In the city of Mantāvatī there was Sumedhā, a daughter of King Koñca’s chief queen; she was converted by those who comply with the teaching.
Virtuous, a brilliant speaker, having great learning, trained in the Buddha’s teaching, going up to her mother and father she said, “Listen, both of you.
I delight in quenching; existence is non-eternal, even if it is as a deity; how much more non-eternal are empty sensual pleasure, giving little enjoyment and much distress.
Sensual pleasures, in which fools are bemused, are bitter, like a snake’s poison. Consigned to hell for a long time, those fools are beaten, pained.
Because of evil action they grieve in downward transition, being evil-minded, without faith; fools are unrestrained in body, speech, and mind.
Those fools, unwise, senseless, hindered by the uprising of pain, not knowing, do not understand the noble truths, when someone is teaching them.
They, the majority, not knowing the truths taught by the excellent Buddha, rejoice in existence, mother; they long for rebirth among the deities.
Even rebirth among the deities is non-eternal; it is in impermanent existence; but fools are not afraid of being reborn again and again.
Four downward transitions and two upward transitions are obtained somehow or other; but for those who have gone to a downward transition there is no going-forth in the hells.
Permit me, both of you, to go forth in the teaching of the ten-powered ones; having little greed I shall strive for the elimination of birth and death
What have I do with existence, with delight, with this unsubstantial worst of bodies? For the sake of the cessation of craving for existence, permit me, I shall go forth.
There is arising of Buddhas; the inopportune moment has been avoided; the opportune moment has been seized. As long as life lasts I would not infringe the rules of virtuous conduct and the living of the holy life.”
So Sumedhā speaks to her mother and father; “Meanwhile I shall not take food as a householder; if I do not go forth I shall indeed have gone into the influence of death.”
Pained, her mother laments, and her father; smitten by grief, strives to reconcile her, (as she lies) fallen to the ground on the roof of the palace.
“Stand up, child; what do you want with grieving? You are bestowed. In Vāraṇavatī is King Anīkaratta, who is handsome; you are bestowed upon him.
You will be the chief queen, the wife of King Anīkaratta. The rules of virtuous conduct, the living of the holy life, going-forth are difficult to perform, child.
In kingship there are orders to give, wealth, authority, happy enjoyments; you are young; enjoy the enjoyments of sensual pleasure; let your marriage take place, child.”
The Sumedhā spoke to them, “May such things not be; existence is unsubstantial. Either there will be going-forth for me or death; not marriage.
Why should I cling to this foul body, impure, smelling of urine, a frightful water-bag of corpses, always flowing, full of impure things?
What do I know it to be like? A body is repulsive, smeared with flesh and blood, food for worms, vultures, and other birds. Why is it given to us?
The body is soon carried out to the cemetery, devoid of consciousness; it is thrown away like a log by disgusted relatives.
When they have thrown it away in the cemetery as food for others, one’s own mother and father wash themselves, disgusted; how much more do common people?
They are attached to the unsubstantial body, an aggregate of bones and sinews, to the foul body, full of saliva, tears, excrement, and urine.
If anyone, dissecting it, were to turn it inside out, even one’s own mother, being unable to bear the smell of it, they would be disgusted.
Reflecting in a reasoned manner that the elements of existence, the elements, the sense-bases are compounded, have rebirth as their root, and are painful, why should I wish for marriage?
Let 300 newly sharpened swords fall on my body every day; even if the striking lasted 100 years it would be better, if in this way there were destruction of pain.
He should submit to this striking who in this way knows the teacher’s utterance, ‘Journeying-on is long for you, being killed again and again.
Among deities and among men, in the womb of animals, and in the body of an asura, among ghosts and in hells, unlimited beatings are seen.
There are many beatings in hells for a defiled one who has gone to downward transitions. Even among the deities there is no protection; there is nothing superior to the happiness of quenching.
Those who are intent upon the teaching of the ten-powered one have attained quenching; having little greed they strive for the elimination of birth and death.
This very day, father, I shall renounce the world; what have I to do with unsubstantial enjoyments? I am disgusted with sensual pleasures; they are like vomit, made groundless, like a palm-tree.”
In this way she spoke to her father, and at the same time Anīkaratta, to whom she was betrothed, surrounded by young men, came to the marriage at the appointed time.
The Sumedhā cut her black, thick, soft hair with a knife, closed the palace door, and entered on the first meditation.
Just as she entered on it, Anīkaratta arrived at the city; in that very palace Sumedhā developed notions of impermanence.
Just as she was pondering, Anīkaratta went up into the palace quickly. With his body adorned with jewels and gold, with cupped hands, he begged Sumedhā.
“In kingship there are (the giving of) orders, wealth, authority, happy enjoyments, you are young; enjoy the enjoyments of sensual pleasures; happiness from sensual pleasures is hard to obtain in the world.
My kingship has been bestowed upon you; enjoy enjoyments; give gifts; do not be depressed; your mother and father are pained.”
Then Sumedhā, unconcerned with sensual pleasures, and free from delusion, said this: “Do not rejoice in sensual pleasures; see the peril in sensual pleasures.”
Mandhātā, king of the four continents, was the foremost of those who had enjoyment of sensual pleasures. He died unsatisfied, not were his wishes fulfilled.
