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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


[262] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Female Upasakas who has mastered the Burnings (jhayinam) is Uttara Nandamata.

Uttara Nandamata

(DPPN: Chief of the lay-women disciples who waited on the Buddha. In the Anguttara Nikaya, she is described as the best of women disciples in the meditative power (jhayinam), but this may refer to another Uttara. She is again mentioned in a list of eminent lay-women disciples, who observed the fast (uposatha) of the eight precepts.

According to the Anguttara Commentary, she was the daughter of Punnasiha (Punnaka) a servitor of Sumana-setthi of Rajagaha. Later, when Punnasihi was made dhana-setthi because of the immense wealth he gained by virtue of a meal given to Sariputta, he held an almsgiving for the Buddha and his monks for seven days. On the seventh day, at the end of the Buddha's sermon of thanksgiving, Punnasiha, his wife and daughter, all became Sotapanna.

When Sumana-setthi asked for Uttara's hand for his son, his request was refused because Sumana's family did not belong to the Buddha's faith. Punna sent word to Sumana that Uttara was the Buddha's disciple and daily offered flowers to the Buddha, costing a kahapana. Later, however, when Sumana promised that Uttara should be given flowers worth two kahapanas, Punna agreed and Uttara was married. After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain her husband's permission to keep the fast, as she had done in her parents' house, she got from her father fifteen thousand kahapanas and with these she purchased the services of a prostitute named Sirima, to look after her husband for a fortnight, and with his consent she entered on a fortnight's uposatha. On the last day of the fast, while Uttara was busy preparing alms for the Buddha, her husband, walking along with Sirima, saw her working hard and smiled, thinking what a fool she was not to enjoy her wealth. Uttara, seeing him, smiled at the thought of his folly in not making proper use of his wealth. Sirima, thinking that husband and wife were smiling at each other, regardless of her presence, flew into a fury and, seizing a pot of boiling oil, threw it at Uttara's head. But Uttara was at that time full of compassion for Sirima, and the oil, therefore, did not hurt her at all. Sirima, realizing her grievous folly, begged forgiveness of Uttara, who took her to the Buddha and related the whole story, asking that he should forgive here. The Buddha preached to Sirima and she became a Sotapanna.

After death Uttara was born in Tavatimsa in a vimana [a fantasy palace]. Moggallāna saw her in one of his visits to Tavatimsa and, having learnt her story, repeated it to the Buddha.

Uttara's story is given in the Vissuddhimagga to prove that fire cannot burn the body of a person who lives in love, and again, as an instance of psychic power being diffused by concentration.