Maha Bhadra - the Good One
In the article offered by “The Dharma Fellowship” of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, entitled Early Buddhist Monastic Traditions, we learn that “The missionary efforts of the early monastics led to groups of students becoming the followers of specific teachers and preceptors. In the Majjhima-nikaya1 we read of Sariputra, Maudgalyayana, Kasyapa, and so on, each having ten to forty novice monks under their tuition. The same was true in the Order of nuns, amongst whom women such as Khema, Bhadra, Gautami, Sakula, Dharmadinna and others were foremost teachers.”2 Who was Bhadra, Maha Kasyapa’s wife? A short description of Kasyapa’s early life will have to suffice in order to learn about Bhadra before she married since little to no information about her birth and upbringing is available, other than that she had a few different last names and was very beautiful.
More than 2,550 years ago Maha Kasyapa was born in a small town called Mahatitta in Magadha as the only son to the Brahim Kapila and to his wife Sumanadevi. The Brahmin Kapila is often called Kosiyagotta, gotta being a title reserved for aristocrats, in this case of kings who ruled the Kosiyans living in the Kosala District. The royal couple gave their baby the name Pipphali, which describes the setting of his auspicious birth and means “Born under the Tree.” After having provided their son with the best education, Kasyapa’s parents decided that he should marry. Content with life as a single, though, he persuaded them that he could only be happy if and only if the girl of their choice possessed all the remarkable features of the golden statue of a goddess that the best sculptor in Magadha he hired had made, quietly thinking that a girl with such magnificent features did not exist. He showed his parents the statue and shortly afterwards Bhadra Kapilani was found.3
The Nabhasa Online Dictionary & Encylopaedia of Pali writes that Bhadra Kapilani was the daughter of King Kosiyagotta and Queen Anoja of Sagala in the Madda country.4 Queen Anoja “was so called because her complexion was the colour of anoja-flowers.”5 The royal couple called their daughter Bhadra, which is Sanskrit and means “Great Virtue” or “Good One,” bZang-po in Tibetan, Bhadda in Pali. Other sources say that Bhadra’s mother was Sucimati and her father King Kapila, the name Kapila pointing to Kapilavastu, formerly the Kapilavastu district that is now a Nepali municipality of Lumbini. Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini and spent the first twenty-nine years of his life there.6
Kasyapa’s parents must have been overly happy when a girl who resembled the golden statue their son worshipped so dearly was found. They did everything to arrange an extravagant wedding feast that both youngsters did not want. Bhadra’s parents seem to have been happy, too, because, it is said, her dowry consisted of fifty thousand cartloads of riches when she arrived at the mansion or palace in Mahatitta. Married, the couple lived together, but they agreed that their marriage was not sanctioned because, deep down, both wanted to remain chaste.7 Bhadra was sixteen at the time, Kasyapa twenty.8
Having inherited the estate when his parents died, one day Kasyapa walked along a field he owned and saw birds eating worms that were unearthed by a plough. Overhearing a conversation his servants had on the law of karma and realizing that the worms suffered immensely so that the crops from his fields would provide for their sumptuous lifestyle, he immediately renounced worldly ways. Bhadra saw crows eating little insects and, independent of her husband’s recognition of the infallible chain-reaction of cause and effect, she also renounced samsara, the endless rounds of misery and woe. Both tried to persuade the other to please take all possessions and call everything his or her own, but neither of them wanted to continue perpetuating the dire consequences that arise due to being the source for so much pain and affliction. They then and there resolved to leave everything they owned behind (sixteen villages and sixty lakes that were all adorned with elaborate fountains). It was a meaningful decision.9 The article Maha Kassapa: Father of the Sangha tells us that the day Kasyapa and Bhadra renounced worldly ways was the same day that Prince Siddhartha Gautama manifested perfect enlightenment and became the Buddha.10
The young couple gave all their belongings away, granted their servants freedom, and - Kasyapa leading and Bhadra following close behind - they left their palace disguised as ascetics and therefore were not noticed nor stopped. They were recognized by their composure when they passed through a village, though, and the peasants, farmers, and servants near enough fell at their feet and wept in despair. All the while Kasyapa thought, “Now this Bhadda Kapilani follows me closely and she is a woman of great beauty. Some people may think that although we are ascetics, we cannot live without each other. If they start talking like that, they will only hurt themselves.”11 Therefore, when the young couple reached a crossing, they agreed that Kasyapa should take the road to the right and Bhadra the road to the left - and the earth trembled in the light of their pure motivation.12
