KANAVERA-JĀTAKA (NO. 318)
LUSTFUL ATTACHMENT SHACKLES, DETACHMENT LIBERATES
Once at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha told this story to a monk who still hankered for the wife he had left behind.
A long time ago, the future Buddha was a notorious robber who was bold and as strong as an elephant. He was elusive and could not be caught. As a last resort, the king offered a reward for his capture. Finally, the robber was apprehended and the king ordered the governor to behead the prisoner.
As the robber was being led along the street to the execution place, a famous courtesan named Sāmā spotted him. Outstandingly handsome, comely and gracious to behold, with a god-like appearance, Sāmā instantly fell in love with the robber. She conceived of a plan to rescue and marry him. Sāmā sent one of her maids to present to the governor one thousand pieces of money. She told him that the robber was her brother and requested the governor to let him escape. The governor said to the maid, “Due to the notoriety of the robber, I cannot let him go. But if you send me a substitute, I can deliver your man to you in a covered carriage.” Upon hearing the governor’s reply, Sāmā devised another plan. She knew a wealthy young merchant who was extremely infatuated with her. This young merchant presented her with one thousand pieces of money every evening whenever he visited her.
That very evening, when the young merchant arrived as usual with one thousand pieces of money, Sāmā pretended to weep, telling the young merchant, “The notorious robber is my brother and the governor has said he will let him go if he were to receive one thousand pieces of money. I can’t find anyone to take the money to the governor.” Intoxicated with love for Sāmā, the young merchant agreed to deliver the money. Upon receiving the money, the governor quickly abducted the young merchant and hid him in a secret place. Next, he sent the robber in a closed carriage to Sāmā. He waited till night-time when everyone had retired to rest before executing the young merchant.
Thereafter, Sāmā stopped entertaining other men and devoted all her time and attention to the handsome robber. Then, the robber thought to himself, “If this treacherous woman should fall in love with someone else, she will also have me killed so that she can make love with him. I mustn’t stay any longer. I must quickly escape.” Planning his escape, he thought, “I mustn’t go empty-handed but should take some of her jewellery with me.” So the robber told Sāmā, “My dear, we have been staying indoors for so long. Let’s go for a picnic in the garden.” Sāmā readily agreed. She prepared sumptuous food, adorned herself with jewellery and set off with the robber to the garden in a carriage.
Cavorting in the garden, pretending to show extreme affection for Sāmā, the robber hugged her so tightly that she passed out. He then relieved her of her jewellery and ran away. Having regained consciousness, Sāmā asked her attendants, “Where is my husband?” As her attendants did not know, Sāmā thought her husband must have run away thinking that he had accidentally killed her. Extremely distressed, she returned home.
Resolving to find him, Sāmā employed some travelling actors, telling them, “Please sing these stanzas to the crowd at every place that you perform. My husband will answer and you’ll then bring him back to me. If he refuses to return, please let me know.” When the travelling actors arrived at a border village where the robber was living, they sang the stanzas.
“In the joyous time of spring,
With trees and shrubs brightly flowering,
From her fainting, Sāmā has awakened,
Now Sāmā lives and lives for you only.”
Hearing the stanza saying that Sāmā was alive and pined for him, the robber approached the actors with the following stanza:
“‘Can fierce winds shake a mountain?
Can they make the firm earth quake?
How can the dead be alive?
It would be a miracle!”
The actors replied with this stanza:
“Sāmā is surely not dead;
She would also not wed another man;
She is secluding herself from all but one;
She loves you and only you.”
On hearing the actors, the robber replied with this stanza,
“Sāmā’s fancy is ever changing;
Casting off faithful lover for new love;
Sāmā would also betray me;
If I did not flee away.”
In that birth, the monk was the young merchant who was executed. The wife that the monk had left was Sāmā. The Buddha was the robber. At the end of the discourse, the monk attained first stage of sainthood.
Understanding the invariability of change, the future Buddha who knew how the courtesan had betrayed her former faithful lover, foresaw that one day, she could similarly destroy him and refused to be blinded by her fleeting devotion. He had the vigilance to avoid the danger of the fickle and destructive nature of lust that captivates the heart.
Whether it is with or without Sāmā, the spell of passion and desire in this conditionality is the most powerful rejuvenating force but this force could equally consume the future Buddha (victim) and ultimately, Sāmā (the master). Consequently, the future Buddha had to flee within his mirror of conditionalities that removes the ideas of “for me” or “not for me”.
“…… conditioned by ignorance are kammic impulses…… this law of conditionality is called the principle of Dependent Origination.”
The future Buddha wisely understood the kammic destructive actions of those enamoured by lust tainted by ignorance to the extent that he even escaped from his beautiful saviour. Thus, he conquered the Samsaric force of lust.
By knowing that kammic impulses are always tainted with the ignorance of self-deception like an eternal shadow, we will not be entrapped by the kammic impulses, thus, allowing many possibilities to unfold.
The daring trickery by the beautiful courtesan
to timely save the life of a notorious handsome robber
was a twist in a never ending infatuation.
This provided a chance for the future Buddha
to conquer and overcome one of the greatest burden
– that of gratitude.
Torn between lust, gratitude
and sentiments of a relationship,
playing with the most dangerous pairing of
a cunning courtesan and an uncommon brave robber,
the future Buddha chose to be a “coward”
by running away ungratefully.
Instead of being lured into the prison of family life
he chose to escape not only from her
but also from all sentient being’s infatuation
with the samsaric scene of pure beauty and desire .
The forgiving heart of the courtesan,
who was enamoured with the future Buddha
encountered a totally unexpected response
from the future Buddha.
He hesitated with worry and despair to escape
from her enslaving palace of ignorant bliss
that has captivated many men
with the most enticing scene
which nevertheless softly kills.
Trust not the trusted; nor the untrusted trust;
Trust kills; through trust a man bit the dust.
The devoted Sāmā had even caused one man to be beheaded.
This provided an opportunity for the future Buddha
to witness desire tinted with lust
which commonly enslaves all of us.
The continuous maze of gratitude and unforgiving betrayal,
breach of trust and clinging on to a sanctuary of life,
is a challenge and trial for mental cultivation
and ultimately, is not a refuge.
Samsāra is often mistaken as our refuge home
but it is only a theatre for mental cultivation to transcend
in order to attain the ultimate bliss of Nibbāna.
All passion released, all tasks are accomplished,
the great liberation from Samsāra is earned!
 Samyutta Nikāya Nidānasamyutta 20 Paccaya Sutta