Law of Karma: The Story of Queen Mallika

Law of Karma: The Story of Queen Mallika

Great Merits from Sincere Giving to the Buddha

At the time of the Buddha, a daughter was born to the foreman of the guild of garland-makers in Savatthi. She was beautiful, clever and well behaved and a source of joy to her father.

One day, when she had just turned sixteen, she went to the public flower gardens with her girl-friends and took three portions of fermented rice along in her basket as the day’s sustenance.

When she was just leaving by the city gate, a group of monks came along, who had come down from the monastery on the hill to obtain almsfood in town. The leader among them stood out; one whose grandeur and sublime beauty impressed her so much, that she impulsively offered him all the food in her basket.

He was the Awakened One. He let her put her offering into his alms bowl. After Mallika — without knowing to whom she had given the food — had prostrated at his feet, she walked on full of joy. The Buddha smiled. Ananda, his attendant, who knew that the fully Enlightened One does not smile without a reason, asked therefore why he was smiling. The Buddha replied that this girl would reap the benefits of her gift this very same day by becoming the Queen of Kosala.

This sounded unbelievable, because how could the Maharaja of Benares and Kosala elevate a woman of low caste to the rank of Queen? Especially in the India of those days with its very strict caste system, this seemed quite improbable.

The ruler over the United Kingdoms of Benares and Kosala in the Ganges Valley was King Pasenadi, the mightiest Maharaja of his day. At that time he was at war with his neighbor, the King of Magadha.

The latter had won a battle and King Pasenadi had been forced to retreat. He was returning to his capital on the horse that had been his battle companion. Before entering the city, he heard a girl sing in the flower gardens. It was Mallika, who was singing melodiously because of her joy in meeting the Illustrious Sage. The King was attracted by the song and rode into the gardens; Mallika did not run away from the strange warrior, but came nearer, took the horse by its reins and looked straight into the King’s eyes. He asked her whether she was already married and she replied in the negative. Thereupon he dismounted, lay down with his head in her lap and let her console him about his ill-luck in battle.

After he had recovered, he let her mount his horse behind him and took her back to the house of her parents. In the evening he sent an entourage with much pomp to fetch her and made her his principal wife and Queen.

From then on she was dearly beloved by the King. She was given many loyal servants and in her beauty she resembled a goddess. It became known throughout the whole kingdom that because of her simple gift she had been elevated to the highest position in the State and this induced her subjects to be kind and generous towards their fellow men. Wherever she went, people would joyously proclaim: “That is Queen Mallika, who gave alms to the Buddha.” (J 415E)

The Wisdom of Morality 

After she had become Queen, she soon went to visit the Enlightened One to ask him something which was puzzling her. Namely, how it came about that one woman could be beautiful, wealthy and of great ability, another be beautiful but poor and not very able, yet another although ugly, be rich and very able, and finally another be ugly, poor and possess no skills at all.

These differences can constantly be observed in daily life. But while the ordinary person is satisfied with such common place terms as fate, heredity, coincidence and so on, Queen Mallika wanted to probe deeper as she was convinced that nothing happens without a cause.

The Buddha explained to her in great detail that all attributes and living conditions of people everywhere were solely dependent on the extent of their moral purity. Beauty was caused by forgiveness and gentleness, prosperity due to generous giving, and skillfulness was caused by never envying others, but rather being joyful and supporting their abilities.

Whichever of these three virtues a person had cultivated, that would show up as their “destiny,” usually in some mixture of all of them. The coming together of all three attributes would be a rarity. After Mallika had listened to this discourse of the Buddha, she resolved in her heart to be always gentle towards her subjects and never to scold them, to give alms to all monks, brahmans and the poor, and never to envy anyone who was happy.

At the end of the Enlightened One’s discourse she took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and remained a faithful disciple for the rest of her life. (A IV, 197)

She showed her great generosity not only giving regular alms, but also by building a large, ebony-lined hall for the Sangha, which was used for religious discussions. (M 78, D 9)

She exhibited her gentleness by serving her husband with the five qualities of a perfect wife, namely: always rising before him, and going to bed after him, by always obeying his commands, always being polite, and using only kind words. Even the monks praised her gentleness in their discussions about virtue.

