The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes Story of the Wandering Ascetic Sundari contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as the Buddha’s Seventh Vassa. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Part 5 - Story of the Wandering Ascetic Sundari

The Original Cause of Wicked Cincamana’s Accusation.

The following is an exposition of the original cause that actuated wicked Cincamana to make the accusation:-

Prior to an infinite period of four asaṅkhyeyyas and a hundred thousand aeons (before the definite prophecy of enlightenment had been made) the Bodhisatta was a person of distracted mind, with wrong attitudes through constant association with bad people of the most hopeless type. On one occasion, he chanced to slander an arahat named Nanda, a disciple of Buddha Sabbabhibhu, by accusing him of having unlawful association with a woman. This was a very grave offence of slandering a noble person, ariya.

As a result of such false accusation against an ariya (ariyūpavāda), he had to suffer in the plane of misery for many a year, and, once release from it and reborn in the world of humans, he was subjected to false accusations, existence after existence, and in the last existence as a Buddha, by wicked Cincamanavika in the presence of four kinds of audience.

(Apādāna Pāli 1st. Vol., Avataphala vagga: 10-Pubbakammalotika Buddha apadan gives full account on this matter as expounded by the Buddha himself.)

An Account of Female Wandering Ascetic Sundari

As stated above, heretics outside the Teaching, because of paucity of offering for them, had the wicked woman Cincamana to slander the Buddha. They made another attempt to slander the Buddha by a similar ruse when they engaged a good looking sectarian woman named Sundari at a time when the Buddha was residing in Savatthi (vide Udāna Pāli Text 4 Maghiya vagga 1: 8. Sundri Sutta Pāliand-Commentary)

While the Buddha was residing at Jetavana monastery, all devas, humans and Brahmās paid homage to Him and the Sangha;they revered, honoured and made offerings to them. The four requisites of robe, food, monastery and medicine were always in ample supply for them. For the Buddha and the Sangha, their accumulation of meritorious deeds in the past was immense and also their practice of the True Path in the present existence was also productive of good merits. The beneficial results from these two wholesome sources, combine together to produce an incessant flow of requisites and offerings for them, just like the huge volume of water pouring forth from the confluence of two big rivers.

In sharp contrast, the heretics suffered from deficiency of four requisites and other offerings. This is attributed to their lack of meritorious deeds in the past and the wrong practice they followed in the present.

At that time, there lived in Savatthi a young heretic maiden who was in her most impressive youth excelling others in comely appearance; hence she was named Sundari, though her behaviour deed, word and thought were deplorable.

The heretics gathered together to devise ways and means to slander the Buddha and the Sangha out of covetousness.

They all took part in the discussions with that end in view:

“Dear Sirs.... we have been ruined beyond redemption since the coming of the Recluse Gotama and we have suffered much from paucity of gifts, because people have almost forgotten our existence. What has prompted the people to make such wonderful offerings to the Recluse Gotama with such profound respect and enthusiasm?”

One of the heretics present at the meeting offered his opinion: “Dear sirs, the Recluse Gotama is a direct descendant of Noble Mahā Sammata., through an uninterrupted Khattiya lineage of pure Sakya clan. That must be the reason why people have honoured him and made offerings so profusely.” Another heretic had this to say: “It is because a variety of miraculous events took place at the time of His birth.” Likewise many heretic leaders presented their individual views: “It is because, when His father, King Suddhodāna made Him pay homage by raising His two hands in a worshipping posture towards the Devila hermit, just after His birth, His feet miraculously flew aloft and rested on the matted hair of hermit. And when His parents placed Him under the cool shade of a rose-apple tree while the Ploughing Ceremony was in progress, while the shades of many other trees moved with the sun; the shade of the rose-apple tree under which the Prince reposed stood unchanged even after noon-tide.” “It is because He is extraordinarily handsome,” said another, while yet another speculated: “It might be because he had forsaken the Throne of the Universal Monarch with all its glories and renounced the world through seeing the Four Great Signs, that the people have been paying homage and making offering in greater volumes.”

They went about beating the bush without finding the real cause of immense respect being paid to the Buddha by the people because they were totally ignorant of the Buddha’s incomparable attributes: pāramī, cāga, cariya.

After exchange of fruitless discussions, one of the fiercest heretics came forward with a plot to destroy the fame and gains of Gotama with the aid of a woman.

