“When my daughter (yashodarā) heard that you had taken to wearing simple yellow robes, she too gave up her jewels and wore yellow robes. When she heard that you had only one meal a day, she too had only one meal a day. When she heard that you slept on low, hard beds, she too gave up the luxurious palace couches and beds. And when she heard that you had given up garlands and perfume, she too gave up garlands and perfume. When her relatives sent messages of young men who wanted to support her she did not even look at a single one.”
Yashodharā was the daughter of King Suppabuddha and Queen Pamita. As King Suppabuddha was one of King Suddhodana younger brothers, she was one of Prince Siddhartha’s cousins. Yashodharā was born on the same day as Prince Siddhartha. She was exquisitely beautiful, with golden skin and blue-black hair that cascaded down to her feet.
Prince Siddhartha was sixteen when His parents decided that it was a suitable time for Him to marry. As was the custom at that time, a great celebration was held and princesses from all over the country were brought in procession for the Prince to choose from. None of them attracted His attention. The Prince treated them with gifts but refused them all. The procession was almost finished when Yashodharā came rushing in, to inquire if there were any gifts left for her. The Prince then arose from His throne, and taking the pearl necklace that adorned His person, gently placed it around her neck. Prince Siddhartha chose His cousin, Yashodharā, to be His bride.
At first King Suppabuddha was against the marriage. He knew that the wise men had foretold that Siddhartha would leave the palace and His crown to become a Buddha. He also felt that the gentle, compassionate Prince might not be skilled in warfare, and as such, not be suitable for his daughter. The princess, however, wanted to marry no one else but Siddhartha.
Wishing to test Prince Siddhartha, King Suppabuddha, arranged a tournament for Him to display His skills in archery, riding and swordsmanship. Sportsmen from all over the country gathered to challenge the Prince. Siddhartha, however, was an excellent sportsman. He excelled in all the events and ousted the best men in the country. King Suppabuddha therefore relented and gave his daughter in marriage to Prince Siddhartha.
The relationship between Yashodharā and Prince Siddhartha was long and deep-rooted. It had started many, many years ago at the time of the Dīpankara Buddha. At that time, the Prince (Bodhisatta) was born as an ascetic by the name of Sumedha. After an exceedingly long period of practicing the ten virtues, the Bodhisatta Sumedha had finally completed the eight requirements to receive the definite proclamation of Buddhahood from the Dīpankara Buddha. Yashodharā, at that time, was born as a noble lady by the name of Sumittā. She saw the Buddha Dīpankara give the Bodhisattva eight handfuls of white jasmine flowers and the definite proclamation that He would be a Buddha by the name of Gotama, of the Sakyan caste, in the distant future. Cutting off her hair, she aspired to be His consort and helpmate and to support Him actively in His quest for Buddhahood. This strong aspiration and the meritorious deeds that she performed over a long period of time resulted in her being the Bodhisattva’s consort and supporter throughout many births. During this very long period in which the Bodhisattva completed the virtues she actively supported His quest for perfection.
In fact, her dying words reflected this devotion. She referred to the fact that she had been the wife of no other but Him during the entire period and had helped Him to achieve in 100,000 world cycles and four infinite periods what other Buddhas take eight and sixteen infinite periods to achieve.
When the Buddha visited the palace in Kapilavatthu for the first time, all but Princess Yashodharā came to pay homage to Him. She held back, thinking, “Certainly if there is any virtue in me, the Noble Lord Himself will come to my presence.” After the meal the Buddha, accompanied by His two male chief disciples, entered her chamber and sat down on the seat prepared for Him. He then said, “Let the king’s daughter reverence me as she likes.” On seeing the Buddha, Yashodharā came forward quickly, and clasping His ankles, placed her head on His feet and paid reverence to Him as she wished.
King Shuddhodana heralded Yashodharā devotion to the Buddha. He informed the Buddha of her devotion by saying:
“When my daughter heard that you had taken to wearing simple yellow robes, she too gave up her jewels and wore yellow robes. When she heard that you had only one meal a day, she too had only one meal a day. When she heard that you slept on low, hard beds, she too gave up the luxurious palace couches and beds. And when she heard that you had given up garlands and perfume, she too gave up garlands and perfume. When her relatives sent messages of young men who wanted to support her she did not even look at a single one.”
The Buddha acknowledged this devotion by saying that it was not only in this birth that she had been devoted to him. He then dispensed the Candakinnara Jataka, where Yashodharā had given her life to save His by jumping in front of a hunter’s arrow.
Princess Yashodharā came to pay her reverence to the Buddha. Yashodharā thought, “Certainly if there is any virtue in me, the Noble Lord Himself will come to my presence. Then will I reverence Him as much as I like”.
Yashodharā gave up the household life and entered the order of nuns at the same time as Maha Pajapati Gotami. She attained Arahantship and was declared the chief disciple among the nuns who attained supernormal powers (Maha Abhiaaa) to recall infinite eras of the past.
Only four of the Buddha’s disciples had such powers. In general, the Buddha’s disciples could only recall up to 100,000 world cycles.
Yashodharā, the Buddha’s two chief male disciples and the Elder Bakkula, however, had supernormal powers and could recall incalculable eras. The nun Yashodharā passed away at the age of 78, prior to the Lord Buddha.
Towards the end of His life, the Buddha’s aunt-and-foster-mother, Mahaprajapati, and Yasodhara (formerly His wife), who were both nuns and had attained enlightenment, came to see Him, knowing they were about to die. Mahaprajapati—who was, of course, a very old lady—came first, and thanked him for having given her the happiness of the Dharma, for her having been spiritually born through Him; for the Dharma having grown in her through Him; for her having drunk the Dharma milk from him; for her having plunged in and crossed over the Ocean of Becoming through Him—what a glorious thing it has been to be known as the mother of the Buddha, she said.
She went on: “I desire to die finally having put away this corpse. O Sorrow-ender, permit me”. The Buddha cheered her with Dharma and didn’t try to dissuade this grand old lady with false comfort, saying empty things like: “Oh, don’t talk like that. You are not going to die, but will live for many more years yet”. At that stage, fear of living and dying no longer exists.
Yasodhara later came for the same purpose: to take her leave of the Buddha. Addressing Him respectfully, she said she was seventy eight years old. The Buddha replied, “Yes, I know, and I’m eighty”.
She told Him she would die that night. But her tone was more selfreliant than that of Mahaprajapati. She didn’t ask His permission to die nor did she go to Him as her refuge. Instead, she said: “me saranam atthano” (“I am my own refuge”).
She came to thank Him because it was He who had shown her the way and given her the power. She had found what was in her mind, and which could be found only there.