Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Buddhist millionaire's angel (deva)

Hellmuth Hecker (trans.), Anathapindika: The Great Benefactor (BPS); Wisdom Quarterly
Devas as woodland  "wee people" ("Midsummer Eve," Edward Robert Hughes, 1909)

Deva at Wat Doi Suthep (ChristyB30/flickr)
The Buddhist millionaire Anathapindika (not a name but a title, "giver of alms" or "provider for the poor") and the wealthy woman Visakha were not only the foremost donors in the prosperous city of Savatthi (Jataka 337, 346, 465), their help was frequently requested by the Buddha whenever something needed to be arranged with the lay community.
But even the wealth of Anathapindika was limited. One day treasure worth 18,000,000 were swept away by a flash flood and washed out to sea. On top of that, he had loaned about the same amount of money to business friends [his fellow 1%] who did not repay him. He was reluctant, however, to ask for the money. Why? His fortune amounted to about five times 18,000,000. And he had already spent three-fifths of it for the forest monastery he donated, so his money was now running out.
Once a multi-millionaire, Anathapindika had now become poor. Nevertheless, he still continued to provide some food for the nuns and monks, even though it was only a modest serving of thin rice gruel.
Deva, Lantau island, Hong Kong (Joannazaf/flickr)
At that time a spirit (tree deva, dryad, woodland fairy) lived in the seven-storied palace above the gate-tower. Whenever the Buddha or a noble disciple [one attained to at least the first of the stages of enlightenment, likely the fourth] entered the house, the deva, following the rules of its realm, was obliged to step down from its place in order to honor the Great Ones.

This was very inconvenient for the deva. So it tried to think of a way to keep those enlightened ones out of the house. It appeared to a servant and suggested the cessation of alms giving. But the servant paid no attention to these urgings.
Then the [misguided] deva tried to turn the son of the house against the Buddhist monastics, but this also failed.
Finally, the deva appeared in its supernatural aura to Anathapindika himself and tried to persuade him to stop giving alms since he was now impoverished. Anathapindika (who was a stream enterer) explained, however, that he knew only three treasures:
  1. the Buddha, the Enlightened One
  2. the Dharma, the Teaching
  3. the Sangha, the Order of noble disciples [those who have attained whether ordained or not].
Buddha Earth-touching pose, fruit and money offering, Wat Phnom Pagoda, Phnom Phen, Cambodia (jeffreytsangphotography.com/flickr)
Because he was looking after these treasures, he told the deva to leave as there was no place in his home for adversaries of the Buddha.
Even the habitually harmful can do acts of merit
The deva, again following the laws of its realm, was forced to abandon that place. It went to the deity who was the divine protector of the city of Savatthi and requested an assignment to a new shelter. Instead, it was referred to a higher (celestial) "court," that of the Four Great Sky Kings of the cardinal directions.
But these four space rulers did not feel qualified to make a decision where noble ones were concerned, so they sent the homeless deva to Sakka, the king of the devas (of the World of the Thirty-Three as well as the subordinate celestial world of the Four Great Kings).
The millionaire's "angel"
Guardian angel (Pietro da Cortona, 1656)
In the meantime, however, the deva had become aware of its misconduct and asked Sakka to seek pardon on its behalf. The king of the devas required that as penance the deva (or angel of sorts) was to help Anathapindika regain his fortune.

First, the deva had to retrieve sunken gold; moreover, it had to procure unclaimed buried treasure; finally, it had to persuade Anathapindika's debtors to repay their debts.
With great effort, the deva fulfilled these tasks. In so doing, it appeared to the debtors in dreams and demanded repayment. Soon Anathapindika again had 54,000,000 and was able to be as generous as before.
The spirit appeared now before the Enlightened One and asked forgiveness for its malevolent behavior. It was pardoned, and after the Enlightened One had explained the Teaching, the deva became a disciple.

