The Great Brahma Who Knows (Almost) Everything

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During the Buddha’s time, there was a monk who strived to develop his mind such that he could enter the realms of the gods.  He wanted to meet the gods, hoping that they can give him an answer to his question.

“Where does the four great elements cease without remainder?”

He worked hard and managed to reach the Heaven of the Four Great Kings. He happily posed his question to the gods there but none of them could answer it. They suggested that he should try to go to the higher heavens where the gods there had greater merit and wisdom.

Heeding their advice, he worked ever harder at his meditation. After some time, he managed to reach the next higher heaven – Heaven of the 32 Gods. Again, he posed his questions to the gods there. However they too could not answer him and gave the same advice – go to the higher heavens where the gods there had greater merit and wisdom.

He returned to earth and worked even harder. After some time, he managed to reach the next higher heaven – Heavens of the Yammas. However it was the same outcome. The gods there could not answer him and suggested that he should go to the higher heavens where the gods there had greater merit and wisdom.

This cycle continued for several times until he finally was able to reach the highest Heaven of all – Heavens of the Brahma. He went before the most supreme god – the Great Brahma – and posed his question. He had great expectations as the Great Brahma was known to be the wisest of all the gods.

The Great Brahma listened to the monk’s question and spoke.

“I am the Great Brahma, the Creator, the Uncreated, the Knower of All. There is nothing that the Great Brahma does not know”

The monk was thrilled and repeated his question once again.

“Where does the four great elements cease without remainder?”

The Great Brahma did not answer and instead repeated his words.

“I am the Great Brahma, the Creator, the Uncreated, the Knower of All. There is nothing that the Great Brahma does not know”

By then, the monk was frustrated. He asked his question for the 3rd time.

This time, the Great Brahma merely asked the monk to come close. He whispered in the monk’s ears.

“Venerable monk, do not embarrass me. The gods that you see around us all think the world of me. They believe that I know everything.”

“I do not know the answer to your question. So stop asking!”

The monk was taken aback. He was shocked beyond words and could only managed to utter a weak response.

“If even the Great Brahma does not know the answer, then who would?”

“Foolish monk! The Buddha is on earth and he definitely knows everything. Why don’t you ask him?”

The monk returned to earth and reported to the Buddha about what had happened. The Buddha comforted the monk and gave him the answer to his question.

“Nirvarna is where the four great elements cease without remainder”.

 

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Wind, Flag and the Mind

The 6th Patriarch of Chinese Zen School, Hui Neng, was a man of great wisdom. After receiving teachings from the 5th Patriarch (Hung Jen), he was instructed not to take up ordination immediately as conditions were not ripe for him to propagate the dharma yet. He was told to wait and practice until the conditions ripened.

After practising in seclusion in the rural areas of China for 15 years, he received signs that conditions were ripe for him to take up ordination. He proceeded to Fa Hsin Temple in Canton (Present Day Guangzhou).

When he entered the Temple, a huge crowd had gathered as a high monk was going to give dharma teachings that day. As he was walking in, he found 2 monks disputing about a flag that was fluttering.

1st Monk : “The flag moves”

 2nd Monk: “It was the wind that moves”

The 2 of them argued about who was right. Hui Neng found this exchange interesting and remarked

“Dear Sirs! It is not the flag that moves. Neither was it the wind. It is your mind that moves.”

With that, he made his way into the temple and left the 2 monks in awe.

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How did Nagarjuna Die?

In ancient India,  there lived a young prince Shaktiman who desired to be King and was waiting for the day when he would take the throne when his father, the King, died. However for many many many years, the King showed no signs of ill health and looked as if he will live forever.

Shaktiman was extremely frustrated at his long wait and went to his mother to lament his unhappiness. It seemed as if he will never ever be King before he died. The Queen found it unbearable to see her son suffer and decided to tell him a secret.

“My son, Your father is a man with great merit and he is blessed with longevity because his life is linked to that of the great Pandit Nagarjuna who has attained the siddhi of immortality. For as long as Nagarjuna lives, so will your father. Resign to your fate that you will never be King”

Shaktiman was heartbroken at the news and collapsed onto the ground in grief. The Queen felt strongly for her son’s plight and made a suggestion.

“Nagarjuna is a great bodhisattva. He has great compassion and has made vows to fulfill the wishes of anyone who asks of him. If If you ask him for his head, he will give it to you.”

Desperate to be king, Shaktiman decided to try his luck. He went to see Nagarjuna and made his request.

Nagarjuna meditated over the request and in his meditation, saw that he had already benefit all the beings that he possibly could – there was no need for him to remain in the world any longer. Seeing that Shakiman was the last person who has karmic conditions with him to be tamed, Nagarjuna consented to give away his head. He closed his eyes and told Shaktiman that he can severe his head anytime.

The prince was overjoyed at Nagarjuna’s acceptance of his request. He immediately unsheathed his sword and took a swing at Nagarjuna’s head. However his sword could not severe Nagarjuna’s head.

He tried a few times but each time, the sword did not even manage to make a single cut on Nagarjuna’s neck. In anger, he raised his sword high and struck at Nagarjuna’s head with all his strength. The sword broke.

At this time. Nagarjuna opened his eyes and spoke

“Dear Prince, I had exhausted all karma of being harmed by weapons. Your sword cannot sever my head.”

Shaktiman was engraged and cried that Nagarjuna was a liar for agreeing to give up his head when he already knew that he could not be killed.

“Dear Prince, even though I have exhausted my karma to be harmed. There is still a karmic cause for me to give you my head.

In a previous life, I accidentally cut off the head of an insect when I was cutting kushu grass. This is the only karma that I had yet to purify.