Soon she was to prove that she was also free of jealousy. The King had made up his mind to marry a second chief wife and brought a cousin of the Buddha home as his betrothed. Although it is said that it is in the nature of women not to allow a rival into her home, Mallika related to the other wife without the slightest malice. (A VI, 52) Both women lived in peace and harmony at the Court.

Even when the second wife gave birth to a son, the crown prince, and Mallika had only a daughter, she was not envious. When the King voiced disappointment about the birth of a daughter, the Buddha said to him that a woman was superior to a man if she was clever, virtuous, well-behaved and faithful. Then she could become the wife of a great King and give birth to an almighty Ruler. (S 3,16) When the daughter, Princess Vajira, had grown up, she became Queen of Magadha and thereby the ancestress of the greatest Indian Emperor, Asoka, who ruled Magadha 250 years later.

Wisdom of the Buddha in Interpreting Dreams 

After Mallika had become a faithful lay devotee of the Buddha, she also won her husband over to the teaching. And that happened in this way: One night the King had a succession of sixteen perturbing dreams during which he heard gruesome, unfathomable sounds from four voices, which uttered: “Du, Sa, Na, So.” When the King woke up from these dreams, great fear seized him, and sitting upright and trembling, he awaited the sunrise.

When his Brahman priests asked him whether he had slept well, he related the terror of the night and asked them what one could do to counteract such a menace. The Brahmans declared that one would have to offer great sacrifices and thereby pacify the evil spirits. In his fear the King agreed to that. The Brahmans rejoiced because of the gifts they would surely reap and busily began to make preparations for the great sacrifice. They scurried about, building a sacrificial altar and tied many animals to posts, so they could be killed.

For greater efficacy, they demanded the sacrifice of four human beings and these also awaited their death, tied to posts. When Mallika became aware of all this activity, she went to the King and asked him why the Brahmans were so busily running about full of joyous expectation. The King replied that she did not pay enough attention to him and did not know his sorrows.

Thereupon he told her of his dreams. Mallika asked the King whether he had also consulted the first and foremost of Brahmans about the meaning and interpretation. He replied that she first had to tell him who was the first and foremost of Brahmans. She explained that the Awakened One was foremost in the world of Gods and men, the first of all Brahmans. King Pasenadi decided to ask the Awakened One’s advice and went to Prince Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s Monastery.

He related to the Buddha what had taken place in his dreams and asked him what would happen to him. “Nothing,” the Awakened One replied and explained the meaning to him. The sixteen dreams which he had were prophecies, showing that the living conditions on earth would deteriorate steadily, due to the increasing moral laxity of the kings. In a meditative moment, King Pasenadi had been able to see future occurrences within his sphere of interest because he was a monarch concerned with the well-being of his subjects.

The four voices which he had heard belonged to four men who had lived in Savatthi and had been seducers of married women. Because of that they were reborn in hell and for 30,000 years they drowned in red-hot cauldrons, coming nearer and nearer to the fire, which intensified their unbearable suffering. During another 30,000 years they slowly rose up in those iron cauldrons and had now come to the rim, where they could once again at least breathe the air of the human realm.

Each one wanted the speak a verse, but because of the gravity of the deed, could not get past the first syllable. Not even in sights could they voice their suffering, because they had long lost the gift of speech. The four verses, which start in Pali with “du,” “sa,” “na,” “so,” were recognized by the Awakened One as follows:

Du: Dung-like life we lived,
No willingness to give,
Although we could have given much,
We did not make our refuge thus.

Sa: Say, the end is near?
Already 60,000 years have gone
Without respite the torture is
In this hell realm.

Na: Naught, no end near, Oh, would it end!
No end in sight for us.
Who once did misdeeds here
For me, for you, for both of us.

So: So, could I only leave this place
And raise myself to human realm,
I would be kind and moral too,
And do good deeds abundantly.

