Mahapajapati Gotma (5th Century BC)
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Mahapajapati was born to an eminent Indian family,
and it was predicted that she would have a large following. Her sister,
Mahamaya, was a Queen who died a week after giving birth to her son,
Prince Siddhartha—the boy who would grow up to be the Buddha. Mahapajapati,
stepped in to take care of Siddhartha, adopting him as her own, and
marrying her sister’s husband.
Years after the Buddha left home and renounced lay
life, his father died, leaving Mahapajapati free to travel in his
footsteps and become a Buddhist herself. Some women had already asked
the Buddha to be ordained as monks into his order, but he had refused
them. But Pajāpatī and some of her female companions had cut off
their hair, put on yellow monks’ robes, and followed the Buddha through
India on foot. They arrived with wounded feet at the Buddha's monastery
and repeated their request to ordain as monastics. The Buddha again
refused, but Ananda, his main disciple, interceded on their behalf
and Buddha granted their request, subject to eight strict special
laws, which still stand today for many Buddhist nuns.
When Mahapajapati was one hundred and twenty years
old, she took leave of the Buddha, performed various miracles, and
then died. It is said that the marvels which occurred at her cremation
were second only to those of the Buddha.
painting by Mn. Jody Hojin Kimmel