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The After-story of Teesri

This is a sequel to my earlier post.

Earlier, I posted the story of a girl who came to be tagged with the unlikeliest epithet ‘Teesri’; and of her travails. It was the story of an unenviable girl who once was a proud dreamer with stars in her eyes. Something about her eyes or voice always suggested the hint of a free spirit, trapped in a cage, dreaming of distant love. Given the gift of believing, she for a moment pretended to believe that ‘heaven is never too far’. But, sadly she hitched her fate to a wrong star which was also a fake. And, that little indiscretion loomed large day after day, eclipsed, suffocated and devoured the meaning of her very existence. It mocked at her with a wicked glee; and obliterated the sense of beauty and the pride of being a woman.  She ended up, virtually, as a domestic slave, before she realized the enormity of her blunder. She was robbed of her pleasant ways, hope and joys of the loveliness of tender youth. She hid her face behind a veil and covered her eyes lest any should gaze at her hurt vanity, the bitterness brewing within and the emptiness of it all.

Perhaps, a stronger woman in her place would have known how to keep the priorities of her life in order. With tears in her eyes, she might have smiled rather wryly and managed to say ‘Nah, I am fine ‘; and parted ways with the sinister wisp of the willow that flickers and lures the weary to swamps. Just because she comes off strong it does not mean that her heart doesn’t cry.   But otherwise, don’t we often see beauty and anguish walking hand in hand, leaving behind wisdom twiddling its thumbs.

When I met her years later, the freshness of youth had left her while still young in age; and sobriety had descended on her lined face. I asked her with a blank stare the why of it all. She sighed and said with a slight smile “I know how you look at it.  Yes; there is neither logic nor reason here; do not look for what is not there. I know well my life was bruised and hurt; and my sons were confused searching for identity. Things did not turn out well. But, thanks to all of you I have come out of the maze (bhul bhulayya); I know where I stand and so do my sons.

About the times you are wondering at; let me tell you, as the saying goes, every woman’s heart has different instructions. Sometimes she is glued listening to sound of her voices. In my case, my mind went mute while the heart jabbered on; and my fortune was painted blind….. Let’s leave it at that.

’Don’t be angry at my fallibility. Shall we sit down and talk?’

I cannot truly tell how happy I am to see you again. “

***

I had not mentioned in my earlier post how Teesri was rescued from her plight; and how she regained herself. And, many, therefore, did remark that I should write about how Teesri was rescued; ‘it’s not fair to hold back’.

I hesitated to post about the ‘rescue act’. Because, I was not sure I could talk about this candidly. I reckon a couple those who figure in the story are still alive. I have no heart to embarrass them.

Then, my friend Dr. Ghosh asked me to get it off my chest before it is too late. Who dares to disobey the wise Doctor?

Well, before I say about the rescue,  let me direct you to the earlier story. Please click here.

As for those who have already read the earlier part, they may safely skip the link and go straight to the ‘rescue’, narrated under.

***

The rescue of Teesri came about six years after her ‘suicidal’ wedding with her one-time sitar teacher of Mahim.

During those agonizing years many things did happen. Teesri was no longer the chirpy girl she once was. She was by  now a mother of two sons who clung to her for love and protection . She had lived through all those news items which she used to read earlier with half amusement  and suppressed  disbelief . She had by now gone through the ordeal of abuse, exploitation, wife beating etc and had aged by twelve years. She had also kept on working forced by necessity and compulsion.

Haldankar duly chastened had distanced himself from Teesri; and that was not surprising. But, Hem somehow tried to keep track of Teesri’s plight.  I learnt later that Hem’s parents came from East Bengal; and he had seen Hindu girls marrying Muslim men. Teesri’s wedding per se did not disturb him much. But he was truly moved and aghast at her miserable plight; and wanted to help her out in some way or the other. But he lacked the means and the power to rescue her.  Once in a while he would try to broach her subject with me. I admit I was not comfortable with such talk , for there was nothing we could do about her. Besides, each of us had our own miserable existence to wade through. After much persuasion by Hem we somehow got Teesri a better paying job in a National bank.

About Hem’s concern for Teesri, I forgot to mention earlier that sometime after her disastrous wedding, her aged parents came down to Bombay, shocked and clueless. They were indeed very old and she was a daughter they got late in their life; they had done their best to educate her. Since they came from orthodox background they would not dare go into the Muslim ghetto, but stayed with Hem. They were heartbroken to be witness to their daughter’s stupidity. As they helplessly went back to Calcutta (somewhere in Nadia district) they begged Hem to do whatever he could and to put some sense into her thick skull.

Now we are about five years after her fatal error of marrying the wrong person. Hem had kept touch with Teesri. It was now easier as she also worked at a Bank. But things had moved from bad to worse and life had become unbearable for Teesri. She surely would have committed suicide but for her two little sons.

I kept off Hem, saying that she was now a Muslim living in virtual Muslim enclave and it was not only risky and dangerous but also highly improper to interfere with her domestic life, however miserable it might be. Then an idea surfaced, rather reluctantly, that the only way was to recruit the help of a Muslim who was willing and insane enough to help out Teesri.

It was then Abdur Rahman emerged as an answer to Teesri and Hem’s prayers. Rahman, incidentally, was past his middle age, sporting thick mop of long grey hair, with a half-burnt cigarette  perpetually hanging down his lower lip. As he talked to people with a slight cough or wheeze he would peer over the glasses placed precariously at the tip of his nose. At the outset he didn’t seem a very likable person.  Since Rahman worked in our office I could rope him into Operation Teesri (OT) without much effort.

Now, I must say a few more words about Rahman. To say the least, he was a very unusual person I ever befriended. I hardly have come across a more secular Muslim. He had a terribly irreverent attitude towards all religions, alike. He was indeed a hard core communist holding a Red-Card. How he could do that while working in a bank beats me. He spent more time talking to people than on office work. His colleagues would willingly take care of his portion of work. Rahman had of course refused promotions over the years and had chosen to stay as non-transferrable class three employee. But Rahman had developed a wide net work of contacts with the communist workers and labor leaders in Kerala, Bombay and with the underground in Bengal. Through his contacts he had sent his elder daughter to study medicine in the Moscow University; and the other daughter to Ukraine.

After he heard the sad story of Teesri, Rahman agreed to help . But he asked for time, as nothing should be done in a hurry especially in such matters. He instructed all not to interfere or even to talk to him about the subject till he was ready. Now, OT  was entirely in care of Rahman.

I came to know of the following much after it was over:

Rahman through his network systematically gathered information about the happenings in the Khan household:  about the ill-treatment, exploitation and beating of Teesri and the neglect of her sons. He let that spread to all households in the surrounding area through the workers in the Bakery. He enlisted the Dhobi, the milkman, the butcher and such others, regularly visiting the house , as witnesses. This process took about three months.

Thereafter, the first complaint was filed in the Mahim Police Station alleging ill-treatment etc in presence of the local Mullah and the witnesses. Teesri’s husband was summoned, duly reprimanded and warned. At Teesri’s office, based on the complaint filed with the police, an arrangement was worked out to credit 40 % of Teesri’s monthly salary to the Trust account of her minor sons.

Complaints were filed at the Police Station regularly once in two or three months. By after the third complaint, lot of pressure was built upon the Khan household. And, teams of women officials would periodically visit and check the status. I learnt later they were fake-officers tutored by Rahman.

About eight months after the Operation Teesri (OT) started, Rahman met and briefed me about ‘progresses; and asked if it would be possible to transfer Teesri to Calcutta. It took me about one month to arrange for her transfer to the Calcutta branch of her Bank.

About a fortnight thereafter Teesri with bleeding head injuries and cuts on her arms staggered into Bandra Railway Police Station. According to her statement to the Bandra Police while she was alighting the train at the Bandra – East Station she was attacked by her husband and his goons. She said, she somehow had managed to escape and run to the safety of the Station. She also requested for the safety of her sons. By about that time, Rahman and a couple of Bengali families walked into the Bandra Station as if by accident. They graphically narrated to the police the misery of Teesri, as also of the complaints filed with the Mahim police and such other gory details. And, finally the Police along with the family court officials and three Bengali women went into the Khan-house and took charge of Teesri’s sons. The kids were then deposited for care with a Bengali family.

Bandra station incident was immediately followed by Teesri’s hospitalization and her husband’s arrest. She stayed in the hospital for about three weeks while her sons were under the care of the Bengali families. In the mean time, Teesri’s husband obtained bail and later came to know of Teesri’s transfer as also of Rahman and my role .He promptly stormed into my office and shouted at me. It was not difficult to defend myself, as I said that his wife was working at a Bank and not my office:  “I am the wrong tree; bark elsewhere”.

But the bigger difficulty was to follow. Teesri’s husband had come to know that she with her sons would be leaving Bombay for Calcutta from Bombay Central on a Saturday evening. The Bombay Central that evening was a virtual battle field. Rahman’s Party workers, labor union from the Railway Coolies and some Bengali families had thronged to the station .The Police had been informed earlier. Teesri’s husband did not disappoint any. He marched into the Station along with about 25-30 Muslim young men shouting, screaming and waving long knives. That was followed by scuffles, fist fights and knife thrusts between Teesri’s protectors and her husband’s supporters. . Luckily not many were seriously injured, as the Police intervened and took away Teesri’s husband and his supporters.

It must be said to the credit of the Bengali families that three of them including Hem travelled along with Teesri and her sons. They were guarded all along the journey by six of the party workers. Again, at the Howrah Station she was safeguarded by the Party workers and taken to a ‘safe-house’. For about two months the Party workers kept vigil on Teesri and her house. Since the Marxists, in the Calcutta of those days, were very strong and militant, the embittered Muslim supporters could not harm Teesri or her sons.

About three months after her escape into safety, Rahman travelled to Calcutta along with case papers, copies of police complaints, hospital records and such other documents and evidences. Teesri did not have much difficulty in obtaining a divorce.

*******

All these happened in the early eighties. I have since completely lost touch with the principle actors of these episodes.

When I look back at the events that took place about a quarter of century ago, I am amazed at the turn of events. What could be called as the rescue came about because of the concern of a harmless dreamer Hem, for a fellow Bengali girl who wide-eyed walked into a death trap. It was Hem’s dogged persuasion; and Rahman’s ingenuity, dexterousness and organizational capacity that saved Teesri and her sons. I was also much touched by concern and unity of few Bengali families; as also by the commitment and valor of the party workers.

I am aware there have been countless Teesris over the year’s . But I wonder whether any was as fortunate as this Teesri despite the awful mess she got into.

*****

I had little or no role to play in the series of events. I was mostly a witness who learnt of the events much after they had taken place.  It was the concern of Hem and the capacity of Rahman that saved Teesri.

As regards Rahman, he was a sort of veteran of resistances. Right from the days of Marxist movement, the Bangla war, the infamous emergency and such others he had been associated with underground. Not only he had the talent but also enjoyed such tasks. Strangers would normally take him for a lazy Bank Clerk; and as I said, he was not very likable. But beneath all that he was a wonderful person and a very efficient, silent organizer. He, like Rodriguez had virtually risen out of scum, and was mostly self-taught. They both had seen much sorrow and suffering in their life.

I respected them for the way they handled their grief and for their equanimity in the face of disasters. The other reason was that despite the injustices that life meted out to them they seemed remarkably free from bitterness and hatred. I am not suggesting that Rahman or Rodriguez were angels. No, they had their weaknesses in plenty. They were men, nether beasts nor angles.

