Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part VII by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw

(101) The Story of Ananda, the millionaire

During the lifetime of the Lord Buddha, there lived a rich person by the name of Ananda in the City of Savatthi. His riches amounted to forty crores. He was full of envy and a miser too. Every fortnight, he asked his relatives to hold a meeting, and at every such meeting or gathering, he admonished his son “MuIasiri” in this manner. “Don’t think that forty crores worth of property which we have in possession is a colossal amount. All of these riches should only be acquired and accumulated. If a kyat is offered repeatedly, the entire wealth will, in the course of time, be exhausted. Hence,

“Anjananam khayam disva,
upacikananca sancayam.
Madhunanca samaharam,
pandito gharamavase.”

This verse (gatha) is the same as the Ovadagatha given by Todeyya. The only discrepancy between the two is the use of the expression “upaciknam ” i.e., of the white ants, and the word “vammikanam ” i.e., the anthill. In this regard, it is to be interpreted as ‘upacikanam’ – by the white ants, sancayam – the accumulation of particles of dust which have been carried. Some time later, after giving his exhortation, Ananda ‘ the rich passed away. He died without telling his son where the five earthenware pots containing gold and silver were kept or buried. After his death, he was conceived in the womb of a female beggar in the village where beggars lived. This village comprised a thousand dwelling houses. It was stated that from the time of the conception of this Ananda, the former millionaire, in the mother’s womb in his new existence, the inhabitants of that village faced great hardship in the way of their living or occupation. Circumstances under which they had to live became uncongenial. Neva bhatim labhati… They did not receive wages or alms as usual and were not able to maintain themselves. Na yapanamattato param bhattapindampi – They were unable to obtain more food. They received food just enough to support their own survival. As such, the villagers wondered what were the circumstances that had shaped them in that way. They thought there must be a wicked or evil person called kalakanni (adversity personified) in their village. Considering thus, they separated the village into two parts. Then villagers residing in the part of the village where the mother of the reincarnated Ananda the rich was living, remained in poverty and adversity as before. Therefore, they again divided this portion of the village into two. It was repeatedly done in the like manner until such time when the mother of Ananda was left alone in a state of adversity. The mother, however, withstood the misery with great patience. After giving birth to a child, she continued to sustain herself for her own livelihood and the maintenance of the child.

Ultimately, when the child grew up to an age capable of making his rounds begging for food, the mother, no longer being able to endure the sufferings and hardship, was compelled to abandon her son. A receptacle was given to him to seek food on his own. While going round the village begging for food from house to house, he came upon a dwelling place where he had lived in his former existence. Having possessed the knowledge of jatissara-nana, by which he had the faculty of remembering his former existence, he entered the house through the front door. The sons of Mulasiri on seeing him cried through fear. They got frightened at the sight of him simply because of his extreme ugliness and ghostly appearance (his hands, feet, ears and nose were horribly deformed). The disfigurement of his body and repulsive complexion presented an awful sight.

The children who were crying, being the sons of Mulasiri, were no other than this unfortunate young boy’s (the reincarnated Anaconda’s) grandchildren. The baby-sitters (nannies) who looked at him found the young boy (former Ananda) very ugly. They then assaulted him with sticks saying, “You wicked devil! Better go away.” They then put him on a heap of garbage. As a matter of fact they regarded him as dirt. At that time the Buddha accompanied by the Venerable Ashin Ananda in the, course of their round for alms, arrived at the scene. On being asked by the Venerable Ashin Ananda about the incident, the Buddha told Ashin Ananda the state of affairs in detail.

Thereupon, the Venerable Ashin Ananda requested the people near to bring Mulasiri to him. People in the neighbourhood, who had come over to this place formed a big crowd. Buddha then asked Mulasiri: “Do you know this child?” The reply given was, in the negative. Buddha told Mulasiri that this child was his father Ananda, the rich Mulasiri exclaimed, I cannot believe it Sir.” Buddha therefore, ordered the child, “Hey’, Ananda the rich! You, better tell your son where the five big earthen-ware pots containing gold and silver were kept and buried in the earth.” The place where the pots were buried was shown by the boy, and on digging, all the treasures were found intact. Only then, faith and reverence had occurred in Mulasiri. He became a convert and observed the Three Refuges the Triple Gem of Buddhism. On that very occasion, Buddha taught the following verse (gatha):

“Putta matthi dhanammatthi,
iti balo vihannati.
Atta hi attano natthi,
kuto putta kuto danam.”

Me – I have, putti atthi – sons and daughters. Me – I have, dhanammatthi – wealth and treasures Consisting of gold, silver, etc. Iti – Having had this kind of assumption, balo – a fool who has no knowledge of the state of Samsara, or rather, no foresight about the future existences, vihannati – becomes weary and distressed – In connection with his children (sons and daughters) and his wealth and riches.

People are worrying with great anxiety about their children’s welfare and wealth under a false notion that they, are really their own and always dependable. In the event of the death of their own children -and the loss of wealth, they would become anxious and greatly depressed with sorrow. They are worried about what would happen to those properties and their own kim and kin. There is no need to make a special mention about the physical and mental sufferings which they are undergoing while the loss of their wealth and the death of their relatives are taking place. They also become wearisome for having to perform their work with utmost endeavour to gain wealth that has not yet been acquired. It means to say they will be constantly toiling and striving with worry and misery to bring up their children. And yet…

Atta hi – Even on his own self, attano – one has, natthi – no real reliance (i.e. he himself does not belong to himself). It means to say that on the verge of death, one cannot rely upon his own self. Even after death, one cannot depend upon himself or help himself to avoid descending to Apaya and to fall into a state of miserable conditions. Hence, putta – how can sons and daughters, kuto – be said to be really dependable? Kuto danam – how could one say that he has his wealth to depend upon?

Ananda, the millionaire, whose story has just been narrated, had to undergo misery and sufferings immediately after his death. He met with such sufferings for having relied upon his son and riches instead of on meritorious acts of charity (dana). There were a number of stories about people who had become rich as a result of doing charity and offering gifts with great generosity. A person by the name of Indaka from the City of Rajagaha became a powerful Deva for having offered a mere spoonful of food with great generosity to the Venerable Ashin Anuruddha Thera. This anecdote has often been mentioned. Hence, the Dhamma: “Refraining from doing charity causes extreme poverty; charity brings wealth and prosperity”, should always be borne in mind and well-understood.’ After appreciating as such, it is of paramount importance to practise dana. In any case, Burmese Buddhists are not lacking in generosity and in the matter of offering donations. They are generally accomplished with this quality of charitableness.