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Arhat (Sanskrit) or arahant (Pali) as “one who is worthy” or as a “perfected person” having attained nirvana.

Amrapāli, also known as “Ambapālika” or “Ambapali”, was a nagarvadhu of the republic of Vaishali in ancient India. Following the Buddha‘s teachings, she became an arahant.

Amrapali or Ambapali was born around to an unknown parentage, and was given her name because at her birth she was found at the foot of a mango tree in one of the royal gardens in Vaishali. A feudal named Mahanaman of Vaishali, had traced the rare beauty of Amrapali when she was a child. Lured by the beauty of Amrapali, Mahanaman abandoned his kingdom and shifted to Ambara village, a small hamlet in Vaishali. The variants on her name derive from a combination of two Sanskrit words: “amra”, meaning mango, and pallawa, meaning young leaves or sprouts.

She grew to be a lady of extraordinary beauty, charm, and grace in the city of Vaishali. Many young nobles of the republic desired her company. To avoid confrontations among her suitors, she was accorded the status of the state courtesan of Vaishali. Amrapali was declared the “most beautiful” girl at the age of 11. When the undisputed king of Vaishali, Manudev, desired to possess Amrapali after seeing her dance act in the city, he planned to ‘own’ her. Letting his greed get the better of him, he murdered Amrapali’s would-be-groom, Pushpakumar (her childhood love) on the day of marriage and made an official announcement declaring Amrapali the ‘bride’ of Vaishali i.e. the Nagarvadhu, only to satisfy his mounting sexual urge. Amrapali was made nagarvadhu and Vaishali Janpad Kalayani. (Janpath Kalyani was the term given to the most beautiful and talented girl of the kingdom. A Janpath Kalyani was selected for a period of seven years and a palace was given to her. A Janpath Kalyani had the right to choose her lover and get a person of her choice for a physical relationship but it did not necessarily work the other way round.) Soon after being conferred the title of nagarvadhu, Amrapali became the court dancer as per the rules of Vaishali democracy.

Stories of her beauty travelled to the ears of Bimbisara, king of the hostile neighbouring. He attacked Vaishali, and took refuge in Amrapali’s house. Bimbisara was a good musician. Before long, Amrapali and Bimbisara fell in love. When she learned his true identity, Amrapali asked Bimbisara to leave and cease his war. Bimbisara, smitten with love, did as she asked. In the eyes of the people of Vaishali, this incident made him a coward. Later, Amrapali bore him a son named Vimala Kondanna.

Ajatashatru, Bimbisara’s son, later invaded Vaishali due to a dispute with his brothers. He was so moved by her beauty that when Amrapali was imprisoned, he burned the whole of Vaishali. Almost everyone died in the massacre, except his beloved Amrapali, but when she saw the condition of her motherland, she renounced her love for him.

One day Amraplai was standing on her terrace and she saw a young Buddhist monk. She had never fallen in love so deeply with anybody at just one glance. A Buddhist monk who had nothing, just a begging bowl –a young man, but of a tremendous presence, awareness, and grace. She rushed out, and asked the monk, “Please accept my food.”

Other monks were not far behind, around, ten thousand monks always followed Buddha and they could not believe what they heard and saw. They were full of guile anger and felt disgust as they saw the young man enter her home.

Buddhist monks don’t travel for four months during the rainy season, the remaining eight months they continuously on the move, and it is said that they don’t stay more than three days in one place.

It is a strange psychology, we may watch it in ourselves : to be attached to a place it takes us at least four days. For example, the first day in a new house we may not be able to sleep, the second day it will be little easier, the third day it will be even easier, and the fourth day we will be able to sleep perfectly and peacefully at home. So if you are a Buddhist monk, you have to leave before that.

“After three days the rainy season will begin…” Said Amrapāli, and I invite you to stay in my house for the four months”. The young monk said, “I will ask my master. If he allows me, I will come.” As he went out there was a crowd of people and monks standing, asking him what had happened. He said, “I have taken my meal, and the woman has asked me to stay the four months of the rainy season in her palace. I told her that I will ask my master.”

People were really angry — one day was already too much; but four months …! Blasphemy!  They rushed to the Master dragging Amrapali with stones in their hands, ready to stone her to death. Even before the young man could reach the assembly, there were hundreds of men standing up and telling him, “This women and man have to be stopped. She is a prostitute, and a monk staying four months in a prostitute’s house …”

“Quiet! Let him arrive. He has not agreed to stay; he will agree only if I allow him. Let him arrive.” The young monk arrived, touched the feet of Buddha and told the whole story, “The woman is a prostitute, a famous prostitute, Amrapali. She has asked me to stay for four months in her house. Every monk will be staying somewhere, in somebody’s house, for the four months. I have said to her that I will ask my master, so here I am … whatever you say.”

Buddha looked into his eyes and said, “You can stay.” It was a shock to ten thousand monks … There was great silence, but great anger, great jealousy, great hatred. They could not believe that Buddha allowed a monk to stay in a prostitute’s house. The monks couldn’t stop their gossips, “The whole city was agog with one talk — that a Buddhist monk is going to stay with Amrapali for four months.”

Buddha stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. (It is said he was writing all the sins of the world).He then spoke “He that is without sin, let him first cast the first stone at her. One by one they dropped their stones down to the ground being convicted by their own conscience, one by one they left, beginning with the eldest, unto the last.

When left alone with the her standing in the midst, Buddha lifted up himself, and said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers? has no man condemned you?”

She said, “No man, Teacher”. And Buddha said to her, Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more.

Buddha said, “You should keep silent. Four months will pass and I trust you. I have looked into his eyes — there is no desire. I trust in my monk, in his awareness, in his meditation. “Why are you getting so agitated and worried ? If my monk’s meditation is deep then he will change Amrapali, and if his meditation is not deep then Amrapali may change him. It is now a question between meditation and a biological attraction. Just wait for four months. I trust my young man. He has been doing perfectly well and I have every certainty he will come out of this fire test absolutely victorious.”

Nobody believed Gautam Buddha. His own disciples thought, “He trusts too much. The man is too young; he is too fresh and Amrapali is much too beautiful. They are taking an unnecessary risk.”

After three days the young man left to stay with Amrapali.

After 4 months, the monk met Buddha and touched his feet followed by Amrapali dressed as a Bhikshuni (Nun). She narrated her attempt to seduce the young monk and losing to his discipline and awareness which led her to completely transform. She donated her land including a large mango grove and other earthly possessions to the Sangha.


Amrapali became a devotee of Buddha, in course of time, she was enlightened and remained an important disciple of Buddha. She proposed that he should take her in his Sangha as a bhikkhuni (Nun), but at first he refused to do so. He told her that there was no arrangement for bhikkhuni in the Sangha. Only bhikkhus (monks) are allowed.Amrapali boldly asked why the arrangement was so. He replied that a woman could break the sanctity of the monks. Amrapali again argued with courage asking whether the monks of the Buddha were that weak, to break their vow around a woman. Buddha could not reply and took the most beautiful woman in his Sangha. Amrapali was posted as the head of the Bhikkhuni Sangha of the Buddha.

On growing up, Vimala Kondanna too became a Buddhist monk.

It is an individual’s choice to pervade through layers of illusion and live life mindfully. Sometimes through Test of Variables of Attention (T.O.V.A)

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(CC) 2016 Tysilyn Fernandez

 

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