I do not think that Rahman ever considered himself a hero; or his effort spread over a year or more as acts of bravery. He in past had done more hazardous tasks.  Similarly, Hem too never regarded himself compassionate. They both did what came to them naturally. To come to think of it, had their roles been reversed, it would have been an absolute disaster.

diwali-diya-lotusflower-design

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Story

 

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How I learnt of Sribilash and his hypothesis

How I learnt of Sribilash and his hypothesis long before I read the Book

Long years back I came to know of Sribilash’s hypothesis of gullible girls falling for weird guys and ignoring normal dependable men; but had not read the Book Chaturanga. I read it just recently. How I learnt of Sribilash and his take on irrational loves is a rather a long story but a sad one; and it belongs to the period of my earlier years in Bombay. It might sound filmy, but it is factual (except that a few names are changed).

Vinu Haldankar was then a very bubbly, busy looking young man given to instant likes and dislikes. One cloudy Saturday afternoon just as the wind was picking up speed he was rushing to the safety of the Church Gate Station. Suddenly from nowhere a beautiful looking girl, working in an office in the Flora Fountain area, in her anxiety to catch the 3-45 train almost breezed past   Haldankar, but didn’t quite make it. Both bumped into each other and nearly fell one upon the other. That bump somehow did strange things to Haldankar.

By next afternoon he had located her office and   discovered she was indeed a Bengali girl – Manjusha Goswami. That sharply heightened Haldankar’s   sense of romance, as those were the days of Satyajit Ray’s Black and White films and his bashful heroines with dark long lashes.  He promptly started running round her in circles (chakkar lagane laga); but was not getting anywhere near her. Then, a wise guy offered him a sage like counsel; the shortest route to a Bengali girl’s heart is through her ears especially when filled with Bangla Gana and poetry. That was something Haldankar had not known or even thought about.

A quick and almost frantic search unearthed one Hem Gopal Sen working at a Bank in the Fort area. He appeared to be the right sort of quick help that Haldankar needed, as Hem (it was how he insisted to be called, it meant gold) was given to Bangla Gana, poetry and Dramas too. I was dragged in by Haldankar to recruit Hem’s help. That was done rather easily.

When Haldankar offered to pay tuition fee, Hem paused for a while and slowly said “Dekho Baba, poetry sikhane ke liye paisa lena mere ko teek nahi lagtha” (I am not comfortable with accepting fee for teaching poetry).Well, the next best alternative was quickly worked out. Each evening at the Bascos after downing a couple, Hem would break into Bangla songs of appropriate mood. Haldankar closely followed Hem every word, intonation, tune and the gestures to go with; practicing evening after evening.

One evening I was asked to join the sessions at the Bascos. And, I was quite impressed with what Hem had done with Haldankar. Since, singing was not one my talents, I asked Hem if he could teach me to read Bengali. Hem groaned almost in pain “Dekho Saheb, aap galath time par pooch rahe hain. Ab my aankh bhee nahi khol saktha” (Look here Sir, you are asking me at a wrong time, I can hardly keep my eyes open).

Yet, we both – Haldankar and I – did learn something from Hem. But, both of our learning was awfully incomplete. Haldankar could neither read, nor write nor speak Bengali; but, could only sing. I could neither write nor speak Bengali, and of course, singing was beyond my ken. I however learnt to read Bengali though haltingly.  When in difficulty I was helped out by Hem. The greater difficulty was stopping Hem’s prolonged explanations and letting me read on. It took me about a fortnight to wade through Srikanto .But then, I was not good enough to get past Geetanjali or Nazrul Islam. Hem was sorely cut up with his pupil; but, could not afford to spit out his anger and disappointment. [I have , sadly, forgotten most of what Hem taught.]

In the meantime, Haldankar was making enviable progress with Manjusha . Many evenings he would lovingly coo into her ears Bangla Gana with matching gestures as she sat looking over the Chowpatti beach gulping down mistis, vada-pau and ice-cream that Haldankar bought her fondly. She would occasionally punctuate her eating-pleasure with ogling at Haldankar and brimming from ear to ear. This is what they call rapture, Haldankar would say to himself.

As all good things have to end, Haldankar’s romantic days too came to an abrupt halt. She was not seen for about a week. Haldankar’s feverish search at her office and with her friends revealed that Manjusha had just married. It was truest doomsday for Haldankar, the whole of Dalal Street looked so gloomy to him even the worst stock market crash could not have made it darker. That evening the Bascos reverberated with Hem’s soulful sad songs of love and betrayal.

But, the worse was to follow.

The news trickled in saying Manjusha had in fact married her Sitar teacher a Muslim from Mahim area. It appears their affair was long drawn as his slow meends   on Sitar strings. Hem shrieked in pain with sad and angry songs with his heartbroken pupil joining in.

One evening Kathuja Begum (that was her name now) presented herself at the most unlikeliest of places, at the Boscos. She was looking pale, frightened and worn out. Her eyes were small, puffy with crying . Haldankar almost jumped out of his skin; and anxiously enquired: was anything wrong? Could he be of help? Etc. But, from what Kathuja sobbingly narrated it looked that she was beyond any help; at least far beyond Haldankar’s short reach.

After the bliss of the customary three wedding nights , when Kathuja stepped into her new home at Mahim she was greeted at the door by two other Bibis of her new found husband. Kathuja was now Bibi No.3 at the Mahim residence. And later, as the two senior Bibis learnt that Kathuja knew next to nothing about cooking beef or preparing Biryanis and such other stuff they promptly assigned to her the only tasks she could perform without much training. They put her to cleaning the cooking vessels, scrubbing floors and sweeping the backyard. When she raised voice that night “what have you done to me, you rascal’,  her Lord and master stretched on the bed just yawned and turned to the other side lazily mumbling “As of now, I am allowed to take one more”.

By the way, she lost the name given by her parents as also the one by the Mullah who converted her; but acquired a new name. In the Mahim household she came to be known and shouted at by all, including the half dozen brats ,   as Teesri, the third one.

But the two senior Bibis (Badi and Choti) did not overlook to send Kathuja, the Teesri, back to her job, to keep strict vigil over all her movements and to take turns in standing sentry at her office gates on all paydays.

*****

That evening, after the sudden entry and doleful exit of sobbing and chastened Kathuja the Teesri, Hem sang no songs but just stared out of the window   with a blank face watching two stray dogs fight over the garbage dump.”Bolo, hum kis kis ke liye royen” (Tell me, for how many can we shed tears).

It must be said to the credit of Haldankar that he recovered from the shock, sooner than anyone expected. But the old fire had gone out of his eyes. One afternoon, he along with Hem came into my office (Hem was sober, this time) ; and while Haldankar was mostly sombre and silent, Hem went on philosophizing, in a rambling monologue, over irrational loves and their devious ways leading to pain , sorrow and humiliation  ; and how  ‘beauty and anguish walk hand in hand downward slope to death’ etc

I thought you’d always be with me.
Always by my side but then you betrayed me,
humiliated me in more ways than one,
You left me to face
this cruel world alone. 

Set adrift in a sea of night, my tears fall freely,
my face an open book showing all the pain
you’ve caused.
 
First you lie, then cheat,
then deceive, then lie again, then cheat
again, then deceive again
When will this circle of pain end?
-Anon

 

[For more about Sribilash please Check Chaturanga Part Two]

Continued in After-story of Teesri

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Story

 

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The Early Buddhist women- Stories – Five – Visakha

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post-The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

The story of Visakha is the most delightful one among all the stories of the early Buddhist women.

Visakha was a person of great charm and independent spirit. She had certain poise and calm authority around her. She had a mind of her own and believed in her convictions. Though her family, on either side, was wealthy she ran a business of her own independently. She was known as an able manager and an effective communicator.

Visakha was the first female lay disciple of the Buddha and also the chief female lay benefactor of the Sangha. The Pubbarama monastery which she dedicated with love and reverence to the Sangha was one of the favorite places of stay of the Buddha in the later 25 years of his life.

She was well respected in the Sangha for her wisdom, generosity and for her managerial skills. She took charge of the Bhikkhuni Sangha (Order of the Nuns) and managed it efficiently. She was authorized to arbitrate the issues and disputes that arose among the nuns; and between nuns and monks.

The Pali Canon enumerates a number of discourses imparted to her by the Buddha, on a variety of subjects.

Visakha lived a long life. It is said she retained her poise, youthful charm; and sharp inquisitive mind even in her later years. Visakha is truly one of the most remarkable persons of the early Buddhist era.

1. Savatthi

1.1. It is said; the beautiful garden city of Savatthi (Snkt.Shravasthi) on the banks of the River Aciravati was the capital of the Kosala kingdom ruled by the king Pasenadi (Snkt.Prasenajit), an ardent disciple of the Buddha. The city of Savatthi occupied a significant position in the history of the early Buddhism.

1.2. The garden city of Savatthi, on its outskirts, had two major Buddhist monasteries: one was the Jetavana built in the Buddha’s service (thirty-one years after his Enlightenment) by the divot wealthy merchant Anathapindaka; and the other was the Pubbarama (Snkt. purva_rama, the eastern monastery), located to the east of Jetavana, and dedicated to the Sangha lovingly by Visakha the leading lay female disciple of the Buddha. In addition, Savatthi had another monastery, Rajakarama, built by king Pasenadi opposite the Jetavana.

1.3. The Master spent a greater part of his later years (25 vassas – rainy seasons or rains retreats) in Savatthi, dividing his time between Jetavana and Pubbarama, spending the day in one and the night in the other; or in whichever way it was convenient to him.It was in Savatthi; the Buddha dispensed a large number of his discourses and instructions; guided and helped large number of persons who came to him seeking remedy for their sorrows. (SNA.i.336)

2.  Pubbarama

2.1. As regards Pubbarama, the Canon records several important discourses (suttas or sutras) preached by Our Teacher while he was staying there. The better known among those suttas are:

The Agganna Sutta:  It was imparted to two Brahmins Bharadvaja and Vasettha who desired to enter the Sangha as monks. The sutta elucidated that caste and lineage cannot be equated with moral (shila) and chaste conduct (Dhamma); and righteousness was beyond such artificial limitations. Dhamma is universal and anyone from four castes can become a monk and attain enlightenment. (D N. 27)

On one occasion at Pubbarama  the Buddha said , ” Him I call a Brahmana , who , in this world has transcended both ties-good and evil; who is sorrow-less and , being free from the taints of moral defilements, is pure”(Dhammapada- Verse  412)

The Utthana Sutta: It was imparted to practicing monks stressing the imperative need to be vigilant. The Teacher instructs “Rouse yourself..! Sit up..!Resolutely train to attain freedom and peace. Do not be careless; do not let weakness lead you astray. Go beyond any clinging. Do not waste your opportunity. (Sn.vv.331-4; SnA.i.336f)

On another occasion the Master declared that a Bhikkhu who though young devotes himself to Dhamma lights up the world as does the moon freed from the clouds. (Dhammapada Verse 382-Sumanasamanera Vatthu)

The Ariyapariyesana Sutta: It is rather a rare sort of sutta. For, it contains fleeting autobiographical glimpses   of Our  Teacher before he attained his goal. He mentions, in passing, how he too in his quest approached many teachers; how they could not lead to what he was searching for; and how he then went to the forests of the Uruvela country and practiced until he attained enlightenment. The Awakened-one also mentions how he was initially reluctant to go forth into the world preaching what he had found. The sutta then leads to the Buddha’s first sermon (pathama desana) addressed to five ascetics at the deer park of Isipattana on the outskirts of the ancient city of Varanasi. (M.i.160-75 and is repeated in the Vinaya and the Digha Nikāya).

