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INGEST IEID E20101113_AAAAFK INGEST_TIME 2010-11-13T06:45:38Z PACKAGE UFE0021121_00001
AGREEMENT_INFO ACCOUNT UF PROJECT UFDC
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FEMALE IMAGERY IN THE AVADATNASATAKA
PHILLIP SCOTT ELLIS GREEN
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
@ 2007 Phillip Scott Ellis Green
For Tara-the woman who makes all my endeavors possible
om tare tuttare ture svaha
This thesis would not have been possible without the help of my professors, friends,
and family. I would like to thank Jason Neelis for his constant and invaluable support. His
advice helped me through every stage of this thesis, and without his guidance I would not
have come this far. I would also like to thank Mario Poceski and Vasudha Narayanan, as
well as the other members of the faculty and staff in the department of religion at the
University of Florida. I am indebted to them all for the contributions they made to my
academic growth and development over the last two years. Any errors, omissions, or
mistaken interpretations remain entirely my own.
Sean O'Neil, Sarah Ishida, Bridgette O'Brien, and the rest of the graduate school
students in the religion department deserve special thanks for their supportive late night
presence and constant encouragement. Personal support also came from Rob Simack and
his wife, Elizabeth. I must also thank my parents and the rest of my family for providing the
kind of support only a family can provide.
Lastly, I would be remiss in not expressing thanks to my wife, Tara. No words can
adequately convey my feelings. She has always been there for me, and for her support and
love I am truly grateful.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABBREVIATIONS AND SYMBOLS...........,. ............... ......... ...... ....,,. ........7
1 AVADANA LITERATURE AND THE AVADATNASATAKA. ................... ...............15
Avadana Literature: A General Description...................... ..............1
Avadana Literature: An Anomaly in "Rational" Buddhism?..............,..... .................21
The Avadlinas'ataka....................... ............2
2 MUKTA: THE IDEAL LAY DONOR, WIFE, AND NUN......................................3
A Summary of the Story...................... .................3
Other Possible Literary Sources?...................... ................3
Agency .........,.................. ........................40,. ....,........,..,.....
A Paradigm for Donative Practice.. ...........,. ..........,. ......., ...........,.... ......46
The Paradox...................... ................5
3 KACAN;GALA: THE MOTHER OF THE BUDDHA ................. ...... ............. .........56
A Summary of the Story...................... .................5
Additional Sources...................... ................6
A Debt to a M other...................... .................6
Breast M ilk. ....,, ..... ,, ......,.,.,..........., ...... .............., ........7 1
Final Rem arks...................... ................7
A MUKTA TRANSLATION ............ ............. .. .........,.. .........,.. .......,..80
The Present ......,. ..........,.,..........,. ....,,, ....,. ................. .......80
The Past. .......... .......... ,. .........,. ....,. ....,,, ....,. ...........,.83
B KAC AN;GAL A TR ANSLA TION....................... .............
The Present ........... .................. ................. .................. ....,,,,.......86
The Past. .......,.......,.......,.............. .........,,, ... ......,...............89
C "THE PERFUMVE CHAMBER" AND SACRED SPACE. ................... ................... ..91
LIST OF REFERENCES...................... ...............9
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH....................... ................10
ABBREVIATIONS AND SYMBOLS
Abbreviations of Primary Text
AN Ariguttara Nika~ya
Bau Baudhayana Dharmasuatra
Gau Gautama Dharmasuatra
MDh Ma~nava Dharmaincstra: The Law Code of Manu
Va V~7ni'iba( Dharmasuatra
Ibid. ibidem; i.e. "the same place"
PTS Paili Text Society
s.v. sub voce; i.e., "under the word or heading"
T Taisho Chinese Buddhist Canon
[ ] denotes interpolation or gloss by the translator.
( )- denotes inserted clarifications.
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
FEMALE IMAGERY IN THE AVADATNASATAKA
Phillip Scott Ellis Green
Chair: Jason Neelis
Maj or: Religion
The goal of my work is twofold. First, I provide an English translation of chapters
seventy-seven and seventy-eight of the Avadanas'ataka since no such translation has been
published from the original Sanskrit at the time of this writing.
Second, I examine certain images of women that are presented in these two chapters,
and thus indirectly in the broader category of the Buddhist tradition itself. The two main
female protagonists being examined are Mukta and Kacanigala.
The seventy-seventh chapter of the Avadanas'ataka centers around the story of a young
woman named Mukta, whose paradigmatic acts of generosity and unselfishness karmically
pave the way for eventual enlightenment. My interpretation of the story reveals two
seemingly paradoxical images-Mh/ukta as the ideal married female lay donor and Mukta as
the ideal Buddhist nun who has abandoned her home in order to follow the Buddhist path. I
assert that the paradox surrounding the character of Mukta stems from trying to
simultaneously maintain the integrity of both ideal images either by harmonizing or
manipulating the conflicting images in a way that relieves the tension between them.
The seventy-eighth chapter of the Avadanas'ataka relates the story of Kacaligalft, a
poverty-stricken old woman who was the mother of the Buddha during his five hundred
previous lifetimes. Due to the Buddha's gratitude, sympathy, and compassion, she too
eventually attains enlightenment. With regards to this story, I focus on an overlooked, yet
overt, element of the story-the issue of filial piety. Although the Buddha's compassion
toward Kacaligala has been noted as a key feature of this avadana, no one has noted that this
compassion is directly related to a sense of gratitude and debt a son feels toward his mother.
Much like in the story of Muktft, a tension between certain ideal images seems to be present.
In this case, the tension surrounds the imagery of mothers and an omniscient Buddha.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
My thesis involves Buddhist stories. Stories have been employed by every society
historically known to us, both present and past. Not only do stories function as a form of
entertainment, but perhaps more importantly they may also serve as a means of
transmission, a method of explanation, a source of identity, a foundation of legitimacy, and
a pool of collective memory. Of course exactly what is transmitted, explained, identified,
legitimatized, and/or remembered depends on the type of story.
The stories my thesis focuses on are connected with all five of the above points in
some way. However, the primary interest of my thesis revolves around female imagery as
presented in a few select Buddhist stories. An analysis of female imagery is important
because it is capable of revealing information significant in our understanding of how
women may have been viewed, and how they may have operated within a specific context.
In the case of our Buddhist stories, such imagery may provide additional insight into women
and their connection with the Buddhist traditions) of the time.
In some cases, imagery may act as a tool. Just as a tool is utilized to accomplish
specific tasks, imagery may be employed to accomplish specific tasks relevant to the group
within which the imagery circulates. In the case of Buddhism, certain forms of female
imagery may have been employed as "tools" to accomplish specific tasks or further certain
agendas within the Buddhist community. Obviously such an understanding views imagery
in an extremely functional light. While function, however, remains important, it need
neither be singular nor quintessential. Nevertheless, while my thesis is not exclusively
concerned with the functional component of female imagery, it will briefly examine a few
functional possibilities that employ female imagery in order to reinforce, challenge, and
reconcile normative motifs of the ideal wife and mother with the realization of Buddhist
goals such as the attainment of arhatship (i.e., one who has attained nirvana).
With regard to the actual stories, my thesis will focus on a collection of Buddhist
narratives know as the Avadcnas'ataka ("One-Hundred Noteworthy Deeds "). In an effort to
narrow the scope of this task, I will be restricting myself primarily to an examination of
chapters seventy-seven and seventy-eight of the Avadanas'ataka which relate the stories of
two women, Mukta and Kacaligala, who both become initiates in the teachings of the
Buddha and attain arhatship. These two chapters are part of a larger group of ten chapters
that all specifically deal with women arhats.
The goal of my thesis is twofold. First, I provide an English translation of these two
chapters since no such translation has been published from the original Sanskrit at the time
of this writing. In doing so, other interested parties who would otherwise be excluded
because of a lack of training and/or time necessary to translate the original Sanskrit may
contribute their own interpretations. Unfortunately, due to time constraints it is beyond the
scope of my thesis to provide a full translation of the original Sanskrit for all ten stories in
the Avadanas'ataka dealing with women who attain arhatship. Nevertheless, I occasionally
reference some aspects of the other eight stories surrounding women protagonists in order to
emphasize certain points.
Second, I examine certain images of women that are presented in chapters seventy-
seven and seventy-eight of the Avadanas'ataka, and thus indirectly in the broader category of
the Buddhist tradition itself. Of course, without a full analysis of each of the ten stories
dealing with women, my own observations are restricted to the female imagery present in
chapters seventy-seven and seventy-eight. Therefore, it is not my intention to claim an all-
encompassing connection between the imagery found in the stories of Mukta and Kacanigala
and the stories about other women arhats. Unless otherwise stated, my observations are
restricted specifically to chapters seventy-seven and seventy-eight.
Additionally, the reader should at all times bear in mind that the images of women in
the stories of Mukta and Kacanigala do not necessarily reflect an accurate image of women
in the Buddhist tradition as they really were at the time of the Avadanas'ataka, before it, or
after it. Regardless, an analysis of the imagery surrounding the characters Mukta and
Kacaligala need not be completely disconnected from reality. An analysis may prove
beneficial in understanding how women may have been viewed, in determining what roles
they may have been expected to conform to within the Buddhist tradition, and in revealing
some important issues concerning women in general.
Often, however, such images and roles are directly connected to how men understood
women's images and roles, and in turn, how they reflected those images and roles in a
literary medium. This last point need not always be construed as sinister, or as some
malicious agenda perpetrated by men intent on suppressing women. But neither should this
detail be forgotten or ignored when examining narratives about women written by men.
In accomplishing this twofold goal of translation and imagery analysis, the structure of
my thesis will be as follows: Chapter one will provide an introduction to the Avadanas'ataka,
as well as a basic introduction to the broad category avadana literature in general.
Chapter two will examine the seventy-seventh chapter of the Avadanas'ataka which
centers around the story of a young woman named Muktft, whose paradigmatic acts of
generosity and unselfishness karmically pave the way for eventual enlightenment. My
interpretation of the story reveals two seemingly paradoxical images-Mh/ukta as the ideal
married female lay donor and Mukta as the ideal Buddhist nun who has abandoned her
home in order to follow the Buddhist path. I assert that the paradox surrounding the
character of Mukta stems from trying to simultaneously maintain the integrity of both ideal
images either by harmonizing or manipulating the conflicting images in a way that relieves
the tension between them.
In chapter three I deal with the seventy-eighth chapter of the Avada~nas'ataka which
relates the story of Kacanigala, a poverty-stricken old woman who was the mother of the
Buddha during his five hundred previous lifetimes. Due to the Buddha's gratitude,
sympathy, and compassion, she too eventually attains enlightenment. In this chapter I focus
on an overlooked, yet overt, element of the story-the issue of filial piety. Although the
Buddha's compassion toward Kacanigala has been noted as a key feature of this avadana, no
one has noted that this compassion is directly related to a sense of gratitude and debt a son
feels toward his mother. Much like in the story of Mukta, a tension between certain ideal
images seems to be present. In this case, the tension surrounds the imagery of mothers and
an omniscient Buddha.
The conclusion highlights observations that seek to find some commonality between
the two stories. I make tentative claims about the tension surrounding the female imagery
present in the last two chapters.
Lastly, this thesis has three appendices. Appendices A and B include full English
translations of the stories of Mukta and Kacaligala from the original Sanskrit. Appendix C
includes some brief comments on the Buddha's perfume chamber and sacred space, as
found in the story of Mukta. Since this topic was rather tangential to my overall thesis, I
have placed my observations in an appendix.
Comments on the translations: J. S. Speyer's edited edition (1902-1909) of the
Avada~nas'ataka was the primary source for my translations of chapter seventy-seven and
seventy-eight. P. L. Vaidya's edition (1958), which is heavily based on the work of Speyer,
was also cross referenced for the updated comments and errata it contained on Speyer's
As stated earlier, no complete English translation of the Avada~nas'ataka has been
published. However, the Avada~nas'ataka has been translated into another Western language.
Ldon Feer published a full French translation, complete with commentary and notes, in
volume XVIII of the Annales du Musd'e Guimet in 1891. At times when I desired a second
opinion, or when I was simply in need of clarification, I consulted Feer's work.
Since the Avada~nas'ataka contains many formulaic phrases found in other texts such as
the Divydvada~na, I took the liberty of comparing available translations on those select
verses in the works of authors such as Joel Tatelman. Reference to such work will be found
in the appropriate footnotes, as well as the reference section.
AVADANA LITERATURE AND THE AVADATNASATAKA
Avadlina Literature: A General Description
Avadanal literature is a loose collection of literature predominantly concerned with
illustrating the workings of karma and rebirth by means of short narratives; it is often held
to be synonymous with jataka literature--stories about former births (of the Buddha). The
Buddhist jataka tales illustrate accounts of the Buddha's past lives, as the primary character
of the story or as a mere spectator, in which he may have been a human (rarely female),
animal, or even a divine being. Jataka tales are found within a variety of Buddhist literature,
both canonical and noncanonical. For example, they are included within such Buddhist
texts as sittras, vinaya, abhidharma, Sastras, commentaries, as well as individual jataka texts
and jataka collections.2 In these jataka tales the Bodhisattva3 perfOrmed many meritorious
deeds in a wide variety of situations which emphasize the path of gradual perfection to
perfected and enlightened Buddhahood. This emphasis on the path of gradual perfection
highlights an important point. Jatakas are limited in how far back they extend into the past
because they are primarily concerned with the Buddha's previous lives "as a bodhisattva on
the bodhisattva path rather than as an ordinary being."4
M. Winternitz wrote that "the Jatakas are nothing but Avadanas the hero of which is
the Bodhisattva."s The point here is that jatakas are narratives in which the Bodhisattva
Pali, apadana; Chinese, piyu; Tibetan, rtogs par brjod pa's sde.
SOhnuma (2007: 35).
SThe term bodhisattva literally means "buddha-to-be," and refers to a being destined to become a buddha.
Further, the term Bodhisattva is applied to the Buddha in jitaka tales because it is the title used for him up until
the time he attains enlightenment.
SOhnuma (2007: 36).
SWinternitz ( 1971: 2, 277). Winternitz continues, "Thus, works like the Kalp~andinanditika~ and
Ja~takarnala often coincide with the texts of the Avadin~a literature, and numerous J~takas are also contained in
the Avadana books."
(who plays various roles ranging from the hero of the story to a mere spectator) is present in
the story surrounding one of his former existences; whereas, the requisite presence of the
Bodhisattva is not required in avadana literature. 6 Therefore, as J.S. Speyer states in hIs
preface to the Avadainas'ataka, "Every jataka may, therefore, be called avadana, but the
reverse is not true."' However, it should be noted that many avadanas do, in fact, include
the Bodhisattva.8 Further, it should be noted that this convenient distinction between
avadanas and jatakas occasionally breaks down. For instance, other main characters who
are not the Buddha, or destined to become a Buddha, have played central roles in some
jatakas.9 The point being that, despite the convenient descriptions of jatakas and avadanas
listed above, exceptions most certainly can be found.
The word avadlina has been translated in many ways. Monier Williams translates the
word as "a great or glorious, (or) achievement."to This coincides with the various related
translations such as "a noteworthy deed," "a heroic deed" and "a feat.""l Although these
"noteworthy deeds" refer generally to "good" noteworthy deeds, Speyer notes that the deeds
may be noteworthy in a negative sense because "even bad actions and the consequences of
gathering demerit make up the main plot of some stories."" Winternitz also draws attention
to this latter point.13 Further, although the above definitions are suitable and illustrate the
6 Ibid., 113.
7 Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, iv).
8 Ibid., IV.
9 Froelich (2002: 3).
'0 Moneir-Williams ( 1992: 99), s.v. Ava-dlina.
11 Winternitz ( 1971: 2, 277).
'2 Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, iv).
'3 Winternitz ( 1971: 2, 277-78).
most often understood use of the term, it should be noted that there is no consensus on what
avadana originally meant.14
More specifically, these narratives illustrate the effects of karma over several
lifetimes. That is to say, the narratives illustrate how the actions, both "good" and "bad," of
one lifetime affect other lifetimes. Both Speyer and Winternitz highlight the following
stock phrase from avadana literature: "black actions bear black fruits, white actions white
fruits, and mixed ones mixed fruits."" Of course justification for determining "black and
white fruits" lie in the moral and ethical practices and mindset indicated in Buddhist
Winternitz summaries the basic structure of an avadana in the following way. "A
regular Avadana, then, consists of a story of the present, a story of the past, and a moral." "
The story of the past, consisting of "good," "bad," and/or "mixed" actions, will explain the
current conditions for the story of the present. Avadanas, however, also deal with
prophecies of the future. In a similar manner to the stories of the past, the story of the future
explains the state of existence in the present due to karmic actions. There are also avadlinas
that are a combination of both styles-past and future." The morals of the stories highlight
the effects of karmic actions thereby stressing which actions individuals should adhere to
and which actions should be avoided.
These prophetic motifs are often connected with individual predictions in the form of a
religious vow (pranidhana). In other words, a character of the avadana will often take a
14 Ohnuma (2007: 38). Also see Ohnuma (2007: 291, n. 31) for additional details and references.
'5 Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, i); Winternitz ( 1971: 2, 278).
'6 Winternitz ( 1971: 2, 278).
"7 Ibid., 278.
vow which clearly predicts a future outcome or event. Examples include vows uttered in
the present which predict the attainment of enlightenment in the future. Another example of
prediction simply includes the Buddha himself predicting the future consequences of present
Reiko Ohnuma expands upon Winternitz's basic structure of the avadana. She
extrapolates three major aspects common to avadanas based on definitions from 1844 to
2000 that, taken together, provide an "adequate descriptive definition of the avadana genre."
