Buddha's Spiritual Daughter
The story of Magadha Sangmo begins with her father, Suddatta, a kind man who was one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s lay disciples and a primary patron. A wealthy philanthropist who had developed great faith in the Buddha’s teachings, Suddatta sponsored the construction of the Buddha’s first monastic abode, Jetavana, which became his main residence. Such were the circumstances surrounding Magadha Sangmo’s formative years, bearing witness to such acts of devotion.
Accounts of Magadha Sangmo can be found in many different Buddhist canons, indicating that she was no ordinary being. In her past life, for example, she had been the daughter of King Krkin, who was the main patron of the previous Buddha Kasyapa. But in her lifetime as Magadha Sangmo, she is best remembered for demonstrating the power of incense offerings, and for converting an entire city to Buddhism through her faith in her teacher.
Magadha Sangmo’s marriage to a famous merchant named Ugga came with a condition that she herself stipulated – she would only marry Ugga if he invited the Buddha and his disciples to their home for a meal. Ugga agreed and so they got married in a distant land called Gokhara which, at the time, was not a Buddhist community.
Magadha Sangmo however, missed her teacher tremendously and longed to make offerings of dana as she used to. One day, she reminded Ugga of his promise and whilst Ugga agreed, he said it would take a long time because the Buddha resided far away. Undeterred, she insisted they prepare a feast to be offered as dana the following day and told Ugga to leave the invitations to her.
Doubtful that the Buddha would come, Ugga and his parents nevertheless set about preparing the feast. That night itself, Magadha Sangmo climbed up to the roof of her home and, offering incense in the direction of Jetavana, recited this prayer:
Protector of all beings without exception,
Divine subduer of innumerable negative forces,
Deity, perfect knower of all things,
Bhagawan and attendants, please come here.
This heartfelt invitation to the Buddha by Magadha Sangmo has since become archetypal for ritual invocations henceforth. From her act of offering incense to the Buddha came the tradition of making offerings to the enlightened beings which continues to be practised today across all Buddhist traditions.
Upon hearing his student’s prayer, the omniscient Buddha instructed his attendant Ananda to tell all disciples who had achieved Insight to prepare to travel to Gokhara. The city was left stunned the following day when the Buddha and a procession of monks riding on dragons, garudas and other mythical animals descended from the sky.
It was the first of many miracles witnessed by the awe-struck city and seeing that the time was ripe for many of Gokhara’s citizens, the Buddha gave a Dharma teaching. Thousands thronged Magadha Sangmo’s house for these teachings and, as a result, took refuge in the Buddha and the Three Jewels.
Thus, just like her father Suddatta, Magadha Sangmo proliferated the culture of hosting the Buddha and the Sangha so that the Dharma would grow in her region. Her story is that of pure devotion which in turn made the Dharma available to countless people. It is said that in her lifetime, Magadha Sangmo achieved Arhatship as a lay householder, another indication that a practitioner can gain realisations even when not living the life of a monk or nun. Her story is still taught in Buddhist curriculum of today, reminding us to be humble and to always seize the chance to be generous and make offerings to the Buddhas.