13 – She Who Drives Men Mad
The virtuous are always reluctant to follow a low road. Even when sick with heavy sorrow, their constancy allows them to maintain a steady course.
The Bodhisattva, during his many lives of striving to benefit beings by means of the special qualities of truthfulness, generosity, tranquility, and wisdom, once took birth as a king of the Shibis. Embodying the Dharma and self-discipline, he was able to secure the welfare of his subjects much as a father cares for his children ― influencing them to increase their virtuous qualities and to turn away from wrong actions. And so his subjects rejoiced both in this world and the next.
The king administered justice according to the Dharma, treating both kinsman and commoner alike. And because the people were encouraged to cultivate right action and to obstruct the path of wrongdoing, a ladder to the heavenly realms gradually came into being.
Understanding that the welfare of the world rested in righteousness, the king delighted in the path of the Dharma. :always acting in accord with the Dharma, not allowing — others to violate its precepts, the king thus protected his people. …
Now it happened that one of the principal townsmen in the capital had a daughter of extraordinary beauty, a maiden so exquisite that she appeared to be a goddess incarnate. The merest glimpse of her made it impossible for any but the truly dispassionate to look away, so powerful were the attractions of her charms. And for this reason, her family called her Unmadayanti, ‘She Who Drives Men Mad’.
Needless to say, her father lost no time in telling the king of his daughter. “Your Majesty,” he said, “the very pearl of womanhood has appeared in your realm. Pray, be so kind as to decide whether or not you will accept her as your wife.”
Forthwith, the king ordered a group of brahmans well versed concerning the auspicious marks of women to visit the maiden and determine her suitability as a wife. So the father of Unmadayanti led the brahmans to his house where they were to meet his daughter. Asked to attend on the guests, she began to serve them a meal in the proper manner, but no sooner had the brahmans beheld her than they lost all control of themselves ― as if their eyes and minds had been taken over by strong drink.
Observing that the brahmans had lost all interest in the meal, and that their modesty and composure were quickly slipping away, the householder dismissed his daughter from view and served the brahmans himself. Upon leaving the dinner, the brahmans spoke among themselves:
“Her charms enchant like a magic spell. The very sight of her would distract the purest sage striving for wisdom; how much more a young prince who lives in pleasure? It would be unwise for the king to see her, much less make her his queen, Her beauty would drive him mad; his interest in his duties, both religious and political, would diminish. No good would come of it, and in the end, his subjects would suffer.”
Having thus made up their minds, they reported to the king: “We have seen the maiden, Your Majesty. It is true she is attractive and possesses a certain loveliness, but no more; worse, she has inauspicious marks, for boding ruin and bad luck. Your Majesty ought not even to see her, much less think to wed her. A bad wife veils the glory and opulence of both families, as a cloudy night conceals the moon, obscuring the beauty and symmetry of heaven and earth alike.”
Believing the maiden to be inauspiciously marked and thus unsuitable to his rank, the king lost all desire to possess her. Soon afterward, the householder married his daughter to Abhiparaga, an official of the royal court.
Some time later, the king decided to ride through his capital to observe a religious festival. He drove through the town on his royal chariot, delighting in the decorations and excitement. The streets had been sprinkled and cleaned, and the white ground strewn with blossoms of many colors, while aloft flew colorful flags and lively banners. Everywhere there was dancing, singing, pantomime, and music. The scent of flowers mingled with a rich profusion of odors ― incense, powders, perfumes, ointments, and liquors. Lovely wares were being peddled among the crowds of merry citizens, who were dressed in their finest attire.
On his ride the king neared the house of Abhiparaga. There, Unmadayanti, angry with her sovereign because he had spurned her ― ‘inauspicious marks indeed’ ― stood atop the flat roof of the house, pretending to be curious to see him. As a flash of lightning illuminates a cloud, so did her presence charge the scene. And she wondered in her heart if this king would be able to remain firm and unshaken by such an inauspicious person as herself.
