Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part I, by Ven, Mahasi Sayadaw

(15) The Story of Uttara

Maung Ponna was the name of Uttara’s father. He was at first a poor man in the employ of one Sumana, a millionaire from the city of Rajagaha. One day, he donated a piece of thin stick of a plant, a kind of tooth-brush used by monks for cleaning the teeth (called dampu) and clean water for washing the face to Ashin Sariputta Thera who had just arisen from Samapatti. His wife also on the same day, on her way to the place where he was ploughing the field bringing a packet of rice meal for him too came across Ashin Sariputta. With an overwhelming generosity at the sight of the Venerable Ashin Sariputta, she offered the packet of rice-meal to the Arahat and shared her merits with her husband. By virtue of these meritorious deeds, it is said that the entire plot of land ploughed by Maung Ponna had suddenly transformed into a field of pure gold. At the present day, this kind of incident may be considered ludicrous – as a sort of “Believe it or not” story. However, in those ancient times, special and peculiar advantages had been derived depending upon the moral qualities of certain outstanding persons or donees, who possessed, special noble attributes. There is reason to believe so, judging the nature of queer inventions of wonderful electronic mechanical devices such as computers, missiles and satellites which would ordinarily be considered unbelievable. Peculiar and astonishing happenings might have therefore occurred in those old days.

Since his plot of cultivable land had turned into pure solid gold, the poor Maung Ponna became fabulously rich. At some future date, the wealthy Sumana solicited U Ponna to give his daughter Uttara in marriage to his son. U Ponna, his wife and their daughter Uttara had already become Sotapannas after listening to the sermon delivered by the Buddha since the time of the opening ceremony of their new residence, held immediately after Maung Ponna had acquired his immense wealth and fortune. On the other hand, the whole family of Sumana, the rich man, was of different religion and none of the members of their household was a Buddhist. For this particular reason, the proposal made by Sumana was not accepted by Ponna, the millionaire. He was quite outspoken in telling Sumana that Sumana’s son had his faith in heretical doctrine whereas, his daughter, being a devout Buddhist could not help taking her refuge in the Triple Gem and that the proposed marriage would therefore be incompatible. For this simple reason he was unable to give his consent to the proposal made by Sumana. However, on being advised by many of his friends with a request not to get estranged in his relationship with Sumana, he finally acquiesced, and then Uttara was eventually given in marriage to Sumana’s son.

On the Full Moon day of Waso, Uttara had to accompany her husband to the home of Sumana’s family. Since the day of her arrival at her husband’s house, she had had no opportunity to seek her refuge in, and pay homage to Sanghas and Bhikkhunis. Neither had she obtained any chance to do any act of charity or dana, and to listen to the noble Dhamma. This state of affairs having lasted for two and a half months, Uttara was compelled to send information to her father about her plight. What she had conveyed in her message was: “Why should I be locked up and kept under detention? It would perhaps be better to declare me outright that I am their mean slave. It appears unjustifiable to let me be tied down and married to a heretic, nay, a man holding a heretical view. Since my arrival here up till now, I have been deprived of the opportunity to see or pay my respects and homage to sanghas and monks and perform any kind of meritorious acts.”

Having heard this news, her father felt very much depressed, and lamented, “What a pity! My daughter is undoubtedly suffering misery.” He therefore sent a sum of fifteen thousand rupees (kyats) to his daughter Uttara. At that time, there lived a woman of some renown by the, name of Thirima in the city of Rajagaha. She earned her living by prostitution, taking a fee of one thousand rupees for every night spent by her with a man. This girl Thirima was hired for a sum of fifteen thousand rupees to look after and make Uttara’s husband happy for a period of 15 days. The money sent to Uttara by her father was to enable her to do merits – kusala – freely within a space of 15 days. She then summoned Thirima who, after consultation, agreed to be hired to Uttara’s husband. With the express consent of Thirima, she was taken to Uttara’s husband from whom permission was sought by Uttara that for a period of 15 days she would like to freely devote herself to performance of merits and that this Thirima would in the meantime look after him properly. Her husband being delightfully impressed with Thirima’s beauty and charm readily agreed to abide by the terms presented by Uttara.

Commencing from that day, Uttara daily accorded her invitation to the sanghas headed by the Buddha and offered meals in alms at her residence. She also listened to the sermons and then personally managed in preparing meals, etc., for the sanghas. On the 14th, Waxing day of Thadingyut, her husband when looking at the kitchen down below through the window of his residential building, saw his wife Uttara personally managing and supervising the work of cooking food and preparing meals for the sanghas. She was perspiring and looking dirty with soot on her face. Finding her in such a predicament, he bemused, “0, what a foolish creature! She cannot find enjoyment in the luxury and comforts of this substantial and well furnished building. How surprising is it that she could only find her satisfaction and pleasure in doing service to these bald-headed monks! He then retreated his steps from the window smiling.

