Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part IV by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw

(59) The Story of Suvannasama

Relating to the advantages of metta stated in the foregoing, explanation given to the query put forward will be found in Milindapanha Pali Text. The question that arose was: In mentioning the eleven advantages of metta it has been stated that “a person who is developing metta will escape bodily injury, or in other words, will be immune from the dangers of fire, poison, etc.” However, in the story of Suvannasama Jataka, mention has been made that though Suvannasama was said to be always developing metta, he was badly wounded and was in a state of semi-consciousness because of the injury caused by the poisonous arrow which was shot at him by the King Piliyakkha while hunting deer to find out the truth of what he considered as a strange thing. Such being the case, the statement that Suvannasama had been hit by the arrow must be wrong if the statement that no harm or injury could be inflicted by a weapon on a person who was developing metta. On the other hand, if the statement that Suvannasama was actually hit by an arrow, then, the statement that “a person who is developing metta becomes invulnerable”, must be wrong. Since these two statements were conflicting and were contrary to one another, King Milinda requested Ashin Nagasena to kindly clarify the two opposite views or the discrepancies.

To this problematic matter in issue, Ashin Nagasena Thera explained as follows:

“0, noble King Milinda! It is exactly true that no weapon can hit or harm a person who is developing metta. It is also true that Suvannasama was hit by an arrow. Though both are, in fact, correct, the reason for having no discrepancy between the two statements is that the advantage of invulnerability is derived not because of the inherent power or quality of the person but because of the attributes or quality of metta. Although it had been stated that Suvannasama was developing metta at the time when he was struck by the arrow, he was picking up the water-pot, and it was during that brief moment of interval Suvannasama had a break or a lapse in the process of developing metta. That is the reason why he was struck by an arrow.”

For example, in ancient times, soldiers had an armoured suit made of metal steel. When such an armour was worn in fighting as a covering in defence, no arrow or spear could pierce through it. It served as a protection against sharp weapons. The escape from injury caused by a weapon, such as, spear, arrow or a sword, is because of the faculty of the armoured suit. It is not attributable to the inherent power or faculty of the man. If this suit of armour is not worn by a person, any kind of weapon used against him would have caused an injury. In the same way, immunity from such lethal weapons should be attributed to the faculty of metta and not to that of the person. Hence, at the moment of a lapse from metta development, Suvannasama was struck by the arrow.

The second example is that a person living in a sound masonry building will not get wet by rains. This is not due to his faculty but the inherent quality of the building itself. If he lacks shelter and stays outside the building, he, will be soaked to the skin. Similarly, if a person is lacking in metta, any kind of weapon could harm him at the moment of his lapse in the development of metta, just as a man who will get soaked if he were outside the building when raining.

The next example may be cited. This is what is called a “medicinal tree of an angel”. It is stated that a person who was holding its branch, or any part of its wood, would become invisible to the naked eye. It had the power of making a man “Invisible”. There is every likelihood that people nowadays may find it difficult to believe such a miracle. However, I have made a mention of it according .to what is found in the Text of Milindapanha. Invisibility is the power of this “Medicinal Tree of an Angel”, and not of the man. The main significance which I want to stress is to constantly develop metta, if you want to protect yourself from any kind of danger.

Relating to No. (7) of the eleven advantages that can be accrued from metta in connection with the invulnerability from fire, poison and weapons etc.”, nothing more is required to be said. Regarding No. (8) speedily becomes the mind serene, (9) facial complexion is bright and sparkling with joy, and (10) without gloom and anxiety on the verge of death, it does not appear necessary to be repeated. What now remains to be said is connected with No. (11) “verily destined to become a Brahma”, the last of the advantages. This advantage is clearly mentioned in the Pali Texts. Under the sub-heading “Second Metta Sutta” appearing in the beginning of Part IV of this Dhamma, the method of Vipassana meditation to be jointly exercised has been shown. This will again be clarified now.