Life of the Buddha

Electronically Distributed by BuddhaNet

(Part One) 28. The Story of Lady Patacara

During the Buddha’s lifetime there was a rich man who had a charming daughter called Patacara. Her parents loved her so much that they kept her in the seventh storey of their mansion and did not let her go anywhere.

When she was sixteen, Patacara’s parents made arrangements for her to marry the son of another wealthy man. But she had already fallen in love with her pageboy and wanted to be with him.

Just before the wedding, early in the morning, Patacara dressed up like a servant and slipped out of the mansion. She met her pageboy at an arranged place and they ran away together.

The couple traveled to a faraway place and were married. After some time Patacara was ready to give birth to their child. “Here I have no one to help me,” she said to her beloved husband, “but a mother and father always have a soft spot in their heart for their child. Please take me to my parents’ house so I may give birth to our child.”

But her husband said, “My darling, what are you saying? If your mother and father were to see me they would torture me to death. It is out of the question for me to go.” She begged him over and over again and each time he refused to go.

One day, when her husband was away, Patacara went to her neighbours and told them, “If my husband asks you where I have gone tell him that I have gone home to my parents.” When he came home to find Patacara missing, her husband ran after her and soon caught up, begging her to return home. She began to refuse but right then her birth pains started and she soon gave birth to a son. She thought, “There is no point in going to my parents’ home now,” and returned home with her husband.

After some time she was ready to give birth to her second child and left for her parents’ home again while her husband was at work. Again her husband came after her and begged her to return with him but she refused.

While this was happening a fearful storm arose. Patacara told her husband, “Dear, my birth pains have come upon me. I cannot stand it, please find me a place to shelter from this storm.”

Her husband took his axe and went here and there in the heavy rain, looking for branches and leaves to make a shelter. Seeing a bush growing on an anthill he went to chop it down. As he did so a poisonous snake slithered out and bit his hand, killing him immediately.

As Patacara waited for her husband, her pains became more and more severe and soon she gave birth to another son. Weak, cold and wet she could do nothing more than place her children to her bosom, curl into the ground and wait out the night, worrying desperately after her husband and sheltering as best she could.

Early the next morning, with the newborn on her hip and holding the hand of the other child, Patacara went along the path her husband had taken and eventually found him lying dead. “All because of me my husband died on the road,” she cried.

After a while she continued walking along the path until she came to the river Acirawati, which was flooded from the storm. Since she felt weak from the previous night she could not carry both children together. Patacara placed the older boy on the bank and carried the younger one across the river. She then put the baby on a bed of leaves and returned for the older child.

Hardly had she come to midstream when a hawk came down from the sky and swooped off with the young child. Patacara saw the hawk and screamed in a loud voice, “Su!, Su!” When he heard her voice across the water the older boy thought, “Mother is calling me.” And, in a hurry to get to her, he slipped down the bank and was swept away by the river.

Now Patacara became very distressed and cried and cried, saying, “One of my sons has been carried away by a hawk, the other swept away by the river, and by the roadside my husband lies dead.” She went off weeping until she met a man and asked him, “Sir, where do you live?”

“In Savatthi,” he replied.

“In the city of Savatthi in such and such a street lives such and such a family. Do you know them, Sir?”

“Yes, my good Lady, but don’t ask me about that family. Ask me about another family you know.”

“Good Sir, I know only that family. Please tell me about them,” said she.

“Since you insist, I cannot hide the truth,” said the man. “In the heavy rains last night, the family’s house collapsed, killing all of them.”

“Oh no!” cried Patacara.

“Yes; can you see that fire over there?” he asked, pointing to some flames. “That is their funeral fire.”

No sooner had Patacara heard this than she fell on the ground, rolling to and fro with grief. Some villagers came and took her to the Jetavana monastery, where the Buddha was teaching. The Buddha asked some ladies to wash her, clothe her and give her food, and then he consoled her in a most sweet and wonderful voice. When she recovered her senses, and having gained insight into her experiences, Patacara begged the Buddha to ordain her. Thus Patacara became a bhikkhuni (nun).