The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes Story of Sumana, the Flower Seller of Rajagaha 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 page is part of the series known as story of Sumana, Aggidatta and Jambuka. 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).

Part 1 - Story of Sumana, the Flower Seller of Rājagaha

The Buddha taught a discourse, beginning with the words Tanca Kammam katam sadhu, on the advantages of ‘a rewarding deed of merit’ with reference to a flower seller named Sumana of Rājagaha during His stay at Veḷuvana Monastery in that city.

The flower seller used to present King Bimbisāra with eight kunzas[1] of Spanish Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) every morning, for which he was granted eight pieces of money each day.

One day, as Sumana was entering the city with flowers as usual, the Buddha, attended by many bhikkhus, was also entering the city for alms-round, with rays of light shining forth from His body, and with great dignity, splendour and glories of a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha.

(N.B. Sometimes, the Buddha used to go round, like an ordinary bhikkhu on an alms-round, with the six rays of light concealed by the robes. (For instance) He went out all alone incognito to a distance of thirty yojanas to meet Angulimala, the notorious robber. But, at other times, He used to go with rays of light shining, for instance, when He went on alms-round in the city of Kapilavatthu. And, on this day, when He was to meet Sumana, the flower seller, the Buddha entered the city of Rājagaha with rays of light shining forth from His body, and with great dignity, splendour and glories of a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha).

When Sumana saw the Buddha, with a body, like an ornamented gateway column, replete with thirty-two major characteristics and eighty minor characteristics, and six coloured rays of light from His body, entering Rājagaha city to go on alms-round with great dignity, splendour and glories of a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha, there arose in him intense devotional faith and reverence for Him. He then considered: “What kind of offering should I make to gain merit?” and, when he could not think of anything with which to pay homage to the Buddha, he thought of offering the flowers in his hands. But, on second thought, he came to realize: “These are the flowers meant for presentation to the King, as a matter of daily routine. If I fail to do my daily duty, I shall be liable to be put in the stocks, bound with ropes and imprisoned or executed or expelled from the country. What should I do?” A bold thought entered his mind at this juncture: “Let the King kill me, should he so desire, put me in jail, expel me from the country. I might be rewarded by the King for carrying out the daily duty; such a fortune would be sufficient for my livelihood duration the present life. But if such an offering is made to the Buddha, it is certain that I will reap the fruits of my meritorious act for aeons of world-cycles to come.” He, therefore, decided to sacrifice his life in making his homage to the Buddha.

He was, at the same time, mindful that he should act while his intense devotional faith was at its pitch and so he started offering the flowers in the following manner:—

(1) First, he threw two handfuls of flowers high above the head of the Buddha; the flowers formed into the shape of a canopied ceiling, hanging in the air right above the head of the Buddha.

(2) Then he threw two handfuls of flowers in a like manner; the flowers came down, standing in the form of a flower curtain on the right side of the Buddha.

(3) Again, he threw two handfuls of flowers in a like manner; the flowers came down, standing in the form of a flower curtain at the back of the Buddha.

(4) Lastly, he threw two handfuls of flowers in a like manner; the flowers came down, standing in the form of a flower curtain on the left side of the Buddha.

Thus, the eight kunzas of Jasmine flowers stood round the Buddha like a canopied ceiling and curtains of flowers on the top, on the right, left and back, leaving a space in front just enough for the Buddha to enter. It is remarkable that the flowers fell in place with the flower stalks turning inward and petals outward in an orderly fashion.

The flower curtain around the Buddha, like a silver screen, moved along together with Him as if it were an animate body, without sundering apart or sliding down. It stopped wherever the Buddha made a rest. Rays of light emitted continuously from five places, namely, the front and the back, the right and left sides and from atop the head of the Buddha, like millions of flashes of lightning. Having emerged from the body of the Buddha, every single shaft of these rays first turned clockwise three times round Him, forming a mass of bright light (resembling a beam of search-light directed towards the Buddha), the size of a young palm tree, before shooting away ahead of Him.

The whole city of Rājagaha (with a population of eighteen crores) agog with excitement and agitation, came out clamourously. Of the eighteen crores of men and women, there was none who came out without holding vessels filled with alms-food for offering.

