THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Revata means “constellation.” He was named after the fourth of the twenty-eight constellations, “the house, the rabbit, and the sun,” because his parents prayed to this constellation in order to have their son.
Revata also means “false unity.” One day he went walking. When it got dark, he was far from home and decided to spend the night in a shack beside the road. Just as he was about to fall asleep two ghosts walked in, a big ghost and a small ghost. The big ghost was really big, with a green face, red hair, and a huge mouth with six teeth hanging like elephants’ tusks from it. One look at him would have scared you to death! The little ghost was even uglier. His eyes, ears, nose, and mouth had all moved to the middle of his face.
The two came in dragging a corpse, and asked Revata, “What do you think? Should we eat this corpse or not?” What they meant was, “If you tell us to eat the corpse, we’ll eat you instead. If you tell us not to eat the corpse, we won’t have anything to eat, and so we’ll have to eat you.” The ghosts were going to eat him no matter what he said.
Revata didn’t say a word. The big ghost bit off the corpse’s legs and the little ghost ripped off Revata’s legs and stuck them on the corpse. Then the ghost ate the corpse’s arms and the little ghost ripped off Revata’s arms and stuck them on the corpse. The big ghost ate the entire corpse and the little ghost replaced its parts, one by one, with parts of Revata’s body.
Revata then thought, “My body has been used to repair the corpse and so now I don’t have a body!” The next day he ran screaming down the road asking everyone he met, “Hey! Take a look. Do I have a body?”
“What?” they said. The townspeople had no idea what he was talking about, but he kept pestering them until, finally, no one would come near him. “He’s nuts,” they said.
Finally Revata met two High Masters. “Shramanas,” he asked, “do I have a body?”
The two High Masters happened to be Arhats. Seeing that Revata’s potential for enlightenment was nearly mature, and that he would soon certify to the Dharmabody, they instructed him saying, “The body is basically created by a combination of causes and conditions. When the causes and conditions separate, the body is destroyed. There is nothing that is you and nothing that is not you.” Just as they said this, “Ah!” Revata was enlightened. He left home and certified to the fruit and thus his name means, “false unity.” Of the Buddha’s disciples he is foremost in being “not upset or confused.”
Suddhipanthaka and Mahapanthaka were brothers. Suddhipanthaka’s name means “little roadside,” and his big brother’s name means “big roadside.” In India it is the custom for women who are about to give birth to return to their parents’ home. But Mahapanthaka’s mother didn’t want to go home and so she waited until the last minute to leave. Consequently, her son was born on the side of the road.
When the time came to give birth to her second child, she should have known better, but again she waited. It happened again, and the second child was called “Little Roadside.”
Although born in similar circumstances, the two brothers were very different in nature. The older brother was remarkably intelligent, but the younger one was remarkably…stupid. He was so stupid that he couldn’t even remember half a line of verse.
The Buddha had instructed five hundred Arhats to teach him a verse, and they took turns day and night trying to teach him:
Guard your mouth, unite your mind,
With your body, don’t offend.
Do not annoy a single living being.
Stay far away from non-beneficial bitter practices.
Conduct like this can surely save the world.
The three karmas of body, mouth, and mind should be pure. Do not cause others to be afflicted, and don’t cultivate ascetic practices which are not in accord with Dharma. These non-beneficial bitter practices include maintaining the morality of dogs or cows, worshipping fire, sleeping in ashes, and sleeping or sitting on beds of nails, which, of course, hurts a lot. One who cultivates virtue and at the same time avoids these meaningless practices can truly save the world.
For many days, the five hundred Arhats combined their great spiritual powers trying to teach Little Roadside the verse. They taught him over and over, over and over, and he forgot it. “Recite the verse,” they would say.
“But I can’t remember it,” Little Roadside would answer.
Finally his brother scolded him. “You’re good for nothing!” he shouted. “You can’t leave home. You’re useless!” and he chased him away.
Little Roadside may not have had much of a memory, but he certainly had a temper. “If you won’t let me leave home,” he shouted, “I’ll show you! I’ll kill myself!” He grabbed a rope, ran to the back yard, and climbed a tree, ready to hang himself.
At that moment Shakyamuni Buddha transformed himself into a tree spirit and explained the Dharma to him. “Your brother is your brother,” he said, “and you are you. He says you can’t leave home, but you don’t have to listen. You can cultivate right here. Why should you kill yourself?”
“That makes sense,” sniffed Little Roadside. “He’s he and I’m me. He has no right to tell me I can’t leave home.”
“Right!” said Shakyamuni Buddha. “Since you can’t remember half a line, I’ll give you two words, ‘sweep clean.’ Remember these two words, and use them to sweep your heart clean. Sweep the floor and sweep your heart free from dust.”
Little Roadside said, “Yes, I’ll sweep my heart. Sweep… what?”
“Clean,” said the Buddha, “sweep clean.”
“Oh yes,” said Little Roadside. “Clean… what was the first word again?”
“Sweep,” smiled the Buddha.
