A treasurer's son, Sornia, was sitting in a carriage together with a certain intimate friend of his. With a large retinue they drove out of their city to bathe. At that moment the Elder Mahakannik who wanted to enter the city for alms, was putting on his mantle outside of the city gate. When the treasurer's saw the golden-hued body of the Elder, he thought to himself, "Oh, that this Elder might become my wife! Or may the hue of my wife's body become like the hue of his body!"
The moment this thought passed through his mind Sornia was transformed from a man into a woman. He descended from the carriage in embarrassment and took to flight. His attendants, who did not understand what had taken place, said, "'What does this mean? What does this mean?"
Sornia, thus transformed into a woman set out on the road to Takkasila. His carriage-companion searched everywhere for him, but failed to find him. When all the members of the party had bathed, they returned home. They were asked, "Where is the treasurer's son?"
They replied, "We supposed that he returned home after bathing."
His mother and father searched everywhere for him, but did not find him. They wept and lamented. Concluding that he must be dead, they gave the funeral feast.
Sornia, now a woman, saw a caravan bound for Takkasila, and followed close behind on foot. After she had walked thus for a long time, she gave a seal-ring to the people of the caravan to ride in a certain wagon. The men of the caravan thought to themselves, "Our treasurer's son, who lives in the city of Savatthi, has no wife. We will tell him about this woman, and he will give us a handsome present."
When they reached Takkasila, they went and said to that treasurer's son, "We have brought you a jewel of a woman." On hearing this, the treasurer's son sent for her. He noticed that she suited his age and was exceedingly beautiful, fell in love with her and married her.
So Sornia, the son of another treasurer, transformed into a woman, was married to the son of the treasurer of Takkasila, and had a child with him, and then another when their first son was old enough to walk. Thus Sornia, who was the father of two sons in her home city, became the mother of two sons born in the city of Takkasila.
Just at this time the man who had been Sornia's carriage companion on the memorable day when Sornia changed sex, set out from their home city with five hundred carts. When he arrived at Takkasila, he entered town seated in his carriage. At that moment the woman Sornia stood at an open window on the topmost floor of her palace, looking down into the street. As soon as she saw him, she recognised him well, and sent a servant woman to him. She summoned him within, provided a seat for him in the great hall of the palace, and paid him the usual attentions and honours.
Said the guest to the host, "Lady, I never saw you before, but you have been exceedingly kind to me. Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, I know. Don't you live in the city of Sornia?"
Then she inquired after the health of her mother and father and former wife and sons.
"They are very well indeed," replied the visitor, and then queried. "Do you know them?"
"Yes, I do. And they have a son. Where is he?"
"Lady, I beg you not to speak of him. One day, seated in a carriage together, we drove out of the city to bathe, and all of a sudden he disappeared. None of us know where he went or what became of him. We searched everywhere for him, but could not find him. Finally we told his mother and father. They wept and lamented and performed the rites for the dead."
"Well, I'm he."
"What are you saying? He was an intimate friend of mine, and a man."
"Never mind. I'm he all the same."
"What is the explanation of this?" asked her visitor.
"Do you remember seeing the Elder Mahakannik that day?" asked his host.
"Well, when I looked at Mahakannik, I thought to myself, "O, that this Elder might become my wife! If not, may the hue of my wife's body become like the hue of his body!" The moment this thought passed through my mind I was transformed to a woman. I was so embarrassed that I was unable to speak to anyone. Therefore I took to flight and came here."
"Why didn't you tell me? And did you beg the Elder's pardon?"
"No, I did not beg his pardon. But do you know where the Elder is?"
"He lives near this very city."
"Were he to come here, I should like to give food in alms to him."
"Very well, I will persuade the Elder to pay you a visit."
Sornia's former carriage-companion went to the place where the Elder lived, greeted him respectfully, sat down beside him, and soon the Elder accepted the invitation. Next day he came and stood at the door of Sornia's palace. The companion bowed to him and said, "Pardon this woman beside me, who is my friend."
Said the Elder, "What?"
The companion: "She used to be my dearest male friend. One day he looked on you with lust and was at once transformed from a man into a woman. Pardon her, Sir."
Said the Elder, "Very well, rise. I pardon you."
As soon as he said it, Sornia was changed from a woman to a man, and her husband in Takkasila said to her, "Good friend, since you are the mother of these two boys and I am their father, they are the sons of us both."
Sornia replied, "Friend, first I was a man, then I was a woman, and now I have become a man once more. First I became the father of two sons, and recently I became the mother of two sons. Now I'll become a monk. Care for our two boys. Do not neglect them."
