V. Bhadda Kapilani

  There is indeed a good deal of records surviving about episodes of Maha Kassapa’s long and active life, and quite a number of his attributed utterances are available today. Truly his detailed biography could fill a sizable volume, and we regretted very much that the extent of our time did not allow us to present more of the highly interesting and enlightening material. We will, however, be hearing something more about him today, since we will be resuming our narrative about Bhadda Kapilani, to whom he was so happily married in so many lifetimes.

        The circumstances of their marriage were rather unique, we remember, the chief difficulty having been their mutual unwillingness to wed. Pippali-manava’s parents finally extracted his agreement to marry, on the condition that his bride be as lovely as a golden statue he had had made for this purpose. Thus it took a truly exceptional lady to lead him into wedlock; she had had to meet the standards of his sculpture as well as be suitable in birth and other qualities. Although, after they had heard of one another, they tried to tell each other of their common reluctance to many, their letters were altered by the letter bearers and so resulted in their union. In spite of the fact that they developed a great understanding and wonderful comradeship and lived happily in each other's company, their marriage was never consummated because of their individual accumulations for a life of virginity. As soon as Pippali-manava’s parents died, they left the world, and, afraid of being misunderstood about their keeping each other's company still, parted at a crossroad. Pippali-manava became Kassapa the Great, one of the most prominent Arahanta of the Buddhist order, greatly praised by the Buddha.

        Bhadda, the beautiful daughter of the wealthy head brahmin of Sagala, in the kingdom of the Maddas, who had become the wife of the young noble Pippali, left her immense wealth even as he left his enormous fortunes, for ascetic practices. The commentator of the book ‘Psalms of the Early Buddhists’ writes that in one of her former lives Bhadda had been born the daughter of the King of Benares and lived luxuriously in her state. However, when the silent Buddha that she was ministering to passed away, she became greatly troubled and left her possessions to praxes jhana, with great success. This was perhaps why she had shown tendencies from the beginning of her last rebirth towards such practices.

        In another former birth, (1) she is said to have been born during the time of Padumuttara Buddha, when she had heard him preach, and also saw him assigning a Bhikkuni the first rank among those who could recall previous lives. She then made her resolve to one day acquire the same position. Here again we can see the multiple aspirations and accumulations towards a person's objectives. It is another good example of the process of accumulating conditions and tendencies for certain achievements. The whole procedure, in this Theri's case, took innumerable rebirths of developing, and a certain amount of ambition, as well as effort. We know that every action brings about a reaction, whether the results be slow in coming or immediately following. Therefore to do something towards a goal is never wasted entirely, if the effort be made in the right direction. For example, a person with a passion to play some musical instrument and who steadily practises, not only becomes better by the practice, but has done actions to accumulate his musical tendencies, which may arise in later lives. Thus we find some people are more musical than others by their very nature. Although even with lots of accumulated tendencies, if there were no further attempts at accumulating more, there could be a regression in the tendencies even as people who neglect their skills could lose their proficiency, even in their present lives, or at least do not become better.

        However, people with a talent or a knack for something will of course find it easier, and take to it more readily than others, and usually the natural tendencies are more or less advanced. That is one of the reasons that the Buddha discourages people from doing ill deeds, no matter how trivial or playful, or how disastrous or grievous. Each action contributes to our accumulations, and takes part in building up conditions for our actions somewhere in the future. People who accumulate tendencies to do bad deeds find it easier than others to do them because of their nature, and could more easily accumulate further in that direction, thus it becomes even easier the more they do it. It can become so deeply rooted, that to reverse their habits becomes extremely hard, and the previously accumulated circumstances would hardly conduce to it. If such people do not put up a real and steady struggle tin the face of almost impossible odds, reformation can hardly be expected.

        On the other hand, people who accumulate good deeds will find it much harder to do improper things; to some, even the thought of such a thing could be discomforting enough. Seeing the results of good deeds in comparison to the bad ones, in the differences among living things, should we not try to accumulate good deeds, towards such results, if not to end our sorrows completely and free ourselves from unpleasantness such as old age and sickness and death? The greatest aid to the accumulation of good deeds as well as of insight is awareness: to experience as much as possible all that is going on in the immediate moments as it really is.

        You can experience yourself that all things are impermanent. A sound passes, you cannot hear it again exactly in the same way, ever; you cannot control your own body, even, for if you could you would be able to make yourself be, for example, as you were when you were younger. Your mental attitude must have changed since your birth. At a closer look, is it not ever-changing, now thinking this, now that, now this word, then the next. Your hearing and the sounds you hear are ever-changing, as are the sights and your seeing. You feel things when touching them, now the cool air on your skin, then the softness of the material of your own clothes, then the resilience of the chair on which you sit. And all things must go on changing, and thus attachment to them can only bring sorrow, if one expects them to last forever or to change only in a way that one desires.

        The only way one can be at peace is to accept the changes and react as wisely as one can and thus try to accumulate conditions for better results. The ultimate result of being mindful, of accumulating insight, is, of course, to be able to see that there is in fact no self, no I, nor mine, nor anyone's, for it is unwise to cling to ever-changing things; it would be unreal, since even our bodies we have no control over in reality. When one is no longer deceived by ones long accumulated tendencies to believe in a self, one would no longer cling to it, thus the cause for all selfishness would be gone; ultimately there can be no more ill wishes for anyone at all, for one is freed from all unhappiness and ignorance.

