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22 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa

Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 22:

The Lady Āmra (Āmrapālī) sees Buddha.

1. After the World-honoured One had made extensive conversions, the thought of his [final] nirvana arose. He set forth from the city of Rājagṛha to the district of Pāṭaliputra.

2. After [the Buddha’s] arrival he stayed there in the Pāṭalī Chaitya. There was a dependent state, a border district of Magadha.

3. The Brāhman who ruled that land was learned and understood the scriptural texts. Looking at the signs concerning the welfare of the land, he served as the national oracle.

4. The king of Magadha sent a messenger to notify the oracle that he had to erect a secure wall to protect against violent neighbours.

5. The World-honoured One predicted that the land would be protected by celestial spirits. If one were to erect a wall there, it would forever be firm and free from danger.

6. The augur rejoiced in his heart, and brought worship to the Buddha, to the Law (Dharma), and to the order (Sangha). The Buddha left through a gate in the wall and went to the shore of the Ganges River.

7. Out of profound respect for Buddha, the augur called [the gate] the Gautama Gate. The whole population on the shore of the Ganges River came out to welcome the World-honoured One. They brought all kinds of offerings and all adorned their boats so that he might cross.

8. Because there were numerous boats, the World-honoured One could not be impartial in accepting one, and disregarded the others’ intention. He immediately rendered himself and his great multitude invisible through his divine power. He suddenly disappeared from one bank and emerged on the other bank.

9. Riding the boat of knowledge, [the Buddha] extensively saved beings. Because of the power of his qualities, he crossed the river without relying on a boat. The population on the shore of the Ganges River called out with one voice that it was amazing.

10. They all called this ford by the name Gautama Ford. The Gautama Gate, the gate in the wall, and the ford called Gautama Ford, these names spread in the world and the fame of both was transmitted for generations.

11. The Tathāgata proceeded on and arrived in the village of Kuṭi. Many were converted by his exposition of the Law [there]. He later arrived in the village of Nādikā.

12. Many people had died in an epidemic, and their relatives all came out to ask, “Where will our relatives, who died in the epidemic, be reborn at life’s end?”

13. The Buddha knew the retribution of their actions well, and gave his explanation in compliance to all their questions. He went on to Vaiśālī and stayed in the Āmra Grove.

14. Lady Āmrapālī was pleased to hear that the Buddha had come to her garden. Followed by her retinue of servants, she went out to welcome him with dignity.

15. She was well in control of her faculties. On her body she wore a light garment. She gave up decorated clothes, and desisted from [perfuming herself with] fragrant flowers when bathing.

16. She was as pure and simple as any chaste maiden in the world when bringing sacrifices to the gods. Her beautiful and fine complexion was like the celestial appearance of a jade lady.

17. When the Buddha saw the lady coming from afar, he said to his multitude of Bhikṣus, “This woman is utterly beautiful, capable of keeping the attention of any practitioner. You should apply right mindfulness and pacify your mind with wisdom!

18. “It would be better to be in the jaws of a fierce tiger or under the sharp sword of a madman than to have feelings of desire for a woman.

19. “A woman shows her licentious attitude whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. Even painted images [of women] reveal their seductive appearance. They steal one’s wholesome thoughts. Why not guard one- self?

20. “One may see them weeping or laughing, glad or angry; they may be relaxed, with lowered shoulders, or their dishevelled hair may tumble— still they confuse one’s mind. All the more so when they have adorned them- selves to manifest a fine appearance!

21. “Their adornments conceal their lowly bodies, enticing a fool. In his bewilderment he has evil ideas and does not perceive her offensive appearance. Observe that she is impermanent, painful, impure, and ‘without any- thing that is hers’!

22. “Look carefully at the truth and dispel any notion of desire! Correctly contemplate her as a specific object! Even a celestial maiden is not pleasant. All the less could desire for any human keep one’s attention!

23. “Grasp the bow of zeal and the sharp arrow of wisdom! Wear the heavy armour of right mindfulness and choose to battle the five desires!

24. “It would be better to pierce both eyes with a hot iron skewer than to observe female beauty with desire in mind.

25. “Desire confuses the mind and one is deluded by female beauty. When one’s life ends with confused thoughts, one will certainly fall into the three woeful destinations. Be afraid of the suffering of the woeful destinations and do not be deceived by a woman!

26. “One’s [sense] faculties should not be bound to her as their object, and as an object she should not be bound to one’s faculties! Thoughts of desire for her come from one’s faculties which are bound to her as their object.

27. “When, for instance, two ploughing oxen share a single yoke and cart, the oxen cannot be bound any further. The same applies to one’s faculties and their objects. That is why one should control one’s thoughts. Do not let them be negligent!”

28. As the Buddha expounded the Law in all kinds of ways to the Bhikṣus, Lady Āmrapālī eventually arrived before the World-honoured One.

29. She saw the Buddha sitting underneath a tree, meditating and reflecting in tranquillity, and cherished the thought that the Buddha in his great compassion had mercifully accepted her grove.

30. With an upright mind she controlled her bearing and corrected her former seductive feelings. Purely endowed with a reverential body and mind, she bowed and made obeisance at his feet. The World-honoured One bade her to sit down and expounded the Law to her as she wished:

31. “Your thoughts are pure and tranquil, and you reveal an outwardly virtuous appearance. When one is in the prime of life and has abundant wealth, when one is endowed with virtue combined with a beautiful appearance, and when one is able to have resolute faith in the Right Law, that is difficult [to achieve] in the world.

32. “When a man dwells in wisdom, his happiness with the Law is not something wondrous. That a woman, whose determination is weak, whose wisdom is shallow but whose desire is profound, is capable of being happy with the Right Law, this is even more difficult [to achieve].

33. “When one is born in the world, one should just find one’s pleasure in the Law! Riches and beauty will not be permanently preserved. Only the Right Law is precious.

34. “Strength is ruined by illness, and youth is transformed by old age. Life is distressed by death, but the practice of the Law cannot be encroached upon.

35. “One is separated from the things one likes, and one is compelled to be near what one does not like. One’s aspirations are not as one wishes. Only the Law is in compliance with one’s intentions!

36. “Others’ strength means one’s great suffering, but one’s sovereign strength means joy. Women all depend on another, and they bear the suffering of another’s child. Therefore, reflect and feel revulsion toward a female body!”

37. When Lady Āmrapālī heard the Law, she rejoiced in her heart. Her firm wisdom increased its brightness and she was able to break with desire. She immediately felt revulsion toward her female body and was not tainted by any object.

38. Even though she felt ashamed of her lowly body, the power of the Law urged her mind on. She bowed and said to Buddha, “You have received me, worthy one. Mercifully accept my offerings tomorrow and let me fulfil my earnest wish!”

39. The Buddha knew that she was sincere at heart, and considering also the benefit of all beings, he accepted her request in silence. [Lady Āmrapālī] consequently rejoiced. As she listened with affection, her understanding steadily increased. She made obeisance and returned home.