Khema Arahat Theri was a daughter of King Maddaraja of Sagala Country. When she was born the nation became peaceful, without any danger. So she was given a name”Khema”, which means a state without trouble and danger. She was a chief queen of King Bimbisara who loved her because of extreme beauty and bodily grace. Her lovely, graceful physical features attracted one who saw her instantly. So she got pride in her beauty.
She learned that the Exalted Buddha used to preach ugliness of body, foulness of all things in the world. It was common knowledge that the Buddha always pointed out the loathsomeness of physical body, however it may be beautiful in appearance. Therefore she did not want to see the Buddha and did not hear the Dhamma of the Buddha. Not even once did she approach the Buddha to pay homage and veneration to Him.
Although King Bimbisara won Sotapatta Stage and a close disciple or a devoted donor of the Buddha, his lovely queen did not worship the Exalted One at all.
So the King had to make a clever plan or a good, efficient device to send her to the Veluvana Monastery in the Veluvana Garden where the Enlightened Buddha mostly dwelled, preaching the noble, correct Dhamma.
According to a secret plan of the King, song-writers and musicians wrote and sang stanzas praising the lovely nature of Veluvana Garden. They emphasized that it was just like Nandavana Palace or Nandavana Garden of Sakka God in the Tavitimsa Celestial Realm which meant the most beautiful spot on earth with unique, sweet-smelling flowers, rare ponds with remarkable lotuses and lilies. The style of the monastery was the best in the whole world, not to be forgotten if even seen once. Thus the songs and music reached the ears of the chief queen. One day she extremely wanted to look at the lovely scenes of the Veluvana Garden as a result of hearing repeatedly about the songs composed about the beauty of this garden. After getting permission from the king, she, with many followers and attendants, went inside the garden at Veluvana Monastery. They witnessed lovely bees, rare, beautiful peacocks, cuckoos, clear ponds full of lotuses and lilies to their hearts’ content most of the time. When survey was completed with great satisfaction Khema tried to return to her own palace, acknowledging the unsurpassed beauty of Veluvana Garden. Then and there ministers and courtiers told her the royal command that she must enter the monastery to worship the Buddha. After seeing a young monk in solitude, minding his mind constantly at a lonely spot in the garden she thought “Meditation” was meant for old persons, not for a youth in his prime of life: she believed one in youthful age should enjoy five sensual pleasures to the full. Old age means renunciation, solitary life in meditation according to doctrine of Brahmanism. She wanted to clear her doubts. Then she entered the perfumed chamber of the Blessed One. The Buddha, knowing Khema would come to see Him, did not perform pinndapata alms-round collection in the city. So He was waiting for Khema to teach her the hard truths of life___Anicca-Dukkha-Anatta-Asuba, the four important facts for salvation here and now. In the hall Khema saw the most lovely girl on earth. Beauty cannot be equaled with everyone including Khema herself who excelled in beauty. She paid suitable respect and homage to the Compassionate One, also looking at the unique queen of beauty in the universe intently. This beautiful girl was a symbol for Khema designed by the Blessed One for Nibannic (Ariya) purpose.
While constantly watching at the greatest beauty on earth, the girl became an old, ugly woman in ripe age, with grey hair, twisted face, ugly legs, dried skin and flesh, thin bones—a symbol for Khema planned by the Buddha. While she witnessed the old, haggard face of an old woman, she died and became a dirty, foul corpse near the Buddha. The dead body, once very attractive and queen of beauty in the world became loathsome corpse, which no one liked to see or marry. Ugly features greeted Khema’s eyes. Foul smells distributed her nose. Feeling a noble sense of disgust and detachment, she got a supreme wisdom to know the subtle, inner truths called the Four Ariya Truths. Therefore the Buddha began to teach when soft mind appeared like this:
- 1) Khema! All physical bodies are both ugly and disgustful, endowed with pain, decorated with all types of ugliness and foulness. Always foul things come out of the pores of each physical body, creating foolish persons as “lovely”, “beautiful”, “attractive”, and “desirable”.
- 2) Khema! Try always to concentrate your mind on a single object to get meditation power of mind, for purification of mind, for seeing the inner truths of body and mind subtly, clearly, and nobly.
- 3) Khema! This most beautiful woman of the world sitting near Me has to suffer old age, decay, decrepitude, illness and death. This dead girl, meeting old age and decay, now dies without loveliness. Once she was like you, an attractive girl in her prime of life, full of lovely hands, legs, mouth, eyes and face in good proportion. Before she dies people say she is beautiful. They think her a lovely person to possess. But inside and outside her body at sense organs foul things are oozing all the time—mucus, sweat, urine, fasces, saliva, bad smells, tears, wastes—all coming out of sense doors every day, each minute. Therefore try your best to get concentration, to discard conceit, pride, and lust in heart and mind. Try very hard to renounce love and lust, attachment, a wish to possess lovely persons or things you meet each day.
