of Buddha have dealt with Buddha's wife and all have noted incongruencies;
the different names given to her, even within one sect. (such as the
Theravadin) Prudence restrained most from inquiry and making
conclusions. Only Etienne Lamotte went forward and de-structured the mechanism of
reasoning that invented the various episodes.
We too are preoccupied with this person and have submitted a
bold hypothesis- based on investigations. We will study the text chronologically
as best we can- the first group of texts, the Vinayapitaka and the Sutrapitaka,
were written in the same time period. It became necessary to distinguish
the groups formed by the first four Nikaya and the four Agama from the
group of the fifth Nikaya and corresponding texts which are more recent.
Within the Vinayapitaka, two distinct groups appear:
a) The texts of the Sarvastivadin, Theravadin, Mahisasaka and
Dharmaguptaka, all BC.
b) Texts from the Mabasamghaka, Lakottakavadin and Mulasarvastivadin
We have limited the examination of late canonical texts of the
Sutra group to those belonging to the Khuddkanikayapali, and as for
the post-canonical texts, we have limited ourselves to certain Pali
texts of the same genre.
Although it is not impossible that a story part or some information
of ancient origin may only be present in one or two later texts, it
is rare, and can be considered negligible in the canonical texts for
evident reasons. As ancient Buddhist writers had great freedom, their
silence on this matter can only mean a) ignorance of subject matter
or b) knowledge thereof but unused as it was considered doubtful- at
any rate their silence calls for caution on our behalf.
Aside from one exception these Sutras preserved in Pali are
silent on the matter of Buddha's wife, as are the Chinese translations.
Only one Sutra isolated in its Chinese translation (origin unknown)
mentions "Yasodhara, mother of Rahula" as part of a list of nuns known
for their good deeds, past and present. The parallel text of the Anguttaranikaya
Pali as in the Ekotaraagama in the Chinese version does not mention
Yasodhara nor Rahula's mother nor any other potential spouse of the
Buddha amidst the names of the nuns praised by the enlightened one.
This silence so surprised the commentators that the most famous amidst
them, Buddhagose, found the need to identify this woman Yasodhara with
the nun Bhadra Kaccana who figures in the Anguttaranikaya list.
However none of the rare information given by the ancient Pali
texts on this Shikuni absolves this identification. Furthermore, this
Bhadda Kaccana (Bhadra Katyayana in sanskrit) is totally unknown in
texts other than the Pali literature and the Theravadin. Also she does
not figure on the saint nun list of the Ekottaragama nor in the isolated
Sutra that mentions Yasodhara. If Bhadra Kaccana is praised in the
relevant passage of the Anguttaranikaya as being one of the first nuns
to obtain supernatural powers, this quality does not correspond to Yasodhara's
attributes in the isolated Sutra nor does it apply to the virtues attributed
to other biksuni in the Sutra or the Ekotaaragama. Anyway, the possession
of supernatural powers does not distinguish Bhadra Kaccana from the
others, nor does it identify her with Yasodhara.
Conclusion: Buddha's future wife was unknown in the first four
Nikaya and Agama (of whichever sect) and Yasodhara's mention in the
isolated Sutra can be considered a very late addition. Yasodhara wasn't
known in the ancient Vinayapitaka or the Sarvastivadin either. Nor
in the Chinese translation known simply as the Vinaya.
The Vinaya of the Theravadin in Pali, of the Mahisaka and of
the Dharmagupta (in Chinese translation) contain one Short scene only
where "Rahula's mother" appears (Rahulamata) in Kapila. This woman
shows Buddha to her son and (only) says "It's your father." That is
the hamagupta; the Theravadin and the Mahisaka add, "go ask for your
heritage." In both cases the rest is the usual.
One would have difficulties understanding why the Dhamagupta's
more ancient version would purposely subtract the son's request for
inheritance as it is a perfect Bhuddistic element , and thereby "contradict"
the Theravadin and the Mahisaka.
In all three versions Rahula's mother plays a small secondary
role. She then disappears completely from the above texts. It's Suddhodana
who asks Buddha to forbid children from becoming Bhikkus if not allowed
to do so by their parents. The part assigned to Yasodhara could have
been relegated to anyone in the entourage.
Conclusion: In this small scene, the only one she appears in
in the Vinaya, this woman is a secondary element, and unnecessary to
the action. She is a literary ornament, an inconsistent character with
no personality, a shadow, a fictitious character invented by the authors
of the primitive version of this episode, and not drawn by them from
a solid tradition with an historic origin.
