The Discourse about the Great Emancipation

[The Second Chapter for Recitation]

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[15: The Courtesan Ambapālī]

Then the Gracious One, after living near Nādika for as long as he liked, addressed venerable Ānanda, (saying): “Come Ānanda let us approach Vesālī.”

“Very well, reverend Sir,” venerable Ānanda replied to the Gracious One. Then the Gracious One together with a great Community of monks arrived at Vesālī. There the Gracious One lived near Vesālī in Ambapālī's Wood. There the Gracious One addressed the monks, (saying):

“Mindfully and with full awareness, monks, a monk should live, this is our advice to you. Comm: sato bhikkhave ti Bhagavā Ambapālidassane satipaccupaṭṭhānatthaṁ visesato idha satipaṭṭhānadesanaṁ ārabhi; mindful, monks, the Gracious One began the teaching of mindfulness specially here, so that they would be attending to mindfulness when they saw Ambapālī.01 And how, monks, is a monk mindful? What follows is the summary of the ways of attending to mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna), a translation of which is found elsewhere on this website.02

Here, monks, a monk dwells contemplating (the nature of) the body in the body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world; he dwells contemplating (the nature of) feelings in feelings, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world; he dwells contemplating (the nature of) the mind in the mind, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world; he dwells contemplating (the nature of) things in (various) things, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world.

Thus, monks, a monk is mindful. And how, monks, does a monk have full awareness? This now forms of section in the Satipaṭṭhānasutta.03

Here, monks, a monk in going forwards, in going back, is one who practises with full awareness, in looking ahead, or in looking around, he is one who practises with full awareness, in bending or in stretching, he is one who practises with full awareness, in bearing his double-robe, bowl, and (other) robes, he is one who practises with full awareness, in eating, in drinking, in chewing, in tasting, he is one who practises with full awareness, in passing stool and urine, he is one who practises with full awareness, in going, in standing, in sitting, in sleeping, in waking, in talking, and in maintaining silence, he is one who practises with full awareness.

Thus, monks, a monk has full awareness. Mindfully and with full awareness, monks, a monk should live, this is our advice to you.”

* * *

The courtesan Ambapālī heard: “The Gracious One, it seems, has reached Vesālī and is living near Vesālī in my Mango Wood.” Ambapālī's name means (daughter of the) Mango Keeper, though according to the Commentary she was born spontaneously in a mango wood perhaps this one?), and hence acquired the name. Courtesans like Ambapāli were often very rich as we can see from the description of her vehicles and pleasure garden.04

Then the courtesan Ambapālī, after having (many) great and august vehicles prepared, and mounting (those) great and august vehicles, departed with those great and august vehicles from Vesālī, and after approaching by vehicle to her pleasure garden as far as the ground for vehicles (would allow), and descending from the vehicles, she approached the Gracious One by foot, and after approaching and worshipping the Gracious One, she sat down on one side. While the courtesan Ambapālī was sitting on one side the Gracious One instructed, roused, enthused, and cheered her with a talk about the Teaching.

Then the courtesan Ambapālī, having been instructed, roused, enthused, and cheered by the Gracious One with a talk about the Teaching, said to the Gracious One: “May the Gracious One consent, reverend Sir, to me (offering him) a meal on the morrow, together with the Community of monks.”

The Gracious One consented by maintaining silence. Then the courtesan Ambapālī, having understood the Gracious One's consent, after rising from her seat, worshipping and circumambulating the Gracious One, went away.

The Licchavīs from Vesālī heard: “The Gracious One, it seems, had reached Vesālī and is living near Vesālī in Ambapālī's Wood.”

Then those Licchavīs, after having (many) great and august vehicles prepared, and mounting (those) great and august vehicles, departed with those great and august vehicles from Vesālī. There some of the Licchavīs were blue, having a blue appearance, with blue clothes and blue decorations; some of the Licchavīs were yellow, having a yellow appearance, with yellow clothes and yellow decorations; some of the Licchavīs were red, having a red appearance, with red clothes and red decorations; some of the Licchavīs were white, having a white appearance, with white clothes and white decorations.