2.2. The Vighasa Jataka was also narrated at the Pubbarama. This  Jataka tells the story of Bodhisattva in one of his past lives as Sakka (Shukra), when he  assumed the form of a parrot in order to  reform the ascetics who were about to go astray.(J No. 393)

2.3. It was here at the Pubbarama, the Buddha accorded permission for recitation of Patimokkha in his absence. It contained a set of 227 rules to be observed by the members of the Sangha. The rules pertained mainly to regulating the conduct of the Bhikkus towards one another and in regard to matters concerning the clothing, dwelling, furniture, and utilities etc that were held in common by the community.(Sp.i.187)

2.3. On one occasion while he was staying at the Pubbarama, the Buddha expressed his satisfaction with the way the   Bhikkus there were progressing. The Buddha therefore announced that he would remain at the Pubbarama until the following full-moon of the fourth month when Kaumudi the White-Lilly would bloom (sometime in Oct-Nov, perhaps corresponding to Sharad Purnima). As its news spread, the monks in the surrounding regions moved to Pubbarama. On the night of the Kaumudi full-moon the Buddha seated in open amongst a vast congregation of enrapt monks and divot lay, addressed the Sangha. He praised those Bhikkus for their good conduct (shila), their adherence to Dhamma practice and their attainments. The Teacher then spoke about Anapanasati- Mindfulness of Breathing- and his experiences with it. He imparted instructions on using breath (apana) as a focus for practicing mindfulness (sati) meditation. The Buddha stated that mindfulness of the breath, “developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, great benefit.” (Anapanasati Sutta-MN 118) 

Pubbarama monastery, therefore, is frequently mentioned in the Buddhist texts.

2.4. How the Pubbarama monastery came into being, is a very interesting story. It is narrated in the Dhamma-pada Commentary (Vol. I, 384-420).

***

3. The early years

3.1. Visakha, bright and beautiful, was the daughter of Dhananjaya_Settthi and Sumanadevi who resided in the city of Bhaddiya in Anga, a province of the Magadha kingdom. Dhanajaya was the son of Chandapaduma and Mendaka_setthi a wealthy merchant and one of the five financiers or treasurers to the king of Magadha Bimbisara.  The family lived a life of comfort and luxury.

[ Visakha’s younger sister was Sujata who later married   Kala (?), son of Anathapindaka one of the leading benefactors of the Sangha and who constructed and dedicated in service to the Buddha the Jetavana monastery at Savatthi. Sujata was described as haughty, obstinate and harsh in speech; but, later reformed   on listening to Buddha’s discourse (Sujata Jataka).]

3.1. When Visakha was about seven years old, the Buddha visited Bhaddiya with a large company of monks. Mendaka offered several gifts to the Sangha; and invited the Buddha and his monks to his mansion and offered hospitality for a fortnight. Visakha an active, inquisitive and a lively child played around the monks and the Buddha. She was always questioning about the things that the monks did and said; and about Dhamma. The Buddha was fond of the little girl.

3.2. It is said when the Buddha departed from Bhaddiya for Anguttarapa (another city in Anga province), Mendaka instructed his servants to follow the Buddha with abundant provisions, food and fresh milk; as also ghee and butter until the party reached its destination. (DhA.i.384)(Viii.i.243ff)

3.3. Later, at the request of Pasenadi of Kosala, Bimbisara the king of Magadha asked Dhananjaya to move over to Kosala and function as a financier – treasurer (Bhandari) to king of Kosala. Accordingly, Dhananjaya with his wife Sumana and daughter Visakha, shifted to Saketa in Kosala, located about seven leagues (yojanas) away from its capital city Savatthi.

(Some accounts mention that Dhananjaya founded Saketa)

4. Marriage

4.1. Meanwhile in the city of Savatthi, a wealthy and a miserly merchant Migara was in search of a suitable bride for his son Punnavaddhana. The boy Punnavaddhana was, however, averse to marriage. It was not easy to convince him either. After much persuasion, Punnavaddhana agreed to the marriage but stipulated some tough conditions. He insisted the bride should be “an exquisite beauty who possessed the five maidenly attributes: beauty of hair, teeth, skin, youth and form. Her hair had to be glossy and thick, reaching down to her ankles. Her teeth had to be white and even like a row of pearls. Her skin had to be of golden hue, soft and flawless. She had to be in the peak of youth, about sixteen. She had to have a beautiful, feminine figure, not too fat and not too thin”.

4.2. Soon thereafter, the relieved Migara dispatched a pair of well-fed Brahmins with instructions to scout for a girl who answered the specifications stipulated by his son Punnavaddhana. The Brahmin pair roamed the Magadha and Kosala countries in search of a suitable girl who would make Punnavaddhana happy. They, however, could not spot the precious one.

4.3. Having given up their search and loitering in Kosala rather aimless, the Brahmins got busy cooking up a ruse to appease the “angry-old- bull “, the miserly and grumpy old Migara.

While they were so engaged, a sudden burst of storm caught them unaware. As they were running for shelter, they noticed, to their amazement, a young and a beautiful girl walking calmly, unhurriedly and gracefully through the storm towards a nearby shelter, just as her friends ran in all directions. The Brahmins quite impressed by the pretty girl’s poise and composure, went up to her and questioned why she did not run to the shelter, as her friends did, to avoid getting wet.

The fair maiden replied in her unhurried and measured voice, “It is not appropriate for a maiden in her fine clothes to run, just as it is not appropriate for a king in royal attire, a royal elephant dressed for the procession, or a serene monk in robes, to run.” Pleased with her reply, her calm bearing and her exquisite beauty, the Brahmins realized in a flash that their prayers were answered. They post-haste returned to Savatthi and reported to their master Migara about the amazing discovery they made of the most suitable bride for Punnavaddhana.

4.4. Migara then sent his messengers to Dhananjaya with a bouquet of flowers (malangulam) as a token of proposal seeking the hand of Visakha in marriage to his son Punnavaddhana. The proposal and its acceptance were later formalized by exchange of letters. It is said; since the wedding involved two wealthy and powerful financiers, Pasenadi the king of Kosala accompanied the wedding party as a mark of signal favor. At Saketa, the wedding was celebrated with great pomp and splendor.

4.5. Visakha entered Migara’s house with cart loads of dowry consisting money, gold, silver, various silks, ghee, as also rice- husked and winnowed. She brought with her suitable furniture, sets of vessels, retinue of personal attendants, milk- cows, bulls, oxen and a variety of farm equipments such as ploughs ploughshares etc. (DhA.i.397).

5…And after

5.1. Visakha and Punnavaddhana lived happily in Migara’s house at Savasthi. Migara though wealthy was not a generous person. One afternoon, while Migara was taking his lunch in a golden bowl, a Buddhist monk came to his doorsteps seeking alms. Migara noticed the monk, but ignored him and continued with his lunch. Visakha who was watching the proceedings went up to the monk and requested him to leave by saying, “Pass on, Venerable Sir, my father-in-law eats stale food.”

Visaka

Migara who overheard the remark was furious and demanded an explanation. Visakha, in her usual calm and measured voice, explained that he was eating the benefits of his past good deeds and he did nothing to ensure his continued prosperity. She told him, “you are eating stale fare”.

5.2. Migara was enraged and threatened to send her back to her parents. Visakha unruffled promptly ordered her servants to pack all her money, gold, jewelry etc and prepare for leaving to Saketa. Migara duly chastened, requested her to stay back. She agreed to that on condition that Migara changed his ways, invited the Buddha and his monks for their meal.

5.3. Migara invited the Buddha with his monks and arranged for rich food. But, he asked Visakha to entertain the guests and supervise the hospitality. Migara, from behind a curtain, listened to the Buddha’s sermon imparted at the end of the meal.

5.4. Visakha then prayed to the Buddha to grant her boons. She requested, as long as she lived, she be allowed to give robes for the rainy season to the bhikkhus; rice gruel to the bhikkhus daily; food to the monks entering Savatthi and to those leaving the city; diet and medicine to the sick bhikkhus; food for those attending the sick; and clothes to the bhikkhunis (nuns) to wear taking bath.(Vinaya 290-292)

As from a collection of flowers many a garland can be made by an expert florist, so also, much good can be done (kattabbam kusalam bahum) with wealth, out of faith and generosity”.

(Dhp .Verse 53)

 

6. How the Pubbarama came into being

 

Visakha supervising construction of Pubbarama

6.1. After that event, Visakha continued her acts of generosity to the Buddhist monks and to the Sangha. One day, while on a visit to Jetavana monastery where the Buddha then resided, she forgot to bring back home her priceless jeweled headdress and other jewels. She did not notice their absence for a couple of days and later gave them up as lost.

6.2. Then, one fine morning a couple of clean shaven Buddhist monks presented themselves at her doorsteps carrying basketful of jewels and enquired whether they belonged to her. Visakha recognized the jewels as hers and was happy to see them. She, however, refused to accept them; remarking it was not proper to take back an item that was left behind in the monastery. She asked the monks to retain the jewels with them. The monks, bemused, said the jewels were of no value to them and walked back to the monetary, empty handed, singing songs praising virtues of renunciation.

6.3. Thereafter, Visakha offered the jewels for sale, with the intention of donating the sale proceeds to the Sangha or using it for building a new monastery. But, she did not succeed in finding a buyer; because none could afford to buy the exquisite jewelled headdress. There was none in Savatthi rich enough to buy it.

6.4. That ornament of extraordinary beauty and immense value was named Mahalata; and it reached all the way down her long hair to her ankles. It was a wedding gift to Visakha from her parents. It appears, going by its description, one had to be strong to wear the ornament with comfort and to walk about freely.

In its construction were used four pint pots (nāli) of diamonds, eleven of pearls, twenty two of coral, thirty three of rubies, one thousand nikkhas of ruddy gold, and sufficient silver. The thread work was entirely of silver; the parure was fastened to the head and extended to the feet. In various places, seals of gold and dies of silver were attached to hold it in position. In the fabric itself was a peacock with five hundred feathers of gold in wing, a coral beak, and jewels for the eyes, the neck feathers and the tail. As the wearer walked the feathers moved, producing the sound of sweet music. (DbA.i.393ff. MA.i.471)

6.5. Having failed to find a buyer to her expensive ornament Visakha decided to buy it herself. She thereafter spent the money on building a new monastery to house the Buddha; and his retinue of monks and nuns. It was a magnificent two-storied structure built of wood and stone. Besides the prayer and conference halls, it had a number of rooms. The mansion like monastery was richly furnished and tastefully decorated. The work was completed in nine months. That monastery came to be known as Pubbarama (Purva_rama) or the Eastern monastery because it was located to the East of Jetavana.

6.6. On the day Visakha dedicated the monastery to the Buddha, she was overjoyed. She sang and danced with immense delight.”Today is the day of fulfillment; my prayers are granted and I am truly blessed”. She ran like child in ecstasy, with her children and grandchildren around the monastery, many times. Her joy was infectious; even the Buddha was touched.(DhA.i.416f)

The ex-miser Migara too was touched. He requested his daughter-in-law to accept him as her son. He called her Migara_ mata (Mother of Migara).From that day the Pubbarama monastery also came to be known as Migara_matu_pasada (the mansion of Migara’s mother).

That was how the Pubbarama came into being.

7. Discourses imparted to Visakha

The Canon recounts number of discourses imparted to Visakha. They cover a range of interesting subjects.

