“The flickering, fickle mind, difficult to guard, difficult to control —
the wise person straightens it as a fletcher straightens an arrow.”33
On his return from almsround, Meghiya Thera saw a mango grove, and wished to spend the day there in meditation. He requested permission from the Buddha, who asked him to wait for another monk to come. Meghiya repeated his request a second and third time, so the Buddha told him to do what he what he thought right. He paid respects and departed for the mango grove. The whole day he was assailed by unwholesome thoughts, and couldn’t gain concentration. In the evening he came to see the Buddha who taught him about the five things conducive to the maturing of insight: having a good friend, restraint by the Pātimokkha, suitable talk, energy, and wisdom. Furthermore, one should contemplate the repulsive to dispel lust, loving-kindness to dispel ill-will, mindfulness of breathing to overcome distraction, and the perception of impermanence to establish the perception of not-self and eradicate the conceit “I am.”
“The mind is hard to restrain, swift, it flies wherever it likes:
to control it is good. A controlled mind is conducive to happiness.”35
Some forest monks dwelt near the village of Mātika. A devout woman, receiving instruction from the monks, attained Non-returning and the ability to read others’ thoughts. Since she knew every thought of the monks, she provided whatever they needed without even being asked. Before long the monks attained Arahantship and returned to pay respects to the Buddha. On being asked, they told him how well the lay woman had looked after their needs. Hearing this, a certain monk asked permission to go there. From the moment he arrived, she provided everything he wanted. The monk, fearing that evil thoughts might arise, soon left and told the Buddha why he couldn’t remain there. The Buddha told him to return and to restrain his wild mind. He did so, and soon gained Arahantship.
“The mind is very hard to perceive, extremely subtle, it flies wherever it likes.
Let the wise person guard it; a guarded mind is conducive to happiness.”36
A devout lay follower became a monk. His preceptor was a master of Vinaya and his teacher was an expert in the Abhidhamma. The newly ordained monk found the monk’s life onerous due to the many rules explained by his preceptor and the difficult studies given by his teacher. He lost faith and wanted to return to lay life. The Buddha asked him if he could do one thing. He asked what that was. The Buddha advised him just to guard his mind well.
“Faring far, wandering alone, bodiless, lying in a cave, is the mind.
Those who subdue it are freed from the bond of Māra.”37
A young monk named Saṅgharakkhita soon gained Arahantship. His sister’s son was named after him, and when he came of age, he also became a monk. When the nephew received two pieces of cloth, he presented the biggest to his uncle, who repeatedly declined the offer. He felt so rejected that he thought it would be better to disrobe. While fanning his uncle, he thought that he would sell that piece of cloth and buy a she-goat to earn some money. The goat would produce many offspring. Before long he would have enough money to get married and would have a son. Then he would ride in a bullock-cart to pay a visit to his uncle with his wife and child. On the way his wife would accidentally drop his child under the wheel of the cart, killing him. He would get angry and hit his wife with a stick. Day dreaming thus he struck his uncle with the fan. Knowing all the thoughts that had passed through his nephew’s mind, the elder asked him why he was hitting an elderly monk just because he could not hit his wife. The nephew was so ashamed that he dropped the fan and ran away. The novices seized him and brought him to the Buddha. The Buddha described the fickle nature of the mind.
“He whose mind is not steadfast, he who knows not the true doctrine,
he whose confidence wavers — the wisdom of such a one will never be perfect.”38
After searching in the forest for his lost ox, a farmer approached the monks hoping to get some food. The leftovers he received were so delicious he became a monk thinking it would be an easy life. He soon became fat and lazy. Thinking it was too arduous to walk for alms every day, he disrobed and resumed farming. He disrobed and re-entered the Saṅgha six times, so the monks named him “Cittahatthathera — Mind-tossed Elder.” On returning from the field, seeing his pregnant wife snoring, he became disgusted with worldly life, and left the house for the seventh time. On the way to the monastery he contemplated impermanence and suffering, and gained the fruit of Stream-entry. He implored the monks to ordain him once more. They refused at first, saying that his head was like a whetstone. Finally they relented, and he soon attained Arahantship. When he stayed for a long time, the monks asked him why, and he told them that he was now free from attachment. The monks told this to the Buddha, who explained his state of mind before and after his realisation of nibbāna.