The Nabhasa Dictionary writes that Bhadra arrived in Savatthi and lived in a monastery for female heretics, which was situated near Jetavana.13 Women had not been admitted to the Buddha's Order at this early stage. Lord Buddha had already ordained Kasyapa when he arrived at the site where the Buddha expected him, namely, “at the foot of the Bahu-puttaka Banyan Tree.”14 It is therefore conclusive that Bhadra heard discourses presented by the Buddha and, from a distance, saw Maha Kasyapa in the assembly of monks. We learn that five years later Bhadra moved away from “the grove of the women who had entered the Order of the Wandering Ascetics.” Furthermore, “at the time when Mahapajapati Gotami received the permission for women to enter (Gotama's) Order, then this Theri went to her, and from her received both the lower and the higher grade of ordination; and, striving after Spiritual Insight, attained to Arahatship, and became endowed with knowledge of her former births. So the Master, seated at Jetavana, and assigning places to the Bhikkhunis in turn, placed this Theri first among those who remember their former births.”15
The term Arhat is Sanskrit, Arahant is Pali, and means “Noble One.” It was translated into Tibetan as dgra-bcom-pa, which means “foe destroyer,” dgra meaning “enemy, foe, opponent,” bcom-pa meaning “conquered, subdued.” The Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary adds that a dgra-bcom-pa is “one who has overcome emotional conflicts, enemy slayer, one who has slain the foe of conflicting emotions and reached the highest result of the vehicles of pious attendants; the status of an Arhat, a perfect saint.”16
His Eminence Tai Situpa Rinpoche responded to a question about the result of having become free of conflicting emotions and tells us,
… all the negativity, totally, no more negativity. And no more negative karma, also. So you purify all the negativities, such as mental defilements and negative karma. So, everything becomes zero. When you reach that state, then it is peace. You reach the realization of peace. But that is not the full development of all the limitless qualities, nor is it the manifestation of the limitless potential of mind, not yet.17
In other words, His Eminence said, “There is a slight difference between an Arhat and being a buddha. I mean, not slight. Tremendous.”18
In the translation offered by Stephen Batchelor we read, “Tsongkhapa quotes a large chunk of the Kasyapaparivarta (‘od srungs kyis zhus pa), which concludes with this passage: ‘The Bhagavan said: ‘Likewise, Kasyapa, if emptiness is the emerging from (forsaking of) all views, then Kasyapa, he who views emptiness alone cannot possibly be cured.’”19 Because, in Thrangu Rinpoche’s illuminating instructions he hands down to us through the succession of our Great Kagyu Forefathers,
…the process of purification finally manifests, and therefore there remains an enduring wisdom that is of the nature of non-conceptual compassion.20
These instructions describe another title used so often in the Sutras to point to Lord Buddha’s authentic pupils and disciples: Thera (m.) and Theri (f.), which mean “Elder.” Radhika Abeysekera wrote: “Over time, it is possible for the original words of the Buddha to be changed through translation errors and poetic embellishment of authors. The Buddha, who recognized this possibility, left us a set of instructions to follow before we accepted His teachings as absolute. The Buddhadhamma instruction, known as the Mahaupadesa, and by which His words should be tested, is as follows:
A Bhikkhu may say thus - From the mouth of the Buddha Himself have I heard, have I received thus: This is the Doctrine, this is the Discipline, this is the Teaching of the Master. His words should not be accepted or rejected. Without either accepting or rejecting such words, study thoroughly every word and syllable and then put them beside the Discourse (teachings) and compare with the Monastic Disciplinary Rules. If, when so compared, they do not harmonize with the Discourses and do not agree to the Disciplinary Rules, then you may come to the conclusion: Certainly this is not the word of the Exalted One, this has been wrongly grasped by the Bhikkhu. Therefore you should reject it. If, when compared and contrasted, they harmonize with the Discourses and the Disciplinary Rules, you may come to the conclusion: Certainly this is the word of the Exalted One, this has correctly been grasped by the Bhikku.
