Khuddaka Nikaya

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Canto XV. Psalm of Over Forty Verses[1]





SHE too, having made her resolve under former Buddhas, and persisting in her former disposition in this and that rebirth, in that she heaped up good of age-enduring efficacy, in the seventh rebirth before her last phase of life, susceptible to sex-attraction, wrought adulterous conduct. For this she did purgatory for many centuries, and thereafter for three rebirths was an animal. Thereafter she was brought forth by a slave-woman as an hermaphrodite, and thereafter she was born as the daughter of a poor common man, and was, when of age, married to the son of a caravan-leader named Giridāsa. Now the wife that he had was virtuous and of noble qualities, and the new wife envied her, and quarrelled with the husband because of her. After her death she was, in this Buddha-era, reborn at Ujjenī[2] as the daughter of a virtuous, honoured and wealthy merchant, and was named Isidasī.[3] When she was of age, her parents gave her in marriage to a merchant's son, a good match with herself. For a month she dwelt with him as a devoted wife; then, as the fruit of her previous actions, her husband became estranged from her, and turned her out of his house. All this is told in the Pali text. Because she had not proved desirable for one husband after another, [157] she grew agitated and, gaining her father's consent, took orders under the Therī Jinadattā. And studying for insight, she not long after attained Arahantship, together with thorough grasp of the Norm in form and meaning.

Dwelling in the bliss of fruition and Nibbana, she one day, after seeking her meal in the city of Patna and dining, sat down on a sandbank of great Ganges, and being asked by her companion, the Therī Bodhi, about her previous experience, she related it by way of verses. And to show the connection of her former and latter replies, these three stanzas were inserted by the Recensionists:

[400] In the fair city of Patna, earth's fairest city,
Named for its beauty after the Trumpet-flower,[4]
Dwelt two saintly Sisters, born of the Sākiyas,

[401] Isidāsī the one, Bodhi the other.
Precept-observers, lovers of Jhana-rapture,
Learnèd ladies and cleansed from the taint of all worldliness.

[402] These having made their round, and broken their fasting,
Washed their bowls, and sitting in happy seclusion,
Spake thus one to the other, asking and answering:




[403] 'Thou hast a lovely mien, Isidāsī,
Fresh and unwithered yet thy woman's prime,
What flaw in the life yonder hast thou seen,
That thou didst choose surrender for thy lot?'

[404] Then in that quiet spot Isidāsī,
Skilled in the exposition of the Norm,
Took up her tale and thus did make reply:
'Hear, Bodhi, how it was that I came forth.

[405] In Ujjenī,[5] Avantī's foremost town,
My father dwells, a virtuous citizen,
His only daughter I, his well-beloved,
The fondly cherished treasure of his life.

[406] Now from Sāketa came a citizen
Of the first rank and rich exceedingly
To ask my hand in marriage for his son.
And father gave me him, as daughter-in-law.

[407] My salutation morn and eve I brought
To both the parents of my husband, low
Bowing my head and kneeling at their feet,
According to the training given me.

[408] My husband's sisters and his brothers too,
And all his kin, scarce were they entered when
I rose in timid zeal and gave them place.

[409] And as to food, or boiled or dried, and drink,
That which was to be stored I set aside,
And served it out and gave to whom 'twas due.

[410] Rising betimes, I went about the house,
Then with my hands and feet well cleansed I went
To bring respectful greeting to my lord,

[411] And taking comb and mirror, unguents, soap,
I dressed and groomed him as a handmaid might.

[412] I boiled the rice, I washed the pots and pans;
And as a mother on her only child,
So did I minister to my good man.

[413] For me, who with toil infinite thus worked,
And rendered service with a humble mind,
Rose early, ever diligent and good,
For me he nothing felt save sore dislike.

[414] Nay, to his mother and his father he
Thus spake: — 'Give ye me leave and I will go,
For not with Isidāsī will I live
Beneath one roof, nor ever dwell with her.'

