by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes Discourse on Ratana Sutta 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 founding of Vesali. 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).
Buddha gave Protection and Peace to The City by teaching Ratana Sutta
Vesali city was thriving and prosperous, like its contemporaries Rājagaha and Savatthi, in the time of Buddha Gotama. At that time, the city was inhabited by seven thousand seven hundred and seven reigning monarchs, each with their crown princes, generals of the army, finance ministers, and various officials, each of them numbering seven thousand seven hundred and seven. For their accommodation, there were seven thousand palaces and mansions with decorated terraced roofing and equal number of Law courts, assembly halls, gardens, pleasure parks and lakes. The city was thickly populated and food was abundant.
They eventually fell victims to disaster, such as drought, poor harvest, shortage of food, famine, etc.
The First Disaster
This disaster had caused a great number of deaths from amongst the poor people. Dead bodies, thrown everywhere out of the city, were soon becoming in various stages of decomposition and raise foul ordour. Such a condition gave the opportunity for evil spirits (ogres) to enter the city and play havoc with the people.
The Second Disaster
Disastrous famine together with evil influence of ogres brought about more deaths and suffering. To make matters worse, there occurred an epidemic of an infectious disease known as snake-windsickness (ahivata roga), which shook the morale of the people and took a heavier toll than before.
The Third Disaster
The citizens, reeling under the continuous shocks of the three disasters, namely, the famine disaster, the havoc caused by the evil spirits and the outbreak of the epidemic, went to the king and made the following address:
“Your Majesty, the city of Vesali is facing three kinds of scourges; no such disaster had ever occurred during the reigns of the immediate past seven kings. The consensus of opinion now is that such disasters are brought about by the negligence of duty on the part of the sovereign rulers.”
The King then caused all the citizens to assemble at the Court of Law and addressed them: “Citizens, you may hold an inquest to find out if there was any failures on my part in the discharge of my royal duties towards my people.” On systematic inquiry of all the daily performances of the King, people found that there was nothing wanting on the part of his Majesty, in the discharge of his duties towards his people. They then put their heads together to find a way to overcome the disasters that had fallen on them.
The disciples of the six teachers of heretical sects suggested that the city of Vesali would be rid of the three scourges as soon as the six heretic teachers set foot in the city. But some of the citizens (who had faith in the Three Jewels) said: “Friends, it is said that Buddha has appeared in the world. He is said to have expounded Dhamma for the welfare and prosperity of all beings. He is powerful and glorious. Our city may be free from all disasters once He is in our city.”
All the people were delighted with the proposal. But some people wanted to know the whereabout of the Buddha and expressed their doubt: “He may not care to come here even if we invite Him.” Whereupon, some intelligent persons expressed their optimistic view:
“Buddhas are always helpful and have compassion for sentient beings; so why wouldn’t He come if we invite Him? There is however, one thing to note. The Buddha is now residing in Rājagaha; King Bimbisāra (a sotāpanna and donor of the monastery) is attending upon Him, providing Him with four requisites. He might stand in the way of Buddha’s coming to our city.”
The people unanimously decided that ‘they should approach King Bimbisāra and acquaint him with the circumstances they now faced with and, with his approval, should request the Buddha to make a visit to Vesali.’ Accordingly, they sent two Licchavi princes to Rājagaha with the responsibility of meeting King Bimbisāra of Rājagaha, carrying with them numerous gifts for him and accompanied by armed guards and troops.
The two princes arrived at Rājagaha and having presented the valuable gifts to King Bimbisāra, they then told him the situation in their city and the reason why they had been sent to Rājagaha and made the request: “May your Majesty present this request, on our behalf, to the Buddha to visit Vesali.” The King did not comply with their request, but advised them: “You should approach the Buddha yourself and enquire as to the Buddha’s intention.”
The two Licchavi princes then went to the Buddha and addressed Him with profound respect: “The Glorious Buddha, our city of Vesali is being visited by three calamities. If out of compassion, you would kindly make a visit to Vesali, it will be a blessing to all of us, the citizens of Vesali.”
Upon kind consideration of their request, the Buddha perceived: “The recitation and preaching of Ratana Sutta in Vesali would bring one hundred thousand crores of universes under protection against diseases; and at the end of the discourse, eighty-four thousand sentient beings would be emancipated through realization of the Four Noble Truths.” He, therefore, accepted the reverential invitation of the two Licchavi princes.
King Bimbisāra’s Preparation for A Ceremonial Send-off.
