29 – A VISITOR FROM BRAHMALOKA
Because wrong views have hellish consequences, those who follow such views are especially deserving of the compassion of the virtuous.
In one of the Bhagavat’s previous lives as a Bodhisattva, because of his constant practice of meditation and his vast store of good karma led him to take the shape of a Devarshi dwelling in the realm of Brahmaloka, the region of heavenly delights. Through the ripening of merit engendered in countless past lives, he had earned the privilege of enjoying the blissful meditations of the gods. However, because of his practice of compassion in previous lifetimes, even this supreme joy did not turn him from the desire to benefit others. Worldly people, absorbed in things sensual or material, become thoughtless; but the virtuous, even when absorbed in the delight of meditation, are never distracted from their task of helping others.
And so it happened that the Great Being was gazing down on the desire realm below, a sea of moral illness, disaster, and calamity, where hundreds of painful occurrences, evils, and sufferings continually afflict living beings. In this realm where compassion finds its sphere of action, he perceived the king of Videha, Angadinna by name, wandering in a wilderness of harmful views.
Partly from association with bad company, partly from his own strong attachment to wrong views, the king had come to believe that there is no other world than this one, and that no one can be certain of the results of good or evil action. Following this view, he lost all interest in spiritual pursuits and turned his back on acts of charity. He scorned good conduct and, because of his lack of faith, felt nothing but contempt for the holy books and for those who led virtuous lives. Laughing at tales of other realms, disrespectful of everything holy, he showed little honor to shramanas and brahmans and gave himself over to sensual pleasures.
He who steadfastly believes in a life hereafter where good and evil ripen naturally into happiness and suffering finds balance and stability. But he who rejects faith is caught in the web of desire.
Consequently, Angelina’s conduct and views were creating problems and suffering for his people ― a state of affairs that aroused the compassion of the high-minded Devarshi. One day, when the king was enjoying himself in a lovely arbor, idly pursuing his pleasures, the Bodhisattva descended in his brilliant chariot before the king’s very eyes. On beholding the luminous being blazing like fire, pulsating like a ball of lightning, radiant as a million suns, the king, overwhelmed and alarmed, arose from his seat and with palms respectfully joined, asked the Being who stood before him:
“Who are you, you whose form delights the eye, Oh Being with lotus feet, Oh Being who walks in the sky and shines with the luster of the sun?”
The Bodhisattva replied: “Know me, O king, as a Devarshi of the Brahmaloka who has gained the region of heavenly delights through the power of my mind’s clear composure which vanquishes both desire and hatred, those two proud foes resembling chiefs of hostile armies in battle.”
On hearing this, the king, with kind words of welcome, offered the Great Being the hospitality due a worthy guest: water to wash his feet, and various offerings. Gazing admiringly on the Devarshi’s face, the king asked the holy one: “You are wonderful indeed to be able to float in the air so effortlessly, even passing through walls! Tell me, Oh being bright as lightning, how came you by this supernatural power?”
The Bodhisattva replied: “Such powers are a natural result, O king, of meditation, moral conduct, and restraint of the senses. After countless lives and constant practice, I have achieved such results as this.”
Angelina sighed. “Do you really think there is such a thing as a world beyond?” “Certainly there is,” replied the Bodhisattva. “But how can I believe it?” asked the king.
“Your Majesty, this truth may clearly be proven in many different ways: through the various forms of logic, through perception of the senses, through inference, and through analogy.
“Just look at the heavens, with their ornaments of sun and moon, their stars in myriad constellations! Look, and see worlds beyond in concrete form. Do not let your mind be so numbed by skepticism that you cannot raise your eyes!
“To go further: Now and again you can find people who, through diligent practice and keen memory, can recall their former lives. From this it can be inferred that there exists a life hereafter. Am I not myself evidence of such a fact?
“Or consider the intellect. The achievements of the intellect presuppose a previous existence of that intellect. The intellect of the fetus in the womb is an uninterrupted continuation of the intellect in the preceding existence. And since the intellect is that which realizes objects of knowledge, there must have been objects to have been realized. But a young fetus has no eyes or other organs of the senses, so the objects must have existed and been realized in another existence. Therefore, there must have been a previous existence.
“Furthermore, experience teaches that different children of the same parents have different natures. How may this be, unless their basic character is shaped in part in previous lives?
“That the newborn babe makes the effort to take the breast without any instruction, and with unformed mental powers, almost in a state of deep sleep, is proof enough of former existences; how else could a baby know how to take food? Only practice can sharpen the mind’s faculty for acquiring knowledge; whence comes this practice?
