BuddhaSasana Home Page
English Section

Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha
Radhika Abeysekera




1. King Suddhodana

King Suddhodana, who was of the Sakyan caste, was a righteous king who ruled over Kapilavatthu. As a young prince he excelled in warfare and swordsmanship. After a victorious battle his father, King Sihahanu, offered him a boon. He requested permission to marry the beautiful sisters, Maha Maya and Pajapati. Even though in many other kingdoms in India it was accepted for the king to have more than one consort, this was not the custom in Kapilavatthu. The Sakyans were monogamous and as such Prince Suddhodana had to receive special permission to marry the noble princesses who were of the Koliya caste. Prince Suddhodana wished to make both princesses his consorts as he had heard that one of the two sisters would give birth to a noble son who would bring great happiness to mankind.

For many years his chief consort, Queen Maha Maya, had no children. Then, almost twenty years after their marriage, she gave birth to a baby prince whom they named Siddhattha, meaning wish-fulfilled.

King Suddhodana first recognized the extraordinary qualities of their child when the Sage Asita came to visit the baby. Asita, who was renowned for his wisdom and was a teacher to King Suddhodana, visited the palace on hearing of the birth of the prince. The king carried the baby to Asita for his blessing. To their surprise, the baby moved and placed His feet on Asita’s head. The wise Asita then examined the markings on the baby’s feet, and kneeling before the young prince, paid homage to Him. Asita then predicted that this noble baby would one day be a Buddha and show the world the path to the end of suffering. King Suddhodana, seeing the learned Asita salute the baby prince, followed suit, saying, "Son, this is my first act of obeisance."

King Suddhodana paid homage to the prince for the second time during the royal ploughing festival. It was the custom at that time to herald the new growing season with festivities. The nurses, observing that the baby prince was asleep, joined in the festivities and merry-making. When they returned they found the prince meditating while sitting cross-legged a few feet above the ground. Alarmed, they informed the king of the extraordinary feat. The king then knelt and saluted the baby prince for the second time, saying, "Son, this is my second act of obeisance."

Despite the fact that two sages had predicted that the prince would be a Buddha, King Suddhodana wanted his son to be a king. Four others had said that the baby would be a Buddha or a Universal Monarch. The king decided that he would surround the prince with luxury and ensure that he was totally shielded from suffering so as to ensure his royal lineage of an Universal Monarch. King Suddhodana did not want the baby prince to be a Buddha. However, the prince’s aspiration and effort over aeons of time had to be fulfilled. Prince Siddhattha left home in search of the Truth and attained enlightenment by realizing the path to the total destruction of suffering. After this, Prince Siddhattha was known as the Supreme Buddha Gotama.

The Buddha was in Rajagaha when there arose a strong desire in King Suddhodana to see his enlightened son. He sent courtiers inviting the Buddha to visit the city of His childhood. However, on hearing the Dhamma, messenger after messenger decided to remain with the Buddha and be ordained. Enjoying the bliss of Nibbana, the courtiers did not convey the invitation to the Buddha. Finally, King Suddhodana sent his most trusted courtier, Kaludayi, a playmate of Prince Siddhattha, to bring the Buddha back to Kapilavatthu. Kaludayi agreed to give the message if the king gave him permission to be ordained as a monk.

When the Buddha arrived in Kapilavatthu the proud Sakyan elders decided that they would not pay homage to Him. Instead, they sent the younger princes and princesses to pay homage. The Buddha, seeing the pride of the Sakyans and its hindrance to their attainment of spiritual development, performed the Twin Wonder. Red and blue rays that depicted fire and water radiated from either side of His body. The king, seeing the miracle, fell down on his knees and paid obeisance to the Buddha by saying, "Son, this is my third act of obeisance". The Sakyan elders, their pride subdued, followed King Suddhodana’s example and paid homage to the Buddha.

King Suddhodana assumed that the Buddha and His retinue of 20,000 monks would come to the palace for their meals on the following day. As such he did not invite the Buddha to the palace. Without an invitation, the Buddha decided that He would examine what His ancestors, the Buddhas of the past, did when they first visited their home city. Did they go uninvited, to their previous home? He observed that the Buddhas of the past had not automatically invited themselves. They had instead gone for alms from house to house. The Buddha, with His retinue of monks, followed the age-old tradition of seeking alms from every house.

