“Long is the night to the wakeful; a journey is long to the weary;
long is saṃsāra to fools who do not know the Dhamma.60
While making a tour of Sāvatthi in state procession, King Pasenadi spied a beautiful woman and lusted for her. On making inquiries he learned that she was married. Looking for some pretext to get rid of her husband, he enlisted him into the king’s service, and had him sent on a long journey to fetch some rare lotuses. With help from the nāgas, the man returned in time, but the city gates were locked. He left the flowers by the gate, and went to stay with the monks.
During the night, on fire with lust, the king could not sleep well and had a terrifying nightmare, hearing agonised cries. In the morning he asked the royal astrologer what this portended. He said it was a terrible omen, and that he must perform a great sacrifice of living beings, including human beings. There was a great uproar as the sacrifice was prepared. Queen Māllikā scolded the king, and told him to go and ask the Buddha the meaning of his bad dreams.
The Buddha explained that the awful sounds the king had heard were the cries of four men who had committed adultery in former lives, and were now suffering in hell. They were only able to utter one syllable before falling back into hell again. They regretted their misdeeds and vowed to do many good deeds when the opportunity arose.
The king realised how serious his fault was, and said that the previous night had been very long. The woman’s husband who was sitting nearby, remarked that his journey the previous day was also very long. The Buddha summed up by adding that saṃsāra is long to those who are ignorant of the Dhamma.
“If, as the disciple fares along, he meets no companion who is better or equal,
let him firmly pursue his solitary career. There is no fellowship with the foolish.”61
A pupil neglected to do any duties for his teacher, Mahākassapa, but schemed to take the credit for work done by another pupil. When the elder admonished him, the pupil bore a grudge. While the elder was away, he set fire to his hut and fled. He died and was reborn in hell. The Buddha recommended solitude rather than companionship with the foolish.
“‘Sons have I; wealth have I;’ thus is the fool worried.
He himself is not his own. Whence sons? Whence wealth?”62
A miserly millionaire named Ānanda died and was reborn in a nearby settlement of poor workers. From the day he was conceived in his mother’s womb, the villager could obtain no work. By dividing into two groups while looking for work, they deduced that his mother was the cause of their problems and cast her out. She had to struggle on alone. When the child was born he was hideously deformed. She didn’t abandon him, but brought him up with great hardship until he was old enough to beg, and then sent him off with a pot in his hand.
When the boy came to the house where he had dwelt in his previous life, he went straight in to his former son’s inner room, but he was beaten and thrown out into a rubbish-heap. The Buddha, knowing what had happened, told the man’s son that the beggar was none other than his own dead father. The beggar pointed out some hidden treasure in his former house, so the son gained faith in the Dhamma.
“The fool who knows he is a fool is wise in that at least;
the fool who thinks that he is wise is indeed called a fool.”63
Two friends went to hear the Dhamma. One attained Stream-winning, the other stole a small amount of money. The latter taunted the former as foolish for not stealing enough to buy some food. The former man reported this to the Buddha, who explained the difference between a fool and a wise man.
The Commentary explains that one who takes pride in learning, preaching, morality, or austerity, thinking, “Others are not like me” is called a fool, and does not become accomplished in learning or practice. He is like an escaped criminal.
“Though a fool associates with a wise man his whole life,
he understands the Dhamma no more than a spoon knows the flavour of soup.”64
Venerable Udāyi used to sit on the preaching seat after elders had left. Assuming him to be a learned elder, visiting monks questioned him about the Dhamma. Discovering his ignorance, they reported the matter to the Buddha, who then explained the attitude of a fool towards the Dhamma.
“Though an intelligent person, associates with a wise man for only a moment,
he quickly understands the Dhamma as the tongue knows the flavour of soup.”65
Thirty friends set out to enjoy themselves in the forest with their wives. One who had no wife brought along a prostitute. She stole their property and ran off. While searching for her they came across the Buddha and asked him if they had seen a woman. The Buddha asked them whether it was better to search for a woman or to search for themselves. They sat and listened to the Dhamma and instantly attained Stream-winning. Obtaining the going-forth with the words “come monks,” they soon gained Arahantship.
