Part II by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw
(36) The Deities terrify the five hundred Bhikkhus
At one time, while the Lord Buddha was residing at Jetavana monastery in the city of Savatthi, five hundred Bhikkhus, after taking instructions from the Buddha on the method of practising Kammatthana meditation, went out in search of a suitable monastery and a village where alms-givers or donors could be found. They then reached a mountain where lakes were in abundance at the fringe of the Himalayas. The place was clean and refreshingly cool and peaceful. They stayed for one night at this place. Early the next morning, they visited a village in the neighbourhood to seek for alms. It was stated that this village was fairly large with one thousand dwelling houses. The villagers being generous and hospitable offered meals to all five hundred Bhikkhus and also requested them to spend their Vassa at their place. They also donated a small monastery to all of the Bhikkhus to enable them to live in peace and meditate singly, and provided them with benches and footstools for sitting, water pots, etc.
On the following day, they proceeded to another Village. The inhabitants of that village similarly requested the Bhikkhus to reside at their place for a period of Vassa after they had offered the meals. They agreed to stay as requested making a remark in passing that it would be better if the place were free from dangers. Later, they carried on practising meditation day and night continuously at a grove in that forested area situated in close proximity to the village. Owing to the influential effect of the powers of the Bhikkhus who were endowed with morality (sila), the guardian angels of the trees in the forested area dared not reside in their abodes from which they descended, taking along with them their young children, and had to be moving about hither and thither. The Nats or ‘ the deities were, therefore, watching out from a good distance with embarrassment as to when these noble Bhikkhus would be leaving the place.
Later, it had occurred to them as: “These Bhikkhus would no doubt be staying for a period of three months during the Vassa (Rains Retreat). We, with. our children, cannot possibly remain outside our abodes for a long time. It would, therefore, appear advisable to create horror, and dreadful sensational sights to frighten them away.” implementing their thoughts into action, rukkha-devas, the guardian Devas of the trees, created themselves in the guise of ogres during night-time while the Bhikkhus were meditating, and stood in the presence of the Bhikkhus making, themselves visible causing weird sounds and hideous noise. Having heard these uncanny sounds and seen horrible sights, the Bhikkhus were all stricken with fear. Their hearts throbbed and their complexion turned pale. The mind became restless with worry and fright. While becoming miserable as stated, foul smell were emitted by the deities. This state of condition had caused the Bhikkhus great embarrassment and suffering. It was mentioned in the Commentary as “Tena duggandhona nimmathiyamanamiva matthalungam ahosi”. This expression comes very close to the view of the present day Western medical doctors. It may, therefore, be said that they had suffered severely from headache. Despite this pain and suffering, they remained mute with great patience without letting one another know about what had really happened.
One day, on being asked by the eldest Maha Thera, each and everyone of the Bhikkhus made a candid disclosure of their own respective personal experience they had gone through. The eldest of the Bhikkhus, Maha Thera, then expressed his opinion, “If that is the case, this place may be considered as unsuitable for us to stay and continue practising meditation. Let us. therefore proceed to the Lord Buddha and respectfully apprise Him of this state of affairs, and then we shall shift our place of residence to some other suitable spot for the rest of the period of Vassa. Thereafter, they all came over to the Enlightened One from whom they sought instruction to ‘direct them to a suitable an’ d proper place which Would be more congenial to practise meditation.