If the rainy one were to rain the seven jewels all around in the ten directions, there would still be no satisfaction with sensual pleasures; men die unsatisfied indeed.
Sensual pleasures are like a butcher’s knife and chopping block; sensual pleasures are like a snake’s head; they burn like a fire-brand; they are like a bony skeleton.
Sensual pleasures are impermanent, unstable, they have much pain, they are great poisons; they are like a heated ball of iron, the root of evil, having pain as the fruit.
Sensual pleasures are like the fruits of a tree, like lumps of flesh, painful; they are like dreams, delusive; sensual pleasures are like borrowed goods.
Sensual pleasures are like swords and stakes, a disease, a tumour, evil destruction, like a pit of coals, the root of evil, fear, slaughter.
In this way sensual pleasures have been said to have much pain, to be hindrances. Go! I myself have no confidence in existence.
What will another do for me when his own head is burning? When old age and death are following closely one must strive for their destruction.”
Opening the door, and seeing her mother and father and Anīkaratta seated on the ground lamenting, she said this:
Journey-on is long for fools and for those who lament again and again at that which is without beginning and end, at the death of a father, the slaughter of a brother, and their own slaughter.
Remember the tears, the milk, the blood, the journeying-on as being without beginning and end; remember the heap of bones of beings who are journeying-on.
Remember the four oceans compared with the tears, milk, and blood; remember the heap of bones of one man for one aeon, equal in size to Mt. Vipula.
Remember the great earth, Jambudīpa, compared with that which without beginning and end for one who is journeying–on. Split up into little balls and size of jujube kernels the number is not equal to his mother’s mothers.
Remember the leaves, twigs, and grass compared with his fathers as being without beginning and end. Split up into pieces four inches long they are indeed not equal to his father’s fathers.
Remember the blind turtle in the eastern sea, and the hole in the yoke to the west; remember the putting on of the yoke as a comparison with the obtaining human birth.
Remember the form of these worst bodies, unsubstantial, like a lump of foam. See the elements of existence as impermanent; remember the hells, giving much distress.
Remember those filling up the cemetery again and again in this birth and that. Remember the fears from the crocodile remember the four truths.
When the undying exist, what do you want with drinking the five bitter things? For all the delights in sensual pleasure are more bitter than the five bitter things.
When the undying exist, what do you want with sensual pleasures which are burning fevers? For all delights in sensual pleasures are on fire, aglow, seething.
When there is no-enmity, what do you want with sensual pleasures which have much enmity? Being similar to kings, fire, thieves, water, and unfriendly people, they have much enmity.
When release exists, what do you want with sensual pleasures, in which are slaughter and bond? For in sensual pleasures, unwilling, people suffer the pains of slaughter and pleasures, unwilling, people suffer the pains of slaughter and bonds.
A grass fire-brand, when kindled, burns the one who holds it and does not let go; sensual pleasures are truly like fire-brands; they burn those who do not let go.
Do not abandon extensive happiness for the sake of a little happiness from sensual pleasures; do not suffer afterwards, like a puthuloma fish which has swallowed the hook.
Willingly, just control yourself among sensual pleasures. You are like a dog bound by a chain; assuredly sensual pleasure will treat you as hungry outcastes treat a dog.
Intent upon sensual pleasures you will suffer both unlimited pain and very many distresses of the mind; give up unstable sensual pleasures.
When the un-aging exists, what do you want with sensual pleasures, in which are old age and death? All births everywhere are bound up with death and sickness.
This is un-aging, this is undying, this is the un-aging, undying state; without grieving, without enmity, unobstructed, without stumbling, without fear, without burning.
This undying has been attained by many, and this is to be obtained even today by one who rightly applies himself; but it cannot be attained by one who does not strive.”
So Sumedhā spoke, not obtaining delight in the constituent elements. Conciliating Anīkaratta, Sumedhā simply threw her hair on the ground.
Standing up Anīkaratta with cupped hands requested her father, “Let Sumedhā go, in order to go forth; she will be one with insight into the truths of complete release.”
Allowed to go by her mother and father, she went forth, frightened by grief and fear; she realized the six supernormal powers while still undergoing training, and also the foremost fruit.
Marvellous, amazing was the quenching of the king’s daughter; as she explained at that last moment her activities in her former habitations.
“In time of the blessed one Koṇāgamana, in the Order’s pleasure park, in a new residence, we three friends, women, gave a gift of a vihāra.
Ten times, one hundred times, ten hundred times, one hundred hundred times we were reborn among the deities. But what need is there to talk about rebirth among men?
We had great supernormal powers among the deities. But what need is there to talk about powers among mankind? I was the queen of a seven-jewelled king; I was his wife-jewel.
That was the cause, that the origin, that the root, that very delight in the teaching, that first meeting, that was quenching for one delighting in the doctrine.”
So they say who have faith in the utterance of the one who has perfect wisdom; they are disgusted with existence; being disgusted with it they are disinterested in it.
Selected and adapted (except where othersie stated) from Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therīgāthā), translated by K.R. Norman (Elders’ Verses II, revised version), The Pali Text Society, Oxford, by Shi Faxun.
The exceprt is from her thesis The “Other” Path: The Bhikkhuni Quest for Liberation, which is available on the eBooks page.