15.1 Isidāsī Therī (400-447)


400. In the city named after a flower, Pataliputta, in the best part of the earth, there were two bhikkhunīs, members of the Sakya clan, possessed of good qualities.

401. One of them was called Isidāsī; the second was called Bodhi. Both possessed virtue, delighted in meditation and study, and had great learning. They had shaken off defilements.

402. When they had wandered for alms, made their meal, and washed their bowls, seated happily in a lonely place, they uttered these words:

403. “You are lovely, noble Isidāsī, your youth has not yet faded. What fault have you seen in household life that you are then intent on renunciation of the world?”

404. Asked in this way in the lonely place, Isidāsī, proficient in the teaching of the doctrine, said: “Hear, Bodhi, how I went forth.

405. “In Ujjeni, best of cities, my father was a merchant, restrained by virtuous conduct. I was his only daughter, dear, and charming, and beloved.

406. “Then from Saketa came men, belonging to a most noble family, to woo me; a merchant with many jewels sent them. To him my father gave me as a daughter-in-law.

407. “Approaching morning and evening I did obeisance with my head to my father-in-law and mother-in-law; I paid homage to their feet, as I had been instructed.

408. “Seeing my husband’s sisters, or his brothers, or his retinue, even my one and only beloved, I trembled and gave them a seat.

409. “I gratified them with food and drink and hard food and whatever was stored there; I brought it forth and gave what was fitting to each.

410. “Arising in good time I approached my lord’s house; having washed my hands and feet, upon the threshold I approached my husband, with cupped hands.

411. “Taking a comb, decorations, collyrium, and a mirror, I myself adorned my lord, like a servant-girl.

412. “I myself prepared the rice-gruel; I myself washed the bowl; I looked after my husband as a mother her only son.

413. “My husband offended against me, who in this way had shown him devotion, an affectionate servant, with humbled pride, an early riser, not lazy, virtuous.

414. “He said to his mother and father, ‘I will take leave and go; I will not be able to live together with Isidāsī in one house.’

415. “‘Do not speak in this way, son; Isidāsī is learned, clever, an early riser, not lazy. Why does she not please you, son?’

416. “‘She does me no harm, but I will not live with Isidāsī; to me she is just odious; I have had enough; having taken leave I will go.’

417. “Hearing his utterance my father-in-law and mother-in-law asked me, ‘What offence have you committed? Tell us confidently how it really was.’

418. I have not offended at all; I have not harmed him; I have not said any evil utterance; what can be done when my husband hates me?’ I said.

419. “Downcast, overcome by pain, they led me back to my father’s house, saying, ‘While keeping our son safe, we have lost the goddess of beauty incarnate.’

420. “Then my father gave me to the kinsmen of a second [= another] rich man, belonging to a noble family, for half the bride-price for which the merchant had taken me.

421. “In his house too I lived a month, then he too rejected me, although I served him like a slave-girl, not harming him, possessed of virtue.

422. “And my father spoke to one who was wandering for alms, a tamer of others and self-tamed, ‘Be my son-in-law; throw away your cloth and pot.’

423. “He too, having lived with me for a fortnight, then said to my father, ‘Give me my cloth and pot and cup; I will beg for alms again.’

424. “Then my father, mother, and all the group of my relatives said to him, ‘Vilhat has not been done for you here? Say quickly, what may be done for you.’

425. “Spoken to in this way, he said, ‘Even if I myself were honoured, I have had enough; I will not be able to live together with Isidāsī in one house.’

426. “Allowed to go, he departed. I for my part, all alone, thought, ‘I shall ask leave and go to die, or I shall go forth as a wanderer.’

427. “Then the noble lady Jinadattā, expert in the discipline, with great learning, possessed of virtue, came to my father’s house on her begging round.

428. “Seeing her in our house, I rose up from my seat and offered it to her; I paid homage to her feet when she had sat down, and I gave her food.

429. “I satisfied her completely with food and drink and hard food and whatever was stored there, and I said, ‘Noble lady, I wish to go forth.’

430. “Then my father said to me, ‘Practise the doctrine in this very place, child; satisfy ascetics and twice-born brahmans with food and drink.’

