Sunday, February 10, 2019

The problem with beauty (sutra)

Samuel Beal (trans.) Dhammapada Verses and Their Origin Stories, "33. Advantageous Service" ( edited by Dhr. Seven, Sayalay, Wisdom Quarterly
Beauty? It's only skin deep. But that's pretty deep when you're beautiful (D.M.I.).
What's the big deal? So what if I'm pretty?
Formerly the Buddha, along with his followers, having gone to the kingdom of Kosambī, took up residence in the monastic compound (vihara) called Mi-yin ("lovely sound"). There he preached the Dharma for the sake of [unseen] "shining ones" (devas) and humans.

At that time the king of the country was Udayana (Yau-tien), whose queen was of remarkably pure character. Having heard that the Buddha had come to his kingdom, the king and the queen, with her attendants, went to visit him. Having paid him the usual  respectful salutations, they sat down and the Buddha, for their sake, began to teach to show the impermanence, disappointment, and vanity of things, from which all our misery comes.

Then he illustrated how heavenly rebirths were the reward of merit (virtue) and hellish ones the result of demerit (unwholesome actions). In consequence of this discourse (sutra) both the king and queen came to accept the Five Precepts of a lay-disciple then returned to the palace.

Now at this time there was a certain Brahmin [caste man] named Kih-sing ("lucky star"), who had a daughter incomparable for beauty, just 16 years old. On her account the Brahmin, for 90 days, exposed a heap of 1,000 gold masurans and challenged anyone to find a single fault in her so that whoever could do so would get the gold. No one was able to, so desiring to find someone fit for her to marry, the Brahmin again challenged anyone to bring a man equal to his daughter in grace. To him he would give his daughter as a wife.

Now, having heard that the family of the shaman Gautama, known as the Shakyians [Scythians], were remarkable for their beauty and therefore fit to possess his daughter, he came to the place where the Buddha was staying. Taking his daughter with him, after the usual salutations, he said:

"My daughter is extremely beautiful, unequalled in womanly grace. You also, Gautama, are remarkable for your beauty. You may, therefore, have my daughter and make her your companion (wife).”

The Buddha's beauty
The beauty of a buddha is incomparable.
The Buddha replied: “Your daughter's beauty, sir, is according to your own estimation, whereas my beauty is according to that of the buddhas. My beauty and a woman's beauty are wholly different. Your daughter's loveliness, sir, is like that of the picture on the jar (vessel), in the middle of which there is only filth and excrement. How can that be considered as 'beauty' that belongs only to the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the body? It is this 'beauty' of external (outside) form that causes disappointment, overturns families, destroys kinship, sacrifices relationships, kills children. All of these come from this [love of] womanly beauty. But I am a shaman. I stand by myself and would rather endure any calamity than comply with your request. Sir, you may go. I decline your offer.”

Shhh, what the old king doesn't know won't...
At this the Brahmin, who was very irate, departed. Then, coming into the presence of the king, he expanded on his daughter's beauty and offered her to the king. The king, very pleased at the 16-year-old's appearance, accepted her and made her his second queen.

He weighed her down with presents and jewelry. Nevertheless, his mind began to fill with jealous thoughts on account of the young beauty, and discontentment and dislike grew for his first queen.

This at last persuaded him to send for her on a certain occasion to indulge her fancy (knowing that she would not come). When the king sent for her, the first queen declined to appear on the grounds that she was engaged in some spiritual exercise (fasting) and so for several occasions.

The king, enraged by that, sent a man with a rope to drag her into his presence. When she was brought in, he took his bow and arrow and shot her through the body. But the arrow he discharged returned again towards the king and did her no harm. And so it happened again and again.

At this the king, filled with astonishment (awe and fear), said to her: “By what magic power have you been able to bring this about?”

She replied: “I have but taken guidance (sarana) in the Three Gems and the whole day have been engaged in spiritual observances (fasts), and on this account the World-Honored One [the Buddha] has protected me.”

At this the king exclaimed, “Wonderful!” Dismissing the beautiful, young second queen, he sent her back to her parents and re-established the first queen in undisputed authority. Then, with the queen's attendants, he went to see the Buddha and, after due salutations, he explained to him what had happened, at which the Buddha (after a short sutra) repeated these lines:
“If heaven were to rain down the seven precious items, yet the covetous person would not be satisfied. That person's pleasure would be little but the sorrow much. The wise person, possessed of virtue, although possessing the pleasures of heaven, would wisely let them go and not covet them. One who finds happiness in removing thoughts of lustful enjoyment, this person is the [real] disciple of the Buddha.”
Then the Buddha explained to the king the inevitable result of an unwholesome life: it would redound 10,000 times more miserably on the guilty person, while the reward of spiritual exertions and self-improvement [unselfishness] would certainly be the enjoyment of heaven.

Having spoken, the king and queen and their attendants realized perfect release (enlightenment) and became partakers of the Paths.

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