Moreover, the Buddha taught this fortunate deva that one who strove for perfection in giving could not be kept from it by anything in the world -- neither bad nor holy devas, nor gods, nor devils, nor threat of death (J 140; J 340).
After Anathapindika had become as wealthy as before, a Brahmin became jealous of his good fortune and decided to steal from him what, in his opinion, had made Anathapindika so wealthy:
He wanted to abduct the manifestation of Siri, the Goddess of Fortune, because he thought that fortune would then leave Anathapindika and come to him. He could then force her to do his bidding.
This strange perception was based on the idea that the so-called favors of fate, while a result of previous merit (good karma or store of beneficial deeds), are nevertheless dispensed by deities, who dwell in the beneficiary's house.
Deva or fairy (anaan)
The (misguided) Brahmin went to Anathapindika's house and looked around to see where the deva of fortune might be found.
Like many ancient Indians, this Brahmin priest had clairvoyant powers. He saw "Fortune" living in a white rooster kept in a golden cage in the palace. He asked the master of the house to give him the rooster to awaken his students in the morning. Without hesitation, generous Anathapindika granted the Brahmin's wish.
Just at that moment, the fairy "Fortune" wandered into a jewel. The Brahmin also requested this as a present and received it. The deva then hid in a staff, a self-defense weapon. After the Brahmin had successfully requested this, the manifestation of Siri settled down on the head of Puññalakkhana ["mark of merit"], Anathapindika's first wife, who was truly the good devi of the house and therefore had the protection of the devas.
When the Brahmin saw this, he recoiled in fright: "I cannot request his wife!" He confessed his greedy intentions, returned the gifts and, deeply ashamed, left the house.
Three Shrines
 Stupa burial mound/reliquary (vaishali.web.fc2.com)
Anathapindika went to the Buddha and told him of this strange encounter which had him perplexed. The Enlightened One explained the connection to him -- how the world is changed through merit (beneficial deeds) and how, for those with right insight through moral purification, everything is attainable, even nirvana (J 284).
Every time the Buddha stayed in Savatthi, Anathapindika visited him. The rest of the time he felt bereft of a tangible object of veneration and gratitude. So one day he told Ananda of his wish to build a shrine. When Ananda reported this to the Buddha, he answered that there are three types of shrines: memorials, monuments, and holy places.

Boudanath shrine (nepalamazing)
The first type was based upon a corporeal relic, which, after the death of a noble one, was enshrined in a burial mound reliquary (stupa).

The second is based on an object that had a connection with an enlightened one and had been used in life (such as an almsbowl).

The third is a symbol without a material object. Of these three visible supports for veneration, recollection, and honor the first was not yet a possibility as long as the Buddha was living.
The third possibility would not be appropriate for those unable to content themselves with a mere picture or a symbol. There remained only the second possibility.
Bodhi tree (exoticindiaart.com)
The Bodhi tree or "Tree of Enlightenment" in the grove in Uruvela seemed the best object to serve as a memorial to the Enlightened One. Under it the Buddha had opened the door to the deathless, to liberation, to freedom (nirvana). Under it he had taught and had remained in absorption (jhana). So it was decided to plant a small shoot of this tree in Savatthi.
Maha Moggallana, the Buddha's chief male disciple "foremost in psychic powers," brought a cutting from the tree. It was to be planted at the gate-tower of the Jeta Grove in the presence of the court and the most distinguished monastics and lay followers.
Ananda presented the sapling to the king for the ceremonial planting. But King Pasenadi replied, with princely humility, that he served in this life merely as a steward for the office of the king. It would be more appropriate that someone with a closer relationship to the Teaching consecrate the tree. So he presented the shoot to the millionaire Anathapindika, who was standing next to him.
The tree grew and became an object of devotion for all the pious laity. At the request of Ananda, the Enlightened One spent a night sitting under the tree in order to bestow on it another more distinguished consecration. Anathapindika often sought out the tree and used the memories associated with it and the spiritual upliftment which he received there to focus his thoughts on the Enlightened One (J 479).

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