The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 502,133 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes earlier history of padumavati (former birth) which is Chapter XVI of the English translation of the Mahavastu (“great story”), dating to the 2nd-century BC. This work belongs to the Mahasanghika school of early Buddhism and contains narrative stories of the Buddha’s former lives, such as Apadanas, Jatakas and more..

Chapter XVI - Earlier history of Padumāvatī (former birth)

The monks asked the Exalted One, “Lord, as the maturing of what karma did lotuses spring up in the footprints of Padumāvatī, while when she had been sent away by King Brahmadatta to be killed they stopped doing so, but sprang up again in her footprints when she was brought by King Brahmadatta from Benares to Kampilla?” The Exalted One replied, “It was a maturing of the karma here described.”[1]

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the city of Benares, the servant of a certain householder was entering the city from without with a pitcher of water from the lotus-pool and carrying a lotus in her hand. (171) Now it happened that a certain Pratyekabuddha,[2] who had been going round the city of Benares seeking alms, was hurrying out of the city. He was graceful in deportment, graceful in advancing and withdrawing, and devas and men were devoted to him. When the girl saw the Pratyekabuddha her heart was filled with trust.[3] And out of the trust in her heart she gave her lotus to the Pratyekabuddha, who in order to please her accepted it. The girl saw the lotus shining exceeding bright when it was in the Pratyekabuddha’s hand, but she saw her own hand withering.[4] She asked the Pratyekabuddha to return the lotus to her, saying, “Sir, give me back my lotus.” The Pratyekabuddha gave the lotus back to the girl again, saying, “Here you are, madam.” And she took the lotus once more from the Pratyekabuddha’s hand. Then she saw her own hand shining as it held the lotus, while the Pratyekabuddha’s hand was withering. She was filled with remorse, and she said, “That was not a bright deed of mine when I took back from this seer the lotus which I had given him out of the trust there was in my heart.” So she gave the lotus to the Pratyekabuddha once more, saying, “Sir, accept this lotus of mine once more, and have pity on me.” Thus was the girl’s lotus received by the Pratyekabuddha once more.

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion that girl from Benares was somebody else. But you must not think so. And why? Padumāvatī, monks, was that girl from Benares. Because she gave that lotus to the Pratyekabuddha in the trust of her heart, as a maturing of that karma lotuses sprang up in Padumāvatī’s footprints. Because she took back the lotus from the Pratyekabuddha, as a maturing of that karma the lotuses ceased springing up in her footprints when she was ordered by King Brahmadatta to be killed. (172) Because she gave the lotus once more to the Pratyekabuddha, as a maturing of that karma the lotuses again sprang up in her footprints when King Brahmadatta led her from Benares to Kampilla.”

Here ends the story of a former birth[5] of Padumāvatī.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Literally, “this maturing of karma,” and the text goes on to repeat the whole circumstances mentioned in the question.

2.

See vol. 1, p. 40, n. 3.

3.

Literally, “trust (or serenity) of heart arose in her,” cittaprasādamutpannam. It was characteristic of Pratyekabuddhas to inspire such a feeling in those who looked at them. See, e.g., vol. 1, p. 252.

4.

Kṣīṇita, from kṣi, on the analogy, according to Senart, of prīṇita, from prī.

5.

Pūrvayoga, “former association,” i.e. circumstances in a former birth, and especially association with a former Buddha or Pratyekabuddha.