An eminent bhikkhunī and the step-mother of the Buddha. She raised the Buddha as her own child after the death of his mother.
She is chiefly remembered as the first bhikkhunī. When the Buddha was staying at Kapilavatthu she approached the Buddha with 500 Sakyan ladies and asked leave to be ordained as nuns. The Buddha did not acquiesce, and he went on to Vesāli. But Pajāpatī and her companions cut off their hair, and donning yellow robes, followed the Buddha to Vesāli on foot. They arrived with sore feet at the Buddha’s monastery and repeated their request. The Buddha again refused, but Ānanda interceded on their behalf and Mahāpajāpatī’s ordination was granted on condition that she abide by eight rules of respect. Vin.ii.253ff. AN.iv.274ff.
After her ordination, Pajāpatī came to the Buddha and worshipped him. The Buddha preached to her and gave her a subject for meditation. With this topic she developed insight and soon after won arahantship, while her five hundred companions attained to the same after listening to the Nandakovāda Sutta. Later, at an assembly of monks and nuns in Jetavana, the Buddha declared Pajāpatī chief of those who were long ordained. AN.i.25
It is said that once Pajāpatī made a robe for the Buddha of wonderful material and marvellously elaborate. But when it came to be offered to the Buddha he refused it, and suggested it should be given to the Order as a whole. Pajāpatī was greatly disappointed, and Ānanda intervened. But the Buddha explained that his suggestion was for the greater good of Pajāpatī, and also as an example to those who might wish to make similar gifts in the future. This was the occasion for the preaching of the Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅga Sutta. MN.iii.253ff. The Buddha had a great love for Pajāpatī, and when she lay ill, as there were no monks to visit her and preach to her the Buddha went himself to preach to her. Vin.iv.56
Her Therīgāthā verses speak of offering homage to the Buddha, and how she had been a relative of his in many past lives. She acknowledges Māyā, through whom the Buddha was born, and says that the correct way to worship the Buddha is but diligent practice. Thig.157–162