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Uppalavaṇṇā

1. Uppalavaṇṇā Therī.– One of the two chief women disciples of the Buddha. She was born in Sāvatthi as the daughter of a banker, and she received the name of Uppalavaṇṇā because her skin was the colour of the heart of the blue lotus. When she was come of age, kings and commoners from the whole of India sent messengers to her father, asking for her hand. He, not wishing to offend any of them, suggested that Uppalavaṇṇā should leave the world. Because of her spiritual potential (upanissaya), she very willingly agreed and was ordained a nun. Soon it came to her turn to perform certain services in the uposatha-hall. Lighting the lamp, she swept the room. Taking the flame of the lamp as her visible object, she developed concentration on the fire-device (tejokasina) and, attaining to jhāna, became an Arahant possessed of the four kinds of Analytical Knowledge (Paṭisambhidā). She became particularly versed in the mystic potency of transformation (iddhivikubbana). When the Buddha arrived at the Gandamba-tree to perform the Twin Miracle, Uppalavaṇṇā offered to perform certain miracles herself, if the Buddha would give his consent, but this he refused.¹ Later, at Jetavana, in the assembly of the Saṅgha, he declared her to be the chief of the women possessed of psychic power.² The Therīgāthā³ contains several verses attributed to her.

Three of them had been uttered in anguish by a mother who had been unwittingly living as her daughter’s rival with the man who later became the monk Gaṅgātīriya (q.v.) Uppalavaṇṇā repeated them to help her to reflect on the harm and vileness of sensual desires. Two others are utterances of joy on the distinctions she had won and another records a miracle she performed before the Buddha, with his consent. The rest contain a conversation between Uppalavaṇṇā and Māra, wherein she tells him that she has passed completely beyond his power.

The books give several episodes connected with Uppalavaṇṇā. Once a young man named Nanda, who was her cousin and had been in love with her during her lay-life, hid himself in her hut in Andhavana and, in spite of her protestations, deprived her of her chastity. It is said that he was swallowed up by the fires of Avīci. From that time onwards, nuns were forbidden to live in Andhavana. On another occasion, Uppalavaṇṇā came across, in Andhavana, some meat left behind, obviously for her, by some kind-hearted thief; having cooked the meat, she took it to the Buddha at Veḷuvana. Finding him away on his alms-rounds, she left the meat with Udāyi, who was looking after the vihāra, to be given to the Buddha, but Udāyi insisted on Uppalavaṇṇā giving him her inner robe as a reward for his services.⁶

According to the Dhammapada Commentary,⁷ the miracle that Uppalavaṇṇā volunteered to perform at the Gandamba-tree, was the assumption of the form of a Cakkavatti, with a retinue extending for thirty-six leagues and the paying of homage to the Buddha, with all the Cakkavatti’s followers, in the presence of the multitude.

Mention is made of a pupil of Uppalavaṇṇā, who followed the Buddha for seven years, learning the Vinaya.⁸

The Buddha declares that Khemā and Uppalavaṇṇā are the measure of his women disciples, and that the believing nun, if she would aspire perfectly, should aspire to be like them.⁹

In the time of Padumuttara Buddha Uppalavaṇṇā saw a woman disciple who was declared to be the best of those possessed of supernormal power, and wished for herself a similar rank in the dispensation of a future Buddha. In the time of Kassapa, she was one of the seven daughters of Kikī, king of Bārāṇasī, and having done many good deeds, was born in heaven. Later, she was born in the world of men and had to work for her own living. One day she gave to a Pacceka Buddha, who had just risen from samādhi, a meal of fried rice in his bowl and covered it with a beautiful lotus; the meal had been prepared for herself. The lotus she afterwards took back but again replaced it, asking the Pacceka Buddha’s forgiveness. She expressed a wish that she should beget as many sons as there were grains of rice in her gift, and that lotuses should spring up under her feet as she walked. In her next birth she was born in a lotus. An ascetic adopted her as his daughter, but when she grew up, the king of Bārāṇasī, hearing of her beauty, asked the ascetic for her hand and made her his chief queen, under the name of Padumavatī. The king’s other wives were jealous of her beauty, and when the king was away, quelling a rising of the border tribes, they concealed in caskets the five hundred sons, chief of whom was the prince Mahāpaduma (q.v.), that were born to Padumavatī, and told the king that Padumavatī was a non-human and had given birth to a log of wood. Padumavatī was sent away in disgrace, but later, through the instrumentality of Sakka, the trick was exposed, and Padumavatī regained all her former power and glory.¹⁰ Later, when Mahāpaduma and his brothers became Pacceka Buddhas, Padumavatī died of a broken heart and was born in a village outside Rājagaha. There some of the Pacceka Buddhas who had been her sons discovered her, and they all came to a meal at her house. At the conclusion of the meal she offered them blue lotuses, and expressed the wish that her complexion should be like the matrix of the blue lotus.¹¹

