“Who will comprehend this earth, and this realm of Yama,
and this world together with the devas?
Who will investigate the well taught Path to Truth,
even as an expert (garland maker) will pick flowers?”44
“A disciple in training, will comprehend this earth, and this realm of Yama
together with the realm of the devas.
A disciple in training will investigate the well-taught Path of Virtue
even as an expert (garland-maker) will pick flowers.”45
Five hundred monks gathered and were talking about the earth in various villages. The Buddha advised them to meditate on the earth-element within their own bodies.¹
¹ The insight meditation method analyses the body as composed of four elements: solidity, fluidity, temperature, and motion.
“Knowing that this body is like bubbles,
and fully understanding its illusory nature,
one should destroy the flower-shafts of Māra,
and pass beyond the sight of the king of death.”46
Having obtained a meditation object from the Teacher, a monk was striving to attain Arahantship in the forest, but was not able to. Intending to get further instruction, he set off to see the teacher. On the way he saw a mirage and then bubbles in a mountain torrent. Spurred on by these perceptions, he contemplated impermanence. The Buddha read his thoughts and, appearing before him, confirmed his views.
“The man who gathers flowers (of sensual pleasure), whose mind is distracted,
death carries off as a great flood sweeps away a sleeping village.”47
This long story is worth telling, at least in brief, as it tells us something of the history of the Buddha’s relatives, and shows the serious problems caused by pride of birth and racial prejudice. The Sākyans and the Kosalans were neighbours on opposite banks of the Rohiṇī river. Sāvatthī was the capital of the Kosalans to the west of the Rohiṇī, and Kapilavatthu was that of the Sākyans to the east. South of the Sākyan kingdom lay that of the Mallas who had their capital at Kusināra. Far to the north-west lay the university city of Takkasila, in present-day Pakistan.
Prince Pasenadi, the son of the King of Kosala, lived at Sāvatthī, Prince Mahāli of the Licchavī clan lived at Vesāli, and Prince Bandhula, the son of the Malla king, lived at Kusināra. These three princes studied under a famous teacher at Takkasila, and became friends. After mastering the royal arts they returned to their respective kingdoms. Prince Pasenadi was anointed king, Prince Mahāli went blind, and was appointed as a teacher to the Licchavīs, and Prince Bandhula became King Pasenadi’s general after his parents dissuaded him from killing the other Malla princes to become king. He established a residence in Sāvatthī, brought his parents, and later married Mallikā, the daughter of the Malla king.
One day, King Pasenadi saw many monks passing through the street, and was told that they were going for alms at the houses of Anāthapiṇḍika, his son, Visākhā, and Suppavāsā. The king decided that he too should offer alms to the Saṅgha and so invited the Buddha and the Saṅgha. He served them with his own hand for seven days in succession, then on the seventh day asked the Buddha always to come with five hundred monks. The Buddha declined, but agreed to send another monk in his stead, giving the duty to Venerable Ānanda.
The king served the monks personally for seven more days, but then neglected to do so for three days. By the third day only Venerable Ānanda remained and the king was angry that the food prepared had been left untouched, so he went to complain to the Buddha. The Buddha explained the nine reasons why monks are not obliged to visit householders, or if they do visit, are not obliged to sit down: they do not rise to greet them, they do not pay homage, they do not offer a suitable seat, they conceal what they possess, they give little though they have much, they give inferior quality food, they do not offer the food respectfully, they do not sit to listen to the Dhamma, they do not speak in a pleasing manner. For the opposite nine reasons it is proper for monks to visit householders and to sit down.
Wishing to win back the confidence of the monks, the king thought it would help to introduce a Sākyan princess into his household, so he sent a message to the Sākyans. They discussed what to do. King Pasenadi of Kosala was their enemy and could destroy them if they refused, but they did not regard him as of equal birth to themselves, so no one was willing to give their daughter in marriage. Then Mahānāma said he had a beautiful daughter by a slave-woman. So they told Pasenadi that she was the daughter of Mahānāma the Sākyan, who was the son of the younger brother of the Blessed One’s father. King Pasenadi accepted her as his chief consort, and in due course Prince Viṭaṭūbha was born.
