Once upon a time there was a very well known teacher in the city of Takkasila, in northern India. He taught religion, as well as all other subjects. His knowledge was enormous and his teaching ability made him world famous.
At that time a son was born to a rich family in Benares. The family kept a holy fire burning constantly from that day on. When the son turned 16, they gave him a choice. They said, “This holy fire has been burning since your birth. If you wish to be reborn in a high heaven world, take it into the forest and worship the fire god.
“However, if you wish to live the home life of a family man, you must learn how to manage the wealth of our family in the affairs of the world. If that is the life you choose, go and study under the world famous teacher of Takkasila.”
The young man said, “I don’t want to be a holy man. I would much rather be a family man. Then I will be happy for the rest of my life.” So his parents sent him to the world famous teacher. They gave him a thousand gold coins to pay for his lessons.
After several years the man graduated with honours and returned home to Benares.
Meanwhile, his parents had come to wish more and more that he would become a holy man in the forest. This was just as they had wished on the day he was born. His mother wanted the best life possible for her son. She thought, “My son wants to marry and raise a family. He does not realise how dangerous a wicked woman can be to a man. I must find a way to get his teacher to teach him this.”
So the wise woman asked her son, “Did you earn only the Ordinary Degree without also obtaining the higher Unhappiness Degree?” Her son replied, “I have earned only the Ordinary Degree.”
His mother said, “How can you be called educated in the ways of the world if you have learned nothing about unhappiness? Return to the great teacher and ask for the Unhappiness Degree.” The son dutifully followed his good mother’s advice and returned to Takkasila.
It just so happened that the world famous teacher had a mother who was 120 years old. She was blind and very weak. The teacher bathed and fed and cared for her with his own hands. Since it took more and more of his time, he was forced to give up teaching. He and his mother moved into a forest hut, where he looked after her, night and day.
When the young student arrived from Benares he found that his old teacher was no longer at the college. Hearing that he had retired to the forest, he went and found him there.
After greeting each other, the teacher asked him, “Why have you come back so soon?” He replied, “Honourable professor, you did not give me the Unhappiness Degree.” “Who told you about that degree?” asked the teacher. “My mother, sir,” he said.
The teacher thought, “I’ve never heard of such a degree! No doubt his wise mother wanted me to teach him how wicked some women can be. For they bring great unhappiness to men.”
He said, “All right, I will teach you so you can earn this high degree. The course is a work-study program. Your lessons will consist of taking care of my old mother for me. You will bathe, feed and care for her tenderly with your own hands.
“While you are washing and massaging her body, you must say, ‘Dear lady, even in your old age your skin remains fair and beautiful.’ You must constantly exaggerate her beauty in this way, saying, ‘When you were young, you must have been even more beautiful!’ And if she says anything to you, you must tell me without shame, whatever it is, hiding nothing.
“If you do these things correctly, you will earn the Unhappiness Degree. Then your mother will be proud of you.”
The student agreed and began tending to the 120-year-old lady. He bathed and fed her with his own hands. He massaged her arms, legs, back and head. While doing this he said, “Madam, it is marvellous indeed! Even in such great old age, your arms and legs are so very beautiful! I can guess how beautiful you were in your youth!” In this way he exaggerated her beauty again and again, for many days.
Gradually, desire began to arise in the old lady’s mind. Even though she knew she was blind and her body was rotten from old age, she thought, “No doubt this young man would like to live with me like a husband.” So she asked him, “Do you want to be with me, just like a husband and wife?”
The man replied, “Oh yes of course, madam. I want to very much. But how can I? Your son is my teacher and he is very respectable. It would cause such a scandal! I will not dishonour my teacher.”
Then the teacher’s mother said, “Well in that case, if you really want to be with me, then kill my son!”
The student said, “How can I kill him when I have been studying with him for so long? How can I kill him just because of this desire for you?” Then she said, “If you will stay with me and not desert me, I will kill him myself!”
As he had agreed, the student went to the world famous teacher and told him all that had taken place. Amazingly, the teacher did not seem surprised. He said, “You have done well to tell me this, my pupil. I appreciate your good work.”
Then he examined his mother’s horoscope and discovered that this was to be the day of her death. He said, “I will arrange a test for her.”
The teacher carved a statue from the softwood of a tree limb. He made it look exactly like himself, life-size. He laid it in his own bed and pulled the sheet up over it. He attached a long string to it and gave it to his pupil. He told him, “Now take this string and axe to my mother. Tell her it is time to do the killing.”
Obediently the student returned to the blind old lady. He said, “Madam, my master is sleeping in his bed. If you follow this string it will lead you to him. Then kill him with this axe, if you really can do such a thing!”
She replied, “If you do not abandon me, I will do it.” He said, “Why should I abandon you?”
Then she took the axe in her hands. She trembled as she stood up. Slowly she followed the string to her son’s bed. She felt the statue and thought she recognised her son. She pulled down the sheet from the head and raised the axe. Thinking to kill him with one blow she struck the neck as hard as she could with the axe. But it made a thumping sound, so she knew it had struck wood.
The teacher asked, “What are you doing, my mother?” Suddenly she realised she had been deceived and discovered. The shock was so overwhelming that she dropped dead on the spot! This time the horoscope had been correct.
The world famous teacher respectfully burned his mother’s body and offered flowers on her ashes.
Then he said to his pupil, “My son, there really is no such thing as the ‘Unhappiness Degree’. Wicked women cause unhappiness. You are fortunate to have such a good and wise mother. By sending you here to earn the Unhappiness Degree, she wanted you to learn how evil some women can be.
“You have seen with your own eyes how my mother was filled with craving and vanity. She has taught you this lesson. Now return to your wise mother, who cares so much for your well-being.”
When he arrived home his mother asked, “My dear son, have you finally earned the high degree in the subject of Unhappiness?” He replied, “Yes mother.”
Then she said, “I ask you again, my son, do you wish to leave the worldly life and go into the forest to worship the fire god? Or do you wish to marry and lead the family life?”
Her son replied, “I do not wish to lead the family life. I have seen with my own eyes how evil some women can be. There is no limit to their craving and vanity. Therefore I want nothing to do with family life. I will seek peace as a forest monk.”
He respectfully took leave of his parents. After many years of peaceful meditation in the forest, he eventually died and was reborn in a high heaven world.