Monday, June 9, 2014

The Buddha and King P. (sutra)

G.P. Malalasekera (Dictionary of Pali Names), Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly, as taught to us by the noble Czech-born scholar-monk Ven. Dhammadipa
The Buddha as a king Maitreya Jampa, Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal (fedMin/flickr)
Once, far to the west of Magadha (India), there was a discontented royal. From a distance he befriended an Indian king. They had never met, but they grew close as they exchanged gifts, and news, and outlooks on the world.
King Pukkusāti lived west of the Indus river in modern Taxila, Pakistan (which until 1948 was India next to Afghanistan). His friend was the Buddha's famous royal patron, King Bimbisara, who ruled Magadha.

Gold Buddha, Bodh Gaya, India (Chandrasekaran)
King Pukkusati heard of the Buddha's teachings and was so moved that he determined to begin meditating in his private quarters. His success in achieving the absorptions led him to renounce, then he was overcome with a longing to meet the Buddha.

He cut his hair and beard and became a wandering ascetic (shramana), like Prince Siddhartha had. And like Siddhartha, he crossed the Indus river into India. Before he could reach the Buddha, however, he stopped for the night and was given lodging in a potter's shed at the house of Bhaggava the potter in Rājagaha, the capital of King Bimbisara's kingdom. 

Buddha, Taxila Museum (Amir Taj)
The Buddha knew he was coming and arrived at the guest quarters in the potter's house after the king. The Buddha asked to be allowed to share it, and Pukkusāti -- having no idea that this was the Buddha -- readily agreed. They sat together for some time meditating in silence. The Buddha was impressed at the king's ability to meditate so deeply, apparently entering the absorptions.

When he emerged and was still meditating, the Buddha taught him the Dhātu-vibhanga Sutra (hear it below). The former king, now a wandering ascetic, immediately recognized that this could only be his professed teacher, the Buddha. At the end of the sutra, having had a noble attainment, he begged his forgiveness for not having paid him due honor when they met.

He then beseeched the Buddha to confer on him the higher ordination of a fully gone forth Buddhist monastic. The Buddha said yes and sent him to procure a proper alms bowl and saffron robe. On the way, however, Pukkusāti was gored to death by a mad cow.

When this seeming tragedy was reported to the Buddha, he explained that Pukkusāti was a non-returner and had therefore been spontaneously reborn [i.e., immediately, without the intervention of parents, but based instead solely on the power of karma] in the Pure Abodes (MN.iii.237 47).
  • The Pure Abodes are five special planes of existence in Buddhist cosmology (see graphic below). They are only open to non-returners, that is, those who have attained the third stage of enlightenment but pass away before full enlightenment. If one were fully enlightened, there would be no rebirth or disappointment (dukkha) at all. These unique planes from which there is no falling back, unlike all other "heavenly" worlds within the sensual, fine-material, and immaterial spheres. The heavens (sagga) are not immaterial planes. Most are composed of subtle material form, four are formless, and six are sensual within our own sphere the Kama Loka. (See graphic below for full listing of all these worlds).
In this context, Pukkusāti is spoken of as a "son or offspring of good family," "nobly born" (kulaputta, iii.238); see also J.iv.180 and DhA.ii.35.

Buddhist treasures being smuggled out of formerly Buddhist Pakistan and parts of Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan, which together once formed Gandhara, India, on the frontiers of ancient Shakya territory, the Buddha's hometown (
Sutra explanation
Derived from the Commentary
Indo-Greek Buddha coin (
In his comments on the Dhātuvibhanga Sutra, the great Buddhist commentator Buddhaghosa gives a long account of Pukkusāti (MA.ii.979 ff.). Compare it to the story of King Tissa of Roruva (ThagA.i.199ff.).
King Pukkusāti had been the king of Takkasilā (Taxila), a contemporary of King Bimbisāra (himself a stream enterer) of about the same age. A friendly al)liance was established between the two kings through merchants who traveled between their countries for purposes of trade.

Over time, although the two kings had never seen each other, there grew between them a deep bond of affection. King Pukkusāti once sent King Bimbisāra a gift of eight priceless garments in lacquered boxes. This gift was accepted at a special meeting of the entire court. King Bimbisāra wishing to return the favor but having nothing to match of a material nature, sent what he considered most precious:
He conceived of the idea of acquainting King Pukkusāti with the knowledge that there had appeared in the world of Three Jewels (ratanāni): the Buddha (Teacher), the Dharma (Teaching), and the Sangha (the intensively Taught). 