When Thirima found him wearing a smile on his face, curiosity had aroused in her wanting to know the reason for his demeanour. She therefore went towards the window and on observation being made, saw Uttara in the kitchen. A feeling of jealousy then crept up in her and she thought to herself as: ‘0, this son of a millionaire still seems to have his close connection with this blooming base female creature.” Marvellous indeed! She considered herself as the real landlady and owner of the big mansion after her sojourn for only 15 days. In fact, she had entirely forgotten that she was living in that place on hire. Nevertheless, she became envious and resentful against Uttara. Apart from that, she bore grudge against Uttara. Hence, with her ill will to make Uttara miserable, she came down the stairs. Then making her way to the kitchen, she took a cup of boiling butter and went close to Uttara to do mischief. Seeing Thirima, Uttara immediately reflected and began developing a feeling of loving-kindness and said to herself in soliloquy: “My friend Thirima has done a lot of benefits to me. The Universe is comparatively narrow as compared to the world of advantages bestowed upon me by Thirima. The advantages are immense, and it is because of her care and attention given to my husband that I have been able to perform the charitable deeds and listen to the Dhamma. If I have harboured any feeling of resentment or anger, may this scorchingly hot butter-oil which Thirima is carrying with her cause me harm by scalding. If, on the contrary, I have no feeling of animosity or anger against her, no harm or injury may befall me.” She solemnly took oath of the truth of her noble-mindedness in the manner stated, and radiated her loving-kindness, metta, to Thirima. The burning hot liquid of butter which Thirima cruelly poured upon her had the reverse effect of coolness of fresh water.

Thirima then reflected, “This cream of butter which has melted appears getting cold.” She therefore again went off and fetched another cupful of boiled hot butter from the frying pan. Finding her doing what was considered horrible, the maids attending on Uttara nearby became indignant and uttered, “Go away . . . you foolish bitch. Don’t pour this burning oil on our Mistress.” They simultaneously threatened her, gave her a good beating and kicked her about. This made Thirima fall flat on the ground. Uttara intervened to deter her maids from causing bodily harm to Thirima but to no avail. At this juncture, Uttara asked Thirima with a feeling of reprobation, “0, Thirima, what has made you commit such an awful and serious crime, etc.” So saying, she immediately caused her to be given a warm bath and anointed – with an extremely soft grease or jelly (lubricant) to relieve her pain and suffering.

Only then, realisation came to Thirima that she was rendering her service on hire and tendered her apology, begging Uttara to forgive her. Uttara then instructed Thirima to make an apology to and beg for pardon from her “father”, the Lord Buddha. Briefly stated, as arranged by Uttara, Thirima proceeded to the Buddha and His disciple – Sanghas, paid her obeisance, offered meals in donation, and tendered her apology. Buddha then gave an exhortation, preaching the Dhamma in the form of a verse which, in essence, conveys the meaning – “Make a conquest of an angry man by ‘patience’ without spite and getting angry.” After having heard this sermon, Thirima together with other five hundred females attained Sotapanna. The significant point intended to be stressed in the story now cited is that Uttara, the female devotee, had escaped from the burning heat of the boiling butter-oil poured upon her by virtue of contemplating and developing loving-kindness (metta bhavana).

Relating to the story of Culasiva Thera who became invulnerable from poison, no elaborated account was found in the present Atthakatha and Tikas. In regard to the events concerning Samkicca Samanera, it has already-been mentioned in the Tuvataka Sutta (Burmese version) at page 90 wherein reference is only made to the fact that he had plunged himself in jhana. It was not obvious as to what kind of jhana he had developed. In the present instance, however, according to what has been stated in the Visuddhimagga, it is to be regarded as developing metta jhana. This would mean that immunity was gained from the dangers of fire, poison and other lethal weapons, such as a sword or a dah.

(8) “‘Tuvatam samadhiyati”, which means that the mind also quickly becomes stabilised and calm. To develop mindfulness wishing others happy is appropriate and easy inasmuch as everybody is willing to gain happiness. Hence, the mind is very likely to become tranquil within a short time.

(9) The next advantage is ‘Mukhavanno vippasidati”, i.e. the complexion of the face can become clear. As stated earlier, it should be developed as may be considered appropriate. It is easier, of course. This will undoubtedly bring clear complexion of the face.

(10) The next is: “”Asammuhlo kalam karoti”‘. That is to say “Death takes place without bewilderment or perplexity.” This is really important. When one is approaching death, he is likely to die without being able to gain proper concentration and mindfulness because of very severe pain, ache or tiredness which he has to suffer, or is likely to pass away with a feeling of greed or anger, or under delusion with a mistaken view imagining all sorts of erroneous thoughts. This is how death usually comes upon a person with the mind perplexed ridden by all kinds of entanglements. When death occurs to one in the manner as stated, it is almost certain that he is destined for the four Apayas or Nether World. However, in some cases where one is in a state of coma or semi-consciousness, the mind may impinge on or stick to sensations relating to merits, or on nimittas (omens) concerning Sugati, i.e. the abode of Devas and the human world, fairly at ease. In that case, a person can hope to reach Sugati, an existence where happy conditions prevail.

(11) This is the last kind of advantage expressed in Pali as: “Uttari appati vijjhanto,” It goes to say that if arahatta phala, the Fruition of Arahatship, is not realised or attained beyond, or rather, outside the range of metta jhana, or in other words, if arahatta phala which is superior to metta jhana cannot be achieved, brahmalokuipago – Brahma World will be reached. An ordinary worldling can reach the Abode of Brahmas if he has achieved metta jhana, Sotapannas and Sakadagamis may be reborn in the Brahma World. Of course, an Anagami is likely to be reborn in the abode of Suddhavasa in the World of Brahmas. If jhana is not attained and if only ecstatic concentration approaching the attainment of jhana (upacara samadhi) is achieved, he can reach the world of human beings, and Devaloka which are existences known as Sugati. Dhananjhani, the Brahmin, whose case had been earlier mentioned, had reached the Brahma World for having acquired virtue by developing metta, etc., within about half an hour before his death. This is particularly worthy of note. It also deserves emulation.

Having given teachings on the Brahmavihara Dhamma in a fairly comprehensive way, I shall now continue to talk something about Vipassana.