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