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Visākhā

1. Visākhā.– The chief among the female lay disciples of the Buddha and declared by him to be foremost among those who ministered to the Order (dāyikānaṃ aggā).¹ Her father was Dhanañjaya, son of Meṇḍaka, and her mother Sumanadevī. She was born in the city of Bhaddiya in Aṅga. When she was seven years old, the Buddha visited Bhaddiya with a large company of monks, out of compassion for the brahmin Sela and others. Meṇḍaka gave Visākhā five hundred companions, five hundred slaves, and five hundred chariots, that she might visit the Buddha. She stopped the chariots some distance away and approached the Buddha on foot. He taught her and she became a Stream-winner. For the next fortnight Meṇḍaka invited the Buddha and his monks daily to his house, where he fed them.

Later, when, at Pasenadi’s request, Bimbisāra sent Dhanañjaya to live in Kosala, Visākhā accompanied her parents and lived in Sāketa. The messengers, sent by Migāra of Sāvatthi to find a suitable bride for his son Puṇṇavaḍḍhana, saw Visākhā on her way to the lake to bathe on a feast day. At that moment there was a great shower. Visākhā’s companions ran for shelter, but Visākhā herself, walking at her usual pace, came to the place where the messengers, already greatly impressed, were awaiting her. When they asked her why she did not run to seek shelter and so preserve her clothes, she answered that she had plenty of clothes in the house, but that if she ran she might damage a limb which would be a great loss. “Unmarried girls,” she said, “are like goods awaiting sale, they must not be disfigured.” The messengers offered her a bouquet of flowers (mālāgulaṃ), which she accepted as a proposal of marriage, and then went on to her father’s house. The messengers followed and laid Puṇṇavaḍḍhana’s suit before Dhanañjaya. The proposal was accepted and confirmed by an exchange of letters.

When Pasenadi heard of it, he offered to accompany Puṇṇavaḍḍhana to Sāketa, as a mark of signal favour. Dhanañjaya welcomed the king and his retinue, Migāra, Puṇṇavaḍḍhana and their followers, with all honour, attending personally to all the details of hospitality. He persuaded the king to stay with him during the rains, providing all that was necessary

Five hundred goldsmiths were engaged to make the Mahālatāpasādhana ornament (q.v.), for the bride; three months passed, but it was still unfinished. The supply of firewood ran out, and orders were given that the wood of dilapidated houses should be used. This wood lasted for a fortnight, and then the storehouses containing cloths were opened, the cloths soaked in oil and used for cooking the food. The ornament was finished in four months

Dhanañjaya gave his daughter, as dowry, five hundred carts full of money, five hundred with vessels of gold, five hundred each of silver, copper, various silks, ghee, rice husked and winnowed; also ploughs, ploughshares, and other farm implements, five hundred carts with three slave-women in each, everything being provided for them. The cattle given by him filled an enclosure three quarters of a league in length and eight rods across, standing shoulder to shoulder, and in addition to these, sixty thousand bulls and sixty thousand milk cows escaped from their stalls and joined the herd already gifted to her.⁴ Visākhā’s relations continued to send her costly gifts even after her marriage. When the time came for Visākhā to leave, Dhanañjaya gave her ten admonitions, which Migāra overheard from the next room. These admonitions were: Not to give fire from the house outside; not to take into the house fire from without; to give only to those who give in return: not to give to those who do not give in return; to give to him that gives and to him that gives not; to sit, eat and sleep happily; to tend the fire and to honour household deities.⁵

On the following day Dhanañjaya appointed eight householders to be sponsors to his daughter and to enquire into any charges which might be brought against her. When she left, Dhanañjaya allowed any inhabitants of his fourteen tributary villages to accompany her if they so wished. As a result the villages were left empty; but Migāra, fearing that he should have to feed them, drove most of them back. Visākhā entered Sāvatthi standing in her chariot, so that all might see her glory. The citizens showered gifts on her, but these she distributed among the people.

