“What is laughter, what is delight, when the world is ever burning?
Shrouded by darkness, would you not seek a light?”146
Visākhā once visited the Buddha accompanied by some women who, without her knowledge, had become drunk. They danced and sang before the Buddha. He used his psychic powers to create a darkness which brought them to their senses. The Buddha then uttered the above verse.
“Behold this beautiful body, a mass of sores, a heaped-up (lump),
diseased, much thought of, in which nothing lasts, nothing persists.”147
Sirimā the Courtesan
A young monk fell in love with Sirimā, a beautiful courtesan. He was so obsessed that he could not eat the almsfood her servants had offered, and it remained rotting in his almsbowl. Unexpectedly Sirimā died. The Buddha told the king not to let her body be cremated, but to protect it from dogs. When it was worm-infested, he asked the king to beat a drum throughout the city to see if anyone wanted to take her body. No one wanted it at any price, though formerly men had paid a thousand to spend one night with her. When the young monk was told that the Buddha was going to see Sirimā he went there at once. Showing the worm-infested body to the monks and nuns, the Buddha spoke on the loathsomeness of the body.
“Thoroughly worn out is this body, a nest of diseases, perishable.
This putrid mass breaks up. Truly, life ends in death.”148
The Elder Nun Uttarā
According to her own wish, an old nun gave all of her almsfood to a certain monk on three consecutive days, though she had none left for herself. On the fourth day, seeing her trip and fall, the Buddha spoke on the fragile nature of life.
“Like gourds cast away in autumn are these dove-hued bones.
What pleasure is there in looking at them?”149
Many Monks Who Over-estimated
Five hundred monks, having obtaining a meditation object meditated in the forest. Having obtained jhāna, they thought they had attained Arahantship, so went to pay respect to the Teacher. The Buddha told the Venerable Ānanda to send them to the cemetery to meditate. Lust arose in them on seeing freshly dead corpses, so they realised their error. Seated in his Perfumed Chamber, the Buddha sent forth radiance and uttered the above verse in admonition as if he was in front of them. They all attained Arahantship and then came to pay homage to him.
“Of bones is (this) city made, plastered with flesh and blood.
Herein are stored decay, death, conceit, and detraction.”150
The Nun Janapadakalyāṇī
Janapadakalyāṇī became a nun because her eldest brother (the Buddha) had renounced his kingdom to become a monk, his son Rāhula had become a monk, her own husband, Nanda, had become a monk, and her mother, had all gone forth. Due to her great beauty, she became known as Rūpanandā Therī. Hearing that the Buddha deprecated beauty, she avoided visiting him. However, hearing the lavish praise of the Buddha by the nuns and women devotees, she wished to see and hear the Buddha, so one day went with the other nuns, sitting behind them. The Buddha used his psychic powers to create a vision of a beautiful young woman fanning him. Rūpanandā was captivated by her beauty. The Buddha then caused the young woman to age gradually, slowly taking on the form of an old woman, then one dying in agony. Finally he made her body became a bloated corpse, pecked at by crows. Becoming thoroughly disgusted, Rūpanandā reflected that her own body was the same. Then the Buddha uttered the above verse and Rūpanandā gained Arahantship.
“Even ornamented royal chariots wear out. So too the body reaches old age,
but the Dhamma of the Good does not age.
Thus do the Good reveal it among the Good.”151
The Death of Queen Mallikā
While taking a bath, Queen Mallikā bent over to wash her legs. Her pet dog started misbehaving. She remained there, enjoying the contact. King Pasenadi was able to see this from his window, so when she returned he called her an outcaste and told her to go away. She told the king that the bathroom created illusions, and told him to go and stand in the bathroom while she looked through the window. He did so, and she told him that she saw him misbehaving with a she-goat. The king was simple-minded enough to believe this, but Mallikā was remorseful about deceiving him, and when she died she was reborn in Avīci hell, in spite of all the good deeds she had done, and her faith in the Buddha and his disciples.
After her death, the king went to see the Buddha, wishing to ask her place of rebirth, but the Buddha taught him the Dhamma and resolved that the king would forget to ask. On returning to the palace, the king realised that he had not asked, and resolved to ask the next day. For seven days, the same thing happened. On the eighth day, Mallikā was reborn in Tusita heaven. The Buddha went for alms to the palace, and sat down in the chariot hall. When the king asked, he said that Mallikā had been reborn in Tusita. Then asking the king about the royal chariots that belonged to his father and grandfather, he uttered the above verse.
“The man of little learning grows old like an ox.
His flesh grows; but his wisdom does not.”152
The Elder Lāḷudāyī
This elder always used to recite the most inappropriate discourses when visiting householders. When monks reported this matter to the Buddha, he related a story of the past:
The Brahmin Youth Somadatta
At one time Somadatta was the son of a simple farmer. Somadatta was a favourite of the king. When one of his two oxen died, his father asked Somadatta to request another from the king. Somadatta thought, “If I ask the king myself, I will appear petty-minded” so he told his father to ask the king himself. However, as his father was so simple, he had to instruct him on court manners and exactly what to say. When the big moment came, his father asked the king to take his second ox as one had died, when he meant to ask him to give him one. The king smiled at the brahmin’s slip of the tongue, and said to Somadatta, “You must be having a great many oxen at home.” Somadatta diplomatically replied, “There will be as many as those given by you.” The king was pleased and gave him sixteen oxen, and many other gifts.
Saying, “At that time, Venerable Ānanda was the king, Lāḷudāyī was the Brahmin farmer, and I was Somadatta,” the Buddha uttered the above verse.
“Through many births I wandered in saṃsāra,
seeking, but not finding, the builder of this house.
Painful is repeated birth.”153
“O house-builder! You are seen now.
You will build no house again.
All your rafters¹ are broken.
Your ridge-pole² is shattered.
My mind has gone to the unconditioned.
Achieved is the destruction of craving.”154
A Joyful Utterance
Sitting at the foot of the Bo-tree, before the sun set the Bodhisatta overcame the forces of Māra; in the first watch, he drove away the darkness that hides previous states of existence; in the middle watch, he acquired the divine-eye; and in the last watch, out of compassion for living beings, by contemplating Dependent Origination in direct and reverse order, at sunrise he obtained perfect enlightenment. Immediately after gaining enlightenment the Buddha uttered the above joyful verses of victory. He later told the Venerable Ānanda about it.
”They who in youth have neither led the Holy Life, nor acquired wealth,
pine away like old herons at a pond without fish.”155
The Son of a Millionaire
A multi-millionaire’s son with 800 million, married a woman with similar wealth, but due to drinking and bad company, he squandered all their wealth until reduced to begging. Seeing them, the Buddha smiled. When Venerable Ānanda asked why, the Buddha explained that he could have attained Arahantship, and his wife Non-returning if they had gone forth in youth. Had they gone forth in middle age, he would have gained Non-returning and his wife the path of Once-returning. If they had gone forth in old age, he would have gained Once-returning, and she would have gained Stream-entry. Then he uttered the above verse.
1. Mental defilements: craving, etc.