In the days when India was the fortunate home of an Awakened
One, a husband and wife lived within its borders with an only daughter,
who was exceedingly beautiful. Their family life was a happy and
harmonious one. Then one day pestilence broke out in their hometown.
Amongst those fleeing from the disaster area was also this family
with their grown-up daughter.
They went to Kosambi, the capital of the kingdom of Vamsa in
the valley of the Ganges. The municipality had erected a public
eating-hall for the refugees. There the daughter, Samavati, went
to obtain food. The first day she took three portions, the second
day two portions and on the third day only one portion.
Mitta, the man who was distributing the food, could not resist
from asking her somewhat ironically, whether she had finally realized
the capacity of her stomach. Samavati replied quite calmly: On the
first day her father had died and so she only needed food for two
people; on the second day her mother had succumbed to the dreaded
disease, and so she only needed food for herself. The official felt
ashamed about his sarcastic remark and wholeheartedly begged her
forgiveness. A long conversation ensued. When he found out that
she was all alone in the world, he proposed to adopt her as his
foster-child. She was happy to accept and was now relieved of all
worries about her livelihood.
Samavati immediately began helping her foster father with the
distribution of the food and the care of the refugees.
Thanks to her efficiency and circumspection, the former chaos
became channeled into orderly activity. Nobody tried to get ahead
of others any more, nobody quarreled, and everyone was content.
Soon the Finance Minister of the king, Ghosaka, became aware
that the public food distribution was taking place without noise
and tumult. When he expressed his praise and appreciation to the
food-distributor, the official replied modestly that his foster-daughter
was mainly responsible for this. In this way Ghosaka met Samavati
and was so impressed with her noble bearing, that he decided to
adopt her as his own daughter. His manager consented, even if somewhat
woefully, because he did not want to be in the way of Samavati's
fortune. So Ghosaka took her into his house and thereby she became
heiress of a vast fortune and became part of the most exalted circles
of the land.
The king, who was living in Kosambi at that time, was Udena.
He had two chief consorts. One was Vasuladatta, whom he had married
both for political reasons and because she was very beautiful, but
these were her only assets. The second one, Magandiya, was not only
very beautiful, but also very clever though without heart. So the
King was not emotionally contented with his two wives.
One day king Udena met the charming, adopted daughter of his
Finance Minister and fell in love with her at first sight. He felt
magically attracted by her loving and generous nature. Samavati
had exactly what was missing in both his other wives. King Udena
sent a messenger to Ghosaka and asked him to give Samavati to him
in marriage. Ghosaka was thrown into an emotional upheaval. He loved
Samavati above all else, and she had become indispensable to him.
She was the delight of his life. On the other hand, he knew his
king's temperament and was afraid to deny him his request. But in
the end his attachment to Samavati won and he thought: "Better
to die than to live without her."
As usual, King Udena lost his temper. In his fury he dismissed
Ghosaka from his post as Finance Minister and banned him from his
kingdom and did not allow Samavati to accompany him. He took over
his minister's property and locked up his magnificent mansion. Samavati
was desolate that Ghosaka had to suffer so much on her account and
had lost not only her, but also his home and belongings. Out of
compassion for her adopted father, to whom she was devoted with
great gratitude, she decided to make an end to this dispute by voluntarily
becoming the king's wife. She went to the Palace and informed the
King of her decision. The king was immediately appeased and restored
Ghosaka to his former position, as well as rescinding all other
measures against him.
Because Samavati had great love for everyone, she had so much
inner strength that this decision was not a difficult one for her.
It was not important to her where she lived: whether in the house
of the Finance Minister as his favorite daughter, or in the palace
as the favorite wife of the king, or in obscurity as when she was
in the house of her parents, or as a poor refugee she always
found peace in her own heart and was happy regardless of outer circumstances.
