Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part VII by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw

(92) Culakammavibhanga Sutta

There lived a lad by the name of Subha in the City of Savatthi during the lifetime of our Lord Buddha. The Pali word “Subha” conveys the meaning of “Dignity” – dignified personality in Burmese language, and as such, he can be addressed as “Maung Tint Te” in name which means, “Mr. Dignity”. Todeyya the Brahmin, was his father. He was Astrologer to His Majesty, ‘King Kosala, the then ruling monarch. Being a man of great wealth, Todeyya was stated to have possessed eighty-seven crores worth of property. He was a miser though. Imagining that if charity were given, or in other words, if charitable deeds were performed, his entire wealth would decline to the point of total exhaustion, he had throughout his life abstained from making any alms giving. Instructions were also given by him to his son and other friends as stated below:

“Anjananam khayam disva,
vammikananca saneayam.
Madhunanca samahayam,
pandito gharamavase.”

Anjananam – Collyria (i.e. stones producing colouring matter [pigment] applied to eye-lashes to darken them), khayam – if ground several times will wear out, or in other words, will be exhausted by attrition, disva ca – by observing and reflecting as such; vammikanam – and of the nature of ant-hill, sancayam – which constitutes a large accumulation brought about by the white-ants in carrying bit by bit the dust in small quantity, disva ca – by observing and reflecting as such, madunam – and of honey, samaharam – which represent a collection made by the bees by carrying bit by bit gradually, disva – ca – by observing and reflecting as such; pandito – the wise who has business acumen, gharam – the house, avase – where he resides should likewise be put under his care, management and control.

This is the advice or instruction given to his son and others by Todeyya, the Brahmin. Collyrium is not in use in Burma, but is popularly used in India. It is not an eye-lotion but a colouring matter applied to the eyelids and lashes to look pretty. A Rule of Discipline has been laid down prohibiting the Bhikkhus from making use of this colouring matter. If this collyrium is made use of several times, say, a hundred or a thousand times, the stone gets worn out through attrition. In the same way, if donation is made even in piecemeal, as time goes on, property in hand will gradually diminish until it becomes exhausted or nothing is left. Imagining thus, no offering of gifts even in small quantity should be made. This is what the statement means.

Next, the ant-hill becomes a big mound when gradually heaped up with particles of dust carried over and deposited by the tiny white-ants. Taking cue from the manner in which constant efforts are made by the tiny creatures in accumulating the dust to form into a mound of earth or an anthill, money or property should be gradually hoarded and accumulated slowly in piecemeal. Even a pya (or a penny) should be saved and accumulated, and if done so, in course of time, great wealth can be amassed. Hence, it is stated that everything which comes into one’s hands, should be stored up without spending it.

And next, tiny drops of honey brought by the small bees stored up in trickles are not much. But as these are carried by them and trickled out several times, a large amount of honey is collected in due course. Taking lesson from this illustration, though it may be a small sum of money, say, a penny or a pya, one should gradually save up the money so as to get rich.

What is meant by it is that the head of the household or a family, should abstain from giving away even a small sum of money without causing wastage, and carefully save and guard the store of money and amass his fortune. At that time, Buddha was still living and was delivering his preaching in the City of Savatthi. The Sanghas, Buddha’s disciples were all along present with the Exalted One. Those people who had faith in the Dhamma took their refuge in the three Jewels of Buddhism and became adherents of Buddha’s Sasana. They were observing the practices of morality – either the Five Precepts or Eight Precepts and were accomplished with sila. They also resorted to alms giving to their utmost capacity by making offerings to Sanghas under the patronage of the Lord Buddha. They listened earnestly to the sermons delivered by the Buddha daily, and carried on the practice of meditation. Some of them became Sotapannas, or Sakadagamis, or Anagamis, while some entered Bhikkhuhood, and then by developing Vipassana meditation, had achieved Arahatta-magga-phala, eventually attaining Arahatship. It was an opportune time affording a very rare opportunity to achieve higher awakening consciousness of the Special Dhamma up to the highest stage of sanctification. This golden opportunity was hard to come by.

And yet, Todeyya, the Brahmin, had no faith in and reverence for the Buddha. He had then already embraced the doctrines and pretensions of the Brahmins. Hence, he had absolutely no faith in the Buddha who had no place in his high estimation. As a matter of fact, he had underestimated the noble qualities of the Lord Buddha, the Exalted One. Being a Brahmin holding a different religious concept which is of course a false view, he did not even care to listen to the Buddha’s sermon. Neither did he offer in charity anything, nay, even a spoonful of boiled rice. Not only that, he used to address the Buddha with disrespect as “Bho! Bho! ” – the term which was used on inferiors and equals. This term “Bho” is used to be translated in Burmese as “Oh!” (Hi). However, nowadays, the usage of this expression is not in vogue. It is usual to address a person by names such as “Maung Sein” or “Maung Mya”, etc., as the case may be. Therefore, it would appear that he must have addressed the Buddha as “Maung Gautama”. For having disrespectfully spoken to the Buddha, the Exalted One, and also for having pleasurable attachment to his properties with greed, when he died, he was conceived in the womb of a bitch at his own house.