“Dear sirs.... there is no one in this world who is immune from desires for sexual pleasures derived from a woman and the Recluse Gotama, being young and good looking like a deva, will certainly get entangled with a maiden of His age and appearance, if and when available. Even when He cannot be completely tempted, people will begin to have doubt about His moral uprightness. Come let us send wandering woman Sundari on a mission of bringing ruin to the Recluse Gotama’s reputation throughout the land.”

Upon hearing this suggestion, all the heretics spoke in support of him: “Your plan is excellent, indeed. This will bring about the down-fall of the Recluse Gotama. He will have no alternative but to run away aimlessly with His head hanging down.” They all decided to turn the resolution into action and went en masse to the place of Sundari.

On seeing the heretics, Sundari asked: “Why have you come here all in a group?” They all went to a corner and sat there without giving her any reply. She approached them in a submissive manner and asked them again and again: “Have I done any thing wrong and, if so, what is my offence?”

At last, they gave this reply: “We have not given you any reply since you have neglected us when we have been oppressed by someone.” Sundari asked them: “Who has oppressed you?” Whereupon, they revealed their case: “Don't you see the Recluse Gotama wandering around and depriving us of offerings, to our great disadvantage?” “Good Sirs, in this matter, how can I be of assistance.” They replied: “Sister, can you really work for the good of your own relatives like us?” trying to tie her down to a commitment.

(They had employed the word 'relatives' to win her over, though there was no blood relationship apart from the fact that all of them were leading a homeless life. The heretics are indeed terrible.)

Whereupon, Sundari said: “Good Sirs... what should I do for you, there is nothing that I cannot do. I am prepared to sacrifice my own life to do anything that would be of advantage to my relatives like you.” (She had thus pledged herself to fulfil their wishes and she could not shrink back, like a deer that had got itself entangled in a bush.) The heretics told her: “Sister, you have pledged to do anything that would be of advantage to us. Being in your most impressive youth, at the first stage of life, do anything to the best of your ability that will ruin the Recluse Gotama by means of your own gorgeous personality.” Thus playing up to her vanity, they sent her away on the mission with a hint “that she should pay constant visit to Jetavana monastery.”

Foolish Sundari, like a person who wishes to dance with a ring of flowers on the teeth of a saw, like one who attempts to catch a bull elephant in musk by its trunk, like one who extends warm welcome to the King of Death with his forehead, got herself besmeared with sweet scents and bedecked with flowers, wandered her way towards the Jetavana monastery, at the time when people were coming out of the precincts of the monastery after hearing the discourses. When asked, she said: “I am going to the Recluse Gotama with whom I usually stay together in His own Chamber.” But she dared not enter the monastery and instead, made her way to the nearby hermitage of the heretics. She returned by the same route to the city when people were going to the monastery. When asked, she told them that “she had just come out of the chamber of the Buddha with whom she had stayed the night, giving Him sexual gratification.”

After a few days, the heretics, being satisfied with the part played by Sundari, bribed drunkards and instigated them to kill Sundari and to conceal her body under heaps of decayed flowers in a ditch adjacent to the Buddha’s chamber. The drunkards carried out their instructions. The heretics then spread the news of missing Sundari, and went to King Kosala and reported that their female disciple, Sundari, was missing and could not be found. The King asked them if there was any place of suspicion. They informed him that they had their suspicion located in Jetavana monastery. The King then ordered for a search to be made in Jetavana monastery.

The heretics went with their disciples to the Jetavana monastery and pretended to look for the wandering woman Sundari. They found the dead body of Sundari beneath the heaps of decayed flowers in a ditch and brought the corpse to the King’s presence on a decorated bedstead. They made the King believe that “the disciples of the Buddha had slain the young Sundari and left her corpse beneath the heap of decayed flowers to conceal the evil deed of their Master, Recluse Gotama.” The thoughtless King passed a summary order without any formal investigation, to the effect that “the corpse be carried and shown around the city, street by street, to make all the citizens aware of the case.”

Encouraged by the ill considered judgement of the King, the heretics carried the corpse of Sundari on a decorated bedstead and went all over the city, from street to street, from one junction to another, announcing:-

“Know all men and women. See for yourselves what the descendants of Sakyan race have done. They are shameless; they are of evil nature, they have no morals; they are wont to tell lies; and they indulge in sexual intercourse, and, yet they made false claims pretending to be good bhikkhus, saying without shame: ‘We observe precepts, we are virtuous, we are of good conduct, of morality, developing noble practices, speaking only what is true.’ But for these recluses there is no more precepts; noble precepts are the things of the past, How can there be any element of virtue in them? How can there be noble practice? They are bereft of precepts, bereft of noble practices. Why has man slain a person of fair sex after ravishing her?”