All the citizens, clamouring and proclaiming aloud and courageously like a lion king, throwing aloft their twisted head-dresses, moved along in large groups, leading the procession before the Buddha. The Buddha, in order to bring out the attributes of Sumana, the simple flower seller, walked along the main streets within the city covering an area of approximately three gavutas. Hence the entire body of Sumana was suffused with five forms of delightful satisfaction, (pīti).

Sumana, went along with the Buddha only for a distance, like a person who took a plunge into a red orpiment-coloured stream of water, he entered into the compass of the brilliant rays emitted by the Buddha and after paying reverential homage to Him, left for home carrying the empty flower basket.

On arrival at his house, his wife asked him: “Where are the flowers?” He replied: “My dear, I have offered the flowers to the Buddha.” His wife then asked: “What about presentation of flowers to the King?” Whereupon, Sumana replied: “Let the King kill me should he so desire, expel me from the country, but I have offered the flowers to the Buddha at the sacrifice of my life. The eight kunzas of flowers, which formed only eight handfuls, had indeed worked miracles. (He related in detail what actually had happened). The whole eighteen crores of citizens are now following the procession in honour of the Buddha, making loud proclamations. What you are hearing is their cheers congratulating me on my deed of merit.” He thus told her in a delightful tone full of deep satisfaction.

Sumana’s wife, being very foolish and ignorant, took not the slightest interest in the miraculous display of the glories of the Buddha and scolded her husband with abusive words and said: “Kings are harsh and ruthless. Once you have incurred their displeasure, your hands and feet are cut off. I may also be adversely effected by your acts, which bring ruin to me.” Nagging continuously, she left, taking away her children to see the King at the palace. The King asked her: “What is your complaint?” She complained thus: “Your Majesty, my husband, Sumana, the flower seller, had offered the Buddha all the flowers that were to be presented to you as usual and returned home empty handed. When I asked him: ‘Where are the flowers?’ he related to me what he had done with them. I scolded him in many ways, saying: ‘Kings are very harsh and ruthless. Once you incurred their displeasure, your hands and feet are cut off. I may also be adversely effected by your act which bring ruin to me.” After severing my relationship with him, I have come to your presence. Whatever he has done, good or bad, that is his own affairs, his responsibility. Let him fare according to his deeds all by himself your Majesty, I have forsaken that husband of mine and I make this formal report in advance to your Majesty.”

King Bimbisāra had become a noble disciple (ariya sāvaka) having attained the Fruition stage of sotapana ever since his meeting with the Buddha at the Grove of young palms, near the city of Rājagaha, and, as such, his confidence in Him was unshakable. The King thought: “This woman is so foolish and stupid, she cannot arouse devotional faith in the glories and miraculous powers of the Buddha” and pretending to be indignant asked her: “O woman, have you just said that your husband, Sumana, had offered all the flowers that were to be presented to me?” “Indeed, I have said so, your Majesty,” replied the flower seller’s wife.

The King replied expediently: “O woman, you have done well by severing your relationship with your husband, and now I am to consider what kind of punishment should be meted out to Sumana for offering the Buddha, the flowers which were to be presented to me.” Then dismissing the woman, the King went out quickly to pay homage to the Buddha and joining the procession, followed Him all the way.

On seeing King Bimbisāra in a reverential mood, the Buddha made it a point to walk along the congested main streets within the city and finally went towards the palace gate. When King Bimbisāra removed the bowl from His hand and started to conduct Him into the palace, he noticed the indications that the Buddha had a desire to stop at the court-yard just outside of the palace. He at once had a temporary pavilion erected in the court yard, and the Buddha and His bhikkhu followers took rest on the prepared seats in the newly erected pavilion.

(N.B. A question may arise as to ‘Why the Buddha did not go into the palace?’ The answer is: It occurred to Him that, should He choose to go into the palace, the eighteen crores of citizens would not be able to pay obeisance to Him and the virtues of Sumana, the flower seller, would not become manifest. True, only Buddhas could show plainly the attributes of virtuous people, when ordinary people try to do ‘honour where honour is due,’ others are apt to have feeling of jealousy.)

