Today, you will hear thousands of magnificent songs, and music is everywhere. But in the time of the Buddha, music was a rare luxury. In those ancient days, one very lucky young woman would manage to capture a fearless King armed with nothing but a song. Their story goes like this...
Before people had really heard of Buddhism, there was a magnificent Indian kingdom called Kosala, and in this kingdom there lived a beautiful young lady named Mallika.
Mallika stumbled upon Buddha when she was on her way to King Pasenadi’s public garden with her girlfriends. Mallika had not learned Buddha’s teachings yet, but she had a heart of gold. The 16-year-old shared her rice with Buddha and then strolled away whilst singing a beautiful song in memory of Him.
Although King Pasenadi was as tough and as fearsome as a Bengal tiger, he was enchanted by Mallika’s beautiful song. He may not have seemed like the ‘happily-ever-after’ kind of guy, but then again, Mallika was just a carefree teenager who was about to meet one of the most compelling monarchs in the history of the Buddhist world.
King Pasenadi was the mightiest monarch of his millennium; the archetypal warrior who ensured that no losing battle would ever be the last. His very touch was pure fire. His mere gaze was an awe-inspiring act of power; as if to remind you that, no, your two souls are not strangers and, yes, it’s okay to be tired of waiting.
Mallika looked madly into his mighty eyes and straight through a window into his kingly soul. With every heartbeat, they yearned for one another. With every breath, they longed for one another.
Time must have seemed to have slowed down to nothing more than a gentle sigh as their love affair bloomed amidst the technicolour floral shrines that bedecked Kosala’s royal gardens. Then, under the copper hue of the retiring Indian sunset, the King proposed marriage.
The entire capital was lavishly decorated with the ornaments that are part and parcel to royalty. Emulating a city fit for the gods, the young Queen’s wedding encapsulated golden thrones, jewelled furnishings and the very finest of feasts.
The commoners called Mallika ‘the flower girl queen’ and she became wildly popular. Ancient texts record that she was as beautiful as a goddess on Earth. Endowed with the five feminine charms of the ancient world, gigantic portraits of her likeness were hoisted throughout the entire kingdom. She was transformed into the new star of Kosala.
Regardless, Mallika never forgot that she was born into India’s lowest caste. Thus, she sincerely and personally took an interest in any royal subject who was suffering.
The Queen wisely tried to resolve this suffering by seeking out Buddha as an advisor. For example, she inquired, “Why is it that some are born so beautiful, yet others so ugly? Why are some so rich, yet some so poor? Why is life so unfair?”
Buddha answered with a historic discourse. He explained that life’s cruelties had to do with the karma of past lives. Buddha stated that those who were patient in previous lives became beautiful in later lives, those who were generous in a previous life became prosperous in another, and a person might become powerful in this life because they did not envy others or covet their success.
This exchange caused the Queen to become a very ardent Buddhist, perhaps what we today would dub as ‘newborn.’ She was held in very high esteem by Buddha and her royal subjects.
The Queen donated a single-pavilion park wherein one of Buddhism’s earliest monasteries was commissioned. She diligently learned Buddha’s teachings and she brought King Pasenadi into Buddhism, but this did not always go smoothly. You see, King Pasenadi was heavily weighed down by the burdens of kingship. He also had a habit of calling upon bad advisors who happily took advantage of him.
One night, the King had 16 terrifying dreams and his shady advisors claimed this foretold of his impending doom. They promptly sold the King on a plan of spectacles engineered to appease angry deities. However, part of the plan involved ‘The Fourfold Sacrifice’ in which living beings would be sacrificed wherever four roads came together.
Who knows just how many unfortunate peasants would have been burned at the stake if the Queen had not found out about these advisors’ shenanigans. She sent the King to Buddha who promptly identified the swindle as little more than a con job.
A thankful King now became a new follower of Buddha but, alas, a fairy tale ending was not on the cards for these otherwise happy royals. People occasionally make mistakes, and a little lapse in ethics would soon befall this popular Queen.
According to ancient texts, the Queen was bathing one day when a pet dog tried to fornicate with her leg. For whatever reason, she hesitated to push the dog away and the King caught a glimpse of this from afar. When questioned, the Queen did some fast talking and convinced the King that the window glass had obscured his view. Legend holds that this was one of the only sins that she ever committed.
When Queen Mallika died, the last thing that she remembered was this particular lie, and ancient texts hold that she had to spend seven days in repentance for this in Buddhist hell.
Meanwhile, as news of the Queen’s death reached the King, his head dropped and his shoulders slumped. Buddha quickly realised that He could not tell the King that Mallika had to spend a week in hell because the King would lose faith and adopt wrong views.
The King desperately wanted to know where Queen Mallika had gone in the afterlife but Buddha benevolently distracted him by delivering fascinating religious lectures through His divine psychic power. After the seven-day penalty passed, Buddha truthfully told the King that Queen Mallika was now in the Heaven of the Devas and everyone lived happily ever after.
Today, we live amidst halls of history that are littered with long-dead monarchs who continue to wave proudly for a parade which has long since passed everyone by. However, Queen Mallika breaks this paradigm because all of her promises to us are still unbroken. While many countries have amounted to little more than hamlets of unanswered prayers, Queen Mallika’s Buddhist Kosala is an eternal testament to timeless prayer.
Buddhist Kosala, as Queen Mallika sculpted it, set the standard that all future Buddhist monarchies would strive to follow until this day, and if you look very carefully you can still see the magic of Queen Mallika’s transcendental Buddhist kingdom permeating our modern Buddhist world today like handprints on our hearts.
Editor’s Note: For further reading, see Buddhist Jatakas # 77, 306, 314, 415, 504, 519 or ‘Buddhist Parables’ by E.W. Burlingame, Yale University, C. 1918
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will do my best to accommodate your interests.