AT the end of three months, the Master descended to earth and took the road to Cravasti. As he was approaching Jeta’s park, he met a young girl. She was the servant of a wealthy inhabitant of the city who happened to be working in the fields that day. She was taking him a bowl of rice for his meal. At the sight of the Buddha, she felt strangely happy.
“It is the Master, the Blessed One,” she thought. “My eyes behold him; my hands could almost touch him, he is so near. Oh, what a holy joy it would be to give him alms! But I have nothing of my own.”
She sighed. Her glance fell on the bowl of rice.
“This rice . . . My master’s meal . . . No master can reduce to slavery one who is already a slave. Mine could strike me, but what of that! He could put me in chains, but I would bear them lightly. I shall give the rice to the Blessed One.”
She presented the bowl to the Buddha. He accepted it and continued on his way to Jeta’s park. The young girl, her eyes shining with happiness, went to look for her master.
“Where is my rice?” he asked, as soon as he saw her.
“I gave it to the Buddha as an alms. Punish me if you will, I shall not weep; I am too happy for what I have done.”
He did not punish her. He bowed’ his head and said:
“No, I shall not punish you. I am asleep and your eyes are open. Go; you are no longer a slave.”
The young girl made a deep obeisance.
“With your permission then,” said she, “I shall go to Jeta’s park, and I shall ask the Blessed One to instruct me in the law.”
“Go,” said the man.
She went to Jeta’s park; she sat at the Buddha’s feet, and she became one of the most saintly women in the community.
Among those who sought instruction from the Blessed One at the same time as this young slave was Suprabha, the daughter of a prominent citizen of Cravasti. Suprabha was very beautiful. To see her was to fall in love with her, and she was courted by all the distinguished young men of the city. This caused her father no little concern. “To which one shall I give her in marriage?” he would repeatedly ask himself; “those whom I refuse will become my bitter enemies.”
And for hours at a time, he would remain deep in thought.
One day, Suprabha said to him:
“You seem to be troubled, dear father. What is the reason?”
“Daughter,” he replied, “you alone are the cause of my anxiety. There are so many in Cravasti who wish to marry you!”
“You are afraid to make a choice from among my suitors,” said Suprabha. “Poor men! If they but knew my thoughts! Do not be anxious, father! Tell them to assemble, and, according to the ancient custom, I shall go among them, and I myself shall choose a husband from their number.”
“I shall do as you wish, daughter.”
Suprabha’s father went to King Prasenajit and received permission to have a herald proclaim throughout the city:
“That seven days from this day, there will be held an assembly of all the young men who wish to marry Suprabha. The young girl herself will select a husband from among their number.”
On the seventh day, a host of suitors gathered in the magnificent garden belonging to Suprabha’s father. She appeared, riding in a chariot. She was holding a yellow banner on which was painted the picture of the Blessed One. She was singing his praises. They all looked at her in amazement, and they wondered, “What will she say to us?” She finally addressed the young men.
“I can not love any of you,” said she, “but do not think that I spurn you. Love is not my aim in life; I want to take refuge with the Buddha. I shall go to the park where he dwells, and he will instruct me in the law.”
Mournfully, the young men withdrew, and Suprabha went to Jeta’s park. She heard the Blessed One speak; she was admitted to the community, and she became a most devoted nun.
One day, as she was leaving the sacred gardens, she was recognized by one of her former suitors who happened to be passing with several friends.
“We must carry off this woman,” said he. “I loved her once; I still love her. She shall be mine.”
His friends agreed to help him. Before Suprabha was aware of it, she was surrounded, and they suddenly rushed upon her. But as they were about to seize her, she directed her thought toward the Buddha, and, immediately, she rose in the air. A crowd gathered; Suprabha soared above them for a while, then, flying with the grace and majesty of a swan, she returned to her sacred dwelling.
And their cries followed her:
“O saintly one, you make manifest the power of the faithful; O saint, you render manifest the power of the Buddha. It would be unjust to condemn you to the earthly pleasures of love, O saintly one, O saint.”