[INDOLOGY] Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā

Alberto Todeschini alberto.tod at gmail.com
Thu Mar 7 18:55:48 UTC 2013

Dear All,

I am researching the Buddhist nun Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā/ī. Below my 
signature you can see a short version of a story about her.

In addition to Pāli, I'm aware of information in Tamil and Sinhala, but 
I would be very grateful for references to Sanskrit, Chinese or Tibetan 
versions of her story or mentions of her name.

Best wishes,

Alberto Todeschini

From: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/hecker/wheel292.html#bhadda

The Former Jain Ascetic

In Rajagaha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha, lived a girl of good 
family named Bhadda. Her parents protected her very carefully, because 
she had a passionate nature and they were afraid that she would be hurt 
due to her attraction to men. One day from her window Bhadda saw how a 
thief was being led to the place of execution. He was the son of a 
Brahman (priest-caste) but had a strong tendency towards stealing.

She fell in love with him at first sight. She convinced her father that 
she could not live without him, and so he bribed the guards who let the 
condemned man escape.

Soon after the wedding the bridegroom became obsessed with the desire to 
get his wife's jewelry. He told her he had made a vow that he would make 
an offering to a certain mountain deity if he could escape execution. 
Through this ruse he managed to get Bhadda away from his home. He wanted 
to throw her down from a high cliff to gain possession of her valuable 
ornaments. When they came to the cliff, he brusquely told her about his 
intention. Bhadda, in her distress, likewise resolved to a ruse that 
enabled her to give him a push so that it was he who fell to his death.

Burdened by the enormity of her deed, she did not want to return to lay 
life. Sensual pleasures and possessions were no longer tempting for her. 
She became a wandering ascetic. First she entered the order of Jains and 
as a special penance, her hair was torn out by the roots, when she 
ordained. But it grew again and was very curly. Therefore she was called 
"Curly-hair" (Kundalakesa).

The teaching of the Jain sect did not satisfy her, so she became a 
solitary wanderer. For fifty years she traveled through India and 
visited many spiritual teachers, thereby obtaining an excellent 
knowledge of religious scriptures and philosophies. She became one of 
the most famous debaters. When she entered a town, she would make a 
sand-pile and stick a rose-apple branch into it and would announce that 
whoever would engage in discussion with her should trample upon the 

One day she came to Savatthi and again erected her little monument. At 
that time, Sariputta — the disciple of the Buddha with the greatest 
power of analysis — was staying at the Jeta Grove. He heard of the 
arrival of Bhadda and as a sign of his willingness for debate, he had 
several children go and trample on the sand-pile. Thereupon Bhadda went 
to the Jeta Grove, to Anathapindika's Monastery, accompanied by a large 
number of people. She was certain of victory, since she had become used 
to being the winner in all debates.

She put a number of questions to Sariputta. He answered all of them 
until she found nothing more to ask. Then Sariputta questioned her. 
Already the first question affected Bhadda profoundly, namely, "What is 
the One?" She remained silent, unable to discern what the Elder could 
have been inquiring about. Surely he did not mean "God," or "Brahman" or 
"the Infinite," she pondered. But what was it then? The answer should 
have been "nutriment" because all beings are sustained by food.

Although she was unable to find an answer and thereby lost the debate, 
she knew that here was someone who had found what she had been looking; 
for during her pilgrimage of half a century. She chose Sariputta as her 
teacher, but he referred her to the Buddha. The Awakened One preached 
Dhamma to her at Mount Vulture Peak and concluded with the following verses:

     Though a thousand verses
     are made of meaningless lines,
     better the single meaningful line
     by hearing which one is at peace.

     — Dhp 101

Just as the wanderer Bahiya was foremost amongst monks who attained 
arahantship faster than anyone else, she was foremost amongst nuns with 
the same quality. Both grasped the highest Truth so quickly and so 
deeply that admittance to the Order followed after attainment of 
arahantship. Mind and emotions of both of them had long been trained and 
prepared, so that they could reach the highest attainment very quickly.

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