Thursday, October 1, 2015

Rebirth is strange (past lives)

Hellmuth Hecker, Maha-Moggallana, Buddhist Publication Society, Wheel No. 263 ( Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
The Lord of Death (Yama) consuming six planes of existence in samsara, Tibetan thangka.
Do you remember? Do you believe in rebirth?
Half a year before the final passing away (parinirvana) of the Buddha, the two friends and chief male disciples -- one foremost in wisdom, the other foremost in mystical powers -- met together for the last time.

Ven. Sariputra passed on the full-moon day of the month Kattika (October/November) at his birthplace, in his parent's home, far from his friend Ven. Maha Moggallana.

Just as their attainment of full enlightenment (arhatship, Buddhist "sainthood") occurred at different places, they were also separated in the end, even though they had been close for such a long time in this and other lives.
Soon after the passing of Sariputra, Mara [the "killer" or "obstructor of enlightenment and liberation"], the embodiment of harmfulness and the Lord of Death [a kind of Cupid and Tempter figure in Buddhism like Christianity's Satan but more of a very clever demonic Lucifer, beautiful and suffering from the severe delusion that he is king or lord of the Sensual Realm who insists on keeping living beings trapped in samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Death], claimed Maha Moggallana's mortal frame, by supernaturally entering his bowels.

Dr. Eben, Raymond Moody
Mara could not take possession of him by entering Maha Moggallana's head because he had access only to the lowest chakra [a speculation by the author]. Maha Moggallana, however, told him calmly to exit and go away as he quickly figured out why he suddenly felt heavy and tired. Tricky Mara was very surprised that he had been found out so quickly, and in his delusion he thought that even the Buddha with his powers could not have recognized him so quickly.

Anne Frank was reborn as a female Christian in Sweden named Barbro Karlen.
But Maha Moggallana read his thoughts and ordered him again to exit and go away. Mara exited through Maha Moggallana's mouth and stood at the meditation hut's door post. Maha Moggallana told him that he knew him not only from today but was aware of his karmic past and his descent through various rebirths.

In that way, Maha Moggallana manifested here three supernormal faculties: the Divine Eye, telepathy, and recollection of past lives. It was only on this occasion, reported in "The Middle Length Discourses" (Majjhima Nikaya, MN 50), that Maha Moggallana spoke of his recollection of his own distant past.
The following is the gist of what he told Mara. The first buddha appearing in our "fortunate aeon" (bhadda-kappa) with five buddhas [fully enlightened teachers who established the Dharma and Sangha, the Teaching and a monastic as well as an enlightened community, which are not the same but intersect], was Kakusanda. He lived when the lifespan of human beings was 40,000 years and when the first tarnishing of the "Golden Age" became evident because of a ruler's lack of concern and the occurrence of the first theft.

Because of that, human being's vital energy became reduced to half. At that time, Maha Moggallana was "Mara," chief of demons, lord of the lower worlds, and his name was Mara Dusi or "Mara the Corrupter."
  • [How is this possible? How could Maha Moggallana have in the past been Mara? It must be understood that from a Buddhist perspective, as laid out in Buddhist cosmology, the gods and many other figures are not persons but stations or posts. One can be born into them so that one might in one life be the "Moon God" in another life a human being in another life Maha Brahma (the "Great Supreme God" of a world system). One might even be reborn as a Sakka (a kind of St. Michael figure who casts out Lucifer from "heaven," but in that case "heaven" would be just one of the many heavens, a plane called "The Realm of the Thirty-Three," and "Lucifer" would be the chief of the titans (asuras) recently a being referred to as Vepacitti and so on. Suffice it to say that when a deity or ruler is spoken of, it is more like the president of the U.S. There will always be a president, but who will be the president is up for grabs. Likewise, there have been various buddhas, the rarest kinds of beings in the universe for they have developed the Ten Perfections, achieved full and complete enlightenment, and have decided to teach and make known the path to enlightenment to a benighted world and have established a community of monastic disciples, both nuns and monks, in addition to enlightened lay disciples.]
Science+rebirth: Miracles Happen by Dr. Weiss
Back when Maha Moggallana was [a] Mara, he had a sister by the name of Kali whose son later became the Mara of our age. Hence Maha Moggallana's own nephew at that time was now standing in front of him at the door post as Mara. While being the Mara of that distant time, Maha Moggallana had once attacked a chief disciple of the previous buddha by taking possession of a boy and making him throw a pot shard at the enlightened [and therefore innocent and morally blameless] disciple's head so that blood flowed.