Before long the message that his Son was begging for alms reached the king. Disturbed, he questioned the Buddha as to why He was insulting His father, the king, by begging for alms. The Buddha gently informed King Suddhodana that He was following the custom of His ancestors. The king replied, "How could that be? You are a Sakyan Prince of the Solar Dynasty, with royal blood. None of our ancestors begged for their food." The Buddha corrected the king by saying, "O King, you are referring to your lineage. I am of the Buddha lineage. The Buddhas of the past, when visiting their homecity for the first time, went from house to house seeking alms if they were not invited."

The humility of the Great Buddha is observed in this simple action. Not only did the Buddha when in doubt seek counsel from the traditions of past Buddhas, but He also did not see any need for arrogance just because He came from a royal caste. He was an ascetic, a Buddha, and as such even in His homecity, followed the customs of His ancestors.

King Suddhodana attained Arahanthship in stages. He attained the first two stages of sainthood, Sotapanna and Sakadagami, on the Buddha’s first visit after hearing a few lines on righteousness. The Buddha advised the king to lead a righteous, uncorrupted life, and that the righteous live happily in both this life and the next.

He attained the third stage of sainthood, Anagami, on hearing the Dhammapala Jataka. When the Buddha was practising self-mortification, He had reduced His food intake to such an extent that His body was wasted and He often fainted from lack of nourishment. An erroneous message was sent to King Suddhodana that his son had passed away. The king, however, refused to believe the message, saying his son would not pass away before attaining His goal of enlightenment. The Buddha, on hearing this, dispensed the Dhammapala Jataka, a previous life story of another instance when they had been father and son. At that time, bones had been brought back by a messenger with the claim that his son had died. In that birth also, King Suddhodana had refused to believe that his son had died.

King Suddhodana attained the various stages of sainthood without renunciation. He chose to perform his royal duties and remain as the King of Kapilavatthu. Many years later, on hearing of His father’s imminent death, the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu to give His last discourse to His father. On hearing the Dhamma, King Suddhodana attained Arahanthship. Seven days later he passed away. The Buddha was about forty years old at the time of His father’s death.

2. Queen Maha Maya

Queen Maha Maya was the daughter of King Anjana and Queen Yasodhara of the Koliya caste. She was the chief consort of King Suddhodana and the mother of Prince Siddhattha.

One night Queen Maha Maya had a strange dream. She dreamt that the Devas from the four directions of the earth took her to Lake Anotatta on top of the Himalayan Mountains. She was bathed in the lake and dressed in heavenly clothes and ornaments. A white baby elephant carrying a white lotus flower in its trunk trumpeted, and after circling around her three times, entered her body.

The next morning she told King Suddhodana of her dream. He consulted sages who, on hearing of the dream, predicted that the Queen would have a wise and noble baby boy. The king and queen were very happy for they had no children and were longing for a child.

According to the custom of that time, Queen Maha Maya decided to visit her mother so that she could be with her at the time of the birth of her baby. On the way, she stopped at the Lumbini Pleasure Garden to rest. Under a sweet-scented Sala tree, on a full-moon day in the month of May, in the year 623 BC, the Prince Siddhattha was born.

Seven days later Queen Maha Maya passed away. Her Sister, Maha Pajapati Gotami, who was the second consort of King Suddhodana, nursed and took care of the baby Prince. Queen Maha Maya was reborn as a male Deva by the name of Matu Deva Putta in the Tusita heaven. Later she passed away from the Tusita heaven to the Tavatimsa Heaven to hear the Abhidhamma, the Higher Teachings. The Buddha dispensed the Higher Teachings for three months in the Tavatimsa heaven to a multitude of Devas presided over by his former mother.

It is said that Prince Siddhattha’s mother, Matu Deva Putta, had appeared before Him and encouraged Him to persevere when he had fainted, weak from the practice of self- mortification. The Ascetic Gotama had practised self-mortification to its fullest degree and reduced His meals to just one mustard seed a day. His flesh and muscle had withered and His skin had clung to His protruding bones. Weak with hunger, the Bodhisatta had fainted momentarily. His former mother had appeared before Him and encouraged Him in His Noble Quest.

