Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 18. Ambapali’s Gift

Persons of all castes — high and low, women as well as men — sought the teachings of the Buddha and he gladly received them all.

When the Buddha and his disciples stopped one day at Vesali, a lady named Ambapali offered them the use of her garden of mangoes outside the city so that they might rest in the cool shade of her trees.

Ambapali was as lovely as the golden sun rising from the ocean, but she was immoral in character. Lady Ambapali did not intend to visit the Buddha, but her servant said to her, “Lady, all the nobles and people went on foot to the Garden of Mangoes yesterday. When I asked them why they had gone there, they said that it was because of the man who is resting there. There are no others like him. He is the son of a king and has given up his kingdom so that he might find the Truth.”

Always ready for new insight, Lady Ambapali leapt to her feet, rushed to one of her coaches and rode toward the garden, casting proud glances about her. When she arrived at the garden gate, she descended from the coach and walked through the palms and mango trees. It was very quiet, even the leaves did not stir. Lady Ambapali walked quietly through the garden, until she saw beneath the deep shade of tall trees a man who could only have been the Buddha seated with folded hands and feet. Around his head an aura glowed like the midnight moon.

Ambapali stood there amazed, forgetting her beauty, forgetting herself, forgetting all but the Blessed One. Right there, her whole heart melted and flowed away in a river of tears. Very slowly, she approached the Buddha and fell before his feet, laying her face on the earth.

The Buddha asked her to rise and be seated. He spoke the Dharma to her. She listened to these great words with ears that drank them as the dry earth that has longed for the rain. After she had received the Dharma, Lady Ambapali bowed at his feet and invited the Buddha and his disciples to a meal the following day. The Buddha accepted her invitation.

Now the nobles of Vesali had also come out to meet the Blessed One. On the way to the Garden of Mangoes they met Ambapali and heard that the Buddha had accepted her invitation to a meal the following day.
They said to her, “Lady Ambapali, we have a bargain for you. Sell us the honour of his company for great weights of gold.”

And she, glowing with joy, said, “Sirs, even if you were to give me Vesali and all its territories, yet I would not give up this honourable meal.”

In anger, the nobles went to the Buddha and requested the honour of offering another meal, but the Buddha informed them that he had accepted Ambapali’s invitation.

The following day, Ambapali set sweet milk-rice and cake before the Buddha and his followers, and she herself attended them in great humility. After the Buddha had eaten, Ambapali sat on one side, with folded palms and said, “Holy one, I present this garden to the order. Accept it, if it be your will.”

The Buddha accepted the gift, seeing the purity of heart that offered it. He then gladdened Lady Ambapali again with the Dharma. This was the turning point of Ambapali’s life: she understood the Dharma and became a virtuous woman. Some time later she entered the order of nuns and with the heart of wisdom strengthened in her, she became an arahant.

Just as the lotus does not grow on dry land but springs from black and watery mud, Ambapali, despite her immoral past, managed to achieve the height of spiritual development.

After this incident, the Buddha and his disciples moved to a little village nearby called Beluva. As the rainy season was about to begin, the Buddha decided to spend the last rainy season at this village.