THERE was a courtesan in Mathura named Vasavadatta. She happened to see Upagutta, one of Buddha's disciples, a tall and beautiful youth, and fell desperately in love with him. sent an invitation to the young man, but he replied: "The time has not yet arrived when Upagutta will visit Vasavadatta." The courtesan was astonished at the reply, and she sent again for him, saying: "Vasavadatta desires love, not gold, from Upagutta." But Upagutta made the same enigmatic reply and did not come.
A few months later Vasavadatta was having a love intrigue with the chief of the artisans. But at that time a wealthy merchant came to Mathura, and fell in love with Vasavadatta. Seeing his wealth, and fearing the jealousy of her other lover, she contrived the death of the chief of the artisans, and concealed his body under a dung-hill. When the chief of the artisans had disappeared, his relatives and friends searched for him and found his body. Vasavadatta was tried by a judge, and condemned to have her ears and nose, her hands and feet cut off, and flung into a graveyard. Vasavadatta had been a passionate girl, but kind to her servants, and one of her maids followed her, and out of love for her former mistress ministered to her in her agonies, and chased away the crows.
Now the time had arrived when Upagutta decided to visit Vasavadatta. When he came, the poor woman ordered her maid to collect and hide under a cloth her severed limbs; and he greeted her kindly, but she said with petulance: "Once this body was fragrant like the lotus, and I offered thee my love. In those days I was covered with pearls and fine muslin. Now I am mangled by the executioner and covered with filth and blood."
"Sister," said the young man, "it is not for my pleasure that I approach thee. It is to restore to thee a nobler beauty than the charms which thou hast lost. I have seen with mine eyes the Tathagata walking upon earth and teaching men his wonderful doctrine. But thou wouldst not have listened to the words of righteousness while surrounded with temptations while under the spell of passion and yearning for worldly pleasures. Thou wouldst not have listened to the teachings of the Tathagata, for thy heart was wayward, and thou didst set thy trust on the sham of thy transient charms. The charms of a lovely form are treacherous, and quickly lead into temptations, which have proved too strong for thee. But there is a beauty which will not fade, and if thou wilt but listen to the doctrine of our Lord, the Buddha, thou wilt find that peace which thou wouldst have found in the restless world of sinful pleasures."
Vasavadatta became calm and a spiritual happiness soothed the tortures of her bodily pain; for where there is much suffering there is also great bliss. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, she died in pious submission to the punishment of her crime.