Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sex life of the ancient Buddhist nun Isidasi

Wisdom Quarterly edit from Kevin Rielly, Readings in World Civilizations (Vol. 1, The Great Traditions, NY: St. Martins Press, 1995, p. 144-14)
Isidasi, Uppalavanna, Janapada Kalyani, Khema, Prajapati... beautiful Buddhist nuns seem to be the norm now as before.

In the city of Pataliputta, treasured
on Earth for its glorious flowers,
there were two wandering nuns from the Buddha's own Sakya clan.

One was Isidasi Bhikkhuni, the other Bodhi Bhikkhuni,
both of them virtuous, skilled in meditation, wise,
and freed from painful vices.

They walked for alms, ate dana [charitable donations of food],
washed their earthenware bowls,
and found a place to rest and share their stories.

Bodhi the nun: "You're still beautiful, Isidasi.
Your youth has not yet faded.
What dreadful vision drove you
to renounce the world?"

In that place she told her tale to teach the truth of the Buddha's path. Isidasi the nun replied to Bodhi:

"Hear why I am a wandering nun:
In the great city of Ujjeni,
my father was a merchant of great repute.
I was his only daughter,
deeply loved and pampered.

"A wealthy merchant sent noblemen
from the city of Saketa
to arrange a marriage for his son.

And my father gave me to be that merchant son's wife.

"Day and night I humbled myself
to honor my in-laws.
My training made me bow
my head down at their feet.
When I saw my husband's
sisters and brothers,
I cringed and crept away
to free my seat for them.
I kept fresh-cooked food and drink
and spiced appetizers ready
to serve their demands.

"I woke early every morning
to scrub my hands and feet
before I crossed the threshold
to receive my husband's blessing.
Like a slave girl,
I took combs and scented oils
and my mirror to groom him.
I cooked his rice gruel,
I washed his bowl,
I waited on this husband
like a mother doting on her son.

"Though I was diligent and humble,
meticulous and virtuous
in serving him,
my husband despised me!
He begged his parents,
'Give me your leave.
I must go away. I will not stay
in this house with Isidasi!'

"'Don't speak this way, son!
Isidasi is intelligent and wise,
diligent, meticulous.
Why does she not please you, son?'

"'She does me no harm,
but I will not stay with Isidasi.
I detest her! Enough!
Give me leave, I must go away! '

"My husband's parents
heard his words and questioned me:
'How did you offend him?
Confide what really happened.'

"'I committed no offense or harm
or ever answered his cruel words.
I don't know what I did
to make my husband hate me.'

"They took me back
to my father's house.
'To keep our precious son,
we sacrifice this goddess.'

"Then my father married me
into another wealthy house. The second merchant took me
for half the dowry of the first.
I lived in that house
for barely a month,
serving him like a slave until he sent me back.

"Then my father snared a Buddhist ascetic
on his alms round in front of my father's house; he said,
'Be my daughter's husband!
Throw away your robe and bowl and cup! [You will get
a beautiful wife, riches, and this house in return.]'

"He stayed for only two weeks
before he begged my father:
'Give me my robe and bowl!
I'll wander for alms again!'

"My parents and my family
beseeched him:
'What have we neglected?
Quickly, name your every want!'

"He answered, 'I only want enough to feed myself.
I will not stay in this house
with Isidasi!'
They released, him and he left.

"I brooded in my solitude [contemplating how death
would be better than this humiliation]:
'I'll tell them I'm going to die
unless I can renounce and become a wandering nun.'

"Then the great Buddhist nun Jinadatta Bhikkhuni
came walking for alms
to my father's house. She was
disciplined, wise, and virtuous.

"I rose when I saw her
and offered her my seat.
I bowed at her feet
and offered her charity.
I served her fresh-cooked food
and drink and spicy appetizers.

"When she had eaten I said,
'Lady, I want to be a nun.'
My father argued: 'My child,
you may follow the Buddha's path
by offering food and drink to wandering ascetics and brahmins.'

"I pleaded in tears, begging his blessing:
'I must destroy
the unprofitable karma I have done [in past lives]!'"

Isidasi then reported what she had realized in her advanced meditation, which revealed a pattern extending over her eight preceding lifetimes.]

"When I was 16
the son of this merchant
noticed my maiden youth
and took me.
He had another wife,
who was virtuous and ethical,
in love with her husband.

"I sowed discord between them."

[Prior to that, according to the Buddhist nun and modern Abhidharma scholar Sayalay Susila, Isidasi was reborn as a man, a charming goldsmith who seduced and took delight in seducing many men's wives. Without realizing it, he hurt husbands and broke up families. As a result, he was reborn in the niraya (hellish planes of existence where he suffered horribly in ways too terrible for most modern readers to believe). After a very long time -- suffering exponentially more than the suffering he had caused -- he was reborn in the animal realm as an infant male monkey. When brought before the alpha male, that monkey leader immediately bit off the infant's genitals as if sensing and wishing to prevent future rivalry. Thereafter, he was reborn as a hermaphrodite, then again as a female, all stemming from making a habit of sexual misconduct in that former life. The story of past lives relating to her present misery continues in a former life as a female.]

"As a result I was reborn.
The fruit of seven former lives
made three husbands scorn me,
even though I served them like a slave.
I have ended all this now. "