There is an interesting story in the Nirvana Sutra. One day a young lady of otherworldly beauty visited a rich merchant’s house. She was so attractive that the head of the house asked her if she was a heavenly being. She said she was called Heavenly Maiden of Virtue. Whoever was visited by her obtained anything he wanted, such as gold, silver, lapis lazuli, pearls, elephants, horses, servants, and so on. The rich merchant joyfully invited her into the house. After a while another woman, who was extremely ugly, thin, and poor-looking, came to the house. She wore dirty rags and looked so emaciated that here and there flesh and bone were visible. She said she was called Darkness and whoever was visited by her lost their possessions. The head of the house found her so repulsive that he told her to get out. She told him that it was silly to say that because she and the Heavenly Maiden of Virtue were sisters and that they always went together. To chase her out would mean to expel her sister also. The head of the house demanded that both should go out of his house.

The two sisters then visited a poor family. The head of the house gladly received them into the house. They asked him why he welcomed both when the older sister brings riches and the younger one poverty. The head of the house said, “There is no special reason. I am just happy that you both thought of me.”

The beautiful woman represents birth and life, while the other one represents death. An ordinary person is attached to life and hates death, but a bodhisattva has surpassed this kind of love and hate and accepts birth and death as the reality of life.

From the blog of Toshikazu Arai, Echo of the Dharma–A Bilingual Blog on Shin Buddhism. Reprinted with permission of the author.