The Wisdom of Queen Tenderhearted – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Mudulakkha a-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while living in Jetavana
monastery with regard to a monk who, during alms round,
saw a beautiful woman wearing beautiful clothing and
because of this, his mind lost its equilibrium and he became
consumed with desire. When the Buddha became aware of
this, he said to this monk, “Such a situation is natural. It has
happened before to many people of pure mind.” And the
Buddha told this story of the past:
Once upon a time, the Enlightenment Being
[Mudulakkha a] was born into a rich high-class family in
Kāsi, in northern India. He grew to young manhood and
completed his education. Then he gave up ordinary desires
and left the everyday world. He became a holy man and went
to live by himself in the Himalayan forests. He meditated for
a long time, developed high mental powers, and was filled
with inner happiness.
Having run out of salt, one day he came down to the
city of Benares. He spent the night in the royal garden. In the
morning he washed himself, tied his tangled hair in a knot on
top of his head, and dressed in a black antelope skin. He
folded up the robe made of red bark which he usually wore.
Then he went into the city to collect alms food.
When he arrived at the palace gate, King Brahmadatta
was walking back and forth on his terrace. When he saw the
humble looking holy man he thought, “If there is such a thing
as perfect calm, this man must have found it!” He had his
servants bring him into the palace.
The holy man was seated on a luxurious couch and was
fed the very best foods. He thanked the king. The king said,
“You are welcome to live in my royal garden permanently. I
will provide the ‘Four Necessities’ [catu-paccaya-s] – food,
clothing, shelter and medicine. In so doing I may gain merit
leading to rebirth in a heaven world.”
The holy man accepted this kind offer. He spent the
next 16 years living in the royal garden of Benares. During
that time he taught all in the king’s family, and received the
Four Necessities from the king.
One day King Brahmadatta decided he must go to a
frontier area and put down a revolt. Before leaving he
ordered his queen to care for the needs of the holy man. Her
name was Queen Tenderhearted [Mudulakkha ā].
She prepared food every day for the holy man. Then
one day he was late in arriving for his meal. While waiting,
Queen Tenderhearted refreshed herself in a perfumed bath,
dressed in fine clothes and jewelry, and lay down on a little
Meanwhile the Enlightenment Being had been
meditating in a particularly joyful mental state. When he
realized what time it was, he used the power of his mental
purity to fly through the air to the palace.
When Queen Tenderhearted heard the rustling sound
made by his bark robe, she rose up suddenly from her couch.
In so doing, her blouse accidentally slipped down for just a
moment – and the holy man glimpsed her from the window
as he entered. He was surprised by the unusual sight of the
queen’s great beauty.
Desire, which had been subdued but not erased, rose
within him. It was just like a cobra rises, spreading his hood,
from the basket in which it is kept. His desire gained force,
his perfect calm disappeared, and his mind lost its purity. He
was wounded, like a crow with a broken wing.
The holy man could not eat his food. He took it back to
his temple dwelling in the royal garden, and put it under his
bed. His mind was enslaved by the sight of the beauty of
Queen Tenderhearted. His heart was burning with desire. He
remained on his bed, without eating or drinking, for the next
seven days.
Finally the king arrived home again. He circled the city
and then went directly to see the holy man in the garden
temple. Seeing him lying in bed, he thought he was sick. He
cleaned out the temple and sat down next to him. He began
massaging his feet, and asked, “Reverend sir, what has
happened to you? Are you sick?”
The holy man replied, “Oh great king, my only sickness
is that I am caught in the chains of desire.” “What is it you
desire?” asked the king. “Queen Tenderhearted, my lord.”
“Your reverence,” said the king, “I will give Tenderhearted
to you. Come with me.”
When they arrived at the palace, King Brahmadatta had
his queen dressed in her finest clothing and jewelry. Then he
secretly told her to help the unfortunate holy man regain his
purity. She replied, “I know what to do, my lord, I will save
him.” Then the king gave her away and she left the palace
with the holy man.
After they passed through the main gate she said, “We
must have a house to live in. Go back and ask the king for
one.” He returned and asked the king for a house. The king
gave them a tiny run-down hut that people had been using as
an outhouse.
The holy man took the queen to their new home, but
she refused to go inside. He asked why. She said, “Because
it’s filthy! Go back to the king and get a shovel and basket.”
He obeyed and when he returned she ordered him to do all
the cleaning. He even had to plaster the walls and floor with
fresh cow dung!
Then she commanded him to go to the palace and get
her a bed. Then a chair. Then a lamp, bed linen, a cooking
pot, a water pot. She ordered him to get all these things one at
a time, and he obeyed dutifully. She sent him to get water for
her bath and many other things. He set out the water for her
bath and then made up the bed.
Finally they sat down next to each other on the bed.
Suddenly she grabbed him by the whiskers, shook him back
and forth, pulled him towards her and said, “Don’t you
remember that you are a holy man and a priest?”
Only then was he shocked out of his mad infatuation
and made to realize who he was. Having regained his self-
awareness, he thought, “Oh what a pitiful state I have fallen
into. I have been blinded by my desire into becoming a slave.
Beginning with only the sight of a woman, this mad craving
could lead me into a hell world. My body was burning, as if
I’d been shot in the heart with an arrow of desire. But there
was no bleeding wound! Not seeing her body as it really was,
my own foolishness caused all my suffering!”
Then he spoke out loudly, “On this very day I will
return the wise Queen Tenderhearted to the noble King
Brahmadatta. Then I will fly back to my forest home!”
After taking her back, he said to the king, “I don’t want
your queen anymore. Before I had her, she was my one
desire. After I got her, one desire led to another endlessly,
leading only to hell.”
The wise Queen Tenderhearted, by using her
intelligence and knowledge of life, had given a great gift to
the holy man. Rather than taking advantage of his weakness,
she had restored his purity.
In perfect calm the Enlightenment Being rose into the
air, preached to the king, and then magically flew to the
Himalayan forests. He never again returned to the ordinary
world. After meditating for years in peace and joy, he died
and was reborn in a high heaven world.
The Buddha then identified the births, saying:
“The king in those days is today the venerable Ānanda.
Queen Tenderhearted is today the nun Uppalava ā. And I,
myself, was the holy man.”
The moral: “Desire enslaves. Wisdom liberates.”

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