Monday, January 3, 2011

A Queen and Harem gain Enlightenment

Wisdom Quarterly translation Dhammapada origin story

While residing in Ghosita monastery near Kosambi, the Buddha uttered Dhammapada Verses 21, 22, and 23 in reference to Samavati, one of the chief queens of King Udena of Kosambi.

Samavati had many "maids-of-honor" residing with her in the palace [Editor's note: likely as a harem for the king]. She also had a maid named Khujjuttara, who had the daily task of buying flowers for Samavati from Sumana, the town florist. She would pocket half the coins Queen Samavati gave her and buy flowers with the others.

On one occasion, when out shopping for flowers, Khujjuttara had the rare and fortunate opportunity to listen to the Buddha deliver a Dharma discourse in Sumana's home. It so struck her that she penetrated the liberating Truth, and she attained the fruit of stream entry (the first stage of enlightenment).

She immediately felt remorse for what she had been doing. She confessed to Queen Samavati, who was confused since there were always flowers in the house. Khujjuttara explained that she only took half the money. When asked what had come over her and caused her to confess, she explained the strange experience she had undergone on hearing the Dharma at Sumana's house.

She could hardly explain what had happened to her. Instead, she repeated the Buddha's discourse to Samavati and the other ladies. They all attained stream entry as a result.

From that day forward Khujjuttara did not have to do any menial work. She assumed the position of mother and teacher to Queen Samavati. She would listen to the discourses of the Buddha and repeat them to Samavati and her maids.

In due course, Khujjuttara mastered the contents of the Three Collections (Tipitaka), that is, the conventional sutras, monastic disciplinary code, and the Abhidharma or "Higher Teachings."

Samavati and her maids wished very much to see the Buddha to show their respect and gratitude. But they were afraid the king might be displeased with them. So making holes in the walls of the palace, they looked through them and bowed in the direction of the Buddha every day as he visited the houses of the three rich men, namely, Ghosaka, Kukkuta, and Pavariya.

The harem peered at the Buddha through holes in the walls of their living quarters.

At that time, King Udena also had another chief queen by the name of Magandiya. She was the daughter of a brahmin. That brahmin, seeing the Buddha one day, came to believe that the Buddha was the only person worthy of his extremely beautiful daughter. He hurriedly ran off to fetch his wife and daughter and had offered to give his daughter in marriage to the Buddha.

The Buddha was a recluse, a renunciant, and fully enlightened -- with no interest in sensual attachments or the household life whatsoever. He turned down the offer by saying, "Even after seeing Tanha, Arati, and Raga, the daughters of Mara, I felt no desire in me for sensual pleasures. After all, what is this that is full of urine and filth, which if walking down the road I would avoid touching even with my foot."

On hearing those powerful words regarding the body and sensuality, both the brahmin and his wife attained the third stage of enlightenment ("non-returning," anagami). They entrusted their daughter to the care of her uncle and themselves joined the Sangha or Monastic Order. Eventually, they reached full enlightenment (arhatship).

The Buddha knew the brahmin and his wife were capable of becoming non-returners that very day. Therefore, he replied in that manner.

However their daughter, Magandiya, became very so bitter and sore by the perceived insult that she vowed to have her revenge if and when an opportunity arose.

Later, her uncle presented Magandiya to King Udena, and she became one of his chief queens. Magandiya came to learn about the arrival of the Buddha in Kosambi and about how Samavati and her maids bowed to him through holes in the walls of their living quarters.

So she planned her revenge on the Buddha as well as her rivals for the king's affection, whom she knew to be his ardent devotees.

Magandiya told the king that Samavati and the ladies had made holes in the walls of their living quarters to communicate with outside contacts disloyal to the king. King Udena was shown the holes in the walls, but when they explained why they had made them he did not get angry.

Nevertheless, Magandiya kept trying to convince the king that Samavati was disloyal to him and was even plotting to kill him.

On one occasion, knowing that the king would be visiting Samavati and would be taking along his lute, Magandiya placed a snake in the lute and closed the hole with a bunch of flowers.

Magandiya followed King Udena to Samavati's quarters after trying to stop him on the pretext that she had some presentiment and felt worried about his safety.