Because of the fact that the three sects were closely linked,
the similarities in the three versions, and the fact that the Sarvastivadin
completely ignores all, one can conclude that the primitive version
of this episode came about after the schism that separated the Sarvastivadin
from the Sthavira group- the three other sects mentioned later appear
later- i.e.. this primitive version is from the second half of the 3rd
century B.C., at the end of Ashoka's reign. All this is confirmed by
the silence of the ancient Vinazapitaka and ancient parts of the Sutrapitaka
regarding Yasodhara. We can conclude that by that time period (2 centuries
after Buddha's death) his disciples had thoroughly forgotten Yasodhara,
bizarre as it may seem.
Even her "chosen" name used in the 3 Vinayapitaka is bizarre-
it is very rare, in a Buddhist canon, to designate anyone as the "mother
of X.." Such indication always relates to imaginary figures such as
the two Yaksini etc... If another known figure in Buddha's life bears
a similar name, it is because it is being used as a surname which accompanies
the real name. For example Visakha is named Mrgaramata.(?) mother of
Mrgara" because of the devotion which allowed her to convert... It causes
one to think that the appellation Rahulamata without her proper name
shows how ignorant the Ancient Buddhist authors were in respect to Buddha's
wife. They simply deduced her existence through the proven existence
of Rahula. The name given to her shows the reasoning that brought her
out of total forgetfulness. Since Rahula was alive, his mother must
have existed, consequently she took care of him as a child. Therefore
she was the appropriate choice for telling him who his father was and
that he should ask him for his inheritance. In both versions the fact
that she was "Rahula's mother" sufficed to explain her role in that
short scene- and it was unnecessary to further develop it.
Buddha's wife is well known by the Vinazapilaka's fixed A.D.
At least that's the given impression considering the abundance of information
on that subject.
However, the documents about the monastic laws of the Maha Samghika
conserved in their Chinese translation have kept certain ancient parts
untouched that have captured our attention. Parts that concern Rahula's
ordination as well as Mahaprajapati Gautami's and other Shakya women's
ordinations. During Rahula's ordination, the operation through which
Sariputra initiates Rahula according to Buddha's instructions is described
in great detail but Yasodhara's role is completely left out. This ignorance
is the same as is displayed in the Vinazapitaka of the Sarvastivadin,
although somewhat more significant as the other only alluded to Rahula's
ordination. As for the story of the foundation of the order of nuns,
between the Mahasanigika, Sarvastivadin, Theravadin, Masisaka and the
Dharmapupta none specifies Buddha's wife as figuring amidst the 500
anonymous women who accompany Queen Gautami. One notices that the Mahasamphika
shares the same ignorance as above in regards to Buddha's wife.
The same is inapplicable to later parts concerning laymen monks.
Even if the "scenette" is absent, a whole passage based on the Jataka
refers to Buddha's youth. References that are definitely A.D. are included.
The most interesting information is: Afraid that the Cakravartin lineage
were to become extinct, King Solomon authorized Buddha to leave once
his wife became pregnant. She stayed pregnant six years, during which
time Buddha vainly attempted to seek enlightenment through maceration.
Once Buddha returned to Kathmandu, the father and the son had an interview,
after which Mahaprajapati Gautami, Rahula and Yasodhara left mundane
life. Here we see some of the important elements of Buddha's wife's
life- and the fact that they are simply presented by brief illustrations
based on references to texts which tell the tale in detail proves firstly
the antecedent existence of these texts (Jataka and others) and also
that the monks addressed by the Vinayapitaka knew the legend well. Even
if Yasodhara was not specified as Buddha's mother, one cannot doubt
the fact as her name figures amidst the only three names mentioned to
be ordained upon Buddha's return to K, and she is mentioned in between
M. Gautami and Rahula. Furthermore Buddhist tradition knows no other
Yasodhara from the Shakya tribe. In this case, she is given considerable
importance. So, the timid character of the 3 versions becomes an important
member of Buddha's family, and a Buddhist saint. This last trait is
confirmed by the allusion to the legend whereby she carried her son
6 years (during which time Buddha was going through austerities). From
the Buddhist point of view, only an exceptional woman with miraculous
attributes could be the object of such a miracle. All of which harmonizes
with the name of Yasodhara which is given her, which the isolated Sutra
of a lost Ekotaaragama already attributed to the mother of Rahula and
which we will find again in later texts of "septentrional" India. Who
more than Buddha's wife deserves a name which means "she who possesses
The Mahavastu, part of the Vinapitaka of the Lokottaravadin
sect of the Mahasamgika group, contains much information on Rahula's
mother and on Yasodhara. When this was written (A.D.) Yasodhara was
already famous and legends had already formed around Buddha's wife.
