Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Husband Honorer: A Devoted Wife

Bartleby.com (The Harvard Classics, 1909–14, "The Devoted Wife" translated from the Dhammapada and Buddhaghosa’s commentary); Wisdom Quarterly (images and editing)

While eagerly a human culls life’s flowers,
With all faculties intent,
Of pleasure still insatiate --
Death comes and overpowereth one.

“While eagerly man culls life’s flowers.” This instruction was given by the Buddha while dwelling at Savatthi. It was concerning a woman the monks called “Husband-honorer.” It began in the space world (celestial heaven) of the Suite of the Thirty-Three.

They say that a deva of that heaven named “Garland-wearer” went to his pleasure-grounds in company with 1,000 celestial nymphs. Five hundred [i.e., “a large number”] of these devis ascended trees and threw down flowers, while 500 picked up the flowers that were thrown down and decked the deva therewith. One of these devis, while on the bough of a tree, fell from that existence [passed away], her body vanishing like the flame of a lamp.

Then she was reborn in a high-caste family of Savatthi. She was born with a memory of her previous existences. And saying to herself, “I am the wife of the deva Garland-wearer,” she made offerings of perfumes, garlands, and the like, with the aspiration that in her next rebirth she might again be with her husband. When at the age of 16 she married into another family, with alms-food, and fornightly [special celebration] food, she continued to give saying, “May this prove efficacious in bringing about my rebirth with my husband.”

Thereupon the monks gave her the name Husband-honorer, for they said: “She works early and late, and her only desire is for her [present] husband.”

Husband-honorer continually took care of the monastery where the monks sat. She brought drinking water and spread the mats to sit on. When other people desired to give ticket-food and other alms, they would bring it to her, and say, “Dear lady, prepare this for the congregation of monks.” By going about in this manner, she acquired the 56 salutary qualities all at one time.

Then she had a baby at the end of ten lunar months, bringing forth a son. And when he was old enough to walk, she had another until she had four sons in all.

One day -- after she had given alms and offerings and had listened to the Dharma (Doctrine) and had kept the precepts -- she passed away toward nightfall from a sudden disease, and she was reborn into the presence of her husband.

The other devis had continued to deck the deva throughout the whole interval.

“We have not seen you since morning,” said Garland-wearer. “Where have you been?”

“I fell from this existence, my lord.”

“Are you in earnest?”

“It was precisely so, my lord.”

“Where were you reborn?”

“At Savatthi, in a family of high caste.”

“How long were you there?”

“My lord, at the end of ten months I issued from my mother’s womb. And at the age of 16, I married into another family. And having given birth to four sons, and having given gifts and done other meritorious deeds with the aspiration that I might again be with you, I have been reborn into your presence.”

“How long is the life of humans?”

“[At this time,] Only 100 years.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“If that is the length of life to which humans are born, tell me, do they pass the time asleep and reckless, or do they give gifts and do other meritorious deeds?”

“Nothing of the kind, my lord. Humans are always reckless -- as if they were born to a life of an incalculable number of years and were never to grow old and die.”

At this the deva Garland-wearer became exceedingly agitated.

“Humans, it appears, are born to a life of only 100 years, yet they recklessly lie down and sleep away their time. When will they ever get free from misery [even temporarily through rebirth in better worlds]?”
  • One hundred of our years make one day and night of the devas of the Suite of the Thirty-Three;
  • 30 [28] such days and nights their month [4 weeks];
  • 12 [13] such [lunar] months their year.
  • And the length of their lives is 1,000 such celestial years, or in human notation 36,000,000 (36 million) years.
So for Garland-wearer not one day has passed, but the interval of his wife's absence had seemed to him but a moment. He thought, “Recklessness for short-lived humans is extremely unsuitable.”

On the next day, when the monks entered the village, they found the hall had not been looked after; the mats had not been spread, and the drinking water had not been placed. Then they inquired:

“Where is Husband-honorer?”

“Venerable sirs, how could you expect to see her? Yesterday, after you venerables had eaten and departed, she died that evening.”

When the monks heard this, the unenlightened ones among them, calling to mind her kind support, were unable to restrain their tears. Even the enlightened ones [having overcome the defilements and the delusion of clinging to and identifying with the Five Aggregates of Being] experienced agitation.

After breakfast they returned to the monastery and made inquiry of the Buddha:

“Venerable sir, Husband-honorer worked early and late doing many kinds of meritorious deeds, and she aspired only to be reborn with her husband. Now she is dead. Where, praytell, has she been reborn?”

“With her husband, O monks.”

“But, venerable sir, she is not with her husband.”

“O monks, it was not her human husband she was praying for. She had a former husband named Garland-wearer, a deva of the Suite of the Thirty-Three. She had fallen from that existence while he was decorating himself with flowers. Now she has returned and been reborn again at his side.”

“Venerable sir, is it really so?”

“Assuredly, O monks.”

“Alas, venerable sir, how very short is the life of all creatures! In the morning she waited on us, and in the evening a grave disease attacked her and she died.”

“Assuredly, O monks,” said the Buddha, “the life of creatures is short. And thus it is that death gets creatures into his power, drags them away howling and weeping, still unsated in their senses and lusts.”

So saying, he pronounced the following stanza:

“While eagerly a human culls life’s flowers,
With all faculties intent,
Of pleasure still insatiate --
Death comes and overpowereth one.”

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