5. The Story about the Elder Nun Dhammadinnā
The story in the commentary about this great nun is somewhat anomalous, as her story is said to have been similar to Ven. Khemā’s, even down to doing a deed for the Chief Disciple of the Buddha Padumuttara, the Elder Sujāta, and aspiring for a similar position herself. But the commentary here seems somewhat confused, as in her Traditional verses, it clearly says she did a good deed for the Elder Sujāta, and at a later time heard Buddha Padumuttara place a nun in foremost position of those who talk about Dhamma, and aspired to that position herself, which is indeed the position she fulfilled, being the counterpart of Ven. Mantāṇiputta.
Later she was also one of the seven sisters who built a monastery for the Buddha Kassapa’s monks, and was eventually reborn into her last life. Her birthplace is not stated here, but the Tradition states it was in Giribbaja (another name for Rājagaha), and she did indeed marry the merchant Visākha who was living in that city, and who was a close friend of King Bimbisāra.
Her husband Visākha was amongst the crowds of people who went out to greet the Buddha when he returned to Rājagaha around nine months after his Awakening, and there and then he attained the First Path, and later on he progressed through to the Third Path.
At that point he became incapable to living a normal household life, having transcended sensual desire, and he therefore informed his wife and gave her permission to choose her own future. Dhammadinnā, not wishing to take up what he had thrown away, chose to go forth and after ordination went to a hermitage in the countryside, where she quickly attained Liberation.
Visākha was surprised by her quick return to Rājagaha and didn’t know whether it was because she was dissatisfied with the life or not, so he decided to visit her to find out. Rather than asking what could be an embarrassing question though, he skilfully asked her about the teaching, deepening the questions as he received answers.
This showed him beyond doubt, that not only was she satisfied, but that her own personal experience was beyond his own; when he reported his conversation to the Buddha he confirmed Dhammadinnā’s greatness and attainment, and made her teaching his own by approving it as being the same as he himself would have taught.
The discourse that was recorded on that occasion, the Small Discourse giving an Elaboration (MN 44), is one of the most outstanding discourses spoken by a disciple in the Tipiṭaka, and is justly famous. I have translated it elsewhere on this website. It was owing to this discourse that Ven. Dhammadinnā was appointed to the position of foremost amongst those who talk on Dhamma.
Etad-aggaṁ bhikkhave mama sāvikānaṁ bhikkhunīnaṁ
This is the foremost of my nun disciples, monastics,
Dhammakathikānaṁ, yad-idaṁ Dhammadinnā.
amongst those who talk about Dhamma, that is to say, Dhammadinnā.
In the fifth (story), “Amongst those who talk about Dhamma,”
Dhammakathikānaṁ bhikkhunīnaṁ SHB, PTS:
it shows (why) Dhammadinnā, amongst those who talked about Dhamma, was said to be foremost.
Her Aspiration and Good Deeds
Sā kira Padumuttarabuddhakāle,
At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, it seems,
Haṁsavatiyaṁ parāyattaṭṭhāne nibbattitvā,
she was reborn in a place belonging to others in Haṁsavatī, It means she was born to a servant in someone else’s house.
Padumuttarassa Bhagavato aggasāvakassa Sujātatherassa RTE, ChS:
° and after doing a great deed for the Elder Sujāta, In the Traditions it says she gave him a cake, led him to her master’s house and fed him again.
adhikārakammaṁ SHB, PTS:
the Chief Disciple of the Fortunate Padumuttara,
taṁ ṭhānantaraṁ patthesi.
she aspired for that position herself.
Sā yāvajīvaṁ kusalaṁ katvā, Sagge nibbatti,
She did good deeds for the rest of her life, and was reborn in Heaven,
sabbaṁ heṭṭhā Khemātheriyā abhinīhāravaseneva veditabbaṁ.
and everything below should be understood in accordance with the Elder Khemā’s resolution. It is not easy to see how to apply this instruction as after Khemā’s aspiration the story at the time of Buddha Kassapa is told. But here that comes after the following story during the period of Buddha Phussa.