Migāra was a follower of the Nigaṇṭhā, and, soon after Visākhā’s arrival in his house, he sent for them and told her to minister to them. However, Visākhā, repulsed by their nudity, refused to pay them homage. The Nigaṇṭhā urged that she should be sent away, but Migāra bided his time. One day, as Migāra was eating, while Visākhā stood fanning him, a monk was seen standing outside his house. Visākhā stood aside, that Migāra might see him, but as Migāra continued to eat without noticing the monk, she said to the latter, “Pass on, Sir, my father-in-law eats stale fare.” Migāra was angry and threatened to send her away, but, at her request, the matter was referred to her sponsors. They enquired into the several charges brought against her and adjudged her not guilty. Visākhā then gave orders that preparations should be made for her return to her parents. However, Migāra begged her forgiveness, which she granted, on condition that he would invite to the house the Buddha and his monks. This he did, but, owing to the influence of the Nigaṇṭhā, he left Visākhā to entertain them, and only consented to hear the Buddha’s discourse at the end of the meal from behind a curtain. At the conclusion of this discourse, however, he became a Stream-winner. His gratitude towards Visākhā was boundless; henceforth she was to be considered as his mother and to receive all the honour due to a mother; from this time onwards she was called Migāramātā.⁶

Migāra got made for her everyday use an ornament called ghanam­aṭṭhaka, at a cost of one hundred thousand.⁷ On the day of the presentation of this ornament, Migāra held for her a special festival in her honour, and she was made to bathe in sixteen pots of perfumed water.⁸

Visākhā had ten sons and ten daughters, each of whom had a similar number of children, and so on down to the fourth generation. Before her death, at the age of one hundred and twenty, she had eighty-four thousand and twenty direct lineal descendants, all living.⁹ She herself kept, all her life, the appearance of a girl of sixteen. She had the strength of five elephants, and it is said that once she took the trunk of an elephant, which was sent to test her, between her two fingers and forced him back on his haunches.¹⁰ Visākhā owned such a great reputation for bringing good fortune that the people of Sāvatthi always invited her to their houses on festivals and holidays.¹¹

Visākhā fed five hundred monks daily at her house.¹² In the afternoon she visited the Buddha, and, after listening to his discourse, would go round the monastery inquiring into the needs of the monks and nuns.¹³ In these rounds she was sometimes accompanied by Suppiyā.¹⁴ Visākhā begged for, and was granted, eight boons by the Buddha: that as long as she lived she be allowed to give robes to the members of the Order for the rainy season; food for monks coming into Sāvatthi;¹⁵ food for those going out; food for the sick; food for those who wait on the sick; medicine for the sick; a constant supply of rice gruel for any needing it; and bathing robes for the nuns.¹⁶

With the construction of the Migārāmatupāsāda (q.v.) in the Pubbārāma Visākhā’s ambitions were fulfilled, and it is said ¹⁷ that when the monastery was completed and the festival of opening in progress, as the evening drew on she walked round the monastery accompanied by her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren, and in five stanzas sang her joy, saying, “Now is entirely fulfilled the prayer which I prayed in times of yore.”¹⁸ The monks heard her sing and told the Buddha; he related to them how, in the time of Padumuttara Buddha, Visākhā had been the friend of the principal women benefactors of that Buddha. In the time of Kassapa Buddha she was Saṅghadāsī, youngest of the seven daughters of Kiki, and for long after her marriage she gave alms and performed other good works with her sisters.¹⁹

According to the Vihāravimānavatthu,²⁰ Visākhā was born, after death, among the Nimmānaratī-devā as the consort of the deva king Sunimmita.

Buddhaghosa says ²¹ that Visākhā, like Sakka and Anāthapiṇḍika, will enjoy one hundred and thirty-one world-cycles of happiness in the Brahma-worlds before she finally attains parinibbāna.

Among Visākhā’s relations are also mentioned, in addition to her two sons Migajāla and Migāra, a sister Sujātā, who became Anāthapiṇḍika’s daughter-in-law;²² a grandson, Sāḷha (q.v.); a granddaughter, Dattā, who died:²³ and Uggaha (q.v.), called Meṇḍakanattā. Mention is also made of a grandson of hers on whose behalf she interceded with the Buddha when the monks refused to ordain him during the rainy season.²⁴

The books contain numerous suttas taught by the Buddha to Visākhā during her frequent visits to him, chief among such suttas being the famous discourse on the keeping of the uposatha,²⁵ the discourse of the eight qualities that win for women power in this world and power and happiness in the next,²⁶ and eight qualities that win for a woman birth among the Manāpakāyikā devā.²⁷

Footnotes

¹ A.i.26; she is considered the ideal lay woman — e.g., A.iv.348.

² According to the DhA. account, loc.cit., Visākhā superintended all the arrangements.

³ In the time of Kassapa Buddha she gave bowls and robes to twenty thousand monks, also thread and needles and sewing materials; as a result of this, she received her jewellery in this life. DhA.i.395.

