Tradition holds that long ago a young man from Savatthi heard the Dharma. Hearing the Teaching of the Buddha, he became a devoted follower seeking guidance in the Three Gems: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha -- the Teacher, Teaching, and taught (the "Noble Sangha" is meant here, which refers to successful lay and monastic practitioners).
Renouncing the world for the spiritual quest of recluseship, he became a Buddhist monk taking up the Noble Eightfold Path. He was intent on practicing meditation and constantly maintaining his mindfulness, a reference to active contemplation with a mind calmed and collected by meditation.
But one day while wandering for alms through Savatthi, he saw a beautiful and provocatively dressed woman. He gazed at her, for the sake of pleasure, leering and letting his higher virtue fall away.
He became so consumed with passion, sensual craving, and lust that he was like a fig tree (with its shriveled dangling fruit) felled by an axe. From that day forward, overcome by languor, mind and body wasted away. He became like a desperate animal finding no joy in the liberating Dharma, which is largely an antidote to this affliction. Instead, his hair and nails grew long and his robes grew foul and unkempt.
When friends among his fellow monks saw him distressed they asked, "Venerable sir, why has your moral state changed?" "My joy is gone," he answered. So they dragged him reluctantly to the Buddha, who asked why they brought him against his will.
"Venerable sir, it is because his joy is gone." "Is that true, monk?" "It is, Blessed One." "Who has troubled you?" "Venerable sir, I was on alms round when, violating the higher virtue, I gazed at a woman and passion stirred up within me. I am therefore troubled."
Then the Buddha explained: "It is little marvel, monk, that violating the higher virtue, you gazed for the sake of pleasure at an exceptional object of beauty and became overcome by passion.
"In the past even those who by the might of serenity-and-insight (winning the five higher knowledges and the eight absorptions), those who by the power of insight had quelled their passions, whose hearts/minds were purified and whose feet could walk the skies (literally by the power of absorption), even great bodhisattvas, through gazing in violation of the higher morality on a beautiful object, lost their insight. They were stirred by passion and came to great sorrow.
about a bare hill no bigger than an elephant.
Little cares the wind that could uproot a mighty Jambu tree
about a bush on the face of a cliff.
Little cares the wind that could dry up a vast ocean
about a tiny pond.
"If passion can provoke folly in pure-minded bodhisattvas, should it be abashed before you? Why, even well purified beings are led astray by passion. So even those advanced to the highest honor come to shame." And having said so the Buddha told this [rebirth tale] story of the past:
We he grew up and had finished his [college-style] education, he renounced all lusts. Forsaking the world for the life of a hermit, he went to live in the solitude of the Himalayas. There, by practicing the preparatory meditations, he won the higher knowledges (psychic powers) and ecstatic attainments (the eight jhanas, zens, meditative absorptions). He live a life of bliss and mystic insight.
Lack of salt and vinegar brought him one day to Benares, where he camped in the king's park (sprawling pleasure garden). After seeing to his bodily needs, he folded up his red suit of bark cloth (a typical form of dress for a possession-less Indian hermit utilizing a natural tree resource as clothing), threw a black antelope skin over his shoulder, knotted his tangled dreadlocks in a coil on the op of his head, and with a yoke on his back off of which hung two baskets, he set out in search of alms food.
Passing by the palace gates along the way, his demeanor commended him to the king who saw in him a great spiritual being. The king had the wandering ascetic brought into the palace where he was given a seat of great splendor and fed an abundance of rich foods. He thanked the king who in turn invited him to make his dwelling in the park. The ascetic accepted the offer and stayed on for 16 years, teaching the king and being well fed in return.
There came a time when the king had to go put down some unrest at the border. But before he left he put his queen, Gentleheart, in charge of looking after all of the holy man's needs. After the king's departure, the ascetic came and went to the palace as he pleased.
One day Queen Gentleheart prepared a meal for the ascetic who, due to his profound meditation, was late to the palace. So she went about her business bathing in perfumed water, dressing herself in all her splendor, taking a nap on a little couch in a spacious chamber waiting for him.
Emerging from the rapture of his meditation and noticing that it was late, the ascetic traveled through the air (levitated) to the palace. Hearing the rustling of his bark cloth robe, the queen quickly stood up. In doing so her tunic slipped down revealing her beauty to the ascetic as he entered through the window. At the sight of her partial nudity -- violating his higher virtue -- he gazed at her marvelous beauty for pleasure's sake.
