Arahat Khemā Therī

This is a beautiful statue of Khemā Therī at Dhammikārama Burmese Buddhist Temple in Penang, Malaysia. From the Pāḷi Names Dictionary:

Arahat Khemā Therī,
Arahat Khemā Therī

“An arahant, chief of the Buddha’s women disciples. She was born in a ruling family at Sāgala in the Madda country, and her skin was of the colour of gold. She became the chief consort of King Bimbisāra. She would not visit the Buddha who was at Veluvana, lest he should speak disparagingly of her beauty with which she was infatuated. The king bade poets sing the glories of Veluvana and persuaded Khemā to go there. She was then brought face to face with the Buddha, and he conjured up, for her to see, a woman like a celestial nymph who stood facing him. Even as Khemā gazed on the nymph, whose extraordinary beauty far excelled her own, she saw her pass gradually from youth to extreme old age, and so fall down in the swoon of death. Seeing that Khemā was filled with dismay at the sight, the Buddha preached to her on the vanity of lust, and we are told that at that moment she attained arahantship. With the consent of Bimbisāra she entered the Order, and was ranked by the Buddha foremost among his women disciples for her great insight (mahāpaññānam aggā) (A.i.25; Dpv.xviii.9; see also MA.iv.168f.; Bu.xxvi.19; J.i.15,16).

In the time of Padumuttara she was a slave, and having seen the Buddha’s chief disciple, Sujāta, gave him three cakes, and that same day she sold her hair and gave him alms.

In Kassapa Buddha’s time she became the eldest daughter of Kikī, king of Benares, and was named Samanī. With her sisters she observed celibacy for twenty thousand years and built a monastery for the Buddha. She learnt the Mahānidāna Sutta, having heard the Buddha preach it. In the time of Vipassī she became a renowned preacher of the Dhamma, and during the time of both Kakusandhaand Konāgamana she had great monasteries built for the Buddha and his monks. AA.i.187f; Thig.139-44; ThigA.126ff; Ap.ii.543ff; DhA.iv.57ff; cf. the story of Rūpa Nandā (DhA.iii.113-9).

Once when Khemā was at Toranavatthu, between Sāvatthi and Sāketa, Pasenadi, who happened to spend one night there, heard of her presence and went to see her. He questioned her as to whether or not the Buddha existed after death. She explained the matter to him in various ways, and Pasenadi, delighted with her exposition, related it to the Buddha (S.iv.374ff). She is mentioned in several places (E.g., A.i.88; ii.164; iv.347; S.ii.236) as the highest ideal of womanhood worthy of imitation, and is described as the nun par excellence.

Khemā is identified with the mother in the Uraga Jātaka (J.iii.168), the queen in the Rohantamiga (J.iv.423) and in the Hamsa (J.iv.430), the queen, Khemā, in the Mahāhamsa (J.v.382), and the princess in the Mahājanaka (J.vi.68).”

Arahat Khema ©Ashin Sopāka 2016

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