Kassapa and Bhadda Kapilani

For your reading pleasure, here’s a translation i’ve been working on of the story of the marriage and going forth of Mahakassapa (whose lay name was Pippali) and Bhadda Kapilani. It’s from the Pali commentaries, similar versions being found at Aṅguttara Aṭṭhakathā 1.92ff.; Saṁyutta Aṭṭhakathā 2.135ff.; Theragāthā Aṭṭhakathā 2.134ff. The story was a popular one, not confined to the Pali sources. A Tibetan version is recorded in Von Schiefner’s Tibetan Tales, 186-205. This tells very much the same story, although expanded with the usual playful freedom in developing narrative details.

The story is interesting to me in showing an ambiguity in gender relations; on the one hand their marriage is idealized as a perfect union, while at the same time there is a tendency to denigrate the woman as source of sensual temptation, a tendency that is internalized by Bhadda Kapilani herself. What do you think about it?

1 Pippali the brahman youth was born in the country of Magadha, in the brahman village of Mahātittha in the womb of Kapila the brahman’s chief queen. Bhaddā Kāpilānī was born in the Madda country in the city of Sāgala, in the womb of Kosiyagotta the brahman’s chief queen.
2 When they had grown up, and Pippali was 20 and Bhaddā was 16, his parents said to him: ‘My dear, you are of age, come, we will set you up in a good family.’
3 He was very depressed by this, and said: ‘Do not say such things within my hearing. As long as you are alive, I will support you, but when you have passed away I will leave and go forth.’ They repeatedly remonstrated with him to no avail. But his mother would not give up, and so he made a plan, thinking: ‘My mother will agree to this’.
4 He had the form of a woman made (itthirūpaṁ) of gold, of outstanding beauty, bedecked with flowers and ornaments. He showed it to his mother, saying, ‘Mother, if I can get such an object (ārammaṇa) as this, I will stay in the house, if not I will not stay.’
5 She, being wise, thought, ‘My son is of great merit, for sure there will be a golden one like this for him.’ She called eight brahmans, fitted them out with all they needed, and gave them a wagon on which she placed the golden figure. She instructed them to seek among familes of the same social standing for a daughter like the golden statue.
6 Leaving, they thought to start looking in Madda, as it was a place renowned for beautiful women. They placed the golden statue beside a bathing place and sat nearby. Then Bhaddā’s nurse, having washed Bhaddā and adorned her and sat her in her chamber came to that ford to bathe.
7 She thought, ‘My lady’s daughter has come here.’ Thinking it was her, she scolded: ‘You naughty girl, why have you come here?’ Raising her hand, she said: ‘Hurry back!’ and gave her a smack. But her hand hurt as if hitting stone! She stepped back in shock, realizing how foolish she’d been to mistake her girl for a statue.
8 The brahmans asked: ‘Does your master’s daughter look like the statue’.
9 She replied: ‘Why not? In fact, my lady’s daughter has hundred, nay a thousand times this beauty. When she sits in her chamber, there is no need for a lamp for 12 spans about her person, such is the radiance of her body.’
10 ‘Then take us to her’, they said. They went with the cripple to the house of the brahman Kosiyagotta.
11 Arriving at the house, the brahman greeted them and asked the reason for their visit. The brahman said: ‘It is good, my daughter, for he is of the same caste.’ He wrote a letter to Kapila the brahman, ‘You have my daughter, do the necessary rituals.’
12 Having heard this message, Pippali announced, ‘It seems I have the girl.’ He thought to himself: ‘This is truly no gain, I should write to her.’ In private he wrote: ‘Please enter the house of a suitable family, I will go forth, do not sorrow.’
13 Meanwhile, Bhaddā was thinking to herself, ‘It seems they want to give me away in marriage.’ She too wrote a letter, expressing exactly the same sentiments, and saying her wish was also to go forth.
14 The messengers bearing the two letters passed each other in the middle of the journey. When the bearers found that the letters were being exchanged between the two betrothed, they opened them and, having discovered the plot, threw the letters away in the forest. They wrote similar-looking letters for each and delivered them. Thus the wedding came about despite the lack of desire from each party.
15 Now, on that very wedding day Pippali tied together a bunch of flowers, and so did Bhaddā. They placed the flowers in the middle of the bed. Pippali ascended the right side of the bed, Bhaddā the left. Bhaddā said, ‘Who sees these flowers decay, we shall know that lust has arisen in their mind; may this garland not be defiled.’ For fear of their bodies touching, they spent the whole night without falling asleep, and without bending. By day, they did not so much as laugh. Unsullied by worldly things, as long as their parents supported them, they did not even have to look after the family estate. However, after the parents died, they took over the duties.
