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Khemā

1. Khemā Therī.– An Arahant, chief of the Buddha’s women disciples. She was born in a ruling family at Sāgala in the Madda country, and her skin was of the colour of gold. She became the chief consort of King Bimbisāra. She would not visit the Buddha who was at Veḷuvana, lest he should speak disparagingly of her beauty with which she was infatuated. The king bade poets sing the glories of Veḷuvana and persuaded Khemā to go there. She was then brought face to face with the Buddha, and he conjured up, for her to see, a woman like a celestial nymph who stood facing him. Even as Khemā gazed on the nymph, whose extraordinary beauty far excelled her own, she saw her pass gradually from youth to extreme old age, and so fall down in the swoon of death. Seeing that Khemā was filled with dismay at the sight, the Buddha taught her on the vanity of lust, and we are told that at that moment she attained Arahantship. With the consent of Bimbisāra she entered the Order, and was ranked by the Buddha foremost among his women disciples for her great wisdom (mahāpaññānaṃ aggā) (A.i.25; Dpv.xviii.9; see also MA.iv.168 f; Bu.xxvi.19; J.i.15,16).

In the time of Padumuttara she was a slave, and having seen the Buddha’s chief disciple, Sujāta, gave him three cakes, and that same day she sold her hair and gave him alms.

In Kassapa Buddha’s time she became the eldest daughter of Kikī, king of Bārāṇasī, and was named Samaṇī. With her sisters she observed celibacy for twenty-thousand years and built a monastery for the Buddha. She learnt the Mahānidāna Sutta, having heard the Buddha teach it. In the time of Vipassī she became a renowned teacher of the Dhamma, and during the time of both Kakusandha and Koṇāgamana she had great monasteries built for the Buddha and his monks. AA.i.187 f; Thig.139‑44; ThigA.126 ff; Ap.ii.543 ff; DhA.iv.57 ff; cf. the story of Rūpanandā (DhA.iii.113‑9).

Once when Khemā was at Toraṇavatthu, between Sāvatthi and Sāketa, Pasenadi, who happened to spend one night there, heard of her presence and went to see her. He questioned her as to whether or not the Buddha existed after death. She explained the matter to him in various ways, and Pasenadi, delighted with her exposition, related it to the Buddha (S.iv.374 ff). She is mentioned in several places (e.g., A.i.88; ii.164; iv.347; S.ii.236) as the highest ideal of womanhood worthy of imitation, and is described as the nun par excellence.

Khemā is identified with the mother in the Uraga Jātaka (J.iii.168), the queen in the Rohaṇamiga Jātaka (J.iv.423) and in the Cūḷahaṃsa Jātaka (J.iv.430), the queen, Khemā, in the Mahāhaṃsa Jātaka (J.v.382), and the princess in the Mahājanaka Jātaka (J.vi.68).

2. Khemā Therī.– One of the two chief women disciples of Dhammadassī Buddha (Bu.xvi.19; J.i.39).

3. Khemā.– The Aṅguttaranikāya Commentary (AA.ii.791) (on A.iv.347) speaks of a Khemā in a list of female lay disciples (upāsikā). This Khemā is most probably identical with Khemā (1).

4. Khemā.– Queen of Brahmadatta, king of Bārāṇasī. She dreamed of a golden peacock teaching, and wished that her dream might come true. Though the king tried every means in his power, the wish could not be fulfilled and the queen died. See the Mora Jātaka. J.ii.36.

5. Khemā.– Chief queen of Brahmadatta, king of Bārāṇasī. She dreamed of a golden deer teaching the Dhamma, and her wish to see her dream come true was fulfilled (J.iv.256). For details see the Rurumigarāja Jātaka.

6. Khemā.– Chief queen of Brahmadatta, king of Bārāṇasī (J.iv.334). Her story is similar to that of Khemā (4). For details see the Mora Jātaka.

7. Khemā.– Queen Consort of Brahmadatta, king of Bārāṇasī (J.iv.413). Her story is similar to that of Khemā (5). She is identical with Khemā Therī (J.iv.423). See the Rohaṇamiga Jātaka.

8. Khemā.– Queen Consort of King Seyya (Saṃyama) of Bārāṇasī. She saw a golden swan in a dream, and wished to see one in real life (J.v.354). She is identified with Khemā Therī (J.v.382). For details see the Mahāhaṃsa Jātaka.

9. Khemā.– A river flowing from Himavā (J.v.199 f).

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