Exploring the Radiant Journey of Uppalavanna Bhikkhuni, Buddha's left disciple Bikkhuni

Exploring the Radiant Journey of Uppalavanna Bhikkhuni, Buddha’s left disciple Bikkhuni : A Tale of Spiritual Grace and Enlightenment

Today, I am eager to delve into the captivating story of a Bhikkhuni—a devoted nun—who emerged as a revered disciple of the Buddha. In the rich tapestry of Buddhist history, much is spoken about Maha Moghallana Bhikkhu, recognized as the Buddha’s left disciple among monks. Mirroring this esteemed position among the Bhikshunin, Uppalawanna Bhikkshuni **
** stands as the second disciple, earning the distinguished title of the Buddha’s left disciple.

Embark on a journey through the extraordinary life of Uppalavanna Bhikkhuni, a luminous figure in the time of Lord Buddha, whose story unfolds with grace and resilience.

In the enchanting city of Savat, a celestial beauty, Uppalavanna, emerged as the radiant daughter of a noble family. Possessing the allure of a blue lotus, she was destined for a life beyond the conventional. As tales of her beauty echoed through Dambadi, suitors sent gifts to win her hand, envisioning her in their respective palaces. However, destiny had other plans as Uppalavanna chose the path of enlightenment, becoming a Bhikkhuni under the benevolent guidance of Gautama Buddha.

Her noble father grappled with the dilemma of societal expectations, torn between rival clans. Yet, he recognized the strength of his daughter’s conviction and supported her decision to embrace the ascetic life, urging her to renounce the transient pleasures of the world.

Uppalavanna, true to her calling, entered a nunnery with her parents’ blessings. Swiftly, she ascended the spiritual ladder, transcending worldly attachments to attain the revered status of a great Arahant Bhikkhuni. Her Dharma Seva tour led her back to Savath city, where she found solace in the secluded Andhavana forest, dwelling in a tranquil hut amid the whispering trees.

In a cruel twist of fate, Nanda, a misguided soul from her past, invaded her sanctuary, driven by an old grudge. Uppalavanna, undeterred, faced the sexual assault with equanimity, her mind untouched by the turmoil. Seeking justice, she turned to Lord Buddha, recounting the harrowing incident. His inquiry revealed her steadfast mindfulness and detachment, echoing the profound wisdom of the Dhammapada.

"Madhuva Manjati Balo – Yava Papan Na Pachchati

Yada Cha Pachchathi Papang – Atha Balo Dukkhang Nigachchathi”

A sinful person thinks about his bad karma - sweet as honey - until he gets the results of his bad karma…

But alas! One day - when that bad karma pays off,

That is when the sinful person becomes very sad

(Reference Bala Wagga, Dhammapada)

Undeterred by the shadows of the past, Uppalavanna continued her spiritual journey, facing the temptations of Mara, the Evil One, with unyielding resolve. His attempts to sow fear and distraction were met with her unwavering commitment to concentration and enlightenment.

(Uppalavanna Sutta: Uppalavanna /translated from the Pali by -Bhikkhu Bodhi);

one day in the morning, the bhikkhuni Uppalavanna dressed… she stood at the foot of a sala tree in full flower.

Then Mara the Evil One, desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in the bhikkhuni Uppalavanna, desiring to make her fall away from concentration, approached her and addressed her in verse:

Having gone to a sala tree with flowering top,

You stand at its foot all alone, bhikkhuni.

There is none whose beauty can rival your own:

Foolish girl, have you no fear of rogues?

Then it occurred to the bhikkhuni Uppalavanna “Now who is this…? This is Mara the Evil One… desiring to make me fall away from concentration.”

Then the bhikkhuni Uppalavanna, having understood, “This is Mara the Evil One,” replied to him in verses:

“Though a hundred thousand rogues

Just like you might come here,

I stir not a hair, I feel no terror;

Even alone, Mara, I don’t fear you.

I can make myself disappear

Or I can enter inside your belly.

I can stand between your eyebrows

Yet you won’t catch a glimpse of me.

I am the master of my own mind,

The bases of power are well developed;

I am freed from every kind of bondage,

Therefore I don’t fear you, friend.”

Then Mara the Evil One, realizing, “The bhikkhuni Uppalavanna knows me,” sad and disappointed, disappeared right there.

When the time came for Lord Buddha to showcase his Yamaka Maha Prathihara (miraculous powers) in Sawat, Uppalavanna, expressed her desire to perform Irridhri (miracles). Acknowledging her exceptional abilities, Lord Buddha bestowed upon her the highest rank among the Bhikkhunis capable of such Irrdhri.

Uppalavanna’s saga resonates as an indomitable spirit triumphing over adversity, exemplifying that an untainted mind, fortified by the teachings of Buddha, remains impervious to the injustices of the world. In her story, we find a testament to the power of wisdom, resilience, and the unwavering pursuit of enlightenment in the face of life’s myriad challenges.

Original Art - Gayan Chanuka Vidhanapathirana
Reference - Attakatha - Dhammapada - Balawagga
Uppalawanna Sutta - Translated by Bikkhu Bodhi