As the Buddha went inside the pavilion and sat on the seat which was prepared for Him, the four screens of flowers moved to the edge of the crowd in the four directions, each standing like living objects. Then the people rallied round Him to pay homage; and King Bimbisāra offered hard and soft food of the best quality to the bhikkhus headed by the Buddha. After the meal was over, and when the Buddha had given a discourse of appreciation for it, the four screens of flowers were back at their own places surrounding Him on four sides. Surrounded by eighteen crores of citizens and amidst deafening sounds of the uproarious crowd, the Buddha returned to the Veḷuvana monastery.

On returning to the palace, after seeing the Buddha off, King Bimbisāra sent for Sumana and asked him: “How were the flowers meant for me offered to the Buddha?” Sumana replied thus: “I offered the flowers to the Buddha, making this resolution: ‘Let the King kill me should he so desire, let him expel me from the country, I will offer these flowers to the Buddha’, thus have I made the offering of flowers at the risk of my life.” Whereupon, King Bimbisāra said these congratulatory words: “You are a noble person, indeed.” The King then presented Sumana with eight royal elephants, eight royal horses, eight male servants, eight female servants, eight sets of costumes, eight thousand coins of money, together with eight fully dressed maidens and eight villages, making what is known as sabbatthaka rewards (gift consisting of 8 x 8 things).

Buddha’s Utterance of Prophecy.

This great event made Venerable Ānanda wondered as to what kind of benefit would Sumana derive from his deed of merit which was marked by the sounds that rent the air like thunderous roars of a lion king, and by throwing aloft of thousands of head dresses of citizens from early part of the morning. He, therefore, went to the Buddha and asked to be enlightened as to what sort of benefit would Sumana enjoy. The Buddha told Ānanda: “Dear son Ānanda, you should not think that Sumana, the flower seller, had made just a small offering! In offering the flowers to Me, he had made a liberal dāna of his own life, with full devotional faith in his mind.”

Kappānaṃ satasahassaṃ
duggatiṃ na gamissati
thatva devamanussesu
phalam etassa kammuno
paccha Paccekasambudho
Sumano nāma bhavissati
.

For this meritorious deed of his, (for full one hundred aeons), he will not be reborn in the planes of misery. He will be born again and again in the realms of devas and humans enjoying the fruits of his deed of merit and will become a Paccekabuddha in future.

This was the Prophecy uttered by Buddha Gotama in response to the Venerable Ānanda’s request.

(N.B. On reaching the Veḷuvana monastery, as the Buddha entered the Scented Chamber, the Jasmine flowers lay behind in heaps at the entrance.)

In that evening, bhikkhus gathered together in the Dhamma Hall and expressed their appreciation of Sumana’s deed of merit and the result, thereof saying: “Friends, the benefit derived by Sumana from his deed of merit is really wonderful, worthy of cheers by the snapping of fingers. He has offered the living Buddha a handful of Jasmine flowers at the risk of his life, and for this, he has been rewarded by the King, at that very moment, with sabbatthaka gifts made up of eight kinds of animate as well as inanimate objects, each numbering eight.”

The Buddha left His chamber and came to the Dhamma Hall where, after sitting on the Dhamma Throne of the Buddha, asked: “Bhikkhus, what is the subject of your conversation?” They explained the subject of their discussion. He then said: “You are right, O bhikkhus, by doing an act for which no feeling of remorse should ever recur, but only feel happy whenever dwelt upon everytime. A deed of such nature is indeed worth performing.” And in this connection, He recited the following stanza to serve as a maxim of what He had already said:

Tañca kammaṃ kataṃ sādhu
yam katva nanutappati
yassa patito sumano
vipākaṃ paṭisevati

Having done an act, the doer has no bitter regret for it; he only enjoys the fruits of that act with joy and gladness. Such an act is faultless and wholesome and is worth acting.

By the end of the discourse, eighty-four thousand sentient beings became enlightened and gained release from the round of suffering.

End of the story of Sumana, the flower seller.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Kunza: a measure for capacity.

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