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14 - Buddhavaggo

The Buddha

The Buddha Cannot Be Fathomed

Whose victory is not turned into defeat,
no conquered (passion) of his in this world follows him —
that trackless Buddha of infinite range,
by which way will you lead him?”

“Him in whom there is not that entangling,
embroiling craving to lead (to any life),
him the trackless Buddha of infinite range —
by which way will you lead him?”

The Daughters of Māra

The Brahmin Māgaṇḍiya living in the country of Kuru had a beautiful daughter named Māgaṇḍiyā. Many wealthy Brahmins wanted her as a wife, but Manindriya rejected them all, thinking them not good enough for his daughter. One day, on seeing that Māgaṇḍiyā and his wife would benefit, the Buddha took his robes and almsbowl and went to the place outside the village where the Brahmin worshipped the sacred fire. On seeing the Buddha, Māgaṇḍiya thought, “This man is good enough for my daughter.” He told the Buddha about his beautiful daughter and offered to give her as his wife, asking him to wait there while he went to fetch her. The Buddha said nothing, but left his footprint and went to stand somewhere else. Māgaṇḍiya returned with his wife and daughter, followed by many people. Māgaṇḍiyā’s wife read the footprint and said that it was the footprint of someone free from passion. Māgaṇḍiya told his wife that she “saw crocodiles even in a bowl of water,” and added that the Buddha had already accepted his proposal. She repeated her claim, but he told her to be silent. On seeing the Buddha, the Brahmin approached him and offered his daughter to him. Without saying, “I have no need of your daughter,” the Buddha asked Māgaṇḍiya to listen to what he had to say, and he consented.

The Buddha related the story of his renunciation, his six years of struggle with ascetic practices, his enlightenment at the foot of the Bodhi tree, and the attempt to seduce him by the three daughters of Māra.¹ They promised to be his slaves, but he said nothing and did not even look at them. They then tried manifesting in the guise of women of different ages and appearances, but to no avail. When the Buddha uttered the above two verses the daughters of Māra vanished.

The Buddha concluded by saying to Māgaṇḍiya, “Formerly, I had no sexual desire even for the pure bodies of those celestial women. Your daughter’s body is like a vessel full of thirty-two impure things, painted beautifully on the outside. I would not touch it even with my foot.” Hearing this discourse, Māgaṇḍiya and his wife both gained Non-returning.²

  1. They were named “Craving,” “Discontent,” and “Lust” and tried to seduce the Buddha in the fifth week after his enlightenment while he was seated at the root of the Ajapālanigrodha tree. Some say that these are inner conflicts, but in my view they were deities of the Paranimmitavasavattī Devaloka where Māra resides. If the former, then how could we explain why the Buddha had thoughts of craving, discontent, or lust after his enlightenment? Māra tried to obstruct the Buddha throughout his life, both before and after his enlightenment.

    It is only natural for those addicted to sensual pleasures to oppose those who are not, and who recommend renunciation. Those who have renounced pleasures may still have some lingering desires and doubts, but those who have eradicated all desire would have no doubt that being free from craving was blissful, and they would have no trace of hankering.
  2. Māgaṇḍiya’s daughter Māgaṇḍiyā, however, conceived a grudge against the Buddha and later plotted to murder Sāmāvatī, who was a devout disciple of the Buddha. See the commentary to vv.21-24.

Buddhas Are Dear to All

“The wise ones who are intent on meditation,
who delight in the peace of renunciation,
such mindful Fully Enlightened Buddhas
even the gods hold dear.”

The Sandalwood Almsbowl

A millionaire of Rājagaha found a large piece of red sandalwood while bathing in the Ganges, and had it made into an almsbowl. Then he had it set up on strings between bamboo towers over his house and challenged any recluses to take it down with their psychic powers. The heretics, who had no powers, pretended that they were too modest to exhibit their powers, and tried various schemes to get it given to them. After a week, the Elders Moggallāna and Piṇḍolabhāradvāja overheard some gamblers talking about the bowl and saying that there were no Arahants in the world. Piṇḍolabhāradvāja urged Moggallāna to take it down. Moggallāna told Piṇḍolabhāradvāja to take it, so the elder used his powers to lift the thirty-mile-wide flat rock to cover the entire city of Rājagaha. The people were terrified, so the elder split the rock with his toe, set it back in its rightful place, then descended onto the roof of the millionaire’s house. The man paid homage, had the bowl fetched, and offered almsfood. The Elder returned with the bowl to the monastery. The people pestered him to perform miracles so that there was an uproar at the monastery.