7.1. Sometime after the completion of Pubbarama, Visakha took charge of managing the nuns’ section of the Sangha; and a number of nuns were housed in Pubbarama. One evening she faced a problem which she found it difficult to handle. While on her rounds, she was horrified to find some nuns fully drunk; dancing and singing crazy songs. When she asked the nuns to stop whatever they were doing, they did not listen to her. Instead, they asked her to join the party, get drunk and raise a toast to the Buddha.

The next day Visakha sought the Buddha’s counsel. Visakha bowed to him and asked, “Venerable sir, what is the origin of this custom of drinking an intoxicant, which destroys a person’s modesty and sense of shame?” The Buddha in response to her request dispensed the Kumbha Jataka, where a man found fermented fruit and water in the crevice of a tree and started to consume the fermented liquid to obtain a false feeling of well-being.

7.2. On one hot afternoon, Visakha visited Pubbarama where the Buddha was then staying. She was looking tired and distressed .The Master asked her “well now, Visakha, where are you coming from in the middle of this hot day?’ Visakha moaned that she was tired, annoyed and angry with the tax collectors, who were arbitrarily over charging duty on her goods; and her costs were going up unduly. The king Pasenadi too was not heeding to her plea. It was not fair, she said.  She needed to confine her pain in someone who could comfort and offer her solace. That is the reason she came despite the burning hot sun. The Buddha then calmed her mind by singing

Painful is all subjection,
Blissful is complete control.
People are troubled by common concerns,
Hard to escape are the bonds .  

 (Ud.2.9)

It is written, those words of the Buddha comforted Visakha.

7.3. On another occasion, Visakha asked the Buddha, what qualities in a woman would enable her to conquer this world and the next. The Buddha replied:

“She conquers this world by industry, care for her servants, love for her husband and by guarding his property. She conquers the other world by confidence, virtue, generosity and wisdom.”

7.4. On the sudden death of her granddaughter Sudatta, who was very dear to her, Visakha broken-hearted approached the Buddha in the middle of the day, in wet clothes and wet hair. Visakha was much afflicted with grief. The Buddha consoled her by imparting a sermon.

The Buddha asked her “Visakha, would you like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi?”

“Yes, lord, I would like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi.”

“But how many people in Savatthi die in the course of a day?”

“Sometimes ten people die in Savatthi in the course of a day, sometimes nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Sometimes one person dies in Savatthi in the course of a day. Savatthi is never free from people dying.”

“So what do you think, Visakha: Would you ever be free from wet clothes and wet hair?”

“No, lord. Enough of my having as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi.”

“Visakha, those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred sufferings. Those who have ninety dear ones have ninety sufferings. Those who have eighty… seventy… sixty… fifty… forty… thirty… twenty… ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Those who have one dear one have one suffering.

For those with no dear ones, there are no sufferings. They are free from sorrow, free from stain, free from lamentation, I tell you.”

The Buddha told her, “Just think whether you would be free from wet clothes and wet hair”.

Visakha said that she did not want so many children  and grandchildren, because acquisition of more children  and grandchildren  would bring greater suffering.

Endearment begets sorrow, endearment begets fear. For him who is free from endearment there is no sorrow; how can there be fear for him? (Udana, 91-92).

All sorrows, griefs and sufferings which appear
In great variety here in this world
They all originate from what is dear
And, if there is nothing dear, do not arise.
 
Hence, those are happy and free from grief
Who in the world hold nothing dear at all,
If you aspire to be sorrowless
Do not hold anything dear in this world.

 

8. 1. In appreciation of her wisdom, her ability and generosity to the Sangha, the Buddha declared that Visakha be his chief female lay benefactor. In addition to serving the Buddha and the Sangha, Visakha was authorized to arbitrate issues and disputes that arose among the nuns; and between nuns and monks. She was a well-respected person in the Sangha.

8.2. Visakha was a person of great charm and independent spirit.She had certain poise and calm authority around her. She led a long and healthy life;  and lived for over a hundred years.

Visakha, it is written, retained her youthful charm and her sharp and inquisitive mind even in her later years.

I have always had great admiration and affection for the girl in Visakha. A great girl she was.

The Issues:

1.  As mentioned at the end of the earlier stories, the society at the time of early Buddhism, despite its flaws, did provide space to women to participate in its social and commercial spheres.

They were respected for their wisdom and ability, as in the case of Visakha.

2. The girls were married after they came of age. Their consent was essential. Interestingly, in the Visakha story, the proposal from the groom’s side and its acceptance by the bride’s side was formalized by exchange of letters of agreements, as if the parties to the transaction were negotiating a business contract.

3. The women, at least the wealthy among them, were free to do pretty much what they liked. Some just walked out of their homes, roamed about the countryside without a care or fear, with a sort of bravado that bordered on recklessness. They were even free to walk out their marriage and take another husband.

Most of such women had their say in family matters; and, they decided on all internal matters. In that respect, I reckon, very little has changed in the Indian households.

Again, the parents were always very supportive of their daughters.

4 . In the case of Visakha, she was free to manage her resources; run her own business independently. Her business was apart from the family business managed by her husband and father-in-law. She was free to donate or gift away her money as she pleased.

She even had the nerve to browbeat her grumpy father-in-law when he threatened to dispatch her back to her parents. She could afford doing that .

Ruins of Pubbarama  _ Asoka period 

Notes:

1. Anga:  One of the sixteen Powers or Great Countries. It was to the east of Magadha, from which it was separated by the River Champa, and had as its capital city Champa, near the modern Bhagalpur. In the Buddha’s time it was a province of Magadha, whose king Bimbisara. The people of Anga and Magadha are generally mentioned together, so we may gather that by the Buddha’s time they had become one people.

2. Bhaddiya: A city in the Anga kingdom. The Buddha visited there several times and stayed sometimes at the Jatiyavana and with Mendaka who lived there.

4. Anguttarapa: A part of Anga on the other side of the river Mahi. The town was probably rich because as many as 1,250 monks accompanied the Buddha to this region.

3. Kosala: A country to the north-west of Magadha and next to Kasi. It is mentioned second in the list of sixteen Mahajanapadas. The river Sarayu divided Kosala into two parts, Uttara Kosala and Dakkhina Kosala. In the Buddha’s time it was a powerful kingdom ruled by Pasenadi. During his time Kasi was under the subjection of Kosala. At the time of the BuddhaSavatthi was the capital of Kosala. Next in importance was Saketa.

4. Savatthi: or Sravasti was one of the  six large cities of ancient India. The city located in the fertile Ganga valley was the capital of the Kosala kingdom. The ruins of Savatthi are in the Gonda district of UP state.

5.Saketa: A town in Kosala. It was regarded in the Buddha’s time as one of the six great cities of India, the others being Champa, Rajagaha, SavatthiKosambī and Varanasi. The distance from Saketa to Savatthi was seven leagues (yojanas).

AshtavakraGitaCh-4Of20Slideshow

Abbreviations:

A… Anguttara Nikaya; D… Digha Nikaya; Dhp.. Dhammapada; M.. Majjhima Nikaya; S… Samyutta Nikaya; Sn .. Sutta Nipata; Thag… Theragatha; Thig.. Therigatha; Pac… Pacittiya (Vinaya); J. Jataka; Ud. . Udana; Mil. .. Milindapañha; Jtm.. Jatakamala; Bu… BuddhavamsaDivy..  Divyavadana;   Ap… Apadana.

 

References and Sources

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/visaakhaa.htm

www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/visaakhaa.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/vighaasa_jat_393.htm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/me_mu/migaramatupasada.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anapanasati_Sutta

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/vighaasa_jat_393.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/am/agganna_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/u/utthaana_s.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ay/ariyapariyesanaa_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ay/ariyapariyesanaa_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/pa/pasadakampana.htm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.8.08.than.html

http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Jataka_Tales_of_the_Buddha,_Part_III

Pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – Four – Queen Mallika

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post – The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

Besides those who embraced homelessness and became Bhikkhunis, there were large numbers of women who took to Buddha Dhamma in their lay-life. Perhaps because the women were allowed to support and participate actively in the secular and spiritual matters, the early Buddhism gained immense appeal; and spread fast and wide.

Those women supported the Sangha in various ways; and more importantly, they tried putting into practice the teachings of the Buddha in their day-to-day lives. In a manner of speaking, their contribution to Dhamma was more significant. Because, even while the Buddhist monasteries virtually disappeared from India, the teachings of the Buddha and his values of peace, non-violence and amity melted down into the Indian society exerting a long-lasting influence,  thanks mainly to his lay-female disciples.

The extraordinary story of Mallika rising from the daughter of a gardener to become the principal queen of the kingdoms of Kasi and Kosala is truly fascinating. She held a position of honor and authority; and she was well respected. But more significant was her sound common sense, the generosity of her heart and the genuine desire to help the poor and the weak; and to bring into practice the teachings of her Master, the Buddha in whom she had enormous faith and reverence. She tried to bring love, understanding, kindness and amity into her domestic as well as public life. She exerted considerable influence in moulding the king’s attitude and his policies. And, she was fairly successful in bringing about some sensible changes.

1. The Marriage

1.1. The chief garland-maker to the king of Kosala, living in the capital city Savatthi (Snkt.Sravasthi) had a beautiful daughter. The garland maker named his fair, slender and lovely daughter as Mallika, the Jasmine. The little girl was clever, well behaved and graceful.

1.2. When she was about sixteen, on a beautiful clear day, Mallika was enjoying a playful time with her friends at the public flower garden. As she was chirpily running in and out of the garden, she noticed a group of monks pass by the garden gate. She was attracted by the regal gait and the dignity of    carriage of one of the monks; and was transfixed by the beatific smile on his serene face. She walked up to him, impulsively  poured three portions of the puffed rice she carried in her basket as her lunch, into the alms bowl of that monk. She was at once filled with a deep sense of fulfillment and joy. Suffused with happiness she bent and touched the feet of the monk in reverence. As if infected by her joy, the monk too smiled gently in benediction. Little did she know that the monk radiating sublime peace and joy was none other than Bhagava the enlightened one, the Buddha.

1.3. That afternoon a sense of happiness and of dancing on a cloud of joy filled the little girl’s heart. She sang and danced with great delight round and round the garden. By then, a tired warrior just beaten in a battle, riding back his home pensive and rather dejected was passing by the garden. He was drawn, as if by magic, to the melody and the infectious joy of the girl’s song. A balm like cool peace descended on his aching heart. He involuntarily rode up to the girl singing and dancing delightfully unmindful of the world around her. He was at once struck by the innocent countenance of the cheerful bright girl; and by the joy she radiated.

1.4. As the tired looking stranger approached her, Mallika was not scared; instead, she took the reins of the horse and looked straight into his eyes. She noticed the weariness in his eyes and helped the horseman dismount and lie down near a bower. Mallika rubbed his feet with a piece of wet cloth and gently fanned him. As she did so, the youth fell asleep. When he woke up after a while, he looked deep into her face and enquired who she was, and whether she was already married. Mallika coyly replied, no she was not. Thereafter, he thanked her; and let her mount his horse behind him and rode to her house.

1.5. The young horseman was Pasenadi (Snkt. Prasenajit) the king of Kosala. He had just lost a battle with his neighbor Ajatasattu the mighty king of Magadha. Defeated in the battle and forced to retreat, Pasenadi was riding back to his palace in Savatthi, distressed and downcast. It was then that Pasenadi chanced upon Mallika and her enchanting melody; and was captivated by her innocent and cheerful demeanor.

1.6. In the evening, king Pasenadi sent an entourage with much pomp to fetch Mallika; and he made her his wife and principal Queen. It is said; Mallika was the beloved of the king who came to appreciate her wisdom and her approach to life and its problems. He consulted and accepted her advice on important matters.

