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Buddhism and Women
Women Disciples of the Buddha

The Story of the Nun, Khema

In the Dispensation of Gautama Buddha Khema was born in a princely family at Sagala by the name of Khema. The colour of her complexion was that of gold. She was exceptionally beautiful. She married King Bimbisara of Kosala who was an enthusiastic supporter of the Buddha. She was reluctant however, to visit the Buddha for fear that the Blessed One would moralise on the fleeing nature of beauty.

Every time she visited the monastery she dodged meeting the Buddha. One day the king got his men to take her to the Buddha without her suspecting a meeting had been arranged. On her arrival, the Buddha created a phantom of unsurpassing beauty to attend on Him. The beauty of the phantom overwhelmed Khema. While she was thus engaged she felt that beauty could only beguile. The Buddha made the figure to go through youth, middle age, and old age and thereafter to extreme old age devoid of everything worthwhile. Beauty thus gave way to hideousness. It was a graphic picture. Khema understood the meaning and felt what was in store for her: Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta in other words transiency, sorrow and not-self.

To a mind thus prepared the Buddha taught. The seeds fell on good ground. She entered the stream of sainthood (sotapanna). The Buddha illustrated His teaching by bringing before her mind the lesson of the spider and the web. As soon as a fly strikes a web, the spider by the motion thus generated takes it as a signal and attacks by devouring the fly. The spider became wedded to the web. In like manner human beings are wedded to passion and lust. Her mind 'insighted' into this and she became an Arahant. She asked permission from the king for her ordination. The king, himself an aspiring saint, readily consented. One day the god Mara in the guise of a young man tempted Khema, and was rebuffed. His discomfiture was complete and he fled. One night Khema thought of visiting the Buddha. But the Buddha was with Sakka king of the gods. Rather than disturb the Buddha, Khema wheeled round in the air and disappeared.

Sakka on seeing the vision was soon enlightened of the matter by the Buddha.

The Buddha addressing the monks and the laity, declared that Khema of his female disciples was the most eminent for Wisdom.

"Fair maid lost in thy beauty;
Was rescued by the Great Sage.
Thy mind was keen as razor's edge;
Thou heard the call of Duty".

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