(1) Avada~nas are stories that illustrate the workings of karma and rebirth,
demonstrating how past actions have resulted in present circumstances, and how
present actions will result in future circumstances. (2) Often the types of actions
depicted take place in a Buddhist devotional context; thus positive actions are
generally good deeds done toward Buddha, Dharma, Samgha, or some other religious
object, while negative actions are the opposite. (3) The heroes of avadanas are
generally Buddhist disciples or layfollowers.'
The basis for both jataka and avadana literature stems from the traditional account of
the Buddha's enlightenment experience in Bodhgaya under the pipal tree. According to
tradition, during the "first watch" of the night of the Buddha's enlightenment he attained
complete recollection of his previous lives. Throughout his teaching career, the Buddha is
said to have related several of these stories for pedagogical purposes. These stories, in turn,
were collected and became known as jatakas.19
Similarly, the avadanas are based on the "second watch" of the night of the Buddha's
enlightenment. During the second watch, the Buddha attained the ability to perfectly see the
workings of karma and rebirth, which naturally included seeing the previous and future lives
of other beings. Therefore, in the "first watch" the Buddha's own past lives became known
to him, and in the "second watch" the past and future lives of others became known to him.
's Ohnuma (2007: 38).
19 Ibid., 36.
The stories related throughout his teaching career about the past and/or future lives of his
disciples and layfollowers are thus the traditional source of avadana literature."
More recently attempts to make even clearer distinctions between jatakas and
avadanas have been undertaken. For example, both Reiko Ohnuma and Thanissaro Bhikkhu
have essentially divided jatakas and avadanas along ethical and devotional lines.2
According to this view, jatakas are more concerned with illustrating the gradual cultivation
of normative ethical modes of behavior, such as the bodhisattva's perfectionss" (paramttd),
as the primary means of attaining Buddhahood, while the avadanas shift emphasis away
from ethical cultivation of character to devotional activities directed toward the Buddha or
his relics. This is not to say that jatakas do not have devotional elements, for they clearly
do. Instead, service-related devotional activities, as opposed to personal cultivation, are
being stressed as more beneficial in avadana literature. As Thanissaro writes, "Instead of
emphasizing the strength of character required by the path to Awakening, they [avadanas]
stress the abundant rewards that come from doing service (adhika~ra) to a Buddha or his
relics."22 Similarly, Ohnuma writes, "In short, we might say that jatakas are about
perfectionss' whereas avada~nas are about 'devotions."'23
Such observations contain a fair amount of truth. Devotional themes are found in a
large amount of avadana literature. Clearly, in certain compilations of avadana texts there is
an emphasis on devotion to the Buddha and his relics that is absent in many jataka tales.
Even the avadana of Mukta discussed in chapter two showcases the importance of
devotional activities to a buddha. Unfortunately, such clear-cut distinctions belie a large
2o Ibid., 39.
21 Ohnuma (2007: 35-40); Thanissaro (2005: 67-72).
22Thanissaro (2005: 70).
23 Ohnuma (2007: 41).
amount of overlap between the two genres. Further, such distinctions are not that helpful
when one turns to earlier collections of avadanas in Gandhairi literature (see below). The
distinct lines drawn by scholars such as Ohnuma and Tranisssaro are, in reality, much more
blurred when the entire corpus of avadana literature is taken into account. In all fairness,
both Ohnuma and Thanissaro concede this last point. "Taking jatakas and avadanas as a
whole, of course, this is not strictly true. It is more of a general tendency."24 However,
Ohnuma continues in way that implies exceptions are infrequent: "yet [the observations are]
general enough so that it constitutes a generic expectation whose violation causes confusion
about whether something is 'really' a jdtaka or an avada~na."25 This statement may hold true
when focusing on select texts, but again the "generic expectation" is of little help when
examining the vast amount of avadana literature as a whole.
It should also be noted that avadana literature exists outside of the Sanskrit corpus.
For example, avadanas are found in the Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan canons. 6 In fact, many
Sanskrit originals have been lost and are only made known through Tibetan translations."
More recent discoveries have also revealed a rich collection of avadanas in Gandhari
literature. Richard Salomon has noted that "one of the best represented genres among the
British Library fragments is collections of stories, apparently of quite diverse content, most
of which are explicitly labeled in the manuscripts as 'avadanas."'"" Timothy Lenz has also
studied the Gandhari avadanas, especially mn connection with Gandhari pilrvayogas ("past
births" stories). As to the difference between these two similar genres, Lenz notes:
26Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, x).
28Salomon (1999: 35).
What distinguishes G. avadanas from purvayogas is their orientation in time. Whereas
the purvayoga is a record of actions performed by someone in a previous birth, that is
to say, a tale of the past (P atttavatthu), the G avadana is always a record of actions
performed in the present birth, that is to say, a tale of the present (P
paccuppanavatthu). And this distinction is maintained to the extent that for the most
part story texts are either avadana texts or purvayoga texts but not usually texts
combining both types of stories."'
Therefore, the Gandhari avadanas found in the British Library fragments are
structured in a distinct manner that differs from typical avadanas (such as the ones present in
the Avada~nas'ataka) since the latter often combines both stories of the past and present into a
single narrative. The reason for such a distinction is currently unclear, and as Lenz notes,
only further research may provide some clues.
Salomon also highlights how some Gandhari avadanas differ from the typical avadana
pattern found largely in Buddhist Sanskrit literature.
At least two of the avadana-type texts contain references to contemporary historical
figures: the mahaiksatrapa Jihonika and Aipavarman, who can be securely identified
with Indo-Scythian rulers of the early first century A.D. and who are well known from
coins and inscriptions. These and other peculiar features suggest that, unlike the
majority of the avadanas known from Buddhist Sanskrit and other traditions, at least
some, probably even most, of the texts labeled 'avadana' do not consist of stories
illustrating the karmic results of actions in previous lives. Rather, the term avadana is
apparently being used here in something more like its broader, and not exclusively
Buddhist, sense of 'pious legend' or 'great deed.'"""
Avadfma Literature: An Anomaly in "Rational" Buddhism?
Avadana literature has been known to the West for some time now, and it is interesting
to note many of the earlier views held about this style of Buddhist literature. While these
earlier views are predominately negative, I do not mean to imply that all views on avadman
literature were equally negative. Nor do I maintain that these views have carried over to
contemporary scholars. However, I do find more than coincidence in the early
29 Lenz (2003: 92).
30 Salomon (1999: 37).
marginalization of avadana literature, and the relatively small amount of contemporary
academic research on avadana literature, especially when compared with other more
"philosophical" Buddhist texts.
Avadana literature has sometimes been characterized in a dismissive manner. This
dismissive characterization helps maintain the general notion that Buddhism is a "rational,"
"philosophical" and "nontheistic" religion that serves as the "light of Asia." Only later
accretions tarnished this otherwise pristine religion. The dismissive characterization applied
to avadana literature, whether overtly derogatory or subtly condescending, suggests that
avadana literature is an insubstantial second-rate "literature" enjoyed only by the popular
(i.e., "lower") masses. The "literature" lacks higher, and thus more important, forms of
Buddhist thought (another reason for its confinement to the popular masses). It is this
association with the "lower" masses that separates a commonly purported "pristine"
Buddhism with a lesser Buddhism believed to have become corrupted by superstition and
In recalling the close connection between jatakas and avadanas, the remarks of David
C. Pierce become relevant. He writes that "there has been persistent doubt as to its (jataka
literature) importance as a vehicle of significant Buddhist doctrine."31 He further states,
The response of more than one scholar has been to see the Jatakas as a form of pious
entertainment, didactic to be sure, but unburdened by any substantial amount of
important Buddhist thought. E. Washburn Hopkins, for example, remarks that the
teachings of the Jatakas 'do not go far below the surface. They are chiefly to inculcate
obvious lower truths.''
Even the eminent J.S. Speyer propagates these views when he writes, "The texts of the
avadana and jataka kind do not belong to the higher regions of Buddhist teaching. They are
"1 Pierce (1969: 245).
32 Ibid., 245.
accommodated to the spiritual wants of the many; they do not pretend to afford subject-
matter for the study and the meditations of the few."33 Speyer, of course, mentions the
suitability of avadanas for didactic purposes that help illustrate "right" and "wrong"
behavior, but beyond this "religious propagandism"34 he says little on the purpose of this
The above use of the word "propagate" is meant literally, as is evident in the following
excerpt from P.L. Vaidya's introduction of the Avadainas'ataka, which regurgitates almost
verbatim Speyer's assessment. "The Avadanas and Jatakas do not belong to the higher plane
of Buddhist teaching; they do not pretend to afford scope for higher philosophical study and
Sushilkumar De simply dismisses avadana literature out of hand because of its inferior
literary merit in the larger field of Sanskrit literature. Although in passing he mentions their
"religious significance," he clearly feels that avadanas are literary garbage with no other
value than "historical interests" that allow him to highlight the "peculiar." He writes, "As
literary productions they are hardly commendable, but their historical interest is
considerable as affording illustration of a peculiar type of story-telling in Sanskrit."36
Similar to De's dismissal of the literary value of avadanas is A.B. Keith's equally low
opinion of avadana literature. What follows is Keith's assessment of the Avadainas'ataka.
Artistically the work has scanty merit; its arrangement in ten decades each according
to subject-matter is schematic; the tales open with set formulae, contain set formulae
of description, as of the laughter of the Buddha, and of moral exhortation;
33 Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, v).
34 Ibid., v.
35 Vaidya ( 2000: xii).
'" De ( 1957: 81).
exaggeration and long-windedness mark the whole, and beauty of form is sacrificed to
the desire to be edifying.37
Additionally, Biswanath Bhattacharya in the Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature states:
Excepting Kshemendra's Avadanakalpalata the avadana works, in general, have little
literary value. The wearisome prolixity of the narrations and the numerous
monotonous repetitions of the selfsame formulas and commonplace phrases and
descriptions have caused the decadence of the avadana literature.38
It is perhaps telling that early scholars such as De, Keith, and Bhattacharya all tend to
equate repetitive, formulaic passages with low quality literature. For these early scholars
repetitive, formulaic passages reflect a lack of original creativity, and a lack of original
creativity in literature reflects poor, banal work not worthy of much merit. Such criticism
highlights two problems. First, critiquing the repetitive, formulaic passages found
frequently in avadlina literature as simply "monotonous," "long-winded," and thus
unoriginal simply misses the point of the literary function of such repetitive and formulaic
passages. Such opinions ignore, or severely marginalize, the function of formulaic
repetition in the area of transmission, both literary and oral, of traditional narratives, as well
as the pedagogical importance of formulaic repetition as an aid in memorization of
important themes, ideas, doctrines, descriptions, and so forth. Second, the expectation of
original creativity as a prerequisite for literary quality highlights the blunder of exporting
the expectations of a later era's notion of what constitutes high quality literature onto models
of the past. Clearly, literary aesthetics, style, technique, and other criteria have changed
over time and from culture to culture.
37Keith ( 1961: 65).
38 As cited in Froelich (2002: 3-4).
Additionally, scholars such as Keith tend to critique early Buddhist literature, such as
the avadanas, through lenses shaded with Western/modern39 ROSthetics. In this context, the
Western/modern aesthetics refer specifically to literature that is not prone to exaggeration
and formulaic repetition, but instead literature that is polished, refined and adheres to the
"Aristotelian mean."40 Literature that fails to meet criteria indicative of what has been
declared "good" according to "modern" tastes is, in turn, denigrated. Not until we reach
works such as the classics of the great Indian poet Kalidasa do we begin to find the literary
refinement esteemed by modern scholars such as De and Keith.
The general consensus appeared to be that pre-classical-kavya ("poetry") / pre-
Kalidasa type work was somewhat primitive and unrealized. Often, the only Buddhist
Sanskrit literary works that do receive praise from scholars such as Keith are ones that
exhibit some kind of likeness to the tastes mentioned above. Thus, poets such as Arya Sura
(fl. fourth century C.E.) received both praise and negative criticism since their works
include elements of what is liked and disliked. For example, the following two quotes refer
to the work of Arya Sura. In describing the jfitaka tales used by Arya Sura, Keith writes,
"Their chief defect to modern taste is the extravagance which refuses to recognize the
Aristotelian mean."41 A little later Keith summarizes Arya Sura's style by writing, "Arya
Cura's style is classical, showing command of the resources of his art, but restrained and
saved from exaggeration by good taste. His prose and verse are careful and polished."42
39 Such terms are synonymous for scholars such as Keith.
40 Keith ( 1961: 68). Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) basically defined all ethical virtues as conditions that
reflected neither excess nor deficiency. Instead, ethical virtues represented the intermediate between these two
undesirable extremes. For example, the virtue of courage (the appropriate way to experience fear) lies between
cowardness (too much fear) and foolhardiness (too little fear). In essence, there is a middle ground Thus, Keith
believes an excess of formulaic and repetitive phrases violates the "virtue" of Sanskrit literary quality.
4 Ibid., 68.
42 Ibid., 68.
In conclusion, perhaps one of the most telling examples emphasizing the tendency to
subjugate jataka and avadana literature to a lower subset of literature is found in the
esteemed Sanskritist Arthur A. MacDonell's book, A History of Sanskrit Literature. No
references are made to avadanas; however, jatakas are mentioned a few times in passing.43
Although the sparsity of information on this type of literature is also telling, what proves
even more profound is MacDonell's decision to define and classify jatakas in chapter XIV, a
chapter he titled: "Fairy Tales and Fables."44
The two avadanas that I have translated come from a Sanskrit collection of avadanas
called the Avadanas'ataka, which literally translates as "One-Hundred Avadanas" or "One-
Hundred Noteworthy Deeds." Speyer refers to the Avadanas'ataka as "A Century of
Edifying Tales." The use of the term "century" stems from the fact that the one hundred
avadanas of the Avadanas'ataka have been divided into ten sections representing ten decades
each dealing with a particular theme, hence a century of tales.
The first and third decades concern themselves with prophecies of future Buddhahood
and Pratyekabuddhahood. With the exception of avadana number forty, the second and
fourth decades contain avadanas about the Buddha in one of his many former existences.
The main difference between the avadanas of the second and fourth decades is their
different emphasis with regard to the present and the past. The tales of the second decade,
for example, focus on the story of the present; whereas the tales of the fourth decade focus
on the story of the past, much like a standard jfitaka tale. The fifth decade contains avadlinas
13 The most attention MacDonell gives to jitakas is in exploration of their possible connection to the Ramayagra,
MacDonell ( 1965: 257-58).
44 MacDonell ( 1965: 312).
about pretas, or "hungry ghosts." Stories about persons who, due to some meritorious act,
reached J\argo7 comprise the sixth decade. The seventh decade tells the stories of men
from the Saikya clan who become arhats. Similarly, the eighth decade tells the stories of
women who become arhats. The two stories of the women Mukta and Kacanigala that are
the focus of my thesis come from the avadanas about the eighth decade, specifically
chapters seventy-seven (Mukta) and seventy-eight (Kacanigala). The ninth decade describes
persons of "irreproachable conduct," and lastly, the tenth decade contains stories that
primarily illustrate the unfortunate consequences suffered by those who performed negative,
or evil, deeds in their former existences.46
In addition to the formulaic pattern of avadana literature that presents a story of the
present and a story of the past, as discussed earlier, the Avada~nas'ataka also contains a high
number of formulaic descriptions and situations that repeat themselves throughout the work.
Thus, when an individual attains enlightenment or arhatship, or when the Buddha smiles, the
same set phrases are used. The fact that each avadana begins with the same introduction and
ends with the same closing statement also highlights this stylistic feature. Of course this is
not a characteristic unique to the Avada~nas'ataka. For example, take a portion of the
following formulaic phrase describing when Kacaligalli became an arhat.
She became an arhat, free from the passions of the three worlds: to her a clod of dirt
and a piece of gold were no different; the open sky and the palm of the hand were
equal; hatchets and sandalwood were the same [...]
Not only is this the set phrase for when an individual attains arhatship in the
Avada~nas'ataka, it is also the exact phrase used in the Divydvada~na, another example of
45 Svarga may be translated as "heaven," or some type of heavenly/celestial abode in Buddhist thought.
46 Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, xvi); Froelich (2002: 16).
avadana literature.47 The only difference in such formulaic phrases may be a change in
pronouns or locations reflecting a change in characters and/or settings in the different
As Joel Tatelman points out, avadlina literature such as the Avada~nas'ataka and
Divydvada~na are composed in prose interspersed with verses. The formulaic passages
found throughout the Avada~nas'ataka are part of the prose passages. Further, Tatelman
divides the prose passages into two categories: "a 'canonical' or 'religious' style that
frequently incorporates or imitates the hieratic, oral, repetitive style of the early canonical
works, and a 'folktale' or 'secular' style distinctive for its short, matter-of-fact descriptions
and terse, often evocative dialogue."48 Keeping in mind, as Tatelman does, that terms such
as "canonical," "folktale," and "secular" can be problematic, the description nevertheless
Although no exact date is possible, many scholars have dated the Avada~nas'ataka to
sometime in the early Common Era, specifically around the second century.49 Evidence for
narrowing the text down to around the second century comes primarily from two basic
arguments. The first piece of information which establishes the terminus ad quem is the
assertion that the Avada~nas'ataka was translated into Chinese during the first half of the third
century C.E., specifically sometime between 223 C.E. and 253 C.E. by Zhi Qian (fl. 220-
253 C.E.).50 If true, the Avadcanas'ataka was clearly compiled prior to the first half of the
third century C.E.
