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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


[238] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Female Beggars who carries on the Rules (vinayadharanam) is Patacara.


From the Psalms (the story is better told here than in DPPN — and it is a great story):

... in this Buddha-era [she] was reborn in the Treasurer's house at Savatthi. Grown up, she formed an intimacy with one of the serving-men of her house. When the parents fixed a day on which to give her hand to a youth of her own rank, she took a handful of baggage, and with her lover left the town by the chief gate and dwelt in a hamlet. When the time for her confinement was near, she said: 'Here there's none to take care of me; let us go home, husband.' And he procrastinated, saying: 'We'll go to-day; we'll go to-morrow' til she said: 'The foolish fellow will never take me there'; and setting her affairs in order while he was out, she told her neighbors to say she had gone home, and set forth alone. When he came back and was told this, he exclaimed: 'Through my doing a lady of rank is without protection,' and hurrying after her, overtook her. Midway the pains of birth came upon her, and after she was recovered, they turned back again to the hamlet. At the advent of a second child things happened just as before, with this difference: when midway the winds born of Karma blew upon her, a great storm broke over them, and she said, 'Husband, find me a place out of the rain!' While he was cutting grass and sticks in the jungle, he cut a stake from a tree standing in an ant-hill. And a snake came from the ant-hill and bit him, so that he fell there and died. She, in great misery, and looking for his coming, while the two babies cried at the wind and the rain, placed them in her bosom, and, prone over them on the ground, spent the night thus. At dawn, bearing one babe at her breast, and saying to the other, 'Come, dear, father has left thee,' she went and found him seated, dead, near the ant-heap. 'Oh!' she cried, 'through me my husband is dead,' and wept and lamented all the night. Now, from the rain, the river that lay across her path was swollen knee-deep, and she, being distraught and weak, could not cross the water with both babies. So she left the elder on the hither side, and crossed over with the other. Then she spread out a branch she had broken off, and laid the babe on her rolled head cloth. But she was loath to leave the little creature, and turned round again and again to see him as she went down to the river. Now, when she was half-way over, a hawk in the air took the babe for a piece of flesh, and though the mother, seeing him, clapped her hands, shouting, 'Soo! Soo!' the hawk minded her not, because she was far from him, and caught the child up into the air. Then the elder, thinking the mother was shouting because of him, got flustered, and fell into the river; so she lost both, and came weeping to Savatthi. And, meeting a man, she asked him: 'Where do you dwell?' And he said: 'At Savatthi, dame.' 'There is at Savatthi such and such a family in such and such a street. Know you them, friend?' 'I know them, dame; but ask not of them; ask somewhat else.' 'I am not concerned with aught else. 'Tis about them I ask, friend.' 'Dame, can you not take on yourself to tell? You saw how the god rained all last night?' 'I saw that, friend. On me he rained all night long. Why, I will tell you presently. But first, do you tell me of how it goes with that Treasurer's family.' 'Dame, last night the house broke down and fell upon them, and they burn the Treasurer, his wife, and his son on one pyre. Dame, the smoke of it can be seen.' Thereat grief maddened her, so that she was not aware even of her clothing slipping off. Wailing in her woe ...

'My children both are gone, and in the bush
Dead lies my husband; on one funeral bier
My mother, father, and my brother burn,'

She wandered around from that day forth in circles, and because her skirt-cloth fell from her she was given the name 'Cloak-walker' (Pata = cloak; acara = walker) And people, seeing her, said: 'Go, little mad-woman!' And some threw refuse at her head, some sprinkled dust, some pelted her with clods. The Master, seated in the Jeta Grove, in the midst of a great company, teaching the Dhamma, saw her wandering thus round and round, and contemplated the maturity of her knowledge. When she came towards the Vihara he also walked that way. The congregation, seeing her, said: 'Suffer not that little lunatic to come hither.' The Exalted One said: 'Forbid her not,' and standing near as she came round again, he said to her: 'Sister, recover thou presence of mind.' (Footnote: Sati is memory plus consciousness, in a reasonable being, of what one is now doing. — [Here I sense Mrs. Rhys Davids attempt to broaden the meaning of sati from the standard "memory" or "mind" to a meaning which would more adequately explain what happened here. I see in the Buddha's command the attempt to direct Patacara's mind to the perfect symmetry of the events in her life as they stood at that precise moment when one of her circling's round caused her to come face-to-face with the Buddha: her life, at that moment, being a complex series of similes for the rounds of rebirth and the escape.]) She, by the sheer potency of the Buddha regaining presence of mind, discerned her undressed plight, and shame and conscience arising, she fell crouching to earth. A man threw her his outer robe, and she put it round her, and drawing near to the Master worshipped at his feet, saying: 'Lord, help me. One of my children a hawk hath taken, one is borne away by water; in the jungle my husband lied dead; my parents and my brother, killedby the overthrown house, burn on one pyre.' So she told him why she grieved. The Master made her see, thus: 'Patacara, think not thou art come to one able to become a help to thee. Just as now thou art shedding tears because of the death of children and the rest, so hast thou, in the unending round of life, been shedding tears, because of the death of children and the rest, more abundant than the waters of the four oceans:

'Less are the waters of the oceans four
Than all the waste of waters shed in tears
By heart of man who mourneth touched by Ill
Why waste thy life brooding in bitter woe?

Thus, though the Master's words touching the way where no salvation lies, the grief in her became lighter to bear. Knowing this, he went on: 'O Patacara, to one passing to another world no child nor other kin is able to be a shelter or a hiding place or a refuge. Not here, even, can they be such. Therefore, let whoso is wise purify his own conduct, and accomplish the Path leading even to Nibbana.' Thus he taught her, and said:

'Sons are no shelter, nor father, nor any kinsfolk
O'ertaken by death, for thee blood-bond is no refuge.
Discerning this truth, the wise man, well ordered by virtue,
Swiftly makes clear the road leading on to Nibbana

When he had finished speaking, she was established in the fruit of a Stream-winner, and asked for ordination. The Master led her to the Bhikkhunis, and let her be admitted.

She, exercising herself to reach the higher paths, took water one day in a bowl, and washing her feet, poured away some of the water, which trickled but a little way and disappeared. She poured more, and it went farther. And the third time the water went yet farther before it disappeared. Taking this as her basis of thought, she pondered: 'Even so do mortals die, either in childhood, or in middle age, or when old.' And the Master, seated in the 'Fragrant Chamber,' shed glory around, and appeared as if speaking before her, saying: 'Even so, O Patacara, are all mortals liable to die; therefore is it better to have so lived as to see how the five khandhas come and go, even were it but for one day — ay, but for one moment — than to live for a hundred years and not see that.

'The man who, living for an hundred years,
Beholdeth never how things rise and fall,
Had better live no longer than one day,
So, in that day, he sees the flux of things.'

And when he had finished, Patacara won Arahantship, together with thorough grasp of the Norm in letter and in spirit. Thereafter, reflecting on how she had attained while yet a student, and magnifying the advent of this upward change, she exulted thus:

With ploughshares ploughing up the field, with seed
Sown in the breast of earth, men win their crops,
Enjoy their gains and nourish wife and child.
Why cannot I, whose life is pure, who seek
To do the Master's will, no sluggard am,
Nor puffed up, win to Nibban's bliss?
One day, bathing my feet, I sit and watch
The water as it trickles down the slope.
Thereby I set my heart in steadfastness,
As one doth train a horse of noble breed.
Then going to my cell, I take my lamp,
And seated on my couth I watch the flame.
Grasping the pin, I pull the wick right down
Into the oil ...
Lo! The Nibbana of the little lamp!
Emancipation dawns! My heart is free!