When he came of age he went to visit his maternal grandfather. The Sākyans sent all the younger princes away so that no one had to pay homage to him, but otherwise they showed him all hospitality. After he left, the seat he used was ritually washed. One or his men, who returned to collect a sword he had left behind, saw this and heard the servant cursing Viṭaṭūbha as the son of a slave woman. When he heard this Prince Viṭaṭūbha vowed to wreak vengeance on the Sākyans, and to wash his seat with the blood of their throats. When King Pasenadi heard the news he removed all royal gifts from Viṭaṭūbha and his mother, reducing them to slaves, but reinstated them after being advised by the Buddha.
Meanwhile at Kusināra, Mallikā, the daughter of the Malla King, and wife of King Pasenadi’s general, Bandhula, became pregnant and longed to bathe in the lotus tank of the Licchavīs. Bandhula took her there, drove away the guards, tore down the iron railings, and allowed her to bathe, afterwards bathing there himself. The Licchavīs were enraged. Their teacher, Mahāli, advised them not to pursue Bandhula, but could not dissuade them. Five hundred Licchavīs pursued Bandhula, but he killed them all. Bandhula brought Mallikā to Sāvatthī, where Mallikā gave birth to twins. As time went by Mallikā bore sixteen sets of twins, and Bandhula won public acclaim by overturning unjust decisions and removing the corrupt judges. The former judges told King Pasenadi that Bandhula was planning an insurrection. The simple-minded king believed them and had Bandhula and his thirty-two sons slaughtered, appointing Bandhula’s nephew, Dīghakārāyana, as his general. Mallikā was offering alms to five hundred monks with the two chief disciples when she was given a letter bearing the news that her husband and sons had been decapitated. She remained equanimous, advising her daughters-in-law not to grieve or hate the king, as their husbands had to endure the results of their previous kamma. Venerable Sāriputta gave the teaching of the Salla Sutta, (Suttanipāta v 579ff), “Life is uncertain, death is certain, but unpredictable.”
When King Pasenadi heard about this, he was overcome with remorse at his evil deed, and begged Mallikā for forgiveness. She gave it, and asked to be sent back to her family home with her daughters-in-law. The new general, Dīghakārāyana, bode his time for a while, but when the opportunity arose he took the king’s sword and turban while he was talking to the Buddha and left him. He returned quickly to the palace, appointing Prince Viṭaṭūbha as king. King Pasenadi rode to Rājagaha to enlist the help of his nephew, King Ajātasattu, but died from exhaustion outside the walls of the city.¹
Now that Viṭaṭūbha was king, he lost no time in wreaking vengeance on the Sākyans, and slaughtered them all except his grandfather, Mahānāma and his relatives, whom he captured. Mahānāma decided it was better to commit suicide than to eat with the son of a slave-woman.²
On the return journey Viṭaṭūbha camped with his followers by a river, but ants troubled them so those who had done evil deeds in the past moved down onto the river bed. At night a flash flood swept them out to sea. Hearing of their tragic end, the Buddha remarked that people come to ruin without accomplishing their aims, and uttered the verse “… death carries off as a great flood sweeps away a sleeping village.”
On being asked why the Sākyans were slaughtered, the Buddha related how in a past life they had conspired to dispose of poison in the river, killing all the fish.
“Who gathers the flowers (of sensual pleasure), whose mind is distracted,
and who is insatiate in desire, the Destroyer brings under his sway.”48
A deity in Tāvatiṃsa died while gathering flowers. She was reborn in a good family of Sāvatthī. When she came of age she married and had four sons. Daily, she offered alms to the monks and always prayed to be reunited with her husband, since she remembered her husband of the previous life. One day, after offering alms in the morning, she died in the evening, and was reborn in Tāvatiṃsa as she had wished. The deities had barely noticed her absence because one day in Tāvatiṃsa is equivalent to five hundred years of human life, so forty years seemed like just a few hours. They wondered why human beings were so heedless when their life was extremely short.
The monks who were not without attachment were grief-stricken when they discovered her death, and reported this to the Buddha. He explained that she had been reborn in Tāvatiṃsa as she had wished, and spoke on the fleeting nature of life, adding that people succumb to death with insatiate desires while picking the flowers of sensual pleasures.