As she faced him, the king’s eyes fell upon her. Now the king was accustomed to the wanton airs of harem beauties. He also possessed a modest disposition, great constancy, and a strong sense of shame. Attached to the path of virtue, and thus greatly afraid of the looks of young women attached to others, he was practiced in subduing the senses. But he was no match for the god of love. Powerless to turn away, he gazed at her for a long time.
“Is she perhaps the goddess of that house?” he thought. “is she an apsaras or a demoness? Or Kaumuda, the lovely wife of the moon? Surely, she cannot be human.” And thus he continued to ponder as his chariot drove on. Returning to his palace like one absent-minded, he thought of nothing but her, his firmness of mind utterly destroyed. After a few days, he took his charioteer Sunanda aside and asked: “Whose is the house that is surrounded by a white wall? And who is she whose beauty shines like lightning in a white cloud?”
Sunanda answered: “Your Majesty has a high official by the name of Abhiparaga. That is his house, and that woman is his wife. She is the daughter of Kiritavaba; people call her Unmadayanti, ‘She Who Drives Men Mad’.”
Discovering that she was the wife of another plunged the king into despair. Sighing long and deeply, his eyes fixed and unmoving, he said to himself in a low voice: “Alas! This creature is named all too well, for her sweet smile has driven me to distraction. That this weakness of mine concerns the wife of another means I must indeed be mad. If only I could forget her!
“Yet she is never far from my thoughts; she rules my mind. Shame has left me, and sleep as well. If only I could give myself over to thoughts of her graceful features, her eyes, her smile, her beauty. The gong striking to remind me of my duties arouses only my wrath.”
Thus was the king’s constancy deeply shaken by the power of passionate love. Try as he might to compose his mind, or disguise his state, his fixed and staring eyes, his emaciated body and languishing appearance manifested his heart’s affliction for all to see.
Abhiparaga, the king’s officer, a skilled judge of character, soon observed the changed behavior of his sovereign. Discovering the cause, and knowing well the excessive power of the god of love, he foresaw evil consequences unless some remedy were found. Since he loved his king, he sought a private audience and approaching his lord, he said: “During my morning prayers today, Oh Lotus-eyed Ruler, a yaksha appeared before me saying: ‘The king has fallen in love with Unmadayanti. How can you ignore it?’ And then he vanished. Immediately I came to you. If what he said is true, Your Majesty, why have you remained silent? Do me the favor of taking her.”
The king was confounded and dared not lift up his eyes for shame. Nevertheless, even though he was caught in the clutches of love, he would not let his firmness falter, because of his deep knowledge of the Dharma, and a long and good practice.
“No, that cannot be,” he said simply. “And for what reasons? First, all my merit would be lost, and I am not immortal. Second, my wicked deed would inevitably become known to the public. And finally, when you were separated from your wife, you would burn with the fire of sorrow ― a fire which would consume you as surely as flames consume dry grass. The action you suggest would cause distress in both this world and the next. Although the ignorant would accept your offer, the wise would refuse it because of these reasons.”
Abhiparaga replied: “Do not fear, Your Majesty, that you will transgress the teachings of the Dharma. Does not the Dharma tell us to accept all gifts that are offered? Therefore you do me a wrong by rejecting mine. You are obstructing my practice of generosity. Nor should you fear damage to your reputation: This is an arrangement purely between the two of us. Nobody else need know of it! Further, this transaction is a favor to me, not a grief. What harm can come to me when my greatest satisfaction lies in serving my king? I beg of you, quietly go and indulge your love. No harm will come to me.”
“Stop!” cried the king. “No more of that wicked reasoning: Your attachment to me prevents you from right understanding. Every gift does not need to be accepted. The man who would give his life for me is my true friend, dearer to me than any kin; therefore, I must also respect his wife. You do me wrong to entice me so.
“And would it be any less sinful if nobody else knew? To commit a wicked action unwitnessed, expecting to find happiness, is as foolish as to drink poison unseen, expecting to live. Both the pure-sighted gods and the holy ascetics among men never fail to witness everything.