After the King had heard these explanations, he became responsive to the request of the compassionate Queen and granted freedom to the imprisoned men and animals. He ordered the sacrificial altar to be destroyed. (J 77 & 314)

Wisdom and Skillfulness of the King

The King, who had become a devoted lay disciple of the Buddha, visited him one day again and met a wise and well-learned layman there. The King asked him whether he could give some daily Dhamma teaching to his two Queens. The layman replied that the teaching came from the Enlightened One and only one of his immediate disciples could pass it on to the Queens. The King understood this and requested the Buddha to give permission to one of his monks to teach. The Buddha appointed Ananda for this task. Queen Mallika learned easily in spite of her uneducated background, but Queen Vasabhakhattiya, cousin of the Buddha and mother of the crown-prince, was unconcentrated and learned with difficulty. (Pac 3)

One day the royal couple looked down upon the river from the palace and saw a group of the Buddha’s monks playing about in the water. The king said to Queen Mallika reproachfully: “Those playing about in the water are supposed to be Saints?” Such was namely the reputation of this group of the so-called seventeen monks, who were quite young and of good moral conduct. Mallika replied that she could only explain it thus, that either the Buddha had not made any rules with regard to bathing or that the monks were not acquainted with them, because they were not amongst the rules which were recited regularly.

Both agreed that it would not make a good impression on lay people and on those monks not yet secure, if those in higher training played about in the water and enjoyed themselves in the way of untrained worldly people. But King Pasenadi wanted to avoid blackening those monks’ characters and just wanted to give the Buddha a hint, so that he could lay down a firm rule. He conceived the idea to send a special gift to the Buddha to be taken by those monks. They brought the gift and the Buddha asked them on what occasion they had met the King. Then they told him what they had done and the Buddha laid down a corresponding rule. (Pac. 53)

Love Thyself 

One day when the King was standing on the parapet of the palace with the Queen and was looking down upon the land, he asked her whether there was anyone in the world she loved more than herself. He expected her to name him, since he flattered himself to have been the one who had raised her to fame and fortune. But although she loved him, she remained truthful and replied that she know of no one dearer to herself than herself. Then she wanted to know how it was with him: Did he love anyone — possibly her — more than himself? Thereupon the King also had to admit that self-love was always predominant. But he went to the Buddha and recounted the conversation to find out how a Saint would consider this.

The Buddha confirmed his and Mallika’s statements:

I visited all quarters with my mind
Nor found I any dearer than myself;
Self is likewise to every other dear;
Who loves himself may never harm another.

— Ud 47, translated by Ven. Ñanamoli

One day the Buddha said to a man whose child had died: “Dear ones, those who are dear, bring sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair” — the suffering that results from a clinging love. In spite of the clearly visible proof, the man could not understand this. The conversation was reported to the King and he asked his wife whether it was really true that sorrow would result from love. “If the Awakened One has said so, O King, then it is so,” she replied devotedly.

The King demurred that she accepted every word of the Buddha like a disciple from a guru. Thereupon she sent a messenger to the Buddha to ask for more details and then passed the explicit answer on to her husband.

She asked him whether he loved his daughter, his second wife, the crown-prince, herself and his kingdom? Naturally he confirmed this, these five things were dear to him. But if something happened to these five, Mallika responded, would he not feel sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief or despair, which comes from loving? Then the King understood and realized how wisely the Buddha could penetrate all existence: “Very well, then Mallika, continue to venerate him.” And the King rose, uncovered his shoulder, prostrated deferentially in the direction where the Blessed One was wont to stay and greeted him three times with: “Homage to the Blessed One, the Holy One, the fully Awakened One.”

