This Uposatha Day, I proudly present the amazing story of Theri Uppalavanna. I did read her story the very first time from Thai Dhammapada Thai Version translated from the Pali by Sujeep Punyanuparp.
Uppalavanna: The Beautiful Blue Lotus [Posted by myanmarpedia on September 27, 2007] [From The Dhamma Encyclopedia] [www.dhamma.worldofwisdom.asia/2011/12]
Uppalavanna was the beautiful daughter of a rich merchant. She was named Uppalavanna because her complexion was that of a blue lotus(‘one with the hue of the blue lotus’). When she came of age her parents had her married to a young merchant from a wealthy family. As was the custom at the time, she moved to her husband’s home in Savatthi.
Uppalavanna lived happily with her in-laws until her husband had to travel to Rajagaha for business. Neither Uppalavanna nor her husband were aware that she was with child when he left. When her pregnancy became noticeable, her mother-in-law accused her of misconduct. Despite her pleas of innocence, Uppalavanna was cast out of her home by her mother-in-law who now despised her. Uppalavanna, who had not done any wrong, decided that she would go to Rajagaha in search of her husband.
The journey was long and difficult. Accepting the hospitality of strangers who felt compassion for the beautiful woman who was heavy with child, she walked slowly from city to city until her labour pains started. Resting in a hut on the way-side she delivered a baby son. Tired and weak, Uppalavanna wrapped the new-born in her robe and rested. Then, leaving the baby in the hut, she walked to the river close by to wash.
A stranger who was passing by heard the faint cry of her baby. Seeing the little baby with no parents in sight, he decided to adopt the child. When Uppalavanna came back to the hut she was devastated. Weeping in sorrow she ran about looking for her child, but was unable to find her baby son.
Uppalavanna was desolated. She knew that she could no longer go to her husband. He would surely kill her if he found out that she had lost his son. A first-born son was the head of the family who carried on the lineage. In the male-dominant society of India this was a very precious child and his birth a celebrated event. Uppalavanna knew that she had no hope of being forgiven for her carelessness. Having no place to go, she decided to go home to her parents. She was walking through a thick jungle when a robber who was hiding out in the jungle caught sight of her. Attracted by her unusual beauty, he decided to take her as his wife. The desperate Uppalavanna agreed.
Before long she conceived again and gave birth to a baby girl. Her life, however, was not a happy, comfortable one. Her husband was often violently angry with her. He continually reminded her of her past and his gracious hospitality towards her in taking her as his wife. After one such long and furious argument he stormed off in anger. Uppalavanna, who was furious with her husband, jumped up and threw her baby daughter who was resting on her lap on to the bed. The baby flew off the bed, on to the floor and cut her head. Blood gushed from the wound as the baby lay unconscious. Uppalavanna was sure that she had accidentally killed her daughter. She knew that her husband would never believe her. She feared for her life for she knew the wrath of her robber husband. She decided to run away again.
Earning her keep by performing menial jobs the beautiful Uppalavanna scraped a living. Her former wealth and beauty were of no use to her. She was a fallen woman, ashamed to go back to her parents and afraid to go back to her husband. She lived thus for many years in great poverty. One day as she was gathering firewood a handsome youth saw her. Attracted by the older woman’s beauty he decided to take her as his wife. Uppalavanna, who was tired of her insecure life, agreed.
Uppalavanna and her husband lived together in harmony for some time. Then one day he had to leave on business. When he came back he brought with him a second wife – a very beautiful woman who was in the flush of youth. Uppalavanna accepted the younger woman reluctantly. Men often had their way with women and having more than one wife was a common occurrence. The two women formed a shaky friendship. Uppalavanna was grooming the younger wife’s hair one day when she noticed a large, jagged scar on her head. The young woman then informed her that she was the daughter of a robber and that she had injured her head when her mother had fought with her father. Uppalavanna was horrified. This was her own daughter whom she had left for dead many years ago. The thought that she and her daughter had shared a man sickened her. Unable to bear the shame of her degrading life she went to the Buddha for solace and comfort. Uppalavanna then decided to join the Noble Order of Bhikkhunis.
