The daughter of a Kosiyagotta Brahmin of Sāgala, in the Madda country.
Ap.ii.583 (vs. 57) says that her mother was Sucīmatī and her father Kapila, whence, probably, her title of Kāpilānī. When the messengers sent by the parents of Pipphali-mānava (Mahā Kassapa) were wandering about seeking for a wife for him to resemble the image they carried with them, they discovered Bhaddā and informed Pipphali's parents. The parents arranged the marriage without the knowledge of the young people and Bhaddā went to Pipphali's house. There they lived together, but, by mutual consent, the marriage was never consummated. It was said that, she brought with her, on the day of her marriage, fifty thousand cartloads of wealth. When Pipphali desired to leave the world, making over to her his wealth, she wished to renounce it likewise, and together they left the house in the guise of recluses, their hair shorn, unobserved by any. In the village, however, they were recognized by their gait, and the people fell down at their feet. They granted freedom to all their slaves, and set forth, Pipphali leading and Bhaddā following close behind. On coming to a fork in the road, they agreed that he should take the right and she the left. In due course she came to the Titthiyārāma (near Jetavana), where she dwelt for five years, women not having yet been admitted to the Buddha's Order. Later, when Pajāpatī Gotamī had obtained the necessary leave, Bhaddā joined her and received ordination, attaining arahantship not long after. Later in the assembly, the Buddha declared her foremost of nuns who could recall former lives.
In the time of Padumuttara Buddha she was the wife of Videha, a setthi of Hamsavatī, and having heard a nun proclaimed in the first rank of those who could recall former lives, she resolved to acquire a similar rank, while her husband (Mahā Kassapa in this life) resolved to be chief among those who practise austere vows (dhutavādinam). Together they did many good deeds and were reborn in heaven.
In the time of Vipassī Buddha, the husband was the brahmin Ekasātaka and she was his wife. In his next birth he was king of Benares and she his chief queen. Together they entertained eight Pacceka Buddhas on a very lavish scale. In the interval between the appearance in the world of Konāgamana and Kassapa Buddha, the husband was a clansman and she his wife. One day a quarrel arose between her and her sister-in law. The latter gave alms to a Pacceka Buddha and Bhaddā, thinking "She will win glory for this," took the bowl from her hand and filled it with mud. But later she was filled with remorse, took back the bowl, emptied it, scrubbed it with scented powder and, having filled it with the four sweet foods, sprinkled over the top ghee of the colour of a lotus calyx. Handing it back to the Pacceka Buddha, she prayed to herself "May I have a shining body like this offering."
In a later birth, Bhaddā was born as the daughter of a wealthy treasurer of Benares; she was given in marriage, but her body was of such evil odour that she was repulsive to all and was abandoned by several husbands. Much troubled, she had her ornaments made into an ingot of gold and placed it on the shrine of Kassapa Buddha, which was in process of being built, and did reverence to it with her hands full of lotuses. Her body immediately became fragrant and sweet, and she was married again to her first husband. The Apadāna account mentions two other lives: one when she was the wife of Sumitta and gave a blanket to a Pacceka Buddha, and again when she was born among the Koliyans and attended on one hundred Pacceka Buddhas of Koliya.
Later, she was the queen of Nanda, king of Benares (Brahmadatta, according to the Apadāna, which gives King Nanda as the name of her husband in another life), with whom she ministered to five hundred Pacceka Buddhas, sons of Padumavatī. When they passed away she was greatly troubled and left the world to give herself up to ascetic practices. She dwelt in a grove, developed jhāna, and was reborn in the Brahma world. (ThigA.67ff.; Ap.ii.578ff.; AA.ii.93ff., 203f.; A.i.25; Thig.vs.63-6).
Bhaddā Kāpilānī's name is mentioned several times (e.g., Vin.iv.227, 268, 269, etc.) in the Vinaya rules in connection with her pupils who were found guilty of transgressing them. She and Thullanandā were both famous as preachers, and the latter, being jealous of Bhaddā, went out of her way to insult her (Vin.iv.290). Once Bhaddā sent word to Sāketa asking Thullanandā if she could find her a lodging in Sāvatthi. Nandā agreed to do this, but made things very unpleasant for Bhaddā when she arrived. (Vin.iv.292)
Bhaddā Kāpilānī is identified with the brahmin woman in the Hatthipāla Jātaka (J.iv.491) and with Sāma's mother in the Sāma Jātaka (J.vi.95).