“As a bee without harming the flower, its colour or scent, flies away,
collecting only the honey, even so should the sage wander in the village.”49
On the Buddha’s advice, Venerable Moggallāna used his psychic powers to bring a miserly millionaire and his wife to the presence of the Buddha, thus they gained faith in the Dhamma. The monks praised Venerable Moggallāna. The Buddha remarked that good monks like him inspired confidence in the Teacher, without causing inconvenience to any.
“Disregard the faults of others, things done and left undone by others,
but examine the deeds done and not done by oneself.”50
A jealous naked ascetic told his lay supporter not to go to listen to the Buddha. She sent her son to invite the Buddha to her house. The naked ascetic told her son not to go there. He said he had to go or face a scolding from his mother. The ascetic told him to go, but not to say where his house was, and to arrive and leave from a different direction, then the two of them would enjoy the food prepared for the Buddha. The Buddha, of course, didn’t need any directions to find the house. The woman greeted him respectfully, offered alms, and listened to the Dhamma. When she showed her deep appreciation for the Buddha’s teaching, the ascetic — who was sitting in the back room with her son — couldn’t bear it, and suddenly burst in, abusing both her and the Buddha. He ran off, but the woman was too upset by this outburst to concentrate on the Dhamma. The Buddha advised her to disregard the faults of others and only to reflect on her own.
“As a lovely flower that is beautiful, but scentless,
the well-spoken word of one who does not practise is fruitless.”51
Chattapāṇi (Parasol-in-hand) was a Non-returner and well-versed in the Tipiṭaka. One day, as he was sitting listening to the Buddha, King Pasenadi arrived. He didn’t rise from his seat to greet the king, thinking this would show disrespect to the Buddha. The king was angry, but paid his respects to the Buddha and sat down. The Buddha extolled the virtues of Chattapāṇi, and the king’s anger was allayed. Later, the king saw Chattapāṇi walking by the palace and had him summoned. He laid aside his sandals and parasol, and paid respect to the king. The king was pleased that he now showed him respect and asked him to teach Dhamma to his consorts. Chattapāṇi refused, saying it was improper for householders to perform the duty of monks. The king therefore asked the Buddha, and he arranged for Venerable Ānanda to teach the king’s consorts — Mallikā and Vāsabhakhattiyā, the daughter of Mahānāma the Sākyan by a slave-woman.
The two royal consorts studied the Dhamma under the Venerable Ānanda. Mallikā studied well, but Vāsabhakhattiyā made little progress. When asked by the Buddha, Venerable Ānanda reported that Mallikā studied well, but that the Buddha’s relative, Vāsabhakhattiyā, did not study carefully, nor recite by heart, nor learn well. The Buddha declared that like a scentless flower, the Dhamma is fruitless to one who makes no effort to study it properly.
“As from a heap of flowers many a garland is made, even so,
many good deeds should be done by one born a mortal.”53
Visākhā, the daughter of a millionaire of Bhaddiya, married into the family of Migāra, a millionaire of Sāvatthī, who was a supporter of the naked ascetics. When he offered alms to the naked ascetics he called on his new daughter-in-law to come and pay respects to the “Arahants.” On seeing the naked ascetics, she thought, “Surely, these shameless men are not Arahants” so she took offence and left. Migāra was offended, but made allowances for her young age.
On another occasion, Migāra was eating his breakfast when a monk came for alms. Visākhā, seeing that Migāra didn’t want to give anything, told the monk, “Please pass on venerable sir, my father-in-law is eating stale fare.” This was too much for Migāra, and he ordered her to be thrown out of the house. However, Visākhā put her case to her kinsmen who had been sent with her, and when she explained that her father-in-law was enjoying the benefits of previous good kamma, without doing any fresh good kamma, they decided that Migāra was wrong to send her away. Now that she had been cleared, she decided to leave anyway. Then Migāra apologised and permitted her to invite the Buddha and the Saṅgha for alms. In spite of the protests of the Naked Ascetics, Migāra listened to the Dhamma and became a Stream-winner. From that day he regarded Visākhā as his mother, thus she became known as “Migāra’s Mother.” He had an expensive gift made for her, and thenceforth she could invite the monks whenever she wished.
Visākhā had ten sons and ten daughters, and numerous grand-children, and great-grand-children. She retained her youthful looks into old age, and became the chief benefactress of the Buddha and the Saṅgha.
