The Lady Âmra Sees Buddha

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

The lord of the world having finished his wide work of conversion conceived in himself a desire for Nirvana. Accordingly proceeding from the city of Râgagriha, he went on towards the town of Pâtaliputra.

Having arrived there, he dwelt in the famous Pâtali ketiya. Now this town of Pâtaliputra is the frontier town of Magadha, defending the outskirts of the country. Ruling the country was a Brahman of wide renown and great learning in the scriptures; and there was also an overseer of the country, to take the omens of the land with respect to rest or calamity. At this time the king of Magadha sent to that officer of inspection a messenger, to warn and command him to raise fortifications in the neighborhood of the town for its security and protection. And now the lord of the world, as they were raising the fortifications, predicted that in consequence of the Devas and spirits who protected and kept the land, the place should continue strong and free from calamity or destruction. On this the heart of the overseer greatly rejoiced, and he made religious offerings to Buddha, the law, and the church. Buddha now leaving the city gate went on towards the river Ganges. The overseer, from his deep reverence for Buddha, named the gate through which the lord had passed the “Gautama gate.” Meanwhile the people all by the side of the river Ganges went forth to pay reverence to the lord of the world. They prepared for him every kind of religious offering, and each one with his gaudy boat invited him to cross over. The lord of the world, considering the number of the boats, feared lest by an appearance of partiality in accepting one, he might hurt the minds of all the rest. Therefore in a moment, by his spiritual power, he transported himself and the great congregation across the river, leaving this shore he passed at once to that, signifying thereby the passage in the boat of wisdom from this world to Nirvâna: a boat large enough to transport all that lives to save the world, even as without a boat he crossed without hindrance the river Ganges. Then all the people on the bank of the river, with one voice, raised a rapturous shout, and all declared this ford should be called the Gautama ford. As the city gate is called the Gautama gate, so this Gautama ford is so known through ages; and shall be so called through generations to come. Then Tathâgata, going forward still, came to that celebrated Kuli village, where he preached and converted many; again he went on to the Nâdi village, where many deaths had occurred among the people. The friends of the dead then came to the lord and asked, “Where have our friends and relatives deceased, now gone to be born, after this life ended?” Buddha, knowing well the sequence of deeds, answered each according to his several needs. Then going forward to Vaisâlî, he located himself in the Âmrâ grove. The celebrated Lady Âmrâ, well affected to Buddha, went to that garden followed by her waiting women, whilst the children from the schools paid her respect. Thus with circumspection and self-restraint, her person lightly and plainly clothed, putting away all her ornamented robes and all adornments of scent and flowers, as a prudent and virtuous woman goes forth to perform her religious duties, so she went on, beautiful to look upon, like any Devî in appearance. Buddha seeing the lady in the distance approaching, spake thus to all the Bhikshus:—

“This woman is indeed exceedingly beautiful, able to fascinate the minds of the religious; now then, keep your recollection straight! let wisdom keep your mind in subjection! Better fall into the fierce tiger’s mouth, or under the sharp knife of the executioner, than to dwell with a woman and excite in yourselves lustful thoughts. A woman is anxious to exhibit her form and shape, whether walking, standing, sitting, or sleeping. Even when represented as a picture, she desires most of all to set off the blandishments of her beauty, and thus to rob men of their steadfast heart! How then ought you to guard yourselves? By regarding her tears and her smiles as enemies, her stooping form, her hanging arms, and all her disentangled hair as toils designed to entrap man’s heart. Then how much more should you suspect her studied, amorous beauty; when she displays her dainty outline, her richly ornamented form, and chatters gayly with the foolish man! Ah, then! what perturbation and what evil thoughts, not seeing underneath the horrid, tainted shape, the sorrows of impermanence, the impurity, the unreality! Considering these as the reality, all lustful thoughts die out; rightly considering these, within their several limits, not even an Apsaras would give you joy. But yet the power of lust is great with men, and is to be feared withal; take then the bow of earnest perseverance, and the sharp arrow points of wisdom, cover your head with the helmet of right-thought, and fight with fixed resolve against the five desires. Better far with red-hot iron pins bore out both your eyes, than encourage in yourselves lustful thoughts, or look upon a woman’s form with such desires. Lust beclouding a man’s heart, confused with woman’s beauty, the mind is dazed, and at the end of life that man must fall into an ‘evil way.’ Fear then the sorrow of that ‘evil way!’ and harbor not the deceits of women. The senses not confined within due limits, and the objects of sense not limited as they ought to be, lustful and covetous thoughts grow up between the two, because the senses and their objects are unequally yoked. Just as when two ploughing oxen are yoked together to one halter and cross-bar, but not together pulling as they go, so is it when the senses and their objects are unequally matched. Therefore, I say, restrain the heart, give it no unbridled license.”

Thus Buddha, for the Bhikshus’ sake, explained the law in various ways. And now that Âmrâ lady gradually approached the presence of the lord; seeing Buddha seated beneath a tree, lost in thought and wholly absorbed by it, she recollected that he had a great compassionate heart, and therefore she believed he would in pity receive her garden grove. With steadfast heart and joyful mien and rightly governed feelings, her outward form restrained, her heart composed, bowing her head at Buddha’s feet, she took her place as the lord bade her, whilst he in sequence right declared the law:—

“Your heart, O lady! seems composed and quieted, your form without external ornaments; young in years and rich, you seem well-talented as you are beautiful. That one, so gifted, should by faith be able to receive the law of righteousness is, indeed, a rare thing in the world! The wisdom of a master derived from former births, enables him to accept the law with joy: this is not rare; but that a woman, weak of will, scant in wisdom, deeply immersed in love, should yet be able to delight in piety, this, indeed, is very rare. A man born in the world, by proper thought comes to delight in goodness, he recognizes the impermanence of wealth and beauty, and looks upon religion as his best ornament. He feels that this alone can remedy the ills of life and change the fate of young and old; the evil destiny that cramps another’s life cannot affect him, living righteously; always removing that which excites desire, he is strong in the absence of desire; seeking to find, not what vain thoughts suggest, but that to which religion points him. Relying on external help, he has sorrow; self-reliant, there is strength and joy. But in the case of woman, from another comes the labor, and the nurture of another’s child. Thus then should everyone consider well, and loathe and put away the form of woman.”

Âmrâ, the lady, hearing the law, rejoiced. Her wisdom strengthened, and still more enlightened, she was enabled to cast off desire, and of herself dissatisfied with woman’s form, was freed from all polluting thoughts. Though still constrained to woman’s form, filled with religious joy, she bowed at Buddha’s feet and spoke: “Oh! may the lord, in deep compassion, receive from me, though ignorant, this offering, and so fulfil my earnest vow.” Then Buddha knowing her sincerity, and for the good of all that lives, silently accepted her request, and caused in her full joy, in consequence; whilst all her friends attentive, grew in knowledge, and, after adoration, went back home.

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