47 Tatleman (2005: 82-83).
48 Ibid., 17.
49 Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, xv); Strong (1979: 227); Lamotte (1988: 136).
50 Lamotte (1988: 136).
The second collaborating piece of information sets the terminus a quo for dating the
Avada~nas'ataka, and comes from a particular avadana51 in the Avada~nas'ataka which relates
how a young boy named Hiranyapani was born with a dtnara on the palm of each hand.
Dmadra is the Sanskrit phonetic transliteration for an early Roman coin known as a denarius.
Based on this information, the text could not have originated prior to the first century of the
Common Era. Thus, the argument claims that the Avada~nas'ataka originated sometime after
the first century C.E. and sometime before the first half the third century C.E. when it was
translated into Chinese.
An early date such as the second century C.E. marks avadana literature, represented by
such texts as the Avadcanas'ataka and Asoka~vada~na ("The Avadana of (King) Aioka"), as
part of the beginning of narrative style literature in Sanskrit.'" While avadana literature may
illustrate the beginnings of narratives in Sanskrit literature, dating the Avada~nas'ataka
among avadlina works that date to around the second century proves to be problematic.
Seishi Karashima, Mitsuyo Demoto, and other Japanese scholars have argued that the
Avada~nas'ataka does not date to the second century. In fact, scholars such as Demoto have
argued that the Avada~nas'ataka more than likely dates to a much later time.53
Demoto, for example, bases her assertion for a later date by arguing that the Chinese
translation of the Avada~nas'ataka, the Zhuan ji bai yuan jing, does not warrant the early
translation date of the early to mid third century C.E usually attributed to the text. This
conclusion is reached by illustrating that factors such as vocabulary and style indicate that
the Chinese translation cannot be attributed to a date earlier than the fifth century, and more
"1 Avada~na number 74 according to format used by Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, xv).
52 Lamotte (1988: 590).
53 Demoto (1995); Karashima (2006). See Karashima (2006: 52) for an English abstract.
than likely the sixth century C.E. Again, the Chinese translation of the Avadanas'ataka has
been important because it has often served as the terminus ad quem in dating the
Avadanas'ataka. Therefore, if the date for the Chinese translation of the Avadanas'ataka is
pushed back to a later date, then more than likely the date for the actual Avadanas'ataka will
be later than the second century.
The Avadanas'ataka has been translated into several languages. Besides the original
Sanskrit which is attributed in colophon to Thandisvara, an acarva ("teacher") who may
have been responsible for collecting the "words of the Buddha" into a single composition,54
the Avadanas'ataka was also translated into Tibetan by Jinamitra and Devacandra around the
ninth century C.E.55 As mentioned above, a Chinese translation of the Avadanas'ataka was
likely completed between the fifth and sixth centuries. Both the Tibetan and Chinese
versions contain the fifth avadlina of the Avadcnas'ataka, whereas this avadlina is missing in
the original Sanskrit version.
The only complete translation of the Avadanas'ataka into a Western language was done
in French by the Buddhist scholar Leon Feer in 1891. Feer's translation was later the basis
for the Vietnamese translation in 1950 by Con Trung Dofin.56 Although J.S. Speyer
completed an edited version of the Avadanas'ataka in 1909 by working with four
manuscripts,"' no English translation accompanied his otherwise extraordinary and
54 Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, xx).
55 Froelich (2002: 16).
56 Ibid., 15.
"7 Speyer utilized four manuscripts in compiling his edition of the Avada~nad'ataka-two in devanagart script and
two in Nepalese script. The foundation for his edition was the original devanagarf manuscript at the Cambridge
University Library, Add. 1611 of Bendall's Cataloslue. Speyer refers to this manuscript as B. The other three
manuscripts (D, P, C) are all believe to have been copied from this manuscript. Two (D & P) are Hodgson
manuscripts, while the third (C) was copied for Dr. D. Wright, who was responsible for obtaining the original
manuscript. P is in devanagart, the other two are in Nepalese. Manuscript P belongs to the Burnouf collection
in the Bibliothbque Nationaleat Paris. Further, it is also the manuscript that served as the basis for Feer's French
translation. The C manuscriptis Cambridge Ackl. nr. 1386, and Speyer notes that it is a poor copy. Lastly, the D
comprehensive work. In fact, other than a few sporadic excerpts contained in articles and
books, no complete English translation exists.
With regard to specific affiliation, scholars are increasingly pointing out the
connections between the Mulasarvastivadin58 school and the Avadanas'ataka. Schopen
writes in an article, "In recent years the Mulasarvastivadin affiliation of the Avadanas'ataka,
for example, has become increasingly clear."'" Some of Schopen's support comes from
Michael Hahn, who, expanding on Uwe Hartman's paper, "Zur Frage der
Schulzugehijrigkeit des Avadanaiataka," utilizes linguistic criteria (such as parallel
expressions and the use of Avadanas'ataka citations) to establish that the Avadanas'ataka is
indeed a Mulasarvastivadin text."o
Having provided a general overview of avadana literature and the Avadi~sataka, I now
turn to an in-depth look at chapter seventy-seven of the Avadanas'ataka which tells the story
of a young girl named Muktft who attains enlightenment because of the generous actions
performed in one of her past lives.
manuscript is located in the India Office Library and was written in the year 1801 C.E. Speyer ([1902-1909]
1992: 1, viii-ix).
58 The Malasarvastividas are an early Indian school of Budchnists stemming from the Sarvastivadas. The
Mlulasarrastivadin Vinaya is still used by Tibetan Buddhists.
59 Schopen (2004: 125).
60 Hahn (1992: 170-171).
MUKTA: THE IDEAL LAY DONOR, WIFE, AND NUN
Adhering to the standard literary structure of avadanas, chapter seventy-seven begins
with the Buddha relating a story to a gathering of monks. The first portion of the avadana
relates the story of the present which details Mukta'sl extraordinary achievement of
arhatship. The second half of the avadana revolves around the story of the past in which
former deeds directly responsible for the Mukta's achievement of arhatship during the
present are explained. Therefore, the story, like all avadanas, illustrates the workings of the
doctrinal concept of karma and rebirth in a narrative format.
However, just because the obvious function of the avadana is to illustrate the workings
of the law of karma, it need not be the only function operating within the story, nor even the
most important (although it may be). And so in turning to the story of Mukta we can ask
ourselves simply, is that all? Is there something else besides illustrating the workings of
karma at work in the story of Mukta? I would claim that there is something else, and that
this something else is connected with female imagery.
When considering the so-called normative views on women present within Buddhism,
the story of Muktft becomes much more interesting. It is clear that literary imagery
concerning women in Buddhism often fit within a number of easily identifiable archetypes.
For example, authors such as Diana Paul, Elizabeth Harris, and Liz Wilson have drawn
attention to many female archetypes found in Buddhist literature. A few examples include
the typical woman temptress, the good daughter, the mother, the lay follower, the wife, and
SSkt. "pearl." Additionally, Mukta's name translates as one who is "set free," "liberated," "delivered," and so
forth. This may be an example of a literary device foretelling Mukta's enlightenment that would have been easily
picked up on by readers and/or listeners of the story.
the nun.2 Of course notions of ideal female roles are also found in other literary sources
common to the Indian Sub-Continent outside of the Buddhist tradition. Some of most cited
sources include references to the Dharmasa~tras and Dharmaidcstras, specifically the The
Law ofManu. Ascertaining exactly how texts such as the Dharmasa~tras and Dharmaidcstras
may have influenced, or are connected to, early Buddhist communities is difficult.
However, it seems likely that early Buddhist communities were at least somewhat aware,
either directly or indirectly, of the expected roles and duties of women described in such
Indian texts. For example, the image of an ideal wife in the Dharmasa~tras and
Dharmaidcstras as a woman who is loyal and obedient to her husband, and who bears him
many sons, has shown up in certain Buddhist contexts. Paul, in reference to the story of
Kisa-Gotami, indicates that there were women in Buddhist literature "who were ridiculed
and humiliated by society in general until they bore a son."3
I believe the authors) of the avadana of Mukta was aware of some of these pre-
existing female images, and that certain aspects of the story reveal areas of conflict and
uncertainty with regard to seemingly contradicting female images. In order to investigate
this claim, this chapter will be divided into six sections. In the first section, a preliminary
summary of the story of Mukta will be provided. A full translation of the story can be found
in appendix A. In the second section, a brief overview of other literary sources containing a
character named Mukta will be examined. In the next three sections a variety of interesting
aspects found in Mukta's story will be examined. Specifically, the latter half of the chapter
will focus on two themes: agency and donative practice. Although these two themes are
interesting in their own right, when taken together the story of Mukta becomes somewhat of
'Paul ( 1985); Harris (1999); Wilson (1996).
'Paul ( 1985: 61).
a paradox. The chapter concludes with the basic assertion that the paradox surrounding the
character of Mukta is the result of a literary struggle that attempted to maintain an ideal
image of women thought to be normative and/or preferable, while simultaneously
attempting to justify and support an image of Buddhist nuns that naturally opposed the ideal
image of women supported by the status quo.
A Summary of the Story
Mukta is the daughter of Pusya, a wealthy banker Who resides in the city of Sravasti.
After marrying a woman from a worthy family of nobility, Pusya and his newlywed,
unnamed wife, have a child. Since the child is miraculously born with a garland of pearls
on her head she is named Mukta, which literally translates as "pearl" from Sanskrit.
Muktft is raised with all the benefits of one befitting her social position, and grows up
to be a pleasing, charming, and beautiful woman.5 However, despite her pampered
childhood, when grown she displays an extraordinary sense of compassion for those less
fortunate than herself and decides to share her fortune with such individuals. Word
SThe specific Sanskrit term identifying Pusya's class or profession is d'resthin. The term iresthin may refer to a
distinguished or high ranking individual; however, there are many associations with the term. Often the term
refers to an eminent guildstnan, and is often translated simply as "banker."
5 Mukta's description highlights another literary device. In Sanskrit, she is described a daughter who is abhirapaa
dari'antra prasadika. That is, she is a pleasing, beautiful, and charming woman. This is simply a formulaic
description describing a beautiful woman. However, this set description acts as literary clue indicating to the
reader (or listener) that this character is somehow special or "good." This exact phrase is also used to describe
other women alhats, such as Suprabha, in the Avada~nad'ataka. To use a rather simplistic formula, beauty equals
good. Extensive work has been written on the image of women in Buddhism, specifically the physical portrayal
of women in a negative light (See Wilson 1996). Very often this negative image of women emphasizes a
perceived innate ugliness of the woman's body. Further, the grotesqueness of the woman's body is often focused
on as a method of insightful meditation which will ideally lead the practitioner to an understanding of
impermanence. Regardless of the purported positive end-goals, however, these negative views of the female
body have had damaging effects of the position of women within Buddhism. Drawing attention to Mukth's
description is not intended to contradict or argue against the frequent negative portrayal of the female body as a
tool for making a doctrinal point or propagating a subversive patriarchal agenda. Instead, the point is to show
that Mukta's description simply illustrates that descriptions of women sometime serve nothing more than a
literary trope which alerts the audience to a specific theme. In the next chapter, we will notice the exact literary
device employed in the story of Kacanigala, although in inverse. For example, Kacanigala is an old, decrepit, and
poverty-stricken woman. As expected, after reading the story we discover that Kacaligala has, in fact, done
obviously spreads about her compassion, not to mention her family's wealth. When she
reaches a marriageable age many eligible suitors arrive seeking her hand in marriage.
Unfortunately, her father immediately finds himself in a dilemma because of the high
number of suitors desiring to marry his daughter. Since only one person can marry his
daughter, he realizes that he cannot escape offending the remaining suitors who will be
turned away unsatisfied.
Mukta, however, reassures her father by explaining to him that she does not seek such
worldly satisfaction. Instead of marrying she tells her father that she intends to leave home
and become an initiate in the teachings of the Buddha.
Knowing this, the father stills informs his daughter of a particularly beneficial
marriage proposal from Anathapindlada's son, Supriya, which would ensure both families'
happiness.6 Upon hearing this Mukta states that she will not consider Supriya's proposal
unless he accompanies her in leaving home to become an initiate in the teaching of the
Buddha. Supriya readily agrees to her conditions, and the two leave their homes together
and eventually attain arhatship. This event marks the conclusion of the portion of the
avadana that deals with the present.
Following the formulaic style of the avadanas, the listening monks remain doubtful
about the story of Muktft. They insist on knowing what she could have done in former lives
to be fortunate enough to be born with a garland of pearls, as well as have the ability to
attain enlightenment. The monks' interjection and incredulity marks the transition from the
6 Anathapindada was a famous d'restin who resided in Sravastl. He was well-known for his extreme generosity to
the Buddha and the Buddhist community. He is the one who purchased Jetavana Park and donated it to Buddha
and his community. Because of this and other generous deeds he became known as the chief of alms-givers. For
more details see Malalasekema ( 2002: 1, 67-72).
story of the present to the story of the past, which the Buddha is expected to relate in order
to remove all doubt.
The Buddha continues by explaining that in another life Mukta was the wife of a
wealthy merchant who honored her by giving her a garland of pearls. Mukta initially gives
these pearls to a mendicant observing the teachings of the Buddha during his alms rounds.
However, when the husband gives her yet another garland to replace the one she gave away,
the wife gathers a large amount of flowers, ointments, and garlands and takes them to
11sipatana where the Buddha Kaiyapa is residing. Once there, she erects a perfume chamber
(gandhaku~tt) for Kaiyapa and scatters the area with the flowers she brought. Finally, she
personally places the garland of pearls on head of Kaiyapa as a devotional offering. This
last act of devotion is accompanied with a sincere vow made by Mukta in which she simply
requests to receive merit for her actions, and expresses a desire to remain in the Buddha's
So concludes the story of the past. In short, because of Mukta's donative and
devotional deeds as the wife of a merchant in a past life, she is reborn into a situation
conducive for the attainment of enlightenment.
Other Possible Literary Sources?
Before moving to a detailed examination of the story of Mukta, we will turn briefly to
other possible literary sources connected with her story. Specifically, a few comments will
be made on Chinese and Pali sources. The former indeed contains a parallel story about
Muktft, while the latter is a dead end that shares nothing more than a similarity in names.
First, the Chinese translation of the Avadanas'ataka (Zhuan ji bai yuan jing) does
contain the story of Mukta.7 This appears to go without saying. That is, since a Chinese
translation of the Avadanas'ataka exists, it only makes sense that it would, therefore, contain
the story of Mukta. However, the Zhuan ji bai yuan jing is not exactly the same as the
original Sanskrit Avadanas'ataka. In fact, some stories contained in the Sanskrit
Avadanas'ataka are missing from the Chinese Translation. For example, the next chapter of
this thesis focuses on the story Kacanigala, which is chapter seventy-eight of the Sanskrit
Avadanas'ataka. However, while the Zhuan ji bai yuan jing does indeed contain a chapter
seventy-eight, it is not about Kacaligala. Nor is the story of Kacaligala found anywhere in
the Zhuan ji bai yuan jing.
Other differences between the Zhuan ji bai yuan jing and the Sanskrit Avadanas'ataka
have been noted by scholars. Speyer noted in his critical edition of the Avadanas'ataka that
the "Chinese translation did not prove as useful an instrument. Being made rather freely, it
has many abridgments and omissions; now and then it contains more than our Sanskrit
redactions."s Fa Chow and P.C. Bagchi essentially echoed Speyer's above comment. Chow
claimed that the two versions basically coincided with one another, but the Sanskrit versions
were more developed.9 Bagchi elaborated on this more specifically by observing that the
Chinese version is missing many of the formulaic descriptions that are prevalent throughout
the Sanskrit Avadanas'ataka.lo
ST, vol. 4, No. 200, 241a26-241cl0.
SSpeyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 1, vi).
9 Unfortunately, this observation fails to explain why certain chapters, such as the chapter on Kacaligala, have
'0 Bagchi (1945X Chow (1945). Unfortunately, an in-depth comparison of the Sanskrit and Chinese story of
Mukta will not be undertaken at this time due to my lack of training in Chinese, as well as a lack of time needed
to request assistance in such an endeavor. Still, a cursory scan of chapter seventy-seven of the Zhuan ji bai yuan
jing appears to confirm the observations of Bagchi and Chow.
With regard to Pali sources, the name Mukta shows up twice in T/u agathallr literature. 1
The term therigathri translates from Pfili as "poems" or "songs" of "senior nuns." Thus,
Tr-T/ gathad represents a corpus of Pfili literature containing the poetry of early Buddhist
nuns. The grithris, more specifically, are included in the Khuddaka Nikcaya of the Sutta-
pi~taka, the second portion of the Pfili canon's Tipi~taka ("three baskets"). Although no direct
evidence exists, the grithris are commonly thought to have been composed during, or shortly
after, the time of the Buddha, being orally transmitted through the centuries until the
surviving poems were eventually committed to writing sometime during the first century
Upon reading these grithris, however, it becomes clear that the nuns named Muttri share
in common with Muktft little more than their names; although, the second grithri does contain
several coincidental commonalities with the avadlina.13
Regardless, however, of whether the tales are, or are not, related, a brief overview of
both stories may prove useful since contrasting the grithas with the avadana will aid in
emphasizing the literary style and function of avadlina literature. Therefore, let us turn to
the story of the therigfithris named Muttri.
In the first grithri, Muttri comes from a poor brahmin family headed by her father,
Oghfitaka, in the city of Kosala. She is eventually married within her caste to a poor,
hunchbacked brahmin. Extremely unhappy in her marriage, Muttri convinces her
hunchbacked husband to let her become a Buddhist nun. Her change in lifestyle proves
11 Since the gathas fall within the realm of PRli literature the name Mukta appears as its Pali equivalent, Mutta.
'2 Davids and Norman ( 1997: vii); Murcott, Susan (1991: 3).
