The Deva Bhikkhu
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The Deva Bhikkhu
[Presented by PLWK @ DhammaWheel (From Sayâdaw U Pandita)]
6. Chariot to Nibbâna
Once, when the Buddha was staying in the Jeta Grove near the ancient city of Sâvatthî in India, he was visited in the wee hours of the night by a deva, come down from the heaven realms with a retinue of a thousand companions.
Although the deva's radiance filled the entire grove, he was nonetheless visibly distraught. He paid respects to the Buddha and then launched into the following lament: "O Lord Buddha," he cried, "devaland is so noisy! It's full of racket from all these devas. They look like petas (unhappy ghosts) to me, frolicking in their own land. Confusing it is to be in such a place. Please show me a way out!"
This was an odd speech for a deva to make. The heaven realms are characterized by delight. Their residents, elegant and musically inclined, hardly resemble petas who live in extreme misery and suffering some petas are said to have gigantic bellies and pinhole mouths, so that they feel a constant, terrible hunger which they cannot satisfy.
Using his psychic powers, the Buddha investigated the deva's past. He learned that only recently this deva had been a human being, a practitioner of the Dhamma. As a young man he had had such faith in the Buddha's doctrine that he left home to become a bhikkhu. After the required five years under a teacher, he had mastered the rules of conduct and community life and had become self-sufficient in his meditation practice. Then he retired to a forest alone. Because of his tremendous wish to become an arahant, the bhikkhu's practice was extremely strenuous. So as to devote as much time as possible to meditation, he slept not at all and hardly ate. Alas, he damaged his health. Gas accumulated in his belly, causing bloating and knife-like pains. Nonetheless the bhikkhu practiced on single-mindedly, without adjusting his habits. The pains grew worse and worse, until one day, in the middle of walking meditation, they cut off his life.
The bhikkhu was instantly reborn in the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods, one of several deva realms. Suddenly, as if from a dream, he awoke dressed in golden finery and standing at the gates of a glittering mansion. Inside that celestial palace were a thousand devas, dressed up and waiting for him to arrive. He was to be their master. They were delighted to see him appear at the gate! Shouting in glee, they brought out their instruments to entertain him.
Amidst all this, our poor hero had no chance to notice that he had died and been reborn. Thinking that all these celestial beings were no more than lay devotees come to pay him respects, the new deva lowered his eyes to the ground, and modestly pulled up a corner of his golden outfit to cover his shoulder. From these gestures, the devas guessed his situation and cried, "You're in deva-land now. This isn't the time to meditate. It's time to have fun and frolic. Come on, let's dance!"
Our hero barely heard them, for he was practicing sense restraint. Finally some of the devas went into the mansion and brought out a full-length mirror. Aghast, the new deva saw that he was a monk no more. There was no place in the entire heaven realm quiet enough to practice. He was trapped.
In dismay he thought, " When I left my home and took robes, I wanted only the highest bliss, arahantship. I'm like the boxer who enters a competition hoping for a gold medal and is given a cabbage instead!"
The ex-bhikkhu was afraid even to set foot inside the gate of his mansion. He knew his strength of mind would not last against these pleasures, far more intense than those of our human world. Suddenly he realized that as a deva he had the power to visit the human realm where the Buddha was teaching. This realization cheered him up.
"I can get celestial riches any time," he thought, "but the opportunity to meet a Buddha is truly rare." Without a second thought he flew off, followed by his thousand companions.
Finding the Buddha in the Jeta Grove, the deva approached him and asked for help. The Buddha, impressed by his commitment to practice, gave the following instructions:
"O deva, straight is the path you have trodden. It will lead you to that safe haven, free from fear, which is your goal. You shall ride in chariot that is perfectly silent. Its two wheels are mental and physical effort. Conscience is its backrest. Mindfulness is the armor that surrounds this chariot, and right view is the charioteer. Anyone, woman or man, possessing such a chariot and driving it well, shall have no doubt of reaching nibbâna."
***********To be continued************