This is one of the most touching stories of the collection. Soṇā, also known as Many-Children Soṇā, after raising ten children, seeing them all married off, and distributing her wealth to them, finds herself despised by her children, and decides to go forth. In the Traditions the story is quite different: there her husband and ten sons all decide to go forth, and she, being left alone, also decided to go forth.
Even when she has gone forth no one respected her, so she took up insight meditation on the nature of the body and worked at it with great zeal. One day while working at her meditation subject, the Buddha projected an image of himself standing in front of her, and gave her encouragement.
She then attained Liberation, but realised she hadn't carried out her assigned duty to warm the water for the nuns’ bath when they returned from alms round. Thinking that if someone spoke badly of her they may make demerit, upon their return she warmed the water through miraculous power, and this convinced them of her attainment.
The nuns begged for forgiveness and Ven. Soṇā became at long last a highly respected member of the Community, known as being zealous in making effort, and when the Buddha was placing the nuns in position, she was made foremost amongst those who were energetic.
Her male counterpart also had the same first name, and was known as Ven. Soṇa Koḷivisa.
7. The Story about the Elder Nun Soṇā
Etad-aggaṁ bhikkhave mama sāvikānaṁ bhikkhunīnaṁ
This is the foremost of my nun disciples, monastics,
āraddhaviriyānaṁ, yad-idaṁ Soṇā.
amongst those who are energetic, that is to say, Soṇā.
Sattame “Āraddhaviriyānan,”-ti RTE:
In the seventh (story), “Amongst those who are energetic,”
paggahitaparipuṇṇaviriyānaṁ Soṇā aggā ti dasseti.
it shows why Soṇā, amongst those who have held up and fulfilled energy, was said to be foremost.
Her Aspiration and Good Deeds
Ayaṁ kira Padumuttarabuddhakāle
At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, it seems,
Haṁsavatiyaṁ kulagehe paṭisandhiṁ gahetvā,
she was conceived in a good family home in Haṁsavatī,
aparabhāge, Dhammaṁ PTS:
and later, while listening to the Dhamma,
Satthāraṁ ekaṁ bhikkhuniṁ āraddhaviriyānaṁ aggaṭṭhāne ṭhapentaṁ disvā,
seeing the Teacher place a certain nun as being foremost amongst those who were energetic,
adhikārakammaṁ katvā taṁ ṭhānantaraṁ patthesi.
she did a great deed and aspired for that position herself.
Her Last Life
Sā kappasatasahassaṁ devamanussesu saṁsaritvā,
She was reborn amongst gods and humans (only) for one hundred thousand aeons,
imasmiṁ Buddhuppāde Sāvatthiyaṁ kulagehe paṭisandhiṁ gahetvā,
and when this (Gotama) Buddha arose she was conceived in a good family home in Sāvatthī,
aparabhāge, gharāvāse patiṭṭhitā, RTE:
and later, she was established in the household life and had many sons and daughters, The commentaries say she had ten children.
sabbe pi visuṁ visuṁ gharāvāse patiṭṭhāpesi.
and set them all up individually in the household life. She divided up her property and gave it to them, see the Dhammapada Commentary to vs. 115.
Te SHB, PTS omit:
From thence onwards, thinking: ‘What can she do for us?’
taṁ attano santikaṁ āgataṁ ‘Mātā’ ti saññam-pi na kariṁsu.
when she came into their presence, they did not even designate her as ‘Mother.’
Bahuputtikasoṇā tesaṁ attani agāravabhāvaṁ RTE:
And Many-Children Soṇā, understanding their lack of respect towards herself, thinking:
‘Gharāvāsena kiṁ karissāmī,’ ti nikkhamitvā pabbaji.
‘What will I do dwelling in a house,’ renounced and went forth.
Atha naṁ bhikkhuniyo: ‘Ayaṁ vattaṁ SHB, PTS:
Then the nuns, thinking: ‘She does not know the (minor) duties, she behaves improperly,’
gave her punishment.
Puttadhītaro taṁ daṇḍakammaṁ āharantiṁ disvā:
Her sons and daughters saw her being punished, and thinking:
‘Ayaṁ yāvajjadivasā sikkhāpadamattam-pi RTE, PTS, ChS:
’Till this very day she does not know the training rules,’
diṭṭhadiṭṭhaṭṭhāne uppaṇḍesuṁ. RTE:
and they ridiculed her on the spot wherever she was seen.
Sā tesaṁ vacanaṁ sutvā, uppannasaṁvegā:
Having heard their words, with spiritual anxiety aroused,
‘Attano gativisodhanaṁ kātuṁ vaṭṭatī,’ ti
thinking: ‘It is fitting to make a course to purification for myself,’
nisinnaṭṭhāne pi ṭhitaṭṭhāne pi Dvattiṁsākāraṁ sajjhāyati.
she rehearsed the Thirty-Two Fold Nature in whatever place she was sitting and whatever place she was standing.
