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The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra

Chapter 1: Introduction
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

The Five Contemplations are:

1. Consider the amount of work involved in preparing the food.

How much human labor was involved in preparing the food? Take for example, the rice. It had to be planted, tended, and harvested. Although today we use machines, people formerly had to grind it and remove the husks. Then, it has to be cooked and served. A lot of effort went into every single grain. The ancients had a verse:

Hoeing the grain in the midday sun,
The farmer’s sweat falls into the earth;
Who would have guessed how much toil
Went into every single grain in the plate?

So the people of all nations should take care not to waste material goods or casually throw things away. One should consider the difficulty involved in making and distributing goods. The reason that some countries are now stricken with famine is because in the past they were wasteful. Those who believe in Buddhism should be particularly careful in matters of cause and effect and always be thrifty. Use what you can and give what is left over to others. Don’t throw things away. It is said,

If there’s rice wasted in the house
There will be hungry people in the streets.

If you waste food, it is as if you were taking it from the mouths of others. If you have more than you can eat, give it to those who have nothing to eat. Don’t waste it. So the first of the Five Contemplations is to consider the amount of work involved in getting the food to the table.

2. Reflect on whether or not one’s virtuous conduct is sufficient to entitle one to receive this offering.

Think it over: what virtuous practice have you done to entitle you to receive offerings from the ten directions. Is your merit sufficient or is it lacking? If it is lacking, you should hurry and cultivate the Way!

3. Guard the mind from transgressions, committed mainly through greed. Avoid the offenses created primarily through greed, hatred, and stupidity. Don’t greedily gobble down the good food and leave the bad food sitting there. Look on all the food as the same and do not discriminate among the good and bad flavors.

4. Regard the food as medicine to prevent the body from collapsing. While he eats, the Bhikshu should think of his food as medicine. “Why am I eating? I am actually taking medicine because if I don’t eat, I’ll waste away and die.”

5. Take this food only in order to accomplish the Way. “I eat only because I want to work hard and cultivate the Way. If I don’t eat, I won’t be able to stand up or sit properly. I could still sleep, but that can’t be considered cultivation. Since I want to cultivate, I can’t avoid eating. But I do so only because I want to cultivate.

Bhikshus must always observe these Three Recollections and Five Contemplations when they eat. There are a great many advantages to be gained by eating one meal a day.

6. Eating a fixed and moderate amount of food. This is the fourth of the five ascetic practices dealing with food. A moderate amount means that, just because the food is good, you don’t gorge yourself with it. Eating a fixed amount means that you eat the same amount every day. For example, every day you eat exactly two bowls of food whether the food is tasty or not. You wouldn’t eat only one bowl of bad food one day and the next day, when the menu has improved, eat three. Those who cultivate ascetic practices should reduce the amount of food they consume. If they can eat two bowls, then they should eat one and a half.

7. Not drinking juices after noon. After midday, one does not drink milk, juice, or other nourishing liquids. It’s a very difficult practice because even tea is prohibited!

Those are the five which deal with food.

I have a small announcement. We will be holding a Chan session here in a few days, and during that time the lectures on the Sutra will temporarily be discontinued and instructional talks on Chan meditation will be given each day. Those of you who like to meditate can join the session. Others who prefer to work can continue to work, and just come to sit or listen to lectures in your spare time.


Next are the five which deal with dwelling.

8. Dwelling in an aranya. Aranya is a Sanskrit word which means “a still and quiet place.” The noise of the bustling city does not reach one who dwells deep in the mountain groves in an aranya. It is therefore an excellent place in which to cultivate.

9. Dwelling beneath a tree. Dwelling in an aranya, one still has a fixed “place” in which one dwells. Why would one want to live at the base of a tree?

Cultivators take the earth and sky as their cottage and the four seas as their home. They dwell wherever they happen to be. Dwelling at the base of a tree, one avoids the rain and is very refreshed as well. However, one may only dwell for two nights beneath any one tree. On the third day, one has to find another tree. Bhikshus who genuinely cultivate, and who are lofty and pure in their practice, wish to avoid recognition and offerings. After spending two nights in a place, they leave. No one can find them, and no affinities are established.

10. Dwelling in the open. Dwelling beneath a tree, one is still protected from the wind and rain by the leaves and branches. Dwelling in the open, one truly takes the earth and sky as one’s house. Living in this way one is very natural and free. One bathes in the light of the moon and stars. It is said,

When the moon arrives at the center of the sky,
And the wind blows across the surface of the waters,
There’s a kind of clear, special flavor—
Guess how few have tasted it?