16 One day Pippali, surrounded by a large following, rode a horse to work the fields. Standing to one side he saw the crows and other birds eating the worms that were ploughed up in the field. He asked an attendant: ‘What are they eating?’ ‘Worms and so on.’ ‘But who do that kamma belong to?’ ‘It is yours, master.’ He thought to himself: ‘If if receive bad kamma from this, what use is all my wealth? What use is my lands, my fine chariots, or my villages? I will make them all over to Bhaddā and go forth.’
17 Meanwhile, Bhaddā was inside the house. She laid out some sesame seeds to dry, and saw the crows come to eat the insects in the seeds. She asked the maid, ‘My dear, what are they eating?’ ‘The insects, my lady.’ ‘But who receives the unwholesome kamma?’ ‘You do, my lady.’ She thought: ‘If by even this much I do evil, then I shall never lift my head above even in a thousand lives. When my husband returns I shall turn all over to him and go forth.’
18 Pippali returned to the palace, bathed, and sat down, and they ate a meal fit for a king. After, they dismissed the servants and sat together in private.
19 Pippali said to Bhaddā: ‘Bhaddā, when you came to this house, how much wealth did you bring?’
20 ‘55000 wagon loads, my husband.’
21 ‘All this, plus 87 myriads and much else besides, I make over to you alone.’
22 ‘But what of you, my husband?’
23 ‘I will go forth.’
24 ‘But I have sat here with you looking to say the very same thing! I too will go forth.’
25 The whole of the three worlds appeared to them like a burning hut of leaves. Thinking to go forth, they obtained ochre robes and small bowls and shaved each other’s hair.
26 They declared: ‘We go forth in dedication to those who are arahants in this world!’
27 They slung their bowls over their shoulders and left the palace, unnoticed by the servants and workers. But after they left the brahman village, they were recognized at the gate of the nearby servant’s village. The servants wept and fell at their feet, saying: ‘How can you leave us with no protector?’
28 They said: ‘Seeing the three wrolds like a burning hut of leaves, we are going forth. If we were to free each one of you individually, 100 years would not be enough, so you should wash each other’s head, be free, and live.’ They left, the servants still weeping.
29 The Elder walking in front, turned to look at Bhaddā, and thought: ‘This Bhaddā is the most extraordinarily beautiful woman in all the land, and she walks behind me. Maybe someone might think that we, having gone forth are not able, that we do what is inappropriate.’ If they corrupt their minds with such thoughts, they may go to hell. We should go our separate ways.
30 Going ahead, he came to a fork in the road, where he waited for Bhaddā. Bhaddā arrived, saluted him, and stood there. He said: ‘Bhaddā, with a woman such as you following me, people may think we are not proper ascetics, and with such corrupt thoughts many people may go to hell. I will take one of these paths, you take the other.’
31 ‘Yes, venerable, womankind (mātugāma) is indeed a stain for those gone forth, and there are those who would suspect misbehaviour between us, but if we take separate roads this will not happen.’ She circled him three times in respect, and in four places made the five-point prostration, and placing her ten fingers together she raised them to her head, saying: ‘Our frindship that has been built over 100 000 aeons is broken today.’
32 She continued: ‘You are born on the ‘right side’, as it were, you should go onn the right-hand path; we women are born on the ‘left side’, I will proceed along the left-hand path’, and having paid respects she walked down the road.
33 At the time those two went their two separate ways, it was as if this great earth said: ‘I am able to bear the might mount Sineru, but I cannot bear the virtues of this pair’, and there was a rumble and a quaking; the sky cracked like thunder, and the world-encircling mountains roared.
34 The Buddha was seated in the fragrant hut in the Bamboo Grove Monastery when he heard the sound of the earthquake, and thought: ‘For who is the earth quaking?’ Turning his mind, he knew: ‘Pippali the young brahman and Bhaddā Kāpilānī in dedication to me with measureless achievements abandoned have gone forth.’1

36 thoughts on “Kassapa and Bhadda Kapilani

  1. Dear Bhante

    Would the fact that the word “ārammaṇa” was used be suggestive that this Commentarial story developed very, very late? I don’t suppose it’s common Nikaya parlance, is it?

