Once upon a time, a very rich man was living in Benares, in northern India. He had a daughter who was one of the most beautiful women in the city. Her skin was as soft as rose petals, her complexion was like lotus blossoms, and her hair was as black as midnight. But unfortunately her beauty was only skin deep. For, on the inside, she was very cruel. She insulted her servants and even enjoyed beating them. She became known as the ‘Wicked Lady’.
One day she went down to the river for her bath. While she bathed, her servant girls played and splashed in the water. Suddenly it became dark and a heavy rainstorm came upon them. Most of the attendants and guards ran away. The servant girls said to each other, “This would be a perfect time to get rid of the Wicked Lady once and for all! So they deserted her there, still bathing in midstream. The storm became more and more terrible as the sun set.
When the servant girls arrived home without the Wicked Lady, the rich man asked them, “Where is my precious daughter?” They replied, “We saw her coming out of the river, but since then we haven’t seen her. We don’t know where she went.” The rich man sent out relatives to search for her, but she was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile the Wicked Lady had been swept downstream by the ferocious flooded river.
There just so happened to be a holy man living in the forest next to the river. In this peaceful area he had been meditating for a long time, until he had come to enjoy the inner happiness of a high mental state. Because of this happiness, he was quite sure he had left the ordinary desires of the world behind.
At about midnight the Wicked Lady was carried past the holy man’s hut by the raging river. She was crying out and screaming for help. When he heard her, the holy man realised a woman was in danger. So he took a torch down to the river and saw her being swept along. He dived in and saved her. He comforted her, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.”
He carried her into his hut and made a fire to dry her off and warm her up. He gave her fruits to eat. When she had eaten her fill, he asked, “Where do you live? How did you fall in the river?” She told him about the storm and how her servants deserted her. He took pity on her and let her sleep in his hut for the next couple of nights. He himself slept under the stars.
When she had recovered her strength, he told her it was time to return home. But she knew that he was the type of holy man who promised never to live with a woman, as husband and wife. That was why he had slept outside while she slept in the hut.
Just to prove her own power and superiority over him, she decided to seduce him into breaking his religious promise. She refused to leave until she had tricked him into falling in love with her.
The Wicked Lady used the poses and tricks and flatteries that women learn. The holy man was not yet strong enough to resist her tempting ways. After a few days she succeeded in seducing him into breaking his promise. They began living together in the quiet forest as if they were husband and wife. He lost the inner happiness he had gained by years of meditating.
But soon the Wicked Lady grew bored with forest life. She missed the noise and excitement of crowded city life. So she cooed and coaxed until she got her way, and they moved to a nearby village.
In the beginning, the holy man supported her by selling buttermilk. Later on, the villagers came and asked him for advice. They soon realised that listening to him brought good fortune. So they started calling him ‘the Buttermilk Wise Man’, and gave him a hut to live in.
Then one day a gang of bandits attacked the village. They robbed all the valuables and kidnapped some of the villagers, including the Wicked Lady. When they got to their forest hide-out they divided up the loot. When they began dividing up the prisoners, the bandit chief was attracted by the Wicked Lady’s great beauty. So he took her for himself as a wife.
All the other prisoners were soon released. When they returned to the village, the Buttermilk Wise Man asked what happened to his wife. They told him she had been kept as wife by the bandit chief. He thought, “She will never be able to live without me. She will find a way to escape and come back to me.” Deciding the village was now unlucky, all the others left it. But the Buttermilk Wise Man remained in his hut, convinced that his wife would return.
Lo and behold, the Wicked Lady enjoyed the exciting life of bandits. But she worried that her husband would come and take her back. She thought, “Then I would lose all my newfound luxuries. I would be safer if I got rid of him. Therefore, I will send him a letter, pretending to be deeply in love with him. Just as before I will use my power of seduction to cause his downfall. But this time he will meet his death, and I will remain the bandit queen!”
When the Buttermilk Wise Man received the letter he believed every word. He rushed into the forest and ran to the gang’s hide-out. When he called out to her, the Wicked Lady came out and said, “Oh my lord and master, I’m so happy to see you. I can hardly wait to escape with you. But now is not a good time. The bandit chief could easily follow us and kill us both. So let us wait until nightfall.” She took him inside, fed him, and hid him in a closet.
When the chief returned in the evening he was drunk. The Wicked Lady asked him, “My lord and chief, if you saw my former husband now, what would you do?” “I would beat him up and kick him from one side of the room to the other!” he bragged, “Where is he now?” “He is much closer than you think,” she said, “In fact, he is right here in this closet!”
He opened the door and dragged out the Buttermilk Wise Man. He proceeded to beat him up and kick him around the room, just as he had boasted. His poor victim did not cry out. He only muttered — “Ungrateful hater, Lying traitor.”
That was all he said. It seemed he was finally learning a lesson — but so painfully!
Eventually the drunken bandit got tired of beating him. He tied him up, ate dinner, and passed out into drunken sleep.
The next morning, after sleeping off his drunkenness, the bandit chief woke up sober. He began beating and kicking his tied up victim again. Still the Buttermilk Wise Man did not cry out, but kept on muttering — “Ungrateful hater, Lying traitor.”
The bandit thought, “While I keep punishing this man, why does he keep saying the same thing over and over?” Seeing that his wife was still fast asleep, he asked him what he meant.
The Buttermilk Wise Man replied, “Listen and I will tell. I was a forest holy man, peacefully enjoying a high state of mind. One night I heard this woman crying out as she was being swept down river in a storm. I saved her life and brought her back to health. Meanwhile she seduced me and I lost all my inner calm and happiness. We went to live in a village and I led a very ordinary life. Then you kidnapped her. She sent me a letter saying she suffered living with you, and begged me to rescue her. So you see — she enticed me into this disaster. She put me at your mercy. That is why I say: “Ungrateful hater, Lying traitor.”
The bandit chief was not stupid. He thought, “This man was such a good provider, and yet she has put him in this plight. What would she be capable of doing to me? It would be better to finish her off!”
He untied the Buttermilk Wise Man and comforted him, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.” He awakened the Wicked Lady and said, “My darling, let us kill this man right next to his own village.” He took them to the boundary of the deserted village. He told her to hold her former husband. Then he raised his mighty sword and came down with it. But at the last instant he sliced the Wicked Lady in half!
Even someone as wicked as this murderous bandit can change his ways. He began by nursing his former rival back to health. After a few days of rest he asked, “What are you going to do now?”
The wise man replied, “I don’t want to live as householder anymore. I want to return to my old forest and meditate.”
The bandit said, “I too would like to be ordained and learn to meditate in the forest.” After giving up all his stolen goods, he went and lived in the forest with the Buttermilk Wise Man as his teacher. After much effort, they both attained a high state of inner happiness.