The role of the mother of the Buddha is a sacred role that requires great effort. Queen Maha Maya aspired to be a mother of a Buddha one hundred thousand world cycles ago at the time of the Padumuttara Buddha, the fifteenth Buddha preceding our Gotama Buddha. She then performed meritorious deeds and kept the preceptsfor one hundred thousand world cycles to fulfil her aspiration.

3. Maha Pajapati Gotami

Pajapati Gotami was the younger sister of Queen Maha Maya and the second consort of King Suddhodana. She was called Maha (great) Pajapati as sages had predicted that she would be the leader of a large following. When her beloved sister passed away seven days after giving birth to Prince Siddhattha, she was desolated. They had been very close as sisters. She decided that she would bring up her sister's baby as her own.

Delegating the care of her own son, Nanda, to nurses, Maha Pajapati nursed the new-born babe. Both King Suddhodana and Maha Pajapati adored the gentle Prince. Prince Siddhattha grew up in luxury with His stepbrother and stepsister, Nanda and Nanda, Maha Pajapati's two children.

When the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu and dispensed the Dhammapala Jataka to King Suddhodana, Maha Pajapati attained the first stage of sainthood, Sotapanna. After King Suddhodana passed away, Maha Pajapati decided that she too would enter the Noble Order and lead the holy life under the Buddha. Her son, Nanda, and grandson, little Rahula, had entered the Order under the great sage. Pajapati no longer had any desire for worldly pleasures.

The Buddha was visiting Kapilavatthu to settle a dispute that had arisen between the Sakyans and the Koliyas regarding the waters of the Rohini River when Maha Pajapati first approached Him with the request to permit women to enter the Noble Order. Without stating the reason the Buddha refused, saying, "O Gotami, let it not please you that women should be allowed to do so". Maha Pajapati, however, did not give up. A second and a third time she requested ordination for women. In each instance the Buddha gave the same reply.

The Buddha then proceeded to Vesali to reside at the Mahavana in the Kutagara Hall. The determined Maha Pajapati was not discouraged. Cutting off her hair, she donned the yellow robes of a monk, and with a large retinue of Sakyan ladies, walked the 150 miles to Vesali. Covered in dust, her feet swollen and bleeding, she stood outside the hall, weeping. When ananda, the Buddha’s personal attendant, saw her and heard the cause of her grief, he decided to approach the Buddha on her behalf.

The compassionate ananda pleaded on behalf of the ladies. When the Buddha refused, ananda asked Him if He felt that women were incapable of reaching spiritual heights and Arahanthship. The Buddha replied that women were as capable as men of attaining spiritual development. He then looked back into Maha Pajapati’s past lives. Seeing that Maha Pajapati had made an aspiration many aeons ago to initiate the order of the nuns, the fulfilment of which was to occur during His dispensation, the Buddha relented, granted ananda’s request, and formed the order of the nuns.

The Buddha did not give the reason for His initial refusal to Maha Pajapati. All the Buddhas of the past had had the order of the nuns. The Gotama Buddha would have seen this and realized that the female order was a part of every Buddha’s retinue. As such, some speculate that He was testing Pajapati's determination and resolution, as the holy life for women, especially women of royal birth, would be difficult and entail many hardships. Some speculate that the initial refusal was also because of the society and its treatment of women at that time, and the Buddha's fear for the safety of the female order. In general, it is felt that the initial refusal was to strengthen the determination and resolve of the noble ladies and to prepare them better for the hardships they would have to face.

In India at the time of the Buddha, women were thought to be inferior to men. They did not have much freedom and were often not treated with respect. Women from noble families were carefully secluded and shielded from abuse. The men ensured the safety of the women. The Buddha's disciples often meditated in forests and walked alone from city to city on lonely roads, preaching the Dhamma. How was He to ensure the safety and protection of the nuns? How was He to ensure they would be treated with respect and fairness? How was He to entrust the safety of the nuns to monks who had taken the vows of celibacy? Would it not then be harder for the monks to be disciplined?

The Buddha dispensed eight extra disciplinary (Vinaya) rules for the nuns, mostly regarding the manner in which they would have to respect and honour the monks who through necessity, would have to protect them. He also prophesied that ordination of nuns would result in the shortening of the time span in which His teachings would remain on Earth.