Her subjects too loved their beautiful queen. Wherever she was seen in public, people would joyously tell each other: “That is Queen Mallika, who gave alms to the Buddha.”(J 415E)

2….And After

2.1. The Canon contains a number of discourses addressed to Mallika as also to Pasenadi by the Master. These are included in Samyukta Nikaya and collated under Kosala Samyutta. The discourses delivered to Mallika and Pasenadi cover wide range of subjects such as the position of girl-child and women; the right ways of conduct; loss of dear ones; the futility of wars; treatment of vanquished enemies; and their subjects etc.  These discourses are of much interest as they shed light on the early Buddhist position on a number of issues.

2.2. Soon after she became the Queen, Mallika called upon the Master to pay her respects. During the course of the conversation she hesitantly asked the Master, why is it   that one woman could be beautiful, wealthy and of great ability; another be beautiful but poor and not very able; yet another although ugly, be rich and very able; and finally another be ugly, poor and possess no skills at all. Why do such differences occur? Is there a rationale in this world?

Why is it that some women are beautiful, wealthy and powerful,
While some are beautiful but without wealth and power,
And yet others ugly but wealthy and powerful,
And some ugly, poor and without power?

The Buddha explained to her that all attributes and living conditions of people everywhere are dependent on their moral purity (shila). The beauty comes forth from the gentle and forgiving nature of a person; the prosperity arises due to the generosity of the heart; and, the skill and power have their roots in never envying others but rejoicing in others’ success and always lending support to their virtues.

Very rarely do the entire three virtues manifest in a person; and when it does, that person would be beautiful, wealthy and powerful. Otherwise, whichever of these three virtues a person had cultivated would manifest, usually in varying degrees of combination with other virtues.

“The uprising of a being is from what has come to be; by what he has done, by that he upraises” (M i 390; MN 57).

2.3. On listening to this discourse of the Buddha, Mallika resolved that she would henceforth practice generosity, compassion and patience, and be happy at the success of others. She promised herself, in her heart, to be always gentle towards her subjects; to give alms to all monks, Brahmans and the poor; and never to envy anyone’s happiness. She then took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and remained a faithful disciple for the rest of her life.(A IV, 197)

2.4. Queen Mallika practiced generosity by helping the poor, by offering alms and by building a large ebony-lined hall in her private garden Mallikaarama among the tinduka (diospyros) evergreen trees, for conducting Dhamma discussions. She practiced gentleness in her management of the royal household, in serving her husband; and in caring for the retinue of her staff and her subjects. And when her husband Pasenadi took Vasabha Khattiya (a cousin of the Buddha) as his second wife, Mallika welcomed her and treated her as a younger sister, without envy or jealousy. It is said; both women lived in peace and harmony at the court.(M 78, D 9)(A VI, 52)

2.5. In due course, Vasabha Khattiya, her co-wife, gave birth to a son, the crown prince- to- be; and Mallika delivered to a daughter. Yet Mallika was not envious of Vasabha but rejoiced in Vasabha’s good fortune. Pasenadi was, however, disappointed that her principal queen did not present him with a son.

When Pasenadi confided in the Buddha his disappointment, the Teacher counseled him saying: a well brought-up girl was superior to a man if she was clever, virtuous, well-behaved and faithful. Then she could uplift the family and train her children to be virtuous persons. She could even become the wife of a great King or give birth to a mighty Ruler. The Master advised Pasenadi to bring up his daughter with love and devotion, without undue attachment.

A girl-child, O Lord of men, may prove

Even a better offspring than a male.
For she may grow up wise and virtuous,
Her husband’s mother reverencing, true wife.
The child she bears may do great deeds,
And rule great realms, yes such a son
Of noble wife becomes his country’s guide.
(S.i.86)

 

2.6. The King Pasenadi once asked a wise and well-learned layman whether he could give Dhamma lessons to his two Queens. The lay- scholar replied that the teaching originated from the Enlightened One and only an immediate disciple of his could pass it on to others. The Buddha, at the request of the king, appointed his close disciple and cousin Ananda to impart teachings to the two queens. It is said; Queen Mallika understood and learnt easily, while Queen Vasabha Khattiya, cousin of the Buddha and mother of the crown-prince could not concentrate and learned with difficulty.(DhA.i.382f)

3. Married Life

3.1. It was not milk and honey all the while. There were occasional little quarrels and misunderstandings, just as in any marriage. Pasenadi would often complain that Mallika didn’t love him enough. He would scowl “becoming a queen had gone into her head. What does she think of her? She has gone mad because of her fame and fortune “. Pasenadi, as if in retaliation, would take no notice of Mallika and pretend “as if she had vanished into thin air”. When the matter came up to the Buddha, he counseled both to put away their little differences and live in love and understanding. He also narrated the events and their love in their past lives; and how they suffered after being separated. The Buddha praised the blessing of friendship and harmony in marriage. (J 519)

The little differences were then sunk and forgotten, as if they never happened. Mallika in grateful joy thanked the Buddha:

With joy I heard your varied words,
Which spoken were for our well-being;
With your words you dispelled my sorrow.
Verily, you are the joy-bringer amongst the ascetics
May you live long, my Ascetic Bringer of Joy..!

(J504)
 

3.2. Yet, for some reason, Pasenadi was not fully convinced that Mallika loved him entirely. One evening while Mallika was in the palace balcony looking across the river, Pasenadi asked her quietly whether there was anyone in the whole world she loved more than herself. Pasenadi fondly hoped to get the response that he loved to hear – that Mallika would say she loved him more than her very life.(S.i.75; Ud.v.1).

Mallika pondered over the question for a short while; and then spoke calmly, in an even tone. She said that she knew of no one dearer to herself than herself. Pasenadi felt slightly let down. Then Mallika questioned Pasenadi whether he loved anyone more than himself. Pasenadi haltingly conceded that self-love was upper-most in every creature.

Pasenadi still had some doubts about the correctness of Mallika’s reply. He hoped that the Buddha would differ from Mallika and say something that would make him happy. He then recounted to the Buddha the conversation he had with Mallika and sought the Master’s opinion. The Buddha then confirmed his and Mallika’s statements.

I visited all quarters with my mind
Nor found I any dearer than myself;
Self is likewise to every other dear;
Who loves himself may never harm another.

 (Ud 47)

3.3. One day, Pasenadi learnt that the Buddha counseled a person who just had lost a child “Those who are dear bring sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair”. Pasenadi thought that the Buddha’s words were rather inappropriate. He expressed his unhappiness to Mallika who then calmly replied “if the Master has said so, O king then it surely must be so”. That irritated Pasenadi; and he growled that she does not exercise her mind but just hangs on the words of her teacher. Piyajātika Sutta M.ii.106ff )

Mallika, to be on the safer side, then sent her messenger Nalijangha to the Buddha to ascertain the exact position. After obtaining the details, Mallika questioned Pasenadi whether he loved his daughterPrincess Vajiri, his second wife Queen Vasabha, the crown-prince Vidudabha, herself and his kingdoms of kasi and Kosala. He promptly replied, yes I do love all the five you mentioned. Mallika then continued, whether he would not feel sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair if something untoward happened to all or any of the five he loved dearly.

Pasenadi understood the purport of the Buddha’s counsel and why Mallika revered him. (Piyajatika Sutta   – A. 49)

4. Discourses addressed to Pasenadi

4.1. On one occasion while counseling on the right conduct of a king, the Buddha said to Pasenadi that a king should not disregard or overlook four elements: a warrior prince, a snake, a spark of fire and a Bhikkhu. The Buddha explained that a warrior prince though young if not properly handled could ruthlessly cause harm to others, just as a small poisonous snake would. A spark of fire if enraged could rapidly grow into a ball of blaze engulfing everything around it and burning it down into ashes. A young and a diligent monk is a potential Arhant and therefore should be treated with respect. The alms to monks should be offered with devotion and fervor; that would bring happiness to the giver and the receiver.

A dish may be insipid or savory,
The food may be meager or abundant,
Yet if it is given by a friendly hand,
Then it becomes a delicious meal.”

— (Jataka 346)

 

4.2. Once Pasenadi enquired how one could ascertain whether or not a person looking like an ascetic was an Arhant, the one who has realized the goal of nirvana. The Buddha explained that it was difficult for an ordinary person to reach a correct conclusion in that regard. He said, it was only by close association and that too after a long period of association, one could know a person’s conduct. Only an attentive and intelligent person of discretion (viveka) can fairly and dispassionately judge another:

Not by his outward guise is man well-known,
In fleeting glance let none place confidence.

In garb of refined, well-conducted folk
The unrestrained live in the world at large.
As a clay earring made to counterfeit,
Or a bronze coin  coated with gold,
Some fare at large, hidden beneath disguise,
On the surface comely and fair; within impure.”
 — (Kindred Sayings 104-106 )

 

4.3. On another occasion, Pasenadi overpowered and defeated his nephew and foe of many years, Ajatasattu the king of Magadha. And, Pasenadi confiscated the vanquished king’s wealth, horses, chariots, elephants and his soldiers. He also held Ajatasattu captive, as a prized trophy of his victory. When the Buddha heard of the running feud and the hatred between the two, he remarked that neither the victor not the vanquished would be at peace:

“Victory breeds hatred.
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.”

 — (Dhammapada 121)

 

4.4. The Buddha did not particularly like the plunder and the arresting of Ajatasattu. He remarked that it would have been wiser for Pasenadi not to have retained anything for himself as spoils of victory.”A man may plunder, as he will. When others plunder in return, he who is plundered will plunder in return. The Wheel of Deeds turns round and makes the ones who are plundered plunderers.”

“A man may spoil another,
Just so far as it may serve his ends,
But when he’s spoiled by others,
He, despoiled, spoils yet again.

So long as evil’s fruit is not matured,
The fool does fancy, now’s the hour, the chance!
But when the deed eventually bears fruit,
He fares ill.
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn,
The conquered gets one who conquers him.
The abuser wins abuse,
The annoyer frets.
Thus by the evolution of the deed,
A man who spoils is spoiled again.”

4.5. One night, the King had a succession of sixteen perturbing dreams.  When the King woke up from these nightmares, great fear seized him; and sitting upright and trembling, he awaited the sunrise. When his Brahman priests asked him whether he had slept well, he related the terror of the night and sought their advice on what one could do to counteract such a menace. The priests promptly declared that one would have to offer great sacrifices in order to pacify the evil spirits. In his mortal fear the King agreed to that.

When Queen Mallika came to know of the bad dreams and the suggested remedy, she was deeply perturbed; and decided to dissuade her husband, King Pasenadi, from holding a great animal sacrifice. She was horrified, and exclaimed: “Where did you ever hear of  saving the life of one by the death of another? Just because a stupid Brahman told you so, why must you plunge the whole populace into suffering?” (Dh A ii 8; cf. Ja I 335). Slaying animals for a whim is against Dhamma and Shila (moral injunction). It also badly affects common folks who depend on those animals for earning a livelihood. Such grievous sin would prolong the sacrificer’s bondage to the wheel of Samsara.”Long is the Samsara for fools who do not know true Dhamma” (Dh 60).

At the instance of Mallika, Pasenadi related his bad-dreams to the Buddha; and apprehensively asked what would happen to him. “Nothing” replied the Master who then explained the significance of those bad dreams. The sixteen dreams, he said, were prophesies, warning the king that the living conditions on earth would deteriorate rapidly due to the moral misconduct of the kings. Pasenadi had somehow just caught a glimpse of the coming events.