“Realising that this body is (as fragile) as a jar,
establishing this mind (as firm) as a (fortified) city
he should attack Māra with the weapon of wisdom.
He should guard his conquest and be without attachment.”40
Five hundred monks who were meditating in a forest were troubled by the tree-deities, who were inconvenienced by their presence, so made all manner of frightening sights and sounds to make the monks go away. The monks sought the advice of the Buddha, who taught them the Karanīya Metta Sutta, advising them to extend loving-kindness towards all beings. They did so with the result that those deities protected them. Comparing the body to a water jar, the monks developed insight. The Buddha read their thoughts, and projecting himself before them, he confirmed what they had thought.
“Before long, alas! this body will lie upon the ground, cast aside,
devoid of consciousness, even as a useless charred log.”41
A monk named Tissa became afflicted with bone cancer and boils that oozed pus. Due to the bad odour he was known as Pūtigattatissa Thera — the elder with a stinking body. As the disease worsened, his fellow monks stayed away from him and no one cared for him. Knowing this, the Buddha came there, prepared scented water, had the monks wash his robes, and himself bathed the elder’s stinking body with warm water. Then he taught him the nature of the body.
The elder attained Arahantship, and passed away, attaining parinibbāna. The monks asked the Buddha what the elder had done in previous lives to die in that way.
The Buddha explained that in a previous life he had made a living by selling birds. He would break the wings and legs of any birds that were unsold at the end of the day to prevent them escaping, and then sell them the next day. One day, when fragrant food had been prepared for him, he saw a monk coming for alms, who was an Arahant. Wishing to atone for his evil deeds, he offered the food to the monk, wishing to attain the fruit that he had attained. Due to injuring the birds, he died a painful death. Thanks to his wish for Arahantship, he finally attained it and put an end to suffering.
“Whatever (harm) a foe may do to a foe, or a hater to a hater,
an ill-directed mind can do one far greater (harm).”42
A wealthy herdsman offered alms to the Buddha and the Saṅgha for seven days. When the Buddha departed, he accompanied him for some distance, but turned back when the Buddha told him to stop. As he returned he was killed by a stray arrow. The monks remarked that if the Buddha had not visited that place, the man would not have met with that fatal accident. The Buddha replied that under no circumstances would he have escaped death due to past evil kamma. The Buddha added that an ill-directed mind could cause great harm.
“What neither mother, nor father, nor any other relative can do,
a well-directed mind does and thereby elevates one.”43
While going to bathe with a close friend, a millionaire with two sons harboured a lustful thought on seeing the body of Mahākassapa, who was putting on his robe to enter Soreyya for alms. He thought, “May this elder be my wife, or may my wife’s body be like his.” As that thought arose, he changed into a woman. She was so embarrassed that she ran away and made her way to the distant city of Taxila. There she married and had two sons. Thus she was mother of two, and father of two.
Some time later, the millionaire’s close friend went to Taxila on business. Recognising him, the millionaire had him invited to his mansion and after treating him to the usual hospitality, inquired about his own parents. Then she revealed her former identity and confessed the thought that had caused the sex change. The friend advised the millionaire to ask the elder for forgiveness. As Mahākassapa was living nearby, she invited him for alms and asked for forgiveness. As soon as Mahākassapa forgave her, she changed back to a man. He took leave of the father of his sons in Taxila, kissed his sons goodbye, and became a monk. He was known as the Elder Soreyya.
Travelling with Mahākassapa, Soreyya Thera arrived back at Sāvatthī. Hearing about his past, the people of the country asked him repeatedly which two sons he had the most affection for. He replied patiently that had more affection for those two sons of whom he was the mother.
Soreyya went into solitude and soon attained Arahantship. Later, when asked the same question again he replied that he no affection for anyone. The monks wondered whether this was true, and reported it to the Buddha who confirmed that Soreyya was now free from affection. The Buddha praised him and recited the verse saying that a well-directed mind was of even greater benefit than a mother or a father.