“Fools of little wit move about with the very self as their own foe,
doing evil deeds the fruit of which is bitter.”66
A leper was known as Suppabuddha because his moaning woke up anyone sleeping nearby. He heard the Dhamma from the Buddha and became a Stream-winner. He stayed behind when the crowd returned to as he wished to tell the teacher about what he had gained. Sakka decided to test him, so appeared before him saying, “You are very poor and wretched, I will give you great wealth if you repudiate the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha.” Suppabuddha asked, “Who are you?” Sakka said, “I am Sakka.” Suppabuddha replied, “You are foolish and shameless. You are not fit to talk with me. You say I am poor and wretched, but I have the sevenfold wealth of confidence, morality, shame, dread, learning, liberality, and wisdom. I am not poor. I am very wealthy. The Buddhas do not call one poor if one possesses these seven treasures.”
Sakka left him there, and told the Buddha what he had said. The Buddha confirmed it and told Sakka that he could not bribe Suppabuddha. Suppabuddha went to the Buddha, who welcomed him warmly. He paid his respects and left. He had not gone far when a young cow killed him.
The monks asked about his destiny and his past. The Buddha explained that he had been reborn in Tāvatiṃsa. He was a leper because in a past life he had spat at a Solitary Buddha, and he was killed because he had killed a prostitute. The dying prostitute vowed revenge, and fulfilled her wish when she was reborn as the cow that killed Suppabuddha.
“That deed is not well done, which having done it, one repents,
one weeps with a tearful face, on reaping its results.”67
Some thieves gained access to a rich man’s house by digging a tunnel from the storm-gully. One of the thieves secreted a purse of money in his garments to deceive the others. They shared their loot in a field and departed. The purse dropped from the thief’s garment, but he didn’t notice.
Seeing that the farmer would benefit, the Buddha walked for alms through that field. On coming to the place where the money lay, he said to Venerable Ānanda, “Do you see that poisonous snake, Ānanda?” Venerable Ānanda replied, “I see it, Lord. It is a very poisonous snake.” Hearing this, the farmer took a stick to kill the snake. Seeing the money, and not knowing what to do with it, he buried it and continued with his ploughing. The rich man discovered his loss, and his men followed the tunnel to the field. Discovering the hidden gold, they arrested the farmer, and carried him off to court.
The farmer was hastily judged guilty and sentenced to death. As he was being led off for execution, he kept repeating the words uttered by the Buddha and Venerable Ānanda, “Do you see that poisonous snake, Ānanda? I see it, Lord. It is a very poisonous snake.” Intrigued by his odd behaviour, the king’s men brought him before the king. After hearing his story, the king took him to the Buddha, who explained what had happened, and uttered the above verse. The farmer was released and gained Stream-winning on hearing the verse.
“That deed is well done when, after having done it, one repents not,
and when, with joy and pleasure, one reaps the fruit thereof.”68
Sumana, a garland-maker, saw the Buddha walking into Rājagaha for alms and wished to honour him. Believing that he might be risking his life or liberty, he offered to the Buddha some jasmine flowers that were set aside for King Bimbisāra. His foolish wife scolded him and disowned him, but the pious king was pleased with his meritorious act and rewarded him lavishly with “the Gift of the Eights.” The monks talked about the great benefit enjoyed by Sumana. The Buddha said that he had done what was difficult to do in surrendering his life to the Tathāgata, and commented on the benefits of good deeds.
“As sweet as honey is an evil deed, so thinks the fool so long as it ripens not;
but when it ripens, then he comes to grief.”69
Uppalavaṇṇā was so beautiful that all the princes of India sent requests to her father for her hand in marriage. Looking for a way out of this predicament of displeasing thousands of princes by giving his daughter to one of them, he asked her if she wanted to become a nun. Due to her accumulated merits this was exactly what she wished to hear. She agreed at once, and was duly ordained. She soon gained Arahantship, and went to dwell in a thick forest. A cousin of hers, who had been in love with her for years, hid under her bed while she was going for alms. Since she came into the dark hut from the bright sunlight, she didn’t see him. He raped her and, after taking his pleasure, he left. Due to the wickedness of his crime, he was swallowed up by the earth and fell straight into the hottest hell. On hearing of the incident, the Buddha commented on the suffering that accrues to evil-doers.
