Veiled by Virtue

Gopā at Borobudur

The Lalitavistara (A Charming Elaberation), a text in Sanskritised Prakrit, forms the basis for the reliefs carvings on the Life of the Buddha at Borobudur.

I was recently collecting the exact passages that have been illustrated, when I came upon this passage at the end of Chapter 12, which seemed to warrant highlighting.

It shows once again how Buddhist thought overcomes the literalism which dogs other forms of religion and ideology, and sees through to the truth of the matter at hand.

Gopā, who is better known as Yasodharā in the Pāḷi tradition, is just married to Siddhartha but doesn’t cover her face in accordance with custom. She explains what is a person’s true cover.

Then the young Śākyan lady Gopā upon seeing others did not cover her face, whether it was her Mother- or Father-in-Law, or another intimate person. Thinking about this, they considered: “New brides are normally withdrawn, yet she is always unveiled.”

Then the young Śākyan lady Gopā, after hearing those words, and standing in front of all those in the inner quarters, spoke these verses:

“Noble Sirs! Sitting, standing or walking, the unveiled woman shines forth,
Like a jewel on the top of a flag-pole, shining and radiant.

When coming she shines forth, when going she also shines forth,
Standing and sitting, always she shines forth,
Speaking she shines forth, she shines forth when silent,
She is like the Indian Cuckoo in appearance and in voice.

Whether covered in Kuśa grass, little or scanty clothes,
Virtuous she shines forth by the power of her virtue.
Those in whom no wickedness is found always shine forth,
But unadorned the fool and the wicked one do not shine forth.

Those who have offenses in their heart, but are sweet in speech,
Are like a poisoned jar that is sprinkled with nectar,
Are unpleasant, having hearts as hard as rock,
The sight of those is disagreeable like the sight of a snake.

Those who are gentle in inclination towards others,
Are like a fording place, protecting the lives of all.
Those Noble Ones, who are like pots full of milk and curds,
The sight of them is very auspicious and purifies the heart.

Those who for a long time have avoided wicked friends,
Who have embraced jewel-like spiritual friends,
Putting aside wickedness, settling on the Buddha’s Teaching,
The sight of them is fruitful, very auspicious and lovely to behold.

Those who restrain the body, and faults committed by way of body,
Who restrain their speech, whose speech is full of generosity,
Who have guarded senses, humility and a clear mind,
Why should they be seen to have covered their face?

If they have covered themselves with a thousand clothes,
But their mind is unveiled, having no conscience or shame,
Those who do not have these qualities, nor truthful speech,
They wander around the world more naked than the naked.

Those who guard their minds, and always restrain their senses,
Their minds not clinging to another, satisfied with their own husbands,
Who appear unveiled like the Sun and the Moon,
Why should they cover their face?

Great souls and seers know my heart,
The gods know others’ wholesome thoughts,
I have heedfulness, virtue and precepts,
Why should I conceal my face?”


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