The Buddha asked the Elder Ānanda the reason, and then summoned the Elder Piṇḍolabhāradvāja. The Buddha rebuked the Elder Piṇḍolabhāradvāja severely¹ for exhibiting his powers, had the bowl broken up and pounded into paste, then laid down a training rule prohibiting monks from displaying their powers. Hearing of this, the heretics made the most of it, saying that henceforth they would only exhibit their powers together with the Buddha.

King Bimbisāra told the Buddha about this, and the Buddha said that he had laid down the rule for his disciples, not for himself. He promised to perform a miracle in four months’ time at Sāvatthi on the full moon day of Āsāḷhī. The heretics knew that they were lost, but followed the Buddha to Sāvatthi saying that he was trying to run away from them.

In due course the Teacher arrived at Sāvatthi. The heretics collected money and built a pavilion where they said they would perform miracles. King Pasenadi approached the Blessed One and offered to make him a pavilion. The Buddha declined, saying that Sakka would make him a pavilion. On being asked where he would perform a miracle the Buddha said that he would do it at the foot of the Kaṇḍa mango tree. The heretics had every mango tree for miles around uprooted.

On the day of the full moon the Teacher walked for alms, and Kaṇḍa, the king’s gardener, offered him a mango. The Elder Ānanda made a mango drink for the Teacher, and after his meal the Teacher asked Kaṇḍa to plant the mango seed right there. When the teacher washed his hand and poured the rinsing water onto that spot, a mango tree fifty cubits high sprang up right away fully laden with fruit. The monks ate their fill, and other men came to enjoy the fruit, throwing some at the heretics, blaming them for destroying all the mango trees in the district. Then Sakka ordered the wind god to blow, scattering the heretics’ pavilion, covering them with dust until they looked like red ants, and they fled in all directions. Purāṇa Kassapa committed suicide by drowning himself in the river and was reborn in Avīci hell.

Sakka created a jewelled walking path in the sky stretching from the eastern horizon to the western horizon. By the time that the shadows of evening had lengthened, a huge crowd had assembled. The Teacher came out of his perfumed chamber and stood on the terrace. Then Gharaṇī, a female lay disciple, asked permission to perform a miracle, but the Teacher declined her offer. Other lay disciples, novices, nuns, and monks did likewise, up to the Elder Moggallāna, but the Teacher, after acknowledging their ability, declined all of their offers saying that this basket of flowers was prepared only for him, and that no one else could bear this burden. Then the Teacher stepped onto the jewelled walking path and, pacing up and down, performed the Twin Miracle, emitting streams of fire and water simultaneously from each pore of his body. Then as he paced up and down, he taught the Dhamma to the assembly, and seeing no one able to ask suitable questions, he created a double to ask questions, to which he replied. Two hundred million in the vast crowd gained Stream-winning on that occasion. Then the Buddha reflected on what previous Buddhas had done after performing the Twin Miracle, and seeing that they had all ascended to Tāvatiṃsa to teach the Abhidhamma, he did the same.

  1. Since Piṇḍolabhāradvāja was an Arahant, one assumes that the very severe reprimand given to the elder was directed at those like Devadatta who would come afterwards, and who might perform psychic feats for less noble motives.

Teaching the Abhidhamma

The Buddha went to the Tāvatiṃsa heaven to expound the Abhidhamma to the devas. His mother, who was reborn as a deva in Tusita heaven, came there to listen to the Abhidhamma. Each day, the Elder Sāriputta related what he had taught to the audience at the Jetavana monastery. At the end of three months when the Buddha returned to earth accompanied by the devas, the Elder Sāriputta remarked that even the devas seek the guidance of the Buddha. Thereupon the Buddha uttered the above verse.

The Good Are Rare

“Rare is birth as a human being.
Hard is the life of mortals.
Hard is the hearing of the Sublime Truth.
Rare is the appearance of the Buddhas.”

Erakapatta Nāga

During the time of the Buddha Kassapa, while travelling in a boat, a monk grasped a leaf of an Eraka plant and broke it off. Thinking it to be an insignificant offence, he failed to confess it. When he died he was reborn as a Nāga in the middle of the Ganges, where he remained until the time of the Buddha Gotama. Every fortnight on the Uposatha day, he had his daughter sing the following verse, promising great wealth to anyone who could answer it satisfactorily:

“What kind of king is a ruler?
Who is ruled by passion?
How is one free from passion.
Who is called a fool?”

