At one time the Buddha was wandering through the border area of Magadha and in due course arrived at the City of Vaiśālī. With a great number of bhikṣus, altogether five hundred persons, [he] put up at Āmrāpali’s Park north of Vaiśālī.
Having heard that the Exalted One had come and was staying in her park together with five hundred bhikṣus, a woman, Āmrapāli [by name], had a carriage made ready [which was decorated with] precious wings, and mounted it. She drove from Vaiśālī City to the access to a hidden track[ii] and then made her way to the Exalted One’s whereabouts. She alighted from the carriage and went on foot to where the Exalted One was.
When he saw that woman at a distance come, he said to the bhikṣus: Everybody should absolutely be on his guard lest wrong thoughts should arise in him.[iii]
On her arrival at the place where the Exalted One was, the woman bowed down her head at [the Buddha’s] feet and sat down at one side. Now the Exalted One expounded [to her] the most excellent (atipraṇīta) Teaching.
Thereafter the woman said to the Buddha: May the Exalted One, together with the order of bhikṣus, kindly accept my invitation [to tomorrow’s meal].
The Exalted One consented by silence, and the woman, understanding that by his silence he had accepted her invitation, rose from her seat, bowed down her head at [his] feet and left.
By that time [all] male and female [inhabitants of] Vaiśālī, great and small, had heard that the Exalted One was staying at Āmrapāli’s Park with a great number of bhikṣus, altogether five hundred persons. In the city there were five hundred youths (kumāra);[iv] they mounted various kinds of carriages [decorated with] precious wings. Some of them mounted white carriages [drawn by] white horses; their clothes, parasols, banners and streamers, retinue – all were in white. Others mounted red… blue… yellow carriages [drawn by] yellow horses; their clothes, parasols, banners and streamers, retinue – all were in yellow. They looked majestic and extraordinarily smart, behaving like kings.
They left Vaiśālī City and drove towards the place where the Exalted One was. While they had not yet reached the [main] road, they met that woman, moving [with speed] and whipping her draught-animals galloping towards the centre of the city.
You are a woman that should be ashamed of herself, the youths [shouted] and wanted to know from her why she was whipping her draught-animals,[v] steering her carriage with great speed towards the centre of the city.
My dear friends (bhadra), the woman informed [them after having brought her carriage to a halt], I would have you know that I have invited the Buddha and his order of bhikṣus to tomorrow[’s meal]. It is just for this reason that [I] am driving my carriage [at speed].
To this the youths replied: We would also like to [treat] the Buddha and his order of bhikṣus to a meal. Now [we] offer you one thousand ounces of pure gold for giving us the exclusive right to [treat them] to a meal tomorrow.
Stop talking, sons of a great clan,[vi] the woman said, I do not comply.
The youths went on offering her two, three, four, five – up to one hundred thousand ounces of gold, [asking her whether she would] agree or not to give them the right [to treat] the Buddha and his order of bhikṣus to the next day’s meal.
The woman [, however,] insisted: I do not comply because the Exalted One has repeatedly spoken of two kinds of longing (chanda) which man cannot give up. Which are the two? The longing for benefit (hita) and the longing for long life (āyus). Who could guarantee my still being [alive] tomorrow? So I have invited the Tathāgata first, and now I have got to make all the preparations.
The youths proceeded to where the Exalted One was. They bowed down their heads… and stood at one side. When the Exalted One had seen the youths come, he said to the bhikṣus:
O bhikṣus, look at the majestic appearance and the gorgeous dress of [these] youths; they look exactly like Śakra[ix] being on tour.
Then the Exalted One said to the youths: There are two kinds of essential disposition (vastu) which are virtually non-existent (anupalabdha) in the world. Which are the two?
(1) The habit of a person never to neglect rendering [others] a small service (upakāra), (2) let alone a great one. These are the two kinds of essential disposition, young men, which are practically non-existent. You should know, repeatedly bring back into your minds, recognise and [finally] overcome being careless about rendering [others] a small service, let along a great one.
