Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra

by Helen M. Johnson | 1931 | 742,503 words

This page describes Ambada and Sulasa which is the eighth part of chapter IX 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.

Part 8: Ambaḍa and Sulasā

Just then a flying worshipper of the Lord of the World, a stranger, the mendicant Ambaḍa came there, carrying an umbrella and a triple staff. He circumambulated the Lord Jina three times, bowed to him, his hair erect from joy, making the aṭjali, and recited a hymn of praise with devotion.


“‘I am present in your mind.’ With these words presence is hard to obtain. If you are present in my mind, enough of any one else. Having restrained some from anger and favored some from satisfaction, the dull-witted are deceived by enemies devoted to deceit. How can this unequal fruit be obtained from one untranquil? Do not the thought-gem, et cetera bear fruit, though without consciousness? Worship of those freed from passion is the best observance of your teaching. The teaching, carried out, leads to emancipation; not carried out, it leads to worldly existence. Throughout saṃsāra your teaching has the range of being rejected or accepted. The channel of karma must be rejected by all means; the blocking of karma must be accepted. ‘A channel of karma is the source of existence; the blocking of karma is the cause of emancipation.’ This is the essence[2] of the Arhat’s teaching. Anything else is the expansion of it. Countless people, devoted to carrying out teaching to this effect have become emancipated; others are being emancipated somewhere and others will be emancipated likewise. Abandoning misery for the sake of favor,[3] by your teaching alone creatures are surely freed from the net of karma.”

After hymming the Teacher of the World thus, he sat down in the proper place and heard the Master’s sermon, his eyes unwinking like a god’s. When Ambaḍa started to Rājagṛha at the end of the sermon, after bowing to the Lord, the Master himself said to him:

“Please ask Sulasā, the wife of the charioteer Nāga, there respectfully and tactfully, about her behavior because of our teaching.” Saying, “I agree,” he went to Rājagṛha through the air. Stopping at the door of Sulasā's house, he thought: “In the presence of gods, asuras, and kings, the Lord of the Three Worlds was favorable to Sulasā. What can I do to test her?”

Possessing the magic power of transformation, he assumed another form. Clever, he entered Sulasā's house and asked for alms. Making the assertion, “I give alms to a sādhu who is worthy,” Sulasā did not give at that time to him when he asked.

Then leaving the city, he assumed the form of a Brāhman and remained absorbed in meditation at the door of the east city-gate. Seated in the padmāsana,[4] having four arms and four faces, wearing the Brāhmanical sacred thread and a rosary, adorned with a crown of twisted hair, accompanied by Sāvitrī, with a haṃsa for a vehicle, he taught dharma and delighted the minds of the townspeople who thought, “This is Brahmā in person.” Summoned by her women friends, “Brahmā himself is outside (the city)”, Sulasā did not go, afraid of acquaintance with false belief.

On the next day Ambaḍa stayed at the south gate in the garuḍa-posture, holding the conch, disc, club, and bow, in the form of Govinda (Viṣṇu). Not to be moved from right belief, Sulasā did not go there even at the rumor of Viṣṇu which caused confusion to the people.

On the third day at the west gate, with a bull for a vehicle, moon-crested, accompanied by Gaurī, with a skin-garment, three-eyed, smeared with ashes, carrying a staff with a skull on top, holding a trident, carrying a bow, holding a skull, with a necklace of headless bodies, surrounded by various demi-gods, Ambaḍa taught dharma, having become Hara, and stole the minds of the townspeople. But she, an advanced lay-woman, did not go even to see him.

On the fourth day in the north he created a divine samavasaraṇa adorned with three walls, with wide portals. When the townspeople heard that he, having become the Jina, was stationed there, they approached him with especially great magnificence and listened to dharma from him. This being so, Ambaḍa sent some one to harry Sulasā who had not come. He went and said: “Sulasā, the Master of the World, the Lord Jina, has stopped in a samavasaraṇa. So come, lady. Why do you hesitate to pay homage to him?”

Sulasā said to him, “He is certainly not the Teacher of the World, the Blessed One, Śrī Mahāvīra, the twenty-fourth Lord Jina.” He replied: “Foolish woman, certainly he, the twenty-fifth Tīrthaṅkara, is here. See him before your eyes.”

Sulasā said: “Certainly there is no twenty-fifth Jina. This man is some evil-minded rogue who deceives the people.” He said: “Do not make a distinction. Propagation of the doctrine (of the Jinas) is taking place, lady. Come there. What harm to you will there be?”

Sulasā said: “Propagation of the doctrine does not take place in this way by deceit, but only wrong propagation.” When he saw Sulasā unshaken like this, resolute, Ambaḍa, with confidence created in his heart, thought: “The Teacher of the World justly honored her in the assembly. Her right belief was not shaken by me even by trickery.” Then suppressing all trickery, he entered Sulasā’s house in his own form, pronouncing the naiṣedhikī.

Sulasā got up to greet him and said: “Welcome to you, brother in religion, best lay-disciple of Vīra, the brother of the world.”

She washed his feet, affectionate like a mother, and paid homage devotedly to her own house-statues. He paid homage to her statues and said to her: “Pure-minded lady, pay homage to the permanent and impermanent statues with my voice.” She paid homage to the statues, her head resting on the ground, with her mind permeated with devotion, seeing them as if before her eyes.

He said to Sulasā again: “You alone are virtuous, about whom the Master himself asked news today by my lips.” Delighted at hearing that speech, she paid homage to the Lord and, the hair on her body erect from joy, recited a hymn of praise in a clear voice.

With the intention of testing her again, he said to her cleverly: “Brahmā and others descended here and expounded dharma. The townspeople have gone to pay homage to them and have listened to dharma from them. Why have you not gone even from curiosity, Sulasā?”

Sulasā said: “Why do you speak so, though knowing different, illustrious sir? What kind of ascetics are Brahmā and others, who have weapons to kill and wives to serve? What dharma do they teach when they themselves are deeply engaged in wrong-doing? Who can endure seeing them, who has seen the Blessed Mahāvīra, the friend of the world, and has adopted his dharma?”

“Well said! Well said!” saying, Ambaḍa, rejoicing, went to his house. Sulasā always carried in her heart the dharma of the Arhats which is absolutely beyond criticism.

Footnotes and references:


This is No. 19 in the Vs, p. 233.


For the use of muṣṭi, cf. IV, n. 58. This passage confirms my interpretation there.


I.e., describing his miserable state with humility in order to obtain favor.


In ordinary usage the posture of the statues of the Tīrthaṅkaras. Cf. II, n. 18 for the āsanas.

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