Rahula's first meeting with Buddha is narrated and doubled.
Here, Yasodhara offers Buddha and his followers a meal on the third
day after Buddha's return to Katmandu. Buddha's first meal was with
his father and his second with M. Gautama. The order shows Yasodhara
was third in line according to the Sakya hierarchy. During this meal
Yasodhara hands Rahula assorted condiments and tells him to "carry them
to his father." This demonstrates his awareness of his relationship
to Buddha. Then Yasodhara says "go ask for your father's wealth" the
obedient son complies and asks Buddha "Oh Holy Man, give me my father's
wealth." Buddha answers "Oh Rahula, leave your house and I'll give
you your father's wealth." This dialogue pleases all save Yasodhara
who tries to dissuade Buddha from turning his son into a monk. The
monks point Buddha's attention to the fact that Yasodhara is trying
to buy Buddha's attention with the condiments, to which Buddha replies
that it isn't the first time and illustrates with the tale of the Nahinijataka.
The second story begins with the decision of the Sakyas not
to let anyone say that Rahula is Buddha's son under penalty of death.
The day after Gautama's meal, Rahula sees Buddha at last and is in awe,
without knowledge of their bond. He asks Yasodhara who his father is,
but Yasodhara respects the silence and tells him his father is on a
business trip. Rahula asks if Buddha isn't his parent, and goes so
far as to say that he thinks Buddha is his father, which Yasodhara denies.
Finally, torn, Yasodhara tells Rahula the truth. Rahula grabs Buddha's
robe and declares his wish to follow him as an holy man. Hearing this,
the court women and King beg Buddha to refuse so their royal lineage
can continue. Buddha refuses and says Rahula has reached his final existence,
but he gives his father a one week delay until he ordains Rahula. Yasodhara
immediately takes Rahula to her chambers and tries to dissuade him by
describing the austerities and hardships vs. the good life available,
but Rahula follows Buddha.
As we see, the "scenette" is now fully developed and broken
into two contradicting traditions. Rahula knows Buddha is his father
in story #1 but not in story #2. The court is happy that Rahula is
becoming a monk in story #1 but not in story #2. Story #1 seems closer
to the short phrase of the ancient Vinayapitaka, with the essential
difference being that Rahula knows/guesses that Buddha is his father.
He claims heritage based on his mother's guidance. The second story
does not mention this issue.
Rahula even ignores the fact that Buddha is his father, this
being the principal theme and pivotal point, further compounded by the
Shakya ordaining a death penalty for breaking the silence, which Yasodhara
does by confessing his origins to her son. Not to mention the kings
recriminations. In other words, by disassociating the simple phrases
of the Theravadin and the Mahisaka, or comparing them separately, we
get two stories that differ.
In both stories Yasodhara is #3, important not only as Rahulas's
mother, but in her own right- with thoughts, character and personality.
The Mahavastu gives further information. Legend tells us Yasodhara
was born on the same day as Buddha (together with other characters integrated
in Buddha's life).(16) She was the daughter of Shakya Mahanaman, one
of Buddha's faithful laymen within his own tribe.(17)
Buddha falls in love with Yasodhara, courts her, gives her his necklace,
and finally "conquers" her due to his skills. (18) She conceives Rahula
the same night Buddha flees. (19) Her son stays six years in her womb.
(20) One morning Buddha sends messages to Suddhodana and to Queen Gautami
but not to Yasodhara, saddened, she decides to live the ascetic life
of theBuddha. When Buddha returns to K, she walks ahead of the females
of the court to greet him. (23)
All of this information is easily imagined based on ancient
beliefs of Buddha's paternity vs. Rahula, hence the existence of Buddha's
wife, Rahula's mother. However, in total contradiction of the ancient
canonical texts, she is now shown as a vibrant young woman, fully worthy
of being Buddha's companion, born into a good family, virtuous, and
able to love her spouse to a point that, although abandoned by him,
she still decides to keep the same austerities as he does.
Other parts of the Mahavastu show more imagination on the part
of their authors: When Buddha dumps her, Dervadetta, Buddha's cousin,
offers to marry Yasodhara and make her the #1 queen, but Yasodhara immediately
rejects him as well as Suddhodava (half brother of Buddha) who makes
the same offer. (24) Under unknown circumstances, Suddhodava condemns
her to death without trial or inquisition. However she is innocent
and Buddha ends up saving her. (25) In equally mysterious circumstances
she saves Buddha's life as he is taken to the capital execution grounds.