Very few people have any idea how wonderful such a lifestyle is.

11. Dwelling in a graveyard. You sleep with the dead, sit in the graveyard and enjoy a camaraderie with the ghosts. What for? In order to contemplate impermanence and understand the ephemeral nature of human life. Sooner or later we’re all going to die. After we die, we decompose into a heap of bleached out bones in the grave. Cultivating at the graveyard you awaken to the doctrine that all is impermanent and you will be able to relinquish your attachments and will not become involved in the workings of greed, hatred, and stupidity.

12. Always sitting and never lying down. When you cultivate this practice, your ribs never touch the mat. In India there was a Venerable Master Xie who throughout his whole life never once lay down. One who sleeps in a prone position may develop a need for more and more sleep and never think to get up and cultivate. If you always sit, when you wake up you’re all ready to begin cultivating and sit in meditation. This practice is a great aid in cultivation.

Some people may practice only one or perhaps a few of the twelve ascetic practices. For example, they may only practice wearing rag robes, or only practice restricting themselves to three robes, or only practice begging for food, or only practice consecutive begging, or only practice eating one meal a day, or only practice eating a fixed and moderate amount of food, or only practice dwelling in a graveyard, or only practice always sitting and never lying down. Although a very old man, Mahakashyapa practiced all twelve ascetic practices in accord with the Dharma. Thus, he was foremost of those who cultivate asceticism.

Uruvilvakashyapa, Gayakashyapa, Nadikashyapa. Previously there was the Great Kashyapa, and now we have Uruvilvakashyapa. Uruvilva’s name means “papaya grove” as it is said that he liked to cultivate in a papaya grove. Gaya’s name means “city,” and Nadi’s name means “river.”

These three brothers had all been fire worshippers before they took refuge with the Buddha. Believing that fire was the most powerful of spiritual forces and the mother of all creation, they worshipped it with slavish devotion, bowing and making offerings to it. Would you say this was stupid or not? As meaningless as it was, they continued to do it until they met Shakyamuni Buddha.

Shariputra. Probably everyone remembers who Shariputra was. There’s a special story about Shariputra which makes him hard to forget: Shariputra’s mother often used to debate with her younger brother Mahakaushtila, and she lost every time. Strangely enough, when she became pregnant with Shariputra, she began winning all the debates. Mahakausthila figured that the child in his older sister’s womb was surely a wise one and was helping his mother, augmenting her eloquence and intelligence. “I had better get some rhetorical skills,” he thought, “otherwise, I’ll be defeated by my own little nephew which would truly be disgraceful.” So he went to southern India to study. He was so industrious that he studied night and day and didn’t take time to cut his hair, shave his beard, or even cut his fingernails. They grew to several inches in length and everyone called him, “The Long-Nailed Brahman.” He didn’t deliberately let them grow, as do the long-haired bearded ones of today, who have dropped out of school. He was simply too busy to attend to his grooming. A model student, he labored day and night to the exclusion of all other activities. When he had mastered the Indian books of medicine, divination, physiognomy, and astrology, as well as literature and debating skills, he returned and asked his sister, “Where is my nephew?”

“He has left home under the Buddha,” she replied.

Kausthila was outraged. “My nephew began preaching when he was eight years old and has astounded the entire country by out-debating several hundred philosophers. How could such an intelligent child leave the home life under a mere Shramana. It’s pathetic.” Arrogant and upset, he went to see the Buddha. “I’ll have to see what special tricks that Shramana has that he managed to fool my brilliant nephew into becoming his disciple.”

When he met the Buddha, no matter how he tried to counter him, he failed. He had studied for so many years, not even bothering to cut his nails, in preparation for his debate with his nephew. Who would have guessed it would all have come to nothing? His nephew had left home under the Buddha and he himself had no idea what branch of his learning to use against the Buddha. He finally decided to set forth his doctrine.

“What is your doctrine?” the Buddha asked him.

“I take non-accepting as my doctrine,” Kausthila replied. “No matter what you say, I won’t accept it because I take non-accepting as my principle. Let’s see what you can do with that. Speak up!”

“Fine,” said the Buddha, “you take non-accepting as your doctrine, but let me ask you, do you or do you not accept your view of non-accepting?”