They also made the citizens of Savatthi to make similar slanderous charges.

When the citizens saw the bhikkhus, they made accusations against them as instigated by the heretics:

“These bhikkhu-princes of Sakyan race are shameless, without virtue, stupid, regular liars, they indulge in sexual practices, they pretend to be virtuous, righteous, straight forward, noble, truthful and moderate persons. In actual fact, they are without virtue, without precepts, precepts for bhikkhus are no more but things of the past. How can there be any noble precepts or elements of virtue in them? They have no noble qualities whatsoever. Why should a man slay a woman when he had finished enjoying sex with her?”

The citizens had thus condemned the bhikkhus when they were seen in the city, using vulgar languages and humiliated them in an aggressive manner.

On their return from Savatthi, after regular rounds of alms-food, the bhikkhus went to the Buddha and addressed Him:

“Most Exalted Lord... when the people of Savatthi saw the bhikkhus they accused them in vulgar language: ‘these bhikkhus of Sakyan race are shameless, without virtue, regular liars, they indulge in sexual practices, and they pretend to be virtuous, righteous, straight forward, noble, truthful and moderate persons. But they are, in fact, without virtue, without precepts, without noble practices or habits, the precepts for bhikkhus are no more but things of the past. How can there be any precepts or noble qualities whatsoever? Why had man spoilt a woman when he had ravished her?’ ”

Thus the bhikkhus told the Buddha how they had been calumniated, reviled, abused, oppressed in very harsh language (not fit for the ears of noble people). The Buddha explained to them that these people will reap as they sow, by offending the bhikkhu and said: “Bhikkhus... such voices of slander will last only for seven days and they are bound to disappear after seven days. You shall refute these people who had calumniated, reviled, abused, oppressed you in very harsh language (not fit for the ears of noble people) by uttering the following stanza:”

Abhūtavādi nirayam upeti
yo vāpi Ratvā na karoni cāha
ubhopi te pecca samā bhavanti
nihīnakammā mānajā parattha

A person who is in the habit of speaking falsehood by saying, I have seen it, I have heard of it, I have met with it, I know about it, though he has not personally seen it, heard of it, though he has no knowledge of it; and a person who denies commission of his own offence are equally guilty and both of these vile people who had done low, base deed are liable to be reborn in the plane of misery after death.

The bhikkhus learnt the stanza from the Buddha and uttered it in the presence of those citizens by way of refutation.

The Citizens began to see The Truth

On hearing the verse of refutation uttered by the bhikkhus, it dawned on the citizens: “The bhikkhus, belonging to the Sakyan race, had not committed the murder as charged by the heretics through proclamation all over the city. There is one thing that deserves consideration, that is, these noble persons did not even care to take any steps whatsoever to retaliate upon us for abusing them, reviling them, slandering them by using vulgar languages, not fit for their ears. Instead, they are seen to have put up with false allegations and have thus shown forbearance (khantī) by gently, meekly carrying on with their wholesome deeds (soracca). And, above all, they simply preached to us and explained to us, who have blindly and inconsiderately slandered them, reviled them, the evil consequences of lying and denying commission of one’s own offence, to prove that they are innocent, by way of an avowal of truth.

The citizen had thus regained their senses and became reasonable once again. After hearing the stanza, it dawned on them: “We have not personally witnessed the fatal event and what we have heard may or may not be true. And there is one point that called for special consideration: these heretics are bent only on wishing ill to the bhikkhus, their undoing and ruination. We should not make one sided statements believing the words of the heretics. We really do not know the truth about these bhikkhus.” They began to have sense of detestation and repentance for their conduct towards the bhikkhus. The scandalous accusations did not last long, after seven days died away completely.

The Murder Case of The Heretics brought to light

King Kosala had caused a squad of secret service personnel, who were spread throughout the city, to bring those responsible for the death of Sundari to justice. On one occasion, the murderers were drunk on the liquor which they bought with the money they received from the heretics for slaying Sundari. Two murderers quarrelled with one another and started mud slinging and one of them shouted at the other: “So you are enjoying drinks with the money you got from the heretics for killing Sundari and keeping her dead body under the heaps of decayed flowers.” (Drunkenness led a thief to expose his own criminal act of stealing an ox, as the saying goes!). The secret police arrested them and brought them to King Pasenadi Kosala.