Soon afterwards it was her turn to unlock and clean the assembly hall. After she had lighted the lamp and swept the hall the flame of the lamp attracted her. Concentrating on the element of fire, she went into deep meditation and attained Arahanthship together with the analytical knowledge.
Because of her comprehensive supernormal powers Uppalavanna was declared by the Buddha to be foremost in supernormal powers among His nuns. She was also His second chief female disciple. Together with Khema she helped the Buddha with the teaching and administration of His growing congregation of bhikkhunis. Uppalavanna, who had suffered greatly in her youth because of society’s treatment of women, helped other young women attain freedom from suffering. Her experience of the unique suffering faced by women made it easy for her to empathise with others in similar situations.
Uppalavanna explains her suffering and final attainment of release as follows:
“Both of us, mother and daughter Were co-wives Of me there was religious excitement Amazing hair raising. Woe upon sensual pleasures Impure, evil-smelling, with many troubles Wherein we, Mother and daughter were co-wives. Having seen the peril in sensual pleasures And (seeing) renunciation as firm security, I went forth at Rajagaha from the house To the homeless state. I know that I have lived before The divine-eye has been purified And there is knowledge of the state of mind The ear-element has been purified Supernormal powers too have been realized by me I have attained the anhiliation of craving (These) six supernormal powers have been realized by me The Buddha’s teaching has been done. Having fashioned a four-horse chariot by supernormal powers Having paid homage to the Buddha’s feet The glorious protector of the world I stood on one side.” – (Therigatha 224-229)
[Translated from the Pali by Daw Mya Tin,MA]
At that time it was common for bhikkhunis, as it was for monks, to retreat into the forest to meditate. Uppalavanna moved to the 'Dark Forest' (Andhavana) and lived in solitude. While Theri Uppalavanna was out on her alms-round, Nanda, the son of her uncle, came to her monastery and hid himself underneath her bed. Nanda had fallen in love with Uppalavanna before she became a bhikkhuni; his intention obviously was to take her by force. When Uppalavanna returned she saw Nanda and said, "You fool! Do no harm, do not molest." But he would not be stopped. After satisfying himself, he left her. As soon as he stepped on the ground, the earth opened wide and he was swallowed up.
Hearing about this, the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:
Verse 69. As long as the evil deed does not bear fruit, the fool thinks it is sweet like honey; but when his evil deed does bear fruit, the fool suffers for it.
At the end of the discourse, many attained Sotapatti Fruition.
The Buddha next sent for King Pasenadi of Kosala and told him about the dangers that bhikkhunis living in forests had to face from irresponsible persons obsessed with sex. The king then promised to build monasteries for bhikkhunis only in towns or close to the towns.
Once, some bhikkhus were talking about the arahat Theri Uppalavanna being molested by the young Nanda who was then swallowed up by the earth. In this connection, they asked the Buddha whether arahats do not enjoy sensual pleasures as they have the same physical make-up like any other people. To them the Buddha replied, "Bhikkhus! Arahats do not enjoy sensual pleasures; they do not indulge in sensual pleasures, for they do not cling to objects of sense and to sensual pleasures, just as water does not cling to the lotus leaf or the mustard seed to the tip of an awl."
Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:
Verse 401. Him I call a brahmana, who does not cling to sensual pleasures, just as water does not cling to a lotus leaf, or the mustard seed to the tip of an awl.