The bitch gave birth to an infant dog in about one and a half or two months time. The young man Subha was very fond of this little dog, which was in his previous existence, Todeyya, the Brahmin. Subha lavishly fed the young animal, his pet, with delicious food which he himself relished and let it sleep in a comfortable bed. It was not that he knew of the little dog as his father reincarnated. However, those who happened to live together in their former existences are generally affectionate to one another. This fact of Dhamma had been preached in the form of a verse as described below:

“Pubbeva sannivasena,
paccuppannahitena va.
Evam tam jayate pemam,
Uppalamva yathodake.”

Pubbe – In the previous existence, sannivasena vii – for having lived together, paccuppannahitena va – and in the ensuring present existence for having caused to bring benefit, evam – this kind of, tam pemam – peculiar affection or love, jayate – is likely to spring up. Kimiva – How it happens is that, yathodake – as much as there is water, Uppalam – the lotus or the water-lily, jayate iva – will continue to grow and develop with vigour and freshness.

It resembles a lotus plant which sprouts with strength and vigour for so long as there is water. Also love is likely to spring up for having lived in association in the former existence. If the duration of living together is long, affection will become deeper. The longer the period of close association the greater the love. As such, there is nothing to be said in particular if joint performances have been made in the matter of kusala (meritorious acts). In the present existence also, a person may become more affectionate to another who has rendered assistance. This is clearly evident perhaps through personal experience. In the case of Todeyya who had become a dog in his next existence, as he and his son were father and son living together in his former existence, there is no wonder that Subha, the rich man’s son had his great loving attachment to the dog.

One day, Buddha spread out his penetratingly keen observation over the entire Universe with his omniscience – Buddha’s Wisdom – which preceded his trance of Great Compassion (Mahakarunasamapatti). On reflection being made as to who could listen to His sermon with all earnestness, and as to who could attain the Special Dhamma, and who would be able to accept and entertain his faith in the Triple Gem of Buddhism found Subha, the young lad, appearing in His vision. Buddha, therefore, in the Morning on the same day, in making His rounds for alms, purposely dropped in at the house of Todeyya, the rich. On entering the house compound, the dog, the reincarnated Todeyya, rushed forward towards the Buddha barking sharply. The Enlightened One then admonished the animal, “Hey, Todeyya! You have now become a dog for having spoken to’ me and addressed me with disrespect as; ‘Bho, Bho, (Maung Gotama – Maung Gotama)’ in your former existence. If you now as a dog barked at me with a guilty mind, you will relegate to Avici Hell.” When the dog heard these words of Buddha’s admonition, it imagined as: “This monk Gotama knows what has happened to me.” Hence, feeling sorry for its own plight, the dog went off (towards the back of the house) and lay down to sleep in the ashes on the floor of the fireplace. The people in the house tried to carry him up folding him in arms to be put on the fine couch he used to roll and sleep, but in vain.

On reaching back home from his visit to the other place, Subha, the lad, asked, “Who has removed the dog from its usual bed?” Members of his household told him that no one had driven the dog from its bed, and then related to him all what had happened. Being apprised of the incident which had taken place, Subha, the young man, thought to himself, “Todeyya is my father. If the monk Gotama had called the dog as Todeyya, it amounts to saying that my father has been reborn as a dog, an animal. In fact, my father has reached the Abode of Brahmas. What Ashin Gotama had said is nonsensical, etc.” He felt he was insulted. Being greatly outraged, he immediately went out to see the Buddha with his malicious intention of making an allegation against the Buddha for telling lies.

In this connection, the belief that the young man Subha had had about his father as having reached the Abode of Brahmas, was on the strength of his traditional concept according to the religious doctrine of the Brahmana. Brahmins have a belief that by practising in conformity with the doctrines of their own religion, they would reach the World of Brahmas on their demise. At one time, a Commander-in-Chief of the army by the name of General Mahadatta, who had a firm belief in the Doctrine of Brahmana, had performed a ritual involving an act of sacrificing the life of a victim to propitiate a god called “Brahmanabhatta”, spending a colossal amount of money in the performance of rites. It was stated that a vision of hell as an evil omen or sign (nimitta) had appeared to Mahadatta on the eve of his death. On being asked by his Brahmana teachers what he had seen or visualised, he replied having seen a bright lamp of brilliant red colour (lohitaghara). Brahmana teachers had said it was Brahmaloka. He then inquired where Brahmaloka was situated and whether it was in the region high above, or in the lower region below. His teachers thereupon answered that it was in the higher region above. He then said what he had seen was in the region below. The teachers insisted that though it might appear to be in the region down below, it was in fact in the region high above. As he passed away while concentrating his mind fixed on this sign (nimitta), he went down to hell. (Reference – Majjhimapanasa Atthakatha, page 303) If a wrong religious concept has crept in, it is really dangerous. In the present era, I have heard of people who hold a firm belief that by slaughtering animals as sacrifice to propitiate the gods, one would reach an abode of happy condition and that they reminded a sick patient on his death-bed to reflect on the past incidents recalling his acts of charity in slaughtering the beings.

