Bhikkhu Analayo and I both seem to have a fascination with Mahaprajapati and the order of nuns. In earlier papers, he's asserted that the section in the Bahudhātuka-sutta of the Pali canon that claims it impossible for women to be chakravartins or Buddhas is an insert, providing textual analysis against the Agama version (which excludes this passage) to show that the Pali has features of being added to in a few different locations. (Interestingly, it appears in this Agama sutra, at the end, but I'll get to that later). He has also argued that the eight garudharmas were added much later and don't make sense given what we know of how the Buddha dispensed rules.
In this paper, he provides a translation of MA116 (while I love this, it's also disappointing to me, because I'm pretty sure it means Analayo will have another section in Volume II of BDK's MA translation, and I find the use of Pali nouns really displeasing to the eyes.. haha)
Some interesting quotes from the analysis (I end up going through the whole thing, but it's worth it):
Bhikkhu Analayo wrote:One of these indications is that the Buddha’s refusal of
Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī’s request is accompanied by an alternative
suggestion: “Gotamī, you shave off your hair like this, put on ochre robes
and for your whole life practice the pure holy life.”
Similar suggestions made by the Buddha are recorded in the
discourse version individually translated into Chinese, in the Mahīśāsaka
Vinaya and in the (Mūla-)Sarvāstivāda Vinaya. The version of this
statement in the individual translation is closely similar to the
Madhyama-āgama version, reading: “Gotamī, you can always shave your
hair, put on ochre robes and until the end [of your life] practice the pure
Since Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī had asked for permission to become a
homeless one, it seems that according to these versions what the Buddha
does not permit is her becoming a homeless wanderer. Instead, he
suggests that she should live a celibate spiritual life, having shaved her
hair and put on robes, in the more protected environment at home.
This makes enough sense to me and something I hadn't thought about. I'll need to keep it in mind for a project I'm doing.
Bhikkhu Analayo wrote:However, for them to shave the head and wear robes on their
own initiative, without having received some sort of suggestion in this
respect by the Buddha, would be an improbable course of action to take.
Had the Buddha flatly refused Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī’s request without
suggesting any alternative, as he does in some versions, her decision to
shave off the hair and don robes on her own account would become an
act of open defiance.
"Some versions" here is the Theravadin version specifically. His footnote here makes it clear he thinks the Pali version has been edited.
Bhikkhu Analayo wrote:In sum, closer consideration suggests that for the Buddha to tell
Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī that she can live a semi-monastic life at home
quite possibly constitutes an early piece of the narrative that was lost in
some versions. This is rather significant, since it changes the picture of
the Buddha’s refusal considerably. Once he proposes such an alternative,
the issue at stake is not stopping women from becoming nuns in
principle. Instead, his refusal would be just an expression of concern
that, at a time when the Buddhist order was still in its beginnings, lack of
proper dwelling places and the other living conditions of a homeless life
might be too much for the Sakyan ladies.
Once Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī and her companions show that they
are willing to brave these difficult conditions, it would also be
understandable why the Buddha relents and permits their entry into the
order. In this perspective, then, the extended depiction of how Ānanda
convinced him to let women go forth may be a later development. In
fact, it seems as if at the time when the order of nuns appears to have
come into being, Ānanda was not yet a monk.
Jan Nattier is also in agreement with the bolded. Analayo goes on to argue that Ananda's intercession was a mistaken implant from an earlier story where Mahaprajapati attempts to offer the Buddha some fine robes, and he refuses because he doesn't want to make it a personal thing, telling her to offer the robes to the sangha instead. Ananda intercedes here, in precisely the same way we see here in MA116, but the Buddha does not relent (in both instances) and Mahaprajapati in some tales offers the robes to the sangha, or to a novice, or to the novice Ajita, who would become Maitreya. I have heard Nattier express the same argument.
