Dr Alice Jane Collett, York St John University

 

The aim of the volumes is to present the life accounts of women told in the texts of early Buddhism. The first volume will be about seven women – Dhammadinnaa, Pa.taacaaraa, Uppalava.n.naa, Visaakhaa, Bhaddaa Ku.n.dalakesaa, Khemaa and Kisaagotamii. The chapters dedicated to each woman will begin with a discussion of the textual sources which may, for example, recount the life story of the woman, include verses attributed to her or include her in lists of distinguished bhikkhuniis (nuns) or laywomen. Some of the primary sources I will make use of will be Paali canonical literature such as the Therii-Apadaanas, the bhikkhuniisa.myutta section of the Sa.myutta Nikaaya, the lists of distinguished women in the A.nguttara Nikaaya and the Theriigaathaa. I will also make use of the sections for bhikkhuniis in the Paali Vinaya, the fragments of the bhik.su.nii section of the Muulasarvaastivaada Vinaya and the bhik.su.nii Vinaya of the Mahaasa.mghikaa-Lokottaravaadins. I will draw on commentarial literature such as the Paramatthadiipanii VI: Theriigaathaa-a.t.thakathaa, the sections in the Manorathapuura.nii which contains stories of women, and other commentarial literature such as the commentary and sub-commentary of the Sa.myutta Nikaaya, the Vimaanavatthu and Petavatthu commentaries and the Dhammapada.t.thakathaa. I will also utilize non-canonical works such as the Avadaana’sataka and Divyaavadaana. Further to the textual sources, I will have recourse to archaeological and epigraphic evidence from ancient India, in which can be found, for example, attestation of women who were involved in the transmission of the teachings; roles similar to one ascribed, in the texts, to Pa.taacaaraa. Following the section in each chapter on sources, I will tell a version of the life story of each woman as much as can be constructed from the sources. As an example of the story arc of one of the women, the most common version of the story of Bhaddaa Ku.n.dalakesaa is as follows: Following several births she was finally born during the time of Gotama Buddha. One day, she saw one of the city thieves being led away to be executed. She immediately became infatuated with him and declared that she must have him. Her parents arranged for the thief to be freed to enable this union. After a few days with Bhaddaa, the thief began to plot to steal from her. She became aware of his plan to rob her and instead outwitted him and threw him off a cliff, in some accounts to save herself from being murdered. Following this act, she knew she could not return home, so went forth as a Jain. She learned their doctrines and more, wandering from place to place, engaging with wise men and learning what they had to teach. She became so knowledgeable and skilled in debate that no-one could match her. Finally, she met her match in Saariputta, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, and was converted. She took ordination as a follower of the Buddha and attained the status of an accomplished practitioner. Following the outline of the story in each chapter, I will discuss the variations to the story. For example, in the case of Bhaddaa Ku.n.dalakesaa’s story, a very different account of her conversion from Jainism to Buddhism is told in her Therii-Apadaana. Following the discussion of variations to the story, I will explore central issues raised by each story. In the case of Bhaddaa Ku.n.dalakesaa these might be: women choosing their own marriage partners, murder (in self defence), female intelligence and conversion.

 

Dr Alice Collett

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