        Bhadda not only accumulated the right conditions for such achievements, presumably by following the Eightfold Path, but also accumulated other conditions for her last rebirth. We earlier talked about the unusual circumstances of her marriage, in which one of the most important factors was her immense beauty. Her own nurse had by mistake slapped the golden statue that Pippali-manava had had made because she thought it was Bhadda, when she saw it by the river alone. Not only was Bhadda exquisitely lovely, it appears, but her complexion must have been quite radiant and beautiful. On the other hand, we do not know what time of day it was when the statue was mistaken for her, or the age of the nurse who made the mistake, or, to go to extremes, one might even say that the dusty trip as well as time might have dulled the sheen and color of the gold.

        At any rate, the given explanation of her beautiful skin also lies in a former life, this time in the age of the silent Buddha, when she was born in a clansman's house at Benares. One day, her sister- in-law with whom she had quarreled offered food to one of the silent Buddha, and she, thinking that the sister-in-law would be gaining merit for that, took the bowl form him and filled it with mud. She later repented, and taking the bowl back again, she polished it and filled it with delicacies sprinkled with ghee the color of lotus-calyx. Handing the bowl back to the silent Buddha, she wished that she might have a shining body like the bowl. (2)

        In another lifetime, she was born the daughter of a wealthy treasurer at Benares, at the time of the Buddha Kassapa. Because of some previous ill deeds she came to have a repulsive body odor by which she was greatly troubled. She then had her ornaments made into ingots of gold and offered it to the Buddha, worshipping him with her hands full of lotuses. Thus her body later became fragrant even in that lifetime. (3)

        We do not mean to imply that the individual instances are the direct causes of her charms in her last rebirth, and it is beyond our ability to obtain knowledge about the exact causes anyway, whether this account is correct or not. Again, even from these accounts, we can see the possible trend of her development, though these major events may not have been her only steps at accumulating beauty and fragrance. At any rate it must have helped her morally to have taken such steps, possibly among many other methods, to solve the problems and add to her charms. Confidence is such an important factor in these matters, people say.

        From Bhadda Kapilani's biography we are able to see the multiple directions of accumulations going on simultaneously, most of which seemed to reach their highest point in her last life. She was born beautiful, fragrant, wealthy, and with tendencies towards ascetic practices. It is also said that she had married Kassapa the Great in many of her former lives, too, and in her last life they were brought together again when she was sixteen and he twenty. But her accumulations for jhana practices prevailed and soon after they finally parted company at the crossroads, she went to live for five years in the Sophist’s Grove near Savatthi, probably taking up the practice.

        She became the expert among those who could recall previous lives, and after five years at the Sophist’s Grove she was ordained in the Buddhist order by Maha Pajapati who was at the Jeta Grove nearby. She soon after that won Arahantship. In reference to the art of recalling former lives, a skeptic might doubt its reality. But like other forms of mental discipline, one who does not practise it will never really know how or whether it works at all. For example, if one has never learned the Chinese script, how can one know its contents as one sees it, and is it then right to say those people who are laughing and crying over the intelligible scriptures are senseless? Then how can you prove that such an art was never successfully practised and perfected in those days?

        At any rate, Bhadda was very much admired for her achievements and one day when the Buddha was at the Jeta Grove, one of those whom he honored among the Bhikkuni was the There Baddha Kapilani, foremost in the field of recalling past lives. In entering the order her major aspirations were realized as were countless other views, ambitions and accumulations. She was furthermore again sharing a common living and intellectual interest with Kassapa the Great, and from then on she apparently enjoyed his good comradeship in the order, for she was recorded to have said:

    “Thereafter soon I won the rank of Arahanta.
Ah! well for me who held the friendship wise and good of glorious Kassapa. (4)
        Probably because of their several similarities she mentioned him as one of her most virtuous friends in her psalm. (5)
    Son of the Buddha and his heir is he,
Great Kassapa, master of self, serene!
The vision of far, bygone days is his,
Ay, heaven and hell no secrets hold for him.
Death too of rebirth hath he won, and eke
A seer is he of mystic lore profound.
By these three arms of learning doth he stand
Thrice-wise, ‘mong gods and men elect, sublime.
    She too, Bhadda the Kapilani -thrice-wise
And victor over death and birth is she-
Bears to this end her last incarnate frame,
For she hath conquered Mara and his host.
    We both have seen, both he and I, the woe
And pity of the world, and have gone forth.
We both are Arahants with selves well tamed.
Cool are we both, ours is Nibbana now!



(1) Davids, op. cit., pp.47-49.

(2) Ibid., loc. cit.

(3) Ibid., loc. cit.

(4) Ibid., loc. cit.

(5) Ibid., loc. cit.



P.T.S., Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, II, pp.354-5: Comprehensive biography and sutta references.

P.T.S., Psalms of the Early Buddhists, the Sisters, pp.47-49: Biography and gatha.

S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, III, p.186: One of Bhadda Kapilani's students goes off among villages alone. This leads to the laying down of Formal Meeting Rule no. III for nuns (bhikkhuni).

S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, III, p.263: A student of Bhadda Kapilani is found standing together talking with a man in the dark of the night with no light (Expiation offense no. XI).

S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, III, p.311: Bhadda Kapilani, having obtained leave to stay with the bhikkhuni Thullananda in her quarters at Savatthi, is later thrown out by this jealous nun (Expiation offense no. XXXV).

Also, S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, III, pp. 265f., 277, 307f.; Jataka Stories, IV. p.304; Jataka Stories, VI, p.52.  58