughts of lust never entered the hearts of the saints ...

According to the Dhammapada Commentary, the miracle which Uppalavanna volunteered to perform at the Gandamba-tree, was the assumption of the form of a cakkavatti (a female wheel-turner (mover and shaker)) with a retinue extending for thirty-six leagues and the paying of homage to the Buddha, with all the cakkavat' ti. followers, in the presence of the multitude.

From the Psalms:

How erst I lived I know; the Heavenly Eye,
Purview celestial, have I clarified;
Clear too the inward life that others lead;
Clear too I hear the sounds ineffable;
Powers supernormal have I made mine own;
And won immunity from deadly Drugs.
These, the six higher knowledges are mine.
Accomplished is the bidding of the Lord.

(She works a marvel before the Buddha with his consent and records the same:)

With chariot and horses four I came,
Made visible by supernormal power,
And worshipped, wonder working, at his feet,
The wondrous Buddha, Sovran of the world.

[With this as evidence, I might guess that the miracle mentioned here was the miracle she offered to perform at the Gandamba tree, and that cakkavatti might actually refer to arriving by chariot.]

(She is disturbed by Mara in the Sal-tree Grove, and rebukes him:)

MARA: Thou that art come where fragrant the trees stand crowned with blossoms,
Standest alone in the shade, maiden so (fair and) foolhardy,
None to companion thee — feaarest thou not the wiles of seducers?
UPPALAVANNA: Were there an hundred thousand seducers e'en such as thou art,
Ne'er would a hair of me stiffen or tremble — alone what canst thou do?
Here though I stand, I can vanish and enter into thy body.
See! I stand 'twixt thine eyebrows, stand where thou canst not see me.
For all my mind is wholly self-controlled,
And the four Paths to Potency are thoroughly learnt,
Yea, the six Higher Knowledges are mine,
Accomplished is the bidding of the Lord.
Like spears and juav'lins are the joys of sense,
That pierce and rend the mortal frames of us.
These that thou speak'st of as the joys of life --
Joys of that ilk to me are nothing worth.
On every hand the love of pleasure yields,
And the thick thu gloom of ignorance is rent
In twain. Know this, O Evil One, avaunt!
Here, O Destroyere! Shalt thou not prevail.