    About Bhaddā’s projection of the dangers of the female form, several possibilities come to mind –

    1. the commentators identified with her projection; or
    2. the commentators were using her projection as a foil to their theories of perception.

    It does not seem very clear at all. But it does seem to resonate a little bit with the first of the 3 similes of the “wet, sappy piece of timber lying in the water” found in the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, MN 36, which I read to be an admonition to practise bodily seclusion from the panca kamagunas. MN 36 places the responsibility for such bodily seclusion on the monks, whereas this Commentarial story is a bit ambiguous as to where responsibility lies.

    I have a burning question about the kamagunas in particular and ārammaṇa in general. Hope you could share your thoughts on this.

    Do the kamagunas have objective predicates, as some argue that the pericope for the kamagunas exclude forms, odours etc that do not provoke lust, ie kamagunas are only those forms that provoke lust. Or is the kamaguna pericope broad enough to include all forms etc, even if they provoke aversion? I suppose this must turn on the question of whether or not dhammas/states such a subha or asubha have objective reality or are simply interpretive mental constructs overlaid sanna and vinnana.

    Many thanks in advance!

    • Yes, I find ārammaṇa an unusual usage here, which is why i noted it. the whole story is obviously late in form, although it may have some early parts. It’s likely they were actually man and wife. The story of the golden image and so on is stock, being found several times in the Jatakas.

      Bhadda’s self-identification of the female form as dangerous is in fact a normal part of Buddhist discourse. We find similar statements frequently, and indeed I’ve heard the same thing spoken by women. It’s unusual here because of the meticulous balance in the way the rest of the narrative is constructed. It would have been so easy to say: ‘As a married couple who have gone forth, people may gossip if they see us together, so it would be best to part.’ Yet the storyteller is, it seems, so used to the ‘woman = danger’ trope that even such an innocuous phrasing is impossible.

      Regarding your question, I think it’s that the objects of the senses normally tend to provoke lust, etc. It’s a bit similar to the statement elsewhere that pleasant feeling tends to promote desire, unpleasant feeling aversion, and neutral feeling delusion. Obviously this is not always the case. When the kamaguna pericope is used, it has a particular purpose: to identify and analyze those things that we tend to get attached to. In this context, it is the desirable aspects of the sense objects that is emphasized. It is only a little leap to realize that the same things that lead to desire when frustrated lead to aversion; and that the whole process takes place under the veil of delusion.

      So I would say that the kamaguna pericope is normally used in those cases when sensual desire is the main issue. In other situations different passages tend to be used. It would be overdetermining the text, I believe, to infer from this that the kamagunas either do or do not absolutely exclude non-sensual experience (for example, the experience of the arahant).

    • Dear Bhante

      Many thanks! Perhaps when you have the time, you could point me to those pericopes that deal with patigha.

      Might the Commentary have continued with when Bhaddā obtained the going-forth under the Buddha?

  2. Dear Ajahn Sujato,
    Thank you. A verse from Dhammapada came to mind.

    Health is the greatest gain.
    Contentment is the greatest wealth.
    A trustworthy friend is the best of kin.
    Unconditional freedom is the highest bliss.

    Dhammapada v.204

  3. What a poignant and touching reversal of the Romeo & Juliet mythic motif! Passion displaced by dispassion. Conclusions of tragedy and death abandoned for nobility and the life gone forth.

    It’s noteworthy that there is no indication that Pippali perceives Bhaddha as inferior to him. Neither do any words of disparagement in relation to womankind pass his lips. In fact, until the denouement of the story, Pippali and Bhaddha are partners, equals, and mirror-images in every significant narrative act, with Pippali the first mentioned and described in each case.