While some women in the modern world may find it difficult to accept some of these rules, we should place them in the context of the role and position of women at the time of the Buddha, to fully appreciate the bold radical change that the Buddha instigated.

The Eight Monastic Regulations applicable to women were:

1. A Bhikkhuni (nun) should always respect a Bhikkhu (monk) even if the monk were junior to her in the order. Among the Bhikkhus the junior monks in the order respected the senior monks just as the junior nuns respected the senior nuns.

2. A Bhikkhuni shall not spend the rainy season in a place where there are no monks. (The attitude prevalent in India towards women at the time of the Buddha necessitated this precaution for the safety of the nuns).

3. Twice a month the Bhikkhuni shall ask the Bhikkhus the time when the monastic discipline (Uposatha) is recited and request for a monk to come to advise and admonish the Bhikkhunis (who have deviated from monastic rules).

4. At the termination of the rainy season retreat, the final ceremony shall be held in an assembly of both monks and nuns.

5. Certain offences committed by Bhikkhunis should be dealt with by assemblies of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis. The assembly of Bhikkhunis deals with only minor transgressions and some of a personal nature to women.

6. A novice Bhikkhuni shall receive higher ordination after a training period of two years. There are instances when monks were given higher ordination immediately after ordination.

7. A Bhikkhuni should not rebuke a Bhikkhu under any circumstances.

8. Even though Bhikkhunis cannot admonish Bhikkhus, a Bhikkhu can admonish a Bhikkhuni who has transgressed the monastic discipline.

Maha Pajapati and her retinue of Sakyan ladies accepted the eight extra discipline rules and received ordination from the Buddha. The Buddha was the first religious teacher to form the order of the Bhikkhunis (nuns). The nuns were then guided under similar monastic rules as the monks. The Buddha appointed two chief female disciples (as he had appointed two chief male disciples) to help with His growing congregation of nuns. Subsequent to this, new rules were added to the discipline as and when required by circumstance. For example, Bhikkhunis were not allowed to meditate and reside on their own in forests after an incident that occurred regarding the Bhikkhuni Uppalavanna.

The Buddha’s monastic discipline (five books) for Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis is an exemplary democratic system from which we can still learn. The exceptionally high moral standards of the Sangha and the unsurpassed administrative system the Buddha instituted were well thought out and futuristic. Lord Zetland, a former viceroy of India, writes, "And it may come as a surprise to many to learn that in the assemblies of the Buddhists in India, two thousand years and more ago, are to be found the rudiments of our own parliamentary practice of the present day."

Before long, Maha Pajapati attained Arahanthship, as well as intuitive and analytical knowledge. Her retinue of Sakyan ladies too attained Arahanthship. Maha Pajapati was assigned the foremost place in seniority and experience.

In gratitude, Pajapati paid reverence to the Buddha and to her beloved sister, Maya, who had brought the Noble Baby into the world, as follows:

"Buddha, Hero, homage to you,
O best of all beings
Who released me and many other beings from pain.
All pain is known: craving as the cause is dried up;
The Noble Eightfold way has been developed,
Cessation has been attained by me.
Formerly I was mother, son, father, brother and grandmother;
Not having proper knowledge
I journeyed on (in samsara) without expiation.
I have indeed seen the Blessed One;
This is the last body.
Journeying on from rebirth to rebirth has been eliminated;
There is now no renewed existence (for me).
I see the disciples all together,
Putting forth energy, resolute, always with strong effort.
This is homage to the Buddhas.
Truly for the sake of many,
a bore Gotama.
She thrust away the mass of pain
Of those struck by sickness and death."
-- (Therigatha 157-162)

Maha Pajapati aspired to institute the Order of the Nuns at the time of the Padumuttara Buddha. She had observed the Buddha Padumuttara confer a similar title on another nun. Inspired by that nun, she had wanted to hold a similar position at the time of a future Buddha. With this in mind she had given alms to the Padumuttara Buddha and His retinue and made an aspiration. The Buddha, foreseeing that her aspiration would be fulfilled, had prophesied that she would, at the time of the Gotama Buddha, be foremost among the nuns in seniority and experience and would start the Order of the Nuns. From this point onwards, Maha Pajapati had performed meritorious deeds and strived with effort to practise the Dhamma.