What a question! If he answered that he accepted his view, in accepting it he would be contradicting his own view of non-accepting. On the other hand, if he said that he did not accept his own view, he wouldn’t have any doctrine at all and how could he take non-accepting as his doctrine. If he accepted it, he would contradict himself and if he refused it, he wouldn’t have a doctrine at all. He didn’t have a leg to stand on. He was like a rootless tree. To make matters worse, before he began, he had made a bet with the Buddha saying, “If I win the debate, then my nephew comes home with me. If I lose, I’ll cut off my head and give it to you.” Now, scared to lose his head, he had no recourse but to run. When he had run about five miles, he stopped and thought, “I am a man after all. How can I go back on my word? I agreed to cut off my head if I lost. How can I run like a coward?” He decided to return, cut off his head, and consider the matter closed.

When he arrived, he asked the Buddha for a knife and the Buddha said, “What do you want it for?”

“I agreed to cut off my head if I lost the debate,” said Kausthila, “and so now I owe you my head. Isn’t that correct?”

“There is no such dharma within my Buddhadharma,” said the Buddha. “You lost, so let’s just forget it. What’s the use of cutting off your head?”

The Buddha then spoke the Dharma to him and he obtained the purification of the Dharma-eye. When his Dharma-eye opened, he realized the marvelous, unfathomable profundity of the Buddhadharma. “I spent all that time learning non-Buddhist teachings. They are not even a ten-thousandth part as good as the Buddhadharma,” he said, and he left home under the Buddha. So not only did he not regain his nephew, he joined the Buddha’s Sangha himself.

Shariputra’s name is Sanskrit. It means “egret-son,” “body-son,” and “pearl-son.” Shari means “egret” because his mother’s eyes were as beautiful as an egret’s. Putra means “son”. Shariputra also means “pearl-son” because his mother’s eyes were like pearls. Another explanation of Shariputra’s name is “body-son”, because he was born from his mother’s body.

Shariputra was the foremost of the Hearer disciples in wisdom. He wasn’t exactly number two when it came to spiritual powers, either. His spiritual powers were also great.

One time, Mahamaudgalyayana decided to compare his spiritual powers with Shariputra’s. Shakyamuni Buddha had gone elsewhere to speak the Dharma. When he did this, his disciples always went along to hear the Dharma too because they didn’t have any tape recorders in those days and if they missed a lecture, they couldn’t make it up. This time Shariputra had entered samadhi. Mahamaudgalyayana called to him, but he wouldn’t come out of samadhi. “All right,” said Mahamaudgalyayana, “I’ll use my spiritual powers to snap you out of it.” And he applied every ounce of spiritual power he had to get Shariputra to come out of samadhi, but he couldn’t budge even so much as the corner of Shariputra’s robe. How great would you say Shariputra’s spiritual powers were? Mahamaudgalyayana was generally recognized as foremost in spiritual powers but he lost to Shariputra, and this proves that Shariputra’s spiritual powers were even greater than his.

Great Maudgalyayana. Mahamaudgalyayana’s name is Sanskrit and means “turnip root” or “clan of bean gatherers. This is because his ancestors cultivated an Indian ascetic practice of eating only foods that grew wild in the forests and never eating foods that had been planted or harvested. His personal name was Kolita, or “jujube tree” because his parents prayed to a local tree spirit in seeking to have a son, just as Mahakashyapa’s parents had done. In this case, Maudgalyayana’s parents consulted the spirit of a koli tree and named their son Kolita in honor of the spirit.

Maudgalyayana’s mother may have consulted spirits, but she didn’t believe in the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Sangha. She slandered the Triple Jewel and spoke ill of it. Because of these heavy offenses, at death she fell into the hells. When Maudgalyayana attained the fruit of Arhatship and gained the five eyes and the six spiritual penetrations, he took a look at the entire world and finally located his mother in the hells. Seeing her suffering and starving, he took her a bowl of food. Her greedy nature had accompanied her from the human realm to the realm of the hungry ghosts, and so she immediately covered the bowl with one hand, hid it behind her sleeve, and ran off to eat it in secret, fearing the other ghosts might grab it away from her. But because her karmic obstacles were so heavy, the delicious food turned to fire in her mouth. Although Maudgalyayana was foremost in spiritual powers, he had no mantra or method to free his mother. Completely at a loss, he went to ask his teacher’s advice. The talents this disciple had developed were useless in this situation. He returned to the Jeta Grove and asked Shakyamuni Buddha to be compassionate and save his mother.

Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Your mother’s karmic offenses were created through slandering the Triple Jewel. You alone do not have the power to save her. If you want to help her, you should set up the Ullambana Offering--an offering for ‘liberating those hanging upside-down’--on the 15th day of the seventh month, which is the ‘day of the Buddha’s rejoicing’ as well as the last day of the Sangha’s annual rains retreat. On that day offerings should be made to the Sangha of the ten directions. Make sure you do not taste the food until it has been offered to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. If you make offerings to the Triple Jewel on that day, your mother will leave suffering and attain happiness.” Maudgalyayana set up the Ullambana Festival according to the Buddha’s instructions. Ever since then, every year on that day, the ceremony is observed in all monasteries and temples to save parents and relatives from this life and from seven lives past.

You may say, “But my parents haven’t died.”

You can save your parents from seven lives past, and your present parents will also gain an increase in blessings and long-life.

Mahamaudgalyayana’s spiritual powers were extraordinarily great. Once when Shakyamuni Buddha was on his way to the Trayastrimsha Heaven to speak the Dharma, he passed by Mount Sumeru. On the way he met a poisonous dragon that was jealous of the Buddha. “Does a Shramana like you really think you can speak the Dharma in the heavens?” they said. “I won’t permit it!” And it spit out poisonous sand to try to kill the Buddha. But Maudgalyayana used his spiritual penetrations and turned the poisonous sand into soft, harmless cotton. The dragon then manifested in a huge body which wound around Mount Sumeru three times. Now, Mount Sumeru is very large. Our four continents, in fact, are on its four sides. Maudgalyayana also manifested a huge body, larger than the dragon’s, which coiled itself around Mount Sumeru nine times! But the dragon still would not admit defeat. Maudgalyayana then transformed himself into a tiny bug. He bore his way into the dragon’s intestines and bit them until it was in so much pain that it finally surrendered and took refuge with the Buddha. And so Maudgalyayana’s spiritual penetrations were extremely great.

Mahamaudgalyayana is Earth Store (Kshitigarbha) Bodhisattva. He couldn’t bear to see his mother suffering in the hells. He also couldn’t bear to see anyone else’s mother suffering. Accordingly, he vowed to be Earth Store Bodhisattva and to rescue beings from the hells.

Mahakatyayana. Maha means “great.” Katyayana means “literary elegance,” because this Venerable One spoke and wrote with great elegance and refinement. His name is also interpreted as “fan-cord” because his father died shortly after he was born, and his mother wanted to remarry, but the child Katyayana was a tie, like a fan-cord, which prevented her from doing so.

Katyayana’s name is also interpreted as “good shoulders,” because his shoulders were well-formed and good looking, and as “victorious thinker”, because he could out-think everyone else.

Katyayana, a skilled exponent of the Dharma, was foremost among the Buddha’s disciples in debate. No matter what point anyone tried to make, he could come up with a host of reasons and arguments to counter it. Once, he met a non-Buddhist who held to the view of annihilationism; that is, he did not believe in rebirth but believed that after death there was nothing at all. He confronted Katyayana with his position saying, “Buddhists believe that after death there is rebirth. I do not hold to that doctrine and I can prove that it is false. If there is rebirth, and beings are destined to suffer in future incarnations, then why has not even one of them ever returned to tell of his torment? This proves that there is no rebirth. When people die, it’s all over, like a lamp that has been blown out.”

Katyayana said, “Suppose a criminal were arrested, tried, and given a jail sentence. Would he be free to return home?”

“If you are saying that people after death are like criminals in jail, that may be the case for those in the hells,” said the annihilationist, “but what about those born in the heavens? Not one has ever returned to talk about it. Beings in the hells may have no freedom, but certainly heavenly beings should be free to come back and give a brief report.”

Katyayana said, “That’s a very reasonable question. However, people born in the heavens are like beings who have climbed out of the toilet and been washed clean. They wouldn’t be likely to want to jump back into the toilet, would they?”

The annihilationist had nothing to say.

“Besides,” Katyayana continued, “one day and one night in, for example, the Trayastrimsha Heaven is equal to one hundred years in the world of men. Born there, it would take several days to get settled. By the time they thought to return, several hundred years would have passed in the world of men. You would have long been dead and your bones turned to dust. How would you know they had returned?

The annihilationist was speechless. Each of the Buddha’s ten great disciples possessed a quality whereby he excelled the others. Mahakatyayana, the foremost in debate, was articulate, eloquent, and unbeatable.