In this way he hoped to learn when a Buddha had arisen in the world. One day, the Buddha saw that a Brahmin youth named Uttara would benefit by answering the Nāga’s verse so he went and sat under a tree nearby. On his way to see the Nāga, the youth met the Buddha, who taught him the following verse to use in reply.

“One who masters his six senses is a ruler.
One who delights in them is ruled by passion.
One who takes no delight in them is free from passion.
One who takes delight in them is called a fool.”

Uttara gained Stream-winning on hearing this verse, and though he no longer wanted to win the Nāga princess, he continued on his way to the river where thousands of people gathered every fortnight in the hope of winning the princess as their bride.

When Uttara replied to the princess’s song the Nāga king knew that a Buddha had arisen in the world and, full of joy, accompanied the youth to visit the Buddha. He stood there weeping, and on being asked the reason, told the story of his past life as a monk. In reply, the Buddha stated that human rebirth was difficult to obtain, and he recited the above verse.

The Teaching of the Buddhas

“Not to do any evil, to cultivate good,
to purify one’s mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”

“Forbearing patience is the highest austerity. Nibbāna is supreme, say the Buddhas.
He is not a recluse who harms another. Nor is he an ascetic who oppresses others.”

“Not insulting, not harming, restraint according to the Pātimokkha,
moderation in food, secluded abode, intent on higher thoughts —
this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”

A Question From the Elder Ānanda

While meditating one day, the Elder Ānanda reflected, “The Teacher has told us about the seven Buddhas: about their mothers and fathers, their life span, their trees of enlightenment, their disciples, their chief disciples, and their chief supporters, but he has not told us how they spent the Uposatha day. I wonder if their way of observing the Uposatha was the same or different?” So he approached the Teacher and asked him.

The Buddha replied that the Buddha Vipassī observed the Uposatha every seven years, that the Buddhas Sikhī and Vessabhū observed it every six years, that the Buddhas Kakusandha and Koṇāgamana observed it every year, and the Buddha Kassapa every six months. However, each of them recited the same three verses in admonition.

Insatiate Are Sensual Pleasures

“Not by a shower of gold coins does contentment arise in sensual pleasures.
Of little sweetness and painful are sensual pleasures.
Knowing thus, the wise man finds no delight even in heavenly pleasures.
The disciple of the Fully Enlightened One delights in the destruction of craving.”

The Story of a Discontented Monk

As the father of a certain monk lay dying he longed to see his son, but was unable to contact him. He left a hundred gold coins with his younger son for the monk. When the monk learnt that his father had died, and left him some money, he said that he had no need of it. However, after some time he became discontented with walking for alms, and thought to disrobe to live on the money that his father had left. The monks told his preceptor about this and his preceptor told the Buddha. The Buddha summoned the monk and asked him to fetch a hundred pots. Then he told him to set aside fifty for food and drink, twenty-four for a pair of bullocks, another twenty-four for seed, one for a spade, a machete, an axe, etc. Counting like this, it became clear that a hundred would not be sufficient. Then the Buddha told the monk that a hundred gold coins was very little, and that he couldn’t hope to satisfy his desires. In the past, Universal monarchs with fabulous wealth had been unable to satisfy their desires and died with their wishes unfulfilled. Then, on being asked to relate the story of the past, the Buddha told the Mandhātu Jātaka (Jā 258). On the conclusion of the discourse, the monk attained Stream-winning.

Seek Refuge in the Triple Gem

“Men flee to many refuges stricken by fear —
to hills, woods, groves, trees, and shrines.”

“No such refuge is safe, no such refuge is supreme.
Not by resorting to such a refuge is one freed from all ill.”

“He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha,
sees with right knowledge the four Noble Truths —
Sorrow, the Cause of Sorrow, the Transcending of Sorrow,
and the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the Cessation of Sorrow.
This, indeed, is refuge secure. This, indeed, is refuge supreme.
By seeking such refuge one is released from all sorrow.

The Story of the Brahmin Aggidatta

Aggidatta was the head priest of King Mahākosala, the father of King Pasenadi. When Mahākosala died, King Pasenadi appointed him as the head priest again, but feeling uncomfortable due to the age difference, he sought permission to become a recluse. He left for the border regions with many disciples. He taught his disciples to take a jar of sand from the river whenever they had unwholesome thoughts, and to empty the jar in the hermitage. After a while, a great mound of sand accumulated, and a powerful Nāga came to reside there. Aggidatta taught his disciples to worship mountains, forests, and trees to gain freedom from suffering.

