It is often said that life is fleeting, that it passes in the blink of an eye. No matter how beautiful one is, that beauty cannot withstand the ravages of time.
Buddhas often say that everything in this world is illusory and unsustainable, and the wise men of the world will not be fooled by a person’s appearance. If one can let go of one’s attachment to physical appearance, the door of cultivation to Buddhahood will open to him.
Buddha Saved a Woman Named Lotus
When Buddha Shakyamuni was in Rajagriha, there was a beautiful woman named Lotus. She was a prostitute, and many of her customers were the sons of rich and powerful families.
Her life of prosperity and decadence, however, did nothing to nurture Lotus’ soul and she felt empty. One day, she finally decided to turn away from her life of luxury and ostentation and go to the mountains to become a nun. Lotus walked out of the city gate towards the mountain where Buddha Shakyamuni lived.
On her way, she stopped at a clear stream to drink and wash her face. In the gleaming sunlight she saw her beauty reflected in the water.
Feelings of regret arose within her, and she said to herself, “A life as dignified and beautiful as mine is rare in this world. Why shouldn’t I enjoy that glory and happiness? Why become a nun and cut myself off from the world?” So she turned around and started to walk back to the city.
Buddha Shakyamuni knew that it was time to save Lotus, that she was ready, so he turned into a young woman of stunning and unrivaled beauty. Compared to Lotus, this young woman was like a piece of jade next to a smooth pebble. Marveling at her beauty, Lotus asked the young woman, “Where are you from? Why are you alone?”
The young woman replied, “I came from the city and am heading towards home. If you’re also going that direction, why don’t we walk together? But first, let’s rest at the stream.”
Lotus agreed and they walked together back to the stream. The beautiful young woman looked tired, so she put her head on Lotus’ lap and fell asleep. A few minutes later, however, the young woman suddenly died. Then her body quickly swelled and started to decompose. Her teeth and her hair fell out. Maggots multiplied, and the stench was terrible.
Frightened, Lotus thought to herself, “She was fine a few minutes ago—how could she have died so quickly and her body decay like this? How could such a beauty turn into a rotten corpse in the blink of an eye? How could all this be so short-lived?” Lotus realized that she could not be spared that destiny—death, like that of the beautiful woman, so she decided to follow the Buddha law. With that thought, Lotus stood up and walked toward Buddha’s place.
Lotus, a Nun, Teaches Malicious Young Ruffians a Lesson
At the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, a gang of ruffians in Kosala often wandered about, committing shameless acts. Because of them, women in the city were afraid to go out.
A group of Buddhist nuns lived in a neighboring city. The head nun was called Lotus. She was dignified and beautiful, and known for her exemplary character. She also had supernatural powers and was highly respected in the region.
On a hot summer day, these Buddhist nuns passed through the city of Kosala. They bathed in a river by the woods outside the city. The ruffians spotted them and stole their clothes, planning to humiliate them.
Lotus was well-aware of the ruffians’ motive, but she decided to use her supernatural power to save them. Lotus took out her eyeballs, threw them in front of the ruffians, and said, “If the woman you adore has no eyes, would you still like her?”
Then, she took out her abdominal organs and dumped them on the ground. After that, she broke her arms and legs and asked, “Look at me now. Which parts of me still look attractive to you?”
The ruffians were trembling in fear, and their hair even stood on end. Lotus continued to hound them, “The human body is made up of these unclean things. Like the rest of this world, it is all illusory. Beauty of this world withers with time. Youth is transient. When people are old, they become ugly. When they die, the body decays and rots, which is even more unsettling. A body without a soul is just like dirt on the ground.”
The ruffians quickly returned the clothes. They pleaded with Lotus, kowtowing to her and saying, “Please forgive us. We are fools. Please save us!”
Lotus took them to Buddha Shakyamuni. The Buddha’s compassion made them repent their past ways. As a result, all of them converted to Buddhism and began to practice it. After that, the women in the city of Kosala were no longer afraid to go out.