On hearing the news of acceptance by the Buddha of the invitation to visit Vesali, King Bimbisāra caused it to be proclaimed all over the city: “Know, ye, all men, the Buddha has accepted the invitation to visit the city of Vesali.” He then went to the Buddha and asked: “Most Exalted Buddha, have you accepted the invitation of the citizens of Vesali?” The Buddha replied: “Yes, I have accepted, your Majesty.” “If that be so, may the Buddha wait till all necessary preparations for ceremonial send-off are completed.”
Then King Bimbisāra caused the road between Rājagaha and the river Ganges which was five yojanas in length, to be levelled and made even, and temporary pavilions were set up at every yojana along the route. When the Buddha was then informed that everything was set, He started the journey in the company of five hundred bhikkhus.
The five yojanas long route was strewn with flowers of five different colours up to knee height, colourful streamers were erected along the route, pots filled with water and plantain trees were placed in order on either side of the road. Two white umbrellas protected the Buddha from the weather; likewise every bhikkhu was protected by a white umbrella each. The King and his retinue of courtiers and army made offerings with flowers and scents along the route and at every stop, giving the Buddha and the company of bhikkhus enough time to take rest. After a comfortable journey of five days, the whole procession reached the bank of the Ganges.
While the Royal barge was in the process of being decorated, King Bimbisāra sent a written intimation to the Licchavi rulers, saying: “The Buddha is en route to Vesali; necessary arrangements should be made to keep the roads in a good state of preservation, for a grand reception of the Buddha and His bhikkhus by all the Licchavi rulers.”
When the members of Licchavi clan received the good news, they unanimously made the decision to organise a welcoming ceremony which should be twice as grand as the reverence shown by King Bimbisāra. They levelled the roads between Vesali and the bank of River Ganges which was three yojanas. They kept four white umbrellas for the Buddha and two white umbrellas each for every bhikkhu accompanying the Buddha. The whole city came out in a grand procession to the bank of the River Ganges to await the arrival of the Buddha.
In the meanwhile, King Bimbisāra caused two big boats to be kept side by side and firmly tied together to form a huge barge. On the top of it was erected a pavilion, which was decorated profusely with bouquets of flowers and scents, suspended wreaths of flowers fashioned like a fan; inside the pavilion was installed the throne for the Buddha. It was studded with seven kinds of precious jewels. On arrival at the bank of the River Ganges, the Buddha and His bhikkhus went aboard the royal barge; the Buddha took seat on the throne and the bhikkhus took seats at appropriate places.
After conducting the Buddha and His bhikkhus to the barge, Bimbisāra went down the Ganges river up to his neck, and holding the barge, addressed the Buddha: “Most Glorious Buddha, I will be waiting for Your return, from the bank of this River Ganges,” and he gently released the royal barge from his hand as he came out of water.
Celestial beings of the deva-world, including the Brahmās of Akanittha-Brahmā realm, paid honour to the Buddha. Similarly, beings from the lower planes, such as Kamhala Naga King and Assatara Naga King, also paid their homage to the Buddha.
Thus, amidst great festive celebrations, devas and humans vying with one another in paying honour to the Buddha while He was being conducted across the Ganges, measuring one yojana from bank to bank, until eventually He entered the territory of the Vesali rulers. The Buddha was received on the opposite bank of Ganges by the Licchavis who were ready waiting for His arrival. They honour the Buddha twice as much as that of King Bimbisāra had shown, going down the deep river up to their neck to welcome Him with profound respect.
Pokkharavasa rain fell as soon as The Buddha stepped ashore
As soon as the royal barge carrying the Buddha reached the opposite bank of the river, wave after wave of dark rain clouds gathered from all sides, accompanied by flashes of lightning and deafening roar of thunder, presaging a violent thunderstorm. The setting of Buddha’s right foot on the bank of the river was marked by falling of torrential Pokkharavasa rain which wetted those who wished to get wet, leaving alone those not wanting to get soaked. Streams of rain water with varying depths, ranging from the depth of the knee to the waist, the chest and to the neck, rushed all over the city of Vesali, washing away smelly dead bodies which were left unattended, as they flowed into the river Ganges. The whole city became clean once again, free from rubbish of all descriptions.
The Licchavis conducted the Buddha from the river bank to Vesali, three yojanas away, amidst enthusiastic masses and festivities, stopping one night at every pavilion which were constructed at one yojana intervals. On the way, offerings were made which were twice as much as shown by King Bimbisāra. Finally the Buddha arrived at Vesali after three days.