'3 For example, in both stories the Buddha's "perfumed chamber" (gandhakutt) plays a key role.
beneficial, and with practice and sincerity she eventually attains arhatship.14 Representative
of her name" she exclaims in joy:
Free, I am free. I am free by means of the three crooked things, mortar, pestle, and my
crooked husband. I am free from birth and death and all that dragged me back.16
In the second gatha, Mutta is the daughter of eminent Brahmin residing in Savatthi
(Skt. Sravasti). When she was twenty years old she renounced the world and became a
Buddhist nun. One day, after returning from collecting alms, she was practicing meditation
when she received a vision of the Buddha seated before her in his "perfumed chamber.""
The following verse was uttered during her vision:
Mutta, free woman, be free as the moon is freed from the eclipse of the dragon Rahu's
dark jaws. With a free mind, in no debt, enjoy what has been given to you, this
Soon after Mutta attains enlightenment, at which time she was said to have repeated
the above verse for a second time. Some versions also have her repeat the verse a third time
at the moment she passes away.19
Even now, after only a general introduction to avadana literature and a summary of the
story of Mukta, distinct differences between the poetry of the gathas and the avadanas are
clear. Of course the gathas and the avadanas are two very distinct literary styles, and so it
really goes without saying that the two will be different. Thus, such comparisons and
14 Davids and Norman( 1997: 11); Murcott (1991: 104).
15 Mutta, in this gatha, has nothing to do with a "pearl," nor does a pearl or garland of pearls appear in this gatha.
As mentioned earlier when discussing secondary aspects of Mukta' s name, Mutta's name here reflects her
eventual liberation and simply means "set free, liberated, delivered, etc." Murcott (1991: 166) translates the
name as "free woman."
16 Murcott (1991: 104).
"7 Davids and Norman(  1997: 7).
1s Murcott (1991:166).
19 Malalasekera ( 2002: 2, 642) has mentioned that this version of Mutta is identical with Salikamanatta of
contrasts should only be taken so far. On the other hand, drawing attention to the
differences between the two styles allows us to better understand what avadana literature is
and is not.
In the gathas we find an emphasis on the theris' devoted practice and ultimate
liberation. Clearly the liberation experience in these gathas is praiseworthy, and the theris
express what this achievement means to them in prose. The poetry calls attention to the
theris themselves by expressing a personal experience using very personal language. Unlike
the stories about the two theris, however, the avadana of Mukta is not concerned with
emphasizing liberation or freedom on a personal level. To be sure, Mukta's attainment of
arhatship is important; however, its importance in the story lies in the fact that her
attainment is meant to emphasize the culmination of escaping the karmic cycle. In other
words, her attainment is meant to emphasize the workings of a doctrinal concept central to
Buddhism, not the personal achievement of a woman.
The purpose of the above observation is not to criticize avadana literature, nor is to say
that the gathas are superior because of their personalized style. Again, highlighting the
difference between the two merely allows for a better understanding of each on its own.
Moreover, the avadana of Mukta has a number of features that go beyond simply illustrating
the mechanical workings of the law of karma, and it is to these features that we now turn our
Underlying this seemingly simple narrative are many subtle, and perhaps not so subtle,
elements that prove interesting upon further inspection. Especially interesting is the fact
that the protagonist of this story is a woman. Given the overall rarity of women protagonist
in the Buddhist literary tradition, an examination of Mukta's agency is perhaps a good place
to begin. Mukta, in both her present and past incarnations, takes initiative in bringing about
her enlightenment even when confronted with gendered obstacles that would normally
hinder a woman's "spiritual" pursuits. One quick example of such an obstacle would be
arranged marriage, although there are certainly more."" What follows is an analysis of
examples from both present and past portions of Mukta's narrative highlighting her
First, let us first recall Muktft's compassion as a young girl. When Muktft witnesses
the "miserable beggars" she immediately shares her wealth with them. Therefore, she
apparently has control over portions of her father's wealth. She does not ask permission to
give away the money to those less fortunate, nor does a mediator handled the money for her.
She alone decides, and she alone follows through with the decision. In short, her actions
display a degree of independence and control, and it is this independence and control that
make possible the compassionate act of giving.
Later on, when she reaches a marriageable age, she, not her father, sets the conditions
for her marriage. Not only does her assertiveness allow her to continue with her own goals
of becoming an initiate in the teachings of the Buddha, but the decisions reached via her
assertiveness also simultaneously alleviate the problem of trying to please so many well-to-
do suitors, a burden weighing heavily on her father's mind. Incidentally, the manner in
which her future goals of learning the teachings of the Buddha indirectly solve (instead of
"0 It should be noted that forced or arranged marriage could be an obstacle for men as well.
21 It should be noted that although examining images of women in Buddhist literature proves essential in
understanding how women might have been viewed, constructed, and understood, the risk of chasing illusory
shadows reflecting contemporary female role models and/or feminist values is high. Therefore, it's my hope that
a bit of cautionary reflexivity will aid in avoiding such methodological pitfalls.
disrupt or aggravate) the problems faced by her father, and therefore her family, appears to
showcase the positive results derived from devoting oneself to the teachings of the Buddha.
Moreover, an obvious role reversal has occurred between father and daughter. The
daughter, for example, takes control in planning her own future, not her father. Further, it
is the daughter who comforts the father. Somewhat amusingly, it is the father we find
pouting in his soka~garam ("boudoir or private chamber" 2) while staring out the window lost
in thought and deeply troubled. Here the stereotypical image of a father coming to comfort
his daughter, who has shut herself away in her room weeping, has been reversed.
Still, Pusya persists in bringing another suitor to his daughter's attention. Mukta,
however, will not be deterred from her goal of becoming a monastic initiate in the teachings
of the Buddha; therefore, she sets a specific condition on her marriage. The new suitor,
Supriya, despite representing a match that would benefit both families, must be willing to
abandon his home to join Mukta in becoming an initiate in the teachings of the Buddha.
What follows is both interesting and somewhat ambiguous.
Supriya immediately concedes to Mukta's condition, and although they both clearly
abandon their homes and later attain arhatship, the avadana is ambiguous with regard to
whether or not they actually marry. Muktft clearly states in the narrative that she will marry
him only if he subdues his senses and renounces with her.23 In the next line, Supriya agrees
(literally, "exactly so, it was done by him").24 The next few lines describe them abandoning
their homes and eventually attaining arhatship together. No marriage ceremony is
22 Literally, "sorrow room." Monier-Williams provides the following definition: "lamentation room", a
apartment to which women retire for weeping. Monier-Williams ( 1992: 1091) s.v. Soka~gara.
23 See footnote 7 in appendix A for more information on tlus verse.
24 Skt. tena tathaiva krtain.
mentioned. No indicative terminology such as "husband" or "wife" is used in the remaining
lines of the story of the present.
Of course, one could argue that their marriage is implied in the narrative since Supriya
does in fact agree to her condition by abandoning his home to join her. Obviously, Supriya
would not abandon his home unless Mukta married him, one might argue. On the other
hand, one might argue that he must first uphold his promise and go forth with her to learn
the teachings of the Buddha. Only afterwards would she marry him. Of course, once they
became enlightened all desire for marriage should have melted away and no longer been
applicable. In either case, the avadana transitions into the story of the past without
clarifying if they actually married or not.
Even more intriguing is Mukta's active role in Supriya's enlightenment. It would seem
we have an example of a man attaining enlightenment because of the deeds of a woman--
definitely not a common occurrence in the Buddhist tradition. Without Mukta's prompting
Supriya would have probably never attained the ultimate state of arhatship. Supriya never
had any desire for learning the teachings of the Buddha, at least not until he discovered that
renouncing and becoming an initiate was the only way he could possibly be with Mukta.
Further, the story explicitly states that the attainment of arhatship which occurred in the
present was a direct result of the meritorious deeds performed during Mukta's former life as
the wife of a wealthy merchant. Nowhere are the former deeds or lives of Supriya
mentioned. One could argue that he obviously is benefiting from his own past "good" deeds
to be in such a fortuitous position; however, his merit or past lives are likely not mentioned
because they play absolutely no role in the narrative. Therefore, Supriya seems to enjoy the
fruits of arhatship in part because of the power of Mukta's past deeds. In essence, Supriya is
riding on Mukta's meritorious coattails.
In her former life as the wife of a wealthy merchant, Mukta also asserts herself in a
way that makes her more than just an ornamental wife of a wealthy man. After giving away
her highly valuable garland of pearls to a mendicant on his alms round, her astonished
husband has another garland, even more expensive, made for her despite her protest that she
did not desire such things. Since the husband fails to comprehend her intentions, she then
takes the newly made garland of pearls, along with flowers, flower garlands, and perfumed
ointments, to 11sipatana where a buddha named Kaiyapa is residing. After arriving she
erects a gandhaku~tt ("perfume chamber") for Kaiyapa and personally places the garland of
pearls on his head as a devotional offering. She then makes the following vow
And by these deeds (i.e., the devotional act of giving the garland, etc.), may I acquire
such qualities (as those possessed by Kaiyapa)--Indeed, I hope these deeds propitiate
the Teacher and may (He not be) adverse to me."
So overt are the actions and deeds performed in Mukta's past life that simply drawing
attention to them suffices to establish her independent agency. She voluntarily decides to
donate her garland of pearls to the mendicant during his alms gathering, and she refuses her
husband's desire to decorate her in expensive jewelry. She alone travels to 11sipatana to
donate the second more expensive necklace to the Buddha Kaiyapa. She alone gathers
flowers, makes flower garlands and ointments. She alone erects a perfume chamber
expressly for Kfifyapa's pleasure. And finally, she alone openly expresses her devotedness
in the form a vow-a vow that is eventually fulfilled.
25 Skt. ahamp~yevapridhdanalyz gwidly? Icbhints>'ant evalrnidhantera ,iirchm othtil wci ast -i ma viragay'ey'aniti.
Interestingly enough, many elements of Mukta's story are present in the seventy-first
chapter of the Avada~nas'atka, the first chapter in the decade concerning female arhats. That
avadana tells the story of a young girl named Suprabha. Like Mukta, her father is a wealthy
banker and her mother comes from a noble lineage. Similar to Mukta's garland of pearls,
Suprabha is miraculously born with a beautiful necklace containing a precious jewel capable
of shining radiant light throughout Sravasti--one of the karmic rewards for donating a
jeweled necklace to a Buddhist stilpa in a past life; which, of course, is similar to Mukta's
donation of a garland of pearls to Kaiyapa. Both women also share the same formulaic
Additionally, whenever Suprabha gives the necklace away, like Mukta's pearls,
another necklace magically reappears. Adding to the similarities are a few other standard
formulaic frameworks: Suprabha is raised by eight nurses, given the best of food, grows tall
like a lotus in a deep lake, is a paradigm of generosity, and represents the best of daughters.
When she reaches a marital age, her father, too, laments in his private chamber over his
inability to please all the prospective suitors. At this point, the stories differ.
Mukta alleviates her father's concern by stating she will become an initiate of the
Blessed One, and only a man willing to accompany her on this soteriological endeavor may
marry her. Suprabha, on the other hand, informs her father of her intention to participate in
a svayamvara ceremony-a marriage ceremony in which a woman decides to elect her own
husband, usually before a public assembly of suitors. 6 Her father then announces to all in
Srfivasti that the event is to take place in seven days. After seven days, Suprabhri descends
from her terrace carrying a banner with the Buddha painted on it, climbs up on a cart amidst
26 Skt. ta~ta na te sokah kartarvah |svayanterahain sap~tanze divase svayalrnarantavatariIsvantrti-"Father, you
should not despair, I, myself, will resort to svayamvara in seven days."
the gathered crowd of solicitors who are all looking upon her longingly, praises the Buddha,
and then finally proclaims that she does not solely desire love."' Further, she announces her
intentions to go to the Buddha in order to be initiated in his presence. Of course, all of the
solicitors leave quite disappointed since she never actually chooses a husband (unless the
Buddha counts). Eventually, after some extraordinary feats of public levitation, she attains
enlightenment, having never married.
What's interesting is how when faced with marriage both Mukta and Suprabha resort
to a type of indirect stratagem that ultimately makes marriage irrelevant. Neither woman
directly rejects marriage initially. In fact, both women actually agree to marry. They
merely set certain conditions concerned with determining the spouse. In the case of Mukta,
only a man who renounces with her will win her hand. In the case of Suprabha, she will
personally select an eligible husband. Ultimately, however, both women's more important
goals of becoming initiates in the teachings of the Buddha force marriage to "take a back
stage" until it eventually becomes an obsolete consideration.
A Paradigm for Donative Practice
Besides illustrating the workings of karma and rebirth, we can ask ourselves what else
might be emphasized in this avadana? For an answer, we can begin by simply asking, just
as the monks listening to the Buddha's narrative, what did Mukta do to warrant such
attainments and favor? In other words, we can ask what makes Mukta so special? "What
deeds were performed," asked the monks in the formulaic fashion common to avadanas.
For starters, in both her present and past lives she gave away wealth. In this regard,
the action noted as being the most responsible for her karmic fortunes is her decision to give
27 Skt. kevalam tu naham kamenarthint
the Buddha Kaiyapa her second garland of pearls. However, she is noted for giving on
several other occasions. She gave, or "shared," her wealth with the beggars. She gave her
first garland of pearls to a monk during his alms collecting. And lastly, she is responsible
for providing the Buddha Kaiyapa with his perfumed chamber (i.e., she "gave" it to him).
Therefore, another emphasis of the narrative is clearly donative practices, and how such
donative practices are karmically favorable. Here the term practice is used in the sense that
there is a proper way to go about giving, whether that be an example of how one should give
to monks during alms collecting or how one should first present flowers and perfumed
incense prior to making a sincere donation.
If there is an emphasis on donative practices, Mukta's social background becomes
more important and interesting. Mukta is wealthy. Or more accurately, Mukta's family is
wealthy. Her father is a f'res~thin. The term can be simply translated as a "banker," but there
are many associations with the term. Some additional definitions include: "a distinguished
man, or a person of rank or authority" and "an eminent artisan, the head or chief of an
association following the same trade or industry, the president or foreman of a guild."28 Not
only does Mukta give away wealth, but the fact that she can give away wealth because of
her family's social status does not appear to be a coincidence. Clearly narratives targeting
wealthy laity economically benefit the Buddhist monastic community. Thus, Mukta as a
wealthy lay practitioner actively partaking in donative practices beneficial to the Buddhist
community makes perfect sense. With this in mind, I posit that one function of the avadana
about Mukta was to serve as a didactic tool of the monastic community in providing the lay
population with a model of proper behavior with regard to donative practices. In other
28 Monier-Williams ( 1992: 1102) s.v. s'restin.
words, it clearly illustrates how giving to the Buddhist community is a good thing for both
the giver and receiver.
To be clear, I am claiming that one function of the avadana may have been to serve as
a didactic tool. I am not suggesting that this is the only function of the avadlana, nor am I
seeking to regulate the importance of avadana literature solely to the province of the laity. I
would still maintain that the Avadanaiataka is primarily a monastic text since, for example,
its connection with the Ma~lasarvcastivddin-vinaya cannot be denied. In this way, I would
align myself with scholars such as Gregory Schopen and Phyllis Granoff who have both
argued that avadana literature was not merely a didactic tool for educating the lay
population, but it was also monastic literature intended for monks (and nuns).29
Much of their argument stems from an underlying dichotomy often assumed between
that of the monastic class and the lay class. The separation implies that the monastic
community does not take part in the simple practices of the lay or "popular" masses. At best
avadama literature is viewed as nothing more than a didactic tool of monks in educating a
"lower" lay population in basic Buddhist ethical and moral behavior. The implication is that
the monks are beyond such devotional and donative practices. The monastic community is
educated in the "higher" teachings of the Buddha and need not rely on the lower forms of
practice to attain his (or her) enlightenment. Take for instance the following citation which
illustrates well the dichotomy discussed thus far.
The Buddhist literature produced during the early centuries AD and a couple of
centuries preceding it, can broadly be divided into two types. One, which was
exclusively meant for use of the monks who had left their household lives and resided
in the monasteries. This type of literature particularly dealt with the discussions and
analyses of the Sutra and Vinaya rules and the Abhidharma philosophy. The other
type was mainly of noncanonical nature and was composed keeping common people in
29 Schopen (2000: 96-97).
mind. In the second type of literature, mainly the ethical and social teachings of the
Buddha were stressed. [. .] Such stories were certainly not meant exclusively for the
monks and, in fact, were essentially written for the common people.30
Over the years, however, scholars such as Schopen and Granoff have destabilized this
dichotomy between the monastic and lay community. Throughout much of his work
Schopen has, for example, made strong cases, often utilizing archaeological and
epigraphical evidence as opposed to relying solely on textual descriptions of monks and
nuns, for active monastic participation in activities normally thought to lay solely in the
province of the laity. Examples include image worship and donative practices. Further, he
shows that in many cases these activities were not only practiced by monks and nuns, but
that such activities originated with the monastic community, not the lay community.
A picture of the actual Indian Buddhist monk and nun is gradually emerging; he and
she differ markedly from the ideal monk and nun who have been presented on the
basis of textual material alone. The actual monk, for example, unlike the textual
monk, appears to have been deeply involved in religious giving and cult practice of
every kind from the very beginning.3
The import of this alternative understanding of the Buddhist monastic community
applies equally to the avadana literature, and hence the practices advocated in the avadana
Ironically, however, regardless of which developmental scenario comes to be
established one important point seems clear: either jdtakas, avadanas and 'tales' were,
from the beginning, overwhelmingly considered to be monastic forms of literature
intended for monks, or they came increasingly to be so considered over time, at least
in the Millasarvastivridin case. Such conclusions seem unavoidable since a truly large
proportion of the Millasarvastivddin-vinaya as we have it-regardless of how it got that
way-is made up of just such texts, and it, most definitely, was intended for monks.'
30 Upreti (1995: 2).
31 Schopen (1997: 252).
32Schopen (2000: 96).
To strengthen his argument, Schopen draws upon the work of Phyllis Granoff, which
is being quoted here due to relevancy.
While little is actually known about the growth and circulation of the avadanas, the
text themselves tell us that they are stories that were related by the Buddha to his
monks. There is no question that the stories postdate the lifetime of the Buddha; on
the other hand, there is less reason to doubt their claim that they were meant for
circulation within the Buddhist monastic community itself.33
Scholars have tended to see in the avadanas and jatakas examples of popular preaching
for the masses and have seen these two related types of literature as distinctly non-
monastic, and suited for the laity .. The text themselves have a different story to tell,
and do not necessarily support the standard scholarly assessment of monks as learned
as opposed to an illiterate lay population .. There is thus good reason to accept the
evidence of the stories themselves and to regard them as part of the teaching offered to
monks. This would also be consistent with the parallels we see between avadanas and
the various vinaya stories, which were undoubtedly addressed to monks.34
I agree with both Schopen and Granoff. Further, their emphasis on the monastic class
does not necessarily limit the uses and audience of avadana literature. Yes, the audience
definitely included the monastic community, and represented a type of monastic,
specifically Millasarvastivadin, literature. However, this fact need not exclude avadana
literature from a lay audience as well.35 Clearly the appeals of avadanas are well suited for
both audiences. In short, avadana literature was most likely intended for both the monastic
and lay community.
Therefore, in a Buddhist fashion, I propose a "middle way," and maintain that one
function of the story of Muktft was to illustrate, by means of an exemplary model, the
positive aspects of donative practices directed toward the Buddhist monastic community.
33 Ibid., 96 Schopen citing Granoff, italics added.
34 Ibid., 97. Schopen citing Granoff.
35 I am not suggesting that Schopen or Granoff are claiming otherwise.
Again, in this way, the narrative acts as a type of didactic tool for instructing an audience in
behavior considered normative.
Further, with specific regard to donative practice, it should be noted that Schopen has
also shown that the monastic class was indeed financially capable of contributions and one
of the primary groups participating in donative practices.36 The main point is that Mukta's
donative practices would have been equally instructive and enjoyable to the monastic class
as well the lay class.
Additionally, Mukta may have served as an exemplary model in areas besides
donative practices. She likely served equally as a model for nuns, and nuns to be, despite
the ambiguous nature of her own ordination. Her enlightenment may have also served as an
inspiration to other women within the Buddhist community.
Mukta presents somewhat of a paradox. The avadana clearly portrays Mukta as a
paradigmatic lay donor in both the past and present; however, she also becomes (or so the
text implies) an initiate in the teachings of the Buddha-she becomes a nun. But then this
portion of the narrative is clearly downplayed. Despite this downplaying, the narrative
makes very clear that Muktft attained enlightenment. So, is Muktft the paradigmatic lay
donor, the paradigmatic nun, or both?
Then, of course, remains the question of her marital status. Was she actually married
or not? If she did marry, when did she do so? Was she married when she became ordained?
Did she marry after she attained arhatship, thus fulfilling her part of the bargain with
Supriya? Why is the text ambiguous on this detail as well? What might be going on?
36 Schopen (1997: 238-257). In this article Schopen reveals how monks and nuns were, by far, the primary
contributors to the "cult of images." Schopen (1997: 258-289).
As stated earlier, I would argue that the story of Mukta highlights the results of a
literary struggle that attempted to maintain an ideal image of women thought to be
normative and/or preferable, while simultaneously attempting to justify and support an
image of Buddhist nuns that naturally opposed the ideal image of women supported by the
status quo. As the old saying goes, the authors of the avadana of Mukta were trying have
their cake and eat it too.
Rita Gross has highlighted the tendency in Buddhism to prefer laywomen donors to
female world-renouncers.37 For example, she makes a comparison between the famous
female lay donor, Visakha, and the Buddha's foster mother, Prajapati Gautami. While
Gautami and other females in her retinue are discouraged from their vocation as nuns,
Visakha never receives such discouragement, and is constantly the recipient of high praise.
Gautami has restricted access to the Buddha, and often Ananda acts as an intermediary;
whereas, Visakha has no such restrictions.
As for the attitudes and the reasons behind this stance, Gross writes,
As Nancy Falk has put it so well, 'Buddhists, like Hindus, honored fecund
housewives, especially if they were also pious laywomen. We can therefore suspect
that many Buddhists, like Hindus, also preferred to see women at the hearth rather
than on the road or within a monastery's walls.' It is not too hard to imagine why.
The fecund housewife did not challenge or break stereotypes of women. Presumably
happily married, she did not threaten the monk sexually. She was modest and humble.
She was honored by the monk's presence and deferred to him. And she always
provided what the monk needed, before he even asked and without expecting anything
in return. In short, she met men's needs without challenging or threatening them in
any way. Unlike the nuns of the Therigatha, she is androcentric creation. These
stories present a dilemma. They preserve a measure of accuracy, in that the
importance of laywomen is recognized. They present a needed model-that of the
Buddhist laywoman. And they manifest something somewhat rare in Buddhist
literature-a female figure who is wholeheartedly and completely praised and
37 Gross (1993: 49-51).
38 Ibid., 50-51.
Other sources of female imagery that may be relevant to the time of the
Avadanaiataka's composition and compilation are found in the texts of the Dharmasuatras
and Dharmaincstras. Of specific interest is the image of the ideal woman. In short, the ideal
woman is one who is subservient to her husband, active in his welfare, and bears him sons.
The following passage from the Dharmasa~tra of Gautama dictates some of the duties of a
wife. "A wife cannot act independently in matters relating to the Law. She should never go
against her husband and keep her speech, eyes, and actions under strict control."39
Regarding a woman's independence, the Baudhclyana and Vasis~tha Dharmasa~tra both
state that women cannot act independently and are under the authority of men. They also
include the following quotation:
Her father takes care of her in her childhood; her husband takes care of her in her
youth; and her son takes care of her in her old age. A woman is not fit to act
The Law ofManu states, "A woman who controls her mind, speech, and body and is
never unfaithful to her husband attains the worlds of her husband, and virtuous people call
her a 'good woman."'41
These texts are also explicit on the importance of bearing a son. For instance, the
Gautama Dharmasuatra explains how beneficial having a son is for one's ancestors.
"Virtuous sons purify--a son born from a 'Seer's' marriage purifies three ancestors; a son
born from a 'Divine' marriage, ten; a son from a 'Prajftpati' marriage, also ten; while a son
born from a 'Brahma' marriage purifies the ten ancestors before him and the ten
39 Gau 18.1-3, Olivelle (1999: 110).
10 Va 5.1-3; Bau 2.3.43-46, Ibid. (264, 175). The quotation is a well known one that is found in other texts such
as the Malcnava Dhannas'astra (5.146), better known as The Law Code of M/aint.
41 MDh 5.165 an~d 9.29, Olivelle (2004: 97, 157).
descendents after him."42 Additionally, The Law ofManu states, "Sons are born when he
has sex on even nights, and girls on odd nights. Desiring a son, therefore, he should have
sex with his wife on even nights during her season."43 Of course the amount of space in
these texts devoted to explaining a son's lineage and a son's inheritance rights further
strengthens the claim concerning the son's importance.
Returning to the story of Mukta, multiple images of women appear to be supported. In
the story of the past, we have Mukta as the good wife of a wealthy merchant who freely
donates to the Buddhist community. Further, in the past, Mukta does not renounce and
become a nun; instead she is simply the ideal laywoman donor. Interestingly enough, it is
her past life as a married laywoman donor, and the deeds performed during that life, that are
most important in the story since it is the deeds performed during this lifetime that make
possible her future enlightenment. The message is clear; Mukta positioned herself for future
enlightenment not by renouncing and becoming a nun, not by learning the Buddhist
teachings, but by simply being a wife who donated to the Buddhist community. Her only
request was that she would remain favorable in the eyes of the Buddha and receive merit
from her actions.
Turning to the story of the present we still find an emphasis on Mukta's donative
practices. However, the story dictates that during this lifetime she attains arhatship, and so
two images, that of the female lay donor and that of a female renouncer, appear to be
juggled about in an effort to maintain the archetypal associations of each image. So Mukta,
like a good daughter, plans to get married and thus become the ideal married laywoman
donor, but the circumstances of the story actually prevent the marriage from occurring. Or
42 Gau 4.29-33, Olivelle (1999: 85-86).
43 M/Dh.3.48, Olivelle (2004: 46-47).
at least, the marriage does not explicitly take place since marriage and renouncing are a
contradiction. The story is ambiguous about her marriage because marriage threatens the
standard image of a nun, and the story is also ambiguous about her ordination because this
threatens the standard image of a married laywoman donor. Additionally, Mukta renounces
her home to become an initiate in the teachings of the Buddha like an ideal Buddhist nun
would; however, Mukta brings her "husband" along. Therefore, Mukta, like an ideal wife,
never abandons her "husband." In fact, she ensures her "husband's" welfare by being
responsible for his enlightenment as well. Therefore, the Buddhist community is able to
maintain its emphasis on renouncing while never advocating that a woman should abandon
her family, her duty.
Muktft, then, is a paradox in that she simultaneously represents the ideal married
female lay donor and the ideal Buddhist nun. She is both a lay donor and a nun that
balances her duty to family and the Buddha-embracing both, forsaking neither.
KACAN;GALA: THE MOTHER OF THE BUDDHA
Different women have filled the role of the Buddha's mother throughout his
incalculable former lives as a bodhisattva cultivating the path that would lead to ultimate
liberation. Generally speaking, having the opportunity to be the mother of the Buddha
during one of his previous lives was the result of the woman's meritorious deeds. Some
former mothers of the Buddha lost the opportunity to continue as his mother in future lives
because of later improper actions and/or behavior. This karmically explains why different
women have filled the role during different lifetimes. Ultimately, only the most virtuous
woman could have the honor of giving birth to the Buddha during his final rebirth. That
woman was Queen Maya, and a brief account of her story follows.
The mother of Saikyamuni Buddha, Mahamaya, was said to have had a dream the night
the Bodhisattva was conceived. She dreamed of a white elephant carrying a white lotus in
its trunk. The white elephant that entered her womb was said to be the Bodhisattva
descending from Tusita heaven after realizing the time was right to take a human birth one
last time before becoming a buddha.
After ten months, Mahamaya was passing through Lumbini grove on her way home.
Before continuing on her way she spent some time walking among the flowering s'ala trees
when suddenly she went into labor. Thus, she gave birth to the Bodhisattva in Lumbini
grove while standing and gripping a s'ala branch for support. Many traditional sources tell
how the Bodhisattva immediately took sevens steps to the north. According to Aivaghosa's
Buddhacarita, the Buddha then proclaimed, "I am born for Enlightenment for the good of
the world; this is my last birth in the world of phenomena."l
i Johnston (1998 : 2, 4).
For Mahamaya, the story soon comes to an end because she dies seven days after
giving birth to the Bodhisattva and is reborn in Tusita heaven. However, this summary
represents just one example of a narrative detailing the life of the mother of the Buddha.
While Mahamaya holds the esteemed position as the biological mother of Sakyamuni
Buddha, the Buddha, nevertheless, had countless other lifetimes and countless other
mothers. In fact, narratives revolving around the mother of the Buddha are not all that
uncommon in Buddhist literature.
Perhaps the most frequently examined among these mother stories is the account of
Mahaprajapati Gautami. While Gautaml is not technically the "mother" of Saikyamuni
Buddha since she is his aunt, she did, however, serve as his foster mother by caring for and
raising him after the death of his biological mother, Maya, Gautami's sister. Further, it is
Gautami who pleads with the Buddha to allow her and other women to become nuns. The
result of this famous episode is the creation of an official body of Buddhist nuns.
This chapter too tells the story of a mother of the Buddha by focusing on the seventy-
eighth chapter of the Avada~nas'ataka which relates the story of a poor, old woman named
Kacanigala-the mother of the Buddha during his previous five hundred lifetimes. As such,
Kacanigala holds a rather unique position compared to that of the other nine women included
in the Avada~nas'ataka section on women arhats. The avadana illustrates how Kacanigala had
been the mother of the Buddha for his previous five hundred lifetimes, and was in line to be
his mother for his final rebirth until she committed several undesirable deeds. Therefore,
Maya became the mother of Saikyamuni Buddha, while Kacaligala was subjected to the
effects of the negative karma she had accrued. What is most remarkable about the story of
Kacaligalli is how she is lifted from the destitution she brought upon herself; for it is the
Buddha, out of compassion and sympathy for his former mother, that lifts her from
destitution by reciting the Dharma to her in a way that awakens her to the fruit of
Scholars such as Reiko Ohnuma, Tessa Bartholomeusz, and Jonathan Walters2 have all
written about the "mother" of Buddha, and all from different perspectives and conclusions
for what the role of the mother figure might mean. Ohnuma reexamines the narrative of
Gautami in order to examine overlooked or ignored aspects of filial piety displayed by the
Buddha. Bartholomeusz shows how the paradigmatic story of Gautami continues to
influence contemporary politics in Sri Lanka, specifically with regard to gender inequality.
Lastly, Walters examines the process of silencing women's voices by showing how
Gautami, once a religious paradigm, was later marginalized when the period of strength for
Buddhist women had elapsed.
Hubert Durt, on the other hand, deals specifically with the story of Kacanigala.3 Durt's
basic thesis is that the stories of mothers who miss an opportunity to become the mother of
the Saikyamuni Buddha, such as Kacaligala, represent a "development in the law of
karman," as well the "compassionate tolerance" of the Buddha who removes them from
their unfortunate plight by causing the women to attain enlightenment. 4
Durt highlights three motifs found in "karmic tales" that all come together in the story
of Kacaligalft. One, the story represents the motif of distinguished women who, due to
karmic consequences, miss the opportunity to become the mother of the Buddha. Two, the
story additionally represents the motif of the Buddha meeting with women experiencing a
SBartholomeusz (1999); Olmuma (2006); Walters (1994).
4 Ibid., 86-87.
type of insanity brought about because of the loss of a child. This second motif of insanity
often climaxes after embracing the Buddha. Although the story of Kacanigala does not
contain any instances of insanity, it does, however, include a very emotional embrace.
Three, the story represents the motif of wise nuns who are, as in the case of Kacanigala,
publicly praised by the Buddha.s
The remainder of this chapter will consist of three sections. In the first section I will
provide a summary of the story of Kacanigala as related in chapter seventy-eight of the
Avada~nas'ataka.6 The second section will discuss additional sources for the story of
Kacanigala, as well as a few of the differences found between the different versions. The
last section offers a different perspective on the story of Kacanigala by suggesting that the
Buddha's decision to save Kacanigalli from her destitution stems from more than the
ordinary compassion and sympathy highlighted by scholars such as Durt. Instead, this
section argues that the Buddha's compassion and sympathy are directly related to issues of
A Summary of the Story
When the Buddha is residing in the town of Kacaligalas he tells his disciple Ananda
that he is thirsty and asks him to fetch some water from the old woman drawing water from
SA full translation of the story is located in Appendix B.
SFor this section I will rely heavily on Reiko Ohnuma's recent article, "Debt to the Mother: A Neglected Aspect
of the Founding of the Buddhist Nun's Order." See Ohnuma (2006).
SAs her name is a toponym, the story of Kacadigala takes place near the town of Kacadigala. Specifically, the
story takes place in the forest of Kacaligall. The town Kacadigala comprises a portion of the eastern boundary of
madhyadel'a ("middle country"), which roughly comprises Central India. See Lamotte (1988: 340) and Law
( 1979: 2). Law also states that Kacadigala "is identical with Ka-chu-wen-ki-lo of Yual Chwan~g which lay
at a distance of above 400 li east from Champa (Bhagalpur). That Kajadigala formed the eastern boundary of the
Madhyadeta is also attested by Sumadigalavilasinl (II, p. 429)." Law ( 1979:2 n. 1). Law also indicates
that a jitaka story reveals how Kacadigala was a place where, even during the time of the Buddha, food could be
easily obtained. Law ( 1979: 28). See also Law ( 1979: 69) for additional information on
the nearby well. The poor, old woman named Kacanigala firmly tells Ananda that she,
herself, will bring water to the Blessed One.
Upon seeing firsthand the extraordinary beauty of the Buddha, Kacanigala is filled with
maternal love and begins lactating.9 She then raises her arms and cries out, "Oh, son! Oh,
son!" When she attempts to embrace the Buddha, however, the monks block her way. The
Buddha immediately admonishes his monks for this and tells them that this poor, old woman
was his mother in his previous lives. The Buddha explains that she, out of maternal love,
simply desires to embrace her son. Further, if she is prevented from embracing her son "hot
blood will instantaneously gush from her throat."'o Thus, the Buddha, remembering the
gratitude he owes his mother, allows her to embrace him out of sympathy and compassion.
Afterwards, Kacanigala seats herself before the Buddha and listens to him give a
sermon on the Four Noble Truths. Because the Buddha realizes such things as her character
and disposition, he is able to instruct her in a way that enables her to become a "stream
Afterwards Kacaligalli is initiated in the teachings of the Buddha, and eventually she
attains arhatship. Shortly afterwards she receives the honor of explaining the teachings of
the Buddha to a group of nuns that the Buddha had spoken to earlier. She is so adept in the
9 In a jitaka from the Stevamabhasottama Siltra Queen Maya's breasts are said to have begun lactating
spontaneously in an effort to feed the Buddha. Ohnuma (2006: 888). An interesting side note: M/ilk has been
known to start flowing fromthe breasts of women who ar~e still breastfeeding upon hearing their baby cry.
'0 Skt. ida~nim rudhiram hviesnamn kantcadasva~ch sravetksanat.
11 Skt. frotapatti. The first of four stages leading to eventual enlightenment and release from the cycle of death
and rebirth. The fourth stage is arhatship, a stage Kalicagala attains shortly after becoming an initiate in the
teachings of the Buddha. Edgerton notes that s'rotap~atti can sometimes simply refer to onle who has been
converted to the teachings of the Buddha. Edgerton ( 2004: 2, 615), s.v. srota-apatti.
teachings that the Buddha bestows upon her the title siltra~nta-vibhciga-kat~r, "foremost
among those who explain the sutras."
The Buddha informs his astonished monks that Kacanigala is indeed foremost among
all of the nuns and laywomen in his teachings. The monks are, of course, doubtful and wish
to know what deeds Kacanigala performed in her past life to be capable of attaining
enlightenment. Furthermore, they also want to know what she did to be born into a position
that made it impossible for her to renounce until she was an old woman. The monks are
aware that she is experiencing the results of both "good" and "bad" actions.
The Buddha then explains that she was indeed his mother during five hundred
previous lifetimes. In the past the Buddha, as her son, desired to become a monk. However,
Kacaligala continually hindered her son's goal as well as his generosity by obstructing gifts
he desired to donate.13 Because of this not only was she prevented from setting forth as an
initiate in the teachings until an old age, but she was also reborn destitute and denied the
opportunity to be the Buddha's mother during his final rebirth.
Additionally, when she did become an initiate of the Buddha Kfifyapa she addressed
all of the nuns as "slaves." Because of this unacceptable behavior she was reborn as slave.14
'2 It is important to note that Kacanigala is specifically described as foremost among nuns and female disciples
who teach the sutras.
13 Harris (1999: 55) noted in a section entitled "Woman as Mother" how women were seen as an obstruction to
world renouncers. "Therefore, I argue, when woman or the feminine is used in a symbolic or metaphoric way, it
is more often linked with dukkha and samsara than~ with the holy or mystical. As a symbol, the female is used to
illustrate sensuality, suffering, and impermanenlce. She is also seen as an obstruction to a world renouncer."
14 It is interesting to note how the story of Kacanigala has challenged some broad generalizations depicting
characteristics of woman serving as the mother of the Buddha. For example, Diana Paul has written that mothers
of "Buddhas and Bodhisattvas" were "always the paragon of virtue and chastity" Paul ( 1985: 63). As her
actions and behavior clearly indicate, Kacaligala was not a "paragon of virtue and chastity;" yet, she nevertheless
was the mother of the Bodhisattva. Perhaps it would better to say that mothers of the Buddha (or any other
buddhas and/or bodhisattvas) had to be (i.e., in previous lives) paragons of virtue and chastity in order to rate
giving birth to the Buddha. The fact that these mothers are capable of losing their virtue and chastity may also
help explain why mothers of the Buddha die so soon after giving birth. For more on preserving the purity of the
Buddha's mother, see Obeyesekere (2002: 152-153).
Her only saving grace was the fact that she continually repeated recitations of the Buddha's
teachings. Thus her current condition in the story of the present is the result of an
accumulation of merit and demerit. Because of the Buddha's compassion and her own
accumulated merit she is eventually lifted from her suffering and attains enlightenment, but
only after her obstructive stinginess and arrogant behavior is punished by being stricken
with poverty and denied the opportunity to be the Buddha's mother during his final rebirth.
The story of Kacanigala contained in the Avada~nas'ataka provides us with just one
example of her story in Buddhist literature. Unlike the avadana of Mukta, many parallels
exist containing similarities with one another that reach beyond merely sharing a name. In
general, sources containing information on Kacanigala can be divided into four parts: 1) Pali
sources, 2) Sanskrit sources, 3) Tibetan sources, and 4) Chinese sources." Of these, the
Avada~nas'ataka would obviously fall under that of the Sanskrit sources. However, a brief
description of all the sources should prove beneficial.
In the Pali sources reference to Kacanigala (Pali: Kajafigala) can be found. However, it
should be noted that none of the events surrounding her earlier life, or lives, is found in the
Pali sources. This includes, for example, the story on how the Buddha redeems her from
her current predicament as an old, wretched woman. These details about her past are
contained only in the Sanskrit literature and sources deriving from that tradition.l
In the Aliguttara Nikcaya, and in the relevant commentary,"7 Kacaligalli figures as a
prominent nun well-versed in the Buddha's Dharma. She is well known for an event in
'5 See Durt (2005) for excellent review of the sources.
'6 Ibid., 70.
'- AN PTS. V, p. 54-59, Comrm. (M/anoratha-plurant) PTS. V, p. 25-26.
which she expounds upon a teaching of the Buddha that covered such doctrinal points as the
Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to a group of upa~sakas ("laymen") in the city after
which she is named, Kacanigala. This particular story is also found in the Kuddhakapatha.l
However, unlike in the Avada~nas'ataka, Kacanigala is not considered "foremost" in the
teachings of the Buddha in either of these Pali sources. In fact, in a list of the top thirteen
nuns who were considered the most outstanding, Kacanigala is nowhere to be found. *
The Sanskrit sources contain three versions of the Kacanigala narrative: the
Bhaisajyavastu of the Ma~lasarvcastivdda Vinaya,2o the Avada~nas'ataka, and the
Ratnamala~vada~na.2 Because the Bhaisajyavastu and the Avada~nas'ataka are extremely
similar, Durt claims that the story of Kacanigala contained in the Avadcanas'ataka,
"reproduces a passage from the Vinaya, of which the Bhaisajyavastu is a component."2
Further, the Avada~nas'ataka version clearly presents a more detailed account of the story
than the Bhaisajyavastu version. Lastly, missing or omitted details in the Sanskrit version of
the Baisajyavastu in the Gilgit manuscripts are contained in the Chinese translation of the
For example, when Kacaligalli first sees the Buddha streams of milk gush forth from
her breasts, she raises her arms and shouts in joy, and finally she embraces the Buddha. The
's Kuddhaka-p~atha PTS, p. 2; Comrm. Parantattajjhotika~ 1, pp. 80-82, 83-85, 85-86 (As cited in Durt 2005: 71).
I' Durt (2005: 70).
"0 Nalinaksha Dutt ed., Gilgit Manuscripts, III, i, Srinagar, 1947, pp. 20-24; S. Bagchi ed.,
Midu~asarrastivadavinavavastu, 1, Buddhist Sanskrit Texts 16, Mithila Institute, Darbhanga, 1967, pp. 20-22 (As
cited in Durt 2005: 71).
21 Takahata (1954: 217-226). Unfortunately, the Ratnantalavada~na came to my attention relatively late in my
research. Since there is no English translation or secondary sources discussing Kacaligalli in this text, I cannot
make any comments on the Ratnantalavada~na version at this time. This source also appears to have escaped
Durt's attention since he did not mentionit as a Sanskrit source in his article.
22 Durt (2005: 71).
23 Ibid., 71.
Gilgit manuscripts only mention how she raised her arms, while the Chinese Vinaya also
contains the additional detail of the embrace. Neither version, Gilgit Sanskrit manuscripts
or Chinese Vinaya, contains the detail about the milk streaming from her breasts, however.24
Only the Avadcanas'ataka contains this last detail concerning lactation, as well as all the other
The Chinese sources contain two accounts of Kacanigala. The older of the two comes
from a collection of parables (specifically the sixth parable) that was translated in 472 C.E.
entitled, Za-bao-zang-jing.25 The second Chinese source is a more recent translation by
Yijing (635-713) of the Bhaisajyavastu of the Millasarvastivcada Vinaya which has already
been briefly mentioned above in the discussion of Sanskrit sources.26
As Durt notes, the Za-bao-zang-jing version of the story of Kacanigala is independent
of the Chinese version of the Avadainas'ataka, which actually does not include the avadana of
Kacanigala.27 The Za-bao-zang-jing version tends to highlight the role of Ananda much
more. Instead of simply calling upon Kacanigala to fetch the Buddha some water, Ananda,
not an anonymous group of monks, tries to prevent her from embracing the Buddha before
being reprimanded by the Buddha. Further, Ananda is the one who contacts her owner (for
Kacanigala is explicitly a slave in this version), and it is also Ananda who gives her to the
care of the Buddha's aunt, Mahaprajapati Gautami--an individual who plays no role in the
Sanskrit Avada~nas'ataka.28 Only after she is released from slavery and handed over to
Gautami does Kacaligalli embark upon the path that leads to her eventual enlightenment.
24 Ibid., 72.
25 T. 203, j. 1, p. 450bc. The Sanskrit title, Vividharatnakos'a, is a reconstitution proposed by Naujo. The
collection has been translated by Willemen (1994) (As cited in Durt 2005: 72); Willemen(1994: 1).
26 T. 1448, j. 10, pp. 44al2-45a3 (As cited in Durt 2005: 73).
27 Durt (2005: 72).
28 Ibid., 72.
The Buddha said to the master, "Let this old woman go, so that she can become a nun.
If she becomes a nun, she will attain arhatship." The master then let her go. The
Buddha told Ananda to hand her over to the bhiksuni Prajapati, so that she would be
converted to the homeless state. Soon after, she obtained the path of arhatship.
Among bhiksuni~s she had the best understanding of the sutras."g
This Za-bao-zang-jing also contains another difference in that it includes an ending
relating a past life of the Buddha with his mother, Kacanigala. This detail is found in no
other versions. In this past life episode, the son (i.e., the Buddha) temporarily leaves his
mother and home on a far away journey with merchants to trade. While away, bandits raid
his home, destroying it and taking everything-including his mother who is sold into slavery.
Upon returning the son exerts a lot of energy seeking out his mother. After discovering her,
he spends a large sum of money to ensure her freedom. The story concludes with the
mother gaining her freedom, and both mother and son live happily with even more wealth
than they originally had before the son's trip.30
Again, although this is an unique additional detail, it may worthwhile to draw attention
to a significant similarity between this additional passage and the Sanskrit Avada~nas'ataka
version. Specifically, in this additional past life story it is again the Buddha, just as in the
Sanskrit Avada~nas'ataka, who decides to pull his mother out of misery. Here again we see
the emphasis of filial piety that has often been overlooked in this particular avadana. We
will return to this aspect of the narrative in the next section.
In Tibetan sources, two versions of the Kacaligala story can be found. One in a
Tibetan translation of the now oft cited Bhaisajyavastu of the Millasarvastivdda Vinaya
called the Dulva.31 The second source is found in Tibetan only; however, Feer made a
29 Willemen (1994: 20-21).
30 Ibid., 20-21.
31 Durt (2005: 73).
French translation and reconstructed the Sanskrit title as Karmas'ataka.32 The Karmas'ataka
is basically another collection tales relating stories about previous lives that reflect karmic
processes. Durt has stated that the Karmas'ataka appears to simply contain a shorter version
of the tale of Kacanigala found in the Avada~nas'ataka; further, the Kacanigala tale is only one
of fifteen other narratives common to both works.33
A Debt to a Mother
Durt's general conclusion that the story of Kacanigala emphasizes the workings of the
law of karma, as well as the compassion of the Buddha, illustrates well the basic function of
the avadana. While I do not disagree with Durt's conclusions, I do believe he overlooks or
ignores another important feature of the story. This additional feature concerns the
sympathy and compassion of the Buddha. Although Durt specifically addresses the
Buddha's compassion as an important theme of the Kacanigala story, he overlooks or ignores
that the Buddha's sympathy and compassion arise directly from the fact that Kacaligalli was
his mother. This important detail indicates that we are dealing more specifically with the
gratitude and debt of a son instead of the ordinary compassion of the Buddha.
Ohnuma specifically deals with this "debt to the mother" theme in Mahaprajapati
stories revolving around the institution of a legitimate and organized body of nuns. In short,
Ohnuma draws attention to the overlooked detail regarding how the Buddha's sense of debt
and responsibility factored into whether or not he would agree to his foster mother's pleas to
allow women to renounce and become nuns. A common feature of those stories is that after
Gautami fails to persuade the Buddha to allow her and other widows to become nuns she
asks the Buddha's closest disciple, Ananda, to intercede on her behalf. Often scholars have
32Feer (1891: 442-444).
33Durt (2005: 73).
focused on the portion of Ananda's argument that reiterates the Buddha's own claim that
women are just as spiritually capable as men in realizing enlightenment; and therefore, the
Buddha should assent to Gautami's request. However, as Ohnuma points out, Ananda
offered another argument to the Buddha besides that of a woman's spiritual equality.
Ananda reminds the Buddha of all the difficult deeds his foster mother performed when
raising him. In fact, it is interesting that after refusing numerous requests to allow women
to become nuns the Buddha does not alter his position until Ananda presents this alternate
argument of the Buddha's indebtedness.
Then the Venerable Ananda thought to himself: "The Blessed One will not allow
women to go forth from home to the homeless life under the doctrine and disciple
proclaimed by the Tathagata. But suppose I were to ask the Blessed One in some
other manner .. ?"
Then the Venerable Ananda said to the Blessed One: "Lord, are women who have
gone forth .. capable of realizing the fruit of Stream-Entering, or the fruit of Once-
Returning, or the fruit of Non-Returning, or Arhatship?"
Yes, Ananda, women who have gone forth .. are capable of realizing [all four fruits].
Since, Lord, women who have gone forth .. are capable of realizing [all four fruits],
and, Lord, Mahaprajapati Gautami was very helpful to the Blessed One--serving as
his aunt, foster-mother, caregiver, and giver of milk, who breastfed the Blessed One
after his mother had died--it would be good, Lord, if women were allowed to go forth
If Ananda, Mahaprajapati Gautami will agree to abide by eight strict rules, that itself
will constitute her ordination.34
Returning to the avadlina of the Kacaligalli the Buddha specifically says to his monks,
"Recalling her with gratitude, having seen this maternal love, I, out of sympathy [and]
compassion offer my body [for her] embrace."35 Thus, the Buddha is obviously thankful.
However, the gratitude here being recalled by the Buddha clearly refers to his gratitude to
34 Oldenberg (1879-83: 2, 254-55); As cited in Ohnuma (2006: 864).
35 Skt. I I( rchicroom,,nw(,lr ,I nol drstremarn putraldlasam.
his mother for the care she provided him as her son. This echoes the issues of family
responsibility and indebtedness found in the story of Gautami. In short, we are dealing with
the theme of filial piety.
Alan Cole has noted themes of filial piety in Chinese Buddhist literature as well. He
This [the shift from father-son to mother-son filial piety] Buddhist version of filial
piety also introduced a new complex of sin, guilt, and indebtedness into the family.
Buddhist texts increasingly asked sons to feel indebted to their mothers for a range of
kindnesses (en) received in infancy, including the kindness of giving birth (huai en)
and the kindness of breast-feeding (rub u thi en).36
Elements of this "debt to the mother" theme, as an expression of filial piety, are
therefore understandably present in the Chinese version of the story of Kacaligala found in
the Za-bao-zang-jing mentioned earlier in the chapter. For example, the unique ending
relates how the Buddha, during a past life, sets out on a mission to release his captured
mother from slavery. In this version the son's indebtedness to his mother leaves him with
no other option than to repay his debt by saving her. However, unlike the more concise
version found in the Za-bao-zang-jing the version in the Sanskrit Avadainas'ataka is much
more explicit and directly relevant to the Buddha's motivation for aiding his mother and his
mother's eventual enlightenment.
For instance, the issue of debt and responsibility is raised explicitly by Kacaligalli in
the Sanskrit Avada2nas'ataka after she becomes a stream enterer due to the Buddha's sermon
on the Four Noble Truths.
Just as the performance of difficult tasks for a mother should, indeed, be performed by
a son; so too, thought (leading to the) highest liberation was accomplished for me by
36 COle (1998: 2).
you. After destroying bad destinies, you placed me in heaven and liberation, and
because of all of these efforts a great distinction has been accomplished.37
In this passage Kacanigala proclaims that it is the duty of a son to perform difficult
tasks for the mother, and so again the theme of debt and responsibility arises. However, this
passage has another essential element. For not only should the Buddha, her son, perform
difficult tasks, he has performed difficult tasks by lifting her from current undesirable state
and making it possible for her to enter nirvana. Therefore, in essence, the Buddha has
"wiped the slate clean." He has paid his debt, thereby alleviating himself of any lingering
responsibility to his mother. Not only has the Buddha alleviated his debt, he has reversed it.
The deed he has performed for his mother is so great that it is now Kacanigala who is
indebted to the Buddha. The mother has become indebted to the son, in a role reversal of
Kacaligalli also makes an almost identical vow in the version contained in the Sanskrit
version of the Bhaisajyavastu in the Gilgit Manuscripts.
Just as the performance of kindness toward a mother should be performed by an
excellent son; so too, thought (leading to the) highest liberation was accomplished for
me by you. After destroying bad destinies, you placed me in heaven and liberation,
and due to virtuous efforts you have accomplished an extremely difficult task.38
In this passage the same theme of debt and responsibility is present, as is the reversal
of debt, highlighting the inter textual relationship between the two sources.
A very similar reversal of debt takes place during a conversation between the Buddha
and his disciple Ananda in the Mahaprajapati/ordination story found in the Maha~samrghika-
37 Skt. yatkartavyam hi putrena maturduskarakarina |red rl rcent bhavata~ mahyamn cittarn moksap~ardy~anam
durgatibhyah samuddh~rtya svarge mokse ca te aham |sthap~ita~ sarvayatnena vid'esah sumuhan k~rtah|
38 Skt. yatkartavyam sup~utrena needoc,,rl cserdeacl i,lc rc,0 | rcd rn bhavata~ medyarn cittarn moksap~ardy~anam
durgatibhyah samuddh~rtya svarge mokse ca te aham |sthap~ita~ sup~rayatnena sadhu te duskararn k~rtarn ||Bagchi
( 2000: 21.5-8).
This is true Ananda, Mahaprajapati Gautami did perform some difficult deeds for the
Tathagata, and she did nourish him, care for him, and suckle him when his mother had
died--and [for this] the Blessed One is grateful and appreciative.
Nevertheless, the Tathagata, too, Ananda, has also performed some difficult deeds for
For it is thanks to the Tathagata, Ananda, that Mahaprajapati Gautami has taken refuge
in the Buddha, taken refuge in the Dharma, and taken refuge in the Samgha.
It is thanks to the Tathagata, Ananda, that Mahaprajapati Gautami has undertaken a
life-long abstention from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, or drinking liquor,
wine, or spirits.
It is thanks to the Tathagata, Ananda, that Mahaprajapati Gautami has grown in faith,
grown in moral discipline, grown in learning, grown in generosity, and grown in
It is thanks to the Tathagata, Ananda, that Mahaprajapati Gautami understands
suffering, understands the arising [of suffering], understands the path [leading to the
cessation of suffering]."
Ohnuma writes that the above passage has two possible interpretations, and I believe
these interpretations are equally applicable to the story of Kacaligala. First, the passage may
represent an ever-present bond between parent and child--"a mutual, loving, and beneficial
bond that persists throughout time and continues to flow in both directions despite the son's
supposed renunciation of familial ties."40 With this interpretation the emphasis would not be
on debt and repayment, but on the continuing connection between mother and son and the
respect that flows back and forth between them. The second interpretation is not so
favorable. In this interpretation the emphasis is indeed placed on debt and repayment. As in
the story of Kacaligalft, this passage appears to imply that the debt incurred by the mother
far exceeds any debt the son my have incurred for services rendered by the mother. This
39 Roth (1970: 14-15); As cited in Ohnuma (2006: 873-874).
40 Ohnuma (2006: 874).
interpretati on i s further s upp orted as the story in the Maha~samrghika -Loko ttaravada
Bhiksunt- Vinava continues.
Ananda, when one person, thanks to another takes refuge in the Buddha, takes refuge
in the Dharma, and takes refuge in the Samgha, it is not easy for the former to repay
the latter. Even if she were to serve that person for her entire life--for example, [by
providing him] with the standard monastic requisites of robes, almsfood, furnishings,
and medicine to cure the sick-even then, it would not be easy to repay him.
Ananda, when one person, thanks to another person, undertakes a lifelong abstention
from killing .. even then, it would not be easy to repay him.
Ananda, when one person, thanks to another person, grows in faith .. even then, it
would not be easy to repay him.
Ananda, when one person, thanks to another person, understands suffering .. even
then, it would not be easy to repay him.41
In this passage, as in the story of Kacanigala, debts are recognized. However, gifts
associated with the Buddhist community not only negate debts, but they completely reverse
Perhaps now is good place to draw attention to another prominent feature directly
connected to the "debt to the mother" theme in the story of Kacanigala -breast milk. The
image of breast milk illustrates the bond between a mother and a son. It represents not only
a mother's love, but also a source of nourishment provided by a mother. Moreover, it
represents the very source of life for a growing child. When Kacanigala spontaneously
begins lactating upon seeing the Buddha, the reader is reminded of the Buddha's debt, as a
son, to a mother who nourished him when he was young.42 In the case of Kacaligalft, the
41 Roth (1970: 15-16); As cited in Ohnuma (2006: 875).
42 I1 iS RISO interesting to note that Kacanigala brings the water to the Buddha to quench his thirst. Once again,
Kacarigala has the opportunity to nourish her son. On another level, the water can also be seen as a simple
devotional offering to the Buddha.
reader soon discovers that she nourished the Buddha over the course of five-hundred
The theme of breast milk is found in several Buddhist sources. In the above Gautami
ordination narrative from the Maha~samrghika-Lokottaravilda Bhiksunt-Vinaya, Ananda
makes specific reference to the fact the Gautami suckled the Buddha after his biological
mother, Maya, had died. In the Chinese account of the Buddha going to heaven to preach
the Dharma to his deceased mother, Maya, The Mahavadna Sutra on the Skillful Means for
Repaying the Kindness of the Buddha (Da fang bian fo bao en jing) relates how Maya, after
seeing the arrival of her beloved son, spontaneously begins lactating. Her breast milk flows
across the distance separating her and her son, and then enters the Buddha's mouth. After
receiving the gift of milk, the Buddha repays his debt by providing the gift of Dharma, much
like he does in the story of Kacaligalft.43 In the same text, a monk named Maudgalyrtyana
(Chinese Mu-lien) recalls the kindness of breast-feeding and descends to hell in order to
save his mother who has been reborn in this lower realm.44 Cole also writes the following
with regard to the importance of milk in both India and China:
There is no question that, in India, milk was fetishized as both the stuff of life and as
an erotic element essential to feminine mystique. In China, the Buddhists developed
extensive discussions of milk and its role in defining Buddhist filial piety. Milk came
to be seen as that which gives life to men and also as that which holds them fast to
13 Cole (1998: 66-67).
14 See Cole (1998) and Teiser (1988) for a detailed examination of this story. The story also appears in The
Ghost Festial Sutra (Yu lan pen jing) and the The Pure Land Ghost Festival Sutra (Jing tit yu lan pen jing). It
should be noted that the only explicitly stated reason given for saving his mother is because of her breast feeding.
45 Ibid., 68.
There is no question that familial debt is an important element in many of these
Buddhist narratives. In narratives such as the ones about Kacanigala and Gautami, it is clear
that the Buddha acknowledges a debt to his motherss. Further, the narratives also
emphasize that this debt has been completely paid off because the gift of Dharma-a gift
that in fact reverses the debt since no one, not even a mother, can repay one for such an
extraordinary gift. "The Buddha's spiritual 'mothering' of Mahaprajapatl is so superior to
Mahaprajapati's mere worldly mothering of him that any notion of the son's debt toward his
mother would seem ridiculous."46 Regardless of this reversal of debt, however, the reason
for the Buddha's extraordinary gift to his mother remains the same. He assists her because
she is his mother. The reason seems to be that simple. Although what he does for her fully
alleviates his debt, and in turn places his mother in his debt, he nevertheless assists her
because of a lingering sense of debt and responsibility toward his mother.
Kacanigala may be the one now indebted to the Buddha, but this in no way erases the
Buddha's original motivation to aid his mother, his original sense of gratitude and need to
repay her. The authors) of the avadana were clearly aware of the Buddha's debt to his
mother and seemed to have tried exonerating him of such worldly obligation by reversing
the debt. Like in the preceding avadana about Mukta, the story appears to be entangled in a
struggle over archetypal images. In this case, the archetypal image of the Buddha is the
source of the struggle. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that the image of an
obligated Buddha was a source of tension and the avadana alleviated that tension by freeing
the Buddha, via the gift of Dharma, of his obvious obligation to Kacaligalft.
46 Ohnuma (2006: 880).
This thesis has explored numerous topics concerning the Avadanas'ataka, and more
specifically the avadanas of Mukta and Kacanigala. Chapter one provided an explanation of
avadana literature, explored issues of dating with regard to the Avadcnas'ataka, and
highlighted some earlier views on avadana literature in general. In examining the avadana
of Mukta, chapter two provided a summary of the story, touched upon additional sources
containing the story of Mukta, and explored issues of agency, and donative practice.
Chapter three provided a summary of the story of Kacanigala, discussed additional sources
containing versions of the Kacanigala story, and examined issues of filial debt and
In examining both avadanas, an underlying tension revolving around certain ideal
societal and/or religious roles seems to be present. More accurately, the authors) of these
particular avadanas appear to have confronted--via a literary medium--existing tensions
surrounding female images. By female image, I mean an ideal construction perpetuated by
a certain group illustrating the preferred characteristics of women, as well the social
interactions women are expected to partake in. In the case of the avadanas of Mukta and
Kacaligala, there appears to be multiple female images (as well as non-female images) being
confronted in an effort to address what were obviously sources of unresolved tension.
In the story of Muktft I explained how the authors) of the text struggled with two
seemingly contradictory archetypes in an effort to maintain, harmonize, or manipulate ideal
Buddhist social images of married laywomen donors and nuns. Further, images of the ideal
wife were likely already prevalent during the time of the Avadanas'ataka and may have
represented sources of tension. As Paul has noted, not only do we find such ideal images
being reinforced in Buddhist literature, but these images are also found in other textual
sources such as the Dharmasa~tras and Dharmas'cstras. In areas of obvious contradiction,
such as being both a married women and a female renouncer, the authors) opted for
ambiguity instead of any real harmonization. By doing so the authors) were, to some
extent, able to maintain the integrity of these female images. Therefore, Mukta never
actually abandons her "husband," and is fact, responsible for his welfare just like a "good
wife." In resolving the apparent contradiction between certain images, Mukta continues
traveling along her own spiritual path thereby showing that the female path to Buddhahood
is not incompatible with more "normative" female roles.
In the story of Kacanigala I asserted that a social tension surrounding understood
notions of filial debt and responsibility, especially the debt and responsibility between a
mother and son, was present. It is clear that the authors) of the story were aware of a son's
debt to a mother. This idea of a debt to the mother is not only present in several versions of
the Gautami narrative, but it is also made clear in Dharmas'cstra texts such as The Law of
Manu which state that the debt to one's mother and father cannot be repaid even in a
Again, the authors) of the avadana of Kacaligala were obviously aware of the problem
this created with regard to the image of a perfected and omniscient Buddha; and therefore,
they alleviated the tension by reversing the debt of the Buddha. Much like the story of
Muktft, the tension created by these seemingly contradictory images were confronted and
dealt with in a way that maintained the integrity of both images--that of a grateful and
responsible son repaying his debt to his mother, and that of a perfected Buddha
n MDh 2.227 "The tribulations that a mother and a father undergo when humans are bom cannot be repaid even
in hundreds of years," Olivelle (2004: 40).
compassionately providing instruction in the Dharma. Also, like the story of Mukta, the
process of relieving the tension between the images was inextricably connected with a
female's path to Buddhahood. Whether the authors were trying to relieve tension between
the images, harmonize the images, or simply manipulate the images, their end result ensured
Therefore, at the heart of all this tension was the basic need to resolve conflicts
between "normative" female roles and female soteriological paths within Buddhism. The
authors) of the Avada~nas'ataka apparently were aware that these two roles could not be held
mutually exclusive of one another; hence, an entire section of the text is devoted to females
who attain enlightenment. In devoting narrative space to one overriding theme illustrating
female paths to Buddhahood, the text was bound to deal with the implications of such
spiritual practice, capability and equality on aspects of other seemingly incompatible female
social roles, either directly, indirectly, or inadvertently.
But this interpretation raises a serious question. Has the literary manipulation of these
images somehow regulated issues of women's spiritual capability and equality in a way that
suggests that spiritual pursuit and achievement are only possible for women who fulfill the
expectations of more normative female roles? I would claim that it has, at least tentatively,
because it is clear that these particular avadlinas first reaffirm preexisting images about
women that reinforce how women should be in the eyes of a male-controlled Buddhist
tradition, before allowing the female protagonists of these stories to attain arhatship. Only
once these ideal images have been portrayed in a satisfactory manner does the story turn its
attention to issues of female spiritual achievement.
For Mukta, the standards set by normative images surrounding understood notions of a
good daughter, wife, and lay person are first fulfilled before she attains enlightenment. For
Kacanigala, reworked images involving debt and responsibility to mothers are established
before she attains enlightenment.
However, this understanding and use of the female imagery in the avadanas of Mukta
and Kacaligala does not necessarily apply to the other female protagonists in the
Avada~nas'ataka. In that regard, my observations and claims are provisional. Only future
research into the other avadanas will determine whether or not there is any real basis for
some of the claims I have made regarding female imagery.
Of course it should also be reiterated that we are dealing with images. They are
constructions that more often than not represent ideals than actual reality. Further, these
constructions are often the product of men since the authors of the relevant textual sources
are predominantly men; and thus, not only are the constructed images a representation of
ideal women, but they are often representations of what ideal women are to men.
This is not to say, however, that the two spheres of reality and images do not overlap.
Clearly, they do. Constructed societal images contain reflections of reality, although such
reflections are often heavily filtered and distorted. Further, not only does reality influence
and help shape an image, but an image also influences and shapes reality. In fact, this
inverse is often more common, for when an image is created it is instilled with power and
often used as a type of authoritative criteria to enforce certain standards in reality. This is
especially true in religious traditions, with Buddhism being no exception. We would be
hard pressed to find a religious tradition whose reality was never affected by the images it
created; and although it is beyond the scope of my work to examine exactly how the images
portrayed in the avadanas of Mukta and Kacaligala affected the Buddhist reality of the time,
it seems clear that the authors) felt the need to harmonize and/or manipulate selected
female images so they were better conformed to the society and/or tradition to which they
were being presented.
The Buddha, the Blessed One, honored, highly esteemed, adored and worshipped by
longs, ministers, wealthy men, town dwellers, guildmasters,l merchants, gods, ncagas,
yaksas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas;2 praised by gods, ncagas, yaksas, asuras,
garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas; Blessed Buddha, famous and the obtainer of abundant
merit, furnished with medicines to cure the sick, bedrolls, alms-bowls, and robes, was
dwelling with a community of disciples in Sravasti, in Jeta's Grove, in the garden of
In Srfivasti there was a guildmaster named Pusya who had great wealth, extensive
property, and possessed and rivaled the riches of Vaifravana.3
Pusya took a wife from a worthy noble family. He enjoyed, made love, and honored
her. After enjoying, making love, and honoring her, his wife became pregnant. After a span
of eight or nine months, she gave birth.
A pleasing, beautiful, and amiable girl was born with a garland of pearls fastened upon
her head.4 Having performed a celebration on her birthday, a name-giving ceremony was
prepared. "Well, what must the name of the girl be?"
SSee footnote 4 on page 34 for more information.
S17igaOI are serpent people said to have the upper body of a human and the lower body of a serpent. Yaksas are a
type of Indian tree spirit, often wild and demonic an~d capable of being converted to Buddhnism and tamed. They
are also one of the occupants of the lower hells where they torture unfortunate beings reborn in such a lower
state. Asuras are a type of spirit or supematural being obsessed with anger, force and violence. They are often
in conflict with other divine beings, hence the frequent translation of "titans." They represent one of the lower
type of rebirths. Garudlas are giant bird-like beings. They are the traditional enemy of the a asc; Kinnaras are
a race that is part horse. Often they have the body of a human and the head of a horse, but this is sometimes
reversed so that they have the body of a horse and the head of a man. M/ahoragas are race of giant serpents.
SThis is an epithet for Kubera, the god of wealth.
SThe fact that the "garland" of pearls is fastened to her head may imply that it is a type of carcanet-a jeweled
The relatives said, "Because a garland of pearls appeared on her head at birth the girl's
name must then be Mukta."s
The girl Mukta was raised by eight nurses: two wet nurses, two toilet nurses, two play
nurses, and two nursemaids. She was raised by these eight nurses, who nourished her with
milk, yogurt, fresh butter, ghee, the cream of melted butter, and other pure and choice foods.
Quickly she grew, like a lotus in a lake.
So Mukta, the eminent daughter, gradually grew up. (Whenever) her garland of pearls
fell off, it would appear once again (on her head). Also, that daughter, after seeing
miserable beggars, shared her fortune. And when she was presented for marriage, many
solicitors arrived: sons of kings, sons of ministers, and sons of guild masters.
Upon entering his private chamber and resting his head in his hands,' her father, lost
in thought, reflected, "If I give her to one of them, the others will become my enemies."
Thereupon the daughter remarked to her father, "Papa, what has caused this affliction?"
And so he explained everything (to her). Afterwards the daughter said, "Papa, I do not
(seek) satisfaction by means of desires. I intend to leave home to become an initiate in the
teachings of Blessed One."
Meanwhile, the younger son of Anathapinodada, who was called Supriya, asked his
father, "Request this girl for me." And so Anathapinodada sent forth ambassadors to the
householder Pusya. "Please grant your daughter, Muktft, to my son. By arranging this
relationship by marriage, we will ensure our (families') happiness for life."
SSkt. Joka~garam. Literally, "sorrow room."
SLit. "after resting his cheek in his hand."
At once Pusya informed his daughter of the offer. She replied, "If he becomes an
initiate in the teachings of the Blessed One by subduing the fruits of his senses, then I will
choose him as my husband."s He agreed to her condition.g And so it was, having departed
their houses, both went out to become initiates in the teachings of Blessed One.
By concentrating, striving, and exerting themselves in this (endeavor)- having realized
the five states'o of rebirth, having overcome all formations"l by destroying, scattering,
ruining, and cutting them down by means of the dharma, because of their termination of all
worldly cares and desires--those two realized arhatship.
They became arhats, free from the passions of the three worlds: to them a clod of dirt
and a piece of gold were no different; the open sky and the palm of the hand were equal;
hatchets and sandalwood were the same. By means of knowledge, they cracked open that
egg:1 they realized Special Knowledge,13 Supernatural Knowledge,14 and the (Three)
Knowledges.ls Averse to the benefit and to the longing for attainment of worldly existence,
8 Both Feer and Speyer struggled with this portion of the text. See Speyer ([1902-1909] 1992: 2, 37) for
Speyer's conjectures. One possibility is that the confusion stems from the silibant i.e., Samayatah was meant for
9 Lit. "Exactly so, it was done by him."
10 The "five states" (lit. vi pc;&; comede c;` refer to the five states of being in which one may be reborn: hell-
inhabitants, animals, ghosts, gods, and humans.
11 Skt. samska~ra. Often translated as predispositionst) or formations." In short, the verse refers to destroying
the effects of past deeds and experiences which condition a new state of being.
12 Tatelman translates this same exact phrase in the Div>'avada~na as an egg that represents the "mundane world."
Tatelman (2005, 83).
"3 Skt. p~ratisamprit. The four types of special knowledge are as follows: dharma, artha (reason), nirukti
(explanation), and pratibhana (presence of mind; courage; confidence).
"4 Skt. abij##a. The six (sometimes only five) types of supernatural~higher knowledge are as follows: divyacaksus
("supernatural sight"X divyas'rota ("supernatural hearing"), paracittajriaua ("knowing the thoughts of others"),
puwnasanusaryti ("knowledge of the past lives of all beings"), 7 ddhividhijrana ("magical powers"), and
cdiravaksay'ajriaua ("knowledge of evil influence/depravity").
15 Skt. vidva. In his edited and translated edition of the Divyavada~na, Joel Tatelman translates vidva as a direct
reference to the Three Knowledges of an arhat and/or Buddha. The Three Knowledges are as follows:
Knowledge of one's former birth, knowledge of the rebirth of others, and knowledge that one's moral defilements
have passed away.
they became worthy of honor, respectful salutation, and worship by the gods, including
Indra and Upendra.
The monks were doubtful, and asked the Blessed Buddha, who is the remover of all
doubts, "Sir, what deeds were done by Mukta to have been born with a garland of pearls on
her head, and so that after she set forth to become an initiate the state of arhatship was
The Blessed One said, "Monks, in other previous births, Mukta indeed performed and
accumulated many deeds, the bases of which are about to come to fruition--like waiting
upon an inevitable flood. Who else could experience (the result of) these deeds done and
accumulated by Mukta? The deeds that were done and accumulated, oh monks, do not
come to fruition in the earth, water, fire, or wind elements. Rather, deeds performed and
accumulated manifest their effects among the collected skandha-elements,16 both wholesome
"Deeds are never destroyed, even after myriads of cons; in time, and after assembling
under the right circumstances," they will inevitably bear fruit for living beings."
Formerly, oh monks, in the past, but within this present era, when creatures lived for
20,000 years, a perfectly enlightened Buddha named Kftlyapa came into the world--he was
perfected in wisdom and good conduct; he was one who had attained bliss, the highest in
knowledge of the world, a guide of those men who have to be trained, a teacher of gods and
men, a Buddha, a Blessed One. He, having traveled to the city of Varanasi, was dwelling at
11sipatana deer park.
16 The skandhas represent the five aggregates (Form, Feelings, Perceptions, Karmic Constituents, & Consciousness)
that constitute what is commonly referred to as an individual self.
"7 Lit. afterr reaching completion" / "having attained completeness" / etc.
Meanwhile, a merchant had crossed the great ocean. His magnificent ship had
successfully arrived. He then brought back a beautiful garland of pearls. His wife was
charming, kind, and beautiful. He fastened it on her head.
Among many in Varanast, there was also a faithful householder who was blessed,
beautiful of heart, amiable, kind, and compassionate--an excellent person and observer of
justice. A thought came to him, "What if I, after performing a collection of alms, should
undertake five years in the teaching of the Blessed Ka~yapa?" He announced his intentions
to king Krki, "After performing a collection of alms, I desire to undertake five years in the
teaching of the Blessed One." Thereupon, his request was authorized by the king.
So then, that householder mounted an elephant and set out along the crossroads,
intersections, streets, and carriageways in the city of Varanast to beg for alms. During that
time the wife of the merchant removed the garland of pearls from her head and gave it to the
householder as alms.
Later when the husband arrived and noticed that the garland of pearls had been
removed, he asked, "Dear, where is the garland of pearls?"
"Honorable husband, after a sense of joy and serenity had arisen within me, I gave it
away as alms to the Blessed One for his teaching."
Therefore, the merchant, having re-purchased it with a great sum of money, again
gave a garland of pearls to his wife. However, she did not desire to take it again. (She
said,) "I relinquished it."
The husband said, "Dear, I, myself, purchased this with much gold. Why don't you
So then his wife took it, made a collection of flowers, took fragrant garlands, and went
to 11sipatana. Once there she made flower ointments for a perfume chamber, scattered the
area (around Kaiyapa) with flowers, and placed the garland of pearls on the head of the
The garland of pearls fortuitously remained on the head of the Glorious Kaiyapa.
Afterwards she, while possessing an air of serenity, made this vow:
"And by these deeds may I acquire such qualities (as those possessed by Kaiyapa)-
Indeed, I hope these deeds propitiate the Teacher and may (He not be) adverse to
"Monks, what do you think? Coming together in the course of time, who was that
wife of the merchant? That girl was Mukta. Who else could it be? In the manner
described, she, who was charming, beautiful, and kind, performed those deeds for Kfifyapa.
And it was because of her that the garland of pearls came to be on his head. For that reason,
and at that moment, she immediately realized arhatship."
"Therefore, monks, it is said, 'The result of solely black deeds is solely black; the
result of solely white deeds is solely white; and the result of mixed deeds is mixed.' Because
of this, monks, abandon solely black deeds and mixed deeds, and direct your own efforts to
solely white deeds. In this manner, oh monks, you should train yourselves."
Thus spoke the Blessed One. The monks rejoiced in the words of the Blessed One, and
their hearts were gladdened.
's See Edgerton ( 2004: 103) for aragayati & viragayati.
The Buddha, the Blessed One, honored, highly esteemed, adored and worshipped by
longs, ministers, wealthy men, town dwellers, guild masters, merchants, gods, ncagas,
yaksas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas; praised by gods, ncagas, yaksas, asuras,
garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas; Blessed Buddha, famous and the obtainer of abundant
merit, furnished with medicines to cure the sick, bedrolls, alms-bowls, and robes, was
dwelling with a community of disciples in Kacanigala, in the forest of Kacanigall.
In (the village of) Kacanigala was an elderly woman named Kacanigala. Seeking water,
she took a jug and went to a well.l
In that place, the Blessed One addressed the Venerable Ananda, "Go Ananda! Tell
that old woman the Blessed One is thirsty, and to give me some water."
Spoken to by Ananda, she said, "I will bring the water myself." Then, after filling the
water-jug, Kacanigala approached the Blessed One.
Kacaligalli saw the Blessed Buddha, adorned with thirty-two distinguishing
characteristics of a great man, along with eighty secondary marks; he possessed an
illustrious body adorned with light extending a fathom-a single light that was in excess of a
thousand suns-like a living mountain of jewels beautiful on all sides.
Because of this extraordinary sight, maternal love for a son arose within her, and
streams of milk flowed forth from her breasts. She lifted up her arms, (cried), "Oh, son! Oh,
son!", and started to embrace the Blessed One. (However,) the monks restrained her.
SInstead of ghatama~dcda udakarthint I si; see sv;, s u; ed some versions state dharmadavyodakarthint [. .] which
changes the line to "She, who is subjected to the order of ftchcling water, went to the well." In other words,
some versions state explicitly that Kacaligala was a slave.
The Blessed One interjected, "Monks, you all must not restrain this old woman!
Why?-because she was my mother for five-hundred continuous existences. Out of love for
me, her son, she clings to my body. If she is held back from embracing my body, surely hot
blood will instantaneously gush from her throat. Recalling her with gratitude, having seen
this maternal love, I, out of sympathy and compassion offer my body for her embrace."
After delighting in the love of her son, she sat in the presence of the Blessed One in
order to hear the Dharma. And the Blessed One, having realized her intention, propensity,
natural disposition and character, gave an instruction in the Dharma disclosing the Four
Noble Truths; having heard this, and after destroying the twenty towering peaks of the
mountain representing the rigid view of a distinct self via the thunderbolt of knowledge,2
Kacaligalli attained the status of a stream enterer.3 Afterwards, she, by whom the teaching
was realized, said these verses:
"Just as the performance of difficult tasks for a mother should, indeed, be performed
by a son; so too, thought (leading to the) highest liberation was accomplished for me
by you. After destroying bad destinies, you placed me in heaven and liberation, and
because of all these efforts a great distinction has been accomplished."
At that time, after entreating the Lord, she was initiated in the teaching of the Blessed
One. By concentrating, striving, and exerting herself in this (endeavor)- having realized the
five states of the ever-moving wheel of birth and rebirth, having overcome the formations
by destroying, scattering, ruining, and cutting them down by means of the dharma, because
of her termination of all worldly cares and desires--she realized arhatship.
SSkt. vimriatislikharasantudgatant wc rl as od cicsdriiic;,, jrianavajrena bhittra: A formulaic phrase referencing the
common Buddhist belief that nothing possesses an inherent and distinct essence independent onto itself.
"Individuals" do not possess a "self." Successful insight in the Buddha's teaching will shatter any such notion
like a "thunderbolt of knowledgee"
SSkt. frotapatti. The first of four stages leading to eventual enlightenment and release from the cycle of death
and rebirth. The fourth stage is arhatship, a stage Kalicagala attains shortly after becoming an initiate in the
teachings of the Buddha. Edgerton notes that s'rotaplatti can sometimes simply refer to onle who has been
converted to the teachings of the Buddha. Edgerton (2004: 2, 615), s.v. srota-apatti.
She became an arhat, free from the passions of the three worlds: to her a clod of dirt
and a piece of gold were no different; the open sky and the palm of the hand were equal;
hatchets and sandalwood were the same. By means of knowledge, she cracked open that
egg: she realized Special Knowledge, Supernatural Knowledge, and the (Three)
Knowledges. Averse to the benefit and to the longing for attainment of worldly existence,
she became worthy of honor, respectful salutation, and worship by the gods, including Indra
After briefly explaining (the doctrine) to some nuns, the Blessed one retired in order to
meditate; Kacanigala then expounded upon (the doctrine) for the nuns.
Then the Blessed One addressed the monks, "Oh monks, this one is foremost among
those who explain the sutras to nuns and female disciples; indeed, this nun is Kacanigala."
The monks were doubtful, and asked the Blessed Buddha, who is the remover of all
doubts, "Sir, what deed was done by Kacanigala, who left home at an old age to become an
initiate in the teachings? What deeds were done by her to have the Blessed One kept in her
womb until his final birth, to become an initiate in the teachings and realize arhatship, and to
become foremost among those who explain the sutras?"
"Monks, in other previous births, Kacanigala indeed performed and accumulated many
deeds, the bases of which are about to come to fruition--like waiting upon an inevitable
flood. Who else could experience (the result of) these deeds done and accumulated by
Kacaligala? The deeds that were done and accumulated, oh monks, do not come to fruition
in the earth, water, fire, or wind elements. Rather, deeds performed and accumulated
manifest their effects among the collected skandha-elements, both wholesome and
"Deeds are never destroyed, even after myriads of cons; in time, and after assembling
under the right circumstances, they will inevitably bear fruit for living beings."
"Formerly, oh monks, in the past when I was a wandering Bodhisattva, she, who is
present, was my mother for five-hundred existences. When I desired to become a monk,
she, however, continually tried to hinder me. As a result of that action, she (wasn't able to)
set forth as an initiate in the teaching (until she had become) an old woman. (Further,
whenever) I was giving a gift she obstructed the gift by intervening. Because of that she
was poor. Further, she did not perform any manner of deeds conducive to becoming an
exalted person, as should a great mother. Because of that, I was not kept by her during my
"Moreover, she was a renouncer at the time of Lord Kfifyapa. During that time she
addressed the nuns, both educated and uneducated, by calling them 'servants.' Because of
that, she became a slave."
"On the other hand, she performed repeated recitations on the theories of the
skandhas, the chain of causation, and permanence and impermanence. For that reason, and
at that moment, she immediately attained arhatship and was declared foremost among those
who explain the stitras."
"Therefore, monks, it is said, 'The result of solely black deeds is solely black; the
result of solely white deeds is solely white; and the result of mixed deeds is mixed.' Because
of this, monks, abandon solely black deeds and mixed deeds, and direct your own efforts to
solely white deeds. In this manner, oh monks, you should train yourselves."
4 In Other words, because of her deeds she did not have the honor of bearing the Buddha in her womb during his
last, and final, rebirth.
Thus spoke the Blessed One. The monks rejoiced in the words of the Blessed One, and
their hearts were gladdened.
"THE PERFUME CHAMBER" AND SACRED SPACE
John Strong has done research on the Buddha's "perfume chamber" (gandhaku~tt). To
summarize, Strong's article, "Gandhakuti: The Perfumed Chamber of the Buddha," states
that "The gandhakuti was consistently thought of as a very special 'place of the Buddha,' a
chamber made for him either during or after his life."l The "perfumed chamber" derives it
name from the floral offerings and perfumes present in the chamber that give it a pleasing
odor. However, as Strong emphasizes, the devotional flowers and perfumes not only give
the chamber its name, but are directly responsible for its transformation from an ordinary
chamber into a perfumed chamber. "In other words, the gandhaku~tt does not exist apart
from the cult of the Buddha and the devotional gifts of flowers and perfumes which are one
of its prime features."2
Perfumed chambers are erected even when the Buddha is not present, either because
of actual physical distance or spiritual distance (i.e. Nirvana). In this case, the perfumed
chamber creates a space "in which the absent Buddha can be present here and now."3 Thus
for Strong, the flowers and perfume are much more than mere offerings. He concludes:
These everyday rituals (i.e., offering flowers, lighting of perfumes, and sweeping the
perfumed chamber), still performed throughout the Buddhist world, are not just
meritorious acts which will eventually bear their karmalogical fruit; they are not just
tokens of respect for a deceased master in Nirvana; they are also deeds of devotion
which more immediately transform the very milieu in which they are made. They
make this land into a pure land, this seat into a Bodhi seat, this chamber into a
perfumed place where the Buddha is at home.4
Strong (1977: 391).
4 Ibid., 406.
Not all scholars agree with Strong's conclusions regarding the gandhakutr. Gregory
Schopen rejects arguments such as Strong's as "abstract theories" that "have by default been
left to stand as the sole representatives of medieval Buddhist conceptions of the Buddha, and
this, in turn, has left an almost permanent distortion of the doctrinal record."5 Feeling that
other important sources are being neglected in Buddhist studies, Schopen, using
epigraphical, archaeological, architectural, and vinaya sources, argues that the Buddha was
thought to be present in a literal physical sense. He maintains that traces of this view can be
seen as early as the first century, and become undeniable by the fourth and fifth centuries
through donative inscriptions. In short, Schopen argues that the Buddha was held to be an
actual physical residence of a monastery. Further, the gandhaku~tt was an actual chamber
within a monastery reserved for the Buddha.
The crux of the problem revolves around what one means by "present." For Strong,
presence does not refer to an actual physical being. Instead, the gandhaku~trcreates a "cultic
abode" housing the non-physical presence of the Buddha since the physical Buddha cannot
be there. Donald K. Swearer nicely summaries this view by stating:
The Buddha's "real presence" does not require an actual individual in the perfumed
chamber but a sense of the immediate, mysterious presence of the Buddha's wisdom,
power, and compassion-those very qualities that constitute Buddhahood throughout
time and space.6
Whichever side of the argument one takes, however, it seems clear that the
gandhaku~tt, whether a temporary structure or permanent chamber within a monastery,
represents sacred space in which the Buddha is "present." What is significant with regard to
the story of Mukta is that a woman creates this sacred space. It is Mukta who creates the
5 Schopen (1997: 259)
6 Swearer (2004: 114). See Swearer (2004: 108-115) for complete summary of the arguments surrounding
"making the Buddha present."
gandhaku~ti for Kaiyapa. In this avadlina we have no gender restrictions with regard to
whom has the ability, or permission, to create a sacred space suitable for the presence of a
Buddha. Nor does Muktft need to be a nun since she is simply a laywoman when she creates
Further, it is no accident that Muktft offers the garland of pearls only after the
gandhaku~tt has been created. First Muktft transforms her "milieu" and makes a sacred
space, a perfumed chamber, for Kfifyapa.7 This preparatory step creates the sacred
atmosphere which empowers her devotional offering of pearls and her solemn vow. As
Swearer writes, "To be meritoriously efficacious, ritual offerings to the Buddha require his
presence as the head of the satiga, either his actual living presence or in the form of image,
bodily relic, footprint, bodhi tree, or gandhakutr."s The result of these efficacious actions
performed by Muktft is, of course, future enlightenment.
SInterestingly enough, Ka~yapa is not actually mentioned (at least explicitly) in the narrative until after the
gendhinlc~l rrr is erected and the area is scattered with flower petals. In other words, he is not "present" until the
space as been made sacred. Only when Mukta places the garland of pearls on his head is he explicitly mentioned
in the text.
8 Swearer (2004: 114).
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Phillip Green received his BA in Comparative Religion from the University of
Washington, and after completing this thesis received his MA in Religion from the
University of Florida.