 Due to this casue, the only way for me to die is if you take a stake of kushu grass and sever my head.”

 Shaktiman took up a stalk of kushu that Nagarjuna was sitting on and struck again. This time, Nagajurna’s head fell off effortlessly and milk flow poured forth.

This is the story of how Nagarjuna used his death as a lesson in the certainty of karma.

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2 Monks and A Woman

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An old monk and his student were travelling on their way to another town when they came to a river. They would have to cross the river in order to reach their destination.

Before they were about to cross the river, a beautiful young woman approached and respectfully asked

“Dear Venerable Sirs, I am on my way to visit my aunt in the town in front. I would have to cross the river to reach the town. However I am unable to do so as the water flow is too fast and I am afraid I will be swept away by the currents. Can you please help to carry me across the river?”

The old monk immediately agreed and proceed to lift her up. He then asked his student to follow him and all three of them crossed the river successfully.  The young woman was very grateful. She thanked the old monk and proceeded on her way.

The old monk and his student also continued their journey. However after 1 hour, the student spoke,

“Master, I have a question. The monks vows state that we are to keep a respectful distance from woman and must avoid all physical contact with them. Am I correct, Master?

“Yes. Young one.

“Master, why then did you agree to carry that young woman just now?”

“Young one, I have already stopped carrying her at the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

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Taming the Mad Elephant

Buddha had a cousin, Devadatta, who was extremely jealous of him. Devadatta felt that he himself was as good as Buddha and was jealous that people ignored him and did not honour him the way they honoured the Buddha.

He was always thinking of ways to harm the Buddha.

One day he devised a plot to kill Buddha. He knew that day Buddha was going to pass through a particular town. Before the Buddha came into the town, he brought the elephant to the town, hiding it beside a wall. He then fed the elephant a lot of liquor to make it drunk. His plan was to make use of the drunken elephant and trampled Buddha to death.

When he saw from a distance that the Buddha was coming, he immediately use sticks to beat the elephant brutally. The drunken elephant was in great pain and was totally enraged. Seeing this, Devadatta immediately released the elephant in the direction of the Buddha.

Overwhelmed with anger and pain, the elephant was now mad and started at full speed towards the Buddha. It raised its ears, tail and trunk, making a lot of noise. It was as if thunder was striking. All the disciples who were with Buddha was horrified at this terrible sight and scrambled to flee from harm’s way. Only Ananda, Buddha’s attendant, stood firmly beside the Buddha.

At that time, Buddha himself remained totally at ease and composed. He took a look at the elephant and felt great love and compassion for the poor beast. He stood where he was and radiated his loving-kindness towards the elephant.

Buddha’s love and compassion was so strong and powerful that the elephant could feel it. Just a few steps before it was about to charge into the Buddha, it stopped in its path and calmed down. It then trotted towards Buddha and respectfully bow its head.

Buddha stroked the elephant’s trunk and comforted it with soft & kind words. The elephant was totally tamed.

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The Little Bird that Stops a Fire

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There is a Jataka tale (Stories of Buddha’s previous lives) when Buddha was born as a little bird that lived in a forest in India.

One day a huge fire started burning in the forest and all the animal were desperately trying to get out from its path. However fire was so burning so fast that many animals which were too slow perished.

Fearing for his life, the little bird flew up into the sky to escape. Up in the air, he could see that the fire will burn down the entire forest soon and all the animals in the forest will burned to death.

The little bird, overwhelmed by great compassion, generated bodhicitta and make an aspiration to save all the animals. He flew to a nearby lake and quickly dipped his wings into the lake to gather water. He then returned back to the forest and flapped his wings furiously over the fire.

By the power of his bodhicitta, it is said that those few drops of water caused the entire forest fire to be extinguished.

 

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Kisa Gotami and the Mustard Seed

During Buddha’s time, there lived a woman named Kisa Gotami. She married young and gave birth to a son. One day, the baby fell sick and died soon after. Kisa Gotami loved her son greatly and refused to believe that her son was dead. She carried the body of her son around her village, asking if there was anyone who can bring her son back to life.

The villagers all saw that the son was already dead and there was nothing that could be done. They advised her to accept his death and make arrangements for the funeral.

In great grief, she fell upon her knees and clutched her son’s body close to her body. She kept uttering for her son to wake up.

A village elder took pity on her and suggested to her to consult the Buddha.

“Kisa Gotami. We cannot help you. But you should go to the Buddha. Maybe he can bring your son back to life!”

Kisa Gotami was extremely excited upon hearing the elder’s words. She immediately went to the Buddha’s residence and pleaded for him to bring her son back to life.

“Kisa Gotami, I have a way to bring your son back to life.”

“My Lord, I will do anything to bring my son back”

“If that is the case, then I need you to find me something. Bring me a mustard seed but it must be taken from a house where no one residing in the house has ever lost a family member. Bring this seed back to me and your son will come back to life.”

Having great faith in the Buddha’s promise, Kisa Gotami went from house to house, trying to find the mustard seed.

At the first house, a young woman offered to give her some mustard seeds. But when Kisa Gotami asked if she had ever lost a family member to death, the young women said her grandmother died a few months ago.

Kisa Gotami thanked the young woman and explained why the mustard seeds did not fulfill the Buddha’s requirements.

She moved on to the 2nd house. A husband died a few years. The 3rd house lost an uncle and the 4th house lost an aunt. She kept moving from house to house but the answer was all the same – every house had lost a family member to death.

Kisa Gotami finally came to realise that there is no one in the world who had never lost a family member to death. She now understood that death is inevitable and a natural part of life.

Putting aside her grief, she buried her son in the forest. Shen then returned to the Buddha and became his follower.

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