Ancient Bhikkhunis' Teachings


Hearing the words of the Great Sage,

I penetrated Truth:
The Dhamma passionless,
I touched the Dhamma of Deathlessness.
When the True Dhamma had been known,
I went forth to the homeless life;
The three True Knowledges are attained,
Not empty the Buddha's Teaching
!


                                                                                -- Sujata Theri, Therigatha 6.4

 

 
Warm greetings, dear Dhamma friends,
 
A few days ago reading in a just-out Buddhist newsletter, to my astonishment and surprise my eyes fell upon these words:

 
"There was no sacred feminine in Buddhism until the Second Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, around 500 years after the Buddha."
 

This came as a great surprise to me as one of the fields of study that i have greatly enjoyed and been inspired by in Theravadan Buddhism is that of the lives and histories of the great female disciples of the Buddha, both the Etadagga Bhikkhuni Savakas (The Foremost Bhikkhuni Disciples) as well as the Etadagga Upasika Savakas (The Foremost Laywomen Disciples).  Of course the Buddha had excellent bhikkhu and laymen disciples as well, but the lives of the great bhikkhuni and laywomen disciples have particularly inspired me.  Deeply studying the stories of their lives and their enlightenment has served to bridge the gap of time and space, bringing the sense of their lineage as mine to life in me.  
 
 
 
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I would like to share with you some of what has so inspired me of the "sacred feminine" in the First Turning of the Wheel, the Theravada - from the first 500 years of Buddhist history, for your knowledge of Buddhism, your inspiration and gladness.
 
A highly recommened book on the subject: The First Buddhist Women by Susan Murcott.
 
The First Buddhist Women comes originally from stories within the Therigatha: The Verses of the Female Elders aka The Psalms of the Sisters.  The Therigatha is the oldest women's religious writing known to the modern world.  Many of the original verses are translated into English here by Thanissaro Bhikkhu and others.
 
Another great source of teachings of the Bhikkhuni Arahanta Elders is the Bhikkhuni Samyutta or Discourses of the Ancient Nuns, as translated by the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi.
 
Here you can find the stories of Khema Theri - Foremost in Wisdom and Upallavanna Theri - Foremost in Psychic Powers, the two primary women leaders of the ancient Bhikkhuni Sangha, the female counterparts to the great bhikkhu disciples Sariputta and Maha Moggallana.  
 
In addition, in the Majjhima Nikaya (the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha) we find the Culavedalla Sutta, uttered by the bhikkhuni praised by the Buddha amongst the great Arahanta Bhikkhuni Disciples as Foremost in Dhamma Teaching, the Theri Dhammadinna.  She is unique amongst the bhikkhunis in that the Buddha himself spoke of her words as "buddhavacana", that is, enlightened speech, or literally the "Buddha's word" itself.
 
Furthermore, in the Bhikkhuni Apadana (aka Avadana) texts, we also find much inspiration on the lives of these ancient and great ladies, especially the story of Mahapajapati Theri, often spoken of as the first of the bhikkhunis, whose Parinibbana (final Nirvana) was said to be second only in honor and glory to that of the Buddha himself.  
 
In addition, entire books have been written on that great lady, born on the same day as the Buddha himself and of very similar astrology -- partner in practice of many lifetimes -- the Bhikkhuni Arahant Yasodhara.  Yasodhara Theri was foremost of the disciples in her ability to see back eons in time, back to what we now call "the big bang" and beyond.  Of all the early enlightened ones, she was one of only three Arahanta disciples and the Buddha himself with such ability.  Books on her include William Blake's The Lady of the Lotus and the more modern Yasodhara: Wife of the Bodhisattva by Ranjini Obeyesekere based upon the Yasodhara Avatara and the Yasodhara Apadana.
 
There are so many more, and much later history or "herstory": the story of Ashokan daughter Sanghamitta - the world's first recorded female international religous missionary, of the great early Bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka in the Dipavamsa - the world's first knows historical chronicle (authored by the ancient Singalese Bhikkhuni Sangha), or of the first developer of our modern shrine at the site of the Buddha's enlightenment in Bodhgaya, retired Maghadan queen and contemplative, Ayya Kurangi.   
 
Not only was there a sacred and enlightened feminine in Buddhism in its first 500 years, but appearing throughout Buddhism's history, preserved to this day in nearly all of the countries in which Buddhism has become a lamp, upheld by those women and men who have put it into practice and realized its fruits, unto this very day...
 
For colorful images of bhikkhunis ancient and modern, young and old, East and West, please visit: www.bhikkhuni.net.
 
 
 
Dear friends, i hope that you will enjoy the knowing and the links.  Please do save and share this page with any and all who might be unaware and would like to know about this history, that is, "her-story".
 
 

In peace and kindess,
 
Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni 
 
 
 
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Lunar Observance (Uposatha) Days Especially Commemorating Women in Early Buddhist History
 
Full Moon of September:  The Founding of the Bhikkhuni Sangha
Full Moon in December: The Arrival of Sanghamitta Theri to the Isle of Sri Lanka
Full Moon in February: The Final Nirvana of Mahapajapati Gotami and her 500