Magandiya removed the flowers from the hole of his lute when he arrived at Samavati's. The snake leaped out hissing and recoiling itself onto the bed. When the king saw the snake, he suddenly believed Magandiya: Samavati was trying to kill him after all!

The king was furious. He decided to execute the traitors. He commanded Samavati to stand with all the ladies lined up behind her. He then fitted his bow with an arrow dipped in poison and shot her point blank.

But Samavati and the ladies entered jhana ("meditative absorption," in which one is immune to injury). They bore no ill-will towards the king even as he was about to exectue them through the power of loving-kindness (metta), which is the means by which they entered absorption. The arrow deviated, which astonished the king because he could not have missed; his shots usually went even through rock.

The king realized their innocence and gave Samavati permission to invite the Buddha and his disciples to the palace for almsfood and to deliver discourses to them.

Magandiya was stunned. Since none of her schemes had materialized, she concocted a final, infallible plan: She sent a message to her uncle with full instructions to burn down Samavati's dwelling with all the women inside. She herself went to visit her family to avoid becoming a suspect in this act of arson.

As the house was consumed in flames, Samavati and the ladies kept right on meditating. All of them were stream enterers. As they meditated, some of them attained the second stage of enlightenment (once-returning, sakadagami), some of them the third.

As the news of the fire quickly spread, the king rushed to the scene. But it was too late. He loved Samavati dearly. And he remembered that she had often counseled and advised him to control his outrageous temper. But now it knew no bounds: He would avenge his loss if only he could find out who had taken away his queen and harem.

The king suspected that Magandiya had instigated this calamity, but he had no proof. So he did not reveal that he suspected her. Instead, he asked his ministers for help. One advised him on an excellent plan to induce Magandiya into bragging about her plot.

Following this sage advice King Udena the following within earshot of Magandiya: "While Samavati was alive I was fearful and always alert thinking I might be harmed by her! Only now is my mind at peace! O, if only I could thank my protector who has done me the favor of doing away with those traitors! But who could have done this? Surely, it was someone who loves me dearly!"

Overhearing this, Magandiya promptly bragged about her involvement and explained that she had instigated her uncle to do it. The king pretended to be pleased and overjoyed. He said to her that he would love to repay the favor by honoring all of her relatives. He asked Magandiya to invite them all to the palace.

When she sent for her relatives, they gladly came to be honored. As soon as they arrived at the palace, however, all of them including Magandiya were seized. They were taken to the courtyard and burned alive by the order of the king.

When the Buddha was told about these two incidents, he said that those who are heedful [explained as ever mindful] do not die. But those who are negligent are as good as dead even while they live. Then the Buddha uttered these verses preserved in the Dhammapada:

Heedfulness is the way to the deathless [nirvana]; heedlessness is the way to death [samsara]. Those who are heedful do not die; those who are heedless are as if dead already (Dhp. 21).

Fully comprehending this, the wise, who are ever heedful, rejoice in being conscientious and find delight in the domain of the noble ones [ariyas] (Dhp. 22).

The wise, constantly cultivating serenity-and-insight in practice, being ever mindful and steadfastly striving, realize nirvana -- nirvana, which is free from the bonds of yoga,** nirvana, the incomparable! (Dhp. 23)

*The question may arise, Why didn't they simply enter meditative absorption (jhana) again to avoid being harm? The question was put to the Buddha, who explained the karma they had performed in the distant past. Long ago these women were friends living together as royalty and one day bathing in a river. Emerging, they felt cold, so they set a bush on fire. When the fire burned out, they were horrified to find that there had been a Nonteaching (pacceka) Buddha in deep meditation in the bush. They assumed the ascetic had died because he was not moving, and after all who could survive such a fire? Fearing the punishment that might befall them for "killing" him by their negligence, they decided to destroy the evidence. They immediately doused him in oil and brush and attempted to burn the remains. (In neither case was he hurt because of the profound depths of his meditation). But this bad intention performed against a buddha bore a heavy result that could not be averted.

**The "bonds of yoga" [union, bondage, being "yoked" like oxen to the mental defilements] are four in number: craving for sense-pleasures (kama), craving for continued becoming (bhava), wrong views (ditthi), and ignorance of the Four Ennobling Truths (avijja).

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