Uppalavanna’s Past Lives [Posted by myanmarpedia on September 27, 2007]
To understand Uppalavanna’s quick attainment of enlightenment we need to go back many aeons to the time of the Buddha Padumuttara. At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, Uppalavanna was born to a wealthy family in the City of Hannsavati. She had seen the Padumuttara Buddha appoint another bhikkhuni foremost in supernormal powers and appoint her as His second female disciple. Inspired by the bhikkhuni, Uppalavanna had provided meals and the requisites to the Buddha and His retinue for seven days. She had then made the aspiration to be the second chief disciple of a Buddha. The Buddha Padumuttara, seeing that Uppalavanna would fulfill her aspiration, prophesied that under the Buddha Gotama she would be the second chief female disciple and foremost in supernormal powers. From this time onward Uppalavanna had performed meritorious deeds earnestly and worked towards her aspiration. -------
The text documents some of Uppalavanna’s past births. At the time of the Kassapa Buddha, the Buddha who preceded our Gotama Buddha, Uppalavanna was born to the royal family in the city of Benares as the daughter of King Kiki. She had been a devoted follower of the Buddha and had performed many meritorious deeds, including the building of a beautiful monastery for the Buddha. At death she was reborn in a divine realm and enjoyed heavenly bliss for a long time. --------
Her next documented birth is as a poor woman. Between the time of the Supreme Buddha Kassapa and the Supreme Buddha Gotama there had appeared on earth many Pacceka Buddhas. A Pacceka Buddha who had been in deep meditation for seven days in the Gandhamadana Mountain had descended from the mountain in search of alms. At that time Uppalavanna had just picked some blue lotus flowers and rice which she had then made into popped rice. On seeing the Pacceka Buddha she had offered Him the popped rice and the beautiful blue lotus flowers that she had just picked. Then, full of joy, she had aspired to be as beautiful as the blue lotus. Accepting the meal and the flowers, the Pacceka Buddha had returned to the mountaintop, using astral travel. At death Uppalavanna was reborn in a heavenly realm where she enjoyed heavenly bliss for a long time. -------
She then passed away from the heavenly realm and was born again in the human realm. No record exists of her parents or her birth. The text documents that a hermit who lived in the forest near a lake where blue lotus flowers grew had found the beautiful baby by the side of the lake, beside the flowers. The baby, who was very beautiful with skin the colour of a blue lotus, was named Uppalavanna by the hermit. He then decided to adopt the helpless infant. Uppalavanna grew up to be exceedingly beautiful and resembled a celestial nymph. She led a sheltered life alone in the forest with the hermit.
One day, a traveller who was passing through the forest saw the unusually beautiful girl and inquired from the hermit as to her origin. When the hermit explained that she was an orphan and that he had brought her up as his own child he went back and informed the king of the exceptionally beautiful maiden who lived in the forest. The King decided to make her his consort. Together with his courtiers, he visited the hermit and asked Uppalavanna to be his queen. She agreed. Leaving the forest, she moved into the palace and soon became his favourite queen. -------
The next documented birth is when Uppalavanna was reborn in Rajagaha as the wife of a farmer. At this time eight Pacceka Buddhas had appeared in the world and Uppalavanna had the good fortune to offer them alms. She had prepared a meal of fragrant rice and was taking it to her husband who was tilling the land when she saw the eight Buddhas seeking alms. She had immediately given the Buddhas the meal that she had prepared for her husband, and invited them to her home for their meal on the following day. She had then prepared fragrant food and picked eight bunches of blue lotus flowers, which she had offered to the Buddhas after the meal. For the second time, she aspired to be as beautiful as the blue lotus. ---------
The next documented birth was in Savatthi at the time of our Gotama Buddha. The aspiration made at the time of the Padumuttara Buddha was to bear fruit. Her degrading life was too much to bear. Sharing her husband with her daughter weighed heavily on her mind. She decided to join the order of nuns under the Buddha. Even though the text documents two instances of Uppalavanna’s aspiration to be as beautiful as the blue lotus it is most likely that she also renewed her original aspiration to be foremost in supernatural powers and the second chief disciple of the Buddha. Fulfilment of such an aspiration requires great effort and many meritorious deeds.
***************** Love Buddha's dhamma, yawares/sirikanya
I also did read this article that you gave me before I posted ....it's quite different...but my Thai Dhammapada Book is quite accurate and the same as the dhammapada Burmese version...plus the Udana(Therigatha 224-229) :
“Both of us, mother and daughter Were co-wives.............
That was why I chose to post " The Beautiful Blue Lotus" Thai and Burmese Version. But I truly appreciate what you suggested.
having now read both of your posts / links in full, I can say that both were utterly inspiring.
Then the Blessed One, picking up a tiny bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monk, "There isn't even this much form...feeling... perception...fabrications...consciousness that is constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change, that will stay just as it is as long as eternity." (SN 22.97)