Samavati's life at the court of one of the Maharajas of that
time fell into a harmonious pattern. Amongst her servants, there
was one, named Khujjuttara the "hunch-backed." Outwardly
she was ill-formed, but otherwise very capable. Everyday the Queen
gave her eight gold coins to buy flowers for the women's quarters
of the palace. But Khujjuttara always bought only four coins worth
and used the rest for herself. One day when she was buying flowers
again for her mistress from the gardener, a monk was taking his
meal there. He was of majestic appearance. When he gave a discourse
to the gardener after the meal, Khujjuttara listened. The monk was
the Buddha. He directed his discourse in such a way that he spoke
directly to Khujjuttara's heart. And his teaching penetrated into
her inner being. Just from hearing this one discourse, so well expounded,
she attained stream-entry. Without quite knowing what had happened
to her, she was a totally changed person. The whole world, which
had seemed so obvious and real to her until now, appeared as a dream,
apart from reality. The first thing she did that day was to buy
flowers for all of the eight coins. She regretted her former dishonesty
When the Queen asked her why there were suddenly so many flowers
Khujjuttara fell at the Queen's feet and confessed her theft. When
Samavati forgave her magnanimously, Khujjuttara told her what was
closest to her heart, namely, that she had heard a discourse by
the Buddha, which had changed her life. She could not be specific
about the contents of the teaching, but Samavati could see for herself
what a wholesome and healing influence the teaching had had on her
servant. She made Khujjuttara her personal attendant and told her
to visit the Monastery every day to listen to the Dhamma and then
repeat it to her.
Khujjuttara had an outstanding memory and what she had heard
once, she could repeat verbatim. Later on she made a collection
of discourses she had heard from the Buddha or one of his enlightened
disciples during these days at Kosambi, and from it developed the
book now called Itivuttaka ("It-was-said-thus"),
composed of 112 small discourses.
When king Udena once again told his beloved Samavati that she
could wish for anything and he would fulfill it, she wished that
the Buddha would come to the palace daily to have his food there
and propound his teaching. The king's courier took the message of
this perpetual invitation to the Buddha, but he declined and instead
sent his cousin Ananda.
From then on Ananda went to the palace daily for his meal and
afterward gave a Dhamma discourse. The Queen had already been well
prepared by Khujjuttara's reports, and within a short time she understood
the meaning and attained to stream-entry, just as her maid-servant
Now, through their common understanding of the Dhamma, the Queen
and the maid became equal. Within a short time, the teaching spread
through the whole of the women's quarters and there was hardly anyone
who did not become a disciple of the Awakened One. Even Samavati's
step-father, the Finance Minister Ghosaka, was deeply touched by
the teaching. Similarly to Anathapindika, he donated a large monastery
in Kosambi to the Sangha, so that the monks would have a secure
and satisfying shelter. Every time the Buddha visited Kosambi he
stayed in this Monastery named Ghositarama, and other monks and
holy people also would find shelter there.
Through the influence of the Dhamma, Samavati became determined
to develop her abilities more intensively. Her most important asset
was the way she could feel sympathy for all beings and could penetrate
everyone with loving-kindness and compassion. She was able to develop
this faculty so strongly that the Buddha called her the woman lay-disciple
most skilled in metta ("loving-kindness"). (A I.19)
This all-pervading love was soon to be tested severely. It happened
like this: The second main consort of the king, Magandiya, was imbued
with virulent hatred against everything "Buddhist." Once
her father had heard the Buddha preach about unconditional love
to all beings, and it had seemed to him that the Buddha was the
most worthy one to marry his daughter. In his naive ignorance of
the rules of the monks, he offered his daughter to the Buddha as
his wife. Magandiya was very beautiful and had been desired by many
The Buddha declined the offer but by speaking a single verse
about the unattractiveness of the body caused her father and mother
to attain the fruit of nonreturning. This was the Buddha's verse,
as recorded in the Sutta Nipata (v.835):
Having seen craving with Discontent and Lust,[*]
was not in me any wish for sex;
How then for this, dung-and-urine
I should not be willing to touch with my foot.
* [The three beautiful daughters of Mara (the tempter).]
But Magandiya thought that the Buddha's rejection of her was
an insult and therefore hatred against him and his disciples arose
in her. She became the wife of King Udena and when he took a third
wife, she could willingly accept that, as it was the custom in her
day. But that Samavati had become a disciple of the Buddha and had
converted the other women in the palace to his teaching, she could
not tolerate. Her hatred against everything connected with the Buddha
now turned against Samavati as his representative. She thought up
one meanness after another, and her sharp intelligence served only
to conjure up new misdeeds.
First she told the King that Samavati was trying to take his
life. But the King was well aware of Samavati's great love for all
beings, so that he did not even take this accusation seriously,
barely listened to it, and forgot it almost immediately.
