Events from the 2nd to the 9th Rains-Retreats
Edited and Translated by
Volume Three, Chapter 23
FIRST ORDINATION OF BHIKKHUNIS
Permission given for ordination of women at the request of step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami.
Step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami had approached the Tathagata since the time of Buddha's first visit to Kapilavatthu with a request for admission of women to the Order by formal ordination; she had made the requests then for three times repeatedly and the Tathagata had rejected her request every time.
The reason for such rejection was because the Tathagata had decided to grant admission of women to the Order not easily but only after pains-taking efforts on the part of women to gain permission for ordination. Only then would they realize that becoming a bhikkhuni in the Dispensation was a thing difficult of attainment and would safeguard their bhikkhuni status with constant vigilance. The Tathagata wished them to cherish the hard won admission to the Order obtained after a great struggle.
Thus when the step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami made her first request repeated three times to the Tathagata at the Nigrodha monastery of Kapilavatthu, her request was rejected by the Tathagata for reasons as stated above. Mahapajapati Gotami had to abandon her hope and return to the royal palace for three times in the past.
Now an opportunity had presented itself for her to make another attempt when the Tathagata had taken up residence at Vesali to keep the fifth vasa.
As stated in the previous chapters, those five hundred bhikkhus of royal blood prior to their attainment to Arahatship had messages sent to them by their former spouses, requesting them to return and live a household life again. These ladies made their earnest appeal again sending messages as before to the five hundred bhikkhus who had become Arahats now. But the Arahat bhikkhus sent the reply, "We are no longer in a position to lead a worldly life".
The five hundred deserted wives considered that 'it would not be appropriate to seek for new married life' and decided unanimously to go to Mahapajapati Gotami to appeal to her 'to obtain permission from the Tathagata for admission to the Order as bhikkhunis.' Accordingly they went in a group to the step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami and made their, appeal to her.
Their request reminded her of her failure to obtain permission for the women to receive ordination when the Tathagata was taking up residence at Nigrodha monastery on a previous occasion and so she caused a hair-dresser to shave their heads, including that of her own, and asked the ladies to wear dyed clothes to assume the form of bhikkhunis while they were still in the royal palace. Then they made arrangements to set out all together for Mahavana forest of Vesali where the Tathagata was then residing.
The distance between Kapilavatthu and Vesali was fifty yojanas; and when Sakyan and Koliya royal families considered arrangements for their journey, they concluded, 'It would not be possible for these princesses and royal ladies brought up so regally and gently to make the journey on foot' and they arranged to provide them with five hundred sedans to solve the problem.
The five hundred ladies agreed amongst themselves that such a mode of traveling might be tantamount to an act of disrespect to the Tathagata and they therefore made the journey of fifty one yojanas on foot. Royal families of both countries arranged for regular provision of food at every stop and sufficient number of escorts for their security en route to Vesali.
Having made the difficult journey of fifty yojanas, their delicate feet were swollen with boils that took turns to rise and burst, looking as if they were covered with seeds of clearing-nut, Strychos potato rum. All the five hundred fair ladies headed by Mahapajapati Gotami who arrived at Vesali with swollen feet, bodies besmeared with dirt and dust, with tears streaming down their cheeks and in sore distress, stood in a group at the gate of the Kutagara monastery in the forest of Mahavana. (They dared not enter the precincts of the monastery at once). (Illustration)
[ Step-mother Maha Pajapati Gotami thought to herself that she bad taken on the dress of a bhikkhuni without the permission of the Tathagata and the news of her action had already spread through out the land. It would be well if the Tathagata would be pleased to admit her into the Order; but failing that she should have to stand reproached. That was the reason why she stood bewailing at the gate without daring to seek entry ].
When the Venerable Ananda noticed Mahapajapati Gotami in such a plight at the gate, he came to her and inquired: "O dear Step-mother, why do you look so miserable? Have the royal relatives of Sakya and Koliya families met with tragedies and are ruined? Why are you in an unsightly appearance such as this, with swollen feet, and looking shabby, a grief stricken face, standing helplessly and weeping at the gate?"
