The story of Magadha Zangmo begins with her father, Suddatta, a kind and generous man whom was one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s lay disciple and a primary patron. He was instrumental in building Buddha’s first monastic abode called Jetavana. Suddatta established himself as a philanthropist by practicing the Buddha’s teachings on Generosity which earned him the name ‘Anathapindika’ which means “the feeder of the orphans or helpless”. Having gained great faith in the Buddha’s teachings and took refuge in the Three Jewels, Anathapindika became the foremost student of Buddha Shakyamuni and set a great example for all sponsors, on the right attitude to hold when sponsoring one’s Guru in Dharma.
When the Buddha was about to enter the Rain Retreat which lasts three months during the monsoon, the caring Anathapindika enquired where the Buddha would be staying during this period as it would be difficult to travel to get necessary supplies. Upon knowing that the Buddha did not have a permanent shelter, Anathapindika set forth to look for a suitable place which is the current Jetavana Grove in the land of Magadha. But procuring the beautiful park was no easy task, as it belonged to Prince Jeta, whom had not the slightest interested to sell his beautiful park. To deter Anathapindika from asking further, the prince said “Alright, you can have the park for however much it costs to cover the ground with gold coins”. Seizing this opportunity, Anathapindika immediately agreed to the prince’s terms and soon brought over wagons filled with gold coins to cover the ground. Upon seeing Anathapindika’s determination, the Prince asked the reason for which Anathapindika needed this park for. On hearing that the park was for the Buddha and His retinue, the prince immediately relented and handed the park over to Anathapindika for a more reasonable price. From then on, Anathapindika spent a large portion of his fortune to build a monastery for the Buddha complete with accommodation for the Buddha and Sangha members, assembly halls and lotus parks, while Prince Jeta, who initially reluctant to sell his park, offered to build an impressive gate house leading into the park and a wall around it for privacy.
Upon the completion of the monastery, Anathapindika invited and offered the Buddha to reside in the monastery. The inauguration of the monastery was a huge fanfare with the assembly of gods and men coming together, rejoicing in Anathapindika’s generous deed. The Buddha took the Jetavana monastery as His main residence and gave many teachings there to benefit all sentient beings. Records of this virtuous man is found in all Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana scriptures and it is said that due to his devotion to the Buddha, he had attained the state of a Sottapanna, the first stage leading to Arhatship.
Anathapindika had two daughters and adopted a third. When his younger biological daughter, Magadha Zangmo came of age, a famous merchant named Ugga approached Anathapindika to ask for his daughter in marriage. Although Anathapindika was not in favor of allowing his daughter to marry this man, as he lived very far away and is not a Buddhist practitioner, he however allowed his daughter to make the decision and asked what conditions she would wish for to be married into the house of Ugga.
Magadha Zangmo then replied, if Ugga will invite the Buddha and His disciples to their home for a meal, she is willing to marry him. Ugga agreed to her terms and the both were married in a distant land called Gokhara. Gokhara was not a Buddhist community at that time, and followed mainly the Jain religion. The locals there worshipped ascetics who would meditate naked in the wild. It made Magadha Zangmo felt uneasy every time her in-laws invited these ascetics to come to their home and hosted them for meals. Magadha Zangmo began talking to her mother-in-law and father-in-law about the Buddha and in time, their curiosity grew in the Buddha. All this time, Magadha had also longed to see the golden face of the Buddha and make offerings of dana as she used to do.
One day, when the time was right, Magadha Zangmo reminded her husband of his promise to her before they were married. Ugga agreed but mentioned that it will take a long time more as the Buddha reside in a far place, but Magadha Zangmo insisted they prepare a sumptuous meal to be offered as dana to the Buddha the next day and leave the invitation of the Buddha to her. Although Ugga and her in-laws were doubtful that Buddha would arrive, to please Magadha, they prepared a large feast for the next day. On that night, Magadha Zangmo climbed up to the roof of her home and offered incense in the direction of Jetavana and recited this prayer:
MA LU SEM CHEN KUN GYI GON GYUR CHING
DU TE PUNG CHAY MI ZAY JOM DZAY LHA
NGO NAM MA LU YANG DA KYEN GYUR PAY
CHOM DEN KOR CHAY NAY DIR SHEG SU SOL
Translation: Protector of all beings without exception, divine subduer of innumerable negative forces, deity, perfect knower of all things, Bhagawan and attendants, please come here.
With this prayer, she requested the Buddha together with his disciples to please come to her home and receive alms. The Buddha, being omniscient, heard her prayer and told Ananda to tell all his students who have achieved Insight to make preparations to travel to Gokhara where Magadha Zangmo lived. This heartfelt invitation of the Buddha by Magadha Zangmo has since become archetypal for ritual invocations practiced today.
