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18 - Malavaggo


Death is Near to You

“Like a withered leaf are you now. The messengers of death wait on you.
On the threshold of decay you stand. Provision too there is none for you.”

“Make an island unto yourself. Strive quickly; become wise.
Purged of stain and passionless,
you shall enter the heavenly stage of the Noble Ones.”

The Son of a Cow Butcher

A cow butcher who lived at Sāvatthi made his living by selling beef, and also ate beef every day. He would not take a meal without it. One day, while he had gone to bathe, a friend arrived at his house wishing to buy some meat. His wife told the visitor that there was no meat in the house except that for her husband’s meal. The visitor took the meat anyway, so when the cow butcher returned his wife served only rice, which he wouldn’t eat. Angered, he took a knife and went out to where an ox was tethered, put his hand in its mouth, and cut out its tongue. He gave this to his wife to cook for his meal. As soon as he started to eat the meat, he bit off his own tongue and it fell onto the plate of rice. He ran out of the house with blood flowing from his mouth, and after crawling on the ground for some time, bellowing like an ox, he died and was reborn in Avīci hell.

His wife admonished her son who watched this happen, and told him to flee at once before the same fate could befall him. The son fled to Takkasila, and became an apprentice to a goldsmith. Pleased with the quality of his work, the goldsmith arranged his marriage with his own daughter, and when their children came of age they returned to Sāvatthi to establish households of their own. The cow-butcher’s grand-children became faithful disciples of the Buddha, but their father remained in Takkasila. As their father was getting old, the children invited him to come to Sāvatthi and offered alms to make merit on his behalf. After the meal, they asked the Buddha to give thanks for their father, and the Buddha admonished him with the above two verses. He gained Stream-winning, and the family invited the Buddha for the following day’s meal. The next day, the Buddha gave thanks with the following two verses:

Your life has come to an end now.

“To the presence of death you are setting out.
No resting place is there for you by the way.
Provision too there is none for you.”

“Make a refuge for yourself. Strive without delay; become wise.
Purged of stain and passionless, you will not come again to birth and old age.”

Purify Yourself Gradually

“By degrees, little by little, from time to time,
a wise person should remove his own impurities,
as a smith removes (the dross) of silver.”

A Certain Brahmin’s Story

A devout Brahmin, going out of the town in the morning, saw the monks putting on their robes in a place with long grass. He noticed that the hem of a monk’s robe became wet with dew. The next day he took a scythe and trimmed the grass. Then he saw that their robes became muddy, so the next day he spread sand. Another day it was very hot, and the monks were sweating, so he erected a pavilion. On another day it was raining, so he erected a hall where the monks could shelter. Having completed the hall, he invited the Buddha and the Saṅgha for alms and told the Buddha how he came to build the hall in stages. The Buddha praised his good deeds and recited the above verse on the gradual removal of one’s impurities.

Evil Ruins Oneself

“As rust sprung from iron eats itself away when arisen,
even so his own deeds lead the transgressor to states of woe.”

Tissa Thera’s Story

The Elder Tissa acquired eight cubits of coarse cloth and gave it to his sister. Thinking it not good enough for her brother she broke it apart, and spinning fine yarn, had it woven into a fine cloth. The Elder found young monks and novices who were skilled in making robes and asked his sister for his cloth to make a robe. She offered him the fine cloth, but at first he refused it, asking for the coarse cloth he had given her. When she explained what she had done, he accepted it and had it made into a robe. His sister prepared rice and other provisions for the robe-makers and fed them well. Seeing the fine quality robe, the Elder took a liking to it, and hung it on a rail intending to use it the next day.

Unable to digest all the food he had eaten, the Elder died during the night and was reborn as a louse in that very robe. The monks performed the funeral rites for the Elder, and since no one had attended on the Elder during his sickness they decided that the robe should be divided among themselves. The louse became distraught as they took the robe to divided it, and hearing the louse screaming, the Buddha called the Elder Ānanda and sent him with a message to tell the monks to lay the robe aside for seven days. At the end of seven days, the louse died and was reborn in Tusita heaven. On the eighth day the Buddha permitted the monks to divide Tissa’s robe. They did so, and talked among themselves, wondering why the Buddha had asked them to wait. The Buddha explained that had he not intervened, the louse would have born a grudge against them, and would have been reborn in hell. The monks remarked what a terrible thing craving was, and the Buddha discoursed on the dangers of craving, reciting the above verse.

Causes of Stains

“Non-repetition is the decay of learning; neglect is the ruin of houses;
laziness is the stain of beauty; heedlessness is the defect of a guard.”

The Elder Lāḷudāyī’s Story

The Elder Lāḷudāyī was jealous of the praise lavished on the two chief disciples for their exposition of the Dhamma. He claimed equal proficiency in preaching, but when called upon to show his capability he was unable to say anything. He fled from the crowd and fell into a cesspit. When the people talked about what had happened the Buddha said that this was not the first time he had wallowed in a cesspool. Then he related the Sukara Jātaka in detail and uttered the above verse.

Ignorance is the Greatest Stain

“Misconduct is the stain of a woman. Stinginess is the stain of a donor.
Stains are evil things both in this world and in the next.”

“A worse stain than these is ignorance, the greatest stain.
Abandoning this stain, be stainless, O monks!”

The Unfaithful Wife

A newly married young man was ashamed due to the adulterous behaviour of his wife, and so avoided socialising. When it was his turn to offer alms, the youth mentioned this matter to the Buddha. The Buddha advised him not to be angry, and related the Anabhirati Jātaka when she had behaved in a similar way. Then he uttered the above verses.

A Shameless Life is Easy

“Easy is the life of a shameless one who is as impudent as a crow,
back-biting, presumptuous, arrogant, and corrupt.”