Lust was kindled, passion was stirred, and he was like a tree felled by an axe [like horizontal wood in bark cloth?]. All at once insight deserted him, leaving him like a crow with wings clipped [temporarily losing the power of meditative absorption, which depends on freedom from the Five Hindrances, he could no longer levitate].
He clutched his food standing still, but could not eat. So he went away by foot trembling with desire, returning to his hut in the park far from the palace. He set the food down under his wooden bench and laid down for seven days without rising in spite of hunger and thirst -- a slave to the queen's beauty, his heart burning with lust.
On the seventh day, the king returned from pacifying the border. He circled the city in solemn procession and entered the palace. Wishing to see the ascetic, he made his way to the park and found the holy man lying down as if taken ill. The king had the cell cleaned out and, stroking the ascetic's feet, asked what ailed him.
"King, my heart is fettered by lust. That is my only illness," he answered.
"Lust for whom?" the king asked.
"For Gentleheart, sire."
"Then she is yours! I give her to you," offered the king. Then together with the ascetic he made his way to the palace. He asked the queen to array herself in all her beauty then bequeathed her to the ascetic.
But as he gave her away, he whispered to the queen that she do her best to help save the holy man. "Fear not, sire," the queen whispered back, "for I will save him." The ascetic and queen left the palace, but as they passed out of the main gate, the queen cried out that they must have a house to live in and that the ascetic had to go back and ask the king for one.
The ascetic went back to the king and asked for a house to live in. The king gave them a dilapidated old dwelling used by passers by as a latrine. The ascetic brought the queen to her new dwelling to have her, but she flatly refused to enter because of its filthiness.
"What can I do?" he cried. "Clean it out!" she answered. She sent him to the king for a shovel and a basket and made the ascetic remove all the filth. Then he had to plaster the walls with cow dung [a free, natural, and widely available housebuilding material in India], which he himself had to go and fetch.
His lust was diminishing, but when he was done it had returned. He was ready to have her enter. She refused sending him instead to go get a bed, then a chair, then a rug, water pot, bowls and cups -- each time sending him for only one thing at at time. He went each time becoming more exasperated. Next she sent him to fetch water and a thousand other things. Off he started for the water, filled up the water pot, and collected enough to also fill the bath, then had to make the bed.
Finally, when he sat her on the bed, she took him by the whiskers and drew him towards her until they were face to face and said: "Have you forgotten that you are a holy man and a noble brahmin?"
Then and there he came to his senses after this long interval of folly.
[Here one may recall the text that begins, "The hindrances of lust and longing are called unskillful because they spring from ignorance, practitioners, and that which springs from ignorance creates darkness."]
Coming to himself he reflected how -- his lust waxing stronger and stronger -- craving would eventually lead him to rebirth in the Four Woeful States (figuratively or literally rebirth among titans, ghosts, animals, or a denizen of any of the many hells).
"This very day," he cried, "I will restore this woman to the king and fly back to the mountains!" So standing with the queen before the king he said, "Sire, I no longer desire the queen, and it was only on account of her that sensual cravings were stirred up in me." Then he uttered this stanza:
Had I -- to win her. When her beauty ruled me,
King, desire came crowding on desire.
Immediately on renouncing the object of his lust, he regained his power of insight and absorption. And rising from the Earth, he seated himself cross legged in the air, and preached the truth to the king. And without touching the ground, he passed through the air to the Himalayas. He did not return to the path of worldlings. Instead, he grew in love and charity until, through the power of unbroken absorption, he eventually passed calmly away to be reborn in the Brahma World [the goal of devout brahmins].
The ancient lifestyle of pre-Buddhist wandering ascetics (saddhus) in modern India
His lesson ended, the Buddha preached the Four Noble Truths. At the close of which that monk [temporarily released from his own overwhelming lust by this powerful story] gained full enlightenment. And the Buddha showed the connection identifying that rebirth by saying, "In those days the king was Ananda, Uppalavanna [his chief female disciple "foremost in psychic powers," Maha Moggallana's counterpart in the Order of Nuns or Bhikkhuni Sangha] his Queen Gentleheart, and I was the hermit."