The next documented birth story takes place at a time when there was no Supreme Buddha. Pajapati was born to a wealthy family and was attended on by 500 maidservants. She had observed five Pacceka Buddhas come to the city in search of shelter for the rainy season. Together with her maidservants, she had built five shelters for the Buddhas and furnished them. She had then invited the five Pacceka Buddhas, and together with her servants, had provided them with meals for the entire three months of the rainy season. At the end of the season, together with her maids, she had sewn the Kathina robes to be gifted to the Buddhas. At death Pajapati and her five hundred maids were reborn in a heavenly realm and enjoyed the pleasures of heavenly bliss for a long time.

Her next documented birth is as Maha Pajapati, foster mother and aunt to Prince Siddhattha. With determination and tireless effort she had practised the Dhamma over countless aeons to fulfil the aspiration made one hundred thousand world cycles ago.

The Licchavi Kings of Vesali built a large nunnery for Maha Pajapati and her retinue of five hundred Sakyan princesses. Pajapati was a role model for all the nuns but specifically so to other ladies of noble birth. She encouraged and helped them to adjust to the solitary austere life of a nun. She also assisted in the teaching and administration of novice nuns. As she approached her 120th year, Maha Pajapati realized that she had not long to live. It was time for her to pay homage for the last time to the Buddha, who had taught her the nectar of the Dhamma and helped her attain Nibbana. Approaching the Buddha she said:

"O Lord! I brought up your physical body but
You brought up my spiritual body.
I fed you with breast-milk but
You fed me with the milk of the Dhamma,
To destroy suffering and Samsara.
It is a rare opportunity to see a Buddha.
I would like to view and pay homage
to your lotus-like feet.
Please stretch forward your feet."

The Buddha with compassion stretched out His feet, which resembled the pink lotus flower. Falling at His feet and revering the Great Markings that signified an Enlightened Being, Pajapati worshipped Him and begged forgiveness for any shortcomings she may have had. Then she requested permission to pass away.

The news of the imminent passing away of Pajapati spread far and wide. Monks and nuns gathered to pay respect and homage to her. Sariputta, Moggallana, Nanda, Rahula, ananda, Khema, Uppalavanna, and many others gathered at Vesali. ananda, who was as yet only Sotapanna, started to weep. Pajapati then consoled him by reminding him of the great service he had performed to her by speaking on her behalf to the Buddha to form the Order of Nuns. She then gently advised ananda not to weep, as it was not appropriate that the monk foremost in retentive memory should weep.

Despite the Buddha’s acknowledgement of the intellectual capabilities of women, there were many men who were not willing to change the views that had been ingrained in them for years. The Buddha called Pajapati and said, "O Gotami, it is very rare to see a lady like you (a former queen) attain enlightenment. Perform a miracle to dispel the wrong views of those foolish men who are in doubt with regard to the spiritual potentialities of women."

Pajapati then rose in the air and came down and worshipped the Buddha. Three times she paid homage to Him thus, then she disappeared and reappeared before the crowd. Finally accepting permission from the Buddha to attain Parinibbana, she walked backwards with her eyes on the Buddha towards the nunnery. The Buddha then instructed all to join Him to follow her for her last send-off. Pajapati entered the nunnery and, seated in the lotus position, entered into deep meditation, attained the Jhanas, and passed away to the Bliss of Parinibbana.

The Licchavi kings placed the remains of Pajapati in a golden casket and carried it through the city in a grand procession. The respect that the Buddha had for His foster mother and mothers in general was seen at Maha Pajapati’s funeral. The Buddha, who never walked behind anyone, walked behind the carriage that carried her body. In this way, by example, the Buddha showed us that we should respect and honour our mothers for the care and love that they have given us when we were too young to take care of ourselves. Hundreds of monks and nuns followed the carriage to the cremation ground. The casket was then placed on a sandalwood pyre and sprinkled with jasmine and other fragrant oils. The Licchavi kings then lighted the pyre.

The relics of Maha Pajapati are said to have turned white like glowing pearls. ananda collected the relics and handed them over to the Buddha and later to the Licchavi kings. A Stupa was built by the kings to enshrine Maha Pajapati’s relics. Women from all over the world pay respect and homage to Maha Pajapati in gratitude for initiating the Order of Nuns.

