During the Buddha’s time, a young married woman decided to become a nun. Unknown to her, she was already pregnant and to make matter worse, she mistakenly entered the monastic order of Devadatta (a wayward disciple of Buddha) instead.
Her pregnancy became apparent and Devadatta expelled her from his monastic order. During the expulsion, she realized that she had joined the wrong order of nuns! She proceeded to Jetavana Monastery to become a nun directly under Buddha (that way she won’t make the same mistake again)
When Buddha saw her, Buddha knew that she was already pregnant before she became a nun. Therefore, she was not guilty of breaking her celibacy vow. However, Buddha did not handle the situation personally. Instead, he instructed Upali to preside. Prominent laymen and even the local King was invited to witness a public hearing.
A senior nun was invited to examine the pregnant nun and it was verified that her pregnancy had taken place before she became a nun. Therefore, she was allowed to remain within the order. She gave birth to a healthy son and named him, Kumarakassapa. Kumarakassapa was adopted by the local King at birth. When he came of age, he decided to become a Buddhist monk too.
After receiving meditation instruction from the Buddha, Kumarakassapa entered the forest for solidarity meditation. He attained enlightenment and became an Arhat. After enlightenment, he continued to stay in the forest for 12 more years.
In this manner, his mother did not see him for more than 12 years and she missed him terribly. One day, she chanced upon him and ran after him. Crying and shouting his name as she chased after him. (It was quite a commotion if you can imagine a nun chasing after a monk in that manner)
The enlightened Kumarakassapa knew that if he were to be gentle and kind, her attachment would increase.
When her mother caught up with him, he said sternly: ” You are a nun and yet you cannot let go of your son?” She was shocked by the admonishment and asked Kumarakassapa what he meant.
Kumarakassapa repeated his admonishment again and she fell silent and walked away.
“For 12 years, I had missed him and thought of him. How cruel is he? What is the use missing this son so much?” feeling disheartened, she decided to cut off all bonds and attachment to her son. On the same day, she attained enlightenment and became an Arhat too.
When fellow monks and nuns learned about the enlightenment of Kumarakassapa’s mother, they rejoiced and felt happy for both mother and son.
“Luckily, she had found her way to Buddha and taken refuge with Buddha instead of Devadatta. Because of that, both mother and son are enlightened now.”
Buddha responded with the following verse.
Buddha said, “Bhikkhus! In trying to reach the deva world, or in trying to attain arahatship, you cannot depend on others, you must work hard on your own.”
Atta hi attano natho
ko hi natho paro siya
attana hi sudantena
natham labhati dullabham
Verse 160: One indeed is one’s own refuge; how can others be a refuge to one? With oneself thoroughly tamed, one can attain a refuge (i.e., Arahatta Phala), which is so difficult to attain.
NOTE 1 : From the above, we are reminded to be responsible for our individual happiness and enlightenment. According to Buddha’s admonishment, whether we are trying to go to heaven or become enlightened, we have to put in our own effort to achieve our goals.
We cannot be a bad and irresponsible person and expect to go heaven by relying on others (including gods / Buddha) Therefore, being selfish and not staying home (during the Covid-19 quarantine) to visit temples will not earn us a place in heaven. Being selfish will land us in hot soup instead (pun intended)
NOTE 2: For an enlightened person, they know when to be harsh to benefit another. We should not copy blindly because we will just be creating tons of bad karma. This story of Kumarakassapa is not meant to encourage nasty behavior. As long as we are not enlightened, we should always create positive karma by being a kind and good person.
NOTE 3: Attachment to even a blade of grass will result in rebirth. (quoting from Master Guangqin) When we are really keen to be enlightened and be free from future rebirth, we have to really let go. The type of love that Kumarakassapa’s mother had, was afflicted by attachment. That is why it causes suffering for her. When we let go of attachment, it doesn’t mean we become heartless and uncaring. Buddhist enlightenment doesn’t swing to extremity. Likewise, when we let go, there is no aversion. Remember, Buddha’s path is the middle path.
NOTE 4: Although Buddha is completely enlightened and knew that the pregnant nun is innocent of any transgression of vows, he did not simply “absolve” and admit the nun into his order.
Instead, Upali (who was re-known for administering monastic vows was asked to preside over a public inquiry) Honorable laymen were invited and both the monks and nuns where present. This demonstrated the value of transparency in Buddhism. Why did Buddha went through such length? I think, this serve as a precedent for future cases.