The Buddha and his Sangha then traveled to Vaishali, the capital of the Licchavis, a tribe that was part of the Vriji Federation that King Ajatashatru was so intent on conquering. There the Buddha stayed in the mango grove belonging to the famed and beautiful courtesan Amrapali. Amrapali was no ordinary courtesan. She was in fact the nagarvadhu or “bride of the city.” The story is that a gardener found her abandoned in the mango grove and raised her as his own daughter. Her name, Amrapali, in fact means “mango guardian.” As a young woman she was so beautiful that the Licchavi princes began fighting each other for her hand in marriage. Finally, to preserve the peace, it was decided that she would become the “bride of the city.” This position was something like a combination of high-class courtesan and unofficial queen. She became the mistress of the Licchavi princes and of the neighboring royalty who would come to Vaishali just to see her. She became quite wealthy as a result, and was known for her charity and good counsel. King Bimbisara fell in love with her and they even had a child together named Vimala Kaundinya. When Vimala Kaundinya grew up he became a Buddhist monk and attained arhatship. So when Amrapali heard that her son’s teacher, the Buddha, was staying at her mango grove, she took her best carriage and drove out to meet him.

In the meantime, the Buddha impressed upon the monks the importance of being mindful and clearly aware in all their activities:

“Monks, a monk should be mindful and clearly aware, this is our charge to you!

“And how is a monk mindful? Here, a monk abides contemplating the body as body, earnestly, clearly aware, mindful and having put away all hankering and fretting for the world, and likewise with regard to feelings, mind, and mind-objects. That is how a monk is mindful.

“And how is a monk clearly aware? Here, a monk, when going forward or backward, is aware of what he is doing; in looking forward or back he is aware of what he is doing; in bending and stretching he is aware of what he is doing; in carrying his inner and outer robe and bowl he is aware of what he is doing; in eating, drinking, chewing, and savoring he is aware of what he is doing; in passing excrement or urine he is aware of what he is doing; in walking, standing, sitting or lying down, in keeping awake, in speaking or in staying silent, he is aware of what he is doing. That is how a monk is clearly aware. A monk should be mindful and clearly aware, this is our charge to you!” (Ibid, p. 242)

When Amrapali arrived she greeted the Buddha with all proper courtesies and sat down to hear the Buddha’s teaching. She was so inspired and uplifted by the Buddha’s talk that she invited the Buddha and his Sangha to eat their meal at her place the next morning. The Buddha consented by silence and Amrapali took her leave. She was in such haste to get home and make preparations that she almost ran into the Licchavi princes in their chariots, all dressed in red, white, blue, and yellow with make-up to match. They were on their way to pay respects to the Buddha.

And Amrapali met the young Licchavis axle to axle, wheel to wheel, yoke to yoke. And they said to her: “Amrapali, why do you drive up against us like that?” “Because, young sirs, the Blessed Lord has been invited by me for a meal with his order of monks.”

“Amrapali, give up this meal for a hundred thousand pieces!” “Young sirs, if you were to given me all Vaishali with its revenues I would not give up such an important meal.”

Then the Licchavis snapped their fingers, saying: “We’ve been beaten by the magngo-woman, we’ve been cheated by the mango-woman!” And they set out for Amrapali’s grove.

And the Lord, having seen the Licchavis on from afar, said: “Monks, any of you who have not seen the thirty-three gods, just look at this troop of Licchavis! Take a good look at them, and you will get an idea of the thirty-three gods.” (Ibid, p. 243)

The Licchavis then greeted the Buddha and listened to his teaching. They too were inspired and uplifted. They attempted to invite the Buddha to eat with them the next morning, but the Buddha informed them that he had already accepted Amrapali’s invitation. Again the Licchavis snapped their fingers and bemoaned the fact that Amrapali had beaten them. It seems, however, that all of this was done in the spirit of playful rivalry.

The next day, the Buddha and the Sangha ate their meal at the home of Amrapali. When the meal was over Amrapali donated her mango grove to the Sangha. The Buddha then gave her further instruction in the Dharma. While staying at Amrapali’s grove the Buddha continued to teach the comprehensive discourse to the monks on morality, concentration, and wisdom. Some time later, Amrapali received further instruction in the Dharma from her son Vimala Kaundinya and she then retired and became a nun. Through contemplating the loss of her beauty in old age, as well all the fame, wealth and prestige it had brought, she realized that all phenomena are marked by impermanence, suffering, and no-self. In this way she also became an arhat and realized the true happiness of nirvana.