In many Buddhist countries, Hariti is a guardian goddess of small children
and is usually presented in Buddhist artifacts as a Mother Goddess wearing a
green robe. "Hariti" is Sanskrit, which literally means "Mother
of Little Ghosts" in English. The Buddhist Sutra said that she had 1,000
children who were all Demon Leaders (some translated as "Ghost Kings"),
500 of them lived in various Heavens and the rest lived on Earth. They frequently
directed groups of demons to attack gods and human kings, creating all kinds
of evils and disasters.
One day, as Ananda, (Buddha's senior student) was making a routine round in the City of Rajagraha collecting alms, he learned that people in the city were troubled by numerous missing children. Every day, some small kids mysteriously disappeared. Parents who had lost their children had no idea how their kids disappeared, where they went and whether they were alive or dead.
As Ananda brought the news back to the Monastery, the Buddha immediately knew who did it. He told Ananda, "The fellow who kidnaps small children is no ordinary human criminal - she is Hariti, the Mother of Little Ghosts. One of her favourite food was live human babies and small kids. Every day, she goes to the City of Rajagraha to 'hunt' for small children, took them home, slaughtered them, cooked them and served as food."
"No wonder the King of Rajagraha could not solve the problem," said Ananda, "Hariti was not a human - she was an evil ghost! Is there anyway we can do to help the citizens to solve this problem?"
"Yes, I have a plan," said the Buddha. "Here is it."
And off Ananda went to carry out Buddha's instruction.
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Ananda assembled a group of monks and went to the place where Hariti lived. There they hided outside until she went out on her daily "hunting" round looking for human babies to eat. Once she had gone, the monks use their mystic power and brought all her ghost children back to the monastery. There, they hided the ghost children in a secret place.
When the evil ghost returned to her home, she found that all her children had disappeared and nowhere to be found. She was so terrified that she dared not kill any of her "prey", thinking that the King of Gods, Sakra, or the Lord of Hell, King Yama, must be going after her. Immediately, she left her captives at home and went outside to look for her own children. Days were passed, but her own kids could not be found. Finally, she sat on the street of the City and started to cry aloud.
As Ananda was making his usual round collecting alms, he approached Hariti and asked her, "What are you crying for? How come you are so sad?"
"Because I had lost my children," replied Hariti, still crying. "I do not know where they had gone"
"Go to see the Buddha," suggested Ananda. "The Enlightened One knows everything in the past, present and future. He can probably help you out."
Hariti was glad to follow Ananda to the monastery to see the Buddha. After she had given a salutation to him, the Buddha asked, "why are you crying publicly in the City?"
"Because I had lost my children," replied Hariti. "They disappeared while I went outside."
"Why didn't you take care of your own children?" the Buddha began to question her. "Why did you go out and what were you doing on that day?"
Hariti dared not answer. The Buddha continued to question her. Finally, she confessed, "I am stupid. I went out to hunt children."
"What?" asked the Buddha. "Preying on small children? Tell me, do you love your own children?"
"Sure I do. I love my own children very much."
At this moment, the Buddha raised up and told Hariti sternly, "If you love your own children, why are you hunting other peoples' children as food? Do you know that their parents are just as sad? Do you know that you are creating a bad karma for yourself. Do you know that for your sin you will be reborn in Hell to face judgement by King Yama for what you did?"
On hearing this, Hariti was really terrified. "What can I do to get my children back? Is there any way to avoid punishment in Hell?"
"If you can make a confession of your sin and promise to render good deeds in the future by following my teachings, your children will return to you safely and you will not have to be reborn in Hell to face King Yama," reply the Buddha. Then he gave a detail lecture of his teachings on the four noble truths and the eightfold paths. He also told her to follow the five precepts (of not killing, not stealing, no sexual misconducts, no damaging bad words towards other people and no alcoholic drinks).
After the lecture was finished, Hariti kneeled down, clapped her hands and said, "Now I understand what I did was wrong. I wish to take refuge in you, the Dharma and the Sangha, and I vow that from now onward, I will act as guardian of all small children in the saha-world."
The Buddha told her that there is no need to hunt small children for food anymore. She might share with the Sangha any offerings made by lay followers. From then onwards, she attained arhatship and became the Guardian Goddess of Small Children.