    There are three indications that Bhaddha may be thought of (as being thought of by ‘the tradition’) as inferior in some sense. That is, she walks behind Pippali after they have gone forth, she venerates him when they part company (but not he to her), and she (but not he) describes womankind as ‘matugama’.

    However, there is no indication that Pippali caused, commanded, desired or approved of these three, or believed that any of these three things ought to occur.

    The use of mirror-imaging marks it out as a story describing the complementarity of the masculine and feminine on a mythic-psychological level. It would be worth exploring on both a mythic-psychological and rational-concrete level what it means to take the ‘left road’.

    The motif of partnership is reinforced at the conclusion, even after Pippali and Bhaddha have parted ways, when the great earth laments ‘I cannot bear the virtues of this pair’. The Buddha also, after turning his mind to the great going forth, mentions the two together in the same sentence.

    >jj<

    • Guptila!
      Even though you made me laugh out loud in compassion, sympathy and shared frustration, the Buddha did say, Ehi Bhadda – and that was her ordination. (If this is incorrect, Bhante will correct me)
      If only things were that simple!
      Ehi Guptila!
      Don’t forget all those wonderful monks who DO SEE!
      And let us rejoice in knowing and seeing (if only occasional glimpses).🙂

    • Well, as it happens, that’s not so different from what the commentary does in fact say. It explains that when the Buddha said ‘Come, Bhadda!’, what he really meant was ‘Go, Bhadda! Go over to the bhikkhuni monastery and get your ordination there.’ It’s little wonder that the bhikkhunis don’t know whether they’re coming or going!

  4. I’ve got a couple of questions regarding this little story…….why is womanhood (matugama) a stain for those gone forth? Apart from the fact that monks or gay nuns may form a physical and presumably lustful relationship with women which disqualifies them from the ‘holy life’….

    Is it sensible to presume that if one is unable to resolve lust on a intellectual level (ie asuba practice ect) then by exploring it in a physical way one will see it for what it is…..then why is womanhood or indeed if roles are reversed, why is masculinity a big stain??? Isn’t it ‘a big stain’ only if you aren’t at ease with it or haven’t made your peace with it???

    The other question is……what is meant by : ‘Bhaddā, with a woman such as you following me, people may think we are not proper ascetics, and with such corrupt thoughts many people may go to hell……. I will take one of these paths, you take the other…… and there are those who would suspect misbehaviour between us, but if we take separate roads this will not happen.’….. Why was this such a concern for Kassapa? If these two were beyond reproach what was the issue here and does this imply that one is responsible for what others think? And that further more one may suffer really badly as a consequence for sending people to hell because of their misinterperation of your deeds???? If this is the case then the ramifications are mind boggling aren’t they??

    Or have I just taken this little story much too seriously!
    Thanx

    If this is

  5. anandaroad :The other question is……what is meant by : ‘Bhaddā, with a woman such as you following me, people may think we are not proper ascetics, and with such corrupt thoughts many people may go to hell……. I will take one of these paths, you take the other…… and there are those who would suspect misbehaviour between us, but if we take separate roads this will not happen.’….. Why was this such a concern for Kassapa? If these two were beyond reproach what was the issue here and does this imply that one is responsible for what others think? And that further more one may suffer really badly as a consequence for sending people to hell because of their misinterperation of your deeds???? If this is the case then the ramifications are mind boggling aren’t they??
    Or have I just taken this little story much too seriously!Thanx
    If this is

    I’m not sure and I’m sure someone will answer correctly, but my take was that since it might cause bad thoughts in others that they chose a more compassionate route and avoid that if they could. Why do something that might cause people to doubt if there’s really no need for it.

  6. hi sujato and everyone,

    a nice read and very interesting to read stories that has been translated from pali. thanks for that – sure some work to do🙂 maybe some parts are a bit hard to understand with todays views. the fact that it is thought that women are sensual temptation or somehow unclean – is present in many religions and to me is just a sign of personal weakness of those who write such stuff. they might be more afraid of their own weakness, than of the temptation coming from the woman herself. so in french it’s said : honi soit qui mal y pense – shameful be those who have bad thoughts😉

  7. Having the Buddha just sort of showing up at the and deux ex machina-style makes this seem a lot like some renunciate fable that was given imprimatur by some late Buddhist commentator. Nice fables or not, I’m not seeing ANY Dhamma in this tale.