Then the courtesan Ambapālī rolled alongside the Licchavī youths axle by axle, wheel by wheel, and yoke by yoke. Then those Licchavīs said this to the courtesan Ambapālī: “Why do you, Ambapālī, roll alongside the Licchavī youths axle by axle, wheel by wheel, and yoke by yoke?”

“Because I have invited the Gracious One, noble sirs, for a meal on the morrow, together with the Community of monks.”

“Give (us) this meal, Ambapālī, for a hundred thousand (kahapanas).”

“If, noble sirs, you would give Vesālī and its revenues Lit: with its means (of existence) (sāhāraṁ).05 still I would not give this meal (to you).”

Then the Licchavīs snapped their fingers, (thinking): “We have surely been defeated by a woman, we have surely been defeated by a woman.” This is a play on Ambapālī's name. Ambaka, means a woman.06

Then the Licchavīs entered Ambapālī's Wood. The Gracious One saw those Licchavīs coming from afar, and having seen (them), he addressed the monks, (saying): “Let those monks who have not seen the Tāvatiṁsa Divinities, monks, look at the Licchavī troupe, monks, look upon the Licchavī troupe, monks, contemplate the Licchavī troupe, monks, who are like the Tāvatiṁsa (Divinities).” The Commentary says that the Buddha urged the monks to look on the splendour of the Licchavī princes so that they would remember it and realise the nature of impermanence when they were destroyed by the Magadahan King Ajātasattu.07

Then after the Licchavīs had gone as far as the ground for vehicles (would allow), and had descended from the vehicles, they approached the Gracious One by foot, and after approaching and worshipping the Gracious One, they sat down at one side.

While the Licchavīs were sitting on one side the Gracious One instructed, roused, enthused, and cheered them with a talk about the Teaching. Then the Licchavīs, having been instructed, roused, enthused, and cheered by the Gracious One with a talk about the Teaching, said to the Gracious One: “Please consent to us (offering) a meal on the morrow, together with the Community of monks.”

“I have (already) consented to the courtesan Ambapālī's meal on the morrow.”

Then the Licchavīs snapped their fingers, (thinking): “We have surely been defeated by a woman, we have surely been defeated by a woman.”

Then the Licchavīs, after greatly rejoicing and gladly receiving this word of the Gracious One, This stock phrase seems out of place here, given the circumstances.08 rising from their seats, worshipping and circumambulating the Gracious One, went away.

Then the courtesan Ambapālī after the night had passed, having had excellent foodstuffs made ready in her own pleasure park, had the time announced to the Gracious One, (saying): “It is time, reverend Sir, the meal is ready.”

Then the Gracious One, having dressed in the morning time, after picking up his bowl and robe, together with the Community of monks, approached the courtesan Ambapālī's residence, and after approaching he sat down on the prepared seat. Then the courtesan Ambapālī with her own hand served and satisfied the Community of monks with the Buddha at its head with excellent foodstuffs.

Then the courtesan Ambapālī, when the Gracious One had eaten and washed his hand and bowl, having taken a certain low seat, sat down on one side. While sitting on one side the courtesan Ambapālī said this to the Gracious One: “I donate this pleasure park, reverend Sir, to the Community of monks with the Buddha at its head.” Ārāma (from √ram) originally meant a pleasure park, but they were ideal places for monks, and many were given over for that purpose, and the name eventually came to mean monastery.09

The Gracious One accepted the pleasure park. Then the Gracious One, after instructing, rousing, enthusing, and cheering the courtesan Ambapālī with a talk about the Teaching, having risen from the seat, went away. Unfortunately the Commentary gives us no idea what the Buddha taught to Ambapāli on this occasion.10

* * *

There also the Gracious One, while living in Vesālī in Ambapālī's Wood, spoke frequently to the monks about the Teaching, (saying):

“Such is virtue, such is concentration, such is wisdom, when virtue is well-developed it yields great fruit and brings great advantages in regard to concentration, when concentration is well-developed it yields great fruit and brings great advantages in regard to wisdom, when wisdom is well-developed the mind is completely liberated from the pollutants, that is to say: the pollutant of sensuality, the pollutant of (craving for) continued existence, the pollutant of ignorance.”