The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes Biography (4) Patacara Theri contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as life Histories of Bhikkhunī Arahats. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Biography (4) Paṭācārā Therī

(a) Her Past Aspiration

The future Paṭācārā Therī was reborn into a rich man’s family in the city of Haṃsāvatī during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. On one occasion, while she was listening to a sermon by the Buddha, she saw a bhikkhunī being named as the foremost among those who were most learned in the Vinaya Rules. She aspired to that honour. And after making an extraordinary offering to the Buddha, she expressed her desire for the honour of being declared as the foremost bhikkhunī in Vinaya learning. Buddha Padumuttara prophesied that her wish would be fulfilled.

In Her Existence as One of The Seven Daughters of King Kikī

After filling her whole life with meritorious deeds, the future Paṭācārā Therī passed away and was reborn in the deva-world and subsequently the human world or the deva-world in turn. During the time of Buddha Kassapa, she was reborn as the third of the seven illustrious daughters of King Kikī (of Bārāṇasī). Her name was Bhikkhunī. She and the six sisters remained spinsters, living a life of chastity for their whole life span of twenty thousand years. Together with her sisters, they donated a big monastic complex.

(b) Becoming A Bhikkhunī in Her Last Existence

The King’s daughter (the future Paṭācārā Therī), after passing away from that existence, was reborn in the deva-world. For the innumerable years of the intervening period between the two Buddhas she enjoyed celestial pleasures. During the time of Buddha Gotama, she was reborn as the daughter of the rich man of Sāvatthi.

When she came of age, she fell in love with a servant of her father’s household. When her parents arranged for her betrothal to the son of another rich man, she warned her lover, on the day before the day of betrothal, that unless he was prepared to elope with her, their love affair would be ended. The man was true to her. He eloped with her, taking whatever little savings he had set aside. The two lovers ran away stealthily and took shelter in a small village three or four yojanas away from Sāvatthi.

Soon the rich man’s daughter became pregnant and she said to her husband: “My Lord, this is a desolate place for us to give birth to my child. Let us go back to my fathers house.” Her husband was a timid man. He dared not face the consequences of returning to his master’s house and, therefore, procrastinated. The wife then decided that her husband was not going to accompany her back to her father’s house and she chose, during the absence of her husband, to return alone.

When the husband returned from his short trip and learnt that his wife had gone back to her parents' house, he felt pity for her. “She has to suffer because of me,” he repented and went after her without delay. He caught up with her on the way but by then she had given birth. Then they agreed that since the purpose of her returning to her parents was for the safe birth of her child, and since she had given birth safely, there was no point in going there. So they went back to their small village.

When she was pregnant again, she asked her husband to take her to her parents' place. Her husband procrastinated as before, and getting impatient, she went alone. On the way, she gave birth to her second child safely before her husband could catch up with her. At that time, there was heavy rains everywhere. The wife asked her husband to put up some shelter from the rains for the night. He made a rickety shelter from whatever faggots he could find. He then went in search of some tufts of grass to build an embankment around the little hut. He started pulling out grass from a mound, regardlessly.

The cobra, which lay inside the mound, was annoyed and struck the husband who fell dead on the spot. The wife, who was kept waiting in the rickety hut, after awaiting the whole night, thought that her husband had deserted her. She went to look for him and found him dead near the mound. “Oh, me! my husband met his death all on account of me!” She wailed. And holding the bigger child by the hand and putting the infant on her waist, she took the road to Sāvatthi. On the way, she had to cross a shallow stream (which seemed deep). She thought she might not be able to cross it with both the children together. So she left her elder boy on this side of the stream and after crossing it, placed the infant on the other side, wrapped up snugly. She waded the stream back for the elder son. Just as she was half-way in the stream, a kite swooped down on the infant baby taking it for its prey. The mother became excited and tried to frighten away the kite but her throwing up the hands in the air was mistaken as beckoning to him by the elder son who ran into the stream. He slipped and was carried away by the swift current. Before the mother could reach her infant child, the kite had flew away with it.

She wailed her fate in half a stanza thus:

“Both my two sons are dead and gone!
And my husband too had died on the way!”

Wailing in these desperate words, she proceeded along her way to Sāvatthi.

When she arrived in Sāvatthi, she was unable to find her parents' home. This was partly due to her intense grief but there was a substantial reason for her failure to recognize her own childhood home. For, as she asked the people where the Rich Man’s house which used to be somewhere there, they answered: “What use is there if you find the house? It has been destroyed by last nights' gale. All the inmates of the house died inside the house which collapsed. They were cremated on a single pyre. And that is the place of their burial,” the people showed her the thin smoke from the burnt pyre.

“What, what did you say?” Those were the only words she could say and she fainted. When she recovered, she was not in her own wits. She could not care about decency: with no clothes on, her hands raised in the air wildly, she went near the burnt-up pyre and wailed:

“Both my two sons are dead and gone!
And my husband too has died on the way!
My mother, my father and my brother,
(Having perished together,)
Have been cremated on a single pyre.”

The Meaning of The Word 'Paṭācārī'

The Rich Man’s daughter went about the city naked. When other people tried to cover up her body, she would tore off the clothes. Thus, wherever she went, she was surrounded by astonished crowds. Hence, she came to be referred to as ‘The naked woman’ (Paṭācārī). (Or in another sense of the Pāli word, ‘the shameless woman’.) As she went about dazed and confused wailing the tragic stanza, people would say: “Hey go away, mad woman!” Some would throw dirt and refuse on her head, some would throw stones at her.

