Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part V, by Ven, Mahasi Sayadaw

(68) The Bodhisatta’s Karuna

Our Lord Buddha in one of his previous existences as Sumedha the hermit, more than four asankheyyas and a hundred thousand kappas ago, offered his own body to serve as a platform (a bridge) on the path which was then under repairs, to be trod upon by Dipankara Buddha who was about to come along that roadway. At that time, if he had practised the noble Dhamma after assuming the role of a Bhikkhu, he would have become an Arahat and then entered Parinibbana in that very life. He too realised and believed as such because he was then an extraordinary person accomplished with jhana-abhinna, supernatural knowledge or faculty. A person who has attained jhana can become an Arahat even while listening to the sermon preached by the Buddha.

However, Sumedha, the hermit (the would-be Gotama Buddha) had pondered thus:

“Rare indeed is a person like me who is fully endowed with the strength of faith, energy, mindfulness, contemplation – (concentration) and wisdom – saddha, viriya, sati, samadhi and panna. The majority are unfortunately lacking in the quality of this bala (strength). Such individuals are beings cannot know and realise on their own, intuition the Dhamma which can lead them to the state of liberation from the sufferings of old age, sickness and death. Nor were they able to practise that kind of Dhamma. Despite the fact that I am accomplished with the necessary strength, it will not be very beneficial by merely endeavouring for my own individual salvation. I should emulate the example of Dipankara Buddha by performing moral practices and accumulating the merits of paramitas (perfection) to become a Buddha, and then save all beings who are weak and mentally deficient. This has been mentioned in the historical writings in Pali (chronicles) concerning Buddhism, as stated below:

          “Icchamano aham ajja, kilese ghatayamaham.
          Kim me ekena tannena, parisena thamadassina.
          Sabbannutam papunitva, santaressam sadevakam.”

Aham I can, icchamano – if I wish, ajja – even today, kilese in respect of all kilesas (defilement), ghatayami – get rid of them. Pana – However, thamadassina – though endowed wish the strength capable of achieving Buddhahood, parisena hontena – being a man, ekena tannena – by crossing the deep ocean of Samsara towards Nibbana alone seeking only one’s own ‘salvation. Me – to me, kim – how could it bring benefits? Aham – I will, sabbannutam – of Omniscience, papunitva – after attainment, sadevakam -(save) all Devas and human beings (as a Saviour of mankind), santaressam – cause all of them to reach Nibbana on the opposite shore (of the vast ocean of Samsara).

After reflecting as such, Sumedha received the prediction of the Buddha for his future attainment of Buddhahood. He had, all throughout the period of four asankheyyas and a hundred-thousand kappas, fulfilled the Perfection which could lead to becoming a Buddha by practising virtues in the most perfect manner. During these countless existences, he had undergone the severest sufferings and privations and had come across old age, sickness and death repeatedly. In one of his last ten existences as King Vesantara, he was banished to a forest as the people of his country were discontented with the way he practised charity in giving away the White Elephant which was in those days regarded as one of the most sacred treasures of the State. While remaining in the forest in exile, a Brahmin by the name of Jukaka appeared and asked him to give away his young son and daughter in charity for the purpose of employing them as servants. It was really heart-rending and yet, he had nobly offered his innocent little son Jali and daughter Kanhajina despite his mental distress to the extent of shedding tears in sorrow to gain his vowed Perfection. Just imagine how he would suffer mentally. To achieve those difficult Perfection (Paramitas), he had gone through great misery and sorrow.

And next, though a Bodhisatta, as he was not yet tree from kilesas, defilement, which could drag him down to apaya, he still had his akusala kamma, the result of demeritorious acts committed through greed (lobha), anger (dosa) and delusion (moha). For such demerits, he had his rounds of existences many a time as animals, and thereby suffered pain and misery. Moreover, mention was made in “Temiya” Jataka that he had even gone through the Hell for ill-treating a person in one of his existences as a King in which capacity he had passed a judgement imposing a cruel penalty.

All these untold miseries which he had faced during an innumerable number of existences, nay, for a period of Four Immensities (asankheyyas) and a hundred-thousand kappas, were the resultant effects of his wishful prayer to become a Buddha with ‘unbounded Universal Love and goodwill for all beings. Hence, it is quite evident that “Pity ” or compassion prevents one’s own happiness.