When the lad Subha met the Buddha, he asked the Exalted One what He said to the dog on the occasion of the Lord’s visit to his house was true or not, with reference to the information he had heard. Thereupon, Buddha replied that what Subha had heard was exactly true and correct, and then, in order to enable him to come to a right decision, put a question as “0, Subha, the young man! Is it true that there are still a number of properties which your father had failed to mention where they are kept?” Subha then responded, “Yes, indeed. There are three in number – a gold necklace, a pair of gold slippers and a gold vase worth one lakh each, and also a lakh of cash, all totalling four lakhs in value. These are mentioned in the list of properties bequeathed to me but cannot be found or traced anywhere.

Then Buddha ordered, “If so, you better go back home now and on your arrival, feed the dog with milk rice and other nice food, and, then ask the animal where these missing properties are. This dog will reveal everything.”

On hearing the words of the Buddha, the lad Subha reflected, “If what Ashin Gotama has said were true, the missing properties would be recovered. If his words were found to be false, I will proceed to accuse him of telling falsehood.” He then returned home and carried out what was to be done as directed by the Buddha. By the time the dog was dozing, Subha asked the animal: “O, father, these properties (details of which were given) are found in the list. Where are they? Ashin Gotama has told me that you know where these are kept. Please show me where they are.” The dog imagining: “They have known all about me and I could not possibly hide the matter,” uttered a howl and then showed the place where the properties were hidden by scratching with its forefeet the surface of the earth beneath which the properties were buried. When they excavated the ground all those four kinds of missing properties were discovered.

As a result of this discovery, faith in Buddha had arisen in the heart of Subha, the lad. He came to realise that his father had undoubtedly become a dog after death. The dog having revealed everything as stated by the Buddha, it had occurred to him that Ashin Gotama really knew of the states of existence and possessed the faculty of knowing all about the former, future, and present existences. One would naturally have faith in what is stated if the statement’ so made is personally found to be true.

Those who have embraced various kinds of religious doctrines, do not generally believe in what has been testified by other different religious concepts contrary to their own. This is of course quite natural. Some religions hold a view that death of a human being is (in all cases) the annihilation of existence. What it means to say is that there is only One Existence which terminates with death. This concept, however, is not the product of one’s own personal knowledge. It is mere imagination emanated from one’s own belief or concept. In some other religions, it is stated that after passing away from the human existence, a person will either go down to hell forever, or elevate to the heavenly abode. According to what they say, these are the only two kinds. There is probably no one who can vouch for it through his own personal knowledge or realisation. This is a belief which is traditionally handed down by their ancestors. Some religions even say that after death, if favourable circumstances prevail, one may be reborn as a human being, or as a Deva (nat), or as an animal, etc. In this connection, there are some extraordinary individuals who are said to have been endowed with the faculty of seeing and hearing, etc., all that are taking place in the entire Universe, i.e. persons possessing supernatural vision, hearing, and so on.

According to the Buddha’s Dhamma, for so long as tanha, human passionate desire, is still clinging and not yet freed, the process of rupa and nama will be going on continuously from one existence to another due to kamma. In common parlance currently in use, it may be stated that a human becomes a Deva, or a Deva becomes a human, or, a human is reborn as an animal, etc., or an animal, etc., is reborn as a human being and so on. In reality, it is merely the nature of phenomenal occurrence of the continuing process of rupa and nama. If tanha, desirable passionate attachment, is totally eliminated through the achievement of Arahattaphala by contemplating Vipassana, the continuing process of rupa and nama will cease to operate after the arising of cuti or death consciousness, called Parinibbana. It is commonly known as entering into Parinibbana – ultimate death, after which there is no more existence to come. It is what has been stated by Buddha’s Dhamma. This statement has been fully vouched for by the Buddha Himself through his own perfect realisation (Enlightenment) acquired through personal knowledge or Buddha’s Wisdom. Yogis who are presently meditating will surely stand witness to the truth of this statement to the extent of their own achievement of the insight knowledge.

The manner of how existences have come into being is fully supported by the story of Todeyya, who had become a dog. In the teachings of the Lord Buddha, there are numerous instances of this nature which serve as evidence. In the present day too, there are a number of such stories. One would undoubtedly believe the story of Todeyya now narrated if one personally comes across such incidents like Subha, the young man, provided that there is no prejudice or preconceived notion. If one becomes prejudicial, it may invoke blind criticisms for having entertained a bigoted view of his own faith. Some might even set it aside as an absurdity saying that it was the deception practised by Mara, the Evil One. If a person refused to believe what the other has said through personal knowledge and experience, it becomes obvious that he has become bias with his own preconceived ideas.

Subha, the lad, had no such prejudice. He could give a definite decision the moment he had personally seen and found the incident which was credible. Therefore, he called on the Buddha for the second time to acquaint himself with what he would like to know, and then, respectfully asked the Enlightened One in the following manner.