“Sweep clean!” said Little Roadside and he recited and swept remembering the Buddha’s instructions to sweep his heart clean. In less than a week all of a sudden he was enlightened, understood everything very clearly, penetrated the Real Mark of all Dharmas, and was even more intelligent than his brother.
Little Roadside wasn’t like us. We recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” everyday, but the more we recite the more false thinking we have. If stupid people work hard and cultivate, they also can become enlightened. Don’t say, “I’m too stupid to understand the sutras.” If you don’t understand them, don’t read them; it will suffice to contemplate your heart, for when you have seen it clearly you will be enlightened. How should you contemplate your own heart? Watch for false thinking, and sweep it out of your heart. Then you can be enlightened.
Little Roadside, stupid as he was, became enlightened. We are all much more intelligent than he, and could no doubt remember “sweep clean” hearing it only once. So don’t cheat yourself or take yourself lightly. Go forward bravely and study the Buddhadharma.
Were I to speak the most wonderful Dharma, unless you believed it, it would be of no use to you. But were I to speak utter nonsense, should you actually practice, it would be wonderful Dharma. If you don’t practice the wonderful Dharma, it is not wonderful for you. You must always make vigorous progress. Don’t fall behind or get lazy. This is most important, for if you can always make progress, the day will certainly come when you will recognize your original face.
There were three disciples with the name “Nanda”: Ananda, Sundarananda, and Nanda. Nanda, whose name means “wholesome bliss” was a cow-herd before he heard the Buddha speak and decided to leave the home life. He is to be distinguished from Ananda, the Buddha’s first cousin, and Sundarananda, the Buddha’s little brother.
Before leaving the home-life, Nanda was a cow-herd. When he listened to the Buddha preach the Eleven Matters of Tending Cows, using the tending of cows as an analogy for cultivation of the Way, Nanda knew that the Buddha was possessed of All-Knowledge and he resolved to leave home and soon attained the fruit of Arhatship.
On one occasion the Buddha instructed Nanda to preach to a group of five hundred Bhikshunis. Hearing him speak, they all attained Arhatship. In the past, the five hundred Bhikshunis had been the concubines of a king. The king was a great Dharma protector and he built a large pagoda in honor of a Buddha. The concubines believed in the Buddha and made daily offerings at the pagoda, vowing that they would in the future all obtain liberation with the king. The king was a former incarnation of Nanda.
Sundarananda was the Buddha’s little brother. He loved his wife, Sundari, more than anything. The two of them were as if glued together; walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, they were never apart. One day as the Buddha returned from the palace where he had gone to collect alms, he passed Sundari and Nanda who were having lunch. When he saw the Buddha, he went out to fill his bowl. As he left, Sundari spit on the floor and said, “You may give the Buddha food, but if you don’t return before that dries, you’re in trouble.”
“Okay,” said Sundarananda, and off he went. What do you think the Buddha did? Every time Sundarananda took a step forward to hand the Buddha his bowl, the Buddha moved away with his spiritual powers so that, in what seemed like just a few steps, Sundarananda suddenly found himself in the Jeta Grove, five miles from home. As soon as they arrived, the Buddha shaved Sundarananda’s head. Sundarananda had no desire to leave the home-life because he did not want to give up his wife. But the Buddha was his older brother and so he complied. “You can cut off my hair,” he thought, “but the first chance I get, I’m going to run away.”
As day after day went by, Sundarananda got more and more nervous. The Buddha and the Arhats were staying in the Jeta Grove, and Sundarananda had no chance to escape. One day the Buddha and his Arhats went out for lunch and left Sundarananda to watch the door. “Today is the day!” thought Sundarananda. “I’m definitely going home.”
Before the Buddha left, however, he had instructed Sundarananda to sweep the floor. Eager to be on his way, he went right to work, but every time he got the dust together, a gust of wind blew it all over the room. He tried closing the window, but when he closed one, the other blew open. Strange. This went on for two or three hours. “The Buddha will be back any minute,” he thought. “Dust or no dust, I’m leaving!” He threw the broom down and ran.
“The Buddha uses the main road,” he thought, “so I’ll take to the side road.” He ran for a couple of miles when suddenly he saw the Buddha walking toward him. He hid behind a tree to wait for him to pass, moving slowly around the back of the tree so that he would not be seen. Who would have guessed that the Buddha would follow him around the tree, step by step? Sundarananda walked in one direction and the Buddha followed him. Sundarananda reversed his steps and so did the Buddha. A collision was inevitable; there was no place to hide.
“What are you doing?” asked the Buddha. “I thought you were watching the door?”
“I waited and waited,” said the embarrassed Sundarananda, “but you didn’t return so I came to welcome you. I thought that your bowl might be too heavy… I… I came to help you carry your bowl!”
“Wonderful,” said the Buddha. “What a good little brother. Now, let’s go back to the Jeta Grove.”
The Buddha knew that Sundarananda wasn’t happy, and one day he said, “Sundarananda, come with me for a hike in the mountains.”
“All right,” said Sundarananda thinking, “If I get the chance, I’ll surely run away.”
The mountains were full of monkeys, five or six hundred of them. “Sundarananda,” said the Buddha, “compare these monkeys with your wife. Are they more beautiful than she?”