4. Yasodhara

Yasodhara was the daughter of King Suppabuddha and Queen Pamita. As King Suppabuddha was one of King Suddhodana’s younger brothers, she was one of Prince Siddhattha’s cousins. Yasodhara was born on the same day as Prince Siddhattha. She was exquisitely beautiful, with golden skin and blue-back hair that cascaded down to her feet.

Prince Siddhattha was sixteen when His parents decided that it was a suitable time for Him to marry. As was the custom at that time, a great celebration was held and princesses from all over the country were brought in procession for the Prince to choose from. None of them attracted His attention. The Prince treated them with gifts but refused them all. The procession was almost finished when Yasodhara came rushing in, to inquire if there were any gifts left for her. The Prince then arose from His throne, and taking the pearl necklace that adorned His person, gently placed it around her neck. Prince Siddhattha chose His cousin, Yasodhara, to be His bride.

At first King Suppabuddha was against the marriage. He knew that the wise men had foretold that Siddhattha would leave the palace and His crown to become a Buddha. He also felt that the gentle, compassionate Prince might not be skilled in warfare, and as such, not be suitable for his daughter. The princess, however, wanted to marry no one else but Siddhattha.

King Suppabuddha, wishing to test Prince Siddhattha, arranged a tournament for Him to display His skills in archery, riding and swordsmanship. Sportsmen from all over the country gathered to challenge the Prince. Siddhattha, however, was an excellent sportsman. He excelled in all the events and ousted the best men in the country. King Suppabuddha therefore relented and gave his daughter in marriage to Prince Siddhattha.

The relationship between Yasodhara and Prince Siddhattha was long and deep-rooted. It had started many, many years ago at the time of the Dipankara Buddha. At that time, the Prince (Bodhisatta) was born as an ascetic by the name of Sumedha. After an exceedingly long period of practising the ten virtues, the Bodhisatta Sumedha had finally completed the eight requirements to receive the definite proclamation of Buddhahood from the Dipankara Buddha. Yasodhara, at that time, was born as a noble lady by the name of Sumitra. She saw the Buddha Dipankara give the Bodhisatta eight handfuls of white jasmine flowers and the definite proclamation that He would be a Buddha by the name of Gotama, of the Sakyan caste, in the distant future. Cutting off her hair, she aspired to be His consort and helpmate and to support Him actively in His quest for Buddhahood. This strong aspiration and the meritorious deeds that she performed over a long period of time resulted in her being the Bodhisatta’s consort and supporter throughout many births. During this very long period in which the Bodhisatta completed the virtues she actively supported His quest for perfection.

In fact, her dying words reflected this devotion. She referred to the fact that she had been the wife of no other but Him during the entire period and had helped Him to achieve in 100,000 world cycles and four infinite periods what other Buddhas take eight and sixteen infinite periods to achieve.

When the Buddha visited the palace in Kapilavatthu for the first time, all but Princess Yasodhara came to pay homage to Him. She held back, thinking, "Certainly if there is any virtue in me, the Noble Lord Himself will come to my presence." After the meal the Buddha, accompanied by His two male chief disciples, entered her chamber and sat down on the seat prepared for Him. He then said, "Let the king’s daughter reverence me as she likes." On seeing the Buddha, Yasodhara came forward quickly, and clasping His ankles, placed her head on His feet and paid reverence to Him as she wished.

Yasodhara’s devotion to the Buddha was heralded by her father-in-law, King Suddhodana. He informed the Buddha of her devotion by saying, "When my daughter heard that you had taken to wearing simple yellow robes, she too gave up her jewels and wore yellow robes. When she heard that you had only one meal a day, she too had only one meal a day. When she heard that you slept on low, hard beds, she too gave up the luxurious palace couches and beds. And when she heard that you had given up garlands and perfume, she too gave up garlands and perfume. When her relatives sent messages of young men who wanted to support her she did not even look at a single one."

The Buddha acknowledged this devotion by saying that it was not only in this birth that she had been devoted to him. He then dispensed the Candakinnara Jataka, whereYasodhara had given her life to save His by jumping in front of a hunter’s arrow.