“Perhaps, since you are not accustomed to believe in existences beyond this world, you may still be uncertain, perhaps thinking: ‘The lotus that opens and closes each day, has it too had past lives and practiced these actions in previous existences? How could anyone who says that such an idea is ridiculous still believe that the knowledge of how to suckle comes from previous experience?’ But I say, put aside your doubt. The lotus is compelled to open and shut during certain definite times through the power of the sun. The urge to take the breast, however, is an action both conscious and free. and not limited to certain times.
“In this manner, Your Majesty, by close and careful examination it is possible to realize that there is a future life.”
But the king, because of deep attachment to his false views and the great extent of his wrongdoing, felt uneasy when hearing about other lives. “O Great One, if the next world is not the inferno we scare children with, if you think it so important for me to believe in it, why not lend me five hundred gold pieces? I promise to pay you back a thousand in the next world ― if and when I get there.”
Now, when the king, with his habitual boldness, had uttered this unbecoming speech ― the vomiting of the poisons of wrong views ― the Bodhisattva calmly replied: “In your world, is it not rare for one who has wealth to loan to the wicked, to gluttons, or to blockheads? Wealth given to such folk leads swiftly to ruin. No, the wise loan their money only to those of fine reputation, skilled in business, with their senses thoroughly subdued. To such men they offer loans, even unwitnessed, for they know that such transactions will increase their wealth. This is the way the wise bestow their wealth.
“It is the same in the world hereafter. Therefore, it is not suitable for me to contract a loan with the likes of you. Because of your cruel actions, which originate from your wrong views, you will find yourself propelled headlong into hell. And when you lie there sore with pain, your mind paralyzed with fear, who would think to call on you to return the debt of a thousand coins?
“There the sky is veiled in darkness, untouched by the rays of the sun and moon. There the stars, glowing lotuses on a cool dark lake, are forever hidden from view. The icy winds of pain howl in thick darkness, touching the very marrow of your bones. Who, I ask you, would enter that hell just for the sake of retrieving a few coins?
“Crowds wander hopeless on the bottom of hell, in clouds of dense obscurity, choking in pungent smoke. Dragging along rags fastened with leather thongs, they cry out with pain as they stumble over each other. Others, in the Hell of Flaming Chaff, run with burning feet in endless circles. searching for an escape impossible to find. They discover neither the end to their misdeeds, nor an end to their life in hell.
“Terrible demon carpenters, servants of Yama, gleefully carve arms and legs, sculpting flesh like fresh timber with the sharpest of knives. Yet even so, their victims ― stripped of their skin, deprived of their very flesh, left living skeletons ― these poor unfortunates cannot die; they are kept alive by their evil actions.
“Some are strapped to harnesses of fire, and like bullocks with flaming bits in their mouths are forced to draw blazing chariots across plains of molten iron. Others have their bodies crushed by mountains and ground to dust, the karma of their evil actions strengthening their pain to this intense degree. But they cannot die until their evil karma is annihilated.
“Some are ground to dust in blazing pestles; in glowing troughs they burn for a full five hundred years. And still they cannot die. Some are hung by head or by foot on red hot coral trees and beaten with flaming iron thorns by shrieking and cursing demons, the servants of Yama. Others howl as they are tied to racks of spears, a dreadful scene illumined by garlands of flames. Still others enjoy the fruit of their actions cradled on coals like burning nuggets of gold ― they can do nothing but lie and weep. Some howl, their tongues extended. their bodies wracked by the pain of being pierced by, hundreds of sharp spears on a flaming ground. Here they know there is a life beyond.
“There are others who wear diadems of flaming brass; still others boil in bronze pots. Some are felled by showers of arrows and devoured by packs of ferocious beasts who with ravenous hunger gnaw them down to the bone. In reaping the fruit of their earthly misconduct, perhaps they will begin to understand that there exists a world beyond our own.
“Exhausted by their toil, some run to bathe themselves in salt water for relief, only to find the water as painful as fire. It erodes their flesh, but it never threatens their lives, which are kept going by the momentum of their evil actions. Still others seek relief in the hell of unclean corpses, as we would enter a pond of fresh water, only to have their bones nibbled away by hundreds of hungry worms. Some are burnt in seemingly endless fire; their bodies burn like iron staves. Although they are engulfed by flames, they do not burn to ashes, because their karma keeps them alive.
“Elsewhere fiery saws rip others asunder, and sharp razors cut them through. Heads are crushed by iron hammers as throats scream out in anguish. Some are forced to swallow liquid metal. Over smokeless fires others roast on iron spits burning for thousands of years. Kept alive to taste the fruit of their evil actions, their flesh never reduces to ashes.
“And then there are the huge, spotted dogs, shredding flesh with sharp fangs as their victims fall screaming to the ground. Such are the tremendous torments of the different hells. I ask you, who would think of calling on you there when your mind and body are in torment ― merely to collect a debt?