The Master advised the king to be kind and moral too; and to do good deeds abundantly for the well-being of his subjects. That alone, he said, was the proper remedy and not needless killing of animals in large numbers.

Pasenadi discarded all plans for the sacrifice; and, it is said, became a devoted lay disciple of the Buddha.(J 77 & 314)

5. Death of Queen Mallika

5.1. It appears Mallika died rather suddenly. The news of her death reached Pasenadi when he was listening to a discourse by the Buddha. He was deeply shaken and inconsolable in grief. The Buddha tried consoling him, saying:

All beings are mortal, they end with death;
They have death in prospect.
All vessels wrought by the potter,
Whether they are baked or unbaked,
Are breakable – they end broken;
They have breakage in prospect.”
(A V, 49)
 
Misfortunes do not shake the wise —
that one who knows well how to seek the good.
 
Do not grieve, nor should you lament.
Here, what good is gained? — None at all indeed,
 
By sorrowing, by lamenting,
Is any aim accomplished here?
Not even a bit.
What good is gained?
 None at all indeed.
 
But if you know “The good can be got
Neither by me nor any other too”
Then ungrieveing you should bear it all and think
“Now , how to use my strength for present work?”
(A-Fives, 49)
 

5.2. Nothing that the Buddha said to him about the inevitability of old age and death; and the impermanence of all that comes into existence could assuage his grief. (A V, 49)

Pasenadi’s attachment to Mallika was so strong that he pestered the Buddha to ascertain the happiness and well-being of his departed beloved in her next state of existence. He went to the Buddha day after day for seven days; at the end of which the Master consoled him saying that Mallika was happily reborn in the haven of the blissful devas.

Pasenadi the king of Kosala thus consoled and strengthened in mind left in peace.

divider1

The Issues:

The story of Queen Mallika throws up a number of interesting issues.

1. It appears that even during the Buddha’s time the male progeny was preferred and valued, though there had been no consistent ill-treatment of little girls or injustice shown to them for the very reason that they were not boys.

King Pasenadi did not conceal his disappointment that his principal queen did not present him with a male heir to the throne.  The counseling offered by the Buddha sounds like a diplomatic response in order to allay the king’s disappointment; and to forestall the possibility of his neglecting Mallika and her daughter. The Buddha’s treatment of women was equitable. His words to Pasenadi have to be placed in the context of his times and the rest of his teachings.

2 . In the early Buddhism, the attitude towards a woman was not ideal, as it is commonly made out. But it did provide the woman more opportunities for her growth, spiritual or otherwise. It is perhaps because the woman was allowed to participate and to support the Sangha, the Buddhism in its early stages, could spread fast and wide.

3. You find the Buddha offering his counsel and guidance on matters relating to married life and its problems. The Buddha, often, supported the woman, reconciled the differences and preached about the virtues of amity and harmony in a marriage.

4. The Buddha’s views on occupation and confiscation of enemy property are truly an enlightened one. The history and even the terrifying events in the present day world have proved validity of the Master’s wisdom.

A man may spoil another,
Just so far as it may serve his ends,
But when he’s spoiled by others,
He, despoiled, spoils yet again.
 
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn,
The conquered gets one who conquers him.
The abuser wins abuse,
The annoyer frets.
Thus by the evolution of the deed,
A man who spoils is spoiled again.

 

5. Similarly, his guidance on handling one’s grief is also very sound.

 

Do not grieve, nor should you lament.
Here, what good is gained? — None at all indeed,
 
Ungrieveing you should bear it all and think
“Now, how to use my strength for present work?
 AshtavakraGeetaQuotes5[1]
 Next : Visakha
Abbreviations:
A… Anguttara Nikaya; D… Digha Nikaya; Dhp.. Dhammapada; M.. Majjhima Nikaya; S… Samyutta Nikaya; Sn .. Sutta Nipata; Thag… Theragatha; Thig.. Therigatha; Pac… Pacittiya (Vinaya); J. Jataka; Ud. . Udana; Mil. .. Milindapañha; Jtm.. Jatakamala; Bu… Buddhavamsa; Divy.. Divyavadana;   Ap… Apadana.
References and Sources
 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – stories -Three – Bhadda Kundalakesa , the debater

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post – The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

A. The Early Years

1.1. She was born Bhadda in Rajagaha the capital city of the kingdom of Magadha ruled by the King Bimbisara.Her father was a wealthy banker who also  acted as one of the financiers and  treasurers (Bhandari) to the King. She was a lovely looking little girl and her father’s fortune took an upswing since the day she was born. He therefore aptly named her Bhadda (Snkt. Bhadra), the auspicious one .The little girl had a mop of thick, glossy curly hair; and her parents fondly called her kundala-kesa (the one with curly hair).Later in her life, that pet name became a part of her formal name, perhaps to distinguish her from another Bhadda, also a nun. The latter was Bhadda Kapilani, the former wife of Maha Kassapa, the leading disciple of the Master.

1.2. Her parents doted on their beautiful daughter; pampered her and strived to fulfill her every wish. She was very intelligent, articulate and argumentative. She had a frivolous and a passionate nature; she would love a thing intensely but for a very short while and discard it quickly to pick up another favorite. She was rather snappish; and would go into frenzy if her wish was not met promptly.

1.3. Bhadda was headstrong and unhappy. She argued with everyone, even speaking back to her father, which somehow made him love and indulge her more. He wasn’t sure what to make of Bhadda’s difficult behavior. Her mind and wit were sharp. She was never satisfied; she questioned every household decision, and seemed unwilling to enjoy her many pleasures.

When she came of age, in order to protect her from herself, her parents placed her on the seventh floor of their mansion, attended by servants.

2.1. One day while pacing up and down her balcony, she noticed a young and a handsome person led along the city street by the King’s guards. She at once fell in love with him; and demanded of her father to get her that youth. Her father promptly enquired about the boy’s background; and was shocked to learn that he was Satthuka the son of the purohith (priest), notorious as a habitual offender and a robber. He was also horrified because Satthuka was due to be executed shortly. He therefore tried hard to drill some sense into Bhadda’s curly skull and dissuade her from getting involved with a criminal facing execution. He pleaded with Bhadda to forget that despicable one and choose a suitable boy.

2.2. Bhadda would not listen to her father, would not eat or drink; and insisted on marrying that robber awaiting his death. She screamed; she would commit suicide right then and there, if her desire was not met. The hapless father, left with no option, bribed the prison warden to let the condemned criminal Satthuka stage a jail-break. He brought Satthuka home, had him bathed in perfumed water, dressed in finest silks and suitably bejeweled. The pleased Bhadda decked in jewels and dressed in her fineries, waited on her new-found love; and promptly married him. The helpless parents hoped and prayed that Bhaddha’s love and his good fortune would influence Suttuka to mend his ways.

3.1. Sadly, their prayers were not answered. Satthuka was a criminal at heart and would never change. He started scheming and plotting ways, with alacrity, to decamp with money and jewels on which he could quickly lay hands. He coveted his wife’s elaborate set of wedding jewelry; and came up with a plan to steal it from her. He told Bhadda that he vowed to make an offering to a certain mountain deity if he escaped execution. It was time, he said, to keep that vow. He asked Bhadda to dress in all her finery, wear all her jewels and get ready for a trip to the mountain top. Wishing to please him and adorning herself with all her jewels, she mounted a chariot with Satthuka and drove to the cliff. By this ploy, Satthuka managed to take Bhadda away from her home.

3.2. After a long journey, Satthuka led Bhadda to the foot of a steep cliff with a sheer face. It was the robbers’ cliff from where the criminals condemned for execution were put to death by pushing them over the cliff. At the foot of the cliff, Satthuka asked the attendants to stay back and went up the cliff with Bhadda carrying the offerings to the mountain deity. Once atop the cliff, Satthuka brusquely asked Bhadda to hand him over all her jewelry; and informed her of her impending death as he planned to push her over the cliff and go to another city where a luxurious life awaited him. ‘You fool, do you fancy I have come here to make offering? I have come to get your ornaments.’

3.3. Bhadda pleaded that she loved him with all her life; he could take all her jewelry and more; and begged him to take her with him. Satthuka would have none of that; he told her bluntly he was never interested in her or her love. He reminded her it was after all she who came after him, in lust. He asked her to part with her jewelry without much fuss; and taunted her to get ready for a quick trip down the cliff by the shortest route.

3.4. The quick witted Bhadda said to herself “Bhadda, you bad girl; it is the end of the road for you. It is now or never; do something fast and get rid of this miserable pest before he does it to you”. Then with doleful eyes she said meekly,” you are my lord and master; you are my love. If my death brings you happiness, I willingly give up my life for you with a smile; what more can I ask? Just let me pay my final obeisance to you and pray that you be my husband in my next birth too”. Satthuka graciously granted her wish. Then, Bhadda with all her jewels on solemnly went round him three times, falling on her knees, saluting him from each direction. In the final round when she was directly behind him she mustered all her strength and pushed Suttuka to his death, quickly, over theprecipice(cf. Dhammapada. vol. II, pp.217 f).

Another version of the story says that Bhadda asked,” grant me this one wish: let me, while wearing my jewels, embrace you.” He consented, saying: ‘Very well.’ She thereupon embraced him in front, and then, as if embracing him from the back, pushed him over the precipice. (Psalms of the sisters)

In any case, Suttuka the criminal condemned to death by a push over the precipice met the very end that the judge ordered. In fact Suttuka drove himself to his execution, his ordained end; you could even say it was his karma.

 
A version of the story mentions that the mountain deity who was witness to this drama smiled, praising Bhadda for her presence of mind; and chuckled “Men are not in all cases wiser than women”.
Not in every case is Man though wiser ever; 
Woman, too, when swift to see, may prove as clever. 
Not in every case is Man the wiser reckoned; 
Woman, too, is clever, than she think but a second.
(Psalms of the sisters: Psalms of five verses; Canto five-46)
***
 

B. The Jain ascetic

4.1. After her escapade, something within Bhadda seemed to snap. The words like love, husband, the jewels and riches sounded hollow to her; seemed bereft of meaning and no longer worth pursuing. She pondered; there must be more to life than these things. She had also lost the desire to return home and carryon living as if nothing had happened to her and to her beliefs. She then decided to set forth into the world; and to discover for herself the meaning of life and of all existence.

4.2. She wandered aimless and adrift. Later she became a Jain ascetic and entered the Order of the Niganthas. She practiced extreme austerities; had her hair pulled out, at the roots, with a Palmyra comb. Her hair grew again in thick close curls (kundala kesa); and she had them pulled out again and again as a form of penance. She studied diligently and soon became proficient in Jain lore; and gained reputation as an excellent and a passionate debater in Jain philosophy and scriptural matters.  None could equal her in debate.

4.3. It was not long before Bhadda grew a bit tired and dissatisfied with Jainism; and said to herself , “They know so far as they go and nothing beyond that”. She walked out of the Nigantha Order, roamed about the country alone as a wandering ascetic. She wandered over hills and dales; she went from city to city, village to village wherever there were learned persons. And, she challenged all to debate with her. Debating almost became her passion. Thus she wandered over ancient India for nearly fifty years.