“Hard is the life of a modest one who ever seeks purity,
is detached, humble, clean in life, and reflective.”

The Elder Cūḷasāri’s Wrong Livelihood

A co-resident of the Elder Sāriputta, named Cūḷasāri, having given some medical treatment, obtained delicious food, and offered some to the elder, promising to offer such food whenever he obtained it. The elder, however, departed without saying a word. When the monks told the Buddha about this, he said that one who practises the twenty-one kinds of wrong livelihood, lives an easy life, but one who is scrupulous has a hard time.

By Immorality the Fool Ruins Himself

“Whoso in this world destroys life, tells lies, takes what is not given,
goes to others’ wives, and is addicted to intoxicating drinks,
such a one digs up his own root in this world.”

“Know thus O good man: ‘Not easy of restraint are evil things.’
Let not greed and wickedness drag you to protracted misery.”

Five Lay Disciples

Five lay disciples, each of whom was observing one of the five precepts, spoke about the difficulty of practising their respective precepts. Having listened to them, the Buddha spoke of the difficulty of practising each of them without saying that any one of them was less important than the others.

The Envious Are Not At Peace

“People give according to their faith and as they are pleased.
Whoever therein is envious of others’ food and drink,
gains no peace either by day or by night.”

“But he who has this (feeling) fully cut off,
uprooted and destroyed,
gains peace by day and by night.

The Novice Tissa’s Story

The novice Tissa, the son of a gate-keeper, disparaged the gifts of all the devotees including Anāthapiṇḍika, Visākhā, and even Queen Māllikā’s incomparable alms-giving. He boasted about the generosity of his own relatives. Some monks asked him where he came from and made investigations to discover the truth. When they informed the Buddha about his mean behaviour the Buddha spoke on the mental attitude of the envious and those who were not.

There is No Fire Like Lust

“There is no fire like lust, no bond like hate,
no net like delusion, no torrent like craving.”

Five Laymen Listen to Dhamma

Five laymen paid homage to the Buddha, asked him to teach the Dhamma, and sat respectfully at one side. As the Buddha was preaching, one man immediately fell asleep, one man sat digging the earth, another sat shaking a tree, another sat gazing at the sky, but only one was attentive. The Elder Ānanda noticed this as he fanned the Buddha, and asked why some failed to pay attention even when the Buddha was teaching the Dhamma like a thunder-cloud pouring rain. The Buddha said that in many past lives one man had been a snake, so he could never get enough sleep, another had been an earth worm, another had been a monkey, and another had been an astrologer. The man who was attentive had been a scholar of the three Vedas. He thus attributed their inattentiveness to their past tendencies. He uttered the above verse showing that it was very hard to escape from lust, hatred, ignorance, and craving.

Easy to See Are Others’ Faults

“Easily seen are others’ faults, hard indeed to see are one’s own.
Like chaff one winnows others’ faults,
but one’s own (faults) one hides,
as a crafty fowler conceals himself by camouflage.”

The Millionaire Meṇḍaka’s Story

At one time, while wandering in the region of Aṅga and Uttara, the Buddha saw that the millionaire Meṇḍaka and his family were ready to attain Stream-winning, thus he went to stay in the Jātiyā Forest near the city of Bhaddiya.

In a previous life, Meṇḍaka and his family had to endure a long famine. When they were reduced to their last measure of rice, a Solitary Buddha arrived at his house for alms. Reflecting that he had had to suffer due to lack of merit, as soon as he saw the Solitary Buddha coming, Meṇḍaka offered his portion of rice, making an earnest wish that he would never have to suffer again from poverty. His wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grand-daughter also offered their portions making similar wishes. The slave likewise offered his portion, wishing to be the servant of Meṇḍaka and his wife again.¹ Due to their meritorious deeds and earnest wish, the six people never again had to suffer a famine or poverty until they were reborn again as Meṇḍaka and his family in the time of Buddha Gotama, and again Meṇḍaka’s family was blessed by fabulous wealth.

Hearing that the Buddha had arrived and was staying nearby, Meṇḍaka wished to greet him. On the way he met some heretics who tried to dissuade him from going to see the Buddha, but he ignored them. On listening to the Dhamma, Meṇḍaka and his family all attained Stream-winning. When he told the Teacher about meeting the heretics, the Buddha uttered the above verse.

  1. Though he could have wished to become a Commander-in-Chief, yet he had such affection for his master and mistress that he only wished to be their servant again.

Defilements Multiply in Fault-finders

“He who sees others’ faults, and is ever irritable —
the defilements of such a one multiply.
He is far from the destruction of defilements.”

The Fault-finding Elder

A certain elder was always finding fault with other monks, even regarding how they wore their robes. The monks told the Buddha about it. The Buddha said that one who admonishes others lawfully according to his duty is not at fault, but one who finds fault just out of malice will not gain concentration, and his defilements will increase. Saying thus, he uttered the above verse.

No Saints Outside of the Buddhadhamma

“In the sky there is no track. Outside there is no saint.
Mankind delights in obstacles.
The Tathāgatas are free from obstacles.

“In the sky there is no track. Outside there is no saint.
There are no conditioned things that are eternal.
There is no instability in the Buddhas.”

The Wanderer Subhadda’s Story

When the Buddha was on his deathbed, on the eve of his parinibbāna, a wandering ascetic named Subhadda approached and wished to question him. The Elder Ānanda stopped him, but the Buddha told him to let Subhadda approach. The wanderer Subhadda asked the Buddha about the leading teachers who belonged to other orders. In reply the Buddha uttered the above verses.

In a previous life Subhadda had been a farmer, and though his younger brother had offered the first fruits of the harvest nine times, he had refused until at last he did give some alms. Due to his previous kamma, he had to wait until the very end of the Buddha’s life to get the opportunity to realise the Dhamma.