Extract 2 - How Mahā-Kassapa Was Deceived
Ven. Webu Sayadaw: There is a king of the Tāvatiṃsa Deva plane called Sakka, isn’t there?
Disciple: Yes sir.
Sayadaw: Yes, he is there alright. Sakka, the king of the Tāvatiṃsa world, does exist. Now, how did he become Sakka, the lord of the Tāvatiṃsa Devas? What merit did he accumulate?
D: He accumulated merit in a former life, sir.
S: It is one thing to accumulate merit in the time when a Buddha’s Teachings are available, but Sakka’s efforts were strong even during the time when the Teachings were not there; he depended on his own efforts alone.
He was a wealthy man. He didn’t have to worry at all about eating and drinking, and he didn’t even have to spend a kyat or half a kyat for a nourishing meal. So he was without any burdens. What did he do? He employed skilled tradesmen and labourers and worked day and night with them without resting. What was he doing? He was working for the welfare of the people. He dug wells and tanks in places where there were none. He built good roads for the travellers and thus spent his life working for the happiness of others. When he worked near his home he stayed at his house, but when his project was in a far off place he worked without even going home. He was happy when others were upright and there were many people working alongside him. Having worked like this without a break one can face the present and the future. Sakka worked without ever resting until the end of his life span, and because of this he became Sakka.
After the Buddha was awakened and the Triple Gem arose in the world, beings were reborn in the Tāvatiṃsa world at the end of their allotted life span through the force of the merit they attained by revering the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha. As Sakka is the king of that plane, the other Devas have to go to show him their respects and venerate him. And what happened? Now these Devas and Devīs who had come to the Tāvatiṃsa world as a result of just a small amount of service to the Triple Gem also came to pay respects to Sakka, but their clothes, their bodies, their means of transport and palaces were shining so brightly and splendidly that King Sakka’s clothes, body, and palace faded and could hardly be seen in the dazzling light — that’s what happened.
Now Sakka’s splendid colours and his splendour had not disappeared, but it was outshone by these Devas and therefore faded. It wasn’t apparent any more. It was just like the stars and the moon. When they shine and sparkle at night you look and you can see them. You see them and admire their brightness. But when dawn comes, the sky becomes light. Then the sun comes out, and what happens? Is the light of the stars and the moon still there?
D: The light is still there, sir.
S: Can you see it?
D: The light of the sun outshines them, sir.
S: But can you still see the moon and the stars? Where have they gone?
D: They haven’t gone anywhere, sir. They are still there, but because the sunlight is so bright we can’t see them, sir.
S: The same was true for Sakka. The Devas and Devīs who had been reborn in the Tāvatiṃsa world due to the merit they had gained by showing their respect for the Buddha and his Teachings were like the rising sun, and the colours and the glow coming from Sakka faded into obscurity. Now — dear, oh dear! — he was so ashamed he didn’t know how to act surrounded by these Devas. He wished his head would split into many pieces. That’s how humiliated he was by all this.
When these Devas arrived near Sakka’s palace, the shine from his clothes, his body, and his surroundings just faded away — so enormous is the difference between merit accumulated within the Sāsana and merit accumulated outside the Sāsana.
Now Sakka was so embarrassed and put out by this that he didn’t dare go out any more, and he seems to have remained in hiding.
D: I think Sakka must have been very upset, sir.
S: Wouldn’t you be?
D: I would also be very depressed, sir.
S: Even though he was a king, he was in deep trouble. You see, both are good (kusala) actions and give merit, but just a little bit of effort within the Sāsana and you get a great deal. That’s the difference. But Sakka couldn’t change what had happened in the past. Only later did he become powerful again. He understood, “Indeed, the good deeds of charity and other virtuous actions performed within the Sāsana are exceedingly great. They are so much greater than actions performed outside the Sāsana.” But even though he understood this, he couldn’t do anything about it. He had to continue living as he was.