Marriage Not Without Conflicts 

But their lives also did not remain quite without conflict. One day an argument arose between the couple about the duties of the Queen. For some reason the King was angry at her and treated her from then on as if she had disappeared into thin air. When the Buddha arrived at the palace the next day for his meal, he asked about the Queen, who had always been present at other times. Pasenadi scowled and said: “What about her? She has gone mad because of her fame.” The Buddha replied that he, himself, had raised her up to that position quite unexpectedly and should become reconciled with her. Somewhat reluctantly the King had her called. Thereupon the Buddha praised the blessing of amity and the anger was forgotten, as if it had never happened. (J 306)

But later on a new tension arose between the couple. Again the King would not look at the Queen and pretended she did not exist. When the Buddha became aware of this, he asked about her. Pasenadi said that her good fortune had gone to her head. Immediately the Awakened One told an incident from a former life:

Both were then heavenly beings, a deva couple, who loved each other dearly. One night they were separated from each other because of the flooding of a stream. They both regretted this irretrievable night, which could never be replaced during their life-span of a thousand years. And during the rest of their lives they never let go of each other’s company and always remembered to use this separation as a warning so that their happiness would endure during that whole existence. The King was moved by this story, and became reconciled to the Queen. Mallika then spoke this verse to the Buddha:

With joy I heard your varied words,
Which spoken were for my well-being;
With your talk you took away my sorrow
Verily, you are the joy-bringer amongst the ascetics
May you live long!

— J504

A third time the Buddha told of an occurrence during one of the former lives of the royal couple. At that time Pasenadi was a crown-prince and Mallika his wife. When the crown-prince became afflicted with leprosy and could not become King because of that, he resolved to withdraw into the forest by himself, so as not to become a burden to anyone. But his wife did not desert him, and looked after him with touching attention. She resisted the temptation to lead a care-free life in pomp and splendor and remained faithful to her ugly and ill-smelling husband. Through the power of her virtue she was able to effect his recovery. When he ascended to the throne and she became his Queen, he promptly forgot her and enjoyed himself with various dancing girls. It is almost as difficult to find a grateful person, the Buddha said, as it is difficult to find a Holy One. (A III, 122)

Only when the King was reminded of the good deeds of his Queen, did he change his ways, asked her forgiveness and lived together with her in harmony and virtue. (J 519)

Death of Queen Mallika 

Queen Mallika committed only one deed in this life which had evil results and which led her to the worst rebirth. The Dammapada tells the story of Queen Mallika and her indecent act with a dog and the lie told to cover it up from the scrutiny of the king stands out as one of the strangest incidents in the Buddhist literature. Even when the king forced her to confess her “indecent act” she actively refused it and later falsely accused the king himself of having involved in an indecent act with a goat. Privately of course she knew that she lied and hoped that through her offerings to the Buddha she could mitigate the consequences of her acts. Immediately after her death, however, she was reborn in hell, though this lasted for seven days. 

When she died, the King was just listening to a Dhamma exhortation by the Buddha. When the news reached him there, he was deeply shaken and even the Buddha’s reminder that there was nothing in the world that could escape old age, disease, death, decay and destruction could not immediately assuage his grief. (A V,49)

His attachment — “from love comes sorrow” — was so strong, that he went to the Buddha every day to find out about the future destiny of his wife. If he had to get along without her on earth, at least he wanted to know about her rebirth. But for seven days the Buddha distracted him from his question through fascinating and moving Dhamma discourses, so that he only remembered his question when he arrived home again. Only on the seventh day would the Buddha answer his question and said that Mallika had been reborn in the “Heaven of the Blissful Devas.” He did not mention the seven days she had spent in hell, so as not to add to the King’s sorrow. Even though it was a very short-termed sojourn in the lower realms, one can see that Mallika had not yet attained stream-entry [*] during her life on earth, since it is one of the signs of a stream-enterer that there is no rebirth below the human state. However, this experience of hellish suffering together with her knowledge of Dhamma, could have quickened Mallika’s last ripening for the attainment of stream-entry.

* [Stream-entry: the first stage of Enlightenment, where the first glimpse of Nibbana is gained and the first three fetters abandoned.]

Sources: M 87; A V,49, IV, 197, VIII, 91; S 3,8 = Ud V,I; S 3, 16; J 77, 306, 314, 415, 504, 519; Pac. 53,83; Mil. 115, 291; Jtm. 3; Divy, p.88

Source: Access to Insight 

Kummasapinda Jataka

Analysis of Queen Mallika 

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