Religions of South Asia, Vol 5, No 1/5.2 (2011)

The Female Past in Early Indian Buddhism: The Shared Narrative of the Seven Sisters in the Therī-Apadāna

Alice Collett
Issued Date: 23 May 2012


The Apadāna is a well-known but relatively little-studied text. The Therī-Apadāna, the section of the text on women, tells of the lives of female disciples of Gotama Buddha. Alongside versified narrative accounts of the lives of these women during the time of Gotama Buddha, the text reveals the past lives of these women, under former buddhas. These past-life accounts of women as disciples of former buddhas add a new dimension to the notion of female discipleship in early Buddhism. Gotama was not alone in having a fourfold community of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen; former buddhas had the same. The Therī-Apadāna establishes a narrative recounting that women were motivated and enabled to practise in the remote past, and that former buddhas allowed for the ordination of women just as Gotama did. In order to highlight this, in this paper I look at a section of past life narrative in the Therī-Apadāna that is repeated in the accounts of six nuns.

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DOI: 10.1558/rosa.v5i1/2.209


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