In her birth as Saṅghadāsī, she gave the five products of the cow to twenty thousand monks, begging them to eat; hence the escaping of the cattle for her benefit. DhA.i.397. The Udāna (Ud.ii.9) contains a story of a dispute she had with the customs officers regarding the duty they levied on one of her presents. She visited Pasenadi several times, trying to get the matter settled; but he had no time to give to the matter, and, in the end, she sought consolation from the Buddha.

These riddles were later explained by Visākhā to her father-in-law. DhA.i.403 f.

In DhA.i.406 we are told that in order to confirm this declaration, Migāra sucked the breast of Visākhā. This account adds that she had also a son named Migāra; thus there was a double reason for the name. AA.i.313 says that Migāra was her eldest son.

Some time after, Visākhā sold the Mahālatāpasādhana and built the Migārāmatupāsāda.

This account of Visākhā is summarized from DhA.i.384 ff; AA.i.219 ff. contains a similar account but with far less detail. The DhA. account contains numerous other particulars, some of which are given below.

However, see Ud.viii.8, which speaks of the death of a grand-daughter and of Visākhā’s great grief; this evidently refers to Dattā.

¹⁰ DhA.i.409. ¹¹ Ibid.

¹² Thus, e.g., J.iv.144; two thousand, according to DhA.i.128; later she appointed her granddaughter, probably Dattā, to officiate for her.

¹³ Because she wished the Saṅgha well she was appointed on the committee set up to enquire into the charge brought against the mother of Kumāra-Kassapa (q.v.) who was already pregnant when ordained as a nun. Visākhā’s experience as the mother of several children stood her in good stead.

¹⁴ For an incident connected with one of these visits, see Suppiyā. DhA. (i. 100 f ) says that once five hundred young men of good family entrusted the care of their wives to Visākhā. On one occasion, when accompanying her to the monastery, they became drunk and committed improprieties in the presence of the Buddha. The Buddha frightened them by emitting a dark blue ray of light, thus restoring them to their senses. This was the occasion of the teaching of the Kumbha Jātaka. See also J.v.11 f.

¹⁵ Probably on account of this boon the monks who had been to see Khadiravaniya Revata (q.v.) visited Visākhā immediately after their return to Sāvatthi; but see the Pīṭha Jātaka.

¹⁶ This list of boons and Visākhā’s reasons for begging them are given at Vin.i.290 ff. According to the Suruci Jātaka (q.v.), she obtained the boons owing to her virtue in the past as well — e.g., in her birth as Sumedhā (J.iv.315 ff.); see also Vin.i.296, where the Buddha accepts a face-towel as a special gift from Visākhā but would not accept an earthenware foot-scrubber (Vin.ii.129 f).

¹⁷ The wishes mentioned in these stanzas as having been fulfilled differ from the eight boons mentioned above.

¹⁸ DhA.i.416 f. ¹⁹ AA.i.219. ²⁰ Vv.iv.6; VvA.189,191. ²¹ DA.iii.740.

²² A.iv.91; AA.ii.724; J.ii.347. ²³ DhA.iii.278. ²⁴ Vin.i.153.

²⁵ A.i.205 ff; cf. A.iv.255; DhA.iii.58 f. ²⁶ A.iv.269. ²⁷ A.iv.267.

Finding Footnote References

Dhammapada Commentary, Puppha Vagga, DA.i.453

References in the notes are to the Pāḷi texts of the PTS. In the translations, these are usually printed in the headers near the spine, or in square brackets in the body of the text, thus it would be i 413 in the spine or [413] in the text. References to the Commentaries are usually suffixed with A for Aṭṭhakathā (DA, MA, SNA, etc.) but references to the Jātaka Commentary are given as J, not JA, which would normally be used, as that is reserved for the Journal Asiatic.

2. Visākhā Therī.– She belonged to the harem of the Bodhisatta and left the world with Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī. She received a topic of meditation from the Buddha and in due course won Arahantship. A verse uttered by her, admonishing her companions, is included in the Therīgāthā. Thig.vs.13; ThigA.20.

3. Visākhā.– Mother of Kakusandha Buddha and wife of Aggidatta. Bu.xxiii.58; J.i.94; D.ii.7.

4. Visākhā.– One of the chief lay women supporters of Piyadassī Buddha. Bu.xiv.22.

5. Visākhā.– One of the five queens of the third Okkāka. DA.i.238; SNA.i.352; MT. 131.

6. Visākhā.– One of the women who will renounce the world at the same time as the future Metteyya Buddha. She will be accompanied by eighty-four thousand other women. Anāgat. vs. 63.

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