The Buddha then went on by substituting the words, ‘Heard from the mouth of the Buddha,’ with ‘Heard from the mouth of the Sangha, Heard from the mouth of the Thera, and Heard from the mouth of Theri.’"21
Lord Buddha touched and moved everyone - those near and those far away - and it is inspiring to read that Queen Anoja, Bhadra’s mother, was the wife of “Mahakappina while he was king, before he entered the Order.”22 Remembering that Bhadra was the daughter of King Kosiyagotta, family names seem to mean more than just the name of a clan, after all, Bhadra’s last name was Kapilani and we just read that her father (or stepfather?) Mahakappina “entered the Order.” And Bhadra’s mother, Anoja? Nabhasa writes, “When Kappina made his renunciation, Anoja and her companions followed him in chariots, crossing rivers by an act of truth (saccakiriya), saying, ‘The Buddha could not have arisen only for the benefit of men, but for that of women as well.’ When Queen Anoja saw the Buddha and heard him preach, she and her companions became Stream-enterers (Shravakas). Anoja was ordained by Uppalavanna.23 The Visuddhimagga states that Mahakappina was present when Anoja heard the Buddha preach, but the Buddha contrived to make him invisible. When Anoja asked whether the king was there, the Buddha’s reply was, ‘Would you rather seek the king or the self?’ She answered, ‘The self.’”24
Nabhasa writes that there were “two instances when Bhadda Kapilani had to bear the envy of another nun who was hostile towards Maha Kassapa, too. The nun Thullananda was learned in the Dhamma and a good preacher, but evidently she had more intelligence than gentleness of heart. When Bhadda, too, became a popular preacher of Dhamma, Thullananda became jealous. Once she and her pupil nuns walked up and down in front of Bhadda’s cell, reciting loudly. She was censured by the Buddha on that account. Another time, she had arranged temporary living quarters for Bhadda when the latter visited Savatthi. But then, in another fit of jealousy, she threw her out of those quarters. Being an Arahant, Bhadda was no longer affected by such happenings and looked at them with detachment and compassion.”25
Possessing the marvel of instruction - anusasani-patihariya Maha-Bikkhuni Bhadra Theri was more than a teacher, while she devoted herself “chiefly to the education of the younger nuns and their instruction in monastic discipline (Vinaya).”26
We do not know at which stage in life she spoke the words praising Maha Kasyapa and described a marriage that was not of sense but of soul:
Son of the Buddha and his heir is he,
Great Kassapa – his mind serene, collected.
Vision of previous lives is his,
Heaven and hell he penetrates.
The ceasing of rebirth he has obtained,
And supernormal knowledge he has mastered.
With these three knowledges possessed by him
He is a Brahman true, of threefold knowledge.
So has she, too, Bhadda the Kapilani, gained for herself
The threefold knowledge and has vanquished death.
Having bravely vanquished Mara and his host,
It is the last formation of a body that she bears.
Seeing the world’s deep misery, we both went forth
And are now both free of cankers, with well-tamed minds.
Cooled of passions, we have found deliverance;
Cooled of passions, we have found our freedom.
-- Thipitaka. IV.1, 63-6627
The Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa tells us, “As the first generation of teachers in the Order passed away, their position was taken by one or another of their own leading disciples. Over time this led to the formation of specific lineages that could trace their origin back to one of the disciples of the Buddha himself. Gradually these Teacher-lineages branched like the limbs of glorious enlightenment-trees.“28
Sincerest gratitude to all.
