Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part I, by Ven, Mahasi Sayadaw

(14) The Story of Visakha Theri

At one time, there lived a rich man by the name of Visikha in the city of Pataliputta. While residing in Pataliputta, he had heard of the news of the existence of many Buddhist shrines and pagodas in the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), so numerous that they resembled a necklace of flowers. The entire place was said to be glowing with the bright colour of the yellow robes donned by monks. Every place was safe and secure and one could peacefully reside and spend the night anywhere without menace. Weather was favourable and conducive to good health. Pleasant were the monasteries which went in harmony with the fine and gentle behaviour of the people, both physical and mental, which thereby created a congenial atmosphere for listening to the sermons with peace of mind and devotion.

These favourable circumstances had caused him to reflect that it would be feasible for him to proceed to Ceylon and enter into the monkhood. With this bent of mind, he transferred all his business enterprise and properties to his wife and children. After having done so, he left his home with only one (rupee) kyat in his pocket. At a seaport town, he had to wait for a month to set off on his journey by a sea-going vessel. In those old days, sea-going vessels were not the present type of steam-ships but big boats with sails (sailing boats). Being endowed with the gift of business acumen, he started indulging in trading, buying and selling goods by moving about from one place to another while waiting for the boat to arrive. He earned a thousand rupees by legally buying and selling goods inside a month. Trading in a legal way means buying articles or commodities, paying what is really worth, and selling them at a correct price. In ancient times, a margin of profit of only two picepyas was usually taken on a capital outlay of one rupee. Buying and selling goods by fair means with correct price is called vammika vanijia which means trading according to law honestly. Carrying on trade in a legitimate way for one’s livelihood as mentioned, is samma ajiva, right livelihood. However, it appears that it was not the intention of Visakha, the rich, to deal in such business transaction for his subsistence. It seems his natural inclination that had actually spurred him to deal in trading business. This is evident from the fact that he had later discarded all his money derived from the said business venture.

Thereafter, this rich man Visakha left the port and reached Ceylon where at Mahavihara monastery, he made a request to be ordained a monk. On his way to the Sima, one thousand rupees (kyats) in cash which he carried in his `pouch tucked up at his waist, slipped out accidentally. When the senior priest who had escorted him to the Sima inquired of him as to what were these meant for, he replied, “Your Reverend, this is my own money worth one thousand rupees.” On being instructed by the Mahatheras as: “O, Upasaka (devout layman). Under the Rules of Discipline, from the time of your becoming an ordained monk, you cannot possibly handle and manage the cash, and as such, you may make your own arrangements to dispense with this money right now.” Visakha responded, ‘I do; not wish to see all those who would favour me with their presence at my Ordination, return home empty-handed.” So saying, he threw away all one thousand rupees to let them fall scattering among the crowd of devotees outside the precincts of the Sima (Thein). Only after having done so, he received ordination.

This rich man was named Ashin Visakha in the role of a priest. For five years, he strove to study and took his training in the field of Vinaya Rules and Precepts called Dvematika. After completion of five Vassa, he took up Kammatthana meditation practice for four months each at four different monasteries. While practising as such, he once made his way to a forest, remained in one solitary place, and then made a joyous utterance of hymn reflecting upon his noble attributes, as follows:

“Yavata upasampanno, yavata idha agato.
Etthantare khalitam natthi, aho labha te marisa.”

Yavata upasampanno – from the time of my first entering into priesthood, Yavata upasampanno – until I arrived at this forested area, etthantare – during this period of interval, khalitam – failure in the observance of moral precepts concerning the priests, natthi – had never happened or taken place. Marisa – 0, Venerable Visakha, te – your, labha – gains and advantages relating to the morality of priests, aho – were indeed wonderful!

Later, Ashin Visakha proceeded to one monastery on Cittala mountain situated at the extreme end of the southern range. On his way, he reached a junction of the road where he stopped for a while, his mind wavering as to which route he should resume his journey. At this juncture, a guardian angel of the mountain appeared and directed him pointing the hand towards the path saying, “This is the route you should take.” After four months had elapsed since his arrival at Cittala monastery, one day at dawn he was lying down planning to leave the monastery for another place. While he was thus reflecting, a rukkha-devata, guardian angel of a tree, called Manila, which stood at the head of the terrace, was said to have been found sitting on a step of the stairs, and crying.

Visakha Thera then asked, “Who are you and why are you weeping?’ The guardian angel replied, “I’m the guardian spirit of that ‘Thabye’ tree.” To the query as to why he was weeping, the reply given was that he was crying feeling sorry and dejected for the imminent departure of Visakha Thera from this place. Visakha then questioned him, “What noble advantages you all have derived by my sojourn here?” The guardian spirit said in reply, “Sir, your presence here has brought about a feeling of loving-kindness among us – the Devas; and if you are going to leave. this place, quarrel will break out among the Devas who will also utter harsh words hurting one another’s feelings.” Visakha then said, “If my stay here will bring happiness to you all, I will have to stay on.” He continued to reside at the monastery for another four months. Similar incidents happened again and again at the end of every four months, and Visakha was forced to stay on and on at this Cittala monastery until the time of his death – Parinibbana. This piece of anecdote is a clear and salient example illustrated in the Visuddhimagga showing how a person who is developing metta is loved and respected by the Devas.

Then comes No. (6): “Devata Rakkhanti’ – protection is given by the nats (Devas). The manner of giving protection or guard is stated to be similar to the kind of protection given by the parents to their only son through love. If the nats are going to render help and protection, one will definitely be free from dangers and will also gain happiness.

(7) Assa – In regard to a person who is developing metta, aggi va visam va satham va – either fire, or poison, or ‘dah’ (a kind of sword with one-edged blade), or any other dangerous weapon that can cause physical harm, kamati – will not befall him. In other words, no danger, such as, fire, poison, and lethal weapons like dahs, spears, arrows, etc., can cause bodily injury to an individual who is developing loving-kindness. Firearms, bombs, missiles and such other modern weaponry which can inflict bodily harm to a person may be regarded as being included in the list of lethal weapons. Therefore, when any kind of danger becomes imminent, it would be advisable to seriously develop mindfulness on metta. In this connection, Visuddhimagga has cited a number of instances, such as, the case of a female devotee by the name of Uttara who had escaped scalds from the burning oil, or the case of Culasiva Thera, a famous scholar of Samyutta Nikaya who was immune from poison, or the case of Samkicca, Samanera who had escaped from the deadly effects of sharp weapons. Besides, a story of a cow which had become invulnerable against the piercing blows of a spear was cited as an illustration. At one time, a cow was feeding an infant calf. A hunter tried to hit this cow several times with his spear. However, every time the sharp-pointed spear-head struck the body of the cow when plunged, the pointed edge of the spear twisted or coiled up like a palm leaf instead of penetrating through the skin. This had so happened not because of upaca appana jhana but because of her pure and intense love for her young son the calf. The influence of metta is indeed powerful even to that extent.

Among these stories, the one relating to Uttara is quite outstanding as it is contained in the Dhammapada. A brief account of it will be quoted as an excerpt.