Sutta Spotlight | Bhikkhunisamyutta

The Earliest Sisterhood  

When we listen to the wisdom of the Elders, 
We listen to the wisdom of the Ages.


Who Were the Theris?

Picture of Kisagotami with her dead son asking the Buddha to help him

Kisagotami implores the Buddha to help her son

“A person with a mind that clings,
Deranged, to sons or possessions,
Is swept away by death that comes
— Like mighty flood to sleeping town.”

                                                                                                          –The Buddha to Kisagotami


The Bhikkhunisamyutta is a collection of suttas about the earliest Buddhist nuns, the Theris.  These women were fully enlightened followers of the Buddhist path who were part of the fourfold sangha.  Their poems represent some of the oldest poems written by women known to humanity.  Sappho is their closest analogue, which is why we include her in our lessons.

A Birthday Christina Rosetti
A poem by Sappho up against the backdrop of space
a poem by sappho written in a parchment background

The ] sign in this poem by Sappho indicates where the parchment is destroyed, rendering parts of the poem unreadable.

A photo of Sappho's original manuscript

Here depicted is an actual poem written by Sappho.  The parchment shows signs of decay from over 2,000 years of aging.

“Just so the aggregates and elements . . .”

In her sutta, Sela speaks of ‘aggregates.’  These aggregates, or khandhas, in Pali, refer to the material (object) and mental (thought) factors that comprise those things to which we cling.  Not everyone clings to the exact same things, nor to the same degree.  Some people may see an expensive sports car, and a sense of wanting arises.  Others may be attracted to physical beauty, while still others are drawn towards particular thoughts.

There are five aggregates, and they are comprised of form, feelings, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness.  These aggregates, in and of themselves, are not problematic.  It is when we cling to them that suffering arises.  Below is an example of how suffering can arise in relation to desiring a form:

Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids 
(1857–1942) was a British writer and translator. She was widely known as an editor, translator, and interpreter of Buddhist texts in the Pāli language. She was honorary secretary of the Pāli Text Society from 1907, and its president from 1923 to 1942.