Selected & written by Gaby Hollmann, June 2006

1 Majjhima Nikaya is the fifth chapter in the Collection of Medium Length Discourses of the Buddha. “This collection of medium length discourses is made up of one hundred and fifty two suttas in three books known as pannasa. The first book, Mulapannasa, deals with the first fifty suttas in five vaggas, the second book, Majjhimapannasa consists of the second fifty suttas in five vaggas too; and the last fifty two suttas are dealt with in five vaggas of the third book, Uparipannasa, which means more than fifty. The suttas in this Nikaya throw much light on the social ideas and institutions of those days and also provide general information on the economic and political life.” BuddhaSasana, Guide to Tipitaka, Burma Pitaka Association, 1986, in the site: BuddhaSasana, Guidetipitaka 05.
2 The Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, Early Buddhist Monastic Traditions and Today, Member Library Essays, 2005. 
3 See The Life of Most Excellent Kasyapa, in: Thar Lam.
4 See Nabhasa Online Dictionary & Encyclopedia of the Theravada Tradition, Bhadda Kapilani.
5 Nabhasa, Anoja. - The anoja is described to be a Mandarava flower that is fragrant and red and blooms in heaven. Lord Buddha told Shariputra, “Again, Shariputra, in that Buddha-land (Sukhavati) there are heavenly musical instruments always played on; gold is spread on the ground; and six times every day and night it showers Mandarava blossoms. Usually in the serene morning all of those who live in that land fill their plates with those wonderful blossoms and (go to) make offering to a hundred thousand kotis of Buddhas of other regions; and at the time of the meal they come back to their own country, take their meal and have a walk.” The Life of Shariputra, compiled & translated from the Pali texts by Nyanaponika Thera. The Wheel Publication No. 90/92, Buddhist Publication Society of Kandy, 1999, page 85.
6 See Lumbini by Kathy Troup, in: Thar Lam, August 2005, pages 32-35.
7 See Nabhasa, Bhadda Kapilani. 
8 See Maha Kassapa: Father of the Sangha by Hellmuth Hecker, translated from the German by Nyanaponika Thera, The Wheel Publication No. 345, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1987, Buddhist Dharma Education Association  Inc. & BuddhaNet, 2004, in the site: BuddhaNet.
9 See Nabhasa, Maha Kassapa Thera.
10 See Buddhist Dharma Education Association, Kandy, Maha Kassapa, in the site:
11 Maha Kassapa: Father of the Sangha by Hellmuth Hecker, ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 See Nabhasa, Bhadda Kapilani. - Jetavana was established by Anathapindika, who had invited Lord Buddha to come to Savatthi in Rajagriha.
14 Women Leaders of the Buddhist Reformation (from Monaratha, Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the A.nguttara Nikaya). Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1893. Scanned & edited by Christopher M. Weimer, 2002, in the site: Internet Sacred Text Archives.
15 Ibid.
16 Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary, in:
17 His Eminence Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche, A Commentary to “The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra,” composed by the Lord Protector Rangjung Dorje, in: Shenpen Osel, vol. 2, no. 1, March 1998, page 35. See The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa. Commentary by H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2006. Also An Aspirational Prayer for Mahamudra by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland & Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, 2001.
18 His Eminence Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche, A Commentary, ibid., pages 24-25. 
19 Verses from the Centre - Sanskrit: Mula madhyamaka karika, Tibetan: dBu ma rtsa ba’i tshig le’ur byas pa shes rab ces bya ba by Nagarjuna, translated from Tibetan by Stephen Batchelor, April 2000.
20 Thrangu Rinpoche, The Medicine Buddha Sadhana, in: Shenpen Osel, vol. 4, no. 1, June 2000, page 11.
21 Radhika Abeysekera, Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha, Winnipeg Foundation, 2000, in the site: BuddhaSasana. – Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche elaborated what partly accords with the definition of an “Elder” - Khenpo in Tibetan - especially of the Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Je Gampopa’s “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation,” chapter III: The Spiritual Friend, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland & Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, 2003, pages 41-49.