The very next day, Magadha Zangmo’s house was festive with preparations for the Buddha’s arrival. The maids and servants were busy cleaning the entire household, preparing and cooking up a feast for the Buddha and His entourage. Her heart was brimming with faith as she oversaw all the preparations needed for her Master’s arrival.
As the sun rose towards the Zenith, some of the servants saw a procession of monks clad in saffron robes riding on dragons, garudas and other mystical animals descending from the sky. When Magadha Zangmo was asked if either one of them was her Master, she replied no as she saw the Arhats. The Buddha was seen last in the procession of Arhats, riding on a lion and as He descended from the sky the Buddha manifested into 18 separate Buddhas, each entering one of the 18 gateways to the city. Many miracles ensued that turned the city’s disbelief into faith in the Dharma. The Buddha realizing that the city’s population could not fit into Magadha’s home transformed Magadha’s house into a brilliant structure composed of moonstones and jewels. So while Magadha and her family worshipped the Buddha inside, the townsfolk outside all saw reflections of the Buddha that radiated from the house.
The entire city of people of Gokhara who were not Buddhist were left awe-struck by the spectacle of the Buddha’s psychic manifestation. Many were seen on their knees and some prostrated in faith as they have seen for themselves the Golden face of Lord Buddha. Magadha Zangmo welcomed the Buddha to her house and offered the Buddha with Dana and in return, seeing the time was ripe for Magadha Zangmo’s husband and in-laws to receive the Dharma, gave a Dharma teaching to everyone present. Thousands thronged Magadha Zangmo’s house for teachings from the Buddha. Having heard the Buddha’s teachings, many people of Gokhara took refuge in the Buddha and the Three Jewels.
It was due to Magadha Zangmo’s faith and devotion that the people of Gokhara were able to meet with Buddha, receive the Dharma and have their minds liberated. Magadha Zangmo was like her father, Anathapindika who established the culture of hosting the Buddha and the Sangha so that the Dharma would grow in her region.
There are many recorded accounts of Magadha Zangmo in the different Buddhist canons which indicates that Magadha Zangmo was not an ordinary being. When the Buddha’s attendant remarked to the Buddha how auspicious it was for the Buddha to answer Magadha’s prayers to visit, the Buddha responded that Magadha Zangmo had in her past life been the daughter of King Krkin, who was the main patron of the Buddha Kasyapa, and even then she had been a great devotee of the Dharma, and was the one who introduced her father, King Krkin to Buddha Kasyapa. And even before that, she had been a poor girl who had made an offering of a crown of flowers to the sanctuary of a Pratyekabuddha and made a vow to continue to do so lifetime after lifetime. Magadha’s story is that of pure devotion towards the Dharma that in turn made the Dharma available to countless people.
Magadha Zangmo lived her life serving the Buddha and the Dharma, bringing benefit to countless beings who came to listen to Buddha’s teachings. It is said that she achieved Arhatship during her lifetime as a lay householder, another indication that a practitioner can gain realizations even when we are 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.
From her act of offering incense to the Buddha came the tradition of making offerings to the Buddhas which is still practiced today across all Buddhist traditions. It is from her act of making incense offerings and reciting the verse of invocation which started the tradition of invocation prayer. Magadha Zangmo’s life legacy came filled with spiritual meaning and it was said that she continued to return to Samsara as great Buddhist masters as well as ordinary incarnations to benefit more beings after her passing.
“In India, in the Buddha’s time, there was a woman called Magadha Zangmo, who lived somewhere near Bodhgaya, I think. She was Buddhist and her husband was a Hindu. She wanted to invite Buddha to her home and offer lunch to Buddha and his disciples, so she cleaned the house and made the lunch to offer Buddha and his disciples. Her husband said that Buddha wouldn’t come, but she said, “Buddha is coming,” and made everything ready.
Magadha Zangmo then stood outside holding incense in her hand and recited this prayer, “Ma lü sem chän kün gyi…nä dir sheg su söl.” All the disciples came first, each arhat radiant and riding on a different animal. With each one, her husband said, “Is this Buddha?” and she said, “No.” Another disciple would come; he would ask, “Is this Buddha?” and she would say, “No.” All the disciples came first, and Buddha was the last one to come. Magadha Zangmo then made offering to Buddha. So, this invocation comes from Magadha Zangmo.”
“The account of Buddha appearing in the skies refers to the story of Magadha Zangmo, daughter of Anathapindika, a great patron of the Buddha. She lived in Gorakhpur, far from where Buddha was staying. One night, moved by great faith, she climbed to the roof of the house and prayed for the Buddha to appear. At once the skies became filled with miraculous sights the poem describes.”
From Splendor of the Autumn Moon and in the commentary of the Praise of the Buddha by Lama Tsongkhapa.
Stone carvings of
the Magadha Zangmo Sutra preserved until today