The King asked: “Did you kill Sundari?” They admitted: “Yes we did... your Majesty.” The King went on to ask: “Who had instigated you to commit the crime?” They replied: “At the instigation of those heretics, from outside the Teaching.” The heretics were sent for and a formal investigation was made. All the heretics admitted their guilt.

And the King passed the judgment, ordering the heretic to go round the city and proclaim:

“‘We had engaged the murderers to kill Sundari with the sole purpose of bringing about the ruination of the Recluse Gotama. Recluse Gotama is absolutely innocent; His disciples are also absolutely faultless. We are solely responsible for the killing of Sundari.’ You, heretics, must go all over the city and get this message publicly announced by word of mouth.”

In obedience to the order of the King, the heretics did as they were bid. The citizens lost respect for them and were disgusted with them. The heretics had to undergo punishment for the charge of murder. The citizens honoured, revered and esteemed the Buddha and His Sangha more than ever before. They made offerings to the Buddha and the Sangha with greater devotional faith.

Buddha’s Utterance of Joy

Then a great number of bhikkhus approached the Buddha and sat in a suitable place after paying obeisance to Him. They then addressed Him: “Most Exalted Bhagava.... it is, indeed, an unprecedented event deserving of praise by the snapping of the fingers. Most Exalted Buddha.... your prophecy: ‘Bhikkhus.... those voices would not last long; they would last only for seven days and they would disappear after a period of seven days’ has proved to be true, the voices are no more.”

The Buddha was well aware of the fact that there never is a case where a wise virtuous person could not tolerate even the most heinous accusation by lowly, stupid persons.

This feeling of supreme confidence led to repeated development of joy of satisfaction so much so that it reached the point of bursting forth an utterance of a verse of joy (udāna):

Tudanti vācāya janā asaññatā
sarehi sañgāmagataṇva kuñcaraṃ
sutvāna vākyan phrusam udīritam
adhivāsaye bhikkhu aduṭṭha citto

Bhikkhus.... a bhikkhu, who has renounced the world for fear of the evil consequences of transient existence, should overcome evil forces by toleration, like a war elephant that could resist and repulse the arrows from the side of its foe in a battle field, when attacked by those lowly, stupid persons without any restrained conduct in deed, word and thought, stupid abusing, slandering and accusing, as if attacking you with a double edged sword.

Past Misdeed as Cause of Accusation by Sundari

Here a question might arise as to “Why the Buddha had not revealed the fact that the heretics were at the bottom of the whole affair, though he had full knowledge of this case of conspiracy?” The answer is as follows:- There is no point in telling this to ariya puggalas. The noble individuals have, from the outset, complete faith in the nobility of the Buddha and the Sangha. And there might be certain persons amongst the ordinary worldlings who would not accept the words of the Buddha when He was revealing the facts of the case. Disbelief in the Buddha mounts to be an unwholesome act in thought, which may cause them untold harm and suffering for a long time to come. Hence the Buddha’s reticence at the time.

In other words, it was not the regular practice of Buddhas (Dhammatā aciṇṇa) to foretell the events and their related sequences. They are not wont to point out a particular person as a culprit in a criminal case. They dealt with such matters only in an objective way (vide the verse for refutation mentioned above). They were not in a position to deter the misfortune that was destined to befall upon them either. They had, therefore, taken up an indifferent attitude towards accusations by the people and of Sundari’s assassination, which formed the cause of those accusations.

And, there is yet another question that may be asked as to the origin of this unwholesome fate of being accused in this most disgraceful manner, when there was tremendous amount of merit to the credit of the Buddha for incalculable wholesome acts done throughout forty crores and one lakh of world-systems! This is the answer:-

The Buddha was a habitual drunkard, named Murali, in a previous existence, at the earlier stage of life as a Bodhisatta. He moved about in the company of immoral, wicked persons and eventually acquired unwholesome mental attitude. One day, he noticed a Paccekabuddha, known as Surabhi, in the act of rearranging his robes, preparing to entering the town for alms-round. Incidentally, a woman was seen to have gone past the Paccekabuddha. Murali, with a habitual wrong frame of mind happened to make a casual remark: “This bhikkhu has the habit of indulging in sexual enjoyment.”

He had suffered in the realms of woes for several lakhs of years for that offence; and He had to pay for remnant of His past misdeed by being maliciously accused by the people of having indulged in sexual intercourse with heretic Sundari, even after attainment to the Most Exalted State of an Enlightened Buddha. (There are twelve modes of similar retributions which the Buddha had to make up for His past misdeeds, in previous existences. These are laid down in serial order in Apādāna Pāli Text)

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