“Do not serve mean ends, Do not live in heedlessness.
Do not embrace false views. Do not be a world-upholder.167
Visākhā’s grand-daughter was serving the monks. On seeing her reflection in a water pot she laughed. A young monk looked at the reflection and also laughed. She said, “A skinhead is laughing.” The young monk took offence at being called a skinhead,¹ and abused her. She started crying and told her grandmother. Visākhā and the elder monk were unable to pacify the young monk. The Buddha took his side, asking Visākhā if it was proper to call his disciples ‘skinheads.’ Then the Buddha uttered the above verse.
“Do not be heedless in standing (for alms). Practice this righteous conduct well.
One who practices rightly, lives happily in this world and the next.”168
When the Buddha visited his birthplace, Kapilavatthu, for the first time since his enlightenment, he performed a miracle to subdue the pride of his kinsfolk. As he taught the Dhamma, a shower of rain fell on them, and the Buddha related the Vessantara Jātaka to show that the same had happened before. Having worshipped the Buddha, his relatives departed, but not one of them invited him for the next day’s meal. The king had food prepared, assuming that he would come there. The next day, the Buddha walked for alms in the city. His father, King Suddhodana, who was mortified on hearing that his son was begging for alms, hastened to stop him. Thereupon the Buddha remarked that it was the custom of his lineage to seek alms from door to door, and uttered the above verses. On hearing the verse, the king attained Stream-winning.
“Just as one would look upon a bubble, just as one would look upon a mirage —
if a person thus looks upon the world, the king of death sees him not.”170
Not making much progress with their meditation, five hundred monks came to the Buddha to request a more suitable meditation object. Reflecting on a mirage and on bubbles of water, they attained Arahantship. Concerning their attainment, the Buddha uttered the above verse.
“This world is like an ornamented royal chariot.
Fools flounder in it, but for the wise there is no attachment.”171
Prince Abhaya was entertained royally as a reward for suppressing a rebellion. He was grief-stricken (just as in the story of the minister Santati, verse 142) on witnessing the death of a dancer, and sought consolation from the Buddha. The Buddha consoled him and uttered the above verse.
“Whoever was heedless before and afterwards is not;
such a one illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds.”172
A monk was constantly sweeping the rooms of the monastery. He criticised the Elder Revata who was always meditating. The elder advised him to sweep the monastery before almsround, and to spend the day in meditation, sweeping again in the evening if he wished. He followed this advice and in due course attained Arahantship. When rubbish started to accumulate, the other monks asked him why he didn’t sweep any more. The elder replied that he was no longer heedless, therefore he didn’t spend all his time sweeping. The monks wondered if he had attained Arahantship and told the Buddha what he had said. Concerning his change of attitude, the Buddha uttered the above verse.
“Whoever, by a good deed, covers the evil done,
such a one illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds.”173
As related in the Aṅgulimāla Sutta of the Majjhimanikāya, Aṅgulimāla was a notorious murderer. One day, after the meal, the Buddha set out to meet him. Though cowherds, goatherds, and farmers warned him not to go on, the Buddha continued walking. On seeing the Buddha, Aṅgulimāla chased him, intending to kill him. However, though he ran as fast as he could, he was unable to catch up with the Buddha, who was only walking. He was amazed that though he could catch an elephant, a horse, a chariot, or a deer, he could not catch up with the Buddha. He stopped, and called out, “Stop recluse!” The Buddha replied, “Aṅgulimāla, I have stopped. You should also stop.” Aṅgulimāla thought, “These recluses who are sons of the Sākyans speak the truth, and are avowed to the truth. I will ask the meaning of this.” So he asked the Buddha what he meant, and the Buddha explained that he had stopped killing and injuring living beings while Aṅgulimāla had not. Aṅgulimāla throw away his sword, worshipped the Buddha, and begged for the going-forth. The Buddha said, “Come monk” and took the new monk back to Sāvatthi.
King Pasenadi, having heard many complaints about Aṅgulimāla, set out with five hundred soldiers to capture him. On the way, he stopped to pay respects to the Buddha who asked him if he had quarrelled with King Bimbisāra, or the Licchavīs, or another minor king. The king replied that he was going to capture Aṅgulimāla. Then the Buddha asked the king what he would do to Aṅgulimāla if he had gone forth as a monk, and was dwelling virtuous and well-behaved. The king replied that he would pay homage and support him, but how could such an evil person become so virtuous? Then the Buddha stretched out his right hand, pointing to Aṅgulimāla who was sat nearby. The king became afraid, trembling, and horrified. The Buddha told him not to be alarmed, and the king paid homage to Aṅgulimāla, asked him who his father and mother were, and offered to provide the requisites for him.
Later, Aṅgulimāla attained Arahantship and passed away, attaining parinibbāna. The monks wished to know how such a murderer could have become an Arahant. In reply the Buddha uttered the above verse.
“Blind is this world. Few are those who see clearly.
As birds escape from a net, few go to a blissful state.”174
One day, after being invited for the meal at Āḷavi, in his thanksgiving sermon the Buddha taught about the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death. He advised the people to meditate constantly on death, otherwise when death comes one will be afraid and scream like someone who sees a poisonous snake. However, if one meditates constantly on death, one is not afraid, like someone who sees a snake when armed with a stick. Having heard the discourse, the people soon resumed their normal business, but the sixteen-year-old daughter of a weaver took his teaching to heart because her own mother had recently died. Heedful of his advice, she meditated constantly on death for three years.