  8. sujato :Well, as it happens, that’s not so different from what the commentary does in fact say. It explains that when the Buddha said ‘Come, Bhadda!’, what he really meant was ‘Go, Bhadda! Go over to the bhikkhuni monastery and get your ordination there.’ It’s little wonder that the bhikkhunis don’t know whether they’re coming or going!

    Dear Bhante

    Does the Commentary supply a time-line as to Ayya Bhadda’s ordination? Likely to have occurred after Ven Mahakassapa’s but any idea how long thereafter, and the probable year of the Buddha’s career?

    • No exact details, but she is said to have waited in a Jaina nunnery until Mahapajapati founded the bhikkhuni order. That would put it around five years after the Buddha’s awakening, according to the commentarial reckoning. However, the commentarial chronology is unreliable, and this date is only useful for understanding how she fits the theravadin system of things. In fact, while it is quite likely she ordained early on, there’s no real telling the actual time.

    • Thanks Bhante.

      I wonder if the anachronisms between the sutta dates and commentarial dates have been thoroughly ironed out yet? The role of Ananda’s intercession could really only have been filled after he became the Buddha’s attendant in the 20th year of the Buddha’s career.

      Incidentally, does the Papañcasudani supply a date for the events recorded in the Dakkhinavibhanga Sutta, MN 142?

      I wonder if Ven Buddhaghosa was aware of the odd dates floating around in the various Commentaries?

    • I doubt if the confusion in dates will ever be sorted out. the early texts simply don’t give enough detail, which is why the later traditions tried to sort out some kind of chronology. But by that time the events had become so overlaid with mythology that any attempt at a genuine chronology was futile.

  9. I just saw that there are two different Bhadda in the Therigatha. One being Bhadda Khundalakesa the ex Jain in Canto V. The other is Bhadda of the Kapilas in Canto IV

    • That’s right; confusingly, both spent time as Jain nuns before taking bhikkhuni ordination. Both of them also have very interesting life stories.

  10. Ajahn Sujato said: ‘The story is interesting to me in showing an ambiguity in gender relations; on the one hand their marriage is idealized as a perfect union, while at the same time there is a tendency to denigrate the woman as source of sensual temptation, a tendency that is internalized by Bhadda Kapilani herself. What do you think about it?’

    Speaking for myself, I know how easy it is to internalise such views. Considering the society she was living in, well perhaps such views were deemed completely normal; so normal that they weren’t even really seen as offensive.

    In her quest for liberation and truth, perhaps such views were mere trifles to her; something not worthy of her time and attention. Perhaps she had loftier, nobler agendas to attend to.

    Assuming Bhadda was unenlightened at the time this was spoken then I can further understand why this was said.

    I cannot know for sure though that this was what she definitely said. So much has probably been lost and changed. The presence of ‘stock phrases’, ‘mirror imaging’ seems to me to show how things may have been changed; perhaps so that it was easier to rememember the chanting during the oral transmissions.

    Regarding the idealisation of their marriage… To me it seems that this is so because they were supportive of each other in reaching a common goal. They were fearless and honest with each other. And importantly, the sexual side of their union was either non-existant or barely existant; they really were looking to live a pure and perfect holy life, without any worldly distractions.

  11. Dear All,

    On 16/1/10 is Ajahn Chah’s remembrance Day! If Ajahn Chah was still alive, he would not like this “fire” going on and would be dissapointed and his advice would be “Go with your pure heart & mind” & “live in harmony with Nature””Be at peace with the world” & not be slaves to books.

    Pls. have some respect for the late Ajahn Chah.

