Among the many disciples of Buddha, Ananda had the most retentive memory. Ananda’s memories of Buddha’s teachings were passed on to generations before being summarized in the form of the Buddhist sutras. He was the youngest of the Shakya princes who became the Buddha’s disciples. Of all the princes, Buddha liked Ananda the most and knew that he would be the one who would eventually spread his teachings to the future generations.
Growing up in Buddha’s community, Ananda was loved and revered by all for his gentle and compassionate disposition. He was most respected by women because of his caring nature towards the women followers of Buddha. It was due to Ananda’s efforts that Buddha accepted female monks (Bhukkhunis) in his monastery.
This story takes place when Ananda was young and still learning the ways of mindfulness meditation. Due to his good looks and gentle speech, women were usually attracted to him and this caused him great trouble during his meditation sessions. One day, while practicing walking meditation, he noticed a peasant girl getting water from a well. As he was thirsty, he asked the girl to give him some water.
The girl recognized the young bhikkhu (Buddhist monk) as Ananda and said shyly, “Oh lord! I am just a mere peasant who is not worthy of offering you anything.”
When Ananda heard this, he consoled her, “Young lady! I’m a bhikkhu and I’m equal towards the rich and the poor.”
The young girl was deeply attracted to Ananda and even had a vision of marrying the young bhikkhu. In reality, Ananda too was attracted to the girl and couldn’t erase the thought of her from his mind. Next day, when he passed by her house, the girl smiled affectionately and acknowledged him. Ananda began to feel confused. However at that moment, he remembered he was a bhikkhu who had to abide by the precepts given by Buddha. He thought of Buddha and his power engulfed him. He suddenly found wisdom in that moment. It was as if Buddha had turned into a gust of wind to guide him back to the monastery.
The next day, as Ananda was walking by her house, he noticed that the girl was wearing new clothes and had a new hairdo in order to attract him. When she saw him, she followed him and refused to let him out of her sight. Ananda felt nervous and helpless. So he returned to the monastery and confided everything to Buddha. The Buddha then instructed him to bring the girl before him.
At first, the girl was shocked and scared to know that the great Buddha wanted to see her. But then she thought of Ananda and mustered enough courage to visit him.
Upon seeing her, the Buddha said, “Ananda is a practicing monk. If you wish to marry him, then you must leave home and become a bhukkhini for a year. Are you willing to do that?”
“Yes, I am, my lord,” replied the young girl hastily. She was surprised at the fact that the Buddha had made her wish come true so easily that she replied without thinking.
The Buddha continued, “As per my rule, you need to leave home with the approval of your parents. Are you willing to tell them about your wish and get their approval?”
The girl agreed happily. She felt that the conditions given by Buddha were so simple to perform that she didn’t think twice before informing her mother about her wish to become a bhukkhini. Her mother was glad to hear that she was marrying Ananda and allowed her daughter to be a bhukkhini for one year to adhere to Buddha’s conditions.
So the young girl shaved her hair to become a bhukkhini in Buddha’s monastery. She listened to Buddha’s preaching enthusiastically and practiced meditation as per Buddha’s guidance every day. Her desires and emotions calmed down with each passing day and in less than six months, she realized that in the past her pursuits of love was a shameful behaviour.
Through Buddha’s teaching of Four Noble Truths, she recognized that the three forms of desire (sense-craving, craving to be, craving not to be) were the main cause of her suffering, anxiety, and dissatisfaction (dhukkha). Her desire for Ananda had turned into an unhealthy obsession which was consuming her soul and turning her into a person she was not. She knew then that in order to be happy and peaceful, she had to be free of this desire.
She felt extreme remorse for her behavior and one day, she knelt repentantly in front of Buddha and said, “Oh Lord Buddha! I’ve been blind and ignorant. But I’m awake now. I will be ignorant no more. I’m grateful to you and your teachings. In order to convert us ignorant beings, you have put in so much effort to think of various ways! Henceforth, I will be your bhukkhini forever and follow your footsteps to be the messenger of truth and peace.”
Buddha’s guidance and teachings had finally enabled the bhukkhini to be an awakened bhukkhini. The young girl, of course, was the great female Buddhist monk, Matanga. The incident of Matanga’s attraction to Ananda and the turning of misfortune into happiness became a topic of great interest in those days in the Buddhist community and a charming story through the ages.