Once he understood about the importance of doing meritorious deeds during the Sāsana, he told the Devas and Devīs in his entourage to do good deeds, and they immediately went off to act. They went to where Venerable Mahā-Kassapa lived, and the monk asked them, “Where do you come from?” They replied, “We come from the Tāvatiṃsa world with the intention of performing meritorious deeds, venerable sir.”
Mahā-Kassapa, however, said, “Today, I intend to give beings who are suffering the opportunity of rising above their condition by performing good (kusala) deeds. As for you, you are privileged beings. You may return to where you came from.” So they had to return to the Tāvatiṃsa world without gaining any merit.
When they reported back to Sakka, he thought to himself, “But I have to get this special merit somehow.” Well, he knew that it was good to pay respects to the noble monks when they came out of the Cessation State (nirodha-samāpatti), so he transformed himself into an old man near Rājagaha — an old man who was very, very poor, without any sons or daughters or grandchildren to look after him. He had to work for a living, even though his body was frail and trembling. He also created a shaky little hut where he lived without any comfort. Sakka’s queen, Sujātā, also transformed herself into a decrepit old woman with drooping eyelids and wrinkled skin. And they both lived out in the countryside.
Well, when Mahā-Kassapa saw them, he thought, “These poor old people are poverty stricken and pitiable. They have to work for food and drink, even at the advanced age of eighty or ninety. Today, I’ll give these two suffering people an opportunity to rise above their condition.” And he stopped at a discreet distance from their hut. Sakka and Sujātā, of course, were only pretending. Still keeping up their deception, they slowly opened their eyes and shielded them with their hands, as if they were trying to see better. Then they approached Mahā-Kassapa.
“Venerable sir,” they asked, “are you Venerable Mahā-Kassapa? We are very poor and still have to spend our time working for our daily upkeep. Since you have come, venerable sir, we as disciples will be able to render you a service. Please let us gain merit.”
It was necessary for them to deceive him, you see, because if the lie was found out, they wouldn’t be able to accomplish what they wanted to do. So they approached Mahā-Kassapa very shyly, very humbly, and then placed celestial food in his bowl. They placed the food in the bowl in the proper manner, and they gave ample portions. As Sakka was offering the food, he said, “Because we venerate generosity and those who receive generous gifts, we offer this with our own hands and with deep respect, sir.”
The celestial food, of course, gave off a very pleasant odour. Mahā-Kassapa investigated the matter and realized what Sakka and Sujātā had done. He had not realized before as a matter of course. It was only when he looked into the matter that he knew what had happened. How could he have known before he investigated? Even though he was an Arahat, endowed with great power and supernormal knowledge, he did not know things automatically.
D: Did he not know because he had not concentrated on this matter, sir?
S: When Mahā-Kassapa did not concentrate on a given matter, he did not know about it.
D: That’s why he was deceived, sir.
S: But now, Mahā-Kassapa said, “You are Sakka, aren’t you?”
“That is correct, sir.” Sakka replied. “We did this, sir, because we had to endure so much suffering and distress.”
“You are living in a blissful existence with great riches and all sorts of pleasures, aren’t you?” Mahā-Kassapa said.
“Yes,” Sakka said, “as Sakka I enjoy all these things, sir. I obtained all this power and these pleasures because of the merit I performed when a Buddha-Sāsana was not available. Now that a Buddha has arisen, beings are reborn in the Tāvatiṃsa world as a result of very small deeds they have done. When they come to worship me, they shine so brightly that my own splendour fades away into nothing. Not only that, when they come near my palace, I have to hide, sir.”
He had to hide because he was ashamed, you see. He suffered a great deal. He was a powerful king, but he suffered when his subjects came to wait on him. He was powerless to change the situation, and his whole world collapsed. “It would be better if my head split into pieces,” he thought. His suffering was that great. That is why he told Mahā-Kassapa, “We are also suffering beings.”
Well, once he was successful in performing more merit, he too began to shine. Then poor Sakka could smile and enjoy himself again.
You see, he had accumulated merit in the past, but the merit acquired outside a Buddha-Sāsana and the merit acquired during one are vastly different. I can’t stress this enough. So now is the right time; this is a good existence, isn’t it?