When the Buddha Kakusandha saw this, he said: "Verily, Mara knows no moderation here" -- because even in infernal, "satanic," or evil actions there might be moderation. Under the glance of the Perfect One the astral body of Mara Dusi dissolved on the spot and reappeared in the deepest hell. Just a moment before he had been the overlord of all the hellish worlds [the subhuman planes of existence from the animal and ghosts realms down to the worst of all possible world called avici or the "waveless deep," a place of fire, brimstone, and torture unimaginable, the pit or chambers appropriated by Christianity and Catholicism to describe all "hells"] yet now he himself was one of hell's victims.

A moment before he had been the greatest torturer and now he himself was undergoing one of those terrible torments [impermanent but lasting what is personally experienced as a kind of "eternity"]. Such is the rapid change in samsaric situations. For many thousands of years Maha Moggallana suffered in hell as a karmic consequence of his frivolity towards a saint.

Ten thousand years he had to spend alone in a hellish pool with a human body but the head of a fish, just as Pieter Breughel had painted such beings in his pictures of the hells. Whenever two slow moving lances of his torturers impaling him crossed in his heart, he would know that a thousand years of his torment had passed. (MN 50).

8. Maha Moggallana's Previous Lives
Ven. Maha Moggallana was the Buddha's chief male disciple foremost in magical powers.
About his recollection of his own former existences, Maha Moggallana spoke only once, in the 50th sutra of the Middle Length Discourses (Majjhima Nikaya). With that text we shall deal in the following chapter.
In the Rebirth Tales (Jatakas), which are stories about some of the Buddha's former births, it is reported that the Buddha-to-be (the Bodhisattva) and Maha Moggallana had lived together quite often. In no less than 31 lives the Buddha and Maha Moggallana had met, and in 30 of the previous lives mentioned the Rebirth Tale, Maha Moggallana and Sariputra had lived together.
So strong was the bond that already in previous lives had connected these three [and also the chief female disciples, Ven. Khema and Ven. Uppallavana, who are often left out by the now male dominated monastic institution of Theravada Buddhism after the loss of the Bhikkhuni Sangha, the Nun's Community, which has fortunately made a comeback in spite of longstanding opposition].