The monks discussed whether the Arahants could also enjoy sexual pleasures. The Buddha came, and explained that Arahants do not cling to pleasures as water does not wet a lotus leaf, or as mustard seed does not stick to the point of an awl. The Buddha then asked King Kosala to build a nunnery within the city walls and made a rule forbidding nuns from dwelling in remote areas, to protect them from such dangers.
“Month after month a fool may eat only as much food
as can be picked up on the tip of a halfa grass blade;
but he is not worth a sixteenth part of they who have comprehended the Truth.”70
In the time of the Buddha Kassapa a monk took meals regularly at a layman’s house. One day, an Arahant happened to come by. Noticing his gracious deportment, the devout layman served him respectfully, called a barber to shave his head, offered him a robe, and a bed. The resident monk was insanely jealous and later abused the visitor soundly, saying it would be better for him to eat excrement than to eat the almsfood offered by his supporter, better to pull out his hair by the root than to have his head shaved by a barber, better to go naked than to use the robe that had been offered, better to sleep on the floor than to make use of the bed that was offered.
The visitor decided to leave at first light. The next day, the visiting monk awoke early, and thinking the visitor was still sleeping, the resident monk flicked the bell with his fingernail and went for alms. He told the layman that the visitor was still sleeping, and didn’t wake when he rang the bell. The layman was wise, and became suspicious, but dutifully served the monk, then filled his bowl again with choice food, asking him to take it for the visitor. The monk threw the food away by the road, thinking he would never leave if he got such good food. On his return he discovered that the visitor had already left. Due to his evil deed he was reborn in hell where he suffered for aeons.
In the time of the Buddha Gotama, he was reborn in Rājagaha. Though there was abundant food he would eat nothing but his own excrement. He threw off his clothes, and would only sleep on the floor. His habits didn’t change as he grew up, so his parents took him to the naked ascetics. To initiate him into the community they put him in a pit, laid planks over his shoulders, squatted on the planks, and pulled out his hair. When they went for alms he remained behind, eating excrement from the latrines. Realising that people would blame them, the naked ascetics banished him. Thereafter he lived by the public toilets on his own. When people came, he would stand on one leg with his mouth open. When asked why he did that he told them, “I am a wind-eater, I eat nothing else. I stand on one leg because if I used two the earth would shake.” The people believed what he said, for they had never known him to take any food. As his reputation grew, people came bringing all manner of food, wishing to make merit, but he always refused it as regular food was repulsive to him. When they pressed him repeatedly to accept at least a little for their sake, he took a tiny morsel of ghee and molasses on the tip of a blade of halfa grass, and placed it on his tongue, saying, “That is enough for your welfare and happiness.”
After he had lived like this for fifty-five years, his evil kamma from the past finally became exhausted. One morning, when the Buddha surveyed the world in his meditation, he realised that it was time to visit Jambuka. He told Venerable Ānanda of his intention, and set off late in the afternoon. Knowing the Buddha’s intentions, the deities washed the place with a sudden storm, so that the flat rock where Jambuka stayed was spotless. The Buddha asked Jambuka if there was anywhere he could stay for the night, but Jambuka said that there wasn’t. The Buddha pointed to a cave nearby, and Jambuka told him to suit himself.
During the night, powerful deities including the Four Great Kings, Sakka, and Mahābrahma came to pay respects to the Buddha, illuminating the whole forest. Jambuka wondered who it might be. In the morning, Jambuka asked the Buddha and the Buddha told him. Jambuka replied, “For fifty-five years I have lived by eating the wind, and have stood on one leg, but no one came to pay respects to me. The Buddha told Jambuka, “You may have deceived the foolish majority, but you cannot deceive me. Is it not true that you have lived on excrement all these years, going naked, sleeping on the ground, and pulling out your hair?” Then the Buddha told Jambuka about the evil deeds he had done in the time of Buddha Kassapa. He regained a sense of shame, so the Buddha gave him a bathing robe to put on, and taught him the Dhamma. Due to his long practice of meditation in his previous life, Jambuka attained Arahantship. He requested the going forth, spontaneously gaining a set of robes and an almsbowl as the Buddha said, “Come monk.”