    Nuns need not become female monks to get to arahantship as confirmed by our Buddha. In the West, the females want equal rights as the male monks, but can the female monks live up to the standard of the male monks in practising austherity in the forest,caves,cemetary,dense forest like our Ajahn Chah & his disciples monks? If not, by being equal in monkhood and not going forth would be indirectly and eventually bring down the standard of forest monkhood and their tradition of practice objectively. Can the female monks live with tigers and snakes in the forest alone? That was the obvious reason why the Bhikkhunis Sangha died off a thousand years ago. Do we want to revive it to later have it died off because it was near impossible for female monks to live in austherity (it was Buddha’s wisdom to object Mahapati to “gone forth” but encouraged them with the 8 rules for life).
    Please reflect and contemplate before the female ask for monkhood for equal status.(not anti Bhikkhunis, but please be real & practical).Buddhism has survived 2,600 years todate and hope it would go on another 2,600 years for the future generations by preserving the rules that the Elders and fore-Sangha had left to us to protect, follow and practice as inheritance.

    Happy Peaceful Remembrance Day, in honour of our late Ajahn Chah!Metta to the agreeable and the disagreeable.

    • Dear Ajahn Cha disciple,

      Thanks for reminding us of Ajahn Chah on the anniversary of his passing away.

      Having lived in thailand, and stayed in deep jungle, yes among the snakes and tigers in the forest, your post evokes some old memories. i remember my first retreat with the monks from Wat Nanachat. we left the relatively comfortable space of the main monastery – and Wat Nanachat in those days was not a particularly plush monastery, not like the marble-and-chandelier extravaganzas you’ll see in some ‘forest monasteries’ today – and went to Dtao Dum, a very deep, undisturbed wilderness. There were about 20 monk, and two women – a 10 precept nun and a long term lay woman. They stayed with us in the jungle, on little bamboo platforms. They lived like that, meditating as well as cooking for the monks in the early morning, having to go down a long treachorous path before light.

      Was this anything special or unusual for women? No, not at all: if you look at any indigenous peoples, the women live in the forest or the desert just as the men do. And, incidentally, how many monks do you know that actually live in the deep forest? The real forest, not a comfortable monastery? i know about one, actually – and he supports bhikkhunis.

      I’m glad that you’re remembering Ajahn Chah, and i hope you have a lovely day, but it is sad to me that Ajahn Chah’s name should be associated with such outright sexism.

  12. (COPY & PASTE FROM OTHER BLOG)

    (Copy and paste from other blog)
    “”Dear All,
    “”On 16/1/10 is Ajahn Chah’s remembrance Day! If Ajahn Chah was still alive, he would not like this “fire” going on and would be dissapointed and his advice would be “Go with your pure heart & mind” & “live in harmony with Nature””Be at peace with the world” & not be slaves to books.
    Pls. have some respect for the late Ajahn Chah.
    Nuns need not become female monks to get to arahantship as confirmed by our Buddha. In the West, the females want equal rights as the male monks, but can the female monks live up to the standard of the male monks in practising austherity in the forest,caves,cemetary,dense forest like our Ajahn Chah & his disciples monks? If not, by being equal in monkhood and not going forth would be indirectly and eventually bring down the standard of forest monkhood and their tradition of practice objectively. Can the female monks live with tigers and snakes in the forest alone? That was the obvious reason why the Bhikkhunis Sangha died off a thousand years ago. Do we want to revive it to later have it died off because it was near impossible for female monks to live in austherity (it was Buddha’s wisdom to object Mahapati to “gone forth” but encouraged them with the 8 rules for life).
    Please reflect and contemplate before the female ask for monkhood for equal status.(not anti Bhikkhunis, but please be real & practical).Buddhism has survived 2,600 years todate and hope it would go on another 2,600 years for the future generations by preserving the rules that the Elders and fore-Sangha had left to us to protect, follow and practice as inheritance.
    Happy Peaceful Remembrance Day, in honour of our late Ajahn Chah!Metta to the agreeable and the disagreeable.”””
    “”Agreeable – theravada bhikkhunis in Perth should have more understanding of WPP as a Forest Sangha tradition i.e the monks practise in solitute in the forest. By ordaining the Bhikkhunis under this tradition would be that the Bhikkhunis would also be regarded as Forest female monks. This inevitably would undermine the male chauvinism of the forest monks who had emulated the Buddha in forest living & practise.
    Hope the Bhikkhunis in Perth could reconsider their aspiration to be forest female monks as, if WPP accepted Bhikkhunis, it would be of equal practising conditions and environment. Female nuns (being compassionate by nature) will do well in serving the lay community and at the same time aspire spiritually. What do you think, ladies?
    Wishing all disciples of Ajahn Chah traditions A Happy Harmonious Remembrance Day & May all attain Nibbana. May the late Ajahn Chah be in Nibbanic Bliss! Peace not War.””
    “Please make Peace.Anumodana.”

