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Ānanda is one of Buddha’s Ten Great Disciples with wonderful attributes. Buddha had thirty-two excellent attributes of a great man, while Ananda had thirty. Once, there was a dharma assembly, in which, Buddha led many disciples to receive offerings. However, Ānanda did not follow suit and walked towards the West alone with his pātra (alms bowl).
After walking for a long period of time, Ānanda reached a settlement feeling hot, hungry and thirsty with his pātra still empty. Coincidentally, there was a well ahead, and a lady was fetching water from it. When the lady saw Ānanda walking towards the well, she exclaimed, “What a dignified Bhikkhu!”
This very lady was Mātaṅga, who fell in love with Ānanda at first sight. She happily poured water into Ānanda’s pātra and stared at him until he left.
When Mātaṅga got home, she begged her mother to come up with a way for her to be with Ānanda. Her mother knew that Bhikkhus were sacred and inviolable, so her love could never come to fruition. However, after the daughter repeatedly begged with all her might, she relented and used evil powers to hoodwink Ānanda, such that he had no choice but to enter their home.
After Buddha knew of it, he sought the help of Mañjuśrī to get Ānanda back and requested all Bhikkhus to focus on chanting the Shurangama Mantra. At this point, Ānanda was in the lady’s room and about to break his precept. He suddenly came to his senses and immediately left her home and ran back to Buddha’s ashram.
Mātaṅga was upset by Ānanda’s abrupt departure and she ran after him all the way. Upon meeting Buddha, she pleaded to have Buddha’s blessings so that she could be with Ānanda. As Ānanda was having a bath, Buddha had someone bring out some of the water from the bath. Buddha then asked Mātaṅga, “Do you really love him? Which part of him do you love?”
She replied, “Everything about him!”
Buddha then continued, “Since you love him so much, drink this bowl of water taken from Ānanda’s bath!”
She was horrified and asked, “Dear Buddha, you are a symbol of benevolence, why would you ask me to drink such dirty water?”
Buddha patiently replied, “Everyone’s body gets dirty, and since you already find a healthy Ānanda dirty, what would you think of him when he is old and sick?”
After hearing Buddha’s words, she realised how human bodies are impure and never got herself to love again. From then on, Mātaṅga got rid of her desire for lust and greed and attained the first stage of enlightenment.
This is precisely what ‘Paṭikkūlamanasikāra’ means - to reflect on repulsive things. If one can mindfully practise the contemplation of impurity, one can stop having feelings of greed and lust.
Translated by Teo Jia Xin