Bhikkhu Analayo wrote:Another noteworthy aspect of the Madhyama-āgama version is
that it takes up the consequences of admitting women to the order
twice: The first occasion is when Ānanda makes his initial request for
women to go forth. The Buddha replies that the holy life will not last
long if women go forth, comparable to a household with many women
and few men, which will not develop properly. The second instance
occurs toward the end, as part of a depiction of several negative
repercussions of allowing women to join the order, because of which the
Buddha’s right teaching will remain for only five hundred years, instead
of the thousand years it could have remained.
The formulation used in these two instances shows a minor but
significant difference. The first instance reads: “Ānanda, if in this right
teaching and discipline women obtain the leaving of the household out
of faith, becoming homeless to train in the path, then this holy life will
consequently not last long.”69
In this passage, the point at stake is the duration of the “holy
life”, the brahmacariya, a term that also stands for celibacy. A reference
to the holy life can also be found in the corresponding passage in some
of the parallel versions.70
The second instance in the Madhyama-āgama discourse then
reads: “Ānanda, if in this right teaching and discipline women had not
obtained the leaving of the household out of faith, becoming homeless to
train in the path, then this right teaching would have remained for a
thousand years.”71 Similar references to the “right teaching”, the
“Buddha’s teaching”, the “teaching and discipline” or the “well-taught
teaching and discipline” occur in several of the other parallel versions.72
Now, considering the first instance of this passage in the
Madhyama-āgama on its own, independent of the second instance, the
reference to the holy life could be applying to the nuns in particular. On
this interpretation, the point made would be that, if women become
homeless wanderers, their living of the holy life in celibacy will not last
This has always been what I've felt is the reason for the Buddha's hesitation: his worry that it would be too dangerous for women to be wanderers, because the likelihood of wandering bandits and rapists.
Bhikkhu Analayo wrote:On the assumption that the present passage could have originally
implied that women joining the order will be in a precarious situation
and their practicing of the holy life might not last long, the reference to
a shortening of the lifespan of the Buddha’s teaching from a thousand
years to five hundred would be a subsequent development.
Bhikkhu Analayo wrote:Inconsistencies with these eight special rules have already been
noted by several scholars,79 one of the problems being that some of these
rules presuppose the existence of an order of nuns. Another problem is
the apparent existence of nuns ordained with the simple formula “come
This gives the impression that, at least for some time after
Gotamī's going forth, the presence of both communities may not have
been required for the ordination of a nun, contrary to what is stipulated
in one of the special rules. In sum, it seems impossible for these eight
special rules to have been promulgated at the time when the order of
nuns was about to be founded. In fact, the promulgation of these rules
conflicts with a basic principle observed consistently elsewhere in the
Vinaya, where a regulation is set forth only when a case requiring it has
happened, not in advance.
Lacking the central authority of the Buddha, a sizeable section of
the order of monks could have become increasingly nervous about the
independent behavior of the nuns and their close relationship with the
laity, facilitated by the circumstance that nuns for reasons of security
were not able to live in secluded spots in the way this was possible for
monks and would thus naturally have tended to be in closer contact with
That last paragraph is really interesting, and also makes a good deal of sense considering the Buddha's concern that an order of nuns be protected from harm.
Bhikkhu Analayo wrote:Now, reconstruction of historical events based on purely textual
accounts is certainly hazardous. Nevertheless, based on what can be
culled from the Madhyama-āgama discourse in comparison with the other
versions, it seems possible to arrive at a coherent narrative of the
account of the foundation of the order of nuns. A sketch of such a
version would be more or less like this:
Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī requests permission for women to go forth,
which the Buddha refuses because conditions are not yet suitable for
such a move, as her living the holy life in celibacy might not last long if
she were to become a homeless wanderer. Therefore, he tells her that
she should better live a celibate life in the more protected environment
at home, having cut off her hair and put on robes.
Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī and a group of women follow this
suggestion and shave off their hair and put on robes. After the Buddha
has left, they decide to follow him, thereby proving their willingness to
brave the conditions of a homeless life. On witnessing their keenness and
ability to face the difficulties of a homeless life, or else on being
informed of it, the Buddha gives them permission to join the order.