From lust springs grief,
from lust springs fear;
One free from lust,
has no grief, whence fear?
– The Buddha
(Dhammapada Verse 215)
The Dhammapada Commentary relates the story of Anitthigandha Kumāra in whom love developed for the kind of feminine beauty that he had imagined. This illustrates that if one can visualize an image in one’s dreams or thoughts, then desire, lust, and affection can develop. The story is as follows:
Anitthigandha Kumāra was born in Sāvatthi. He was a Brahmā in his previous existence. While in the Brahmā plane he was naturally free from the shackles of sensual desire and lust. When reborn as a human being, he had no interest in the opposite sex. When he came of age his parents urged him to marry, but he refused. As his parents were insistent he devised a plan by which he hoped to evade marriage. He enlisted the services of sculptors to make a gold image of a beautiful girl, and told his parents that he would marry anyone who looked like this gold image. The parents, being wealthy and capable, hired the services of brahmins to search the land for a bride whose beauty equalled that of the image that their son had conceptualised in the gold image.
When the brahmins reached Sāgala in the Madda kingdom they heard talk of a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl who was kept secluded in a seven-storeyed tower. Having traced her, they persuaded her parents to allow them to assess her beauty. When she was brought to meet them they found that she was even more beautiful than the statue. They then negotiated with the parents for the girl to be given in marriage to Anitthigandha Kumāra. Gaining their consent, they informed the parents of the bridegroom. On hearing that the bride was even more beautiful than the figurine he had sculpted, the bridegroom was anxious to have her brought as soon as possible. This is an instance of attachment that can arise purely out of one’s imagination.
Sāgala and Sāvatthi are more than five hundred miles apart, and in those days transportation was primitive. Perhaps she was brought in a horse-drawn carriage. She became utterly exhausted during the journey, fell ill, and died. When Anitthigandha Kumāra heard this news, he became gravely distressed for having missed the chance even to catch a glimpse of her. He could not eat or sleep. Knowing about this, the Buddha took pity on him, and so came to his house for alms. The parents respectfully offered alms to the Buddha and brought their son to meet him. Then the Buddha preached the verse [as in the opening quote above]. Having heard this verse the young man attained stream-winning. Previously he had been disinterested in women, and thought he had set his parents an impossible task. When the impossible came true with the discovery of a maiden more beautiful than his wildest dreams, attachment arose to torment his innocent mind.
A Discourse on the Mālukyaputta Sutta