Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kala: The Millionaire's Son

WQ edit from Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary, Part II (Story 26)

Better than sole sovereignty over the Earth...This instruction was given by the Buddha while he was in residence at Jetavana with reference to Kala, the son of Anathapindika (who was himself a multi-millionaire, the Buddha's greatest benefactor, and a stream-enterer).

Tradition has it that Kala, although the son of so distinguished a father, a treasurer endowed with confidence [based on his own attainment of the first stage of enlightenment], never showed any desire to visit the Buddha, or to see him when he came to his father's house, or to hear the Dharma, or to benefit the Order (Sangha).

Moreover, whenever his father said to him, "Dear son, do not do this," he paid no attention. Now his father thought to himself, "If this son of mine adopts such an attitude as this and acts accordingly, the Avici hell will be his rebirth destination. But it would not look good if my own son went to perdition before my very eyes. But there is no living being here in the world who may not be broken by gifts. I will therefore break him with gifts." So Anathapindika said to his son, "Dear Kala, take upon yourself the precepts of Uposatha [eight-precept observance] day: Go to the temple complex, listen to the Dharma, then return home. If you do, I will give you a hundred pieces of money."

"Will you really give me money, dear father?" asked Kala repeatedly.

"That I will, dear son" answered Anathapindika.

After his father had promised three times, Kala took upon himself the Eight Precepts of the observance day, undertaking to:

  1. abstain from taking life (both human and non-human)
  2. abstain from taking what is not given (stealing)
  3. abstain from all sexual activity
  4. abstain from telling lies
  5. abstain from using intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness
  6. abstain from eating at inappropriate times (the appropriate time is eating once, after sunrise, before noon)
  7. abstain from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics and garlands (decorative accessories)
  8. abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping
With these Uposatha day observances in mind, Kala went to the temple to practice all day and night. But not caring to listen to the Dharma, he lay down to sleep in a pleasant place and returned home early the next morning. Thereupon his father exclaimed, "My son, who has undertaken the precepts of the observance day, bring him rice-porridge and other food straightway!" Thus, Anathapindika had food brought and given to Kala.

But Kala refused and said, "Unless I receive the money I was promised, I will not eat!" So saying, he steadfastly refused whatever delicious food was brought to him. His father, unable to endure seeing him not eat, ordered the money be presented to his son. Kala took the money purse into his hands and ate all of the food that was brought to him.

On the following day, Anathapindika who was the City Treasurer of Savatthi, sent Kala forth, saying to him: "Dear son, I will give you a thousand pieces of money if you will stand before the Buddha, learn a single verse of the Dharma, and then return to explain it to me." Kala was glad to oblige. He went to the monastery and took his stand before the Buddha. But as soon as he had mastered a single verse, he desired to run away. Discerning this, out of great compassion, the Buddha caused him to misunderstand the meaning of the verse.

Failing to understand the verse, Kala said to himself, "I will master the following verse." So he remained and continued to listen. (Those who listen to the Dharma with a firm resolution to learn listen attentively. And to those who listen attentively, the Dharma gives the fruit of stream-entry and the remaining fruits). Kala listened to the Dharma with a firm resolution to learn. But as before the unexcelled Teacher caused him to misunderstand its meaning.

"I will master the following verse," said Kala. And so he remained and listened until he was established in the fruit of stream-entry -- the initial stage of enlightenment, the momentous turning point at which there is no falling back, the first time during all of Samsara (the ceaseless wandering on through countless aeons of repeated birth and death and immeasurable) at which point one has finally limited the remainder of "suffering" to no more than seven lives.

On the following day, Kala accompanied the Order presided over by the Buddha through the City of Savatthi. When the City Treasurer saw his son, he said to himself, "Today the demeanor of my son pleases me!" Immediately the following thought occurred to Kala: "I hope my father will not give me the money I was promised in the presence of the Buddha. I hope he will conceal the fact that it was for the sake of money that I took upon myself the precepts of the observance day." (Of course, the Buddha knew all the same that it was for the sake of money that Kala had taken upon himself the Eight Precepts on the preceding day).

Anathapindika presented rice-porridge to the Order presided over by the Buddha and then presented the same to his son. Kala sat down in silence, drank the porridge, ate the hard food, and then ate the boiled rice. When the Buddha had finished his meal, Anathapindika placed the purse containing a thousand pieces of money before his son and said, "Dear son, you will remember that I persuaded you to take upon yourself the observance day precepts and to go to the temple by promising to give you a thousand pieces of money. Here is your money!" When Kala saw the thousand pieces of money presented to him in the very presence of the Buddha, he was greatly embarrassed and said, "I do not care for the money."

"Take the money, dear son" urged the father. But the son refused to touch it.

Then Anathapindika saluted the Buddha and said, "Venerable sir, today the demeanor of my son pleases me."

"How is that, great treasurer?" asked the Buddha.

"The day before yesterday I sent him to the temple, saying to him, 'I will give you a hundred pieces of money.' Yesterday he refused to eat until I paid him the money. But today he eats and when I give him the money, he refuses to touch it."

The Buddha replied, "It is even so, great treasurer. Today, in attaining the fruit of stream-entry your son has attained that which surpasses the attainment of a World Ruler, the attainment of the world of the devas [deities in the heavens], the attainment of the world of Brahma [divinities in higher heavens]." So saying, he pronounced the following stanza:

Better than sole sovereignty over the Earth,
Better than going to heaven,
Better than rulership over all worlds
Is the fruit of entering the stream.
— Dhp 178

Buddhist Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary, Part II translated from Pali by E.W. Burlingame, selected and revised by Bhikkhu Khantipalo (accesstoinsight.org).