One day, realising that Aggidatta and his disciples were ready to gain Arahantship, the Buddha sent the Elder Moggallāna to visit them. The Elder Moggallāna asked them for somewhere to stay for the night. At first Aggidatta refused, but when the elder persisted he let him stay on the mound of sand. During the night, the Elder battled with the Nāga, each sending forth flames to subdue the other. The elder finally subdued the Nāga, who surrounded the elder with his coils and protected him with his hood.

In the morning, the hermits came, expecting to find the elder lying dead. They were awestruck that he had tamed the ferocious Nāga, who had brought lavish offerings for the elder. Then the Buddha arrived, and the Elder Moggallāna rose from his seat to worship him. The hermits were even more impressed that Moggallāna was just a disciple of the Buddha. The Buddha asked Aggidatta what he taught, and on being told, said that this was not the right way to gain liberation from suffering. The Buddha spoke on the efficacy of the Three Refuges for deliverance from suffering, and uttered the above verses. All of the hermits gained Arahantship together with the psychic powers, and spontaneously gained the monks’ requisites. When Aggidatta’s supporters arrived they wondered if the Buddha had become his disciple. The Buddha asked Aggidatta to destroy the doubts in the minds of his lay disciples. Aggidatta was only too pleased to do this by displaying his psychic powers and paying homage to the Buddha.

The Noble Are Rare

“Hard to find is a man of great wisdom: such a man is not born everywhere.
Where such a wise man is born, that family thrives happily.”

A Question From the Elder Ānanda

While meditating one day the Elder Ānanda reflected, “I wonder where noble persons like the Buddha are born.” So he approached the Teacher and asked him.

The Buddha replied that they are born in the middle country of India, among warrior or Brahmin families, and uttered the above verse.

The Best Kind of Happiness

“Happy is the birth of Buddhas. Happy is the teaching of the sublime Dhamma.
Happy is the unity of the Saṅgha. Happy is the discipline of the united ones.”

A Story of Many Monks

Five hundred monks who had gathered in the dining hall were discussing happiness. Some said that there was no happiness like ruling, others that sexual pleasures were the best, while others said that that the pleasure of eating was best. The Buddha came there and asked what they were talking about. On being told, the Buddha said that these kinds of happiness did not get one free from suffering. The best happiness was the arising of a Buddha, learning the Dhamma, the unity of the Saṅgha, and the discipline of those living in harmony. Then the Buddha uttered the above verse.

Honour the Worthy

“He who reverences those worthy of reverence, whether Buddhas or their disciples;
those who have overcome the impediments and have got rid of grief and lamentation —
The merit of him who reverences such peaceful and fearless
Ones cannot be measured by anyone as such and such.”

The Golden Pagoda of Buddha Kassapa

The Buddha left Sāvatthi and set out for Benares, travelling by stages with a large following of monks. On arrive at a shrine near the village of Todeyya he stopped to rest a while. The Buddha told the Venerable Ānanda to summon a brahmin who was farming nearby. The Brahmin came and worshipped at the shrine. The Buddha praised him. To allay the doubts of the monks he told the story of Buddha Kassapa from the Ghātīkāra Sutta (Majjhimanikāya, Sutta 81). In conclusion, he told the brahmin that four individuals were worthy of a stūpa (as in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta: a world-ruling monarch, an Arahant, a Solitary Buddha, and a Fully Enlightened Buddha), adding that there are three kinds of cetiya: one containing bodily remains (sarīracetiya), one indicating by signs¹ (uddissacetiya), and one containing requisites used by a worthy one (paribhogacetiya). The Buddha created a golden cetiya in the sky, which remained for seven days, and then became a stone cetiya on the ground.

  1. This supports the practice of worshipping Buddha images, although none are known to have been made in the early years of Buddhism. The Ānanda Bodhi tree, which was a sapling from the original Bodhi tree, was brought to Sāvatthi by the Elder Ānanda on the instructions of the Buddha, for the benefit of disciples who wanted some way to honour the Buddha in his absence. This is an example of an uddissacetiya, as is any Bodhi tree or even a leaf. The original Bodhi tree is a paribhogacetiya, as it was used by the Buddha himself.