Craving leads to rebirth.
To be sure, the 31 which have been recorded is a very small number compared with the countless lives through which every being in samsara -- the "continued wandering on" of rebirths steeped in ignorance of the truth or the way to liberation from all suffering -- has passed. Yet some general conclusions concerning Maha Moggallana can be drawn from them. It is, of course, not possible to reproduce here these 31 Rebirth Tales with all their details and embellishments. Only some general points can be mentioned here, which are important for understanding Maha Moggallana's life and personality.
The first thing we find from the Rebirth Tales is Maha Moggallana's close relationship to the Bodhisattva, the being developing himself and pursuing the Ten Perfections to eventually become a buddha, a fully and completely enlightened teacher.
  • What is a "fully and completely" enlightened teacher? Isn't that redundant? No, there is no redundancy here. Any average person can become enlightened by practicing the Path. But it is an extraordinarily almost nonexistent person that could ever become enlightened by his/her own efforts without a known Path. When the Dharma exists in the world, it is possible to locate the instructions and practice the Path that leads to enlightenment and liberation from all suffering. But when the Dharma fades away and is no longer known in the world, almost no one is liberated, no one reaches enlightenment. The very, very few who do are called Pacceka Buddhas, or non-teaching buddhas. Their buddhahood is full but not complete. If it were "complete" they would be able to teach. They have developed the Ten Perfections sufficiently to gain enlightenment on their own but not enough to be teachers. They can experience the benefits but would have difficulty teaching anyone else how to do that. A fully and completely enlightened teacher or samma-sam-buddha, will not only have gained enlightenment by personal exertion and effort, pursuing it over many, many lives, but will also have developed the requisite qualities and powers to effectively teach the Path, establish the Dharma in the world, and leave behind a community that continues on the practice and preserves the Teaching that leads to enlightenment even in this very life so that others may see and experience nirvana here and now.
Samsara is the "Wheel of Life and Death," the round of rebirth and suffering.
Another "Moon goddess," a Chandra devi.
Maha Moggallana and Sariputra were often the Bodhisattva's brothers (Jat. 488, 509, 543), his friends (Jat. 326), or his ministers (Jat. 401). Sometimes they were his disciples as wandering ascetics (Jat. 432, 522), or even his teachers (Jat. 539). Sometimes in the Rebirth Tales Sariputra is the son and Maha Moggallana the general of the royal Bodhisattva (Jat. 525). When the Buddha was Sakka, King of Devas [a station, a post like the U.S. presidency within this "world system," a term which may refer to a solar system, a galaxy, or a universe if the world is a multiverse], they were the Moon-god and the Sun-god respectively (Jat. 450).
  • Here "gods" means akasha devas -- spacefaring light-beings -- more in the sense of ancient Greek usage and the earlier biblical sense: In the Jewish and Christian Bibles (collections of disparate sacred texts), "God" is almost exclusively plural and refers to many gods in spite of all the sophistry and lip service to monotheism and there being only "One True All Powerful Eternal God." If "God" is plural but with many names and embodied in many beings, it is just like Hinduism with only one True God, a God who is a Trinity of three personalities, aspects, or embodiments, i.e., Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, just like YHWH/Jehovah of JudeoChristian lore, who is conceived and spoken of as the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer).
The second point worth noting is the relationship between Sariputra and Maha Moggallana. When, in the Rebirth Stories, both are seen to traverse all the heights and depths of samsara [the course of wandering through rebirth in various planes of existence], they sometimes play quite inferior parts in relation to the main figures of the respective stories.

There appears a certain lawfulness or orderliness in the stories insofar as in most cases the difference between them (their status) is larger to the degree their level of rebirth is lower, and there is less difference when their rebirth is on a higher level. When, for example, reborn as animals, they were rarely equals (only as swans, in Jat. 160, 187, 215, 476), and mostly it was Sariputra who was reborn as a higher species of animal. Thus they were snake and rat (Jat. 37), snake and jackal (Jat. 315), human and jackal (Jat. 490).

When born as human beings in worldly careers, Sariputra was always in a higher position than Maha Moggallana: as a royal prince and royal minister (Jat. 525), royal minister and son of a slave (Jat. 544), charioteer of the royal Bodhisattva and charioteer of King Ananda (Jat. 151). Once Maha Moggallana was the Moon deva and Sariputra the wise ascetic Narada (Jat. 535). But when both are ascetics or deities, they are mostly of equal states. But once it happened that Sariputra was only the Moon deity and Maha Moggallana the superior Sun god (Jat. 450); once Sariputra was the king of the nagas (dragons, reptilians, serpent deities) and Maha Moggallana the king of their foes, the suparnas (mythical birds, avian hybrid deities) (Jat. 545).
Phases of the Moon (Chandra) time lapse.
The only time when Maha Moggallana appears in the Rebirth Tales without Sariputra is a life in which he holds the office of Sakka, King of Devas. In MN 37, he admonishes one of his successors to that office. At that time, as Sakka, he also appeared on Earth to a miser in order to urge him toward the virtue of giving and in this way lead him to a better rebirth (Jat. 78). But another time, when Sariputra and Maha Moggallana lived on Earth, they were stingy merchants who had buried much money. After death, they were reborn close to their buried treasure, but as a snake and a rat due to their greed and attachment (Jat. 73).
There is also a story in which Maha Moggallana was reborn as a jackal. Seeing a dead elephant, he was so greedy for its flesh that he crept through an intestinal sphincter into the elephant's belly, ate as much as he could, but was then unable to get out again and suffering mortal fear -- an impressive symbol of the perils of sensual delights (Jat. 490).
In the famous Rebirth Tale about the Law of the Kuru people (Jat. 276), Maha Moggallana is a keeper of grain stores and Sariputra a merchant. Both were very careful in observing the law of not stealing. More
Saltwater on Mars? There's life as well. This photo shows a Martian body of water.

No comments: