Visakha, Buddha's foremost female layfollower

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Visakha, Buddha's foremost female layfollower

Post by Aemilius »

Visakha (Pali: Visākhā; Sanskrit: Viśākhā), also known as Migāramāta, was a wealthy aristocratic woman who lived during the time of Gautama Buddha. She is considered to have been the chief female patron of the Buddha. Visakha founded the temple Migāramātupāsāda (meaning "Migaramata's Palace") in Savatthi, considered one of the two most important temples in the time of the historic Buddha, the other being Jetavana Monastery.

Visakha was born into a prominent and wealthy family in what was then the kingdom of Magadha. She met the Buddha at the age of seven when he was visiting her hometown and attained sotapanna, a stage of enlightenment, after hearing him preach. Visakha and her family later moved to the city of Saketa (present day Ayodhya) in the kingdom of Kosala. Visakha married her husband Punnavaddhana when she was sixteen and then moved to Savatthi to live with his family. She famously converted her father-in-law, a wealthy treasurer named Migāra, to Buddhism, giving her the nickname Migāramāta, literally "Migāra's mother".

As chief patron, Visakha generously supported the Buddha and his monastic community throughout her life, as well as served as one of his primary aides in dealing with the general public. She is known as the female lay disciple of the Buddha who was foremost in generosity. Visakha was the Buddha's greatest patron and benefactor along with her male counterpart, Anathapindika.

Visakha had twenty children, ten sons and ten daughters, with each of her children having similarly large numbers of children themselves. Her children's children also had ten sons and ten daughters. Which makes 20 + 400+ 8000 = 8420 offspring, while she was still alive.

Visakha often wore her finest clothes and perfume to monasteries, although she later developed an insight into the values of asceticism and chose to give up her fine attire. One day Visakha lost some jewelry which was found by Ananda, who put it away for her. After realizing what happened, Visakha decided to sell the jewelry and use the proceeds to make merit. However, the jewelry was too expensive for anyone to buy, so she bought it herself out of her existing assets and set aside the money to build a monastery near Savatthi. As Visakha prepared to begin the construction of the monastery, she requested the Buddha stay in Savatthi for the construction, however, the Buddha needed to teach elsewhere and let her choose a monk to stay with her for the construction. Visakha chose Maha Moggallana, the Buddha's disciple foremost in psychic powers, to stay with her and oversee the construction. Thanks to Maha Moggallana's oversight and use of psychic powers to aid with the construction, the two-story temple was built in nine months. The temple was known as Pubbarama Monastery, often referred to as Migāramātupāsāda (literally, "Migaramata's Palace"). After the building of the monastery, the Buddha would alternate between Migāramātupāsāda and Jetavana, the monastery built by his chief male disciple Anathapindika, whenever he was staying in Savatthi. In total, the Buddha spent a total of six rainy seasons at Visakha's monastery, the second most of any monastery during his lifetime, surpassed only by Jetavana.

There is the interesting question as to what extent the buddhist monks at the time of Buddha took part in the manual or physical labour, for example in building monasteries and doing the daily chores in monasteries. In this, probably a new and edited version of the building of the Vihara donated by Migaramata, there is no mention of any buddhist monks doing the actual building work themselves. The old translation of this story by Henry Clark Warren, published in 1800's, says clearly that the monks themselves build this monastery, five hundred of them.

Gregory Schopen has found rules in the Sarvastivadavinaya, which deal with certain accidents that took place when buddhist monks were doing building work themselves.
(in Buddhist Nuns, Monks, and Other Worldly Matters: Recent Papers on Monastic Buddhism in India (Studies in the Buddhist Traditions), July 31, 2014)
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
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