I. Immediate family of the Buddha
2.Queen Maha Maya(mother)
3.Maha Pajapati Gotami(aunt and foster mother)
4.Yasodhara(cousin and wife)
II. Male Disciples
III. Female Disciples
V. Lay Disciples
Khema, who was of royal birth, lived in the city of Sagala in the kingdom of Magadha. Because of her golden skin, her parents had named her Khema. When she grew up she became the chief consort of King Bimbisara. She was extremely beautiful and very conscious of her exquisite beauty. As such she did not want to see the Buddha or hear the Dhamma, as the Buddha had made it quite clear that external beauty was impermanent and of no value to enlightenment.
King Bimbisara, who was a devoted follower of the Buddha, wanted his queen to listen to the Buddha’s teachings. He thought of a plan to entice her to visit the monastery in which the Buddha was residing. King Bimbisara had his musicians describe in song the natural beauty of the grove in which the Buddha was residing. Khema, who was extremely fond of beauty, listened enraptured to their description of the beautiful flowers and trees that surrounded the Buddha. Wanting to experience the beauty of the grove, Khema decided to visit the monastery.
The Buddha was giving a discourse to a large gathering when he saw Khema in the distance, approaching the monastery. With his psychic powers he created a vision of an exquisitely beautiful maiden by his side. Khema, enchanted by the beauty of the grove and its scented flowers, walked closer and closer to the gathering until her attention was drawn to the beautiful maiden who was fanning the Buddha. Khema, who admired beauty, was captivated by the maiden whose beauty far surpassed her own.
The Buddha then made the beautiful maiden age slowly before her eyes. Khema saw the maiden’s beautiful skin wrinkle, her hair change to grey and her body age. She then saw the body collapse with age and pass away, leaving behind just a corpse which in turn changed to a heap of bones. Understanding that all conditioned phenomena were impermanent, Khema realized that the same would happen to her. How could she retain her beauty when this exquisite vision aged and decomposed before her very eyes?
Khema was ready to listen to the Buddha, who then dispensed to her the dangers of lust and sense pleasures and requested her to give up sense pleasures which were transient. Directing her spiritually advanced mind to the teachings, Khema attained Arahanthship. She then received permission from King Bimbisara to enter the Noble Order of Nuns.
Khema was able to penetrate the truth so quickly because of her practice of the virtues and wisdom many aeons ago. Because of her strong attraction to the Truth and wisdom, Khema had attained birth in the proximity of Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas and Bodhisattas in many previous lives and had studied, practised and taught the Dhamma.
One hundred thousand world cycles ago, at the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, Khema was born in a servant family in the City of Hannsavati. She had been inspired by the Padumuttara Buddha who was dispensing the Dhamma to an assembly of monks and nuns. There arose in her a strong desire to offer a meal to the Padumuttara Buddha. As she had no money, she had cut off her beautiful hair and sold it to earn the money required to give alms to the Buddha. She had then made the aspiration to be the chief female disciple of a future Buddha and foremost in wisdom. From that time onwards Khema had worked tirelessly to fulfil her aspiration. Ninety-one world cycles ago at the time of the Buddha Vipassi, she was a Bhikkhuni and a teacher of the Dhamma. At the time of the Buddhas Kakusandha, Konagamana and Kassapa in the present Maha Baddha Kappa, she had been a lay disciple of the respective Buddhas, had built monasteries and given alms to each of the Buddhas and their retinue of monks and nuns, and practised the Dhamma diligently.
There are many Jataka stories of Khema’s previous births. She had had the opportunity to develop wisdom as the wife of the Bodhisatta Gotama (Jataka 354), as His daughter-in-law (Jataka 397), and as the wife of Sariputta (Jataka 534). In each of these previous birth stories she had been virtuous and had performed many meritorious deeds to fulfil her aspiration.
After attaining Arahanthship Khema understood the impermanence of the body and the dangers of sensual pleasures. Once an insistent admirer tried to seduce her, as follows:
“You are so young and beautiful,
And I myself am in the bloom of youth;
Come, noble lady, let us rejoice
In the music of a fivefold ensemble.”
Khema, who was already an Arahanth, admonished him as follows:
“I am repelled and humiliated
By this putrid, fleshy body,
Afflicted by illness, so very fragile
I have uprooted sensual craving.
Sensual pleasures are now like sword stakes,
The aggregates are their chopping block.
That which you call sensual delight
Has become for me no delight at all.
Everywhere delight has been destroyed,
The mass of darkness has been shattered.
Know this O evil One –
You are defeated, Exterminator.
Fools who do not know reality
In forest glades they seek retreat
And worship in reverence, planets, stars, or fire
To quench passion’s impurity.
The great Buddha, noblest of all men
I who worship Him
From sorrow of repeated birth am free
The Noble Buddha Order, I protect devotedly.
— (Therigatha 139-144)
Khema, who was the first female chief disciple of the Buddha, ranked foremost in wisdom and insight. She was respected by all for her wisdom and ability to explain the higher teachings. Her wisdom and lucid explanations of deep subjects made a lasting impression on King Pasenadi Kosala, who had great respect and regard for her. Khema, with her sharp mind, wisdom, and analytical skills, helped the Buddha in teaching the Dhamma to His large congregation of nuns and in training the nuns, to whom she served as a role model. There are also many recorded instances where Khema, with compassion and understanding, taught the Dhamma to male and female lay devotees.