Whereupon, Step-mother . Mahapajapati Gotami replied "O Venerable Ananda, we have been standing at the gate with tears for failure to get Tathagata's permission for women to receive formal ordination that they might lead the life of bhikkhunis in the Dispensation of Dhamma-Vinaya." Ananda soothed her by saying a few words of encouragement: "Step-mother... if that is the case .. I will go and approach the Tathagata for admission of women into the Order by formal ordination, so that they might lead the life of bhikkhunis in the Dispensation of. Dhamma-Vinaya; please remain at the gate till I come back", and so saying Venerable Ananda went to the Tathagata and made this request:-
The Tathagata said in response: "That is not a proper thing... dear Ananda and I advise you not to be interested in the matter of admitting women folk into the order as bhikkhunis" With an undaunted will, the Venerable Ananda made similar requests for the second time, for the third time, but received the same words of discouragement from the Tathagata.
A Renewed Request
The Venerable Ananda thought of a new approach, after failure to obtain permission for admission of women folk to the Dispensation of Dhamma-Vinaya for three times and accordingly went to the Tathagata and addressed him: -
Whereupon, the Tathagata replied: "Ananda, women folk could attain Ariyaship ranging from Fruitional Stage of Sotapatti, Sakadagami, Anagami to Arahatta, by leading the life of bhikkhunis within the frame-work of Dhamma Vinaya Sasana."
[ Mahapajapati Gotami, gave birth to prince Nanda a few days after Maha Maya Devi had given birth to Boddhisatta. She entrusted her own child Nanda to the care of wet-nurses, and she volunteered to act as Boddhisatta's wet-nurse and care-taker; hence this additional weight applied to his request! ]
The Buddha finally acceded to Ananda's entreaties, saying, "Ananda, if Mahapajapati accepts the Eight Special Rules, Garu-dhamma, let such acceptance mean her admission to the Order."
The Eight Special Rules are:
"These are the Eight Special Rules. If Mahapajapati Gotami accepts the Eight Special Rules let such acceptance mean her admission to the Order." The Tathagata thus permitted the establishment of Bhikkhuni Sasana after expounding the Eight Special Rules for their guidance.
Ananda learned the Eight Special Rules from the Tathagata and returned to Mahapajapati Gotami at the gate and told her what had transpired at his meeting with the Tathagata:
Mahapajapati Gotami responded: "Venerable Ananda .... just as a young maiden who is in the habit of decorating herself with flowers with her hair washed and brushed or a man in like manner, would eagerly receive lilies, Moe-swe or Lai-tu flowers with out-stretched hands, for planting on their heads if and when offered; so also I am prepared to adhere to the Eight Special Rules, Garu dhamma, with great delight and due respect till I breathe my last.
Thereupon the Venerable Ananda approached the Tathagata again with profound respect and stood at a suitable place and addressed:
"Most Exalted Tathagata... Mahapajapati Gotami has vowed to adhere strictly to the Eight Special Rules as laid down, with due diligence and respect up to the end of her life".
(Her enthusiastic acceptance of the Eight Special Rules constitute automatic admission to the Order; she became a bhikkhuni without formal ordination in a Sima. Such procedure of admission into the Order is known as "Attha garu dhamma patiggahana Upasampada".
Permission Granted for Ordination of Bhikkhuni.
Step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Tathagata and sat at a suitable place with due respect and asked. "Exalted Tathagata.. what should I do with those five hundred princesses of royal blood?" The Tathagata gave her certain instructions. She left after hearing the dhamma and making obeisance to the Tathagata. Then the Tathagata told the bhikkhus about his instructions to Mahapajapati and laid down the following rules:
"Bhikkhus, I give permission to bhikkhus to help ordination of female candidates to become bhikkhunis."
Bhikkhus proceeded to help ordination of the five hundred royal princesses with Mahapajapati Gotami as their preceptor (upajjhaya). They were known as "ekataw upasampanna" there being insufficient number of bhikkhunis to participate jointly with bhikkhus in the ordination ceremony.
When the ordination ceremony was over, Mahapajapati Gotami attained Fruitional Stage of Arahatship through hearing Sankhitta Sutta (Anguttara), and those five hundred bhikkhunis attained Ariyaship according to their wishes, ranging from Sotapatti, Sakadagami, Anagami to Arahatta through hearing Nandakovada Sutta (Majjhima)
[ The ordination of distinguished bhikkhunis, such as, Queen Yasodhara, Princess Janapadakalayani, Queen Khema, Dhammadinna, wife of a rich man, Bhaddakapila will be described separately when we come to deal with the Jewel of Sangha ]
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