    New addition:
    – Yes, Bhikkhunis would be better off serving the lay people than sitting and meditating in the forest with the tigers and snakes. No offence, ladies, it is for your own safety and benefits. We lay people care for you ladies (we would get worried if you become forest female monks). Take it easy. Don’t be so hard on yourselves. We do not have only one life. We still have many more human lives to reach the destination of final salvation (Nibbana).Take care.

    • Dear Laity,

      I’m having difficulty working out whether you actually believe this, or whether you’re just having us on. I lean towards the latter, in hope….

  13. “For fear of their bodies touching, they spent the whole night without falling asleep, and without bending. By day, they did not so much as laugh.” It doesn’t sound much like a “perfect union” to me. Sounds miserable. What’s wrong with touching (it doesn’t necessarily mean craving or lust) and laughter (I notice that Ajahns Brahm and Sujato laugh and joke frequently)? If they really had a problem with sleeping together, why didn’t they just get separate beds or separate rooms instead of making a trial and a drama out of it?

    The idea that I will suffer bad kamma because a bird eats a worm in my garden makes no sense to me. What am I supposed to do? Sterilise my garden?! That would be the only way of making sure that nothing ate anything else in there. It’s the process of life on which we all, including monastics, depend for our food and our oxygen. A change in legal ownership of a piece of land doesn’t make me one iota more or less involved in the process.

    I am afraid I find this a rather sad story and I see little of value in it.

    • Ahh, well that would be a matter of perspective… the story is an archetypal one, and shouldn’t be reduced to a ‘mere’ human story. The thing about not laughing is a part of Theravadin values – arahants don’t laugh, though they can smile. It may sound sullen to you or i, but it clearly didn’t sound that way to many people over a long time.

      why didn’t they just get separate beds or separate rooms instead of making a trial and a drama out of it?

      Because that’s exactly the point – to make a drama out of it. It’s a story, and such elements are there precisely to dramatize things. Who knows how they actually slept?

      The thing about kamma: you’re quite right, this is just wrong view. This was commented on long ago by Nyanaponika in his translation. But hey, it’s a commentarial story, you can’t expect it to get basic Buddhist doctrines right…

  14. “Ahh, well that would be a matter of perspective… the story is an archetypal one, and shouldn’t be reduced to a ‘mere’ human story.”

    I’ve always taken the Theravada literally. I’m still getting used to seeing archetypal and mythical elements in Theravada writings. Also, I know that you’ve ironised the word “mere” by putting it in quotes, but I’ve met teachers who don’t and who think that transcending the human means being inhuman.

    “The thing about not laughing is a part of Theravadin values – arahants don’t laugh, though they can smile.” I don’t know any arahants (at least not that I know of). Is that just a kind of convention or, from your experience, is it a natural part of an arahant’s behaviour that they just stop laughing but they keep smiling?

    “Because that’s exactly the point – to make a drama out of it.”

    Oh.

    OK.

    That explains that then. Doh. :-~

    I’ve realised that I’m used to Mahayana stories being mythical and fantastic (thousands of people in Vimalakirti’s bedroom listening to him talk from his sick bed, many of them on thrones, is obviously not meant to be taken literally) but I ignore or overlook that element in the Theravada, probably because they’re not as over-the-top.

    To use a domestic analogy, it’s like cooking. Mahayana sutras can describe wonderful food, but Theravada suttas tell you how to cook, they’re like recipe books. (The dichotomy is not that extreme, I know, and perhaps a part of it has to do with what I’ve been looking for in each). I can read the Heart Sutra and find it inspiring but it doesn’t really tell me how to practice. The Anapanasati or Satipatthana Suttas have been of much more help in my practice, along with advice from experienced meditators in the Theravada tradition. So I’ve obviously overlooked the archetypal/mythical element in Theravada literature.

