by Helen M. Johnson | 1931 | 742,503 words
This page describes Story of Shrimati which is the sixth part of chapter VII of the English translation of the Mahavira-caritra, contained within the “Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra”: a massive Jain narrative relgious text composed by Hemacandra in the 12th century. Mahavira in jainism is the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (Jina) and one of the 63 illustrious beings or worthy persons.
Now in this city there was an excellent sheth, Devadatta, of good family. His wife was Dhanavatī. Bandhumatī’s jīva fell and was born as their daughter, named Śrīmatī, beautiful, the crest-jewel of beautiful women. Cherished by nurses like a garland of jasmines, she gradually reached an age suitable for playing in sand.
One day Śrīmatī together with girls of the town went to that temple to play at the game of husband and wife. All the little girls said, “Choose your husband,” and husbands were chosen by all—some one by each girl as she liked. Śrīmatī said, “Friends, I choose that holy man.” “Well chosen! Well chosen!” a goddess said and, producing thunder, the goddess rained jewels. Terrified by the thunder, Śrīmatī clung to the muni’s feet. He thought in a moment: “This favorable attack, a strong wind for the tree of the vow, took place on me because I have stayed here.” With this thought he went elsewhere. Great sages generally do not remain in one place, to say nothing of places with unfavorable occurences.
The king came to take the shower of jewels. It has been decided: Property without an owner belongs to the king. The king’s agents, wishing to take the treasure, saw the place filled with Nāgas like the entrance to Nāgaloka (the abode of Nāgas). The goddess said to them, “I gave her the money for her wedding.” When the king heard that, he went away embarrassed.
Śrīmatī’s father took all the wealth and then all went to their respective homes like birds in the evening. Many suitors came to marry Śrīmatī and, told by her father, “Choose a husband,” Śrīmatī said:
“The sage whom I chose, he only shall be my husband, father. The temple-goddess gave me the wealth at the choosing of him. While the sage was chosen as a husband by me of my own accord, it was approved by you, too, when you took the money. So you are under obligation to arrange to give me to him and to no one else. Have you not heard, father? Even the children say: ‘Kings speak once for all; sādhus speak once for all; maidens are given once for all. These three things are done only once.’”
The sheth said: “How is he to be found? For he does not stay in one place, but goes to a new place continually, like a bee to a flower. He will not come at all or, if he has come, how will he be known? What is his token? How many begging monks do not come?”
Śrīmatī said: “At the time when I, terrified by thunder, clung like a monkey, I saw a mark on his foot, father. So from now on, father, arrange it so that I shall see all the sādhus coming and going every day.” The sheth said: “Give alms yourself every day to whatever sages come to this town.” From that time she did so every day. She paid homage to the munis’ feet, wishing to see his mark. In the twelfth year the muni, confused about the direction, went there one day and was recognized by her from an inspection of his marks.
Śrīmatī said to the sage: “At that time in the temple I chose you (as a husband), lord. You alone shall be my husband. Then you have gone away, after shaking simple me off like a drop of perspiration. But now, that you have been found, where will you, like one owing a debt, go? When you were lost to sight, from then until now the time passed for me like a dead person. So be gracious. Take me. Such being the case, if you scorn me now from cruelty, I, consumed by fire, shall make you responsible for the calamity of killing a woman.”
Urged by the king, the leading citizens, and others to the marriage, he recalled the speech of the goddess opposing the taking of the vow. Recalling the speech of the goddess and persistently urged by them, the mahātma married Śrīmatī. What will be can not be changed.
In course of time a son, the glory of householdership, was born to him enjoying pleasures for a long time with Śrīmatī. Gradually growing up, leaving infancy, his tongue jumping to speak, he was like a parrot. When the son was so large, he, first of the wise, said to Śrīmatī; “Let your son be your companion in future. I am going to take initiation.”
Clever Śrīmatī, in order to inform her son about that, took a spindle with a bunch of cotton and sat down on a seat. She began to spin and the child asked, “Mother, why have you begun this work suitable for common people?” She said: “Son, your father is going away to be a mendicant. When he has gone, the spindle alone is a refuge for me deprived of a husband.”
The child said with words in indistinct whispers from childishness: “I shall tie and keep him a prisoner. How will my father go away?” Saying this, he wound his father’s feet with the thread from the spindle, like a little spider with a spider web, his face innocent and gentle. Then he said: “Mother, do not be afraid. Be comforted. With his feet tied by me, like an elephant, how can father go away?”
Śrīmatī’s husband thought: “Alas! this bond of affection for a child has become a snare for the bird of my mind. From love for the child I will continue as a householder for so many years as there are loops of thread around my feet.” When the loops of thread on his feet were counted they proved to be twelve and then he passed twelve years as a householder.
When the limit of his promise was reached, he, wise, possessed by disgust with existence, thought in the last watch of the night: “I took the vow like a rope in order to leave the pit of worldly existence. As it was taken and given up by me, I am stuck in it (worldly existence) again. In a former birth, the vow was broken only mentally. Nevertheless, I was born in the non-Āryans. What will my status be in future? Be it so. Now I, having undertaken mendicancy, shall cleanse myself by the fire of penance, like a cloth by the cleansing of fire.”
