Long long ago, in the time of Lord Buddha. there lived a dancer in the city of Mathura. She was known as Vasavadatta. She was well known for her beauty and dance. Although she had many a suitor, none had the character she was looking for.
One evening Vasavadatta was looking out through the window when she saw a handsome young monk passing by. He was none other than Upagupta, an ardent disciple of Lord Buddha.
Vasavadatta fell in love with him at once and asked her maid to call the young monk to her house.
The maid rushed to the monk and said, “Vasavadatta, my lady, wishes to see you. Oh the holy one, will you come in?”
The monk gracefully replied, “No, not now, but I will see her in time.”
Vasavadatta was disappointed. She thought that perhaps the poor monk was embarrassed to come bearing no gift. After all, the rich noblemen always came with gifts of gold and jewels. She asked her maid to run out and tell the monk that she wanted only his company and he need not bring any gift.
The maid once again conveyed to Upagupta Vasavadatta’s wishes.
Upagupta replied gently but firmly, “No, I cannot. It is not yet time to visit Vasavadatta.”
Disappointed Vasavadatta stopped dancing. The people were mad.
“What is the matter with her? She seems to be always unhappy” complained the nobles.
Vasavadatta’s maid knew her sorrow and was sad to see her beloved mistress always brooding over that heartless monk who refused to visit her.
To get her mind off of the monk, the maid asked Vasavadatta to go an visit the exhibition of a young sculptor of Mathura. As Vasavadatta admired the works of art, the young sculptor was secretly admiring her beauty. His thought was interrupted when Vasavadatta found a sculpture that she liked.
Vasavadatta asked, “This is so beautiful. How much does it cost? Will you sell it to me?”
The young sculptor replied, “You might find the price too high.”
Proudly Vasavadatta said, “Whatever its price, I am prepared to pay it.”
“It is yours, if you agree to dance again” said the young sculptor.
The sculptor said, “Are you going to go back on your word? You promised to pay any price!” Vasavadatta agreed to keep her promise by dancing again. The people of Mathura thanked the sculptor. The audience gave a thundering applause to Vasavadatta but in her heart Vasavadatta was still not happy.
She kept on thinking, “Why did Upagupta shun her when thousands of people long for a sight of her.”
In the days that followed, the chief sculptor got increasingly interested in Vasavadatta. He asked her to pose for him so that he could capture her image in stone.
Seeing his exquisite work, Vasavadatta commented, “My art will die with me but your art will last for centuries to come.”
The sculptor remarked, “I am so happy to see my talent bring happiness to you.”
A few days later, the sculpture vanished. Both Vasavadatta and her maid were worried. They thought he might have left town. To their horror his body was found buried, not far from Vasavadatta’s house.
People reported that the young sculptor was last seen entering Vasavadatta’s house three days before he was killed. The enemies of the sculptor, who were jealous of him for getting the favor of Vasavadatta, had killed him and secretly buried him near Vasavadatta’s house so that she would be falsely accused of the crime.
The king called Vasavadatta for an explanation. Shocked Vasavadatta had nothing to say. He confiscated all her property and banished her from Mathura. People threw stones at her and she was badly wounded. Finally she took shelter in a crematory. Her dearest maid knew that she was innocent. Vasavadatta was deliberatelly framed for the murder.
Vasavadatta soon became ill as her wounds got infected. She received no sympathy or medical help from anyone except her faithful maid. The passers-by would often throw stones at her and asked the maid to leave her to die.
“She deserves that for the sin she has committed!” they shouted.
Then came Upagupta, the Buddhist monk. Vasavadatta asked her maid to cover her. She did not want to show her wounded face to her beloved, Upagupta.
Upagupta said, “Vasvadatta, I have come to you just as you always desired.”
“Oh monk! You rejected me when all of Mathura admired me,” said Vasavadatta.
“Why do you choose to come now when I am nothing but a mass of festering flesh, shunned by all?” asked she.
Upagupta smiled and said with great compassion, “At that time you did not need me, Vasavadatta. You do now. Come, let me take you to my monastery and allow me heal your wounds.”
In due course Vasavadatta recovered under the care and nursing of the young monk. But she lost her beauty and was always depressed.
Seeing this, Upagupta consoled her, “Vasavadatta, you are sorry for loosing your beauty which lasts only as long as you are young. You are yet to discover a beauty greater than that you have lost, the beauty of the self. Come with me and listen to Lord Buddha, it will bring you peace and eternal happiness.”
Vasavadatta, curious to know more, began to attend the discourses of Lord Buddha.
“You can’t call your body your own!” Buddha said in his discourse. “When the body is cast away, it becomes food for the vultures. Light the lamp within you, only then, will you find true peace.”
Quietly Vasavadatta began to think and repeat to herself, “Light the lamp within you, peace will come —.”
When the discourse ended, Vasavadatta fell at the feet of Lord Buddha seeking salvation.
Buddha blessed her, “So be it, my child. May you find peace.”
Upagupta – The Buddhist Monk – Buddhist Tales