    “The thing about kamma: you’re quite right, this is just wrong view. This was commented on long ago by Nyanaponika in his translation. But hey, it’s a commentarial story, you can’t expect it to get basic Buddhist doctrines right…”

    I’m also just getting used to the difference between the original suttas and the commentaries.

    • “The thing about not laughing is a part of Theravadin values – arahants don’t laugh, though they can smile.” I don’t know any arahants (at least not that I know of). Is that just a kind of convention or, from your experience, is it a natural part of an arahant’s behaviour that they just stop laughing but they keep smiling?

      Personally, i think arahants are 100% laugh-friendly. But the Theravada abhidhamma says that they cannot laugh. There is a special kind of mind-moment among the lokuttara-cittas that is the ‘smile inducing consciousness’ for arahants. The whole issue is an interesting one, with very pertinent modern political ramifications – as explored in the (banned in Thailand) “The King Never Smiles”.

    • Oh, it’s only the Abidhamma. You should have said🙂

      I understand that the issue of contemplating the breath at the nose or the belly was also hot political potato.

  15. Only 18 months behind the 8-ball here but I wanted to share a novice thought on the story originally posted by Bhante…

    Pippali is distracted by Bhadda, he acknowledges her extraordinary beauty and even stops walking and turns to look at her, he finds it difficult to keep his mind pure with her in his presence. It is important to note, however, that Bhadda has done nothing wrong, she walks behind Pippali, presumably at the appropriate distance as he has to stop and wait for her to catch up, it is simply the thought in Pappali’s mind, “This Bhaddā is the most extraordinarily beautiful woman in all the land, and she walks behind me. “ Further, rather than acknowledging his own distraction Pappali draws attention to the impure thoughts of others, “Maybe someone might think that we, having gone forth are not able, that we do what is inappropriate.” But even in doing so he is tentative in his explanation for needing to part from Bhadda’s company, “Maybe someone might…”. Thinking that there might potentially be someone out there who could think that there might possibly be something less than honorable going on between them, that perhaps they might be less ‘holy’ (?) because they are married “people may think we are not proper ascetics” ?

    I argue that it is Pappali’s weakness of mind that causes the separation, not Bhadda’s inherent wickedness as a woman. Sensual temptation can only exist if there is someone being tempted. Monks and nuns can co-exist without sensual temptation.

    Bhadda, in my opinion, seems to be aware of Pappali’s weakness of mind (or perhaps body – bodymind) and ‘lets him off the hook’ by agreeing, “there are those who would suspect misbehaviour between us”. However, by stating “Yes, venerable, womankind (mātugāma) is indeed a stain for those gone forth” I do not think we must necessarily believe that Bhadda has herself internalized the denigration of women as a source of sensual temptation.

    Two other possibilities:
    1. She is angry with Pappali that with such a concern as the impure thoughts of others he is willing to break a friendship built over 100 000 aeons, ‘Our friendship that has been built over 100 000 aeons is broken today’ but rather than start an argument she is rightful enough to take another path and walk away from her husband….not a huge fan of this possibility but as a woman have to acknowledge this is a likely reaction :o)

    2. She recognises his weakness and has compassion for his difficulties. By saying that womankind is a stain for those gone forth, she is not saying that women are dirty or that they unnecessarily cling to men, but rather, that the stain is for those gone forth, the stain, the difficulty is theirs. She paid her respects to the monk and left him so that he may find it easier to go forth. I believe this shows that Bhadda’s insights are actually greater than Pappali’s.

    Indeed, The Buddha is depicted to have acknowledged himself that both Pappali and Bhadda have gone forth, abandoning the achievements they made together, abandoning a genuinely fruitful relationship. Separately these two go forth, Pappali leaving behind his wife through achievement of renunciation and Bhadda moving forward in her achievement of compassion.

    I think if we look at it another way, Bhadda is the winner here, she has not denigrated herself, but rather liberated herself from Pappali’s lustful thoughts :o)

  16. Unfortunately this is a pathetic rendition of a story beautifully told by Bhikku Nayanaponika.
    No wonder so many readers ‘don’t get it’.

    • I’m sorry, what’s pathetic about it? It’s just a translation. Nyanaponika’s was a retelling. The main difference between the two is that my version simply presents what the actual text says, whereas he has reinterpreted it.

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