On the morning he talked with his wife Śrīmatî, obtained her consent, put on the costume of an ascetic and left the house, indifferent to worldly matters. He set out for Rāja-gṛha and on the way he saw his own five hundred vassals engaged in the business of theft. When they saw him, they paid homage to him devotedly. He said to them, “Why has this livelihood, a source of evil, been practiced by you?” They replied: “Lord, when you fled after deceiving us, we did not show ourselves to the king from shame. Wandering over the earth, engaged in searching for you, we live only by the occupation of thieving. What else is there for people without money and with weapons?” The muni said: “Sirs, if a misfortune has happened, its result connected with dharma bears fruit in the two worlds. A human birth is attained by some union with merit. When it has been reached, its fruit is dharma which confers heaven and emancipation. Non-injury to creatures, truthfulness, honesty, chastity, poverty—let this dharma of the Arhats be esteemed by you. You are devoted to you master. Look, sirs! I am your master like a king. Therefore, do you, intelligent, enter on this road of mine.”
They said: “At first you were our master. Now you are our guru. We have this dharma expounded by you. Favor us with initiation.” Accordingly Ārdrakakumāra initiated them and together with them went toward Rājagṛha to pay homage to Śrī Mahāvīra.
Gośāla met the muni as he was going and began a debate without making obeisance to him. Inhabitants of the earth and inhabitants of the sky (Khecaras) came there by the thousand and stood, forming an assembly, their eyes wide-open from curiosity. Gośāla said:
“Sir, misery rooted in penance is useless. Fate is the cause of pleasant and unpleasant results, certainly.”
The muni replied: “Do not say ‘Happiness is.’ Consider effort the cause for this reason. If you consider Fate to be the cause of all things, then your action would be useless for the accomplishment of your wishes. For instance, why do you, depending on Fate, not stay at home? Why do you exert yourself for food at meal-time? Thus effort as well as Fate, is a good thing for accomplishing one’s object. Effort is superior to Fate for accomplishing one’s object. For instance, water falls from the sky. It would come also from digging up the ground. Fate is very strong, indeed. Effort is stronger even than Fate.”
Thus the great muni defeated Gośāla and he was praised by Khecaras and others giving a cheer of victory.
Then the sage Ārdraka went to the hermitage of ascetics who live from killing elephants, a hut filled with elephant-meat thrown into the sun for drying. The ascetics living there killed one very large elephant and lived many days, eating its meat. They said: “It is better for one elephant to be killed on whose meat alone much time is spent. What is the use of many deer, partridges, fish, et cetera?” With them the purpose—namely food—predominated over the sin in it.
At that time the ascetics, devoted to a religion with a show of compassion, tied up a large elephant for slaughter. The sage, his mind tender with compassion, went by the road where the elephant was tied with a lot of chains. The elephant saw the sage, surrounded by five hundred munis, being honored by the people whose heads were touching the ground.
The elephant, whose karma was light, saw the muni and thought: “Suppose I also pay homage to him. Can I do that, chained?” At the sight of the sage, the iron chains fell apart just like serpent-nooses at the sight of Garuḍa. The elephant, unimpeded, touched the muni to pay homage to him and the people said, “The muni is killed! He is killed!” The people fled, but the muni stood just as he was. The elephant bowed to him, his forehead bowed. When the elephant had touched his feet repeatedly with his extended trunk, like one injured by a forest-fire touching the plantain tree, he attained the highest bliss. The elephant got up again and, looking at the sage with eyes motionless from devotion, calmly entered the large forest.
When they had seen his remarkable power, the ascetics, who were in a state of great anger, were enlightened by Ārdrakakumāra. Sent to Śrī Mahāvīra’s samavasaraṇa, they went and took initiation, possessing tranquillity and desire for emancipation.
King Śreṇika heard of the release of the elephant, how it happened, and of the enlightenment of the ascetics and went there with Abhaya. The muni delighted the king, who paid homage with devotion, with the blessing, “May you have dharma,” which bestows good fortune on all. When he had seen the muni seated on pure ground, free from care, the king asked, “Blessed One, I am amazed at the freeing of the elephant.” The sage said: “Lord, the freeing of the elephant was not difficult, (but) release from the snare of the spinning-thread seems difficult.” Questioned by the king, the muni told the story of the spinning-thread. The king and the people were astonished.
Then the sage, Ārdrakakumāra, said to Abhaya: “You, a disinterested benefactor, became my brother in dharma. You, Prince, sent the Arhat-statue to me. Having remembered former births from the sight of it, I became a follower of the Arhats. What was not given me by you? What benefit was not conferred by you by whom, having employed a device, I was turned to the religion of the Arhats? I, sunk in the deep mud of non-Āryanism, was raised by you. Enlightened by your cleverness, I came to the land of the Aryas. I have taken initiation, enlightened by you. Because of that, Abhayakumāra, you will prosper greatly with good fortune.”
Then Śreṇika, Abhaya, and the other people, after paying homage to the sage with delighted hearts, went to their respective homes. Then the muni paid homage to Lord Śrī Vīra who had come to the city Rājagṛha. Having accomplished his own purpose from service at his lotus-feet, he attained emancipation.
Footnotes and references:
Apparently an allusion to asbestos.
Hastitāpasa. A Buddhist sect of monks who lived on elephant-meat. PH.
Two of the characteristics of right-belief. See I, n. 121.