by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes The Buddha’s Answers to Sakka’s Four Questions 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 the Buddha’s Fifteenth Vassa at Kapilavatthu. 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).
While staying at Nigrodharama of Kapilavatthu and observed the fifteenth vassa, the Buddha administered the distribution of the cool water of Dhamma, the elixir of deathlessness to worthy beings. When the fifteenth vassa came to an end, He set out from Kapilavatthu in accordance with a Buddha’s practice and arrived eventually at Jetavana in the good city of Sāvatthi.
Once the devas of Tāvatiṃsa celestial abode met and raised four questions:
(1) What is the best of all gifts?
(2) What is the best of all tastes?
(3) What is the best of all delights? and
(4) Why should arahatship, the end of craving, be called the best?
Not a single deva was able to answer these four questions. In fact, one deva asked another, who, in turn, asked another and so on. Thus asking among themselves, they roamed about the ten thousand universes for twelve years (without getting the answers).
Knowing nothing of the meaning of these questions, though twelve years had passed, the devas residing in the ten thousand universes assembled and went up to the Four Great Kings. When asked by the Four Great Kings as to why they had thus made a great assembly, the devas said: “We came to you as we have four questions which we are unable to solve.” “What are the four questions, friends?” asked the Deva Kings. “Of innumerable gifts, of innumerable tastes and of innumerable delights, which is the best gift, which is the best taste and which is the best delight? Why is arahatship, the end of craving, the best?” answered the devas, “Finding no answers to these questions, we have come to you.”
Then the Four Great Kings said: “We too do not know the meaning of these questions, friends. But our Lord Sakka is capable of knowing promptly when he reflects on the significance of the questions that may be forwarded by a thousand persons. Sakka is superior to us in intelligence, wisdom and glory. Come, we shall go to Sakka.” When the Four Deva Kings took them to Sakka and when asked by him about such a great assemblage, the devas explained the matter to him.
“Devas!” addressed Sakka, “The significance of these four questions cannot be known by all (except the Buddha). In fact, these four questions are for a Buddha to solve. Where is the Buddha staying now?” Sakka added: “Come, we shall go to the Exalted Buddha and asked him.” Together with all these devas, Sakka illuminated the whole of Jetavana at night and approached the Buddha, did obeisance to Him and stood at a proper place. When the Buddha enquired about their coming in such a great multitude, Sakka replied: “The devas, Exalted One, have these questions to ask. There is none other than you, Venerable Sir, who will be able to answer them, who could know the significance of questions. Please explain the meaning clearly, to us, Exalted Buddha.”
“Very well, Sakka!” said the Buddha. “Having fulfilled the Perfections and performed unflinchingly the fivefold generosity, I achieved Omniscience just to eliminate the doubts of persons like you. The answers to your four questions are as follows:
(1) Of all gifts, the gift of Dhamma is the best.
(2) Of all tastes, the taste of Dhamma is the best.
(3) Of all delights, the delight in Dhamma is the best.
(4) Arahatship, at the end of craving, is the best because it is the cessation of all suffering.
Having spoken thus in prose the Buddha uttered the following verse:
(Sakka, the King of Devas,) the gift of Dhamma, which is the teaching and learning of Dhamma, excels all other gifts overwhelmingly.
The taste of Dhamma, consisting in the thirty-seven factors of Enlightenment and the nine supra-mundane attainments, excels all others overwhelmingly.
The delight in Dhamma excels all other delights overwhelmingly.
Arahatship, at the end of craving, absolutely overcome all suffering.
Explanation of The Meaning
(1) Even if robes, as soft as layers of a banana trunk, were given to Buddhas, Paccekabuddhas and arahats, who were seated up to the abode of Brahmās in a universe with no space between one another, a four-footed verse, which was delivered in that assembly in appreciation of the gift, is far superior. In fact, the value of such a gift of countless robes is not even a two hundred and fifty-sixth part of the value of the Dhamma verse which was delivered in appreciation of the gift of robes. Hence, the excellence of the speaking, teaching and learning of the Dhamma.
Even to those, who put efforts to organize and manage so that the multitude might listen to the Dhamma, the benefit accrue is immense.