Aniruddha. The Venerable Aniruddha’s name means “never poor”, because in limitless eons past he made an offering to a Pratyekabuddha. At the time he made the offering he did not know the mendicant was a Pratyekabuddha. The Pratyekabuddha, who lived in the mountains, had vowed to come down and beg only once every seven days at only seven houses. If he obtained no food, he would simply return and go hungry for another week. On this particular round, having obtained no food, he was returning carrying his empty bowl anticipating another week of hunger. Aniruddha knew this and was pained at heart. Times were hard and famine was rampant. Families had trouble supporting themselves, and had nothing left over to give those who had left home. Aniruddha a poor farmer who scraped his living out of the soil, ate the very coarsest, cheapest kind of unhusked rice, which he carried to the fields with him each day. When he saw the Bhikshu, he said, “That a cultivator such as yourself should have to undergo starvation is too pitiful. Won’t you accept my offering of coarse rice? If it’s not unacceptable, you may have it.”

“If you wish to give it, I’ll accept it,” said the Pratyekabuddha, “but what will you eat?”

“I can skip lunch today,” said Aniruddha. “It doesn’t matter.”

When the Pratyekabuddha had finished eating, he revealed his spiritual powers by manifesting the Eighteen Miraculous Changes which include things like emitting water from the upper part of one’s body and fire from the lower part, and emitting water from the lower part of one’s body and fire from the upper part, and ascending into space--things which Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas can do but which ordinary people find most unusual. After that, he said, “I accepted your offering and from now on, in every life, you will never again be poor,” then he left.

Aniruddha continued to work in the fields when along hopped a rabbit. Strangely enough, it jumped and frisked around and around Aniruddha as tamely as a horse, dog, or cat. “Don’t bother me,” Aniruddha finally said, “I’m working and I don’t have time to play with you.”

Then the rabbit jumped up onto Aniruddha’s back. No matter how hard Aniruddha tried to brush it off, it wouldn’t budge. It was as if it had grown roots right into Aniruddha’s shoulders. Aniruddha continued working, but he was getting worried. “What’s going to become of this rabbit on my back?” he wondered. As poor as he was, he still had a wife. When he returned home that evening, he asked her to knock the rabbit off his back. As she did so, the rabbit died and turned into gold! Aniruddha broke off its front leg and exchanged it for a large sum of cash. To his surprise, the front leg grew back again! The same thing happened whenever he broke off one of the back legs. He had struck it rich! No one knew how much he was worth because he could always break off part of the golden rabbit. Not only was he a rich man in that life, but throughout ninety one eons he was wealthy, honored, and never poor again.

When he made the offering, he did not know the Bhikshu was a Pratyekabuddha. After the Pratyekabuddha accepted it, he transferred merit to him, so that Aniruddha received the retribution of never being poor.

Aniruddha, the Buddha’s first cousin, liked best to sleep. In fact, every time the Buddha lectured on the Dharma Aniruddha would doze off with his head resting on the table snoring like thunder. Once the Buddha scolded him saying:

Hey! Hey! How can you sleep,
Like an oyster or a clam?
Sleep, sleep for a thousand years,
But you’ll never hear the Buddha’s name.

After the reprimand, in a burst of vigor Aniruddha decided never to sleep again but to truly dedicate himself to studying the Buddhadharma. He went for seven days and seven nights without sleeping and as a result he went blind. Shakyamuni Buddha, knowing that he had gone blind because of his great vigor in studying the Buddhadharma took pity on his little cousin and taught him the Vajra Bright-illumination Samadhi. Thereafter, Aniruddha cultivated according to Dharma and obtained the Penetration of the Heavenly Eye. In fact, his Heavenly Eye covered half of his head, enabling him to view the world system of three thousand great thousand worlds just as we would regard an amala fruit or an apple in our hands. Thus Aniruddha was foremost in possessing the Heavenly Eye.

Kapphina. Kapphina’s name means “house-constellation” because when Kapphina’s parents had reached the age of forty or fifty they still had no son. Going to a temple, they prayed to one of the 28 constellations. The 28 constellations (in Chinese) are jue, kang, di, fang, xin, wei, ji, dou, niu, nü, xu, wei, shi, bi, kui, lou, wei, mao, bi, zi, can, jing, gui, liu, xing, zhang, yi, zhen. Kapphina’s parents prayed to the fourth constellation, fang or “house,” whose corresponding element is the sun and whose associated animal is the hare. They received a response and had a son.

