by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes Renunciaton of Sumedha contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).
[For the Anudīpanī on this chapter, see The Renunciation of Sumedha]
One day, he went up to the upper terrace of his mansion and sitting cross-legged in solitude, he thought:
“Miserable, is birth in a new existence; so is destruction of the body; miserable, also it is to die in delusion, oppressed and overpowered by old age.
“Being subject to birth, old age and sickness, I will seek Nibbāna where old age, death and fear are extinct.
“Wonderful it would be, if I could abandon this body of mine without any regard for it, as it is full of putrid things, such as urine, excreta, pus, blood, the bile, phlegm, saliva, mucus. etc.
“Surely there must be a path leading to the peaceful Nibbāna. It cannot be otherwise. I will seek that good Path to Nibbāna so that I shall be liberated from the bondage of life.
“For example, just as when there is misery (dukkha), there also in this world, happiness (sukha). Even so, when there is the round of existence which is the arising of dukkha, there should also be Nibbāna which is the cessation of dukkha.
“Again, just as when there is heat, there is cold also. Even so, when there are the three fires of passion, hate and delusion, there should also be Nibbāna which is the extinction of these three fires.
“Again, just as when there is demeritoriousness, there is also meritoriousness; even so when there is rebirth, there should also be Nibbāna where potential for rebirth is exhausted.”
After these thoughts had occurred to him, he went on thinking profoundly.
“For example, a man, who has fallen into a pit of excreta or who is besmeared with filth, sees from a distance a clear pond adorned with five kinds of lotus. If, in spite of seeing it, he does not find out the right way to reach the pond, it is not the fault of the pond, but of the man himself. In the same way, there exists a big pond of Deathless Nibbāna where one could wash off one’s mental defilements, and if one does not search for that big pond of Nibbāna, it is not the fault of Nibbāna. “Again, if a man is surrounded by enemies and he does not try to flee although there is an escape route for him, it is not the fault of the route. In the same way, if a man, who is besieged by enemies in the form of mental defilements, does not wish to run away although there exists so clearly the big road to the golden city of Nibbāna where one is safe from enemies in the form of mental defilements, it is not the fault of that big road.
“Again, if a man is inflicted with a disease and he does not get it cured although there is an efficient-doctor, the doctor is not to blame. In the same way, if one is suffering painfully from diseases of mental defilements and he does not look for a master for their cure though there exists one who is skilled in removing these mental defilements, the master is not to blame.”
After thinking thus, he contemplated further to be rid of his body:
“Just as a man, who is burdened with the dead body of an animal which hung round his neck, would get rid of the loathsome carcass and freely and happily go about wherever he likes, even so, I too will go to the city of Nibbāna, abandoning this putrid body of mine which is but a collection of various worms and foul things.
“Again, just as people, who have voided their excreta in a lavatory, leave them without looking behind, even so, I will go to the city of Nibbāna,after leaving behind this body full of various worms and foul things.
“Again, just as the owners of an old, ruined, decaying and leaking boat, abandon it in disgust, even so, I too will go to the city of Nibbāna, after abandoning this body, from the nine orifices of which, filthy things ooze out incessantly.
“Again, just as a man, carrying treasures, who happens to be travelling in company of robbers, would leaves them and flees to safety when he sees the danger of being robbed off his treasures, even so, since the thought of being robbed off my treasures of meritorious deeds, always makes me afraid, I will abandon this body of mine that is like a chief robber and will go seeking the road to Nibbāna, which can undoubtedly give me security and happiness.”
The Great Alms-giving
After contemplating thus on renunciation in the light of these similes, once again it occurred to Sumedha the Wise: “Having amassed this much of wealth, my father, grandfather and other kinsmen of mine of seven generations were unable to take even a single coin with them when they passed away. But I should find some means of taking this wealth with me up to Nibbāna.” Then he went to the king and said, “Your Majesty, since my mind is obsessed with a great dread of the dangers and sufferings springing from such things as birth, old age, etc., I am going to leave the household life and become a recluse. I have wealth worth several crores. Please take possession of it.”
“I do not desire your wealth. You may dispose of it in any way you wish,” replied the king. “Very well, Your Majesty,” said Sumedha the Wise and, with the beating of the mighty drum, he had it proclaimed all over the city of Amaravatī: “Let those who want my riches come and take them.” And he gave away his wealth, in a great alms-giving, to all without distinction of status and whether they be destitutes or otherwise.
After thus performing a great act of charity, Sumedha the Wise, the future Buddha, renounced the world and left for the Himalayas with an intention to reach Dhammika mountain on that very day. Sakka, seeing him approach the Himalayas after renunciation, summoned Vissukamma and said: “Go, Vissukamma. There is Sumedha the Wise, who has renounced the world, intending to become a recluse. Have a residence made ready for him.”
“Very well, Lord,” said Vissukamma, in answer to the Sakka’s command. He then marked out a delightful enclosure as a hermitage, created in it a well-protected hut with a roof of leaves and a pleasant, faultless walkway.