(26) When pregnant with Rahula, Yasodhara had a dream that Buddha would
reach enlightenment, (27) Queen Gautami, blind due to tears shed upon
Buddha's departure, could not see all of his miracles upon his return
to Katmandu so Yasodhara bathed her eyes with water streaming from Buddha's
body (during the miracle of water and fire) and Queen Gautama recovered
her sight. This was due to the "supernatural powers" of Buddha, and
also to the kindness of Yasodhara.(28)
The conditions surrounding Yasodhara's saving of Buddha are
ignored completely in this text, but other texts allow us to guess why
good, kind King Suddhodava condemns Yasodhara to death unjustly. The
miracle which allows Yasodhara to keep Rahula in her womb for six years
is the cause. There were doubts as to her fidelity when she gave birth
to a child six years after her husband left, which is severely punishable
The last four episodes confirm Yasodhara's image as shown by
the Mahavastu's other passages: she had great virtue as well as love
for Buddha in spite of his abandoning her. One sees the tendency to
make Yasodhara and Buddha the perfect couple, and this tendency is further
stressed in the 14 Jatarka and other stories told in that work (29)
to show that the two beings that are to become Buddha and Yasodhara
have previously led similar heroic past lives. Yasodhara appears in
the Mahavastu as a principal female Buddhist saint and as Buddha's wife.
All this conforms to Buddhist logic and to the theory of the maturing
The enormous Vinayapitaka of the Mulasarvastivadin also contains
numerous mentions of Yasodhara. Let's examine and compare this version
of Rahula's encounter with Buddha. (30) When Buddha comes back to Katmandu
Yasodhara seeks a way to bring Buddha back to her. She asks for help
from a female holy man/magician. The woman manufactures a ball from
a substance that inspires love and sells it to Yasodhara for five gold
pieces. Yasodhara tells Rahula to take this ball to his father. Thanks
to his omniscience Buddha knows that Rahula's birth caused Yasodhara
severe problems, so he takes it upon himself to dispel them. He magically
creates 500 clones of himself, but Rahula disregards all of them and
went straight to Buddha with the magic ball. Buddha gives the ball
back to Rahula, who eats it and, bewitched, proceeds to follow Buddha.
After meditating for a while Buddha realizes Rahula has not yet achieved
his last life and that he needs to leave this way of life in order to
become the disciple of one of the 500 Buddha apparitions. When Suddhodava
and his entourage witness this miracle, they show great respect for
Yasodhara. Knowing she has been unjustly accused they proceed to shower
her with praise. Buddha then brings Rahula to his chosen place to ordain
him, but Sudhoddava asks Buddha to delay for a day. Buddha accepts,
and Sudhodava arranges a big celebration for Rahula and places him on
a high seat. He praises him lavishly then, the next day, personally
brings him back to Buddha to be ordained.
Examine this version and the changes that occur. The condiments
have been changed to a magic filter with the power to make Buddha fall
in love with Yasodhara again.(This is included in the Mahavasti, the
monks denounce Yasodhara to Buddha for having tried to seduce him.)
Buddha's omniscience allows him not only to avoid the trap but to have
Rahula eat the filter and follow him through his own will. The principle
element in this version is the unjust accusation of the suffering Yasodhara
by the Shakyas, and the fact that Buddha dissipated the above because
of his hate of injustice rather than his love for Yasodhara. By recognizing
Buddha and not being fooled by the 500 clones, Rahula proves that he
is Buddha's son. The magic ball story shows us that we have entered
the realm of legend, where the imaginative Buddhist authors have been
given free rein. Two elements from the ancient versions have been completely
abandoned- elements that the Mahavastu had preserved. The "scenette,"
and the sad or happy reactions of Yasodhara and the court regarding
Buddha's decision to make Rahula a monk. The story here has a new meaning-
Rahula's ordination is a means to legitimize his miraculous birth.(Now
the central theme.)
Another scene told by the Mahavastu is apparently derived from
the double story about Rahula's ordination, found in the Mahavastu.