After she erected a monastery at great expense, so great was her delight that, with her children and grandchildren, she went around the monastery reciting verses of joy. The monks wondered if she had lost her mind, but when this was reported to the Buddha he remarked that Visākhā was overjoyed because she had at last fulfilled a long cherished aspiration.
“The perfume of flowers blows not against the wind,
nor does the fragrance of sandalwood, tagara and jasmine,
but the fragrance of the virtuous blows against the wind;
the virtuous man pervades every direction.”54
Venerable Ānanda asked the Buddha if any fragrance wafted against the wind. The Buddha replied that if one takes refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, observed the five precepts, and dwelt free from miserliness, delighting in giving, then the fragrance of one’s virtue wafts in all directions.
“Of little account is the fragrance of tagara or sandal; the fragrance of the virtuous,
which blows even amongst the gods, is supreme.”56
Sakka king of the gods, disguised as a poor weaver, offered alms to the Venerable Mahākassapa, who was looking for a poor person to whom he might grant the privilege of offering alms. The Buddha stated that Sakka, attracted by the perfume of virtue of the Venerable Kassapa, offered him alms.
“Māra finds not the path of those who are virtuous,
careful in living, and freed by right knowledge.”57
The Venerable Godhika, impeded from gaining mental absorption by a certain disease, cut his throat with a razor; but immediately before his death he cultivated insight and realised nibbāna. Māra searched to see where his relinking-consciousness had arisen. The Buddha remarked that Māra cannot trace the relinking-consciousness of an Arahant.
“As upon a heap of rubbish thrown by the highway,
a fragrant and lovely lotus may grow, even so amongst worthless beings,
a disciple of the Fully Enlightened One outshines the blind worldlings in wisdom.58-59
Two friends lived at Sāvatthī. Sirigutta was the Buddha’s disciple, while Garahadinna was a disciple of the naked ascetics. The naked ascetics urged Garahadinna to tell his friend to offer alms to them instead of to the Buddha. Garahadinna kept asking his friend why he bothered to offer alms to the Buddha, instead of to his own teachers. Sirigutta kept his peace for a while, but eventually lost his patience, asking, “What do your teachers know?” Garahadinna said that his teachers knew everything in the past, present, and future; that they knew everyone’s thoughts, words, and actions. So Sirigutta said to his friend, “Why did you not tell me before about your teachers’ great powers? Please invite them for alms in my name.”
While Garahadinna went to invite the naked ascetics, Sirigutta had a pit dug by his house, had it filled with filth, with a rope fixed to support one side of the seats while the other side rested on the ground. As soon as the ascetics sat down they would fall into the pit. In his house, he had empty pots prepared so that they looked like they were full of food. When the naked ascetics arrived for the meal, he paid homage to them and thought to himself, “If you know the future do not enter my house as there is no food prepared, and I will have you all flung into a pit of filth and beaten with sticks. He invited them all to sit down at once, and they all fell into the pit. As they climbed out, he had them beaten with sticks, ridiculing them, “Why don’t you know all about the past, present, and future!”
The naked ascetics complained to Garahadinna that he had ruined them, and Garahadinna complained to the king, who had Sirigutta summoned to impose a heavy fine. Then Sirigutta explained what he had done and the king (Pasenadi) had a fine inflicted on Garahadinna instead. Now Garahadinna was more angry than ever, and didn’t speak to Sirigutta for a fortnight. Then he thought, “This doesn’t achieve anything” and made up with his friend.
After some time Sirigutta said to Garahadinna, “What is the use of offering alms to your teachers. Why don’t you invite the Buddha and his disciples for alms?” This was just the opportunity Garahadinna was waiting for. He asked, “What does your teacher know?” Sirigutta replied, “He knows all about the past, present, and future, and all the thoughts of others.” So Garahadinna asked Sirigutta to invite him. Meanwhile he prepared a hidden pit of burning charcoal. When the Buddha arrived, Garahadinna asked him to enter alone first. As he placed his foot over the charcoal pit he used his psychic powers to create great lotus flowers, and the monks sat down on the seats prepared by his powers. The empty vessels that Garahadinna had prepared became full of food. Garahadinna gained faith in the Buddha, and many followers of the heretics were also converted to the Buddhist faith.