However, her love and devotion are best seen in the poem "The Lion of Men". Pointing out the Buddha and His retinue of monks to their son from the palace balcony, with adoration she described the Buddha and introduced Him to little Rahula. The following are the words she used to describe the Buddha:

The Lion of Men

His red, sacred feet are marked with an excellent wheel;
His long heels are decked with characteristic marks;
His feet are adorned with the chowrie (camara) and parasol;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
He is a delicate and noble Sakya Prince;
His body is full of characteristic marks;
Intent on the welfare of the world;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Like the full moon is His face;
He is dear to gods and men;
His gait is as graceful as that of an elephant of noble breed;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
He is of noble lineage, sprung from the warrior caste;
His feet have been honoured by gods and men;
His mind is well established in morality and concentration;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Long and prominent is His well-formed nose;
His eyelashes are long like those of a heifer;
His eyes are exceedingly blue and like a rainbow are His blue-black brows;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Round and smooth is His well-formed neck;
His jaws are strong like that of a lion;
His body is golden like that of the king of beasts;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Soft and deep is His sweet voice;
His tongue is as red as vermilion;
His white teeth like pearls are twenty, each row;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Like the colour of collyrium is His blue-black hair;
Like a polished golden plate is His smooth forehead;
White as the morning star is His beautiful tuft of hair (between the brows);
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Just as the moon, surrounded by the multitude of stars;
Follows the sky’s path;
Even so goes the Lord, accompanied by His monks;
That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.

Yasodhara gave up the household life and entered the order of nuns at the same time as Maha Pajapati Gotami . She attained Arahanthship and was declared the chief disciple among the nuns who attained supernormal powers (Maha Abhiaaa) to recall infinite eras of the past. Only four of the Buddha’s disciples had such powers. In general, the Buddha’s disciples could only recall up to 100,000 world cycles. Yasodara, the Buddha’s two chief male disciples and the Elder Bakkula, however, had supernormal powers and could recall incalculable eras. The nun Yasodhara passed away at the age of 78, prior to the Lord Buddha.

5. Rahula

Rahula was the only son of Prince Siddhattha and Princess Yasodhara. He was named Rahula by his grandfather because the first word Prince Siddhattha said on hearing about the birth of His son was Rahu, which means obstacle. An obstacle to His renunciation had arisen. It was on the day that Prince Rahula was born that Prince Siddhattha made the Great Renunciation. With a heavy heart Prince Siddhattha left His beloved wife and new-born son to seek the path to end suffering for the benefit of mankind and Devas (divine beings).

Prince Rahula saw His father for the first time at the age of seven. Princess Yasodhara pointed out the majestic Buddha with His retinue of monks to Rahula from the balcony of the palace. She then described his father, the Buddha, to her son in the Sutta known as "The Lion of Men". After praising and describing the Buddha, the Princess requested her son to approach his father and ask for his inheritance.

As instructed, Rahula approached his father and asked for his inheritance. He then looked at his father and said, "Lord, even your shadow is pleasing to me." Rahula then followed the Buddha back to the Nigrodharama monastery where He was residing. The Buddha thought, "Little Rahula asks for his inheritance. But worldly treasures and wealth cause suffering. I shall give him the most valuable treasure in the world. I will give him the Dhamma." Calling Venerable Sariputta, His chief male disciple, He asked him to ordain little Rahula.

King Suddhodana was very sad when he heard of the ordination of his beloved grandson. He said: "When the Lord renounced the world it was a cause of great pain to me. It was with deep sadness that I watched Nanda renounce the world. But it is especially painful when little Rahula renounces. The love of a father to a son is deep and cuts through the skin, flesh, sinew, bone and marrow. Grant, Lord, that Noble Ones will not ordain sons without permission of their parents." The Buddha readily agreed to this request and made it a discipline (Vinaya) of the Noble Order.

Sariputta and Moggallana were little Rahula’s teachers. While Sariputta taught Rahula knowledge of the Dhamma, Moggallana concentrated on his conduct. Even though Rahula was only seven when he became a novice monk, he was very eager to accept instruction and was exceptionally cultured and obedient. Each morning he would rise and, taking a handful of sand, throw it up in the air saying, "Today may I receive from my teachers as much advice and instruction as these grains of sand."

Shortly after Rahula’s ordination the Buddha taught him the importance of telling the truth. This discourse is known as the Rahulovada Sutta. The Buddha placed truth as the highest of all virtues. The seekers of Truth, (those who have as their goal Nibbana) should not break the precept of Truth. The Buddha explained this in a way a young child would understand by using the following example.