(31) It takes place during Buddha's stay in Katmandu, but after Rahula's
ordination. Yasodhara invites Buddha for lunch at the palace with the
intention of not letting him leave her again. During this lunch, all
of Buddha's ex-wives and concubines use every means they can by which
to seduce him. Of course Buddha recognizes their intentions and through
miraculous means injects thoughts of respect and awe into their minds,
after which he preaches his doctrine to them. As for his scandalized
monks, Buddha tells the Ekasruga-Jataka and the Kinnari-Jataka to tell
him about Yasodhara's similar past behavior. Buddha addresses a particular
sermon to Yasodhara, who is suddenly converted and obtains ordination.
Soon after Yasodhara acquires the four fruits of sainthood Buddha praises
her in front of his monks, declaring that the nun Yasodhara has human
respect and modesty, and that of all the nuns she is the only one who
has no doubts. Finally, through another Jataka, Buddha explains that
it was because of acts in her past lives that she was able to keep Rahula
in her womb for six years.
The seduction theme, somewhat present in the Mahavastu, clearer
in the Vinyapitaka of the Mulasarvastivadin is now the major theme in
Everything was as previously described in the lunch given by
Yasodhara for Buddha. The story ends at the conversion and ordination
of Yasodhara, but there is no mention of Rahula's ordination, which
is said to have occurred prior to this. Consequently, the two major
versions of the Mahavastu version, the "scenette 1+2," have completely
More information on Yasodhara is available in the monastic laws
of the Mulasarvastivadin. We are told Yasodhara becomes pregnant the
day of the big departure (32). She practices austerities parallel to
those of Buddha for six years, hoping for enlightenment. These exercises
suspend the embryo's development in the womb. When Buddha decides that
these austerities were useless, Yasodhara does the same, and feels great
This results in the embryo starting to develop naturally. Seeing
this the Shakyas laugh and accuse Yasodhara of infidelity during Buddha's
absence. Yasodhara denies this and, to prove her innocence, predicts
the birth of a son with a brilliant moon in his hands. Indeed, a sage
comes to examine the newborn child and finds a moon in his hands. Because
of this the child was named Rahula.(37)
Even though Yasodhara's prediction comes to pass, the Shakyas
do not believe Rahula is Buddha's son. Hearing this Yasodhara cries
and decides to prove Rahula's legitimacy by test. She brings him to
a pond where Buddha used to bathe, puts him on a stone and declares
that if Rahula is the son of Buddha he and the stone will float, if
not, they'll drown. The stone floats and Yasodhara orders the stone
to carry Rahula back and forth. The order is obeyed, and the Shakya's
have witnessed this miracle. Yasodhara takes Rahula and announces that
Buddha, having become enlightened after six years of austerities, will
come back to Katmandu in another six years, hence 12 years after his
This and similar stories are to be found in the same collection
of documents. Let's compare new versions with old- when Yasodhara finds
out that Buddha has become enlightened, she gives birth to Rahula in
her ultimate happiness.(39) At that moment a lunar eclipse occurs,
and Sudhoddava takes this as a positive omen. He cleans the city and
is charitable towards the poor. The ministers, brought together by
Sudhoddava, decide to give the infant the name Rahula, in connection
with Rahu, demon of the eclipse.(40) At the same time, Awanda is born
to king Dronodana, brother of Sudhoddava. Sudhoddava, having said Rahula
is not Buddha's son, causes Yasodhara to become worried, so she goes
to the pond with her son and performs an operation similar to the one
mentioned above. The child sits on the stone and directs it at whim.
Sudhoddava and his entourage witness the event and are convinced. Sudhoddava
enters the water, holds up Rahula, and watches as the stone sinks immediately.
We find, in both passages, elements already present in the Mahavastu.
The day of Rahula's conception, his six years in Yasodhara's womb, Yasodhara's
six year long austerities, as well as a series of consequences are only
alluded to or completely absent from the Mahavastu. But the six years
of austerities which allow Rahula's growth in the womb, the different
explanation of Rahula's name, the child being born on the day of the
eclipse, the birth causing a scandal and seeming illegitimate, Yasodhara
being blamed and scorned, suffering then using miracles to prove her
innocence, and Buddha returning six years after Rahula's birth are all
Other passages from the Vinayapitaka of the Mulasarvastivadin
complete our information on the legends surrounding Yasodhara. She
is the daughter of Shaliya Dandapani (43). Gautama gives her a gold
ring, a symbol of the love between them from past lives. (44) Harking
to a concensus by councilors, Sudhoddava gives Yasodhara to Buddha as
his spouse.(45) Buddha also marries two other Shakya maidens, Gopika
and Mrgarajamya (not to mention having 60,000 concubines) but Yasodhara
is the main spouse.(46) To prove he is a real man, Buddha gets Yasodhara
pregnant on the day of his departure.(47) That same night Yasodhara
has 8 dreams which she tells her husband about. He interprets them
as good omens for his future enlightenment, and based upon this Yasodhara
allows him to leave his family.(48) Many of these elements are present
in the Mahavastu, mostly in simplified format; the ring gift, the marriage,
the premonition dreams of Yasodhara. In the Mulasarvastivadin as well,
Yasodhara is linked to Buddha by love in past existences (all mutual).
