Dhammapada (Illustrated)

by Ven. Weagoda Sarada Maha Thero | 1993 | 341,201 words | ISBN-10: 9810049382 | ISBN-13: 9789810049386

This page describes The Story of Some Ladies Observing the Moral Precepts which is verse 135 of the English translation of the Dhammapada which forms a part of the Sutta Pitaka of the Buddhist canon of literature. Presenting the fundamental basics of the Buddhist way of life, the Dhammapada is a collection of 423 stanzas. This verse 135 is part of the Daṇḍa Vagga (Punishment‌) and the moral of the story is “A cowherd goads cattle to pasture, decay and death all beings to their end”.

Verse 135 - The Story of Some Ladies Observing the Moral Precepts

Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 135:

yathā daṇḍena gopālo gā pāceti gocaraṃ |
evaṃ jarā ca maccu ca āyuṃ pācenti pāṇinaṃ || 135 ||

135. As with force the cowherds drive their cattle out to graze, like this decay and death drive out the life from beings all.

Decay And Death Terminate Life‌‌
A cowherd goads cattle to pasture, decay and death all beings to their end.

The Story of Some Ladies Observing the Moral Precepts

While residing at the Pubbārāma Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to five hundred ladies.

Once, five hundred ladies from Sāvatthi came to the Pubbārāma Monastery to keep the Eight Precepts. The donor of the monastery, the well-renowned Visākhā, asked different age groups of ladies why they had come to keep the fast-day. She got different answers from different age groups for they had come to the monastery for different reasons. The old ladies came to the monastery to keep the fast-day because they hoped to gain the riches and glories of celestial beings in their next existence; the middle-aged ladies had come to the monastery because they did not want to stay under the same roof with the mistresses of their respective husbands. The young married ladies had come because they wanted their first born to be a son, and the young unmarried ladies had come because they wanted to get married to good husbands.

Having had these answers, Visākhā took all the ladies to the Buddha. When she told the Buddha about the various answers of the different age groups of ladies, the Buddha said, “Visākhā! Birth, ageing and death are always actively working in beings; because one is born, one is subject to ageing and decay, and finally to death. Yet, they do not wish to strive for liberation from the round of existences (saṃsāra); they still wish to linger in saṃsāra.”

Explanatory Translation (Verse 135)

yathā gopālo daṇḍena gāvo gocaraṃ pāceti
evaṃ jarā ca maccū ca pāninaṃ āyuṃ pāceti

yathā: just as; gopālo [gopāla]: the cow-herd; daṇḍena: with the goad; gāvo: the cattle; gocaraṃ [gocara]: to the pasture; pāceti: drives; evaṃ: similarly; jarā ca: decay; maccū ca: and death; pāninaṃ [pānina]: of beings; āyuṃ: life-span; pāceti: drive

The cowherd drives the cattle along to the pasture with the goad. In the same way, decay and death drive the life-span of beings.

Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 135)

Visākhā: Special Note on Visākhā. Visākhā was the daughter of Dhānanjaya. Her mother was Sumanā Devi, and her beloved grandfather was the rich man Mendaka.

When she was only seven years old, the Buddha happened to visit her birth place, Bhaddiya, in the kingdom of Anga. Her grandfather, hearing of Buddha’s visit, said to her, “Dear girl, this is a happy day for you and a happy day for me. Summon the maidens who are your attendants, mount the chariots, and accompanied by your retinue of slave-maidens, go forth to welcome the Buddha.”

Readily she agreed and, as advised, went up to the Buddha, saluted Him and sat respectfully at a side. The Buddha was pleased with her refined manners and he preached the Dhamma to her and others. Though young in age, she was comparatively far advanced from a moral standpoint. As such, immediately after hearing the Dhamma, she attained the first stage of sainthood (sotāpatti) in her early age. Books state that even in the prime of her youth she possessed masculine strength and was gifted with all womanly charms. Her hair was like a peacock’s tail and when loosened it reached the hem of her skirt and then the ends of the hair curled and turned upwards. Her lips were of a bright red colour and were smooth and soft to the touch. Her teeth were white and were evenly set without interstices and shone like a row of diamonds. Her skin, without the use of any cosmetic, was as smooth as a blue lotus-wreath and was of a golden colour. She retained her youthful appearance although she bore several children.

Endowed with these five kinds of feminine beauty–hair, flesh, bone, skin and youth–young Visākhā excelled both in worldly wisdom and spiritual insight.

When she was about fifteen or sixteen years old, on a certain festival day, she went on foot with her retinue in a holiday spirit to the river to bathe. Suddenly there arose an unexpected shower, and all but young Visākhā ungraciously ran as fast as they could and entered a hall where there were some brāhmins who had come in search of a suitable maiden possessed of the five kinds of beauty for their young master. Cultured Visākhā, without any particular haste, gracefully proceeded at her usual gait and entered the hall with garments and ornaments all wet. The inquisitive brāhmins criticized her for not quickening up her pace as others had done and thus escaping being drenched in the rain.

Talented Visākhā rose to the occasion and gave an extempore discourse on deportment according to her view. She said that she could have run even faster but she refrained from doing so purposely. Then she explained that it was not becoming for a king, adorned with all jewels, to gird up his loins and run in the palace-court. Likewise it is not becoming for a fully caparisoned state elephant to run; it should move about with the natural grace of an elephant. Monks also incur criticism when they run about like ordinary laymen. Likewise it is not a dignified spectacle to see a woman running about like a man.

Brāhmins were pleased with her instructive talk and thought that she was an ideal wife for their master. Accordingly, arrangements were made to give her in marriage to their master, Punnavaddhāna, himself the son of a rich man named Migāra, who was not a follower of the Buddha.

The marriage festival was conducted on an elaborate scale. On the wedding day, in addition to a large dowry and an exquisitely rich ornament (mahālatāpitandhāna), her wise father gave her the following admonitions:

  1. do not carry outside the indoor fire;
  2. do not take inside the outdoor fire;
  3. give only to those that give;
  4. do not give to those that do not give;
  5. give both to those that give and do not give;
  6. sit happily;
  7. eat happily;
  8. sleep happily;
  9. tend the fire and
  10. honour the household divinities.

Books state that she had the good fortune to be the happy mother of ten fortunate sons and ten fortunate daughters. She died at the ripe age of one hundred and twenty.

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