[415] 'O son, speak not on this wise of thy wife,
For wise is Isidāsī and discreet,
An early riser and a housewife diligent.
Say, doth she find no favour in thine eyes?'

[416] 'In nothing doth she work me harm, and yet
With Isidāsī will I never live.
I cannot suffer her. Let be, let be!
Give ye me leave and I will go away.'

[417] And when they heard, mother and father-in-law
Asked of me: 'What then hast thou done t' offend?
Speak to us freely, child, and speak the truth.'

[418] 'Naught have I done that could offend, nor harm,
Nor nagged at evil words. What can I do,[6]
That me my husband should so sore mislike?'

[419] To guard and keep their son, they took me back,
Unwilling guides, to father's house, distressed,
Distraught: 'Alas! we're beaten, pretty Luck!'[7]

[420] Then father gave me for the second time as bride,
Content with half my husband's sire had paid.

[421] From that house too, when I had dwelt a month,
I was sent back, though I had worked and served,
Blameless and virtuous, as any slave.

[422] And yet a third, a friar begging alms —
One who had self controlled, and could control
Favour in fellow-men — my father met
And spake him thus: 'Be thou my son-in-law!
Come, throw away that ragged robe and pot!'

[423] He came, and so we dwelt one half moon more
Together. Then to father thus he spake:
'O give me back my frock, my bowl and cup.
Let me away to seek once more my scraps.'

[424] Then to him father, mother, all the tribe
Of kinsfolk clamouring: 'What is it then
Here dwelling likes you not? Say quick, what is't
That we can do to make you better pleased?'

[425] Then he: 'If for myself I can suffice,
Enough for me. One thing I know: — beneath
One roof with Isidāsī I'll not live!'

[426] Dismissed he went. I too, alone I thought.
And then I asked my parents' leave to die,
Or, that they suffer me to leave the world.

[427] Now Lady Jinadatta on her beat
Came by my father's house for daily alms,
Mindful of every moral precept, she,
Learnèd and expert in the Vinaya.[8]

[428] And seeing her we rose, and I prepared
A seat for her, and as she sat I knelt,
Then gave her food, both boiled and dried,

[429] And water — dishes we had set aside —
And satisfied her hunger. Then I said:
'Lady, I wish to leave the world.' 'Why here,'

[430] My father said, 'dear child, is scope for thee
To walk according to the Norm. With food
And drink canst gratify the holy folk
And the twice-born.[9] But of my father I,

[431] Weeping and holding out clasped hands, besought:
'Nay, but the evil karma I have done,
That would I expiate and wear away.'[10]

[432] Then father said: 'Win thou Enlightenment
And highest Truth, and gain Nibbana.
That Hath He, the Best of Beings,[11] realized.'

[433] Then to my mother and my father dear,
And all my kinsfolk tribe I bade farewell.
And only seven days had I gone forth
Ere I had touched and won the Threefold Lore.

[434] Then did I come to know my former births,
E'en seven thereof, and how e'en now I reap
The harvest, the result, that then I sowed.
That will I now declare to thee, an thou
Wilt listen single-minded to my tale.

[435] In Erakaccha's[12] town of yore I lived,
A wealthy craftsman in all works of gold.
Incensed by youth's hot blood, a wanton, I
Assailed the virtue of my neighbours' wives.

[436] Therefrom deceasing, long I cooked[13] in hell,
Till, fully ripened, I emerged, and then
Found rebirth in the body of an ape.

[437] Scarce seven days I lived before the great
Dog-ape, the monkeys' chief, castrated me.
Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.

[438] Therefrom deceasing in the woods of Sindh,
Reborn the offspring of a one-eyed goat

[439] And lame; twelve years a gelding, gnawn by worms,
Unfit, I carried children on my back.
Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.

[440] Therefrom deceasing, I again found birth,
The offspring of a cattle-dealer's cow,
A calf of lac-red hue; in the twelfth month

[441] Castrated, yoked, I drew the plough and cart,
Purblind and worried, driven and unfit.
Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.

