Wednesday, July 12, 2006

from the text - a taste of heaven

This story is just one of the three to five stories a week I am reading and translating from Sanskrit since I arrived here in Visakhapatnam. The Buddha has just told a much longer story about a nāga (a snake-like being that lives in the sea) who becomes convinced of the truth of Buddha’s teachings and strives to support the Dharma in some unlikely ways. When the tale of his doings is complete, some monks ask the Buddha how that nāga had come to have such convictions. That leads to yet another of the literally hundreds of stories in this text:

‘Some monks had doubts arise, and put their question to the Buddha, the Blessed One, who cuts through all doubts. “In what did the nāga youth find faith for the first time?” they asked.

The Blessed One said, “Long ago, Monks, within this fortunate eon, among a populace whose lifespan was 20,000 years, a teacher arose in the world by the name of Kāśyapa, a tathāgata, an arhat, a perfectly enlightened buddha, endowed with knowledge and conduct, a sugata, an unsurpassed knower of the world, a charioteer who tames beings, a teacher of gods and humans, a buddha, a blessed one. He himself was teaching the Dharma to the śrāvakas: ‘Monks, with forests as your bed and as your seat, with vacant buildings, with mountains, ravines, hills and caves, with bunches of straw, cemeteries, meadows, woods and plains, and with wide open spaces as your bed and seat, meditate. Do not be neglectful. Do not later become remorseful. This is my instruction.’

“Then, Monks, some went to the terraced slopes of Mount Sumeru and meditated. Some went to the banks of the Ganges river, some to the great lake of Anavatapta, some to the seven golden mountains, some went among the villages, hamlets, provinces and royal palaces, and they meditated.

Meanwhile, overhead, above the terraced slopes of Mount Sumeru, a little nāga boy, just newly born, was being carried off by a garuda, king of the birds. He saw them dwelling, engaged in meditation, study, yoga and contemplation, and when he saw them, his mind became clear and full of an intense faith. With this intense faith, the nāga boy reflected, “These noble ones indeed have been released.” Moving on from this form of suffering, he died and was reborn in Varanasi, in a brahmin family immersed in the six brahminical activities. He was raised, brought up and became big. Later, he renounced under the teachings of the perfectly enlightened buddha, Kāśyapa. Making effort, applying himself diligently, greatly striving, through the removal of all delusions, he realized arhatship. He became an arhat, and became worthy of honor, worthy of worship, worthy of reverential salutation.
He reflected, “From where have I moved on? From the animals. Where was I born? Among humans. Where are my parents?”

Then he saw his parents in a nāga dwelling, crying. He went there. Having gone there, he began questioning them, “Mother, Father, why are you crying?”

They said, “Noble One, our newborn little nāga boy was carried away by a garuda, king of birds.”

He said, “I myself am he.”

“Noble, he was in such a wretched nāga form that we cannot imagine him even in a higher rebirth, much less attaining such qualities.”

He made them remember things, and the two of them fell at his feet, saying “Noble One, you have acquired such collections of good qualities! Noble One, you are a seeker of alms. We are seekers of merit. Every day, come only here for your meals, and then go back.”

Every day, after enjoying heavenly nectar in the nāga residence, he came back. He had a novice monk as a resident disciple. The monks asked him, “Where does this teacher of yours go to do all this eating?”

He said, “I don’t know.”

They said, “He goes to a nāga dwelling and feasts on heavenly nectar. Why don’t you go too?”

He replied, “He is highly advanced, with great powers. How could I go where he goes?”

They said, “When he is leaving through his extraordinary power, you grab on to the edge of his robe.”

He said, “Mightn’t I fall?”

They said, “Dear fellow, if it holds hangs on to the edge of the robe, even Mount Sumeru, the king of mountains, would not fall, much less you.”

In the place where he disappears, he made a mark there. Having gone to that spot ahead of time, he waited there. And when he thought that he was about to disappear, he grabbed the edge of his robe. The two of them traveled through the sky, and at a certain point, the nāgas saw them. They set up two seats and cleaned two sitting spaces.
He wondered, “Why are they arranging another seat?”

He turned around, and at once saw the novice monk. He said, “Dear fellow, have you also come?”

“Teacher, I have come.”


The nāgas reflected, “This noble one is highly advanced, with great powers. He is capable of digesting the heavenly nectar. The other one is not capable.”

To the one, they gave heavenly nectar, but to the student they gave ordinary food. He carried the teacher’s begging bowl. As he took the begging bowl, there was one grain of rice left sticking to it. He tossed it into his mouth, and the flavor was heavenly.

He reflected, “This is how stingy these nāgas are! We are both seated together, yet they give him heavenly nectar, but to me, ordinary food.”

He began making a resolute prayer. “Since I have engaged in a life of celibacy under the Blessed One Kāśyapa, the perfectly enlightened buddha, unsurpassed, a great object of offerings, therefore by this root of goodness, after removing this nāga from this house, may I be born right here.”

In that very life of his, water began to drop from his hands, and the nāga also developed a headache.

He said, “Noble One, the novice monk has had an ignoble thought. Please make him avert it.”

He said, “Dear fellow, these indeed are calamities. Avert your mind.”

The student spoke the verse:

The thought is thoroughly engrossing. I am not able to avert it.Right as I stand here, Good Sir, the water flows from my two hands.

After removing that nāga from the house, he was born right here. Monks, it was there that the nāga youth first gained faith.’

- From the Vinayavastu, the very first text appearing in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. (Translated from Sanskrit.)

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