THE LIFE OF SAKYAMUNI BUDDHA
23. The Order of Nuns
In the fifth year of his ministry, the Buddha was staying at Vesali when he heard that his father, King Suddhodana, was ill. He decided to visit him again at Kapilavatthu to teach him the Dharma, and made the long journey. After hearing the Dharma, the king immediately attained arahantship and passed away peacefully seven days later. It was in this year that the order of nuns was founded at the request of Maha Pajapati Gotami, the aunt and foster mother of the Buddha.
Three times she approached the Buddha and asked him to ordain her into the Sangha, but each time the Buddha refused, giving no reason at all. After the Buddha had stayed at Kapilavatthu a while, he journeyed back to Vesali.
Pajapati Gotami was a determined lady, and would not be so easily discouraged. She had a plan to get her way. She cut her hair, put on yellow garments and, surrounded by a large number of Sakyan ladies, walked 150 miles from Kapilavatthu to Vesali. When she arrived at Vesali, her feet were swollen and her body was covered with dust. She stood outside the hall where the Buddha was staying with tears on her face, still hoping that the Buddha would ordain her as a nun.
Ananda was surprised to see her in this condition. “Gotami, why are you standing here like this?” he asked.
“Venerable Ananda, it is because the Blessed One does not give permission for women to become nuns,” she replied.
“Wait here, Gotami, I’ll ask the Blessed One about this,” Ananda told her. When Ananda asked the Buddha to admit Maha Pajapati Gotami as a nun, the Buddha refused. Ananda asked three times and three times the Buddha refused.
So Ananda put the request in a different way. Respectfully he questioned the Buddha, “Lord, are women capable of realising the various stages of sainthood as nuns?”
“They are, Ananda,” said the Buddha.
“If that is so, Lord, then it would be good if women could be ordained as nuns,” said Ananda, encouraged by the Buddha’s reply.
“If, Ananda, Maha Pajapati Gotami would accept the Eight Conditions* it would be regarded that she has been ordained already as a nun.”
When Ananda mentioned the conditions to Maha Pajapati Gotami, she gladly agreed to abide by those conditions and automatically became a nun. Before long she attained arahantship. The other Sakyan ladies who were ordained with her also attained Arahantship.
The establishment of an order of nuns with rules and regulations was an opportunity for women that Buddha offered for the first time in the history of the world. No other religious leader had given such a high religious position for women.
* These rules are related to the monks and nuns code of ethics.
EXERCISE 23. The Order of Nuns
1. Who was Maha Pajapati Gotami?
2. Why did she approach the Buddha?
3. When the Buddha refused to make her a nun what did she do?
4. Why was the establishment of the order of nuns a historic event?