When the Buddha arrived at Vesali, Sakka accompanied by devas came down from their celestial planes to pay homage to Him. The congregation of powerful devas at Vesali caused most of the ogres (who had hitherto played havoc with the citizens) to flee the city.
The Buddha stood at the city gate and gave instructions to the Venerable Ānanda:
“Dear Ānanda, after learning this Ratana Sutta from Me, you should recite it within the three walls of the city as a preventive measure, (Paritta), going round the city accompanied by the Licchavi princes who should be instructed to carry in their hands offertories.”
Preventive Measures taken by The Venerable Ananda by The Recitation of Paritta
Having learned the Ratana Sutta from the Buddha at the gate of Vesali on the very day of arrival, the Venerable Ānanda went round within the three walls of the city reciting it rhythmically, with correct intonation, pronunciation, accent and punctuation. He took with him as he went round, the Buddha’s alms-bowl, filled with water which he sprinkled all over the city.
As soon as Venerable Ānanda started reciting the first stanza of the sutta with the words, ‘Yamkiñci vittam’ those ogres, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, demons who had not yet fled the city but had remained taking shelter under garbage dumps or clinging to the walls, etc., made off in great haste through the four city gates. As the gates got jammed with fleeing evil spirits, some of them were forced to break through the walls of the city. With the fleeing of brute beings from the city, those who had suffered from their evil influences, regained their health and all pestilences disappeared. These citizens came out from their houses, with bunches of flowers and scents, and paid homage to the Venerable Ānanda.
The Buddha expounded The Ratana Sutta at The Legislative Assembly Hall of The City
The King and the citizens decorated the Legislative Assembly Hall in the heart of the city with garlands of flowers and scents, setting up a canopied ceiling with studded ornament. Then they installed the throne for the Buddha in a proper place and conducted Him to the Hall. The Buddha took His seat on the throne while the bhikkhus, kings and princes, and citizens sat at appropriate places. Then Sakka, accompanied by the devas of the two celestial realms of Catumahārajika and Tāvatiṃsa as well as Brahmās and other devas, also arrived to pay homage to the Buddha.
The Venerable Ānanda, having taken preventive measures by reciting the Paritta all over Vesali, arrived at the City Hall with the crowd of citizens and they all took seats at suitable places.
At this huge gathering of devas, humans and Brahmās, the Buddha gave the same discourse of Ratana Sutta, (which He had taught Ānanda).
(N.B. The Ratana Sutta text which the Buddhist public see, read and study nowadays is made up of three sections:
(a) The portion beginning with ‘Panidhānato patthāya...’ up to ‘Parittam taṃ bhanāmahe’ is the preface in prose and verse composed by scholars of the ancient past.
(c) The last three, ‘Yanidha bhutani samāgatāni....’ etc. were uttered by the Sakka at the congregation.)
At the conclusion of discourse on the Ratana Sutta on the first day, the Licchavi royal families together with all the citizens of Vesali were freed from suffering and gained happiness; all kinds of dangers and pestilence were removed and peace was restored. Eighty-four thousand sentient beings were emancipated through realizing the Four Noble Truths.
It dawned upon Sakka then: “The Buddha had brought happiness and prosperity to the people of Vesali by speaking words of Truth about the attributes of the Three Jewels, I should also utter words of Truth concerning the virtues of the Three Jewels for the welfare of the citizens of Vesali.” He therefore rose to recite the three stanzas, ‘Yānidha bhūtāni samagatāni...’ etc., which appear at the end of the Sutta.
The Buddha continued to expound The Ratana Sutta for Seven Days
After reciting the three stanzas, Sakka paid homage to the Buddha by circumambulating Him three times and left for the world of devas accompanied by his celestial followers. But the Buddha went on expounding the Sutta on the second day when eighty-four thousand sentient beings were again emancipated through realizing the Four Noble Truths. In this way, the Buddha continued to expound the same sutta for seven days in succession, emancipating eighty-four thousand sentient beings on each day.
(NB A total of (84000 x 7=588000) five lakhs eighty-eight thousand beings were emancipated through realization of the Four Noble Truths.)
Footnotes and references:
Aparihāniya dhamma: Factors of non-decline, discourse taught to Vajji princes by the Buddha in order to maintain their prosperity and welfare. For full particulars refrence may be made to Mahāparibbana Sutta, Mahā Vagga, Digha Nikāya.
This Ratana Sutta text with full exposition is dealt with in the chapter on the Jewel of Dhamma.