This story happened more than 2500 years ago when Sakyamuni Buddha was staying in Savatthi.
As Buddha’s fame grew, his community of monks also grew in numbers. As a result, much of the donations and alms from the population went to the Buddhist order.
This created a problem for the heretics and they became jealous of Buddha’s fame. These heretics formed an alliance and hatched a plot to defame the Buddha by employing the service of a female wanderer named Sundari.
Sundari would dress up provocatively and pretend to be travelling towards Buddha’s monastery in the evening. Along the way she would boast that she is the sexual companion of Buddha and will be spending the night with Him. She timed her routine so that the crowd leaving the monastery after the evening sermon would see her coming. She did not enter the monastery but made a detour to a nearby hermitage to spend the night.
In the following morning, she would tousle her hair and dress in disarray. Pretending to be travelling back from the monastery, towards the city, she would boast that Buddha was such a sweet and wonderful lover.
This routine continued for a few days before she was murdered by drunkard thugs hired by the heretics. Her body was thrown into a pitch and covered with decaying flowers. The heretics then started a search for missing person and created a commotion that their female disciple, Sundari had went missing. This matter reached the King’s attention.
During the investigation, they lead the investigator towards Buddha’s monastery and went along to help with the search. As they were combing the wooded area around the monastery, the heretic’s disciples pretended to discover Sundari’s dead body in the flower ditch near Buddha’s monastery.
One thing lead to another and the investigators became suspicious that Buddha’s disciples had murdered Sundari to hide Buddha’s sexual tryst with her. Apparently Sundari’s earlier antics had already set tongues wagging.
The King then decreed that Sundari’s body be paraded in the city and the heretics would warn the population accordingly. Much to the heretics’ delight, they followed the parade and spread tales that Sundari was murdered by the monks after her sexual tryst with Buddha. This became a huge story in the city and people deemed it their duty to spread the news so that there will be no more new victims.
Consequently, monks begging for morning alms were treated with hostility. People were shouting abuses at the monks for being sexual deviants and murderer.
When the monks reported this to Buddha, He informed them that the slander would only last 7 days. Meanwhile, if they were verbally abused again, they should recite the following stanza:
Abhutavadi nirayam upeti
yo papi rat na maroni caha
ubhopi te pecca sama bhavanti
nihinakamma manaja paratha
Translated, it means
A person who habitually lies by saying he had seen, heard, met or know it though he had not personally seen, heard, met or know it; and a person who denies commission of his own offence are equally guilty and both of these vile people who had done low, base deed are liable to be reborn in the plane of misery after death.
After a while, people started to see the truth in this sentence. Upon self reflection, they noted that they were just spreading and reacting to rumours. The deportment of the monks had remained noble, perhaps they were innocent. The general attitude towards the monks then improved.
While all these were happening, the investigators were still investigating because there were no concrete evidence to support their suspicion. Before long, Sundari’s murderers were caught and the crime of the heretics became known to all.
Seems like nothing had changed in human behaviour after 2500 years.
After reading this story, it reminded me of the fake news that were circulated through Facebook, sms, WhatsApp etc. Many times, I would be forwarding it to people without establishing the facts.
I think from the spirit of the recited stanza, perhaps we ought to take more responsibility before forwarding something that is unchecked. Technology had empowered us to be so much more powerful when spreading lies!
Come to think of it, spreading ignorance is bad right?