The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes The Buddha’s Sojourn at The Mango Grove of Ambapali at Vesali 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 Declared the Seven Factors of Non-Decline for Rulers. 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 15 - The Buddha’s Sojourn at The Mango Grove of Ambapālī at Vesālī

Then after staying at Nātika village for as long as He wished, the Buddha said to Venerable Ānanda: “Come, Ānanda, let us go to Vesāli.”

“Very well Venerable Sir,” assented Ānanda, and called upon the bhikkhus for the journey. The Buddha, accompanied by many bhikkhus, went to Vesālī and stayed at courtesan Ambapāḷi’s mango grove.

At that time, five hundred of the bhikkhus in the Buddha’s company were young men who had joined the Order recently, and were weak in diligence. They would soon be seeing Ambapāli who would be coming to greet the Buddha. In order that the young bhikkhus might not lose mindfulness on setting their eyes on the charming courtesan, the Buddha prepared their minds by giving a discourse thus:

Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should dwell in mindfulness and clear comprehension. This is My exhortation to you. Bhikkhus, how should a bhikkhu remain mindful? Bhikkhus, in this Teaching, a bhikkhu keeps his mind on the body with diligence, comprehension and mindfulness, steadfast by contemplating it as body, so as to keep away sense-desires and distress that would otherwise arise in him. He keeps his mind on sensation with diligence, comprehension and mindfulness, steadfastly contemplating it as sensation, so as to keep away sense-desires and distress that would otherwise arise in him. He keeps his mind on the mind steadfastly contemplating it as mind, so as to keep away sense-desires and distress that would otherwise arise in him. He keeps his mind on mind-objects (dhamma) steadfastly contemplating them as mind-objects so as to keep away sense-desire and distress that would otherwise arise in him. Bhikkhus, this is how a bhikkhu remains mindful.

Bhikkhus, how does a bhikkhu exercise clear comprehension? Bhikkhus, in this Teaching, a bhikkhu exercises clear comprehension in moving forward or back; in looking straight ahead or sideways; in bending or stretching out; in wearing the double-layered robe, or in carrying alms-bowl and robe; in eating, drinking, chewing, savouring food; in defecating and urinating; in walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking, speaking, or in remaining silent. Bhikkhus, this is how a bhikkhu should exercise clear comprehension.

Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should dwell in mindfulness and clear comprehension. This is My exhortation to you.”

Ambapālī, The Courtesan

When Ambapālī, the courtesan, heard the news that the Buddha had arrived at Vesāli and was staying at her mango grove, she had the most excellent carriages harnessed for the great occasion (to visit the Buddha), and mounting on such carriage and accompanied by other excellent carriages, she left the city of Vesāli for her mango grove. After riding in the carriage for as far as the carriages should properly go, she dismounted from her carriage and approached the Buddha on foot. She made obeisance to Him and sat in a suitable place.

To Ambapālī, the courtesan, who was seated at a suitable place, the Buddha pointed out the benefits of the Doctrine, exhorted her to set herself up in the practice of the Dhamma, and gladdened her in the practice. After the Buddha had pointed out to her the benefits of the Doctrine, exhorted her to gladden her in the practice, Ambapālī, the courtesan, said to the Buddha, “Venerable Sir, may it please the Bhagavā to accept my offering of food for tomorrow, together with the company of bhikkhus.” The Buddha accepted the invitation by token of His silence.

Then, Ambapālī, knowing that the Buddha had accepted her invitation, rose from her place, made obeisance to Him, and left respectfully.

The Licchavī Princes and Ambapālī

When the Licchavī princes of Vesālī heard that the Buddha had arrived at Vesālī and was staying at the mango grove of Ambapālī, they ordered the most excellent carriages harnessed, and mounting these carriages, they left the city, accompanied by other excellent carriages, which were kept in reserve.

Some of the Licchavī princes were garbed in dark-blue uniform and, wearing dark-blue armaments, they took on a dark-blue appearance. Some of them were garbed in yellow uniform, and wearing yellow ornaments, they took on a yellow appearance. Some of them were garbed in red uniform, and, wearing red ornaments, they took on a red appearance. Some of them were garbed in white uniform, and wearing white ornaments, they took on a white appearance.

(Note: Not only were the dark-blue uniformed princes wearing dark-blue ornaments, they painted themselves in unguents of dark blue colour. Furthermore, the chariots they rode in were also finished in dark-blue, studded with dark-blue gems, and harnessed by horses with embellishments of the same colour; even the whips and the flags fitted to the chariot were also of the same colour. The same applies to the remaining colour groups among the Licchavī princes.)

Then Ambapālī, the courtesan let her carriage bump against the carriages of the young Licchavī princes, axle against axle, wheel against wheel, yoke against yoke. Thereupon, the Licchavī princes said to Ambapālī, the courtesan: “Look, you Ambapālī, why do you let your carriage bump against the carriage of young Licchavī princes, axle against axle, wheel against wheel, yoke against yoke?”

“O my Princes! It is because I have invited the Bhagavā together with His company of bhikkhus to an offering of meal tomorrow.”

“Now then, Ambapālī, give us (in exchange) for a hundred thousand (the privilege to offer) this meal (to the Bhagavā)!”

“O my Princes, even if you were to give me Vesālī together with its fief territories, I would not give up (the privilege to offer) this meal.”

At those brave words of Ambapālī, the Licchavī princes, fluttering their fingers in admiration, exclaimed: “Oh men, we have been outdone by this young woman! We have been outdone by this young woman!”