Sundarananda said, “Why Buddha, of course Sundari is more beautiful. Monkeys are ugly; how can you compare them with Sundari?”
“You’re quite intelligent,” said the Buddha. “You know that your wife is prettier than the monkeys.”
When they had returned to the Jeta Grove, the Buddha said, “Sundarananda, you have never been to the heavens. Want to go?”
“First the mountains, now the heavens. I wonder what they’re like?”
Sundarananda and the Buddha sat in meditation and the Buddha used his spiritual powers to take him to the heavens where they visited a palace where five hundred goddesses and many servants were working. The heavens were a million times more beautiful than the world of men, and Sundarananda had never seen such beautiful women. Naturally, he fell in love. “Don’t you have a leader?” he asked. “Who is your master?”
“Our master hasn’t arrived,” they said. “He’s Shakyamuni Buddha’s little brother, Sundarananda. He’s left home to cultivate the Way and in the future he will be reborn with these five hundred goddesses as his wives.”
Sundarananda was delighted. “I don’t think I’ll run away after all,” he thought. “I’ll cultivate diligently and get reborn in heaven instead.”
“Sundarananda,” said the Buddha, “are the goddesses more beautiful than Sundari, or is she more beautiful than they?”
“Compared to the goddesses, Sundari is as ugly as a monkey,” said Sundarananda.
Which would you prefer?” said the Buddha.
“The goddesses!” said Sundarananda. “Sundari is beautiful, but the goddesses are out of this world.”
“In the future you’ll be born here,” said the Buddha. “Now let’s go back and cultivate.”
Sundarananda meditated day and night, cultivating to be a heavenly lord. The Buddha knew that heavenly blessings have outflows, are not ultimate, and that those who enjoy them can still fall to lower realms. Wishing to wake Sundarananda up, he said, “There’s nothing going on today. Would you like to visit the hells?”
“I’ve heard that they aren’t very scenic,” said Sundarananda, “but if you want to take me there, I’ll go.”
They visited the hells of the mountain of knives, the sword-tree hell, the fire-sea hell, the ice hell, and many others. Finally, they came to a hell where two ghosts were boiling a pot of oil. The lazy ghosts had let the fire go out and the oil wasn’t even simmering. “What are you two doing,” said Sundarananda, “fooling around and going to sleep?”
The two ghosts opened their eyes and stared. “What do you care?” they said. “We’re in no hurry. We’re waiting for someone who isn’t due for a long, long time.”
“Who?” said Sundarananda.
“Shakyamuni Buddha’s little brother, Sundarananda, if you must know,” they said. “He left home, but seeks only the blessings of the heavens and the five hundred goddesses. He’ll be living in heaven for a thousand years, but in his confusion he will forget how to cultivate and will commit many offenses. This will create evil karma and drag him into the hells to be deep-fried in this very pot.”
Every hair on Sundarananda’s body stood straight up on end, and every pore ran with cold sweat. “How could this happen to me?” he moaned. From that moment on, he stopped cultivating for rebirth in the heavens and resolved to end birth and death. Soon he certified to Arhatship.
Sundarananda was extremely handsome. The Buddha had the thirty-two marks of a superman and Sundarananda had thirty. Some people even mistook him for the Buddha. One day Shariputra was debating with some non-Buddhists who were even more extreme than many hippies; they didn’t wear any clothes at all. “This is our original face,” they said. “Why disguise yourself by wearing clothes?”
Shariputra, although not very tall, was extremely intelligent; his replies left them speechless, as if they had no mouths at all. Later, when Sundarananda, who was tall and handsome, happened along, the nudists said, “If that short little Bhikshu beat us, how could we possibly out-talk this tall one?” They bowed to Sundarananda as their teacher and left the home life. Sundarananda had a lot of faithful disciples, and their cultivation was very successful.
This is the story of Sundarananda, who gave up his wife for the goddesses and then, fearing the hells, cultivated the Way.
Ananda was the Buddha’s cousin. His name means “rejoicing,” and was chosen because he was born on the day the Buddha awoke to the unsurpassed enlightenment. Both his birth and the Buddha’s realization were causes for rejoicing.
Of all the great disciples, the Venerable Ananda was foremost in learning. He edited and compiled all the Buddha’s sutras, and remembered clearly, without ever forgetting, all the Dharma the Buddha spoke. Ananda’s memory was extremely accurate and his samadhi was firm. In fact, Ananda had eight inconceivable states:
For a member of the Sangha to go out alone to receive offerings from Dharma protecting laymen is called “accepting special invitation,” and is against the Buddha’s rules. If there are ten Bhikshus, but a layman favors only one with an invitation, he may not go; all ten must go. The Venerable Ananda realized his mistake and never made it again.
No one but Ananda had these eight inconceivable states.
Concerning not accepting special invitations, Shramaneras cannot eat or drink when they please, but must eat with the assembly. Novices and Bhikshus alike cannot live with the group and yet eat separately. Even a cup of tea should be taken with the group without assuming a special style. If everyone doesn’t receive an apple, an orange, or even a piece of candy, no single person is allowed to eat them on his own.