Amidst the important elements ignored by the Mahavastu, aside from the
ordination of Yasodhara, are her rapid ascension to sainthood, Buddha's
comments on her virtues which trampoline her to first place amongst
all the saintly women involved with Buddha, and the fact that in between
her and all the concubines come two other spouses.
The same goes for the Jakata, where Yasodhara is formally identified
as the heroine, having been Buddha's wife or companion during prior
lives. The only contribution of the Pali Jatakas, the Mahavastu, and
a few other documents preserved elsewhere is that the woman who was
Buddha's wife in his last reincarnation is the same one who was present
in his other lives. Such a long attachment signifies that the woman
had accumulated immense merit in previous lives in order to be chosen
again and again, especially for the last reincarnation. On this basis
she was worthy of great respect from the Buddhist monks and accepted
as the top female saint. Throughout this structure we see the belief
in multiple re-birth. This belief asserts that certain couples who love
each other very much can be linked through different reincarnations
due to the power of their mutual love, and certain rights accomplished
together. A passage in the Kathavattu concerns these rights, (50) and
to show how strong this belief was we will mention the story of Nakulapitr
and Nakulamatr as told by the Samajivi-sutta(51) Pali on one side and
the ending of Rabindranath Tagore's on the other side.(52)
The introductory comments in the Pali Jatakas give us very little
on Rahulamata, wife of Gautama. She is ordained in Savatthi along with
500 other Shakya women, and they all become Saints.(53) As such she
is known as Bimba or Bimbaderi.(54) Rahula, himself a monk, comes to
visit her in her cell and twice procures her a medicine to relieve her
of some ailment.
(55) When she is still a faithful laywoman, Buddha and Sudhoddava visit
her in her palace suite where she lives with her 40,000 women. Sudhoddava
praises her highly and reveals to Buddha that she chose the austere
a widow after Buddha's death- this due to her fidelity. Buddha approves
and says she behaved likewise in another life, which is the theme of
Here we find two elements that are also present elsewhere-Rahulamata's
ordination after Rahula becomes a monk like her ancient husband, and
an allusion to the self -imposed macerations and austerities of Rahulamata
after Buddha left her. This allusion is unclear and suggests another
explanation for the six years of austerities. She may have chosen a
hard life naturally due to her sorrow, which no longer allowed her to
appreciate the luxurious life she had lived so far- due to the discredit
she could have suffered because her husband abandoned her. The other
scenes, told in detail, contrast with the silence of the Pali texts
on so many other more important elements spun around the legend of Buddha's
wife- legends described in detail by the Mahavastu, the Vinayapitaka
and other works from north India.
The Pali Apadana makes a "Doyenne" (theri) out of this woman
named Yasodhara, who is known as such in the Theravadin (57) literature.
In the verses dedicated to her, she describes herself as Buddha's main
wife (Pajapati) before he left the layman's life. She further identifies
herself with Sumitta, the young woman who in a previous existence gave
8 handfuls of lotus to a young ascete who in turn gave them to Dipankara
Buddha. This identification process is analogous to the one already
noted in the Pali Jataka and in those cited by the Mahavastu. As for
the rest, since one finds here the confirmation that Buddha's ancient
spouse has become a nun and a saint, hence a "doyenne (in French),"
we remain surprised that the texts have given her the name of Yasodhara.
The Nidanakatha, Buddha's biography that was the first among
the Pali Jataka, but was actually written a while later, seems to have
also been influenced, more subtly and indirectly, since our heroine
only appears as Rahulamata, the name given to her in most Pali texts.
Therein, she is born on the same day as Buddha and various other characters
of varied importance in Buddha's legendary biography.(58) She marries
him at age 16, after he conquers her hand by proving his superiority
over her other pretenders in a series of games comparable to the Olympics.
(59) Buddha leaves the layman's life, his wife and his son after taking
one last look at his sleeping family, this is the same night that Yasodhara
bears Rahula.(60) When Buddha returns to K., Yasodhara is awestruck
by his appearance and pronounces verses of praise in his favor.(61)
She refuses to assist in the banquet given for Buddha the day after
his arrival, although all the other ladies of the court are present.
