The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Discourse on the Life of the Bodhisatta Brahmin Sankha 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).

Part 4 - Discourse on the Life of the Bodhisatta Brahmin Sankha

After a fortnight’s stay in the city of Vesali, the Buddha told the Licchavi princes: “We are leaving,” by way of farewell. Whereupon the Licchavis honoured the Buddha as much as twice that of King Bimbisāra and in three days they conducted Him to the bank of the Ganges.

The nāga devas in the region of the Ganges agreed amongst themselves saying: “Men have made homage to the Buddha on a lavish scale and why should we not do likewise? We shall do likewise.” They proceeded to create golden boats, silver boats, and emerald boats mounted with golden, silver and emerald thrones, and covering the entire surface of the Ganges by a blanket of five different species of lily. They then approached the Buddha and made the solemn request: “Most Exalted Buddha, may you grant us a favour by gratifying our wish out of compassion for us?”

The Buddha conceded to their request and went aboard the boats which were created by nāgas with ornamentation of jewels. Each of the five hundred bhikkhus also occupied a jewelled boat. Whereupon the nāga kings conducted the Buddha and His five hundred bhikkhus to the Naga realm. The Buddha spent the whole night expounding discourses for the benefit of the nāga audience. The next morning, a great offering of celestial food was made to the Buddha and His bhikkhus by the nāga kings. After teaching a discourse in appreciation of the offerings, the Buddha made His departure from the nāga land.

Devas, who had dominion over that region of the earth (bhumma-devās), also agreed amongst themselves, saying: “Humans and nāgas have made great homage to the Buddha, why should we not do likewise? We shall follow suit.” They proceeded to do honour to the Buddha by setting up excellent umbrellas all over the hills, forest and trees. In this manner similar offerings were made right up to the Brahmā plane of Akanittha.

King Bimbisāra, making great homage twice as much as that of the Licchavis, conducted the Buddha and His bhikkhus to Veḷuvana monastery, Rājagaha, making the whole journey as before, in five days.

After the arrival of the Buddha at Veḷuvana monastery, Rājagaha, bhikkhus assembled at the Main Hall in the afternoon to discuss matters relating to meditation.

Their discussion was often interrupted by conversations, such as:

“The glories of the Buddha are really wonderful. The stretch of land on this side of the Ganges is five yojanas and on the other side of the Ganges it is three yojanas, a total of eight; the surface of the land on both sides was without bumps or hollows at any place. It has an even surface all over and strewn with white sand and flowers.

The surface of the river Ganges, with a width of one yojana, was covered by a blanket of five-hued species of flowers. The whole region was decorated with white umbrellas right up to the Brahmā plane of Akanittha.” Their discussion on meditation was often interrupted by such words of praise in honour of the Buddha.

Being aware of what was going on, the Buddha left the Scented Chamber and went to the Assembly Hall. He sat on the reserved seat. He then asked the bhikkhus: “Bhikkhus, what is the subject of your discussion at this moment?” When explained what it was, He said:

“Such a wonderful manner of making obeisance is not attributable to my glories as a Buddha nor to the powers of nāgas, devas and Brahmās. It should be attributed to the beneficial results which accrue from a small deed of mine done in the past.”

When the Buddha had given such a hint, the bhikkhus approached Him with the request: “Most glorious Buddha, we have not any knowledge of the small deed of charity done in the past. Most Exalted Buddha, we pray that we may be enlightened so as to know about it fully.” The Buddha, thereupon, proceeded:

Bhikkhus, what happened in the past was this... There was a brahmin in the city of Takkasīla by the name of Sankha. He had a son named Susima, who was sixteen years old. One day, Susima approached his father with great respect and his father asked him: ‘My dear son, what is the matter with you?’ Then the lad replied: ‘O Father, I would like to go to Bārāṇasī to acquire education.’ His father said: ‘My dear son, there is a brahmin professor in Bārāṇasī. He is my child-hood friend, you might go to him and receive your share of education.’ He then gave his son a sum of one thousand pieces of money for his necessary expenditure.

Susima paid due respect to his parents and taking the money, set out on his journey and arrived at Bārāṇasī in due time. He approached the Professor with profound respect and in a customary way. He told the Professor that he was the son of Brahmin Sankha of Takkasīla. The Professor gave him a warm reception making the remark: ‘So you are a son of my friend.’

After a moment of rest, Susima went again to the Professor, and placing the sum of money at his feet, requested him for permission to acquire education under his care. The permission was willingly granted. He took pains in learning as much in a very, short time, adding every thing to the fount of his knowledge, just like the precious grease of lion retained in a golden cup for the sake of security. As he was endowed with pāramīs, he completed the full course of learning in a few months instead of twelve years as an average pupil would have to spend.

As Susima was in the middle of studying a Veda text, he discovered that the treatise contained only the beginning and middle of the subject they treated; the final section was not to be found therein. He brought the matter to the notice of the Professor, saying: ‘O great Professor, this Veda text deals only with the beginning and middle of the subject, the final portion is not found in it.’ Whereupon, the Professor also admitted that he too did not find it. Susima then asked the Professor: ‘O Professor, is there anyone who knows all about the subject from beginning to end.’ The Professor replied: ‘My dear son Susima, those Paccekabuddhas who live in the forest of Isipathana, Migadaya, may probably know.’ ‘If so, may I have your kind permission to go and ask those Paccekabuddhas about it,’ requested the youth Susima. The Professor granted his permission, saying: ‘My dear son Susima, you may please yourself as you like.’