22 Nabhasa, Anoja.
23 Uppalavanna is one of “the two chief women disciples of the Budhda. She was born in Savatthi as the daughter of a banker, and she received the name of Uppalavanna because her skin was the colour of the heart of the blue lotus. When she came of age, kings and commoners from the whole of India sent messengers to her father, asking for her hand. He, not wishing to offend any of them, suggested that Uppalavanna should leave the world. Because of her upanissaya, she very willingly agreed and was ordained a nun. Soon it came to her turn to perform certain services in the main hall. Lighting the lamp, she swept the room. Taking the flame of the lamp as her visible object, (…) attaining jhana, she became an arahant possessed of the four special attainments. She became particularly versed in the mystic potency of transformation. When the Buddha arrived at the Gandamba-tree to perform the Twin Miracle (the miracle of double appearances), Uppalavanna offered to perform certain miracles herself, if the Buddha would give his consent, but this he refused. Later, at Jetavana, in the assembly of the Sangha, he declared her to be the chief of the women possessed of siddhi.” Nabhasa, Uppalavanna Theri. - Three marvels are ascribed to the Buddha: the marvel of magic, the marvel of mind-reading, and the marvel of instruction. The Buddha says that he sees danger in the first two and therefore abhors them. The ‘marvel of instruction’ is called ‘more noble and sublime.’” Pali Dictionary, Patihariya. - Gandamba is “a mango-tree, at the gate of Savatthi. The king's gardener, Ganda, while on his way to the palace to give the king a ripe mango-fruit from the palace gardens, saw the Buddha going on his alms-rounds and offered him the mango. The Buddha ate it immediately and gave the seed to Ananda to be planted by the gardener at the city-gate. A tree of one hundred cubits sprouted forth at once, covered with fruit and flowers. At the foot of this tree Vissakamma (a deva inhabiting Heaven Thirty-three and chief architect and designer in the second in the realm of the six heavens of desire), by the order of Sakka (who manifests in every life-story of the first Arhats as a messenger and friend, while he is a deva and king), built a pavilion of the seven kinds of precious things.”  Nabhasa, Gandamba. 
24 Nabhasa, Anoja. – The Visuddhimagga, “Path of Purification,” is a non-canonical text written by Bhadantacariya Buddhagosha and contains a compendium of Theravada teachings that include quotes from the Pali Canon. See BuddhaSasana, Guide to Tipitaka, ibid.
25 Nabhasa, Bhadda Kapilani. – Nabhasa writes that Thulla-Nanda was a “nun, one of four sisters who all joined the Order. Thulla-Nanda appears to have had charge of a large company of nuns, all of whom followed her in various malpractices. She was well-versed in the Doctrine and was a clever preacher. (…) She was greedy for possessions and was later accused of misappropriating gifts intended for other nuns. She was fond of the company of men and frequented streets and cross-roads unattended that she might not be hindered in her intrigues with men. She seems to have regarded with sympathy women who succumbed to temptation and to have tried to shield them from discovery. She could brook no rival, and especially disliked Bhadda. She was fractious and would wish for something, but when that was procured for her, would say it was something else she really wanted. She was evidently an admirer of Ananda and was greatly offended on hearing that Maha Kassapa had called Ananda ‘boy,’ and gave vent to her displeasure at what she considered Kassapa's presumption. But we are told that soon after that she left the Order.” Nabhasa, Thulla-Nanda.
26 Nabhasa, Bhadda Kapilani.
27 Published in Nabhasa, Bhadda Kapilani & in Maha-Kassapa: Father of the Sangha, ibid.; also available in the site of Triplegemnet/Tipitaka/Dhammapada.
28 The “Dharma Fellowship” of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, Early Buddhist Monastic Traditions and Today, ibid.