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Women in Buddhism Part 2: Pajapati

Mahapajapati

Mahapajapati

Women in Buddhism Part 2: Pajapati / Mahapajapati

As mentioned yesterday, (Maha)Pajapati was Queen Maya’s sister, and also a wife to King Suddhodana. When Maya died, Mahapajapati raised young Prince Siddharta Gotama. She raised the boy as her own, but did have two children who became the step-brother and step-sister of Buddha, Nanda and Sundari Nanda.

After leaving the palace and attaining Enlightenment, the Buddha started attracting disciples and followers. Among these were Mahapajapati’s son Nanda and Buddha’s own son, Rahula. At some point, King Sugghodana died, leaving Pajapati alone. She decided to join up with Buddha as one of his followers. She asked Buddha if she would be allowed to join him and he said no. Three times she asked, and each time he refused. Not willing to give up Pajapati cut her hair and dressed as a monk.

She contacted Buddha’s friend and servant Ananda and asked him to convince Buddha to allow her to become a nun. Again the Buddha refused, forcing Ananda to ask him whether or not he felt that women were capable of reaching Enlightenment. The Buddha replied that women were as capable as men of attaining Enlightenment, but never explained his refusal. However, Buddha did look back into Pajapati’s past lives and saw that she was indeed worthy. Mahapajapati was then allowed to form the order of nuns, becoming the first Buddhist nun.

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