[442] Therefrom deceasing, even in the street
I came to birth, child of a household slave,
Neither of woman nor of man my sex.
Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.

[443] At thirty years of age I died, and was reborn
A girl, the daughter of a carter, poor
And of ill-fortune, and oppressed with debts
Incurred to usurers. To pay the sum

[444] Of interest that ever grew and swelled,
In place of money,[14] woeful little me
The merchant of a caravan dragged off,
Bearing me weeping from my home.

[445] Now in my sixteenth year, when I
Blossomed a maiden, that same merchant's son,
Giridasa the name of him, loved me
And made me wife. Another wife he had,

[446] A virtuous dame of parts and of repute,
Enamoured of her mate. And thus I brought
Discord and enmity within that house.

[447] Fruit of my karma was it thus that they,
In this last life, have slighted me, e'en tho'
I waited on them as their humble slave.
Well! of all that now have I made an end!


[1] On this curious Psalm see Introduction.

[2] See n. to verse 405.

[3] = Slave of the sage.

[4] Pāṭaliputta. On the rise of this city as the capital of the Mauryan dynasty, and the Buddha's prophecy of that rise, see Rhys Davids, Buddhist Suttas, xi., pp. xv. 18; Buddhist India, pp. 262 ff., where the testimony of Megasthenes is largely quoted.

[5] On Ujjenī and Sāketa, see Rhys Davids, Buddhist India, pp. 39, 40; Neumann, op. cit., 361 n. They may have been some 500 miles apart, and the journey would be largely by river. Cf. Rhys Davids, op. cit., 103.

[6] The Commentator interprets the Vedic infinitive kātuye, 'do,' as meaning kātu'yye, 'do, lady.'

[7] My reading of this very obscure passage — jināmhase rūpinin Lacchin or rūpini Lacchi — is suggested by my husband, and differs from that of Dr. Neumann, who has felt compelled to doctor the text. Commentary: 'Defeated by the goddess Siri (Śrī) clad in human dress' — i.e., Isidāsī, as personating the fickle goddess of chance. Thus they call her 'Luck!' I cannot believe that, had the young divorcee been enceinte, she would have been sent home so ignominiously, or that the tale would have been silent about the child when born.

[8] Vinayadharā, who could repeat the Vinaya-Pitaka. This proficiency was Paṭācārā's to a special degree. See Ps. xlvii.; Ang. Nik., i. 25.

[9] Brahmins.

[10] Nijjaressāmi. This was the ascetic aspect taken of the religious life. As a Jainist opinion, it is criticized by the Buddha in the 'Devadaha Sutta,' Majjhima Nikaya, ii. 214 ff.

[11] Dvipada, lit., 'bipeds,' an epithet of the Buddha I do not find elsewhere.

[12] Buddhist India, p. 40; Neumann, op. cit., 366 n.

[13] To ripen or be cooked is the usual metaphor for a cause working out its effect. Note that 'hell' here (niraya) is really purgatory. No form of being, for Buddhism, was eternal.

[14] I have discussed this passage in 'Early Economic Conditions in North India' (J.R.A.S., 1901, 880, n. 1) thus: In the second line, which Dr. Neumann renders 'Vom Tische Reicher lasen wir die Reste auf,' I take the compound dhanikapurisapātabahulamhi (Commentary: iṇāyikānaŋ purisānaŋ adhipatanabahule bahūhi iṇāyikehi abhibhavitabbe) to mean 'fallen into the power of usurers.' This leads up to the next line, giving a point to it which is lacking in the rendering alluded to.
I am unable to classify the metre throughout this poem, from the first line:

nagaramhi kusumanāme Pāṭaliputtamhi pathaviyā|| ||

to the last:

dāsī va upaṭṭhahantiŋ tassa pi anto kato mayā|| ||

Next: Canto XVI. Psalms of The Great Chapter

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