Queen Pajapati Gotami leads a party of Sakyan ladies to ask for ordination as nuns

Not long after King Suddhodana's passing away, Queen Pajapati Gotami, the Buddha's aunt and foster mother, or King Suddhodana's wife, together with a retinue of Kshatriyan ladies, had an attendance with the Buddha, who at that time was staying at the Nigrodha Park at Kapilavatthu, in order to ask permission to go forth as a nun (bhikkhuni).

The Queen asked the Buddha whether women could go forth as homeless ones in the Buddhist religion as could men. The Buddha responded by discouraging her, telling her to forget about ordaining. He responded in this way three times.

After that, the Buddha went back to Vesali. Queen Pajapati Gotami and her retinue followed him. This time all the ladies, with heads shaved and wearing the ochre robes of renunciants, approached the Buddha and asked once again to be accepted. Once again the Buddha refused.

So the Queen decided to rely on the influence of Venerable Ananda, asking him to go and seek the Buddha's permission on their behalf. Venerable Ananda had an audience with the Buddha, pleading with him to allow Pajapati Gotami and her retinue to go forth as bhikkhuni.

The Buddha refused another three times, but in the end agreed on the condition that Pajapati Gotami first accept eight "heavy conditions" (garudhamma). The eight heavy conditions were preliminary conditions for acceptance as a bhikkhuni, such as that a bhikkhuni, even ordained for as long as 100 years, should respect a bhikkhu even ordained for one day, and that before ordaining as a bhikkhuni a woman had to first observe six precepts for two years without blemish.

Pajapati Gotami had very strong faith, and accepted the conditions and was ordained as the first bhikkhuni, or Buddhist nun. However, the Order of nuns did not last very long, and indications are that it ceased to exist even before the Buddha passed away. The reason for this is that the conventions and rules the Buddha established for the bhikkhuni were like a prison for them, much stricter than for the bhikkhus, so that no one without exceptional faith would consider ordaining.

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