The Apadāna account of the past lives of Uppalavaṇṇa differs from the above in several details.¹² According to this account, in Padumuttara’s time she was a Nāga maiden named Vimalā and was impressed by the psychic powers displayed by a nun, hence her wish for similar powers. The Apadāna also mentions Uppalavaṇṇā’s birth as the daughter of a banker of Bārāṇasī, in the time of Vipassī. She gave great alms to the Buddha and the monks and made offerings of lotuses. She was the second daughter of Kikī and her name was Samaṇā. In her next birth she became the ravishing daughter of Tirīṭavaccha of Ariṭṭhapura. In her last birth she became an Arahant within a fortnight of her ordination.

Uppalavaṇṇā’s name occurs several times in the Jātaka stories. In the Kharādiya Jātaka¹³ she was a deer, the sister of the Bodhisatta; in the Tipallatthamiga Jātaka¹⁴ she was the mother of Rāhula, then born as a stag. She is identified with the old woman, the foster-mother of Ayyikākāḷaka in the Kaṇha,¹⁵ with the queen Mudulakkhaṇā,¹⁶ the brahminee in the Sārambha,¹⁷ the courtesan in the Kurudhamma,¹⁸ the brahmin’s daughter (and sister of Rāhula) in the Venasākha,¹⁹ Siridevī in the Sirikāḷakaṇṇi,²⁰ the goddess in the Siṅghapuppha,²¹ Manoja’s sister in the Manoja,²² the ascetic’s daughter in the Kumbhakāra,²³ the deity in the Jāgara,²⁴ in the Saṅkha,²⁵ and in the Kiṃchanda,²⁶ the sister in the Bhisa,²⁷ Sutanā in the Rohaṇamiga,²⁸ the younger sister in the Jayaddisa,²⁹ Kuṇḍalī in the Tesakuṇa,³⁰ Ummadantī in the Ummadantī,³¹ Hiridevatā in the Sudhābhojana,³² the goddess of the parasol in the Mūgapakkha,³³ the ocean spirit in the Mahājanaka,³⁴ the goddess in the Suvaṇṇasāma,³⁵ Selā in the Candakumāra,³⁶ Accimukhī in the Bhūridatta,³⁷ Bherī in the Umaṅga,³⁸ and Kaṇhājinā in the Vessantara.³⁹

It was Uppalavaṇṇā who ordained Anojā and her companions, by the express wish of the Buddha.⁴⁰

¹ ThigA.190, 195. ² A.i.25. ³ Thig.vv.234‑5.

A conversation, more or less identical with the foregoing, is recorded in S.i.131 f.

DhA.ii.49 f; the incident is referred to in Vin.iii.35. It is said (e.g., DhA.iv.166 f) that this incident gave rise to the question whether even Arahants enjoyed the pleasures of love and wished to gratify their passions. Why should they not? For they are not trees nor ant-hills, but living creatures with moist flesh. The Buddha most emphatically declared that thoughts of lust never entered the hearts of the saints.

Vin.iii.208 f. DhA.iii.211. Vin.ii.261. A.i.88; ii.164; S.ii.236.

¹⁰ Her temporary downfall was due to her having withdrawn her gift of a lotus to the Pacceka Buddha.

¹¹ This account is a summary of the Therīgāthā Commentary, pp.182 ff; AA.i.188 ff; but see also DhA.ii.48 f.

¹² Ap.ii.551. However, vv.1‑15 quoted in the ThigA. differ from those in the Apadāna, and agree with the ThigA. account.

¹³ J.i.160. ¹⁴ J.i.164. ¹⁵ J.i.196. ¹⁶ J.i.306. ¹⁷ J.i.375. ¹⁸ J.ii.381. ¹⁹ J.iii.168.

²⁰ J.iii.264. ²¹ J.iii.310. ²² J.iii.324. ²³ J.iii.383. ²⁴ J.iii.405. ²⁵ J.iv.22.

²⁶ J.v.11. ²⁷ J.iv.314. ²⁸ J.iv.423. ²⁹  J.v.36. ³⁰ J.v.125. ³¹ J.v.227.

³² J.v.412. ³³ J.vi.29. ³⁴ J.vi.68. ³⁵ J.vi.95. ³⁶ J.vi.157. ³⁷ J.vi.219.

³⁸ J.vi.478. ³⁹ J.vi.593. ⁴⁰ AA.i.178.

2. Uppalavaṇṇā.– One of the two daughters of Kassapa I of Sri Lanka, the other being Bodhī.

The king built a vihāra and called it by his own name together with those of his daughters.⁴¹

⁴¹ Cv.xxxix.11; see also Cv.Trs.i.43, n.7.

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