The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Pilindavaccha Mahathera 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 forty-one Arahat-Mahatheras and their Respective Etadagga titles. 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).

(a) Aspiration expressed in The Past

The future Venerable Pilindavaccha was born into a rich family in the city of Haṃsāvāti during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. As with the other future great theras, he went to the Buddha’s monastery, where, in the course of a sermon, he witnessed a bhikkhu being proclaimed by the Buddha as the foremost among the bhikkhus who were adored by devas. As such, he had a strong desire to become such a great bhikkhu in future and made his aspiration before the Buddha. The Buddha saw that his aspiration would be fulfilled in future and made the prediction to that effect.

Homage paid to The Shrine and The Sangha

The future Venerable Pilindavaccha, after a life of good deeds, passed away and was reborn in the deva realm and subsequently, either in the deva realm or human realm. During the time of Buddha Sumedha, he was reborn as a human being. He made great offerings at the great shrine, which was erected in honour of the Buddha who had passed away. He also made great offerings to the Sangha.

Life as A Universal Monarch

During a certain period, before the advent of the Buddha, the future Venerable Pilindavaccha was reborn as the Universal Monarch, who profitably used his great opportunity and power in making the people established in the five moral precepts.

(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence

When Buddha Gotama was about to appeared, the future Venerable Pilindavaccha was reborn as a brahmin in Sāvatthi. His name was Pilinda; his clan name being Vaccha, thus he was called Pilindavaccha. Since young Pilindavaccha had a natural disenchantment with the world, he became an ascetic and studied the magical art known as Cūḷagandhāra, which consisted some powerful mantas. Having gained mastery of these mantas, he became an adept at reading the mind of other people and was able to travel in the air. He became the greatest sage in Rājagaha, commanding a big following and amassing much wealth.

Then Buddha Gotama appeared in the world, and after a tour of the country, He reached Rājagaha. From the time the Buddha arrived in Rājagaha, the powers of Pilindavaccha were visibly impaired. However much he chanted his proven manta, he could not travel in the air and he could not read other people’s minds. He had heard that although a master in his own way, his art belonged to the lower grade, and that when someone, who had mastered the art of a higher grade, happened to come near him or within his range, he would meet with a waning of his own powers. He bethought himself: “That statement I had heard from the teacher’s teachers must be true, for, since Samana Gotama came to Rājagaha, my art has been visibly impaired. Samana Gotama certainly must be a master of the higher art. It were well if I approached Samaṇa Gotama and learn his art.” He then went to the Buddha and said: “O Venerable Bhikkhu, I wish to learn a certain art from You. May the Venerable One agree.”

The Buddha said: "If you wish to learn the art, you are to become a bhikkhu.” Pilindavaccha thought that becoming a bhikkhu was the preliminary step in the learning the art that he had in mind, and he agreed to become a bhikkhu. The Buddha gave Pilindavaccha the meditation subject which suited his temperament and he, being endowed with the sufficing condition for enlightenment, gained Insight and soon attained arahatship. (The Commentary to the Udāna).

Pilindavaccha’s Habit of using Harsh Words

The Venerable Pilindavaccha had a unique habit of calling other persons ‘rascal’ (vasalasamudācara), in such manners as: ‘Come, you rascal’, or ‘Go, you rascal’, or ‘Bring it, rascal’ or ‘Take it, rascal’, etc.

The bhikkhus referred this strange habit of the Venerable Pilindavaccha to the Buddha. They asked: “Venerable Sir, do ariyas use harsh language?” And the Buddha said: “Bhikkhus, ariyas do not use harsh words in derision. Yet, due to ingrained habit that had been acquired in successive past existence, harsh words may come to be used quite inadvertently.” The bhikkhus said: “Venerable Sir, the Venerable Pilindavaccha, when speaking to other persons, whether with lay persons or bhikkhus, would always call the other person ‘rascal.’ What is the reason for this?”

