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Life of a Saint

The Venerable Bhikshuni Mahaprajapati Gautami (vegan): The First Buddhist Nun, Part 2 of 2

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As we heard in Part 1 of this series, Mahaprajapati Gautami asked the Buddha repeatedly to be ordained as a Sangha member, but she was rejected each time. Our Most Beloved Supreme Master Ching Hai expounded on this story during a lecture given in 2008.

“Yes, and His godmother also wanted to become a nun with Him. It’s not about respect for Him that He worried about; it’s that He worried about that if she continued her royal attitude in the assembly of monks, then maybe she’d create karma (retribution) for herself, and also confuse all the monks. So, He laid down many rules for her to follow, including having to respect any monk that she sees. So, but anyway, because the mother of the Buddha was very determined to become a nun – because she realized that nothing else was better than this – so she accepted everything and she became just a humble disciple. Therefore the Buddha accepted her, and she was the first nun ever in His assembly, or maybe in the assembly every where at that time in India.”

The Venerable Mahaprajapati Gautami had accumulated merit with good deeds performed throughout many lifetimes. In another life, Mahaprajapati Gautami was born enslaved near Deer Park in Vaishali, which is the same location where Lord Shakyamuni Buddha later gave His last sermon before His earthly departure. Mahaprajapati Gautami looked after the five Pratyeka-Buddhas for three months. She coordinated the women to prepare 500 cloths which were made into robes, and gifted them to each Pratyeka-Buddha.

The women would eventually follow Mahaprajapati Gautami to become ordained into the female monastic order and attain liberation during the time of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha. Upon the departure of the Noble Ones from this mundane world, the very Earth shook, with heavenly flowers and meteors falling from the sky. There was the sound of thunder crashing, and celestial beings could also be heard crying.

The Venerable Mahaprajapati Gautami’s direct ordination by Lord Shakyamuni Buddha paved the way for female nuns who sought to enter the Sangha to learn the Dharma. As the Principal Mother of the Buddhist tradition, she demonstrated that women could achieve Supreme knowledge and become fully Enlightened.
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