(The author explains here that the walkway is faultless because it was free from five defects, namely, (1) having uneven, rugged ground, (2) having trees on the walkway, (3) being covered with shrubs and bushes, (4) being too narrow, and (5) being too wide.
(The author then describes the walkway and gives its measurement: sixty cubits long, it consists of three lanes, the main one with two narrower ones on both sides. The main walkway was one a half cubits wide, and each of the two flankers, one cubit wide. The whole walkway was on even ground strewn with white sand. For details of the five defects read the Anudīpaṅī.
(The author further enumerates the eight sources of comfort which a good hermitage such as the one created by Vissukamma would bring to a recluse.
These eight sources of comfort are:
(1) Non-hoarding of wealth and grains.
(2) Searching for blameless food.
(3) Enjoying peaceful food only.
(4) Being free from worries and distress which are due to heavy burden of taxation and confiscation of one’s property.
(5) Being not attached to articles of ware, ornaments, etc.
(6) Feeling secure against robbers.
(7) Being not associated with kings and ministers.
(8) Being free to move to all four quarters.
(In addition to these eight, the author says that the hermitage created by Vissukamma was of the kind that facilitated ascetic practices for its residents and helped them gain Vipassanā-Insight into the true nature of things (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality) without much difficulty. It had chambers, caves, tunnels, trees bearing flowers and fruits, and a pond of sweet and clear water. It was a secluded place free from disturbances of wild beasts and raucous noises of birds.
(The leaf hut contained various requisites of an ascetic such as, a head-dress, robes, a tripod, a water jug and so on. Vissukamma then wrote on the wall, inside the hut, an inscription, reading: “Whoever wishes to become an ascetic, may make use of these requisites” and he went back to his divine abode.)
Beginning of Ascetic Life
Reaching the foothills of the Himalayas, Sumedha the Wise walked along the hills and ravines to look for a suitable place where he could live comfortably. There, at a river bend, in the region of Mt. Dhammika, he saw the delightful hermitage, which was created by Vissukamma at the instance of Sakka. He then went slowly to the edge of the walkway, but on seeing no footprints he thought: “Surely, the residents of this hermitage must be taking a rest in the leaf-hut after their tiring alms-round in the neighbouring villages.” Having thought thus, he waited for a while.
Seeing no signs of habitation after waiting for a fairly long time, it occurred to him: “I have waited long enough. I should now investigate to see whether there are any occupants or not.” He opened the door and entered the leaf-hut. Looking here and there he saw the inscription on the wall and thought: “These requisites are befitting requisites for me. I will use them and become an ascetic.” Having made up his mind and after reflecting on the nine disadvantages of a lay man’s clothing and the twelve advantages of a fibre-robe, he discarded the clothing he was wearing and donned the robe.
Leaving The Hut and approaching The Foot of Trees
When he had taken off his fine clothing, Sumedha the Wise took the fibre-robe, which was red like a cluster of anojā flowers. He found the robe, which was folded and placed for ready use on a bamboo peg. He wore it round his waist. On top of it, he put on another fibre-robe, which had the colour of gold. He also placed on his left shoulder a black antelope hide, which was complete with hoofs, and was like a bed of punnāga flowers. He put the head-dress on his top knot and fastened it with an ivory hairpin. Taking a curved carrying yoke, he hung, at one end of it, a string net whose knots were like pearls and into which he placed the water jug, which was of the colour of coral; at the other end of the yoke, he hung a long hook (used for gathering fruits from trees), a basket, a wooden tripod, etc. He then shouldered the yoke which now carried the full equipment of an ascetic. Taking hold of a walking stick with his right hand, he went out of the hut. While walking back and forth along the walkway, sixty cubits long, he surveyed himself in his new garb and felt exultant with the thought:
“My heart’s desire has been completely fulfilled.
“Splendid indeed is my ascetic life.
“The ascetic life has been praised by all wise men such as Buddhas and Private Buddhas.
“The bondage of household life has been abandoned.
“I have come safely out of the realm of worldly pleasures.
“I have entered upon the noble life of an ascetic.
“I will cultivate and practise the holy life.
“Endeavour will I to attain the benefits of holy practices.”
He then put down the yoke and, sitting gracefully like a golden image on the beancoloured stone slab in the middle of the walkway, he passed the daytime there.
In the evening, he entered the hut, and lying on the wooden plank by the side of a cane couch, he used the robes as blankets and went to sleep. When he woke up early in the morning, he reflected on the reasons and circumstances of his being there:
“Having seen the demerits of the household life, and having given up incomparable wealth and unlimited resources and retinue, I have entered the forest and become an ascetic, desiring to seek meritoriousness that will liberate me from the snares of sensuality. From today onwards, I should not be negligent. There are these three categories of wrong thoughts, namely, thought based on desire (kāma-vitakka), which is directed to sense-pleasures; thought based on ill-will (vyāpāda-vitakka), which is directed to killing, destroying, harming; thought based on cruelty (vihiṃsā-vitakka), which is directed to causing harm and injury to others. These thoughts may be likened to wild flies which feed on those who are negligent and who abandon the practice of mental detachment from defilements and physical detachment from sense-pleasures. Now is the time for me to devote myself totally to the practice of detachment (paviveka).