So saying, Sornia kissed and embraced their boys, handing them over to their father, he left the house and became a monk. The Elder Mahakannik admitted Sornia to the Buddhist Order, and then, taking him with him, set out for Sornia's home city, and in due time arrived there. From then on he was known as Elder Sornia.
When the inhabitants of the country learned what had happened, they were much agitated and excited. And approaching the Elder Sornia, they asked him, "Reverend Sir, is this report true?"
" Sir, you are said to be the mother of two sons and the father of two sons as well. For which pair of sons have you the stronger affection?"
"For the pair I have mothered."
All those who came, invariably asked the Elder the same question, and again and again the Elder returned the answer, "I have the stronger affection for the pair of sons of which I am the mother."
Thereupon the Elder withdrew himself from the multitude. Having thus sought solitude, people still found him and asked the same questions. "Was that report true, Sir? Was that report true?"
"For which pair of sons have you the stronger affection?"
"My affections are set on none by now."
Then the monks said to his teacher, the Elder, "Formerly this monk used to say, "I have the stronger affection for the pair of sons of which I am the mother! Now, however, he says, "My affections are set on none."
The teacher said, "Monks, he does not utter falsehood. His mind has been rightly directed. Neither a mother nor a father can confer the benefit which a well-directed mind confers on living beings."
So saying, he said, "Mother or father or other relatives could not do what a well-directed mind could do far better."
Q and A
Sriputta asks: "Why live the religious Buddhist life? Do we live the religious Buddhist life for the sake of purity of conduct?"
Punna Mantaniputta answers: "No."
"For the sake of purity of heart [only]?"
"Of purity of belief?"
"Of purity of certitude?"
"Of purity of insight through knowledge of what is the Way and what is not the Way?"
"Of purity of insight through knowledge of the Path?"
"For the sake of purity of insight through knowledge?"
"No. They are only the means to an end."
"Why, then, do we live the religious Buddhist life?"
"That we may attain to Great Nirvana."
The series of questions and answers cover partial sides to good Buddhism, to be fair, and they should lead to the happy end goal of Nirvanahood. "Every little helps," and purity and insights may serve as great helps too. - T. K.
Buddhaghosa was an Indian Theravadin Buddhist commentator and scholar from the 400s CE His name means "Voice of the Buddha" in the Pali language. His best-known work is a comprehensive summary and analysis of the Theravada understanding of the Buddha's path to liberation. His interpretations form the orthodox understanding of Theravada scriptures. He is recognized by both Western scholars and Theravadins as the most important commentator of the Theravada.
There is little information about the life of Buddhaghosa. However, short biographical excerpts describe him as having come to Sri Lanka from India and settled in Anuradhapura.
Buddhaghosa was born into a Brahmin family in the kingdom of Magadhi in Northern India, near Bodh Gaya - some say Kanci in southern India - scholars do not agree about his birth-place - and became skilled in the Hindu Vedas. But when he encountered a Buddhist monk named Revata, the impressed Buddhaghosa became a Buddhist monk and undertook the study of the Tipitaka and its commentaries. Buddhaghosa decided to go to Sri Lanka to study a very large volume of commentarial texts that had been assembled and preserved by the monks, and got their permission to synthesise the assembled commentaries into a comprehensive single commentary in Pali.
The elder monks tested his qualifications, and then he summarised the whole Tripitaka so proficiently that the monks provided Buddhaghosa with the full body of their commentaries. Buddhaghosa went on to write commentaries on most of the other major books of the Pali Canon. After he had translated and synthesised a large body of Singhalese commentaries, Buddhaghosa returned to India, we are told.
Scholars currently agree to accept only the Visuddhimagga, which summarises current Buddhist doctrines, and the commentaries on the first four nikayas as Buddhaghosa's work.
A Buddhist monastic, Shravasti Dhammika writes: "Even Buddhaghosa did not really believe that Theravada practice could lead to Nirvana . . . In the postscript [of the Visuddhimagga] he says he hopes that the merit he has earned by writing the Vishuddhimagga will allow him to be reborn in heaven . . . and then attain enlightenment."
Be that as it may, in the 1100s the Sri Lankan monk Sariputta incorporated many of the works of Buddhaghosa into his own interpretations. In time the teachings of his tradition - and thus those of Buddhaghosa - were spread throughout the Theravada countries.
In India, new schools of Buddhist philosophy (such as the Mahayana) were emerging, many of them making use of Sanskrit both as a scriptural language and as a language of philosophical discourse. [Wikipedia, sv. "Buddhaghosa"; Britannica, sv. "Buddhaghosha"]