Various Good Deeds under Different Buddhas
But at the time of the Buddha Phussa she,
Satthu vemātikānaṁ tiṇṇaṁ bhātikānaṁ,
° while living with the Teacher’s three brothers by different Mothers,
dānādhikāre ṭhapitakammikassa gehe vasamānā,
being placed as a servant in the house of the one in charge of almsgiving,
“Ekaṁ dehī,” ti vuttā dve adāsi.
when told: “Give one,” gave two. This life is unrecorded in her Apadāna.
Evaṁ sabbaṁ aparihāpentī datvā, dvenavutikappe atikkamma,
Thus, having given all, but without causing decline, ninety-two aeons having passed by,
Kassapabuddhakāle Kikissa Kāsirañño gehe paṭisandhiṁ gaṇhitvā,
she was conceived in the home of Kiki, the King of Kāsi, in the time of the Buddha Kassapa,
sattannaṁ bhaginīnaṁ abbhantarā hutvā,
and became (one) amongst seven sisters,
vīsativassasahassāni brahmacariyaṁ caritvā,
lived as a celibate for twenty-thousand years,
Bhikkhusaṅghassa vasanapariveṇaṁ SHB, PTS:
had a dwelling place made for the Community of monks,
ekaṁ Buddhantaraṁ devamanussesu saṁsarantī,
and being reborn amongst gods and humans (only) during one period when there was no Buddha,
imasmiṁ Buddhuppāde kulagehe paṭisandhiṁ gaṇhitvā,
when this (Gotama) Buddha arose was conceived in a good family home,
aparabhāge Visākhaseṭṭhino gehaṁ gatā. RTE:
and later went to the home of the merchant Visākha. I.e. she married the merchant of this name.
Her Last Life
Visākhaseṭṭhi nāma Bimbisārassa sahāyako,
The merchant Visākha, (King) Bimbisāra’s friend,
Raññā saddhiṁ Dasabalassa paṭhamadassanaṁ gantvā, Dhammaṁ sutvā,
went with the King and for the first time saw the One of Ten Powers, listened to the Dhamma,
Sotāpattiphale patiṭṭhito, aparabhāge Anāgāmiphalaṁ sacchākāsi.
was established in the Fruit of Stream-Entry, and later realised the Fruit of Non-Returner.
So taṁ divasaṁ gharaṁ gantvā,
That day, after going home,
sopānamatthake ṭhitāya Dhammadinnāya hatthe pasārite,
Dhammadinnā was standing at the top of the stairs with outstretched hands,
hatthaṁ anālambitvā va pāsādaṁ abhiruhi.
(but) without taking her hand he ascended the mansion.
Bhuñjamāno pi: “Imaṁ detha, imaṁ harathā,” ti RTE:
Also while eating he did not speak saying: “Give this, bring that.”
Dhammadinnā kaṭacchuṁ gahetvā, parivisamānā cintesi:
Dhammadinnā, having taken a spoon, reflected while serving:
“Ayaṁ me hatthālambakaṁ SHB, PTS:
“He did not take my hand as I was giving him my hand,
bhuñjamāno pi kiñci na katheti, ko nu kho mayhaṁ doso?” ti
and while eating he does not talk, I wonder what is my fault?”
Atha naṁ bhuttāviṁ “Ko nu kho me, Ayya, RTE:
Then, when he had eaten, she asked him: “Noble Sir, I wonder what is my fault?”
“Dhammadinne, tuyhaṁ doso natthi,
“Dhammadinnā, you have no fault,
but from today forward intimacy with you,
santike nisīdituṁ vā ṭhātuṁ vā, PTS omits:
to sit or to stand near,
or to chew and eat after you have brought (food) is no longer possible.
Tvaṁ sace icchasi imasmiṁ gehe vasa.
If you wish you can dwell in this home.
No ce icchasi, yattakena te dhanena attho taṁ gaṇhitvā,
But if you do not wish, take however much wealth you need,
kulagharaṁ gacchā.” ti ChS:
and go to your family’s house. This story of Visākha’s and Dhammadinnā’s renunciation is told is much greater detail in the Majjhima Commentary on Cūḷavedallasuttaṁ (MN 44), a translation of which is found elsewhere on this website.
