Prince Siddhartha with Mahaprajapati Gautami
Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī (in Pali; Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī in Sanskrit) was the first woman to request ordination from the Buddha and to join the Saṅgha. Mayadevi and Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī were Koliyan Princess and sisters of Suprabuddha. Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī was both the Buddha's maternal aunt and adoptive mother, raising him after her sister, Queen Maya (Mahāmāyā), the Buddha's birth mother, died. Mahapajapati Gotami died at the age of 120.
An eminent Therī, Mahāpajāpatī was born at Devadaha in kingdom of Nepal, in the family of Suppabuddha, as the younger sister of Mahāmāyā. Mahāpajāpatī was so called because, at her birth, augurs prophesied that she would have a large following. Both sisters married King Śuddhodana, leader of the Śākya. When Mahāmāyā died, seven days after the birth of the Buddha, Pajāpati looked after the Buddha and nursed him. She raised the Buddha and had her own children, Siddhartha's half-brother Nanda and half-sister Sundari Nanda, but it is said that she gave her own children to nurses and herself nursed the Buddha.
Ordination of the first woman
When her sister, Queen Maya, died, Mahapajapati Gotami decided to attain Ordination. Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Buddha and asked to be ordained into the Sangha. The Buddha refused and went on to Vesāli. Undaunted, Gotami cut off her hair and donned yellow robes and with a large number of Sakyan ladies followed the Buddha to Vesāli on foot. Upon arrival, she repeated her request to be ordained. Ananda, one of the principal disciples and an attendant of the Buddha, met her and offered to intercede with the Buddha on her behalf.
Respectfully he questioned the Buddha, "Lord, are women capable of realising the various stages of sainthood as nuns?"
"They are, Ananda," said the Buddha.
"If that is so, Lord, then it would be good if women could be ordained as nuns," said Ananda, encouraged by the Buddha's reply.
"If, Ananda, Maha Pajapati Gotami would accept the Eight Conditions it would be regarded that she has been ordained already as a nun."
- The Life of the Buddha: (Part Two) The Order of Nuns
- Maha Pajapati Gotami
- Dhammadharini: Going Forth & Going Out ~ the Parinibbana of Mahapajapati Gotami - Dhammadharini
- Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha (archived 2011)
- Women of the Buddhist scriptures: Mahapajapati Gotami
- Bhikkhunis (archived 2011)
- Lotus sutra including chapter thirteen Translated by The Buddhist Text Translation Society in USA)