Gavampati. The Venerable Gavampati’s name means “cow cud” or “cow king” because when he was finished eating he continued to smack his lips like a cow chewing its cud. When cows are done eating, they go to sleep, but they continue to munch on their cud.

Because of this habit, Shakyamuni Buddha was afraid that people would ridicule him and consequently fall; so he sent Gavampati to the heavens to receive offerings from the gods.

Why did he have this habit? It was retribution for having created evil karma with his mouth by one sentence of slander. Long ago, in limitless ages past, he met an elderly Pratyekabuddha who had lost his teeth and chewed his food very slowly. “Old Master,” said Gavampati, “You sound just like a cow chewing its cud!”

The Pratyekabuddha said, “The retribution you will incur for having slandered me will be extremely grave. Hurry and repent!”

Gavampati, who was a Shramanera at the time, ridiculed the Master saying, “Repent of what? Why should I beg your forgiveness?” As a result of his slander, for five hundred lifetimes, he was reborn as a cow. When he finally became a person, his cow-like habits remained, and when he was done eating, he still worked his jaws like a cow. Such was the retribution for slandering a Pratyekabuddha. From this we should take special care in every movement and word not to casually slander or berate others. Watch yourself.

Revata. Revata’s name means “constellation” because his parents also prayed to a constellation for their son’s birth. It also means “false unity”. Because he was poor and had no place to live, one night he stayed in an old abandoned shack. That night two ghosts came--a big one and a little one. The big one was twenty feet tall and the small one was two feet tall. They were grotesque as could be with green faces, red hair, huge mouths, pointed fangs, and facial features that were all scrunched up together.

They came in dragging a corpse and asked him, “Shall we eat this corpse or not?” What they meant was “If you tell us to eat the corpse, we will eat you. If you tell us not to eat the corpse, we won’t have anything to eat, and so we’ll have to eat you. They were obviously going to eat him no matter what he said, so he didn’t say anything.

The big ghost ripped 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 panicked. “My body has been used to repair the corpse and so not I don’t have a body!” The next day, he ran frantically through town asking everyone he met, “Do I have a body? Please tell me!”

“What?” they said. They had no idea what he meant and supposed that he was insane. Then he met some High Masters. “Shramanas,” he asked, “Do I have a body?” Among the High Masters was a certified Arhat who knew that Revata had the potential to leave the home life.

“Your body is fundamentally false,” he said. “If you cultivate and certify to the fruit and obtain the bright light of your own nature, that is true. What difference then, would it make whether or not you have a body?”

“If that is the case,” said Revata, “then I shall leave the home life and follow you.” After he left home, he became enlightened.

Although he had been eaten by ghosts, he saw that his body was basically false. Therefore he took the name “false unity”, Revata.

Pilindavatsa. This Venerable One’s name means “left-over habits,” referring to habits of many ages and many lifetimes which he had not gotten rid of. Once, he wished to cross the river; because he had certified to the fruit of Arhatship and had spiritual penetrations, he could demand that the river spirit stop the current so he could walk across. To the river spirit, who was a woman, he said, “Little Slave, stop the current.”

Because he was an Arhat, the river spirit had to comply. Although she dared not say anything, she was extremely displeased. This happened repeatedly until finally the river spirit complained to the Buddha. “Your disciple Pilindavatsa,” she said, “hasn’t the least bit of respect for me. He came to the river and said, ‘Little Slave, stop the current!’ He’s entirely too rude.”

The Buddha said, “When he returns I’ll have him apologize to you.” When Pilindavatsa arrived, the Buddha said, “When you were crossing the Ganges why did you say, ‘Little Slave, stop the current?’ You really shouldn’t have done that. Now, you had better hurry up and apologize to her.”

Pilindavatsa immediately went to the river spirit with his palms joined and laughingly said, “Little Slave, don’t take offense.” He had been instructed to apologize for having called her ‘Little Slave’, but in apologizing he also addressed her that way! Needless to say, she was furious.

“See that!” she said. “He stands right here in front of the Buddha and calls me Little Slave again!”

“You didn’t know this,” said the Buddha, “but five hundred lifetimes ago, you were Pilindavatsa’s servant and at that time he called you Little Slave when he gave you orders. Although you are now a river spirit, his habits have not changed and because of your previous master-servant relationship, he still calls you Little Slave.”

Hearing the Buddha’s words, the river spirit knew there was nothing she could do. Because of such heavy habits from the past, he was called “left-over habits”, Pilindavatsa.

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