Bhikkhus, Pilindavaccha, in his previous five hundred successive existence, was born a high class brahmin who was used to calling every other person ‘rascal’ (vasala). That habit has become ingrained in him. He does not mean what he says in using the word ‘rascal’. He has no evil intent. His word, though harsh to hear, is harmless. An ariya, being without a trace of malice, incurs no blame for using such habituated harsh language.”

Further, the Buddha, on that occasion, spoke the following stanza:

Akakkasaṃ viññāpaniṃ,
giraṃ saccam udīraye;
Yāya nābhisaje kañ ci,
tam aham brūmi Brāhmaṇaṃ

He who speaks gently, informative and true words and who does not offend anyone by speech, him I call a Brāhmana (arahat).

——Dhammapada, v. 408——

At the end of uttering this stanza by the Buddha, many hearers gained enlightenment at various levels, such as sotāpatti-phala, etc. (It should be remembered that the word ‘rascal’ is harsh for someone to be used against him, but since Venerable Pilindavaccha had no malice in using it, it is not called a form of demeritorious speech.)

The Changing of Cubeb into Rat’s Droppings

One day, in the course of collecting alms-food in Rājagaha, the Venerable Pilindavaccha met a man entering the city with a bowl full of the cubeb, and asked him: “What is that in your bowl, you rascal?” The man was offended. He thought: “How inauspicious, early in the morning to be called a ‘rascal’. This bhikkhu deserves rude language to match his rudeness.” So thinking, he replied: “It is rat’s droppings, Venerable Sir.”

(Herein, Venerable Pilindavaccha used a harsh word without malice but in a friendly attitude, spoken out of sheer habit only; hence his word ‘rascal’ does not amount to use of harsh language. However, the man’s reply is full of anger and his intended harsh language used against an arahat has dire consequences that take immediate effect.)

The Venerable Pilindavaccha said: “So be it, rascal.” When that man went out of sight of the Venerable, he found to his astonishment that his bowl in which he had put the cubeb, was filled with rat’s droppings! Since the cubeb had a rough resemblance to rat’s droppings, to make sure he placed a few of the contents in his hands and crushed it, and surely it proved to be rat’s droppings only. He felt very unhappy. He was carrying his merchandise of the cubeb in a cart. He wondered whether all the cubeb in the cart had also turned into rat’s droppings. He went back to the cart and found that the cartload of cubeb had also turned into rat’s droppings. His spirits sank. With his hand pressed against his pained heart, he reflected: “This is the mishap befallen on me after mine meeting that bhikkhu. I am sure there must be some way to redeem this misfortune. (According to the Sinhalese reading:) ‘That bhikkhu certainly knows some magic. I should follow the bhikkhu, find out about him and see what it is all about.’”

Someone then noticed the cubeb merchant in a deeply agitated state and said to him: “Hey, man, you look so cross. What’s the matter with you?” The merchant related what had passed between him and Venerable Pilindavaccha. The man then said: “Friend, do not worry. You must have met our teacher the Venerable Pilindavaccha. Go with your bowl of rat’s droppings and stand in front of him. He will ask you: ‘What is that in your bowl, you rascal?’ Then you say to him: ‘That’s cubeb, Venerable Sir.’ The Venerable will say: ‘So be it, rascal,’ and you will find your bowl full of cubeb, and so is the whole cartload.” The merchant did as instructed and all his cubeb returned to its original state.

(c) Etadagga Title achieved

The Venerable Pilindavaccha, during the period before the Buddha appeared in the world, had been a Universal Monarch. He then made people established in the five moral precepts and thereby leading them the way to the deva-loka. Most of the devas, in the six deva realms pertaining to the Sensual Sphere, were indebted to him as the Universal Monarch who had brought them to those fortunate destinations. They paid homage to him day and night.

That was why when the occasion arose for the Buddha to announced distinguished disciples, He declared:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūnam Devatānaṃ piyamanāpānaṃ yadidaṃ Pilinda-vaccho.”

Bhikkhus, among my bhikkhu-disciples who are adored by devas, Bhikkhu Pilindavaccha is the foremost (etadagga).”

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