Her Renunciation and Attainments
“Ayyaputta, evaṁ sante,
“Noble Sir, that being so,
ahaṁ tumhehi chaḍḍitakheḷaṁ, vamitavamanaṁ, RTE:
on that which has been spat aside, or vomited up,
sīsena ukkhipitvā na RTE omits:
I could not live with my head held high,
mayhaṁ pabbajjaṁ anujānāthā.” ti
please allow my going forth.”
Visākho: “Sādhu, Dhammadinne!” ti Rañño ārocetvā,
Visākha said: “Very good, Dhammadinnā!” and after announcing it to the King,
Dhammadinnaṁ suvaṇṇasivikāya bhikkhunī-upassayaṁ pabbajjatthāya pesesi.
he sent Dhammadinnā in a golden palanquin to the nunnery for the going forth.
Sā pabbajitvā cintesi:
After the going forth she thought:
“Ayaṁ tāva seṭṭhi gharamajjhe ṭhito va dukkhassantaṁ RTE:
“This merchant while still in the midst of his house has made an end to suffering, This usually indicates Liberation, but here we have to understand it as indicating a relative end to suffering, as Visākha was a Non-Returner, still at the third stage of the path.
pabbajjaṁ laddhakālato paṭṭhāya pana
but from the time I received the going forth
mayā pi dukkhassantaṁ kātuṁ vaṭṭatī.” ti
(till now) I have yet to make an end to suffering.”
Ācariyupajjhāyānaṁ santikaṁ gantvā:
She went to her teacher and preceptor,
“Ayye, mayhaṁ ākiṇṇaṭṭhāne cittaṁ na ramati, RTE:
° and said: “Noble Ladies, my mind does not delight in this crowded place,
gāmakāvāsaṁ gacchāmī,” ti āha.
I would go to a village dwelling.” Since the incident when Arahat Uppalavaṇṇā was raped nuns were not allowed to live by themselves in the wilderness (
Theriyo tassā mahākulā nikkhamma pabbajitabhāvena,
The Elders, because she had renounced a great family through her going forth,
cittaṁ kopetuṁ RTE, PTS:
felt unable to find fault with her thought, and they took her and went to a village dwelling.
Sā atīte majjitasaṅkhāratāya RTE, ChS:
As she had prepared the right conditions in the past
na cirasseva saha paṭisambhidāhi Arahattaṁ pāpuṇi.
not long after she attained Liberation together with the analytic knowledges.
Then it occurred to her:
“Mayhaṁ kiccaṁ matthakaṁ pattaṁ, idha vasitvā kiṁ karissāmi?
“I have attained the summit of what was to be done, living here what will I do?
I shall go to Rājagaha,
tatra maṁ nissāya bahu ñātisaṅgho puññāni karissatī,” ti
and there on account of me a large company of (my) relatives will make merit,”
Theriyo gahetvā nagaram-eva paccāgatā.
and with the Elders she returned to the city.
Visākho tassā āgatabhāvaṁ SHB, PTS:
Visākha, hearing that she had come, thought:
‘Sīghaṁ āgatā ukkaṇṭhitā nu kho bhavissatī?’ ti
‘Quickly she came, is it because she is dissatisfied?’
Sāyanhasamaye tassā santikaṁ gantvā abhivādetvā, ekamantaṁ nisinno:
In the evening time, he went into her presence and worshipped, and sat down at one side,
‘Ukkaṇṭhitabhāvaṁ pucchituṁ ayuttan,’-ti
thinking: ‘It is inappropriate to ask about her dissatisfaction,’
pañcakkhandhādivasena pañhe pucchi,
(and instead) he asked a question about the five constituent parts and so forth, This refers to the Cūḷavedallasuttaṁ (MN 44).
Dhammadinnā khaggena uppalanāle RTE, ChS:
and Dhammadinnā, like one who cuts through a lily stalk with a sword,
pucchitaṁ pucchitaṁ SHB:
answered each of the questions.