It was the day that the people of Aṅga and Māgadha came to offer alms to Jambuka, so a great crowd gathered. Seeing the Buddha there, they wondered who was the greater of the two, and concluded that since the Buddha had come to see Jambuka, that Jambuka must be the greater monk. The Buddha told Jambuka to dispel their doubts, so he rose into the air to the height of a palm tree, and paid homage to the Buddha, saying, “This is my teacher, I am his disciple.”
The Buddha spoke the above verse, and many people gained comprehension of the Dhamma.
“An evil deed does not immediately bear fruit, just as milk does not curdle at once;
evil follows the fool like smouldering embers covered with ash.”71
While descending from Vultures’ peak to go for alms in Rājagaha accompanied by Venerable Lakkhaṇa, Venerable Moggallāna smiled. Venerable Lakkhaṇa asked him why, but he asked him to wait until they were in the presence of the Blessed One. When asked again later, Venerable Moggallāna described various ghosts he had seen. The Buddha confirmed that he had also seen them, and described their past evil deeds.
A crow ate some food offered to the Saṅgha and was reborn as a crow ghost. An indignant farmer set fire to the hut of a Solitary Buddha and was born as a snake ghost. A fool skilled in throwing stones killed a Solitary Buddha and was reborn as a hammer-head ghost. Referring to his past skill, the Buddha remarked that the knowledge of the vicious tends to their own ruin.
“The fool will desire undue reputation, precedence among monks,
authority in the monasteries, honour among families.”73
Venerable Mahānāma, one of the first five disciples, was walking for alms in the city of Macchikāsaṇḍa.¹ Citta, a wealthy householder, invited him to take food in his house, and gained Stream-winning. He donated his own garden as a monastery and welcomed visiting monks from all directions. Venerable Sudhamma became a resident monk.
Having heard about the virtues of Citta, the two chief disciples decided to visit him. Hearing that they were coming with a thousand monks, he went out half a day’s journey ² to meet them and accompanied them to his house. Though they were weary from the journey, Citta asked Venerable Sāriputta to teach the Dhamma in brief, and gained the path of Non-returning. He invited the elders and the visiting monks for alms the following day. Then he invited Sudhamma. Being jealous of the honour paid to the chief disciples, and slighted by not being invited first, Sudhamma refused, saying he would walk for alms. The next day he went to Citta’s house to see what food was being prepared and refused to sit down, though invited. Citta rebuked him, and Sudhamma reported the matter to the Buddha, who told Sudhamma that he was inferior in faith and serenity to Citta, and ordered him to ask for forgiveness. Sudhamma went and asked Citta to forgive him, but he refused, so Sudhamma had to return to the Buddha. The Buddha told him that a monk should not think, “This monastery is mine, this room is mine, this is my devotee,” then spoke the above verses. Then he sent him back with a companion monk to ask forgiveness again, thinking that the journey of thirty days would humble his pride. This time Citta forgave him, and asked forgiveness in return.
Thinking that he had gained Stream-winning and Non-returning even without seeing the teacher, Citta thought he should go to pay his respects to the Buddha. He loaded five hundred carts with goods and set off for Sāvatthi. Hearing that Citta had arrived, so many people and gods brought offerings that he was unable to use what he had brought even after a month of offering alms daily, so the Buddha told Venerable Ānanda to empty a place to store Citta’s offerings. When Citta set off to return with empty carts, the people and gods came to fill them again with all manner of precious goods.
“Surely the path that leads to worldly gain is one,
and the path that leads to nibbāna is another;
understanding this, the monk, the disciple of the Buddha,
should not rejoice in worldly favours, but cultivate detachment.”75
A novice from a respected family was showered with gifts, but he spurned them to live a life of poverty in a forest, and attained Arahantship. The bhikkhus spoke in praise of his exemplary conduct. The Buddha, hearing their talk, described the two different paths that lead to gain and nibbāna.