Rahula had just washed the feet of the Lord and prepared a seat for Him. Taking the vessel which now contained a little bit of water at the bottom, the Buddha showed it to Rahula and said: "Rahula, do you see the small (insignificant) amount of water left in this vessel? Similarly, Rahula, insignificant (of little value) is the character of those who are not ashamed of telling lies."

The Buddha then discarded this little bit of water and said; "Rahula, do you see how I discarded the little bit of water in this vessel? Similarly discarded (set aside and not recognized) is the character of those who are not ashamed of telling lies."

He then overturned the pot that had contained the water and said, "Rahula, do you see how easily I overturn this vessel? Similarly easily overturned (easily influenced and changed) is the character of those who are not ashamed of telling lies."

Finally, the Buddha placed the pot upright, showed it to Rahula and said, "Rahula, do you see this empty vessel that is void of any water? Similarly empty and void is the character of those who are not ashamed of telling lies."

The Buddha said that the precept of truth was the most important of all the precepts, as a person who tells lies would very easily then break the other precepts and cover up his misbehaviour by telling lies. A person who always told the truth would not perform an act he would be ashamed to own up to later.

The Buddha also instructed Rahula on reflecting and thinking before he acted to ensure that his actions were moral and conducive to the well-being of others and himself, by using examples and language a young child would understand.

Showing him a mirror, the Buddha asked Rahula what a mirror was used for. Rahula replied that it was for the purpose of reflecting. The Buddha then said: "Similarly, Rahula, before you say or do anything, reflect. Reflect if this speech or action would be beneficial to others and yourself. If, when you reflect, you feel that it is not beneficial to others and to yourself, then refrain from saying and doing it. If you feel when you reflect that it is for the benefit of yourself and others, that such an action will not bring harm to another, that it is beneficial to others, then and only then should you perform this action. You should then perform this action again and again."

With this simple but easily understood example the Buddha introduced little Rahula to mindfulness and the discipline of the mind before action so that his thoughts, speech and actions would be moral and wholesome.

Rahula was well-known for his obedience and truthfulness. As the son of the Buddha and because of his pleasing nature and young age he was well-liked by all. When Rahula was eighteen, the Buddha preached to him a very deep discourse on sense desire. He helped Rahula, who was pleased with his very handsome appearance, understand the dangers of vanity.

The Buddha, accompanied by Rahula, was seeking alms. They both looked exceedingly handsome, like a majestic royal elephant and his calf, a beautiful swan with his cygnet. Rahula, seeing the extremely handsome appearance of the Buddha, thought, "I too am like my parent, the Exalted One. Beautiful is the Buddha’s form and mine is similar."

The Buddha instantly read his thoughts and said, "Rahula whatever form there is should be looked at as follows: "This is not mine; this am I not; this is not my soul." Rahula then inquired if it was only form that should be regarded thus. The Buddha then said that all five aggregates should be regarded thus. In this way the Buddha introduced the very deep and difficult concept of no permanent soul (anatta) to Rahula.

Rahula then chose not to seek alms and instead went back and sat in meditation reflecting on the words of the Buddha, trying to understand and penetrate the Truth of the Buddha’s words. Shortly after, on hearing the Cula Rahulavada Sutta, he attained Arahanthship. The following words were uttered by Rahula on attaining Arahanthship:

Being fortunate from both sides,
They call me "Lucky Rahula",
I was the son of the Buddha,
The son of the Seer of Truth.
Blinded by sense desires spread over like a net,
Covered by a cloak of craving,
Bound by the kinsmen of heedlessness,
I was like a fish caught in the mouth of a funnel-net.
That sense desire I have burnt,
The bond of mara (death) I have cut.
Eradicating craving from its root,
Cool am I, peaceful am I.
Destroyed are all my corruptions,
There is no more rebirth for me,
An Arahanth am I, worthy of offering,
Possessed of threefold knowledge and a seer of the deathless.
-- (Theragatha 295-298)

Rahula passed away before the Buddha, Sariputta and Moggallana. The Buddha declared that Rahula was foremost among the monks for his high standard of discipline and obedience. Rahula, who had entered the order at the tender age of seven, was a role model for the younger members of the Noble Order through his obedience and pleasing nature.


[Contents] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [Top]

[Back to English Index]