Below is a Buddhist story that seeks to highlight on the illusion of being attached to one’s body so much so that the higher goals of life – Enlightenment – become forgotten or hard to attain. There is no much difference in the modern world; despite an advance in the medical sciences, men are the same since the ancient times, utterly identifying with their bodies at the expense of cultivation of their Souls. We might be the lucky generation that has the ability to postpone death and pain due to advance in medicine but the delusions that pave the way to Hell remain entirely unchanged. Enjoy the story.
CLEOPATRA was quite an attractive and graceful woman who was always surrounded by admirers. She never ceased to feel very lonely, however, because all those dear to her—mother, brother, and even husband—had all entered the Order. Missing her family badly, she went to visit them often and heard them speak of the Buddha in such a way that she longed to go and pay him homage too.
But when she learned that the Buddha often talked about the impermanence of the body, she was afraid that he might disparage her for her beauty, and so hesitated to do so. In the end, however, she decided that no matter what the Buddha might say to her, she would go and see him anyway.
As soon as the Buddha saw Cleopatra, he realized that she was someone very attached to her beauty. To teach her a lesson, he caused a vision of a ravishing young lady to appear before her. When Cleopatra saw the young lady, she could not help but remark how extremely beautiful she was and exclaimed to herself, “My goodness, next to her I must look like an old crow!”
Then before Cleopatra could realize what was happening, the beautiful young lady started to age and slowly deteriorate before her very eyes until she finally lay sick and helpless on the floor, rolling in filth. Then she died, and Cleopatra saw her corpse going through the different stages of decay, oozing pus and other foul liquids, and finally crawling with maggots.
Witnessing this rapid succession of images, Cleopatra realized that there was a continuous process of change and decay in the body. “In the same way,” she thought, “like this young girl who has grown old, died, and decayed before my very eyes, I, too, will grow old and decay one day.”
With that realization, the attachment that Cleopatra had for her body diminished and she came to perceive its true nature. She then became a nun, and under the guidance of the Buddha, eventually attained Enlightenment.