After [this exhortation] the Exalted One uttered the following verses[x]:
He who knows how to render [others] a service
And realises [that this should be done] repeatedly,
Being always mindful and communicating [this
Knowledge] to people, [will be] endowed with
Insight-knowledge, himself being revered and followed,
[whose] name will be known to gods and men.
Thus, young men, [the Buddha went on,] one should know and train.
Then the Exalted One expounded to all the youths the subtle (sūkṣma) Teaching. After listening, they rose from their seats, bowed down… and left.
Meanwhile during the night, the woman had many sorts of choice food and delicacies prepared and all the seats arranged. Very early in the morning almost at down, [Āmrapāli thought to herself]: Now it is going on for the proper time; if only the Exalted One would care to call in at my humble home.
In time, the Exalted One put on his [outer] robes and took up his alms-bowl. Heading the bhikṣus accompanying [him] in order of seniority,[xi] he entered the city of Vaiśālī and went to the woman’s house. Having seen that the Exalted One had taken his seat, the woman served the meal to the Buddha and then to his order of bhikṣus with her own hand (svahastam). When the Buddha and the order of bhikṣus had eaten and fresh water had been passed around, a small seat, inlaid with gold, was brought and placed in front of the Buddha.
Then the woman said to the Exalted One: Herewith [I] should like to offer this park of Āmrapāli to the Tathāgata and his order of bhikṣus. May, as in the past and at present, also in future many [members of] the order be lodged (prati-√vas) in it. May the Exalted One kindly accept this park.
At the instance of that woman the Exalted One accepted it and then uttered these verses of laudatory blessing[xii]:
The effect of [this donation of] a park is
that [prerequisites for] the refreshing coolness [of nirvana]
Are given; [the park is like] a bridge [helping] people
To cross over [to ultimate freedom]. [If they appreciate
this bridge] as a short cut, making [use of the analogy
Between the malign influences and] a privy,[xiii] then
Take a rest [from them and finally], day and night,
Realise [ultimate] peace (kṣema) – such happiness is
Beyond imagination. [He who] lives in accordance with
The Teachings and rules of moral training (śīla) will
After death certainly be reborn in a heavenly world.[xiv]
When the Exalted One had uttered these words, he rose and left. After listening to the Buddha’s words, the woman was pleased and respectfully applied herself to practice.’[xv]
[i] CBETA, T02, no. 125, p. 596, a8-c14; Hayashi, p.170 ff. Cf. D II (Mahāparinibbānasutta), p.94, 1. 25 ff. and MPS 10.3 ff.; cf. also V in I (Mahāvagga), p.231-3. This translation originally published as Ekottarāgama XXV, Buddhist Studies Review 16.1, 1999, p 71-76. Translated from the Chinese version by Thích Huyên-Vi and Bhikkhu Pāsādika in collaboration with Sara Boin-Webb.
[ii] According to the variant reading # instead of # (‘chivalrous track’) followed by Hayashi.
[iii] In the following, at MPS 10.8 – 10.14 the bhikṣus are admonished at some length as to how to be strenuous (kathañ ca bhikṣur ātāpī bhavati), fully aware (…samprajāno bhavati) and mindful (…pratismṛto bhavati), whilst this admonition is given in the Pāli at Ambapāli’s Park before Ambapāli’s knowing of the Buddha’s and his saṅgha’s arrival there. The occasion for the admonition in MPS and EĀ, consisting in the latter, though, of only one sentence, seems more plausible than in the Pāli passage: ‘a courtesan, having adorned herself with all that which embellishes her, and a body of women surrounding [her]’ approaching the saṅgha. Cf. MPS 10.5: …sarvāl[aṅkārair alaṅkṛtā strigaṇam anvāhiṇdayitvā] (anvā° here not in the sense of ‘having roamed through’ (BHSD, p.42b), but after the Tibetan transl. bud med kyi tshogs kyis bskor nas and Mahāvyut. 6942; cf. also SWTF I, p.92: [Anvāhiṇḍayitvā, lit.:] ‘sich von jemdm. (acc.) begleiten lassen’ (i.e. ‘[Āmrapāli] having caused a body of women to accompany [her]’)). Cf., however, DPPN I, p.155, n. 1, referring to D-Aṭṭhakathā II, 545. saying ‘that just before Ambapāli’s visit to him, the Buddha admonished the monks to be steadfast and mindful, lest they should lose their heads about her.’