So, Buddha visits her in her wing and she bows before her husband.
At the same time S. informs Buddha of Yasodhara's austerity since his
Although the Nidanakatha was somewhat influenced by traditions
of "septentrional" India, it distinguishes itself at certain points.
First it was not sufficient for Buddha to court and offer her a jewel
for her hand, but he needed to triumph over his rivals by proving his
superiority in various areas. Furthermore, it was not Rahula's conception
that occurred the night of Buddha's departure, it was his birth. This
has two consequences, one of which is important: before leaving Buddha
sees Yasodhara and Rahula one last time- Rahula's legitimacy is no longer
in doubt, Yasodhara is therefore not subjected to doubts and punishments
by the Shakya, so she will not need to prove by miracle that Rahula
is Buddha's son. When Buddha returns to K, her love and admiration
are expressed in verses, and by staying reclusive, she causes Buddha
to be obliged to come to her, at which time S. praises her and she receives
the ultimate approval of Buddha himself.
Finally the post-canonical texts of the non Theravadin, whether
preserved in Sanskrit or in their Chinese translations, contain much
information relating to Gautama's wife. There are, as usual, big differences
from other texts. It is actually useless to examine them in detail
as they contain nothing that would help us solve the mystery of Buddha's
We can now say that most of the information about Yasodhara
being the wife of Buddha is derived from information about Rahula being
Buddha's son. The rare elements with a positive historic base, such
as Yasodhara's name and her father's name, are the late fruits of the
later author's imagination- proven by their silence and diversification.
There are many different names given to Yasodhara and her father, this
Everything is geared towards the exaltation of this woman, her
social rank, her virtues, even her supernatural powers. All are heavily
insisted upon by the Mulasarvastivadin. The rare negative traits are
present to underline a quality of hers, if she sends Rahula off with
a sweet for Buddha during the lunch she is offering him, it is in order
to honor and feed him. If it is seen as a seduction attempt by old
monks, if the ancient spouse of the Buddha tries to bring the Buddha
back to her by offering him a feast, and attempts in every honorable
way to seduce him through her ladies or herself, if she sends Rahula
with a condiment or a magic love filter, it is all because of the immense
love which ties her to her ancient husband throughout many communal
lives. If she attempts to dissuade Rahula from becoming a monk, it
is because of the natural affection she holds for her only son. Only
old monks and dried out devotees could blame her, because of their religious
Daughter of one of the principle Shakya notables, she is so
beautiful and virtuous Buddha falls in love with her and conquers her
in a contest where he obliterates his rivals. Through this marriage
she acquires a very high rank in King Sudhoddava's court, a rank she
will keep after the great Departure and conserve after Buddha's return.
The austerities she practices are proof of her devotion, courage, and
the strength of her attachment to Buddha. (While he is carrying out
his macerations.) According to Northern texts, the result of these
austerities is the delay of Rahula's birth and development in her womb
for six years. This miracle causes her to have to undergo severe tests,
due to the incredulity of the Shakyas. She ends in accomplishing two
out of three miracles. Buddha himself tops the defense by performing
one miracle and his wife is finally praised. Shortly after she becomes
a nun, then successively attains all degrees of sainthood, leaving the
memory of an exceptional woman. She therefore deserved the name given
her in "septentrional" India, Yasodhara, "the glorious one." But where
is there one historical detail?
The actual quantity of texts involving this woman, the leading
part she often plays, the diversity of the information we can find about
her; all prove that from the first century B.C., Buddhist authors attached
great interest to "Buddha's wife," an interest which rapidly developed
itself over the centuries.
So far we have seen that the reasons for this are easy to understand-
they transpire through the stories. Since Buddha had been married in
his past lives, the one chosen for marriage must have been extraordinary
to justify such a choice by the omniscient Buddha. It stands to reason
that such a woman should provoke interest and be praised, venerated
and admired by the faithful.
However this interest emerges late, four centuries after the
parinirvana of Buddha and the death of Yasodhara. Also this interest
contrasts sharply with the (almost) complete silence of the ancient
canonical texts written during the first four centuries of Buddhist
history. This strange silence, which could be interpreted as scornful
but also reveals the historians total neglect of this woman, is suddenly
replaced with such preoccupation that as such it could be interpreted
as an attempt for rehabilitation and justice. This contrast between
the ancient and newer texts is compounded by another contrast, the fact
that in the ancient canonical texts there does exist much information
on the rest of the people close to Buddha.