Secondly, Magandiya ordered one of her maid-servants to spread
rumors about the Buddha and his monks in Kosambi, so that Samavati
would also be maligned. With this she was more successful. A wave
of aversion struck the whole order to such an extent that Ananda
suggested to the Buddha that they leave town. The Buddha smiled
and said that the purity of the monks would silence all rumors within
a week. Hardly had King Udena heard the gossip leveled against the
Order, than it had already subsided. Magandiya's second attempt
against Samavati had failed.
Some time later Magandiya had eight specially selected chickens
sent to the King and suggested that Samavati should kill them and
prepare them for a meal. Samavati refused to do this, as she would
not kill any living beings. Since the King knew of her all-embracing
love, he did not lose his temper, but accepted her decision.
Magandiya then tried for a fourth time to harm Samavati. Just
prior to the week which King Udena was to spend with Samavati, Magandiya
hid a poisonous snake in Samavati's chambers, but the poison sacs
had been removed. When King Udena discovered the snake, all evidence
pointed towards Samavati. His passionate fury made him lose all
control. He reached for his bow and arrow and aimed at Samavati.
But the arrow rebounded from her without doing any harm. His hatred
could not influence her loving concern for him, which continued
to emanate from her.
When King Udena regained his equilibrium and saw the miracle
that his arrow could not harm Samavati, he was deeply moved. He
asked her forgiveness and was even more convinced of her nobility
and faithfulness. He became interested in the teaching which had
given such strength to his wife.
When a famous monk, named Pindola Bharadvaja stayed at the Ghosita
Monastery, the King visited him and discussed the teaching with
him. He learned that the young monks, according to the Buddha's
advice, instead of having contact with women tried to attain the
feelings as towards a mother, sister, or daughter thereby they overcame
their dependence on the opposite sex and could live joyously as
celibates in spite of their youth. At the end of the discourse,
the King was so impressed that he took refuge in the Buddha and
became a lay disciple. (S 35,127)
Samavati had been thinking about the wonders of the Dhamma and
the intricacies of karmic influences. One thing had led to another:
she had come to Kosambi as a poor refugee; then the food-distributor
had given her shelter; the Finance Minister had taken her on as
his daughter; then she became the King's wife; her maid-servant
had brought the teaching to her; and she became a disciple and stream-winner.
Subsequently she spread the teaching to all the women in the palace,
then to Ghosaka and now lastly also to the King. How convincing
Truth was! She often thought in this way and then permeated all
beings with loving-kindness, wishing them happiness.
The King now tried more determinedly to control his passionate
nature and to subdue greed and hate. His talks with Samavati were
very helpful to him in this respect. Slowly this development culminated
in his losing all sexual craving when he was in Samavati's company
as he was trying to attain the feelings towards women of mother,
sister and daughter in himself. While he was not free of sexual
desire towards his other wives, he was willing to let Samavati continue
on her Path to emancipation unhindered. Soon she attained to the
state of once-returner and drew nearer and nearer to nonreturner,
an attainment which many men and women could achieve in lay-life
in those days.
Magandiya had suspended her attacks for some time, but continued
to ponder how to harm the Buddha through Samavati. After much brooding,
she initiated a plan. She brought some of her relatives to her point
of view and uttered slander against Samavati to them. Then she proposed
to kill her. So that it would not attract attention, but would appear
to be an accident, the whole women's palace was to be set on fire.
The plan was worked out in all details. Magandiya left town some
time beforehand, so that no suspicion could fall on her.
This deed of arson resulted in sky-high flames which demolished
the wooden palace totally and the 500 women [*] residing in it were
all killed, including Samavati. The news of this disaster spread
around town very quickly. No other topic of conversation could be
heard there. Several monks, who had not been ordained very long,
were also affected by the agitation and after their almsround they
went to the Buddha and inquired what would be the future rebirth
of these women lay disciples with Samavati as their leader.
* [Five hundred just means 'a great many' in Pali.]
