The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990

This page describes Story of Ananda the Wealthy Merchant 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 Nineteenth Vassa also at Cāliya Hill. 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 2 - Story of Ānanda the Wealthy Merchant

Having distributed the medicinal Dhamma-water of immortality among beings, including the family of the hunter Kukkuṭamitta, while staying at Veḷuvana, Rājagaha. From there the Buddha arrived at Sāvatthi and stayed at Jetavana. While staying there, he gave a discourse beginning with “puttā matthi dhanaṃ matthi”, with reference to Ānanda the wealthy merchant and citizen of Sāvatthi. The story in detail is as follows:

There was in Sāvatthi a wealthy merchant, Ānanda by name, whose wealth was worth forty crores, yet who was extremely stingy. The man had his relatives assembled fortnightly and gave advice to his son, Mūasirī, amidst his kinsmen at three different times, saying thus:

“Dear son, do not think that the forty crores is a great deal of wealth. What is in one’s hand should not be given to another. Try to gain new wealth. He who spends but one coin after another will certainly exhaust his wealth one day. Therefore, we advised:

Añjanānam khayam disyam disvā upacikānañ ca ācayaṃ
Madhūnañ ca samāhāraṃ paṇḍito gharam āvase.

Dear son, having observed the disappearance of a collyrium stone due to repeated rubbing, the arising of an anthill due to repeated gathering [of earth] by white ants, the development of a beehive due to repeated collection [of the nectar of flowers] by bees, a wise man should live exerting to keep his old wealth undiminished and to bring about new wealth.

Later on the merchant Ānanda died without telling his son Mūlasirī about his five big jars of gold that he had buried, and being greedily attached to his wealth and dirtying himself with the taints of miserliness; he was, upon his death, conceived in the womb of a caṇḍāla (outcaste) woman in a village of a thousand householders at the gate of the city of Sāvatthi. On learning the merchant’s death, King Kosala summoned the son, Mūlasirī, and appointed him as the successor to his father.

The thousand caṇḍāla households made their living by working collectively as daily wagers, and from the time of the conception of the miser Ānanda, the former rich man, they no longer had the wages nor did they have food more than what was enough. The labourers came to the conclusion, saying: “Now we hardly earn a small morsel of rice despite our hard work. There must be somebody evil and unfortunate among us.” So they divided themselves into two groups, and the dividing process went on and on until there remained the isolated household of the miser’s parents. In that situation, the family of Ānanda said: “The ominous one is in our household” and they expelled Ānanda’s mother.

The mother had much difficulty in obtaining just enough food as long as she was carrying the child in her womb, and she gave birth to a son so miserably. The child’s hands, legs, eyes, ears, nose and mouth were all displaced. With his body so deformed, he looked very ugly, like a little earth-bound demon. Despite all this, the mother did not have the heart to throw him away. In fact, so great was a mother’s love for her child, who had stayed in her womb, that she brought him up with great hardship. On the days she took him to her work, she got nothing, and on the days she left him behind, she got her daily wage.

Later, when the son became big enough to roam about and look for food by himself, the caṇḍāla mother thrust a small bowl into the boy’s hand and said: “Dear son, on account of you we have suffered much. Now we are no longer able to look after you. In this city of Sāvatthi, there are readily cooked and reserved meals for destitutes, travellers and so on. Make your living by going where the food is and begging it.” So saying she deserted him.

When the boy roamed about the city, going from one house to another, he arrived at the place where he had lived as Ānanda, the wealthy merchant. As he was endowed with Jātissarā-ñāṇa (ability to remember former births), he boldly entered his own residence. He passed through the first, second and third gates with nobody remembering him or was aware of him. At the fourth gate, however, Mūasirī’s children saw him and cried aloud out of fear.

Then Mūlasirī’s servants beat him, saying: “You, luckless, ill-fated one!” They also took him out of the gate and put him at the garbage heap. At that moment, the Buddha, on His alms-round accompanied by the Venerable Ānanda, was at the scene. The Buddha looked at Venerable Ānanda and at his request narrated the past account and the present events of Ānanda, the wealthy merchant.

The thera then summoned Mūlasirī. People also gathered around. The Buddha then addressed Mūlasarī: “Donor Mūlasirī, do you know this boy?” “I do not, Exalted Buddha.” “This boy is your father Ānanda, the merchant,” said the Buddha. When Mulasiri did not believe it, the Buddha asked Ānanda: “Wealthy Ānanda, tell your son about the five big jars of gold you had buried.” Mūlasirī then become convinced after he had uncovered the five jars of gold, as mentioned by Ānanda.

The merchant Mūlasirī then took refuge in the Buddha. Desiring to preach to Mūlasirī, the Buddha spoke this verse:

Puttā matthi dhamaṃ atthi
iti bālo vihaññti
Attā hi attano n'atthi
kuto puttā kuto dhanaṃ

“I have children; I have wealth,” thinking thus the fool is afflicted by puttataṇhā (craving for children) and dhana-taṇhā (craving for wealth). In reality, however, one is not one’s shelter from woes. How can children be one’s shelter? How can wealth be one’s shelter?

(The meaning is: a fool, who considers himself to be the owner of his children and wealth, is troubled by craving for both. How? He is troubled by the notion: ‘My children have died.’ or ‘My children are dying.’ or ‘My children will die.’ The same happens in the case of wealth. In this way, he suffers in six manners: three manners regarding children and three regarding wealth. Since he has craving for children, he plans to feed his children by striving in many ways on land or in water, day or night, and thus he is full of woe. Since, he has craving for wealth, he plans to increase his riches by farming or trading, and was woeful thereby. (It is impossible for a man, who is woeful, owing to putta-taṇhā, and dhaṇa-taṇhā to lead himself to safety later on. When death approaches him, he is oppressed by fatal pains (maraṇantika-vedanā) like flames, his joints are broken and his bones separated. He shuts his blinking eyes to visualize his next life and then opens them to see his present life. He is thus miserable on his death-bed;formerly he looked after himself throughout his life, bathing two times and feeding three times a day, adorning himself with perfumes and flowers and other ornaments. But now, even as a true friend to himself, he is unable to release his person from misery. At such a later time, when he is so miserably dying, how can his children or his wealth go to his rescue. Indeed they simply have no ability to save him.

(As for the merchant, who had been reluctant to give somebody something but who had piled up riches only for his son Malasirī, who on his death-bed in his previous life and when he was hungry, ill-treated by others and so miserable in the present life, which of these woes could his beloved children or his accumulated wealth remove? (Indeed neither could do so.) What kind of happiness could they bring to him? (Indeed neither could.) Such is the import of the verse.)

By the end of the discourse eighty-four thousand beings realized the Four Truths and were released. This discourse was (therefore) beneficial to many. (Dhammapada Commentary, Vol I).

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