The woman Buddha married may have simply been an ordinary woman,
whose acts and character were not interesting enough to recall, if this
were the case, she must have resigned herself to the widowhood imposed
by Buddha's departure and goes about educating her son correctly, but
in the shadow of Mahapra-Gautami, whose strong personality is clearly
defined in the ancient canonical texts. Does she become a nun under
Gautami's influence, along with the other young women of the Shakya
tribe? (As was the tradition) There is no proof of this except for affirmative
repetitions and the praises of later texts. However we can see that
this woman is the only member of Buddha's family (in the large sense)
that ancient tradition completely neglected, without even attempting
to give her fictitious character traits or memorable acts because of
her close relationship to Buddha and Rahula.
One could also suppose that the woman never existed, in other
words that Buddha never married and by consequence Rahula was not his
son, maybe he wasn't even a member of Buddha's family, although a member
of the Shakya clan. In such a case one can understand the texts' silence
on the issue. We must examine the sources from which we get the idea
that Rahula is Buddha's son. The principal source is the story told
by the three Vinayaputakas of the Theravadin, Mahisasaka and Dharmaguptaka
in which the mother of the child designates Buddha as his father. This
text proves that the authors thereof were convinced of the reality of
the paternity link between Buddha and Rahula, and that it was believed
at the time this story was imagined- at the end of Ashoka's reign.
Furthermore, if the Buddha had never married, the first generation of
his disciples would have faithfully reported this fact which would have
been considered as proof of an asceticism perfectly compatible with
his doctrine, and it would have been difficult thereafter to bestow
a son upon him, even if the son were to become one of his best disciples,
as did Rahula. In addition marriage must have been a far stronger obligation
for a young man belonging to the warrior caste as did Buddha.
We hold as proof the thoughts, acts and words attributed to
Sudhoddava, in both ancient and more recent texts. (whether derived
from the author's imagination or not) They all reflect a disposition
with predominant social obligations. Consequently, the second hypothesis
denying Buddha's marriage and Rahula's paternity can be temporarily
The third hypothesis is somewhat a combination of the first
two. It's the one presented at the end of our article on "Buddha's youth."
- Buddha married in his youth and had one son named Rahula but the mother
thereof died shortly after giving birth. Not much of historical value
can be found in texts about Buddha's youth. This might reflect the
discretion of Buddha concerning his youth, conforming to his doctrine
of renunciation of the layman life's pleasures. However, the almost
complete silence of the ancient canonical texts on the woman who was
Buddha's wife and Rahula's mother is still quieter than the silence
surrounding Buddha's youth, since it isn't even masked by legends.
They are therefore similar, and it can be deduced that this woman belonged
entirely to her husband's youth, and that she disappears between Rahula's
birth and Buddha's return to Katmandu. This third hypothesis seems more
acceptable than the preceding two- it keeps the advantages and discards
the inconveniences. In accordance with the tradition that calls Rahula
Buddha's son it explains the total absence of the ancient wife of Buddha
in all posterior episodes the big departure- as told by all the Sutrapitaka
and by most Vinayapitaka, with the exception of the "scenette" where
Yasodhara tells Rahula that he is Buddha's son.
As we have already demonstrated in the article on "Buddha's
Youth" this hypothesis allows an explanation for Buddha's departure
and his choice of an ascetic life- a far more credible explanation than
the famous legend of Buddha's four encounters; the literary beauty thereof
not being questioned, only the factual aspect. The young woman's demise,
especially if it was rapid, if she died during childbirth or soon after
as the result of an infection, could easily have devastated the prince
sufficiently to make him denounce layman's life to search amidst asceticism
and meditation for the means by which to conquer death once and for
all. The goal of his doctrine, the theme of the four truths, the fact
that Nirvana is immortal and that death personified is represented in
the canonical texts as being Buddha's main enemy - all this points to
the idea that young Gautama left his family after a particularly cruel
and brutal death, which provoked in him immense grief he thought he
could temper with flight and the definite renunciation of the layman's
life's pleasures so suddenly replaced by deep pain.
One can not blame us for having tried to pierce the mystery
in which the ancient canonical texts shroud the wife of Buddha and mother
of Rahula- we cannot contest the low quality of the results obtained
by this study and the fragility of the hypotheses offered. In brief,
we did what the Buddhist authors did at the beginning of our era and
in the centuries following- but by using different methods of investigation
inherent to our occidental school in order to know the life of one of
the universe's most interesting characters: The Buddha.