“Perhaps you will find yourself in the hell of iron vessels, crowded with boiling corpses, so fiery hot they cannot be approached. Who then would call on you for the debt? Or you may be tied to flaming iron pikes, or strapped to ground heated red hot with blazing coals. Who would call on you for the debt while you are burning and weeping, or when you are suffering so intensely you cannot speak?
“Or perhaps you will land in a place where your bones are pierced by icy wind so sharp you have no power even to groan. When you are prey to the taunts of maddened demons, with dogs and crows feasting on your flesh and blood. who would think of calling on you then?
“Besides, while you are tortured by striking or cutting or beating or cleaving, by burning or carving or grinding or splitting, tell me, how would you find one thousand gold pieces?”
The king was not unaffected by this account. Hearing of these hells in store for the wicked, he became alarmed. Quickly renouncing his wrong views, he devoutly assumed belief in a world hereafter. Bowing to the Bodhisattva, he spoke:
“My mind almost dissolves in fear on hearing of those torturous hells. Even now I feel a burning anxiety to discover how I might escape such agony. In my shortsightedness I have travelled the wrong road, my mind unbalanced by wrong views. Let Your Reverence be my guide: You know the right way. Be my protector and my refuge.
“As the rising sun dispels the darkness, you have dispelled the clouds of my false views. In the same fashion, please teach me the path by which I can avoid such misery after death.”
The Bodhisattva, seeing the king transformed, a suitable vessel willing to accept the Dharma, felt compassion for him like a father for his child, and instructed him in this way:
“The glorious path you wish to follow is the very road trod by the kings of old who in their love of virtue were like disciples of the shramanas and brahmans. In their every action they manifested compassion for their subjects.
“Subdue injustice, most difficult to subdue; conquer the most unconquerable greed, and you can enter the jeweled gates of the heaven realms. Take up the virtuous views followed lowed by the wise; abandon the views which scoundrels use to gratify fools; take up the teachings of the Dharma. Now, with virtuous views as your kingly way, destroy all harsh feelings against pious behavior, and you will travel the way of the superior ones, those who have achieved all virtuous qualities.
“Let your wealth be an instrument for obtaining virtue; by generating compassion for all, you will benefit both yourself and others. By restraining your senses and your conduct, you can avoid misery in the next life. Let the brilliance of your rule, O king, emanate from the glory of your actions. May your kingdom be a harbor for those who practice virtue; let its beauty come from purity. Ruling in this way, you will find true happiness, as well as material prosperity. Your luster will increase as you put to rest the anguish of all beings.
“Here on earth you stand on a royal chariot. Let worship of virtue be your charioteer, and let your own body, desiring righteous acts, be your chariot. May friendliness be its axle, self-restraint and charity its wheels, and the desire for gathering merit its spokes.
“Control your horses, the organs of the senses, with a bridle of purest awareness. Make prudence your whip and take your weapons from the arsenal of sacred learning. Let modesty be the chariot’s trappings, humility its poles, and forbearance its yoke. Then, firm in self-command, you will be a driver of infinite skill.
“By restraining harsh words, you can keep the wheels from rattling; with lovely language, you can make them sound deep and solemn. Maintaining self-restraint, you can keep the chariot fit and ready, and by avoiding the winding roads of wicked ways, you will always move steadily in the right direction.
“This vehicle, brilliant with the luster of wisdom, adorned by the flag of good renown and the high-flying banner of tranquility, followed by mercy in attendance, will help you travel swiftly toward liberation, the highest goal. Oh king, never shall you descend to the infernal regions on a chariot such as this.”
Then, his brilliant words having dispelled the darkness of wrong views from the mind of the king, the Great Being vanished from that spot.
And the royal monarch, now thoroughly enlightened in matters of the next world, embraced the Dharma with all his heart. Along with his officials and the people of both town and country, he became intent on the practice of charity, self-command, and self-restraint.
Thus is it demonstrated that those who cling to false beliefs are fertile soil for sowing the seeds of salvation.
From this story one can see how those clinging to false beliefs, being in great trouble, are especially worthy of sympathy.
This account may also be used to show how listening to the words of the Dharma will fill one with overflowing faith. Or how hearing the Dharma preached by another arouses faith productive of right belief. Further, it can be presented when praising the virtuous. Likewise, when one wishes to speak on the subject of forbearance, one can say: “In this way the virtuous parry even the most hostile attack by counseling their enemy for his good; and they will do so without harshness, because they are accustomed to forbearance.” This account may also be used when praising the qualities of the Tathagatas, and when dealing with feelings of deep weariness, to show how weariness makes a man inclined to care for his salvation.