A Discourse on Paticcasamuppada
or The Doctrine of Dependent Origination
Chapter 17 - Superstition And Evil Rebirth
What we wish to emphasize in this story is the evil kammas that arise from superstitions. The role of superstition as the cause of evil deeds is also evident in the story of Koka, the hunter.
In the time of the Buddha, there was a hunter called Koka in a certain village. One day he set out with his dogs to hunt in the forest. On the way he met a monk who was out on his begging round. The hunter considered this encounter an omen that boded no good. As luck would have it, he did not get any animal for food on that day. On his return he again met the monk. Now blind with fury and ill will, he set his dogs on the monk. The monk had to run and climb up a tree.
He sat on a branch that was not very high. The hunter poked at the feet of the monk with the sharp end of an arrow. The latter had to lift his feet one after the other and at last his robe got loose and slipped down. It fell upon the hunter and seeing him thus wrapped up in the robe, the dogs mistook him for the monk and attacked him. Thus, he was killed by his own dogs. Then realizing that they had killed their master, the dogs ran away.
The monk got down from the tree and reported the matter to the Buddha. Thereupon, the Lord says, "The foolish man wrongs a person who has never wronged another. He wrongs a person who is free from defilements, but his evil deed boomerangs on him just like the particle of dust that returns to us when we throw it against the wind."
Here, the hunters terrible death, his rebirth in the lower worlds and suffering arise from an evil deed that in turn is rooted in his superstition. Some people get alarmed when an astrologer says that the position of planets bodes no good for them. So they offer flowers and candles to the Buddha image, give dana to the monks, hear the sermons and practise meditation. Some have the parittas recited by monks to stave off the impending evil that they associate with their unpleasant dreams. Their good deeds lead to good rebirth, but like the other rebirths that stem from evil deeds, it too is fraught with suffering.
Some ignorant people do evil to keep off the misfortunes that might befall them. The jatakas mention the animal sacrifice of some kings that involves the killing of four goats, four horses, four men and so forth as propitiatory offerings to gods. On one occasion, this kind of rite was planned by king Kosala in the time of the Buddha.
The king had taken a fancy to a married woman and so one day he sent her husband on an errand to a distant place. Should he fail to accomplish the task entrusted to him and return to the capital on the same day, he was to be punished. The man carried out the kings order and returned before sunset, but the city gate was closed and so being unable to enter the city, he spent the night at Jetavana monastery.
Overwhelmed with lust and evil desire, the king could hardly sleep in his palace. He heard the voices of the four men who were suffering in hell for having committed adultery in their previous lives. It was perhaps by virtue of the Buddhas will and psychic power that the king heard these voices from hell. The king was frightened and in the morning, he sought the advice of the Brahmin counsellor. The Brahmin said that the voices portended imminent misfortune and that in order to stave it off, the king should sacrifice elephants, horses, etc., each kind of animals numbering a hundred.
The king made preparations for the animal sacrifice. How cruel is human nature that dictates the sacrifice of thousands of lives to save ones own life. Among the potential victims there were human beings, and hearing their cries, queen Mallika approached the king and asked him to seek the advice of the Buddha.
The Buddha assured the king that the voices had nothing to do with him. They were the voices of four young men who, having seduced married women in the time of Kassapa Buddha, were now suffering in Lohakumbhi hell. They were now repentent and belatedly trying to express their desire to do good after their release from hell. The king was very much frightened and vowed never to lust for another mans wife. He told the Buddha how the previous night had seemed very long because he could not sleep. The man who had fetched what the king wanted said too that he had travelled one yojana the previous day. Thereupon, the Buddha uttered the verse: "To one who cannot sleep, the night seems long; to the weary traveller, a yojana is a long distance. Similarly, for the foolish man who does not know the true dhamma, the life cycle is long."
After hearing this gatha, many people attained sotapanna and other stages on the holy path. The king ordered the release of all living beings that were to be sacrificed. But for the Buddhas words, he would have done unwholesome kammas, and this story shows how superstitious beliefs lead to evil deeds.