[iv] Somewhat reminiscent of the following description of the youths of Vaiśālī and their carriages is the account, albeit in a different context, of the Buddha’s visit to Vaiśālī, including a brief reference to Āmrapāli’s gift of her park to the Buddha and the Saṅgha, found at Mvu(B), pp.206 ff., 246.
[v] #, lit. ‘cow, ox, buffalo’, here preferably in the sense of paśu, ‘an animal in general’, so that # # can be rendered as ‘draught-animal’. It is rather strange that only in EĀ Āmrapāli’s draught-animals, i.e. cows or oxen, are mentioned. Was it unthinkable for Chinese readers that a woman’s carriage could be pulled by horses like that of a man? A clue is possibly provided in W. Eberhard, Dictionnaire des syboles chinois, Seghers, Paris 1984, p.77 (under ‘cheval’): According to mythological conceptions subsequent to the era of the Yi-jing, the male principle (yang) is symbolised by the horse and the female principle (yin) by the cow.
[vi] # #, lit. kulagotraputra; cf. Karashima, p.619: ‘a son of a great clan (a translation skt. kula-putra)’.
[vii] Lit. ‘hands’: cf. DII, p.96: aṅgulī poṭhesuṃ, ‘they snapped their fingers’.
[viii] In this connection it may be annotated that it also seems strange (cf. above n. 5) that nearly throughout this EĀ sūtra Āmrapāli is not referred to by her name, as in all the parallels to this story, but by ‘the woman’. Cf. Eberhard, op. cit., p.124 (under ‘enfants’), on sexist discrimination in a ‘celebrated’ passage from The Book of Odes (Shi-jing).
[ix] All the parallels to this EĀ story more consistently have devā Tāvatiṃśā, ‘Trāyastriṃsa gods’.
[x] Nothing that corresponds to these verses and the preceding ovāda of the Buddha occurs in the EĀ parallels; cf., for example, D II, p.97, where it simply says: te Licchavī Bhagavā dhammiyā kathāya sandassesi samādapesi samuttejesi sampahaṁsesi.
[xi] Lit. # #, ‘in front and behind, earlier and later’.
[xii] For this unusual expression (# #, lit. mantra-praṇidhi) see the common term abhyanumodanā (after SWTF I, p.130: ‘consenting happily, approval, words of blessing (in verses)’) at MPS 12.6.
[xiii] Cf. Foguang, p.4938c f. (under # #) where, in commenting on the word ‘cesspit, latrine’, for instance, the Linji lu (cf. P. Demiéville, Entretiens de Lin-tsi, Paris 1972, p.63) and the present EĀ verses are referred to. As for the latter, it says that the ‘privy’ can be regarded as skill in means (# #) helping man to get rid of all impure things (# #), to purify body and mind and finally realise # #, kṣema; that in this way the ‘privy’ eventually be conducive to ultimate peace and immeasurable happiness if one makes good use of the analogy of the latrine and its clean-up.
[xiv] These verses of blessing substantially differ from those at MPS 12.7=12.9, although one common element is found in both versions: generosity (dāna) results in sugati, kivyam. While there are no Pāli parallels to MPS (ibid.) at D II, p.98 and Vin I, p.233, Waldschmidt quotes one found at A III, p.40 (Sīhasutta): Damaṁ piyo hoti, bhajanti naṁ bahū… devānaṁ sahavyagatā ramanti te… tādino ramanti sagge sugatassa sāvakā ti.
[xv] The versified summaries (uddānagāthā) at the end of this 19th and other fascicles are not translated because corresponding summaries are given in Lancaster.