A beautiful story is told about a disciple of Gautam Buddha. He was a young monk, very healthy, very beautiful, very cultured. He had come – just like Gautam Buddha – from a royal family, renouncing the kingdom.
In the West, just as Cleopatra is thought to be the most beautiful woman in the whole past of humanity, in the East, a parallel woman to Cleopatra is Amrapali. She was a contemporary of Gautam Buddha. She was so beautiful that there were always golden chariots standing at the gate of her palace. Even great kings had to wait to meet her. She was only a prostitute, but she had become so rich she could purchase kingdoms. But deep down, she suffered. In that beautiful body there was also a beautiful soul which hankered for love.
When a man comes to buy the body of a woman, she may pretend great love for him because he has paid for it, but deep down she hates him because he is using her as a thing, as an object – purchasable; he is not respecting her as a human being. And the greatest hurt and wound that can happen to anybody is when you are treated as a dead thing and your integrity, your individuality, is humiliated.
This young monk went into the city to beg. Not knowing, he passed by so many chariots of gold and beautiful horses he was amazed: “Who lives in this palace?” As he looked upward, Amrapali was looking from the window, and for the first time love arose in her heart – for the simple reason that the moment the young monk saw Amrapali, he bowed down to her with deep respect. Such beauty has to be respected, not to be used. It is a great gift of existence to be appreciated – but not to be humiliated.
At the moment this young, beautiful monk bowed down, suddenly a great upsurge of energy happened in Amrapali. For the first time somebody had looked at her with eyes of respect, somebody had given her the dignity of being a human being. She ran down, touched the feet of the monk and said, “Don’t go anywhere else; today be my guest.”
He said, “I am a bhikkhu, a beggar. In your great palace, where so many kings are waiting in a queue to meet you, it won’t look good.”
She said, “Forget all about those kings – I hate them! But don’t say no to my invitation, because for the first time I have given an invitation. I have been invited thousands of times by kings and emperors, but I have never invited anybody. Don’t hurt me, this is my very first invitation. Have your food with me.” The monk agreed.
Other monks were coming behind him, because Buddha used to move with ten thousand monks wherever he went. They could not believe their eyes, that the young monk was going into the house of the prostitute. With great jealousy, anger, they returned to Gautam Buddha. With one voice they said, “This man has to be expelled from the commune! He has broken all your discipline. Not only did he bow down to a prostitute, he has even accepted her invitation to go into her palace and have his food there.”
Buddha said, “Let him come back.”
For the first time Amrapali herself served food into the bowl of the monk. With tears of joy she said, “Can I ask a favor?”
The young monk said, “I don’t have anything, except myself. If it is in my capacity, I will do anything you want me to do.”
She said, “Nothing has to be done. The season of rains is going to start within two, three days…” And it was the rule of Buddhist monks that in the rainy season they stayed in one place for four months; for eight months of the year they were continually moving from one place to another, but for the four months of the rains it was absolutely necessary for them to stay somewhere where they could get a shelter.
Amrapali said, “In the coming four months, this palace should be your shelter. I don’t ask anything. I will not disturb you in any way. I will make everything as comfortable as possible for you, but don’t go for these four months.”
The monk said, “I have to ask my master. If he allows me, I will stay. If he does not allow me, you will have to forgive me: it is not in my hands, it is my master who decides where one has to stay.”
He came back. Everybody was angry, jealous, and they were all waiting to see if Gautam Buddha was going to punish him. Buddha asked, “Tell me the whole thing. What happened?”
He told Buddha everything. He also said that Amrapali… He did not use the word prostitute – that is a judgment. You have already condemned a woman by the very word, condemned her that she sells her body, that she sells her love, that her love is a commodity, if you have money you can purchase it.
He said, “Amrapali has invited me for the coming rainy season, and I have told her that if my master allows me, I will stay in her palace. It does not matter…”
There was great silence among the ten thousand monks. Nobody had thought that Gautam Buddha would say, “You are allowed to stay with Amrapali.” They could not believe their own ears; what were they hearing? A monk who has renounced the world is going to stay for four months in the house of a prostitute?
An old monk stood up and said, “This is not right! This man is hiding a fact. He says a woman, Amrapali, has invited him. She is not a woman, she is a prostitute!”
Gautam Buddha said, “I know, and because he has not used the word prostitute I am allowing him to stay there. He has respect – no judgment, no condemnation. He himself does not want to stay, that is why he has come here to ask his master. If you asked me to stay there, I would not allow you.”
Another monk said, “It is a strange decision. We will lose our monk! That woman is not an ordinary woman but an enchantress. This man, in four months, will be completely lost to the virtuous life, the good life, the life of a saint. After four months he will come as a sinner.”
Gautam Buddha said, “After four months you will be here, I will be here; let us see what happens, because I trust in his meditations and I trust in his insight. Preventing him will be distrusting him. He trusts me; otherwise there was no need to come. He could have thrown away the begging bowl and remained there. I understand him, and I know his consciousness. This is a good opportunity, a fire test, to see what happens. Just wait for four months.”
Those four months, for the monks, were very long. Each day was going so slowly, and they were imagining what must be happening, they were dreaming in the night about what must be happening. And after four months, the monk came back with a beautiful woman following him. He said to Buddha, “She is Amrapali. She wants to be initiated into the commune. I recommend her – she is a unique woman. Not only is she beautiful, she has a soul as pure as you can conceive.”
She fell at Gautam Buddha’s feet. This was even a bigger shock to those ten thousand people! And Buddha said to them, “I know these four months have been very long and you have suffered much. Day in and day out your mind was thinking only about what was happening between the monk and Amrapali, that he must have fallen in love with the woman and gone down the drain; four months will pass, the rains will stop, but he will not return – with what face?
“But you see, when a man of consciousness enters the house of a prostitute, it is the prostitute that changes – not the man of consciousness. It is always the lower that goes through transformation when it comes in contact with the higher. The higher cannot be dragged down.”
Her name, Amrapali, means… She had the biggest mango grove, perhaps one hundred square miles, and she presented it to Gautam Buddha – it was the most beautiful place. And she presented her palace, all her immense resources, for the spread of the message of Buddha.
Buddha said to his sangha, to his commune, “If you are afraid to be in the company of a prostitute, that fear has nothing to do with the prostitute; that fear is coming from your own unconscious because you have repressed your sexuality. If you are clean, then all judgment disappears.”
So the awakened has no judgments of what is good and what is bad, and the child has no judgment because he cannot make the distinction – he has no experience. In this sense it is true that every awakened person becomes a child again – not ignorant, but innocent. But every old person is not an awakened being. It should be so; if life has been lived rightly – with alertness, with joy, with silence, with understanding – you not only grow old, you also grow up. And these are two different processes. Everybody grows old, but not everybody grows up.
Reflections on Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet,