Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 6. The Buddha and the Queen

Just as the Buddha had appointed two chief disciples, Venerable Sariputta and Venerable Moggallana, for the order of monks, he appointed two chief female disciples for the order of nuns. They were Venerable Khema and Venerable Uppalavanna.

Khema was one of the beautiful queens of King Bimbisara. The conversion of Khema was one of the rare cases where the Buddha used his psychic powers to make a change in the heart of another. The Buddha never used his powers to control another person’s emotions, but merely to create understanding and make wisdom arise.

Khema was beautiful like a full moon reflected on a still lake at midnight. Her cheeks were smooth as lotus petals and her eyes sparkled like gems. As she had heard that the Buddha did not speak well of physical beauty, she had no wish to see him.

One cool, breezy morning, Khema decided to visit the monastery which King Bimbisara had built for the Buddha in the Bamboo Grove. Squirrels were scampering in the fruit trees that threw long shadows on the grass. The ponds were covered with water lilies and a light scent of jasmine was in the air.

Khema was soon drawn to a deep, clear voice coming from the preaching hall. It was unlike anything she had heard before. It sounded more beautiful than the singing of birds at the break of dawn. The voice was warm, relaxed and full of love and concern. Its words were words of wisdom.

Like a bee being attracted to a flower, Khema moved to the hall where the Buddha was preaching. As she did not want the Buddha to recognise her she pulled her scarf down over her face and sat at the back of the hall. What she did not know was that the Buddha knew who she was and what she was thinking.

With his psychic powers, the Buddha created the image of a most beautiful young lady about the age of sixteen standing by his side and fanning him. Khema gasped in wonder at her beauty and rolled her eyes in admiration for the girl.

“Oh, look at her finely shaped nose, her mouth, her arms and fingers,” thought Khema. “With her perfect complexion, she looks like a fully bloomed flower in spring. She is far more beautiful than anyone I have ever seen, and is far, far more beautiful than I.”

Just for the moment Khema thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. Did she see this young girl growing older? Oh yes. And the beauty was fading from this lovely creature. Some wrinkles appeared on her face and the smile on her lotus-like lips changed into a toothless grin. Her hair turned grey, then white. The limbs that were slender and strong became thin and feeble, and she fell on the floor. From a young lady, this image had changed into an eighty-year-old woman.

Khema saw this old woman die and rot until her bones turned to dust. She then realised that just like the lovely image, one day she too would grow old and die. All vanity of external beauty fell from her and she instantly understood the impermanence of the physical body and life.

She attained arahantship, and entered into the order of nuns after asking King Bimbisara’s consent. She became renowned for her insight knowledge amongst the order of nuns.