Hairless, dirt-laden and half-clad–so fared 
With plucked hair, covered with mud,
Imagining flaws in the flawless
And seeing no flaws in what is flawed.”
– (Therigatha 107)
 
4.4. As she entered a town or a city, she would make a sand pile at the city – gate and stick a branch of Jambu (rose apple) tree on top of the sand- heap. She would ask the village urchins to keep a watch on the sand-heap with a message:”whoever dares join issue with me in debate let him trample on the Jambu bough”. She would then retreat to her dwelling; and return after about a week. If the bough still stood in its place she would depart and proceed on her way to another city, to another challenge.
*****
C. Debate with Sariputta’
*

5.1. During the course of her ceaseless wandering, Bhadda came to the city of Savatthi (Snkt.Shravasthi) on the banks of the River Aciravati (now the Rapti River in Gonda district, UP). Savatti was the capital city of Kosala; and its king Pasenadi was an ardent disciple of the Buddha. The beautiful garden city of Savatthi had two major Buddhist monasteries: the Jethavana built in the Buddha’s service by the wealthy merchant Anathapindaka, and the Pubbarama dedicated lovingly by Visakha the leading lay female disciple of the Buddha. In addition, Savatthi had another monastery, Rajakarama, built by king Pasenadi opposite the Jethavana. The Master spent a greater part of his later years (25 rainy seasons) in these monasteries of Savatthi. It was in Savatthi, the Buddha dispensed a large number of his discourses and instructions. The city of Savatthi occupies a significant position in the history of the early Buddhism.

5.2. On the day Bhadda arrived at the gates of Savatthi and erected her challenge insignia, the Jambu branch, atop a sand pile, Sariputta the leading disciple of the Buddha was staying at the Jethavana monastery. When Sariputta heard of the arrival of Bhadda and of her planting the challenge, he sent a bunch of children to trample on the sand pile and throw out the Jambu (rose apple) branch stuck in its middle. That was Sariputta’s reponse, accepting the challenge thrown by Bhadda.

5.3. Following the acceptance of her challenge Bhadda marched confidently into Jethavana accompanied by a large number of her admirers and onlookers. She asked Sariputta a number of questions, all of which he answered until she fell silent. Then Sariputta questioned her. And, his first question was “What is the One?” She remained silent, unable to discern the Buddhist’s intent. She pondered, surely he did not mean “God” or “Brahman” or “the Infinite”; But then what else could it be? She debated within herself whether the answer could be “nutriment” because all beings are sustained by food;   or whether it could be “the one thing that is true for everyone”? But Bhadda, however, chose to remain silent and not answer the question. Technically, she had lost the contest.

But, Bhadda realized in a flash, she had stumbled upon what she had been searching in last fifty years of her wandering life.Here was someone who had found what she had been looking. She asked Sariputta to be her teacher.

D. Her ordination

6.1. Sariputta  led Bhadda  to the Master who quickly discerned the maturity of her attainments. The Buddha expounded the Dhamma at the Mount Gridhrakuta (Vulture Peak); and , preached her a short discourse saying that it was better to know one single stanza that brings calm and peace than knowing thousand verses of no merit.

 
Though a thousand verses are made of meaningless lines, better the single meaningful line by hearing which one is at peace. (Dhammapada 101)
 *

It is said; at the end of this sermon Bhadda attained the state of the Arhant instantly, perhaps because her intellect and emotions had been trained for long years.

6.2. The Buddha himself ordained her with the words: “Come, Bhadda,” and that was her ordination. She entered the Order of Nuns as one who was already an arahant; this was unusual. She was also the only nun to be ordained by Shakyamuni calling her by nameAgreat importance is, therefore, attached to Bhadda and her attainments.

6.3. Bhadda speaks of her experience: “Going out from my daytime resting-place on Mt. Grjhakuta, I saw the stainless Buddha, attended by the order of bhikkhus. Having bent the knee, having paid homage to him, I stood with cupped hands face to face with him. ‘Come, Bhadda,’ he said to me; that was my ordination.”

6.4. The Buddha declared that Bhadda Kundalakesa was foremost among the nuns in understanding the Dhamma quickly. Bhadda was assigned a chief position among the Bhikkhunis as one possessing great wit and wisdom. She   travelled far and wide preaching the Dhamma, using her debating skills.

6.5. In the Theri- gatha (Thig.vss.107-11), Bhadda speaks of her experiences wandering in Anga, Magadha, Kasi and Kosala; and living on alms. She also speaks   of her enlightenment

 

  • I traveled before in a single cloth; With shaven head, covered in dust; Thinking of faults in the faultless; While in the faulty seeing no faults 
  • When done was the day’s abiding; I went to Mount Vulture Peak; And saw the stainless Buddha; By the Order of  Bhikkhus   revered.
  •  
  • He then taught me the Dhamma; The aggregates, sense bases, and elements. The Leader told me about foulness;  Impermanence, suffering and non self.
  • Having heard the Dhamma from Him,; I purified the vision of the Dhamma. When I had understood true Dhamma ; (I asked for) the going forth and ordination
  • Then before Him my hands in anjali; Humbly, I bowed down on my knees. “Come, O Bhadda,” He said to me: And thus was I ordained.
  • Then, having been fully ordained;  I observed a little streamlet of water. Through that stream of foot-washing water; I knew the process of rise and fall.
 
Then I reflected that all formations; Are exactly the same in nature.
 
  • Right on the spot my mind was released;  Totally freed by the end of clinging. The Victor then appointed me the chief; Of those with quick understanding.” – (Apadana 38-46)
  • “Free from defilements, for fifty years; I travelled in Anga and Magadha. Among the Vajjis in Kasi and Kosala ; I ate the alms food of the land.
 
That lay supporter – wise man indeed –Who gave a robe to Bhadda,Has generated abundant merit,For she is one free of all ties.”– (Therigatha 110-111)
 
[Translated from the Pali by Hellmuth Hecker & Sister Khema]
***
Bahdra Kundalakesa
Lotus0Flower (1)

E. The Issues

1. Again, the girl child was loved and pampered. The strong willed girls had their way.

2. I am amazed at the bravado bordering on recklessness of the women of that era. The spirited ones walked out the house and wandered freely in the world for long periods without a care or fear.

3. In matters of intellectual debates and doctrinal matters the women were respected for their wisdom and attainments. There appeared to be no discrimination.  None could equal Bhadda in the debating skills and knowledge of scriptures.

4. It appears the monastic Orders of the Jains and Bhuddhists were yet to stabilize. The seekers switched from one sect to the other, according to their inclinations.

5.  Unlike in other religions, The Buddhist Order of Nuns did not place a premium on the state of virginity of the women entering the Sangha. A vast number of its inmates had been mothers and wives; and, a few had been courtesans. The Master himself was once a husband and father. This again was an assertion of the Buddha-faith that the road to enlightenment is not blocked by the state of the body and its condition.

Notes:

Savatthi or Sravasti was one of the cities of six large cities of ancient India. The city located in the fertile Ganga valley was the capital of the Kosala kingdom. The ruins of Savatthi are in the Gonda district of UP state.

Rajagaha or Rajagriha was the first capital of the Kingdom of Magadha which a couple of centuries later evolved into the Maurya Empire. It is identified with the present Rajgir in Patna district of Bihar, located near the ancient ruins of Nalanda.

Vulture’s Peak or Gridhrakuta Hill is a few kilometers to south of the town of Rajgir.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – stories-Two – The much married Isidasi

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post –The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

1. Isidasi was the daughter of a wealthy merchant of high repute who lived in the regal city of Ujjain. She was his only daughter; and was deeply loved and pampered. She was lovely to look at, and was intelligent as also graceful. She was the darling of all at her home. When she came of age , a wealthy merchant residing in the city of Saketha sought her hand in marriage to his son. Isidasi’s parents were overjoyed at the proposal from the merchant of Saketha who was regarded very highly in the community.

2. At her new home, Isidasi’s parents –in –law doted on her. Isidasi too loved them all; and in particular her handsome and gentle husband. Though there were plenty of servants at home, Isidasi took upon herself the household chores; and attended to every need of her husband with love and devotion.

*****

Though Isidasi was diligent and humble; meticulous and virtuous in serving her husband, he was not happy with her. For some reason, he just could not stand her sight.

“By myself I cooked the rice, By myself I washed the dishes. As a mother looks after her only son, So did I serve my husband.

 I showed him devotion unsurpassed, I served him with a humble mind, I arose early, I was diligent, virtuous, And yet my husband hated me”. – (Therigatha 412-413)

He grew tired of Isidasi and asked his parents to send her back. Isidasi’s parents-in-law were devastated. They loved their daughter-in-law and did not want to lose her. Suspecting that there was a problem, which their son was hesitant to disclose to them, they questioned Isidasi. She answered truthfully:

“I have done nothing wrong, I have done him no harm, I have not spoken rudely to him. What have I done that my husband hates me? – (Therigatha 41)

 When the old couple confronted their son, he admitted that Isidasi was blameless; and yet insisted that he just couldn’t bring himself to live with her. He, however, would not come forth with any reason for his unhappiness. He begged his parents.

 “She does me no harm, But I will not stay in the house with Isidasi. I detest her..!Enough..!

Give me leave I must go away. Give me your leave, I must go away. I will not stay In this house with Isidasi.”

The parents- in – law were thrown into a dilemma; they did not want to lose a good daughter- in- law and yet were more scared of losing their only son. They finally decided to send Isidasi back to her parents:’ To keep our precious son we sacrifice this goddess.’ They were certain that with her beauty and gentle manners Isidasi would easily find another suitable husband.

“Rejected, overcome by suffering, They led me back to my father’s house. While appeasing our son, they exclaimed, We have lost the beautiful goddess of fortune”. – (Therigatha 419)

 

3. When Isidasi was returned, like a bad-coin, her parents were naturally aghast and perplexed too. Isidasi’s parents grieved over their daughter’s marriage for a while and then accepting the inevitable began looking for another suitable boy. Before long they found a wealthy young man who was so impressed by Isidasi’s beauty and conduct that he offered to marry her for half the usual bride- price. Isidasi lived with second husband for barely a month, serving him like a slave until he too sent her back. And, He too would not give a reason for his extreme dislike of his model and devoted wife.

Isidasi was devastated. This second rejection pierced her heart like a poisoned dart and hurt her grievously. She locked herself up in her room and wept silently over her fate. Yet, her father would not give up; he was determined to see his daughter happily married again. He was so desperate that he caught hold of an ascetic who came to his door steps begging for alms . He goaded the mendicant, “Be my daughter’s husband..! Throw away your robe and pot..!”

That poor wretch was tired of begging and sleeping under the sky. The prospect of a beautiful wife and a life of luxury in a splendid mansion greatly appealed to him; and thanked god for his mercy. He readily handed over his begging bowl and robes to Isidasi’s father and took Isidasi as his wife.

He hardly stayed for two weeks before he asked his father-in-law “Give me back my robe, the pot and the cup. I will be happy to beg for alms again”.

The beleaguered parents beseeched the ex-mendicant, “What wrong have done? What have we neglected? Please tell us why you are punishing us. Quickly, name your every want..! ”

He just said “I only want to feed myself; I can do that anywhere. Come what may I will not stay in this house with Isidasi. Please give me back my bowl and the robe.”

He too would not say why he disliked Isidasi. The helpless and distressed parents threw at him his bowl and robes; and promptly kicked him out of the house.

  

5. After the third marriage too ended in a disaster, for no fault of her, Isidasi decided there was no point in continuing to live this sort of life, unloved and unwanted. The shame and sorrow of three rejections were too hard to bear; and drove her to near suicide.

As she was planning for her death , a Buddhist nun named Jinadatta came to their door-steps seeking alms. Isidasi was impressed by her serenity and countenance; and pondered why she too could not become a nun. She invited the nun into the house, offered her seat and bowed at her feet. She served the nun fresh-cooked food and spiced pickles . After the nun was done with it, Isidasi queried, “Lady, I want to be a nun. Can you please help me?”