Susima, who was accomplished in pāramī, went to the forest of Isipathana, Migadaya, approached the Paccekabuddhas with due respect and asked: ‘Venerable Sirs, do you know (the subjects) in Vedas from beginning to end?’ ‘Yes, we do, lay devotee Susima,’ was their reply. Then he requested them: ‘Kindly teach me the last part of the knowledge which is missing in the Veda.’ The Paccekabuddhas told him: ‘Lay devotee Susima, you will have to renounce the world and become a recluse. No one other than a bhikkhu could learn that.’ Susima agreed and gave his word: ‘Very well, Venerable Sirs, please ordain me as a bhikkhu. You may direct me to do anything that is necessary so long as it helps me learn the last portion of Veda knowledge.’ He was ordained as a bhikkhu as requested and was taught how to wear the robes properly such as keeping the edges (borders) of both the upper and lower robes in a tidy circular fashion. They could teach him only the precept of very good conduct, ābhisamācārika sīla, and not any meditation, (because unlike Omniscient Buddhas, they had not the ability to give instructions on how to practise Vipassanā meditation.)

The newly ordained Bhikkhu Susima devoted himself earnestly to the observance of the ābhisamācārika sīla as instructed by the Paccekabuddhas, Having performed deeds of merit in the past which formed sufficing conditions (upanissaya) for attainment of Paccekabuddha-ñāṇa, after a brief period of practice, he became a Paccekabuddha. He was soon held in high repute and reached the height of His glory acquiring great fame and gains and a large number of followers and disciples. But because of his past misdeeds, which prohibited longevity, he did not live long and passed away while still young. His remains were cremated by the Paccekabuddhas and the citizens of Bārāṇasī. The relics of his body were enshrined in a stupa built near the gate of the city.

The old brahmin father, Sankha, thought of his son one day: ‘My son had been gone for a long time now and no news had been received from him.’ So he left Takkasīla with a longing to see his son and eventually reached the gate of the city of Bārāṇasī. He saw quite a number of people gathered together near the shrine there; and thinking someone from amongst the crowd would perhaps know something about his son, he approached them and enquired: ‘Friends, there is a young man by the name of Susima who came to Bārāṇasī to learn; perhaps some of you might know something about him.’

‘Yes we do, old brahmin. That young man Susima, after acquiring the complete knowledge of Vedas under the care of the Professor of Bārāṇasī, received ordination at the place of the Paccekabuddhas, and eventually became a Paccekabuddha through realization of Paccekabuddha-ñāṇa. He had passed away now, attaining Anupādisesa Nibbāna. This is the shrine where his relics are enshrined."

After hearing this shocking news, the poor old brahmin wept most hopelessly, beating the earth with his palm many a time. After mourning the loss of his dear son to his heart’s content, he went into the precincts of the shrine and removed grass, spreading white sand which he had brought from a nearby place with his shoulder towel. He poured water from his jug all over the place to keep the dust from arising; then he collected as much wild flowers as possible and offered them to the shrine. He put his shoulder towel into the shape of a streamer and wrapping it round his umbrella, he placed it high above the shrine, tying them tight to the shrine. Then he departed.”

Having thus told the story of the past, the Buddha correlated the events of the past with those of the present by giving the following discourse:

Bhikkhus, you might be wondering who the Brahmin Sankha of this story could be. You need not ponder any more about it. The Brahmin Sankha was none other than Myself.

(1) I, who was a Bodhisatta then, had cleaned the precincts of the shrine containing the relics of Paccekabuddha Susima, removing the grass roots, stump, etc. As a beneficial result of this act of merit, the people made the road clean and free of tree stumps and levelled it for a stretch of five yojanas on this side of the Ganges and three yojanas on the far bank.

(2) I, then a Bodhisatta, had spread white sand in the precincts of the Paccekabuddha shrine. As a benefit accruing from this act of merit, people spread white sand all along the route measuring eight yojanas.

(3) I, then a Bodhisatta, had collected as much wild flowers as I could and placed them in the shrine. This meritorious deed of mine resulted in devas and humans strewing various kinds of flowers on land and the river, covering a distance of nine yojanas.

(4) I, then a Bodhisatta, had sprinkled the precincts of the Paccekabuddha shrine with water from my jug to prevent the dust from arising. As a result of this act of merit of mine, Pokkharavasa rain (from a cloud bank the size of a lily leaf) fell the moment I set foot on the land of Vesali.

(5) I, then a Bodhisatta, had set up a streamer at the shrine of the Paccekabuddha and erected an umbrella on top of it. For that act of merit, streamers were set up all the way to the Akanittha Brahmā realm and white umbrellas were erected all over the regions.”

Bhikkhus, making homage to Me in such wonderful manner is not attributable to my glories as a Buddha, nor to the powers of nāga, devas and Brahmās. It should be attributed to the beneficial results which accrue from a small deed of merit done by Me as a Bodhisatta in my existence as Brahmin Sankha.” The Buddha in winding up the discourse expounded the following verse:

Passe ce vipulaṃ sukhaṃ
caje mattāsukham dhīro
sampassam vipulam sukhaṃ

When it is known with certainty that a generous abandoning by way of sacrifice of pleasurable sensations, which give a small amount of happiness, will bring a vast amount of reward such as the happiness of Nibbāna, then surely a wise person should forego such an insignificant reward of a small pleasure in favour of the great reward of Nibbānic happiness.

At the conclusion of the exposition, many sentient beings attained Sotāpatti-magga-phala, etc.

End of the discourse on the Bodhisatta Brahmin Sankha.

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