“Further, I ask you this: Who can believe that you do not love her or that you will not despair as soon as you have given her up?”
Abhiparaga replied: “You are my master, lord. I am your slave, along with my wife and children. What law is broken if you act as you please toward your female slave? What matter if I should love her? In fact, for that very reason I desire to give her to you! He who gives something highly prized receives all he might wish for in this world and exceeding happiness in the next. Therefore, pray, take her.”
But still the king refused. “Do not say so! It is impossible! I would rather throw myself on a sharp sword or into a blaze of angry flames than offend against the Dharma. For I have always followed its teachings; truly the Dharma is the source of all glory.”
“Very well,” said Abhiparaga. “Since Your Majesty will not have her because she is my wife, I shall command her to be a whore. Available to anyone who craves her, she will be yours for the asking.”
“Are you mad?” asked the king. “To abandon your guilty wife would force me to punish you; it would also begin a chain of events full of grief and sadness for many lifetimes to come. You must stop this. Direct your mind to justice and purity.
Abhiparaga persisted: “Whatever the consequences, I shall gladly face them for your happiness, even though my actions violate the Dharma, draw censure upon me, and destroy my own happiness. No one in the world is more worthy than you to be worshipped, Oh most mighty ruler of the earth. Like a priest, pray help me to increase my merit ― accept my wife as your offering.”
The king replied: “I know it is your great affection for me that prompts you to promote my welfare without concern for right or wrong. But such love encourages me to prevent you all the more. Indifference to the censure of others cannot be condoned. Look here! Whoever neglects virtue, who ignores both the censure of this world and the consequences to be experienced in the next, wins distrust now and gives up hope for happiness later. One must never take pleasure in what is wrong. The advantages are trifling and uncertain, the harm great and unquestionable.
“Also consider that the virtuous abhor all pleasures procured at the expense of others. Standing on the ground of right action, I alone bear the cost of my private interests, hoping never to cause pain to anyone else.”
Abhiparaga countered: “But where is the injustice? Moved by attachment to my lord, I wish to honor him. Every Shibi, from town or country, would join with me to ask: ‘Where is the injustice in this deed? Where the harm?’ Be pleased, therefore, to take her, Your Majesty.”
“Clearly, you have my benefit in mind. But stop and think. Who knows the Dharma best, the whole of the Shibis, you, or your king?”
Hastily Abhiparaga answered: “In all matters, you, Your Majesty, are the most competent judge, equal to Brhaspati, the priest of the gods. Your assiduous study, your great regard for sacred lore, and the inherent wisdom of your mind are all unparalleled.”
The king replied: “This being so, you should not attempt to mislead me. For remember both the evil and the good of the people depend on the actions of their rulers. And because I am always thinking of the good of my subjects, I shall continue to love the path of the virtuous, in accord with my reputation. As cattle follow the leader of the herd in any direction, right or wrong, so will the people imitate their ruler without any scruples.
“Consider this as well. If I lack the power to rule myself, how could I lead my people, who long for my protection? Thus, in view of the Dharma and my spotless reputation, I can never allow myself to submit to my passion: I am the protector of my subjects, the leader of my herd.”
Finally Abhiparaga, the king’s official, bowed to the king, his hands folded in reverence. Appeased by the constancy of his king, he said: “Majesty! Your subjects are favored by destiny to have such a ruler, such a guardian king! Love of virtue so utterly disregarding of pleasure is seldom seen even in the groves of the ascetics. When Virtue is given as a name to one devoid of virtue, it has a harsh and grating sound, as if it were contempt instead of praise. But for you, Oh Great King, the name ‘Great’ is a brilliant ornament. Yet why should I be astonished at your virtues, you who are as full of Ortue as the sea is full of jewels?”
From this story one can see how the virtuous, even when sick with sorrow, because of their long and pure practice of the Dharma and their constancy, are ever disinclined to follow the path of the low-minded. Considering this, one ought to strive to practice the Dharma and to develop constancy.