The Awakened One calmed their excited hearts and diverted their
curiosity about this most interesting question of rebirth, by answering
very briefly: "Amongst these women, O monks, there are some
disciples who are stream-enterers, some who are once-returners and
some who are nonreturners. None of these lay disciples failed to
receive the fruits of their past deeds." (Ud VII, 10)
The Buddha mentioned here the first three fruits of the Dhamma:
stream-entry, once-returner and nonreturner. All these disciples
were safe from rebirth below the human realm, and each one was securely
going towards the final goal of total liberation. This was the most
important aspect of their lives and deaths and the Buddha would
not elucidate any further details. Once he mentioned to Ananda that
it was a vexation for the Enlightened One to explain the future
births of all disciples who died. (D 16 11)
The Buddha later explained to some monks who were discussing
how "unjust" it was that these faithful disciples should
die such a terrible death, that the women experienced this because
of a joint deed they had committed many life-times ago. Once Samavati
had been Queen of Benares. She had gone with her ladies-in-waiting
to bathe and feeling cold, she asked that a bush be burned to give
some warmth. She saw only too late that a monk a Pacceka
Buddha was sitting immobile within the bush; he was not harmed,
however, because one cannot kill Awakened Ones. The women did not
know this and feared that they would be blamed for having made a
fire without due caution. Thereupon Samavati had the deluded idea
to pour oil over this monk who was sitting in total absorption,
so that burning him would obliterate their mistake. This plan could
not succeed however, but the bad intention and attempt had to carry
karmic resultants. In this lifetime the ripening of the result had
The Buddha has declared that one of the favorable results of
the practice of Metta (loving-kindness) is the fact that
fire, poison and weapons do no harm to the practitioner. This has
to be understood in such a way: during the actual emanation of loving-kindness
the one who manifests this radiance cannot be hurt, just as Samavati
proved when the king's arrow did not penetrate her.
But at other times fire could incinerate her body. Samavati had
become a nonreturner, and was therefore free of all sensual desire
and hate and no longer identified with her body. Her radiant, soft
heart was imbued with the four divine abidings [*] and was unassailable
and untouched by the fire. Her inner being could not be burned and
that which was burned was the body only. It is a rare happening
that one of the Holy Ones is murdered (see Mahamoggallana, Kaludayi)
or that one of the Buddhas is threatened with murder (see Devadatta's
attempt on the Buddha Gautama) and equally rare is it to find that
one perfected in metta and attained to nonreturner should
die a violent death. All three types of persons, however, have in
common that their hearts can no longer be swayed by this violence.
* [Four divine abidings: Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic
Samavati's last words were: "It would not be an easy matter,
even with the knowledge of a Buddha, to determine exactly the number
of times our bodies have thus been burned with fire as we have passed
from birth to birth in the round of existences which has no conceivable
beginning. Therefore, be heedful!" Those ladies meditated on
painful feeling and so gained the Noble Paths and Fruits.
Two thousand years after the Parinibbana of the Buddha, in 1582,
soldiers burned a Buddhist Monastery in Japan and all the monks
inside were burned to death. The last thing the soldiers beard before
everything burned down were the words of the Abbot:
Who has liberated heart and mind,
For him fire is only
a cool wind.
Referring to the tragedy of the fire at Kosambi, the Buddha spoke
the following verse to the monks:
The world is in delusion's grip,
Its form is seen as real;
The fool is in the "assets" [*] grip,
Both seem to last forever
But nothing is there
for one who Sees.
* [Assets: Upadhi. The basis for life and continued
birth and death.]
King Udena was overwhelmed with grief at Samavati's death and
kept brooding about who could be the perpetrator of this ghastly
deed. He came to the conclusion that it must have been Magandiya.
He did not want to question her directly because she would deny
it. So he thought of a ruse. He said to his Ministers: "Until
now I have always been apprehensive, because Samavati was forever
seeking an occasion to slay me. But now I shall be able to sleep
in peace." The Ministers asked the king who it could have been
that had done this deed, "Only someone who really loves me,"
the king replied. Magandiya had been standing near and when she
heard that, she came forward and proudly admitted that she alone
was responsible for the fire and the death of the women and Samavati.
The King said that he would grant her and all her relatives a boon
When all the relatives were assembled, the King had them burned
publicly and then had the earth plowed under so that all traces
of the ashes were destroyed. He had Magandiya executed as a mass-murderess,
which was his duty and responsibility, but his fury knew no bounds
and he still looked for revenge. He had her killed with utmost cruelty.
She died an excruciating death, which was only a fore-taste of the
tortures awaiting her in the nether world, after which she would
have to roam in samsara [*] for a long, long time to come.