Atthi imasmiṁ kāye:
There are in this body: This is a separate text at Khp. 3, and is found passim throughout the discourses.
kesā, lomā, nakhā, dantā, taco,
hairs of the head, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin,
maṁsaṁ, nahāru, aṭṭhi, RTE:
flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys,
hadayaṁ, yakanaṁ, kilomakaṁ, pihakaṁ, papphāsaṁ,
heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs,
antaṁ, antaguṇaṁ, udariyaṁ, karīsaṁ,
intestines, mesentery, undigested food, excrement,
pittaṁ, semhaṁ, pubbo, lohitaṁ, sedo, medo,
bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat,
assu, vasā, kheḷo, siṅghānikā, lasikā, muttan-ti.
tears, grease, spit, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.
Sā yatheva pubbe Bahuputtikasoṇattherī ti paññāyittha,
And just as formerly she had been known as Many-Children Soṇā,
evaṁ pacchā SHB:
so later she became well known as the Elder Nun Energetic Soṇā.
Athekadivasaṁ bhikkhuniyo vihāraṁ gacchantiyo
Then one day as the nuns were going to the (monks’) monastery
‘Bhikkhunisaṅghassa udakaṁ tāpeyyāsi Soṇe,’ ti vatvā agamaṁsu.
after saying: ‘Heat some water for the Community of Nuns, Soṇā,’ they departed.
Sā pi udakatāpanato puretaram-eva aggisālāyaṁ, RTE, ChS:
Before the water was heated in the fire house,
caṅkamitvā caṅkamitvā Dvattiṁsākāraṁ sajjhāyantī, vipassanaṁ vaḍḍhesi.
while reciting the Thirty-Two Fold Nature as she was walking in meditation, she developed insight.
Satthā Gandhakuṭiyaṁ nisinno va imaṁ obhāsagāthaṁ abhāsi:
The Teacher, while sitting in the Fragrant Cottage (appeared to her and) recited this illustrious verse: This teaching comes after her attainment of Liberation in the Traditions.
“Yo ca vassasataṁ jīve apassaṁ Dhammam-uttamaṁ,
“The one who lives for a hundred years not seeing the Supreme Dhamma,
ekāhaṁ jīvitaṁ seyyo passato Dhammam-uttaman.”-ti
is surpassed by one living for one day (only) who sees the Supreme Dhamma.” Dhp 115.
Sā RTE omits:
She attained Liberation at the conclusion of the verse, and thought: ‘I have attained Liberation,
āgantukajano ca, anupadhāretvā va, mayi avaññāya RTE:
but when they return, without considering, they will speak dispraise of me,
bahuṁ pāpaṁ ChS:
and will accumulate much demerit,
therefore it is fitting to do something as a sign.’
Sā udakabhājanaṁ uddhanaṁ RTE omits:
She placed the water pot over the fire-place, but she didn’t make the fire underneath.
Bhikkhuniyo āgantvā uddhanaṁ olokentiyo aggiṁ adisvā:
After the nuns had returned, seeing the fire-place, but not seeing a fire,
“Imaṁ mahallikaṁ: ‘Bhikkhunisaṅghassa udakaṁ tāpehī,’ ti avocumha,
° they said: “We told this old lady: ‘Heat the water for the Community of Nuns,’
ajjā pi uddhane aggim-pi na karotī,” ti āhaṁsu.
but today she did not make the fire in the fire-place.”
“Ayye, kiṁ tumhākaṁ agginā?
“Noble Ladies, why do you need fire?
Uṇhodakena nahāyitukāmā bhājanato udakaṁ gahetvā nahāyathā.” ti
If you like to bathe with hot water, take water from the pot and bathe.”
Tā pi: PTS omits:
They, thinking: ‘There will be a reason here,’ went and put their hand into the water,
uṇhabhāvaṁ ñatvā, ekaṁ kuṭaṁ ChS:
and understanding it was heated, brought a water pot and took the water,
gahitagahitaṭṭhānaṁ paripūrati. RTE:
and as they took from it in that place it refilled.
Tadā sabbā va tassā Arahatte ṭhitabhāvaṁ ñatvā, SHB, PTS:
Then they all understood she was established in Liberation,
daharatarā tāva pañcapatiṭṭhitena pādesu patitvā:
and those who were junior fell at her feet in the five-fold prostration, saying:
“Noble Lady, for so long we disregarded you,
viheṭhetvā, SHB, PTS:
injured and spoke injuriously, please forgive us,” and asked for forgiveness.
Vuddhatarā pi RTE:
The seniors, having squatted down, said:
“Noble Lady, forgive us,” and asked for forgiveness.
Tato paṭṭhāya, mahallakakāle pabbajitvā pi:
From then on, though she had gone forth in old age, they said:
“Āraddhaviriyabhāvena na cirasseva aggaphale patiṭṭhitā,” ti
“She has been established in the highest fruit in no long time through being energetic,”
Theriyā guṇo pākaṭo ahosi.
and the virtue of the Elder Nun became well-known.
Aparabhāge Satthā Jetavane nisīditvā,
Later, after the Teacher had sat down in Jeta’s Wood,
bhikkhuniyo paṭipāṭiyā ṭhānantaresu SHB, PTS, ChS:
as he was assigning the places of the nuns in order,
Soṇattheriṁ āraddhaviriyānaṁ aggaṭṭhāne ṭhapesī ti.
he placed the Elder Nun Soṇā in the foremost position amongst those who were energetic.
last updated: March 2015