To the gift of food in bowls, each and every one of them filled with sumptuous meal, to the gift of medicine in bowls, each and every one of them filled with butter, oil and such like, to the gift of hundreds of thousands of dwellings like the Mahāvihāra, to the gift of hundreds of thousands of pinnacled mansions like the Lohapāsāda, even to the various gifts including the Jetavana monastery given by Anāthapiṇḍika and others to Buddhas, Paccekka Buddhas and arahats who were seated and occupying the whole of the aforesaid universe with no space between one another; to all these gifts, the gift of the Dhamma taught in a four-footed verse, least of all in appreciation of a material gift, is far superior.
Why? Because those who perform the wholesome act of giving the aforesaid four requisites, namely, robes, food dwelling and medicine, do so only after hearing the Dhamma, not otherwise. If they had not heard the Dhamma they would not have given even a ladleful of rice gruel or a spoonful of food. For this reason the gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts.
To make the fact more explicit: Leaving out Buddhas and Paccekabuddhas, even the Venerable Sāriputta and other Noble Ones, who had intelligence that could help them count the rain drops when it rained heavily and endlessly for the whole āyu-kappa, were unable to make such noble attainments as sotāpatti-phala and higher stages on their own (without hearing the Dhamma). In fact, it was after hearing the teaching of Thera Assaji and others that they attained sotāpatti-phala;it was by listening to the Buddha’s Teaching (of the Dīghanakha Sutta and others) that they attained Discipleship (Sāvaka-Pāramī-ñāṇa). “For this reason, too, Sakka, only the gift of the Dhamma (Dhamma-dāna) is more admirable than the gift of requisites (paccaya-dāna).” Hence the Buddha’s saying: “The gift of the Dhamma excels all other gifts overwhelmingly.”
(2) All kinds of tastes including the taste of fruit, the taste of flowers, the taste of flavour (even that of the food of the devas) are the cause of rebirth in saṃsāra and of falling into suffering. The taste of the nine-fold supra-mundane Dhamma together with the thirty-seven factors of Enlightenment and the four pairs of magga and phala plus Nibbāna, however, is more praiseworthy than all mundane tastes. Hence the Buddha’s saying: “The taste of Dhamma (Dhamma-rasa) excels all other tastes overwhelmingly.”
(3) All kinds of delights in earthly things, such as sons, daughters, riches, women, dancing, singing, music, etc., are the cause of rebirth in saṃsāra and of falling into suffering. Joy (pīti) that arises in one, through one’s attention paid to the Dhamma while speaking, teaching or hearing it, causes elation, even tears and gooseflesh. Only such joy that can put an end to suffering in saṃsāra and bring about welfare to the extant of realization of sotāpatti-phala, is more praiseworthy than all kinds of delight in earthly things. Hence the Buddha’s Teaching: “The delight in Dhamma (Dhamma-rati) excels all other delights overwhelmingly.”
(4) All kinds of craving disappear the moment arahatta-magga is attained. Arahattamagga is immediately followed by (its result which is) arahatta-phala. As arahatta-phala arises at the end of craving, it is called Taṇhakkhaya (destruction of craving). As arahattaphala, called Taṇhakkhaya, overcomes all suffering, it is the Dhamma that is superior to and more praiseworthy than all other things. Hence the Buddha’s saying: “Arahatta-phala, the end of craving, absolutely overcomes all suffering.”
Conversion of Eighty-four Thousand Beings
When the Buddha explained the verse in detail, eighty-four thousand sentient beings realized the Four Truths and were converted.
Having listened to the Buddha’s elaborate teaching, Sakka did obeisance to Him and made a request:
“Exalted Buddha, although the gift of the Dhamma is so great and praiseworthy, why are we not let to share the merit of it? From now on, please make the Sangha give our shares of merit from the gift of the Dhamma.”
Having heard Sakka’s request, the Buddha called a meeting of the Sangha and said:
“From now on, monks, after giving a Dhamma-speech, be it a grand one, or an ordinary one, or one given to those who visit you, or (at least) one given in appreciation of some alms-giving, share the merit, which accrue to you from the Dhamma-speech, with all beings.”