- 4) Persons, individuals, selves, bodies, egos, physical forms appear in the world because of such groupings of each parts of the totality, because of combinations of things. When analytical knowledge and vipassana wisdom mind is cultivated diligently by the constant use of mindfulness power, conceit is gone forever. Moreover pride, lust, attachment are controlled and finally eradicated by keen analysis or constant watching vipassana discipline. Only then can eleven ‘fires’ burning in this very life can be extinguished completely here and now, leading to nibbanic peace within.
- 5) Common people (worldlings), without the help of steadfast mindfulness, live like animals or spiders in spider-webs. They emit spider threads or thin lines to make their homes, to dwell in the sphere of their own making. So they can move within only limits under severe conditions as love and lust rule their heart and mind. Most persons in the world like to get and enjoy five sensual pleasures—lovely sight, good sound, attractive odour, high-class food, soft tough, creating more and more lust, greed, attachments in life itself by their own foolishness (avijja: ignorance, infatuation, delusion). When a person discards and renounces five sensual pleasures, all delusions and illusions are gone completely, as false concepts of permanence, happiness, self and beauty are extinguished by the Power of Analytical Knowledge of Vipassana Meditation and the Power of Magga-Phala Wisdom. Insight reveals true, inner facts or realities/truths of life, leading to nibbana realization or ariya states.
After listening to this sermon, Khema’s mind became soft, civilized, and pure. Dhammic bliss came to her heart and mind now. At this point, the Buddha taught Mahanidana Sutta after which she became a Sotapanna Ariya, the first stage of liberation from Woeful Abodes or Four Kinds of Miserable Realms. Hence she openly and fully confessed her mistakes by removal of pride of beauty and conceit, heresy. She made an apology. The Buddha showed patience and forgiveness to her. Then she spoke in homage of the Buddha as follows:
- 1) All-knowing Buddha! I pay my homage to You. Also she praised the several virtues of the Enlightened Buddha: You had been completely liberated from all attachments and delusions. You are eternal in morality, concentration and wisdom as you attained the Immortal Nibbana. Kindly share Your Immortal Bliss of Nibbana to me.
- 2) Worldlings (puthujjanas) often indulge in various sensualities (kama) sense-pleasures by wrong understanding as they wander in repeated rebirths of samsara (ocean of wandering). So, I myself take pride in my own supreme beauty, lovely physical form and unique features. But my conceit has been discarded when I see a young beautiful girl dies at your feet after undergoing old age and illness (decay) and also affected with dying disease. You are a supreme teacher in all universes as you can civilized rude, prideful persons by means of teaching cultured Dhamma (Nobility) only. You have shown right method of liberation to all so that I now dwell in the Bliss of Nibbana.
- 3) Beings suffer most of the time in countless births of samsara as they fail to meet All-knowing Fully Enlightened One like You who possess full morality, concentration and wisdom. They sink in samsaric ocean; not knowing the Right Dhamma.
- 4) As for me, I take refuge in the Three Gems headed by You who conquers enemies called kilesa (passions, taints, defilements, impurities of mind) totally.
- 5) The Buddha always saves all sentient beings for their good and welfare and for the attainment of magga and phala cittas that fully know Nibbana clearly, realistically, nobly, I have erred in thinking You have belittled the attainment of beauty. I have serious doubts: so I do not worship You. Now I confess my errors. Kindly forgive my faults and weaknesses.
Therefore, on this confession, the Buddha forgave Khema who took pride in her beauty. He was always full of forgiveness, endurance, kindness for all living beings in the three worlds. After paying respect to the Fully Enlightened Buddha, she returned to her own palace. Then Khema requested King Bimbisara for permission to take Bhikkhuni Samgha Order. When the king agreed to her sacred request, she decided to go to Jetavana Monastery for correct bhikkhuni ordination by competent ordiners. So the king gave order to use golden palanquin and to perform great ceremony for the rare occasion. At the ordination hall, after full and correct ordination procedure she became a true bhikkhuni.
After becoming bhikkhuni, one day she saw by chance while in worshipping act, burning lumps getting died of holy shining light, the supreme fact of decay and death all around her. Having a sense of urgency (samvega citta), she fully and seriously meditated the ultimate reality of arising and disappearing, based on common theme of decaying oil lamps before her. Realistically and sacredly, her mind reached the stage of Arahatship combined with four analytical insights (Patisambhida), endowed with six supernormal powers (Abinna) in this present life. Among Arahat Bhikkhunis, proclaimed the Compassionate Buddha, Khema Theri was unique and matchless in the sphere of wisdom attainment.
Khema Bhikkhuni had been well-versed in learning holy scriptures and holy practices for a long time diligently, piously so that she was a rare expert in Abhidhamma. As mental purity developed daily by heedfulness, Khema won final and permanent liberation with etadagga “unique” title handed down by the Exalted Buddha.
Title- Ariyas, The Noble Ones