“True, seeing the defects of household life, which obstruct, hinder and harm meritorious practices, I have renounced the world. This hut of leaves is indeed delightful. This fine levelled ground is bright yellow like a ripe bael fruit. The walls are silvery white. The leaves of the roof are beautifully red like the colour of a pigeon’s foot. The couch is made of cane, bears the patterns of a variegated bedspread. The dwelling place is very comfortable to live in. I do not think that the luxuries of my former residence can excel the comfort provided by this hut.” Reflectingthus, he discerned the eight disadvantages of a leaf-hut and the ten advantages of the foot of trees. Consequently, on that very day he abandoned the hut and approached the foot of trees which are endowed with ten virtues.
Cultivating The Practices of Meditation while living on Fruits
The following morning, he entered the nearby village for alms-food. The villagers made a great effort to offer him choice food. After finishing his meal, he went back to the enclosure in the forest and sat down thinking:
“I became an ascetic not because I lack food and nourishment. Delicacies tend to boost one’s pride and arrogance of being a man. There is no end to the trouble that arises from the necessity of sustaining one’s life with food. It would be good if I should abstain from food made from cultivated grains and live only on the fruits that fall from trees.”
From that moment, he lived only on fruits that fell from trees. Without lying down at all, he made strenuous efforts to meditate incessantly only in the three postures of sitting, standing and walking, and at the end of seven days, he achieved the Eight Attainments (the eight mundane jhānas) and the Five Higher Spiritual Powers (abhiññā).
The Buddhavaṃsa Text narrating the story from the time Sumedha the Wise, the future Buddha, performed the act of great charity up to the time he became an ascetic and achieved the Higher Spiritual Powers and jhānas, reads:
(7) Tatthappadhānaṃ padahim, nisajjatthānacaṅkame.
Abbhantaramhi sattāhe, Abhiññābala pāpuniṃ.
(1) Thus, Sāriputta, I, Sumedha the future Buddha, contemplating thus to renounce the world, gave many crores of wealth to rich and poor alike, and made my way to the Himalayas.
(2) Not far from the Himalayas, was a mountain named Dhammika (because it was the place where noble persons of ancient time practised Dhamma). In that region of Dhammika, I made a pleasant enclosure and created a fine hut of leaves.
(3) There in the region of Mount Dhammika, I created a walkway free of the five defects. I created a hermitage that enabled one to possess the eight kinds of comfort of a recluse. After becoming an ascetic there, I began to develop the practices of concentration and Insight-meditation to gain the Five Higher Spiritual Powers and the Eight Attainments.
(4) I discarded the clothing I had worn that had nine defects; I then put on the fibre-robe that possessed twelve virtues.
(5) I abandoned the hut of leaves that suffered from eight defects. I approached the foot of trees that possessed ten virtues.
(6) I totally abstained from the food that came of grain sown and grown. I took fruits that fell from trees and that possessed many virtues.
(7) (Without lying down) in the three postures of sitting, standing and walking, I made strenuous efforts at meditation there, at the hermitage. Within seven days, I attained the Five Higher Spiritual Powers.
Footnotes and references:
The author explains: When one thinks unwisely and is by instigated greed and hate, this body turns into a robber who takes life, a robber who takes things not given, etc., and plunders all the treasures of one’s meritorious deeds, this body is therefore likened to a chief robber.
He could not of course carry his wealth bodily with him to Nibbāna. But Sumedha is referring here to beneficial results that would accrue from his meritorious deeds of giving away his wealth in charity.
Sakka: the name of "King of the Devas." He is known by many other names including Vasava and Sujampati. He rules over devas in Tāvatiṃsa which is supposed to be the second lowest of the six celestial abodes. There are many stories which tell of his help rendered to Bodhisattas and other noble persons.
He is Sakka’s chief architect and builder who built, under Sakka’s orders, the hermitages for the Bodhisatta in other existences as well.
Eight sources of comfort, samaṇsukha, read the Anudipanī for comparison with eight blessings of a recluse, samanabhadra.
For the nine disadvantages of a lay man’s dress and the twelve significance of advantages of a fibre-robe, read the Anudīpanī. For the significance of a fibre-robe, etc., too, read the same.
Read "the eight disadvantages of a leaf-hut and the ten virtues of the foot of trees" in the Anudīpanī.
Here the author explains: In this connection, as has been said before, the hermitage, the hut of leaves, the walkway, etc. were all created by Vissukamma under Sakka’s orders. Nevertheless, the Buddha, referring to the power’s accrued from his own meritorious deeds while as Sumedha, said, "I made a pleasant enclosure in the forest and created a fine hut," etc. as though he himself had done them all. In reality, it should be noted without doubt that they were not constructed by Sumedha the hermit, but by Vissukamma at the command of Sakka.