by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes The Story of Deva Gopaka 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 how the Āṭānāṭiya Paritta came to be Taught. 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).
“Venerable Sir, in this city of Sāvatthi, there was once, a Sakyan princess named Gopika, who had faith in the Triple Gem and was in the habit of observing the Five Precepts. She disliked being a female and conducting herself well with a view to being reborn as a male person. She was reborn in the Tāvatiṃsa Deva realm as my son. He is known as Deva Gopaka in Tāvatiṃsa realm.
“Venerable Sir, three bhikkhus, on the other hand, practised the noble Practice under the Buddha but, at their death, they were reborn as gandhabba, devas inferior to Tāvatiṃsa devas. These gandhabba devas enjoy sensual pleasures fully and they come to the gathering of devas in the Assembly Hall to entertain the (Tāvatiṃsa) devas with their music. To them Deva Gopaka said:
‘Revered Sirs, in what manner of attention did you listen the Bhagava’s Teachings? As for me, I was a mere woman (in my former human existence) who could observe just the Five Precepts, but being greatly dissatisfied with womanhood, I conducted myself well with a view to gaining manhood at the next rebirth, with the result that I am now reborn as a son of Sakka, Lord of Devas. In this Tāvatiṃsa Deva realm I am known as Deva Gopaka.
‘As for you, revered Sirs, you had been bhikkhus who had practised the Noble Path under the Buddha, and yet you are now reborn as gandhabba devas, inferior to Tāvatiṃsa devas. That looks a very unsatisfactory matter to us.’
On hearing these words of rebuke which sounded as a warning to the three gandhabba devas, two of them gained mindfulness that set them up at the first jhāna there and then, and were reborn in the Brahmapurohita realm. The third one continued enjoying himself in the Sensuous Sphere.” (Sakka’s report not ended yet.)
In this story of Deva Gopaka, the destination of the three former bhikkhus is remarkable. Although they had conducted themselves well as bhikkhus, they were reborn as gandhabba devas, and were called samaṇa devas (devas who had been samaṇas in their former existence). This was because they had, in the past, been gandhabba devas for many existences so that there had in them a liking for that existence (bhavanikanti). Gandhabba devas belong to the realm of the Four Guardian Kings.
When Deva Gopaka met the three sammaṇa devas, he reflected on what previous merit they were endowed with so that they had such attractive appearance. He saw that they had been bhikkhus in their previous existence. Then he reflected whether they had been established in morality and saw that they had been established in morality. He further reflected whether they had further merit and saw that they had attained jhāna. He again reflected where these bhikkhus lived and saw that they were the bhikkhus who went to his (the then Sakyan lady Gopaka) house for daily alms-food. He reviewed their case thus: “Persons established in morality can wish for any of the six deva realms. These bhikkhus do not have rebirth in the higher deva realms. Further, persons who have attained jhāna usually are reborn in the Brahmā realms. These bhikkhus do not get reborn in the Brahmā realms. As for me, I had followed their instruction and am now born as Sakka’s own son. These bhikkhus who are reborn as inferior devas as gandhabbas are the aṭṭhiveda type of persons who need goading to the extreme.” That was why he said the words of rebuke: “Revered Sirs, in what manner of attention did you listen to the Bhagava’s Teachings? (etc.)”
“Aṭṭhiveda persons who need goading to the extreme” is a reference to the Patoda Sutta, Kesi vagga of Tatiya Paṇṇāsa Aṅguttara Nikāya (Catukka Nipāta) where four types of trained horses and four types of trained men are described. The gist of that exposition:
Four Types of Trained Horses
(1) the horse that responds just by the hint of the use of the goading stick (the chāyā diṭṭha), (2) the horse that responds only when struck, so that his hair comes off, (the lomavedha), (3) the horse that responds only when struck, so that his skin is torn off (the cammavedha) and (4) the horse that responds only when struck, so that he feels unbearable pain (the aṭṭhivedha).
Four Types of Trained Men
(on the analogy of the four types of trained horses)
(1) On hearing that so and so in such and such place is suffering from illness, or had died, he has urgent religious awakening (saṃvega), and he strives to gain Insight and Path-Knowledge, (the chāyādiṭṭha);(2) On witnessing someone suffering from illness or die in his presence, he has urgent religious awakening, and he strives to gain Insight and Path-Knowledge, (the lomavedha); (3) On witnessing one of his family suffering from illness or die in his presence, he has urgent religious awakening, and he strives to gain Insight and Path-Knowledge (the cammavedha); (4) Only on meeting with some serious illness himself, he has urgent religious awakening, and he strives to gain Insight and Path-Knowledge, (the aṭṭhivedha).
Deva Gopaka placed those three bhikkhus in the fourth category above and therefore considered that they ‘needed goading to the extreme’.
In Sakka’s story the passage, “two of them gained mindfulness that set them up at the first jhāna there and then, and were reborn in the Brahmapurohita realm” needs some explanation. On hearing the words of Deva Gopaka, two out of the three samaṇa devas thought: “Normally, we ought to be rewarded for our service in entertaining them, but now, instead of any rewards, we are being scolded right from the start, like salt sprinkled onto a hotplate. How is this?” Reflecting on their past existence, they saw vividly that they had been bhikkhus, that they had pure morality, that they had attained jhāna, and that they used to go to Gopaka the Sakyan lady’s residence, for daily alms-food.
They reflected their situation thus: “Person established in morality can wish for any of the six deva realms. Person who have attained jhāna usually are reborn in the Brahmā realms. Yet we have not been able to get rebirth in the higher deva realms or in the Brahmā realms. The young lady, who followed our instructions, is now reborn in the higher deva realm. Although we had been bhikkhus and practised the Noble Path under the Bhagavā, we are reborn as gandhabba devas, which are inferior class of devas (due to our liking for gandhabba existence where we had been repeatedly reborn before). That is the reason why this Deva Gopaka is saying words of rebuke.” The two of them took these words to heart and regained mindfulness of the first jhāna (i.e., they attained the first jhāna) and, based on that concentration, they contemplated, on the impermanence, woefulness and non-self nature of mind and matter, conditioned by causes, and attained anāgāmī-phala there and then.
An anāgāmī-puggala or a Never-Returner has a class of supramundane consciousness that does not fit well with the Five Aggregates pertaining to the gandhabba existence of the Sensuous Sphere;that class of consciousness is superior to that of the Sense Sphere existence. Hence as soon as anāgāmī-magga was attained, these two ariya devas passed away from the deva existence and were reborn in the Brahmapurohita realm, the middle plane of the three Fine-material realms, because they attained the first jhāna which is the medium class of jhāna. Although it is said that they were reborn in the Brahmapurohita realm, their bodies did not appear in that Brahmā realm. They remained in Tāvatiṃsa Deva realm (at the Assembly Hall for the discussion of the Dhamma) in the form of Brahmapurohita Brahmās instead of the gandhabba deva forms.
The third gandhabba deva was unable to give up his clinging to the gandhabba existence and so remained in his present existence as a Catumahārājikā deva. (These details are as explained in the Commentary.)