Story of Uttara and Sirima
Myanauug U Tin, Burma
From the day Uttara went to the house of her husband, she was no longer privileged to approach a monk or a nun, to give alms, or to listen to the Dhamma. After two and a half months she asked the maidservants, 'How much of the rainy season still remains?' They replied, 'Half a month, your ladyship.' So Uttara sent the following message to her father: 'Why have they incarcerated me? It would be far better to put a brand on me and proclaim me as a slave girl, than to give me over to such a heretic household as this. From the day I first entered this house, I have not so much as seen a monk, nor have I had the opportunity to perform any wholesome volitional actions.'
When her father received this message, he was displeased, saying, 'Oh how unhappy my daughter is!' So he sent fifteen thousand pieces of silver to her, together with the following message: 'There is a concubine in this city named Sirima, who receives a thousand pieces of silver a night. With this money have her brought to your husband's house and install her as his mistress. Then you can devote your time to the performance of wholesome volitional actions.'
So Uttara had Sirima summoned to her house and said to her, 'Friend, take this money and minister to my husband during the coming fortnight.' 'Very well,' replied Sirima, consenting to the proposal. So Uttara took Sirima to her husband. When Uttara's husband saw Sirima, he asked, 'What does this mean?' Uttara replied, 'Husband, during the coming fortnight my friend has offered to be your mistress. For my part, I desire to give alms and listen to the Dhamma.'
When Uttara's husband saw Sirima, who was a beautiful woman, he desired to take her as his mistress and immediately consented to the arrangement.
Thereupon Uttara invited the company of monks presided over by the Buddha, saying, 'Revered Sir, for the coming fortnight may the Exalted One take morning meals here and nowhere else?' On obtaining the Teacher's consent, she rejoiced at heart and said to herself, 'From this day forth, until the great Pavarana ceremony, I shall have the privilege of waiting on the Buddha and listening to the Dhamma.' And she bustled about the kitchen making the necessary arrangements.
'Tomorrow will be the great Pavarana,' thought her husband as he stood at his window looking towards the kitchen. 'What is that foolish woman doing?' When he saw her going to and fro arranging for the ceremony, her body moist with sweat and sprinkled with ashes and smeared with charcoal and soot, he thought to himself, 'Ah, in such a place, the fool does not enjoy luxury and comfort. 'I will minister to the samanas with shaven heads,' thinks she, and her heart rejoices as she goes about,' he laughed.
As he left the window, Sirima, who stood near him, thought to herself, 'What did he see to make him laugh?' Looking out of the same window she saw Uttara. 'It was because he saw Uttara that he laughed,' thought Sirima. 'Doubtless an intimacy still exists between them.' Although Sirima had lived in this house for a fortnight as a concubine, in the midst of splendour and luxury, she had forgotten that she was only a concubine, and imagined that she was the mistress of the house.
Sirima immediately conceived hatred towards Uttara and said to herself, 'I will make her suffer.' So, descending from the palace terrace, she entered the kitchen, and going to the place where the cakes were being fried, she took some boiling ghee in a spoon and advanced towards Uttara. Uttara saw her advancing and said, 'My friend has done a great service. This world may be narrow and low, but the goodness of my friend is great indeed. Through her help I have received the privilege of giving alms to the monks and listening to the Dhamma. If I cherish anger and hatred towards her, may this ghee burn me. If not, may it not burn me.' So saying, she suffused the jealous Sirima with thoughts of metta (loving kindness). When Sirima flung boiling ghee on her head, it felt like cold water. 'The next spoonful will feel cool,' said Sirima sarcastically. And filling the spoon again, she advanced towards Uttara with the second spoonful of boiling ghee.
When Uttara's maidservants saw her, they tried to stop her, crying, 'Get away you benighted heathen! What right have you to fling boiling ghee on the head of your mistress?' And springing to their feet in, every part of the kitchen, they beat Sirima with their fists, kicked her with their feet, and flung her to the ground. Uttara, although she tried to stop them, was unable to do so. Finally she stood over Sirima, pushed ah of her servants away, and admonished Sirima, saying, 'Why did you do so wicked a deed?' So saying, she bathed her with hot water and anointed her with oil a hundred times refined.
At that moment Sirima came to her senses and realized that she was only a concubine. Straightaway she thought to herself, 'It was indeed a most wicked deed I committed when I flung boiling ghee on the wife of my master, merely because he laughed at her. As for this woman, instead of ordering her maidservants to seize me, she pushed them all away when they tried to harm me and then did for me all that could possibly be done. If I do not ask her to pardon me, my head is likely to split into seven pieces.' And forthwith Sirima fell at the feet of Uttara saying, 'Pardon me, my lady.'
Uttara replied, 'If my father, to whom rebirth is no more, will pardon you then I will also pardon you.' Sirima said, 'Very well, my lady, I will ask pardon of your father, but who is your father to whom rebirth is no more?' 'The Buddha, the supremely Enlightened One,' replied the generous Uttara. 'Tomorrow the Teacher will come here with his company of bhikkus. Bring what offerings you can, and come to ask his pardon.'
Rising from her seat, Sirima went home and ordered her five hundred companions to make ready to accompany her. Then she procured various kinds of foods and curries, and on the following day, taking these offerings with her, she went to Uttara's house. Not daring to place her offerings directly in the bowls of the company of bhikkus headed by the Buddha, she stood waiting. Uttara took all of her offerings and made proper use of them. After the Teacher had taken the meal, Sirima together with her retinue prostrated herself at his feet.
Thereupon the Teacher asked her, 'What offence have you committed?' 'Reverend Sir,' Sirima replied, 'Yesterday I attempted to injure my friend, but she only showed a turn of kindness to me. Recognizing her goodness, I asked her to pardon me, but she said, 'I will pardon you, if the Teacher will pardon you.' Then the Buddha asked, 'Uttara, is this true?' 'Yes, Revered Sir,' she replied. 'My friend flung boiling ghee on my head.' 'What thoughts did you then entertain?' asked the Buddha. 'Revered Sir,' replied Uttara, 'I suffused her with loving kindness, thinking to myself, 'This world may be narrow and low, but the goodness of my friend is very great indeed. Through her help I have received the privilege of giving alms to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. If I cherish anger and hatred towards her, may this ghee burn me. If not, may it not burn me.'
The Teacher said, 'Well done, well done, Uttara. That is the right way to overcome anger. Anger should be overcome with loving kindness. He that utters abuse and slander may be overcome by him who refrains from uttering abuse and slander. An obstinate miser may be overcome by the giving of one's own. A liar may be overcome by speaking the truth.' So saying, he uttered the following stanza:
'Conquer anger by love; conquer evil by good; conquer selfishness by giving; conquer lies by truth.'