Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part VII by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw

(97) The Story of Putigattatissa Thera

In the lifetime of the Lord Buddha, there lived a Bhikkhu by the name of Putigattatissa Thera. Originally, he was a layman from the City of Savatthi. After entering the monkshood in the Buddha’s Sasana, he was addressed as Tissa Thera. Later, numerous acne or pimples about the size of a mustard seed appeared on his body. These tumorous pimples gradually became bigger and bigger. From about the size of a mustard seed, these pimples or boils had grown bigger up to the size of bean seeds, and then eventually became swollen to reach the size of a big round fruit (in Burmese “okshit” fruit – about thrice larger than an orange) and then, burst or perforated. As a result, the whole body was covered with numerous holes. Hence, he was dubbed Putigatta – which means having a stinking body with a, foul smell. He was therefore given the name of Putigattatissa Thera. Later, the morbid growth of this tumorous disease had aggravated until his bones were fractured. There was no one to nurse him. All his robes were badly stained with pus and putrid blood. Even his own disciples had abandoned him. Becoming helpless, he had to lie down all the time on his bed.

At that time, the Buddha with his supernatural vision reflected and observed all over the Universe as to who would be deserving of attaining special Dhamma, the Awakening Consciousness. In His vision, the Buddha found Putigattatissa Thera who would readily attain Arahatship. Realising that there was no one except Him who could be relied upon by the Thera, Buddha made His way to him as if He was making a round of inspection of the monasteries. On reaching the place where Putigattatissa Thera was residing, Buddha personally lifted up a big empty rice pot, washed it, and then, after putting water into it, placed the pot on a hearth to boil the water. When the water was about to boil, Buddha intending to remove the bedstead (cot) where Putigattatissa Thera was lying, put his hands on the cot. It is extremely wonderful and worthy of reference if we imagine Buddha’s Great Compassion and pity showered upon the Thera.

At this juncture, other Bhikkhus appeared on the scene and after respectfully entreating the Buddha, “0, Lord, please make way. We shall carry the cot where you wish to put it and lifted the cot and carried it to the kitchen where the fireplace was standing. The Buddha, wishing to give the Thera a hot bath, took the warm water with a cup and then slowly sprinkled it on the body of the Thera. The Bhikkhus took off the robes worn by the Thera, washed them with hot water, and then placed them in the sun to dry. Buddha directed that Putigattatissa’s body be properly washed and cleansed with warm water. The Bhikkhus after complying with the directions given by the Buddha, gave the dry robes to the Thera to be wrapped round his waist in place of “Thin-paing” – a form of skirt which was taken off and washed. When it had dried, it was again given to be replaced round the waist of the Thera. The outer garment was then removed and wrapped round the upper portion of the body. In those days, there was scarcity of robes.

There were no spare robes to be worn. How reverting it was! For the eventual attainment of Arahatship by Putigattatissa Thera, the Buddha has to act as a male-nurse. This is really surprising, highly noble and respectful. Having been properly attended to and nursed by the Buddha Himself, Putigattatissa Thera got great relief.

Then the Compassionate Buddha commenced teaching as follows:

“Aciram vata’yam kayo,
pathavim adhisessati.
Chuddho apetavinnano niratthamva kalingaram.”

Bhikkhu – O, Bhikkhu Putigattatissa! Te – of yours, ayam kayo – this body, aciram – will soon, vata – truly and verily, pathavim adhisessati – lie upon the ground (meaning: your body will become a corpse and then will be laid out naked to sleep on the burial ground); apetavinnano — for having become a dead body without consciousness, Chuddho. – and since people concerned have abandoned it as a mean and worthless waste matter, pathavim adhisessati – it will come to rest on the burial ground of the cemetery. (What it means is) nirattham – it is useless, kalingaram eva – like a log, a lifeless and worthless stuff which will lie on the ground, or rather, fall asleep (die).

The gist of it is: “Just as rotten and decayed logs will remain on the ground as have been discarded, the material body (khandha) being lifeless will soon be abandoned and left in the graveyard without any clothes on. In those days, it was customary that corpses were thrown away in the graveyard without burying them.

After having heard the teachings of the Lord Buddha delivered in the form of a verse, Putigattatissa Thera became an Arahat; and not long afterwards, he entered into Parinibbana.

This Putigattatissa Thera was a bird-hunter during the lifetime of Kassapa Buddha. He collected and piled up the birds caught by him after breaking or splitting up their feet and wings. Only on the next day, he used to sell them out. Some of them were cooked for his own consumption. For having committed this evil act of akusalakamma, his whole body became putrid with the skin disease which caused tumorous growth of numerous pimples or boils over the entire body. In that very existence, in coming across an Arahat who was making a round for alms, he made offerings of a bird curry and cooked rice, and then, for having prayed to attain magga-phala, he had become an Arahat in this existence. This story of Putigattatissa had convinced us that ill-treating others would cause disease. The motto now coined for the purpose is: “He who ill-treats others becomes diseased.” If ill-treating is avoided, it will bring good health. The meaning of this has been preached in brief in the following words:

(2B) “Appabadhasamvattanika esa manava patipada yadidam sattanam avihethakajatiko hoti.”

Manava – 0, Subha, the lad, yadidam-yo ayam – a certain person, sattanam – to all beings, avihethakajatiko – has no intention of causing harm and trouble, or rather, ill-treatment, hoti – it is so. Tassa – That person, esa patipada – for his good conduct of refraining from ill-treating or harming the beings, appabadhasamvattanika – is likely to lessen the diseases and bring about good health.

In this connection, the motto will hereafter be composed as: “Pity brings good health” This expression would convey the sense that if refrained from ill-treating others, it is likely to bring good health. If one has pity on others, he will not be inclined to ill-treat them. The motto is therefore composed as follows:

(2) “He who ill-treats become diseased, whereas compassion brings good health.”

Hence, a person who ill-treats others will often be afflicted with many kinds of diseases. It should, therefore, be noted that those who have caused ill-treatment to others will be diseased. One who has sympathy or pity, refraining from ill-treating others, will have less diseases and will be in robust health. This fact should also be borne in mind. Let us now proceed to tackle the third question, the answers to which will be rendered quoting a short phrase in Pali.