431. “Then lamenting and cupping my hands I said to my father, ‘Evil indeed was the action I did; I shall destroy it.’

432. “Then my father said to me, ‘Attain awakening and the foremost doctrine, and obtain quenching, which the best of men realized.’

433. “I saluted my mother and father, and all the group of my relatives, and seven days after going forth I attained the three knowledges.

434. “I know my last seven births; I shall relate to you the [action] of which this is the fruit and result; listen to it with attentive mind.

435. “In the city of Erakaccha I was a goldsmith, possessing much wealth. Intoxicated by pride in my youth, I had sexual intercourse with another’s wife.

436. “I fell from there and was cooked in hell; I cooked for a long time; and rising up from there I entered the womb of a female monkey.

437. “A great monkey, leader of the herd, castrated me when I was seven days old; this was the fruit of that action for me, because of having seduced another’s wife.

438. “I fell from there, and dying in the Sindhava forest, I entered the womb of a one-eyed, lame she-goat.

439. “Castrated, and carrying children around for twelve years, I was worm-eaten, tailless, unfit, because of having seduced another’s wife.

440. “I fell from there and was born in a cow belonging to a cattle-dealer; a lac-red calf, castrated, for twelve months

441. “l drew a great plough, and I pulled a cart, blind, tailless, unfit, because of having seduced another’s wife.

442. “I fell from there and was born of a household-slave in the street, as neither a woman nor a man, because of having seduced another’s wife.

443. “In my thirtieth year I died; I was born as a little girl in a carter’s family, which was poor, with little wealth, much oppressed by creditors.

444. “Then, because of the large amount of interest which had accumulated, a caravan-leader removed me from the family-hous and dragged me off wailing.

445. “Then in my sixteenth year, his son, Giridāsa by name, saw me as a maiden of marriageable age and took me as his wife.

446. “He had another wife, virtuous, possessed of good qualities, and famous, affectionate towards her husband; I stirred up enmity with her.

447. “This was the fruit of that action for me, that they went rejecting me, although I served them like a slave-girl. Even of that I have now made an end.”


Isidasi and Bodhi were sitting together

after their morning meal

in a shady corner of the Pataliputta Forest.

Bodhi said to Isidasi,

How did it happen, my sister—

that you came to leave home?

And so Isidasi told Bodhi her story:

My father gave me everything I asked for.

When I came of age, he gave me to a wealthy merchant.

I cared for my husband

as a mother would care for

her only son.

And like a spoiled child,

he constantly complained

and humiliated me in front of others.

When his parents asked him why,

my husband only said,

She is in every way the perfect wife.

Still, I can no longer live in the same house

as Isidasi.

They took me back to my father’s house—

and left me there.

Soon my father gave me to another rich merchant,

but with only half the dowry.

I lived in Number Two’s house

and served him as a slave would serve her master.

And in turn he treated me

as a master would treat a slave.

After a month or so, he too sent me back.

One morning a wanderer came to our door.

He and my father got to talking,

and my father said to him,

Good man, put aside your robes and bowl.

Stay here with us—

and take my daughter as your wife.

The wanderer and I lived together as husband and wife

for two whole weeks.

Then one morning he said to my father,

Good sir, give me back my robes and bowl.

Once again I will take to the open road.

Your daughter is, in all ways, the ideal companion.

Still, I can no longer live in the same house

as Isidasi.

That night I couldn’t sleep.

Something inside was pulling and twisting.

In the morning I gave myself to the Path—

and the Path took me away.

I remember those first weeks and months.

At night I was often cold.

During the day I was often hungry.

And I was lonely all the time.

While meditating late one night,

I saw far, far back—

back to before I was ever Isidasi—

back to when I was the daughter of a poor man

who was always in debt.

I saw the afternoon when a rich merchant

came to collect on a debt—

and my father gave him me instead.

When I came of age,

the merchant’s son took me for his own.

And even though I served him as best I knew how,

after a couple of weeks, he started to complain.

And somehow I wasn’t surprised by what came next.

Listen, my heart.

When they send you away,

make sure you wave goodbye

with both hands.

One river flows towards you.

Another away.

In the end,

you will be the one

to carry yourself


K.R. Norman: 1,210 words

Weingast: 471 words


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