Then the Licchavī princes rode on to Ambapālī mango grove.

The Buddha saw the splendid sight of the Licchavī princes trooped in various colours, and said to the bhikkhus:

“O bhikkhus, let those bhikkhus who have never seen the Tāvatiṃsa devas look at that array of the Licchavīs; let them look at them carefully; let them feast their eyes on the Licchavīs as if the Licchavī groupings were the Tāvatiṃsa devas.”

[In this context, the Buddha said to the bhikkhus: “.....let them feast their eyes on the Licchavī as if the Licchavī groupings were the Tāvatiṃsa devas,” not in the sense of regarding the splendid sight as something to be cherished. It is said here to impress the bhikkhus about human glory that is comparable to the glory of celestial beings. It is a way of inspiring some of the bhikkhus as in the usual pattern of discourses (beginning with the benefits of giving (dāna-kathā), the benefits of observance of morality (sīla-kathā), including the fortunate existences in deva realms (sagga-kathā) culminating in the faults of sensual pleasure (kamanaṃ ādīnava kathā).]

And yet the question remains, “Why does the Bhagavā urge the bhikkhus to look at the Licchavīs that might lead some bhikkhus in the audience think that sight is something good, something to be cherished?” In many of the Buddha’s discourses, the usual instruction is not to regard sense objects such as visual objects, as something beautiful (suba). “But how is it that here the same instruction is not given?"

The answer is this: The Buddha says so in the interest of the bhikkhus. Here is the explanation:

Some of the bhikkhus, among the audience were not diligent in bhikkhu practice. The Buddha wishes to show to them that bhikkhu-practice can lead to the sort of human glory possessed by the Licchavīs. (compare this with the Buddha’s method of arousing the initial interest of Nanda in bhikkhu practice by taking him to the deva realms and showing the glory of devas.)

Further, the Licchavīs would in due course furnish a concrete example of the impermanence of things. For these Licchavīs, so high in their present state comparable even to Tāvatiṃsa devas, are bound to meet their ruin in the hands of Ajātasattu. The bhikkhus, who remember the greatness of the Licchavis, will soon have occasion to see their downfall. Then these bhikkhus will gain insight readily into impermanence of sentient, leading to arahatship with the Four Discriminative Knowledge. This is the second and more important reason for the Buddha’s urging the bhikkhus to have a close look at the Licchavī princes.

Then the Licchavī princes rode in their carriages as far as their carriages should go and then they alighted and walked towards the Buddha. They made obeisance to the Buddha and sat at a suitable place. To the Licchavī princes thus seated, the Buddha pointed out the benefits of the Doctrine, exhorted them to set themselves up in the practice of the Dhamma, and gladdened them in the practice. After He had pointed out to them the benefits of the Doctrine, exhorted them to get established in the practice of the Dhamma, and gladdened them in the practice, the Licchavī princes said to Him: “Venerable Sir, may it please the Bhagavā to accept our offering of food for tomorrow together with the company of bhikkhus.” Then the Buddha said to them: “O Licchavī princes, I have already accepted the offering of food for tomorrow by Ambapālī the courtesan.” Thereupon the Licchavī princes, fluttering their fingers (in admiration), exclaimed: “Oh men, we have been outdone by the young woman! We have been outdone by the young woman!”

Then the Licchavī princes expressed their appreciation and delight at the Buddha’s discourse, rose from their seats, made obeisance to Him and left respectfully.

(In this connection, it might be asked: “Since the Licchavī princes had known (from Ambapālī) that she had invited the Bhagavā and His company of bhikkhus to the next day’s meal, why did they make the invitation to the Bhagavā?”

The answer is: (1) Because the Licchavis did not believe Ambapāli’s word; and (2) because they set a high value on lay supporters' obligations. More explanations on this:

(1) The Licchavī princes did not take Ambapāli’s words at face value because they regarded her as a fallen woman.

(2) Secondly, it is customary for lay supporters to invite the Sangha to a food offering when they are going home after listening to a discourse.

Ambapālī donates Her Mango Grove to The Buddha

Then after the night had passed, Ambapālī, having had the choicest food and delicacies prepared in her mango grove, informed the Buddha by messengers who said: “Venerable Sir, it is time (to proceed). The food offering is ready.” Then in the morning, the Buddha rearranged His robes, and taking His alms-bowl and great robe, went to the house of Ambapālī, accompanied by His company of bhikkhus, and sat at the place prepared for Him.

(In this content, Ambapāli’s house should be understood to mean the holiday home of hers in the mango grove, and not her permanent residence in the city of Vesālī. This fact is clearly indicated by her words to the Buddha which say: “...... I give this grove in donation to the Buddha.” The Bhesajjakkhandhaka of Vinaya Mahā vagga is also specific about this: it says ‘that Ambapālī, the courtesan, offered food to the Bhagavā and his company of bhikkhus at her holiday home in her grove, and donated her own mango grove to the Order of Bhikkhus headed by the Bhagavā.’)

Ambapālī, attended on the bhikkhus headed by the Buddha, respectfully offering the choicest food and delicacies with her own hands. After the meal, she sat at a suitable place and said to the Buddha: “Venerable Sir, I give this garden Grove in donation to the Order of Bhikkhus headed by the Bhagavā.” The Buddha accepted the donation and after giving a discourse on the Dhamma to Ambapālī, He rose and departed.

While the Buddha was sojourning at the mango grove of Ambapālī in Vesālī, there too He repeatedly expounded the importance of morality, concentration and wisdom, the Threefold bhikkhu training.

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