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Academic Sutta Name Notes PSA Plae Vagga Nikaya PTS Keywords
DhA.

IV:8 The most devout lady (Visakha)

Visakha was the daughter of a rich man of Bhaddiya named Dhananjaya and his wife Sumana Devi, and the grand daughter of Mendaka, one of the five extremely wealthy men of King Bimbisara's kingdom. When Visakha was very young, the Buddha came to Bhaddiya. On that occasion, the rich man Mendaka took Visakha and her companions with him to pay homage to the Buddha. After hearing the discourse given by the Buddha, Visakha, her grandfather and all her companions attained the first stage of Sainthood.

When Visakha came of age, she married Punnavaddhana, son of Migara, a rich man in Savatthi. On the day of her marriage, her father Dhananjaya gave Visakha ten admonitions to observe as a dutiful wife. The admonitions are:

  1. Do not carry the indoor fire outside
  2. Do not carry the outdoor fire inside
  3. Give only to those that give
  4. Do not give to those that do not give
  5. Give both to those that give and do not give
  6. Sit happily
  7. Eat happily
  8. Sleep happily
  9. Tend the fire
  10. Honour the household divinities

The implied meaning is as follows:

  1. Fire here signifies slandering. The wife should not speak ill of her husband and parents-in-law to others. Neither should their shortcomings nor household quarrels be reported elsewhere.
  2. A wife should not listen to the reports and stories of other households.
  3. Things should be lent only to those who return them.
  4. No article should not be lent to those who do not return them.
  5. Poor relatives and friends should be helped even if they do not repay.
  6. A wife should stand and not remain sitting on seeing her parents-in-law. (This admonition deals with the modesty of a woman and the respect that should be shown to elders like parents-in-law).
  7. Before taking her meal, a wife should first see to the needs of her parents-in-law and husband. She should see that the servants, too are well cared for.
  8. This does not mean that a wife should sleep as long as she likes. Before sleeping, a wife should see that all doors are locked, servants have performed their duties, and that parents-in-law and husband have gone to bed.
  9. Parents-in-law and husband should be regarded as fire. Deal as carefully with them as one deals with fire.
  10. Parents-in-law and husband are regarded as divinities.

One day, while Migara was having his meal, a bhikkhu stopped for alms at his house but Migara completely ignored the bhikkhu. Visakha, seeing this, told the bhikkhu, 'I am sorry, Venerable bhikkhu, my father-in-law only eats stale food.' On hearing this, Migara was very angry and ordered her to leave the house. Visakha replied she would not leave the house. Instead she summoned for the eight elders who were sent by her father to accompany her and to advise her on any problems she might face in her new home. It was for them to decide whether she was guilty. When the elders came, Migara told them, 'While I was having my food in a gold bowl, Visakha said that I was taking stale food. For this offence, I'm sending her away.' Thereupon, Visakha explained as follows: 'When I saw my father-in-law completely ignoring the bhikkhu standing for almsfood, I thought to myself that since my father-in-law was not doing any meritorious deed in this existence, he was only eating the fruits of his past good deeds. So, I said, 'My father-in-law only eats stale food. Now Sirs, what do you think? Am I guilty?'

The elders decided that Visakha was not guilty. Visakha then announced that she who had absolute and unshakeable faith in the Teaching of the Buddha could not stay where bhikkhus were not welcomed. She also said if she was not given permission to invite the bhikkhus to the house to offer almsfood and make other offerings, she would leave the house. Therefore, Migara granted her all her requests.

The next day, the Buddha and his disciples were invited to the house of Visakha. When almsfood was about to be offered, she invited her father-in-law to join her in offering the food; but he refused the invitation. When the meal was over, again she invited her father-in-law to join her in hearing the discourse to be given by the Buddha. Her father-in-law felt that he should not refuse for a second time. But his ascetic teachers, the Niganthas, would not let him go. However, they conceded that he could listen from behind a curtain. After hearing the Buddha's discourse Migara's good kamma ripened and he attained the first stage of Sainthood. He felt very thankful to the Buddha and also to his daughter-in-law. Being so thankful, he declared that henceforth Visakha would be like a mother to him, and Visakha came to be known as Migara Mata.

Visakha gave birth to several sons and daughters. Visakha possessed an immensely valuable gem-encrusted cloak given by her father as a wedding present. One day, Visakha went to the Jetavana monastery. On arrival at the monastery, she found that her bejewelled cloak was too heavy. So, she took it off, wrapped it up in her shawl, and gave it to the maid to hold it and take care of it. The maid absentmindedly left it at the monastery. It was the custom for Venerable Ananda to look after the things left by any of the lay disciples. Visakha sent the maid back to the monastery saying, 'Go and look for the bejewelled cloak, but if Ananda has already found it and kept it in a place do not bring it back. I will donate the bejewelled cloak to the venerable monks.' But Ananda did not accept her offer. So, Visakha decided to sell the bejewelled cloak and donate the money. But as there was no one who could afford to buy the bejewelled cloak, Visakha bought it back herself. With this money, she built a monastery which came to be known as Pubbarama.

After the merit offering ceremony she called all her family members and on that night she told them that all her wishes had been fulfilled and that she had nothing more to desire. Then, reciting some verses, she went round and round the monastery. Some bhikkhus hearing her, thought she was singing and reported to the Buddha that Visakha was not like before, and that she was going round the monastery, singing. 'Could it be that she has gone off her mind?' they asked the Buddha. The Buddha explained, 'Today, Visakha had all her wishes of the past and present existences fulfilled and on account of that sense of achievement she is feeling elated and contented. Visakha was just reciting some verses to express her happiness; she certainly had not gone off her mind. Visakha, throughout her previous existences, had always been a generous donor and an ardent promoter of the Doctrine.'

The Buddha then revealed that Visakha in one of her past existences was born during the time of a previous Buddha by the name of Padumuttara Buddha. At that time, after admiring the qualities of her friend who was the chief female lay disciple and benefactress of Padumuttara Buddha, she had cherished a desire to possess those sterling qualities. So after offering almsfood to Padumuttara Buddha and his bhikkhus for seven days, she had made an earnest wish that she would one day be born as the chief female lay disciple and benefactress of a future Buddha.

With his supernormal powers, Padumuttara Buddha looked into the future, and having determined that her earnest wish could be fulfilled, he confirmed that Visakha would be able to fulfill her wish. Also in one of her later existences, she also received the same assurance from Kassapa Buddha regarding her earnest wish.

The Buddha concluded the discourse by saying that Visakha was strongly inclined to do good deeds and had done much good in her previous existences, just as an expert florist makes many garlands from a collection of flowers.

55/170 Dhammapada & Commentary Khuddhaka J.i.106ff. despair


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Last modified on: Sunday, 13 August 2000.