Her father shocked again, pleaded with Isidasi,” My child, if you wish, you may follow the Buddha way by giving food and drinks to holy men and Brahmin priests. Please stay at home. We have no strength left to see you suffer more.”

6. Isidasi begged and pleaded in tears for her father’s permission to enter the Order of Nuns. He was speechless and he hesitated. Isidasi burst out saying “I am going to die unless you let me become a mendicant nun.”

Then she revealed something totally unexpected, “I must destroy the evil I did when I was sixteen. Giridasa, the son of a wealthy merchant charmed by my maiden fresh youth took me as wife. He then already had another wife who was moral and virtuous, in love with her husband. I sowed discord in their marriage. That sin and the sins of my seven former lives made three husbands scorn me, though I served them like a slave. I have to end all this now. Please let me go.”

Another wife he had, A virtuous dame of parts and repute, Enamored of her mate, And thus I brought Discard and enmity within that house .– (Thig.446)

The unfortunate father could not bear to see the suffering in his beloved daughter’s eyes. He agreed to her request and let her join the Order. He blessed her to attain her peace and Nibbana.

 “Then my father said to me , Attain enlightenment and the supreme state , Gain Nibbana which the Best of Men , Has Himself already realized”– (Therigatha 432)

7. After she entered the Order, Isidasi worked diligently and was exemplary as a nun. Very soon she attained higher knowledge, understood the cycles of karma and got rid of the causes for her sorrow and suffering.

Deepavamsa, the ancient chronicle; and a source of history and legends of the early Buddhism, mentions Isidasi (Isidasika) as being an eminent Theri and a leader of the Order of the Bhikkhunis. (Deepavasa: 18.9)

navamallika

The story of Isidasi is narrated in about forty-seven verses in the Theri-gatha (vv 400-447).It covers her present life as also her past seven lives.

In the Theri-gatha, Isidasi narrates her story when she was staying in the Bhikkhuni Sangha at Pataliputra, in company of another nun, Bodhi. Both the nuns were described as “possessed of virtue, delighting in meditation and study, having great learning, with defilements shaken off “.

One evening, seated happily on the sand -bed along the Ganga, Bodhi asked, “You are lovely, noble Isidasi; your youth has not yet faded. What was the flaw that you had seen that led you to pursue renunciation.”(Therigatha 40.3).

In response to that query Isidasi narrates her story in her present birth as also in her seven previous births.

There are a few unusual features in the story. Ujjain and Pataliputra, where Isidasi lived are not the places that commonly appear in the Canon. Further, Isidasi’s first acquaintance with a nun was Jinadatta, who probably was a Jain nun. Some scholars therefore surmise Isidasi might have had a stint with Jainism before she became a member of the Buddhist Order of Nuns. Such crossovers from one sect to the other were perhaps not unusual

*****

 

The Issues

1. I cannot help wondering whether something is missing or is left unsaid in the Isidasi story. None of her husbands gives out why he was totally unhappy with Isidasi and was desperate to be rid of her . I suspect there was more to the story but was edited out, for whatever reason.

2. Isidasi attributes all her miseries to the sins she committed in her past seven births; it is the Kamma, she exclaimed. According to Buddhist belief, kamma is that inexorable impersonal force by which beings are bound to the ever-rolling wheel of samsaraKamma would prolong ones bondage to the wheel of samsara : “Long is samsara for fools who do not know true Dhamma” (Dhp 60).

Kamma was not a new concept introduced by Buddhism. It was an age-old faith, but Buddhism made it very central to its doctrine and elucidated it particularly in relation to the eradication of “ignorance,” the root cause of all suffering and anguish. It said, each is responsible for his own samsara — not his mother or his father or brother or sister, or his friends and acquaintances. So it is he himself who will experience the ripening of the deed he himself did.

The Kamma concept provided a basis for rationalizing ones misfortunes and successes in life. It brought into one’s life sense accountability and a will to take responsibility to ones actions, instead of self-pity and blaming others for all the wrong things in life. The present life was also viewed as an opportunity to correct oneself and to wriggle out of the snares of misfortunes. It held out a hope, a promise of a better future in this or in the next birth.

In the case of Isidasi too, the Kamma concept worked as a cleansing agent. In the sense, her understanding of the kamma as an on-going process prevented her sorrows, disappointments, betrayals and sheer helplessness turning into bitterness, disgust or hatred. Instead, it helped her focus inwards and find the root of her sorrows and eradicate it. More importantly, in her present life, it preserved her sanity. Else, I fear, she might have ended her days as a lonely, bitter-old-lunatic woman.

3. It appears, separation of married couple was accepted in that society as a fact of life. The husband and wife parted ways for a variety of reasons; and all which might not have been quite reasonable. Needless to say, the woman always suffered more.

There was perhaps no formal process put in place for decreeing a divorce. The separated couples just parted their ways, each seeking his/her happiness elsewhere.

The separated woman was free to marry again; and no stigma attached to her.In the case of Isidasi too, her parents-in-law (through her marriage to the youth at Saketha) sympathized with Isidasi’s lot and reluctantly sent her back with the hope that she might find another suitable boy and lead a happy married life. The parents also took initiative in finding a new husband for such a daughter.

Since monogamy was not mandatory, the remarriage brought in its wake a fresh set of problems; the annoying presence of other wife/wives, all competing for love and attention of their common husband. The women thrust into such overcrowded marriages were often left gasping for a little more space, peace and freedom.

4. The girl-child was not discriminated against. The parents doted on and pampered their little daughters; and tried to fulfill their every wish. Even in their old age, the parents did their best to protect the interests and happiness of their daughters.

GreenBodhiTree
 
8 Comments

Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The real Rodriguez

 

 

Post Retirement– Rodriguez way, came after the heart-wrenching story of  Dorabjee appeared. Rodriguez story was meant as a change, as a lighthearted account of the pligh t of retired persons homebound during day and at the mercy of unsolicited tele-vendors and door-to door sellers. I admit it was a bit overdone in certain parts and did not exactly turnout the way I loved to see. I was slightly surprised to find it showcased. But, I have learnt to accept things as they come my way, without reserve.

I wish to say a few words about Willy, not because he needs anyone to defend him, but to correct the impression, one may have gained, of his being a provider of rib- ticklers and teller of dirty stories; and nothing else. He did have his pains and aches but preferred not to wear his heart on his sleeve.

Willy Rodriguez endured more than a fair share of pain, sorrow and grief in his life. His initial years in Bombay, to say the least, were wretched. Uneducated, untended, friendless and poor, he learnt to survive at the lowest stratum of the heartless big city. He eked out a minimum living working odd jobs; yet, doggedly pursued his ambition to get educated. He realized, education was the only thing that could save him from degenerating into a guttersnipe. He managed to pass SSC attending evening classes. He later attended evening college for a few months and gave it up.

Even after he secured a job that fetched Rs.150 a month (a decent start in the 60s), he retained links with the Basti (slum dwellings) and was a sort of an all-purpose social worker. He was even a quack doctor, treating slum kids and women of minor illnesses. He learnt to treat injuries and fix bones of those hurt in gang wars but would not go to hospitals for fear of police. It was when he was becoming rather handy for the gangs and police began to suspect his links with gangs, Willy distanced himself quietly from that part of his life. In the meantime, he acquired familiarity with people in all strata of Bombay’s different worlds. He used that to help whoever came seeking help.

The wife of Boppanna Shetty; a new migrant , alone in Bombay, was taken away by the Municipality  to the  Isolation Hospital as she was afflicted with  small pox and the Hospital staff would not allow even Shetty, her husband, to meet the patient; as a precaution against spreading the contagious disease. Shetty was crying and howling at the Hospital gate. Rodriguez used his network, stayed alone with the luckless woman for three days until her death and later cremated her on behalf of her husband who was not permitted contact with the corpse.

Willy married rather late; a girl from his slum days. It was not all sweet- milk and honey – type of married life. She became a serious drug addict, a wayside victim of the Hippy invasion. When he realized she was beyond redemption he kept her going by injecting, until she died a year later.

After her death, alcohol became the refuge and ruin of Willy. How his old slum-mates cared for him and rescued him from disaster is another story. He later, regulated himself fairly well by restricting to evening bouts at the Boscos in the Colaba area. Weekend was another matter!

Willy lived alone. He was a lonely man though ever surrounded by his devote group of listners.The ribaldry, jokes etc., I think, was a sort of patchwork disguise. In his stories, he never judged or ridiculed his characters and had affection for the victims, as I mentioned. The women in office and elsewhere, for some reason, trusted him with their private anxieties and griefs; and sought his advice. He always had a word of comfort and cheer. He deposited all that was entrusted to him in his beer-belly, as he said; and never let another soul get wisp of that.

He did help those who came to him .He hated being called a good man or a kind man. Anyone thanking him more than they should, annoyed him very much. He would awkwardly freeze, turn away and ask them to leave. That acquired him the reputation of being a grumpy fellow who did not know how to accept a compliment.

I did not elaborate on Willy’s life-events, as they would not fit into the narration. It focused more on post retirement woes than on his life story. The run-up to the telemarketing repartee was an outline of how he appeared to the outside world.

After his retirement, Willy lived in Goa, alone, as you might have noticed. The invasion of his privacy, his panic and on going battle with constipation; were real. I cannot think of Willy being rude to women or hurting them in any manner. All his life, women trusted him and confided in him and he treated them fairly.

Most of the readers agreed that credit card and other marketing agents are a pain, particularly for those living alone in their old age. Many said they enjoyed reading the Rodriguez way. Some even remarked a few of Rodriguez’s methods were similar to their own.

Two or three remarked they deal with unsolicited calls quite effectively but not as elaborately as Willy did. “Who has time?” they queried. That is understandable. Willy was a retired person living alone and not everyone can be a Willy. 

 A few have suggested some new methods! A couple of the readers found a Willy in their office too.

 The repartee with the sales persons was bit made-up and bit blown up. The working women may not take kindly to the wit and sarcasm. I understand that. If someone saw a slant against women, I am sorry, that was not intended. It was just banter. I respect working women for their hard work, commitment and fortitude. I since mended that portion, a bit.

 The following four long winding, unpronounceable names cited in the story are real.

 

Magdalena Aubrey Menlo Santos Almeida,

Agostinha Rafael Maximiano Rasquinha,

Tirukkovillur Vaidyalingeshwaran Iyer and

Arunachala Kadambavana Sundari Prasunnamba Kanyaka. 

The last name ending with Kanyaka meaning: the blessed virgin who is beautiful and carries with her the radiance of sunshine, the fragrance of garden flowers, and the presence of God; is only the first name of a girl from a village in Andhra Pradesh. You still have to add to that plethora of verbiage, her village name, her father’s name and her family name. I would be surprised if that does not  make it the longest Indian name.

Even if someone is on a first name basis with the girl, it is still a marathon. My sympathies are with the boy.

As regards the jokes on Alzheimer‘s, it may look rather misplaced to those new to my pages. Not many read my blogs and those few who follow what I write, place that in the context of Dorabjee and might not find it offensive. Yet, I have since taken out the jokes.

I thank all for reading and taking the trouble to post comments.

 

Please keep talking.

 Regards.

 

Ratan Datta

Melody Queen

R-Sharma

Bijaya Ghosh

maddss123

charuavi

Aditi Ray

Gita Khanna

Red Strawberry

maria_m

Profravi

swarajya

N K Ravi

blogpulse

reflector

anamadheya

 

 

 

 
5 Comments

Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Story

 

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