Introduction to the Story about the Elder Nun Bhaddā Kaccānā

Bhadda Kaccana
Elder Nun Bhaddā Kaccānā’s Story
at Wat Pho, Bangkok

This is the story of the nun Bhaddā Kaccānā, also known as Rāhulamātā, Bimbā, Yasodharā, Gopī and other names, who had previously been Siddhattha’s wife. The story about her runs somewhat contrary to the preceeding story, as she is said to be one of just four disciples who could recollect an uncountable period and one hundred thousand aeons, far exceeding the others in this facility; they are Vens. Sāriputta, Moggallāna, Bakkula, and Bhaddā Kaccānā.

Yet above Bhaddā Kāpilānī has just been placed as foremost amongst those who recollect their former lives. How we resolve this problem is not sure. I tend to think that the position given to Bhaddā Kāpilānī is probably mistaken, as her story gives no indication that would be the position she would hold. Except for the aspiration recorded before Buddha Padumuttara, which would be part of the textual misidentification.01

However, the story surrounding Bhaddā Kaccānā also gives no real background for her attainment either, simply stating she aspired for it, and that she became famous for having acquired it, and later was appointed to the position.

In the Traditions neither her aspiration, not her appointment to this position, are mentioned, and her main accomplishment seems to have been as being the Bodhisatta’s wife in many lives. But then again, given the identification of this nun with Siddhattha’s wife, it seems odd that none of the literally dozens of past life stories that were known about her are included here; indeed, apart from her life at the time she made the aspiration no other lives but her last one are mentioned.

Eventually in the late Medieval period a whole cycle of stories seem to have grown up about her, as can be seen in the Therī-Apadānadīpanī, Effectively the last commentary ever written on one of the Tipiṭaka books. It was written by Bhaddanta Kumārābhivaṁsa in the 1960s, but first published in 1992 in Burmese script, and then in 2009 in Romanised script. For materials translated from Sinhala based on traditional works, see Ranjini Obeyesekere: Yasodharā, the Wife of the Bōdhisattva, SUNY, New York, 2009. 02 where her story far exceeds in length that of any other of the Elder Nuns.

One other problem that requires mentioning is that there is no one amongst the male disciples who is mentioned as having this position. Bakkula, who is mentioned in the story as also having this quality of recall, is only placed foremost amongst those with little ill-health in the stories of the male disciples, and this position is not mentioned there.

11. The Story about the Elder Nun Bhaddā Kaccānā

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AN 1.5.11

Etad-aggaṁ bhikkhave mama sāvikānaṁ bhikkhunīnaṁ
mahābhiññappattānaṁ, yad-idaṁ Bhaddā Kaccānā. ChS: Bhaddakaccānā.03

This is the foremost of my nun disciples, monastics, amongst those
who have attained very deep knowledge, that is to say, Bhaddā Kaccānā.

AA 1.5.11
The Commentarial Story:

In the eleventh story, “Amongst those who have attained very deep knowledge,” it shows why the Elder Nun Bhaddā Kaccānā, amongst those who had very deep knowledge, was said to be foremost.

For one Buddha there are four people who have very deep knowledge, and not the rest of the disciples. Other disciples may be able to recall one hundred thousand aeons, but not more than that. The six powers (chaḷabhiññā) of the later texts are magical power (iddhividha), the divine ear (dibbasota), knowledge of others’ minds (cetopariyañāṇa), recollection of former lives (pubbenivāsānussati), the divine eye (dibbacakkhu) and the extinction of the pollutants (āsavakkhaya). Here the distinguishing feature seems to be her ability to recall more lives than others. But if that was so, why was Bhaddā Kāpilāni named as the disciple who excelled in that ability.04

For those who have attained very deep knowledge they recall at least an uncountable length of time and one hundred thousand aeons.

In our Teacher’s dispensation they were the two Great Disciples, Vens. Sāriputta and Moggallāna.05 the Elder Bakkula and Bhaddā Kaccānā: these four were able to recall this much.

Therefore this Elder Nun became known as foremost amongst those who had attained very deep knowledge.

Bhaddā Kaccānā is her name.

Her skin-colour was like the finest gold, indeed, like the most auspicious gold, therefore she received the name Bhaddakañcanā, Auspicious Golden One, and later the name Kaccānā came.

She was also designated Rāhulamātā, Rāhula’s Mother.

Her Aspiration and Good Deeds

At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara she was conceived in a good family home in Haṁsavatī.

Later, while listening to the Teacher talk about Dhamma, seeing the Teacher place a certain nun as being foremost amongst those who had attained very deep knowledge, she did a great deed and aspired for that position herself.

Her Last Life

After being reborn amongst gods and humans only for one hundred thousand aeons, when this Gotama Buddha arose, she was conceived in the Sakyan Suppabuddha’s home, Making her a cousin of Siddhattha. 06 and they made the name Bhaddā Kaccānā for her.

When she had reached maturity she went to the Buddha-to-be’s home. I.e. she married Siddhattha.07

Later she gave birth to a son, the prince Rāhula.

The Buddha-to-be, after renouncing on the day Rāhula was born, and attaining omniscience within the circle of the Bodhi Tree, while bringing relief to the world, gradually came to Kapilavatthu, and gave assistance to his relatives.

Later, when the Great King Suddhodana attained Nibbāna, Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, together with five hundred women, went forth in the presence of the Teacher.

Rāhula’s Mother and Janapadakalyāṇī, I.e. Nandā.08 after going into the presence of the Elder Nun, also went forth.

Beginning from that time she became well-known as the Elder Nun, Bhaddā Kaccānā.

Later, having developed insight and attained Liberation, she mastered the deep knowledges during a single sitting in cross-legged position and with just one advertence.

She recalled at least an uncountable length of time and one hundred thousand aeons, and she became well-known as having this virtue.

As the Teacher was sitting in Jeta’s Wood and assigning the places of the nuns in order, he placed this Elder Nun in the foremost position amongst those who had very deep knowledge.