Pubbarama (purva_rama) was a Buddhist monastery situated in the neighborhood of Savasthi, to the Northeast of Jeta_vana, which was one of the Buddha’s viharas The Buddha spent nine rainy seasons in Pubbarama. During his stay there, the Buddha dispensed many discourses, guided and helped a large number of persons. Pubbarama monastery, therefore, is often mentioned in the Buddhist texts. How the Pubbarama monastery came into being, is a very interesting story. It is narrated in the Dhamma_pada Commentary (Vol. I, 384-420).
Visakha, bright and beautiful, was the daughter of Dhananjaya and Sumanadevi who resided in the city of Kosala. Dhanajaya was a wealthy merchant and lived a comfortable life. Visakha grew up playing around the Vihara of the Buddha, in Kosala.She was an active, inquisitive and a lively child; she was always questioning about the things around her and about Dhamma. The Buddha was fond of the little girl.
Meanwhile in the city of Savasti a rich merchant, Migara was looking for a suitable bride for his son Punnavaddhana. The boy Punnavaddhana, however, was averse to marriage .It was not easy to convince him either. After much persuasion, he 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”.
Migara sent a couple of well-fed Brahmins to scout for a girl who answered the specifications laid down by his son They 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. Having given up their search, and when they were loitering in Kosala, cooking up a ruse to appease the” angry-old- bull “- Migara, they were caught in an unexpected storm. While they were running for a shelter, they noticed, to their amazement, a young and a beautiful girl walking calmly and gracefully through the storm to the nearby shelter, just as her friends ran in all directions. The Brahmins , quite impressed by the pretty girl’s 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 parade, or a serene monk in robes, to run.” Pleased with her reply, her composure and her exquisite beauty, the Brahmins went back and reported to Migara about their discovery of the most suitable bride for Punnavaddhana.
Thereafter Visakha and Punnavardhana were married; and 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 door 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.”
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”.
Migara duly chastened, changed his ways, invited the Buddha and his retinue of monks for their meal and arranged for rich food.
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, the monastery in which the Buddha 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.
Then one fine morning a couple of clean shaven Buddhist monks presented themselves at her door steps carrying a basketful of jewels and enquired whether they belonged to her. She recognized the jewels as hers and was happy to see them. She, however, refused to take them back, remarking it was not proper to take back an item left 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.
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. She did not succeed in finding a buyer, as none could afford the exquisite jeweled headdress (it was her wedding gift from her parents and reached all the way down her long hair to her ankles.)
Visakha then decided to buy it herself. She thereafter went on to build a new monastery to house to 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. That monastery came to be known as pubbarama (Purva_rama) because it was facing to the East.
On the day, Visakha dedicated the monastery to the Buddha she was overjoyed. She sang and danced with immense joy. She ran like child, with her children around the monastery, many times. Her joy was infectious; even the Buddha was touched.
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.
Soon after its completion, Visakha took charge of the nun’s section of the Pubbarama. One evening, while on her rounds, she was horrified to see the nuns’ fully drunk, dancing and singing crazy songs. When she asked the nuns to stop what they were doing, they did not listen to her. Instead, they asked her to raise a toast to the Buddha, get drunk and join the party.
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. It is here:
On one occasion, she sought the Buddha’s solace, as she was annoyed and angry with the tax collectors, who were obviously, over charging on her goods. The king too did not heed to her plea. The Buddha 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.
It is written, those words of the Buddha comforted Visakha.
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.”
In appreciation of her wisdom, her generosity to the Dhamma, and 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. She was a well-respected person in the Sangha.
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. A great girl indeed.