Paṭācārā found Peace

The Buddha saw Paṭācārā roaming about aimlessly while He was making a discourse to an audience at the Jetavana monastery. Seeing that her faculties had now ripened, the Buddha willed that Paṭācārā come to Him at the monastery. People tried to prevent her going into the monastery but the Buddha said to them: “Don't try to stop her.” When she went nearer, the Buddha said to her: “Paṭācārā be mindful.”

As soon as she heard the Buddha’s words, Paṭācārā regained her senses. Awared of her nakedness, she sat down on her closed knees and remained with her body bent, and trying her best to cover up her naked body with her hands. Someone then threw to her a piece of garment which she picked up, cloaked herself, and drew near the Buddha.

In worshipping posture, she related the tragic story thus:

“Venerable Sir, may you be my refuge! My younger son was swooped away by a kite. My elder son was drowned in the current of a stream. My husband died on the way. My parents and my brothers were killed in the house which collapsed and they were cremated on a single pyre.”

The Buddha said to her: “Paṭācārā do not vacillate. You have now come to one in whom you can take refuge. Just as you have shed tears for the loss of your sons, husband, mother, father and brother, so also had you shed much tears, even greater than the waters of the four great oceans, throughout the beginningless round of existences.”

The Buddha also spoke in verse as follows:

“Paṭācārā, the waters of the four great oceans are little when compared to the amount of tears shed by one person on account of the grief suffered for loss of his or her beloved ones. Now, my daughter, why are you so negligent? Be mindful.”

On hearing the Buddha’s discourse containing the perspective of saṃsāra, grief abated in the mind of Paṭācārā. The Buddha, knowing that Paṭācārā had been able to control her sorrow, discoursed further thus:

“Paṭācārā, neither son nor husband can protect one on the journey through afterlife, nor are they one’s refuge. That being so, even though sons or husband may be living, they are as good as non-existent for a wayfarer in saṃsāra. Therefore a wise person should purify his morality and get himself or herself established on the Noble Practice leading to Nibbāna.”

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

“Paṭācārā, when one falls victim to Death, neither one’s sons nor parents nor close relations can protect one;one’s kith and kin have no power to give protection.”

——Dhammapadā, V-288——

“Knowing this lack of protection against Death, the wise person restrained by morality, should make haste to clear the Ariya Path that leads to Nibbāna.”

At the end of the discourse, Paṭācārā burnt up the infinite defilements by means of Stream-Entry Knowledge and was established in sotāpatti-magga.

After becoming a Stream-Enterer, Paṭācārā requested the Buddha that she be admitted into the Order of Bhikkhunīs. The Buddha caused her to be taken to a bhikkhunīs and be admitted as a bhikkhunī.

How Paṭācārā attained Arahatship

One day, Bhikkhunī Paṭācārā was washing her feet. As she poured down the water on her feet, the water flowed to a short distance and then stopped there, When a second cup was poured, the water flowed to a place slightly farther away than the first stream and then stopped. When a third cup was poured, the water flowed to a place slightly farther away than the second stream.

Paṭācārā, already a Stream-Enterer, meditated on this phenomenon of the three stream of water, and applied it to the three periods of life thus:

“Just as the first stream of water stopped at a short place, sentient beings are liable to die during their first period of life. Just as the second stream flowed slightly farther than the first stream and stopped, so also sentient beings are liable to die during their middle age.

And just as the third stream flowed farther than the second stream and stopped, so also sentient being are liable to die in their last period of life.”

She reflected further that just as all the three streams must end and disappear, so also living beings must give up their tenure of life and perish. Thus, the impermanence of things gave her insight into all conditioned phenomena. From that insight into impermanence, the characteristic of the woefulness (dukkha) of all conditioned phenomena dawned on her conditioned mind and hence the insubstantiality, the emptiness of all and conditioned phenomena also was then perceived.

Pondering deeply on the three characteristics, she went into her monastic dwelling for a suitable change in the temperature. There she placed the lighted lamp at its usual place and, wishing to extinguish it, she pulled down the wick into oil with a pointed needle.

Just at that moment, the Buddha, while sitting in His private chamber, sent the Buddharays to Paṭācārā making Himself visible to her and said:

“Paṭācārā, you are thinking rightly: all sentient beings are subject to death. Therefore, it is in vain to be living for a hundred years without the right perception of the five aggregates, of their arising and dissolution, whereas it is really worthwhile to live even for a day with a full understanding of the five aggregates.”

The Buddha put this point in verse as follows:

“Paṭācārā, even if one were to live a hundred years without perceiving (with Insight) the arising and perishing of conditioned phenomena (i.e. mind-and-body), yet more worthwhile indeed is a single day’s life of one who perceives the arising and perishing of mind-and-body.”

——Dhammapada, V 13——

At the end of the discourse, Paṭācārā attained Arahatship together with the Four Discriminative Knowledges.

(c) Paṭācārā as The Foremost Bhikkhunī

After attaining arahatship, Paṭācārā learnt the Vinaya from the Buddha extensively and made wise judgments on matters concerning the Vinaya.

Therefore, on one occasion when the Buddha named distinguished bhikkhunīs in a congregation at the Jetavana monastery, He declared:

Bhikkhus, among My bhikkhunī-disciples who are wise in (adept in) the Vinaya, Bhikkhunī Paṭācārā is the foremost (etadagga).”

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