Upāsako Dhammadinnātheriyā ñāṇassa sūrabhāvaṁ RTE:
The devotee, understanding how sharp was the Elder Nun Dhammadinnā’s knowledge,
after asking questions in order about all the conditions for the three paths of his own attainment,
uggahavasena Arahattamagge PTS: -
asked about learning the Path to Liberation.
Dhammadinnā Therī pi upāsakassa yāva Anāgāmiphalā va visayabhāvaṁ ñatvā:
The Elder Nun Dhammadinnā understanding that the devotee had only reached the state up to the Fruit of Non-Returner,
‘Idāni attano visayaṁ atikkamitvā dhāvatī,’ ti taṁ nivattentī:
thinking: ‘Now he is going beyond his own state and running on,’ stopping him,
“Accasarā, āvuso SHB, PTS:
° said: “You are not able to grasp, friend Visākha, answers to questions that are beyond your limits,
Nibbānogadhaṁ hi, āvuso Visākha,
like immersion in Nibbāna, friend Visākha,
brahmacariyaṁ Nibbānaparāyaṇaṁ, Nibbānapariyosānaṁ.
the spiritual life that ends in Nibbāna, that has a conclusion in Nibbāna.
Ākaṅkhamāno ca tvaṁ, āvuso Visākha,
Desiring this, friend Visākha,
Bhagavantaṁ upasaṅkamitvā etam-atthaṁ puccheyyāsi,
approach the Fortunate One and you can ask him about this matter,
yathā ca te Bhagavā byākaroti, tathā naṁ dhāreyyāsī,” ti āha.
and just as the Fortunate One explains, so you should bear it in mind.”
Visākho Satthu santikaṁ gantvā sabbaṁ pucchāvissajjananayaṁ kathesi.
Visākha went into the presence of the Teacher and told him the questions and answers (that had been given).
Satthā tassa vacanaṁ sutvā,
The Teacher listened to his words,
“Mama dhītāya atītānāgatapaccuppannesu khandhesu taṇhā natthī,” ti vatvā,
and saying: “My daughter has no craving for past, future or present constituents,”
Dhammapade imaṁ gātham-āha:
spoke this verse found in the Dhammapada: Dhp 421.
“Yassa pure ca pacchā ca majjhe ca natthi kiñcanaṁ,
“The one who has nothing in the past, the future or the present,
akiñcanaṁ anādānaṁ, tam-ahaṁ brūmi brāhmaṇan.”-ti
and is unattached to this nothing, that one I call a spiritual person.”
Tato Dhammadinnāya sādhukāraṁ datvā, Visākhaṁ upāsakaṁ etad-avoca:
Then having given approval to Dhammadinnā, he said this to the devotee Visākha:
“Paṇḍitā, Visākha, Dhammadinnā bhikkhunī,
“Wise, Visākha, is the nun Dhammadinnā,
mahāpaññā, Visākha, Dhammadinnā bhikkhunī,
having great wisdom, Visākha, is the nun Dhammadinnā,
maṁ ce RTE:
if you were to ask me, Visākha, the same matter,
aham-pi taṁ evam-evaṁ RTE, ChS:
I would answer it in the same way,
yathā taṁ Dhammadinnāya bhikkhuniyā byākataṁ,
in the same way as the nun Dhammadinnā has answered,
eso cevetassa RTE:
for this is indeed the meaning, and so should you bear it in mind.”
Evam-etaṁ vatthu samuṭṭhitaṁ.
Thus did the story unfold.
Aparabhāge SHB, PTS adds:
Later as the Teacher was sitting in Jeta’s Wood,
paṭipāṭiyā bhikkhuniyo ṭhānantaresu SHB, PTS, ChS:
as he was assigning the places of the nuns in order,
idam-eva Cūḷavedallaṁ, SHB, PTS:
regarding this Small (Discourse giving an) Elaboration,A text and translation of this discourse can be found elsewhere on this website. as the occasion had arisen,
Theriṁ imasmiṁ Sāsane Dhammakathikānaṁ aggaṭṭhāne ṭhapesī ti.
he placed this Elder Nun in the foremost position in the Dispensation amongst those who talked about Dhamma.
last updated: March 2015