So he had inscribed on a golden plate, four cubits long and a span in breadth, descriptions of these Three Jewels and of various tenets of the Buddha's Dharma -- such as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipatthānā), the Noble Eightfold Path, and the 37 Requisites of Enlightenment.
This plate was placed in the innermost of several special caskets made of various precious materials and was taken in procession on the back of the state elephant to the frontier of King Bimbisira's kingdom. Similar honors were paid to it by the chiefs of other clan territories (janapadas rather than "countries") all the way along the route to Takkasilā.

Pukkusati's probable route: Afghan border policeman, Gosha district, Nangarhar, Pakistan border May 2, 2013 (Reuters/
When King Pukkusāti, in the solitude of his inner chamber, read the inscriptions on the plate, he was filled with boundless joy so much so that he decided to renounce the throne and the world.
He cut off his long hair and beard, donned fine robes like the coarse ones used by wandering ascetics of the day, and left the palace alone amid the lamentations of his subjects. They loved him and wanted him to say and lead them.
The Buddha (dharmadeshana)
He traveled the 192 leagues to the wealthy city of Sāvatthi, passing the gates of Jetavana, "Jeta's Grove," the famous Buddhist monastery where the Buddha frequently resided. But having understood from King Bimbisāra's letter that the Buddha lived in King Bimbisara's capital, Rājagaha, at Vulture's Peak monastery, he neglected to inquire if the Buddha was Jetavana. He continued his travels onward 45 leagues farther to Rājagaha, only to find that the Buddha was all the while residing in Sāvatthi.

As it was then evening, he sought lodging in Bhaggava's house. The Buddha, with his divine eye, saw what was in store for Pukkusāti. So traveling on foot from Sāvatthi, he reached Bhaggava's house at sundown. He awaited his opportunity to engage Pukkusāti in talk after a long period of meditation, which was fortuitous because it made the former king's mind and heart malleable and trainable.

When the Buddha taught him the "Analysis of the Elements Discourse" (Dhātu-vibhanga Sutra) -- which deals with the six major elements of earth, water, fire, air, space, and consciousness -- he was able to intuitively grasp and benefit from it, becoming a stream enterer then a non-returner very soon reborn fully enlightened.

"Analysis of the Elements Sutra" (Dhātuvibhanga Sutta). Meditate on this with headphones, pausing as needed, as the Buddha guides Pukkusati through the deepest levels of meditation, beyond the four material and four immaterial meditative absorptions (jhanas). Hearing this, Pukkusati was enlightened and became a non-returner, who was reborn in the Pure Abodes, where he attained nirvana without ever having to return from that world (MN 140).

After his untimely death -- which is explained in the Commentary as not being a natural or accidental occurrence -- Pukkusāti was reborn in a Pure Abode (suddhavasa) called the Avihā world where, together with six others, he became an arhat at the moment of his rebirth (see S.i.35, 60, for the names of the others and the remarkable story that led to this unusual immediate enlightenment).
Mad cow? The "cow" that killed Pukkusāti is explained, as so often happens in these strange situations, as having been a yakkhinī who was reborn a cow in 100 times. In her final rebirth as a cow, she killed, in addition to Pukkusāti, Bāhiya Dāruciriya (Bahiya "of the Barkcloth," famous in the sutras for becoming enlightened after hearing the briefest teaching of the Buddha), Tambadāthika, and Suppabuddha the leper (DhA.ii.35).
What is so remarkable about Pukkhusāti and the others who attained when reborn in the Aviha world is that they were some of the seven monks who, in the time of Kassapa Buddha, decided to abstain from eating until they should attain arhatship. They went to live on the top of a mountain and kicked down the ladder that had used to climb up to the top on.

The senior ascetic attained arhatship, the second became a non-returner, but the remaining five died of starvation -- after refusing the others' offers of food to sustain them in their practice. But they were proud and had made no such agreement to accept alms from those who had succeeded while fasting. The five were reborn in the Tusita world, a very exalted plane of existence.

In this age they became, respectively, Pukkusāti, Kumāra Kassapa, Bāhiya Dārucīriya, Dabba Mallaputta, and Sabhiya (Ap.ii.473; DhA.ii.212; UdA.81; but see MA.i.335, where only three are mentioned (Pukkusāti, Bāhiya Dārucīriya, and Kassapa).

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