Seeing in his early-morning survey of the world that she was now ready to realise the Dhamma, the Buddha set off again for the Aggāḷava Vihāra at Āḷavi. When he arrived, the people of Āḷavi invited him for alms, but after the meal the Buddha sat and waited in silence, thinking, “The one for whose benefit I came is not yet here.” The girl’s father had told her to fill the shuttle with thread for a cloth he was weaving, so she was working hard in the spinning shed when she heard that the Buddha had come. Having completed her allotted task, she decided to pay respects to the Buddha first before going to give the shuttle to her father.
Seeing her come, the Buddha looked at her, so she put down her basket, approached the Buddha, paid homage and stood up.
He asked her, “Young girl, where have you come from?”
She replied, “I do not know, Venerable sir.”
Then he asked her, “Young girl, where are you going?”
She replied, “I do not know, Venerable sir.”
Then he asked, “Do you not know?”
“I know, Venerable sir,” she replied.
“Do you know?” the Buddha asked again.
“I do not know, Venerable sir” she replied.
Many people in the audience were annoyed and murmured, “This girl just says whatever she likes. Why doesn’t she say that she came from the spinning shed, and is going to the weaving shed?”
The Buddha silenced them and asked her why she had answered “I do not know” when asked where she had come from. She explained that since he knew that she had come from the spinning shed, he must be asking her if she knew from which existence she had come to take rebirth in this one, so she answered “I do not know.”
The Buddha praised her answer and asked her why she had said “I do not know” when asked where she was going. She explained that he knew she was going to the weaving shed, so he must have been asking her if she knew to which existence she was going after death, so she replied, “I do not know.”
The Buddha praised her answer a second time, and asked her why she had answered “I know” when asked “Do you not know?” She explained that she knew she was going to die, so she replied “I know.”
The Buddha praised her answer a third time and asked her why she had said, “I do not know” when asked “Do you know?” She explained that she did not know when she would die, so she replied, “I do not know.”
Praising her answer a fourth time, the Buddha addressed the crowd saying that not one of them had understood. Then the Buddha uttered the above verse and the girl attained Stream-winning.
She picked up the shuttle and went to her father, who had fallen asleep at the loom. Hearing her come in, he woke up and pulled the loom. A heavy beam struck the girl’s chest and she died on the spot. Grief-stricken, her father came to the Buddha, who told him not to grieve as the ocean of tears that he had shed throughout saṃsāra at the death of beloved daughters was greater than the four great oceans. The man asked for the going-forth, and soon attained Arahantship.
“Swans wing along on the path of the sun. Mystics go through air by psychic powers.
The wise are led away from the world, having conquered Māra and his host.”175
Some monks living in a foreign country came to see the Buddha and, having heard the Dhamma, attained Arahantship with psychic powers. They departed by flying through the air. The Elder Ānanda, who had seen them enter, waited outside for some time before entering to attend on the Buddha. He asked the Buddha by which way route they had left. At that moment some swans flew by. The Buddha said that they had attained Arahantship after listening to the Dhamma. He added that whoever had well developed the four bases of success (iddhipāda) could fly through the air like swans.
“A liar who has transgressed the one law, and is indifferent to the other world —
there is no evil they cannot do.”176
As the Buddha’s following grew, that of other ascetics diminished. They plotted together to bring discredit to the Buddha. They asked a beautiful young woman called Ciñcamāṇavikā, the daughter of a Brahmin, to bring blame on the Buddha.
When people were returning from the Jeta grove in the evening she went in the opposite direction, dressed up and wearing perfumes, saying that she was going to see the recluse Gotama. She stayed overnight nearby, and in the morning, when the people were going to offer alms, she returned telling them that she had stayed the night in the monastery. After four months she pretended to be pregnant. After eight months she tied up a plank with cloth under her clothes and publicly blamed the Buddha for her condition, asking what arrangements he had made for her. The Buddha replied that only the two of them knew the truth of the matter, and she agreed. Sakka sent four devas as mice to bite through the string so that the plank fell down, cutting off her toes. The people beat her, spat at her, and drove her away. As she ran, the earth opened up and swallowed her, and she fell into Avīci hell. Concerning her false accusation, the Buddha uttered the above verse.
“Misers do not go to celestial realms. Fools do not praise generosity.
The wise rejoice in giving and thus become happy.”177
King Pasenadi and the people competed in offering alms to the Buddha and the Saṅgha, each trying to outdo the other. Finally, with the help of Queen Mallikā, the king offered an incomparable almsgiving, spending 140 million, that the people couldn’t improve upon. One minister was displeased about it and another was full of joy. Regarding their opposing attitudes, the Buddha addressed the above verse to the King.
“Better than absolute sovereignty over the earth, better than going to heaven,
better even than lordship over all the worlds, is the Fruit of a Stream-winner.”178
Anāthapiṇḍika's son, Kāla, had no interest in the Dhamma. Anāthapiṇḍika offered him 100 gold coins if he would observe the Uposatha. His son did so, but didn’t listen to the Dhamma. Then Anāthapiṇḍika offered him a thousand if he would learn a single verse. The Buddha taught him the Dhamma in such a way that he had to thoroughly understand the meaning of the verse before he could remember it, and in so doing he became a Stream-winner. When the Buddha came to Anāthapiṇḍika's house for alms, Anāthapiṇḍika offered the money to Kāla, but he refused it. Then the Buddha commented on the superiority of Stream-winning over all worldly possessions.