Ekottarikāgama 19.3

The Exhortation of Śakra

Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying in Śrāvastī at Jetṛ’s Grove in Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park. Then Śakra the chief of gods approached the Exalted One and having approached, bowed down his head at the Exalted One’s feet. Standing at one side, he spoke thus to the Exalted One:

“How does a monk overcome sensuous greed, realise his heart’s release and, revered by gods and men, finally reach the ‘place of ultimate peace’ where there is no distress?”

“In this respect, Kauśika,” the Exalted One said to Śakra the chief of gods, “If a monk hears of the existential constituents as being empty and realises that there is nothing in terms of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, he perfectly understands and knows in accordance with fact, what all existential constituents are like. Whatever feeling he feels concerning his body, painful or pleasant, neither painful nor pleasant, in respect of this very body of his he contemplates thoroughly as being impermanent and as ultimately being empty. When he has contemplated the transitoriness of these feelings being … neither painful nor pleasant, no notions occur to him and therefore he is not afraid of anything. On account of his fearlessness he realises complete Nirvāṇa. He knows in accordance with fact: birth and death have come to an end and the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done and there will be no more coming into existence. So it is, Śakra, chief of gods, that a monk overcomes sensuous greed, realise his heart’s release and, revered by gods and men, finally reach the ‘place of ultimate peace’ where there is no destruction and distress.”

Then Śakra the chief of gods bowed down his head at the Exalted One’s feet, circumambulated him thrice and withdrew.

Now at that time Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana had gone to a place not far from the Exalted One’s and was sitting there cross-legged, straightening body and mind and cultivating recollection in front of him. Then it occurred to Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyan: as for “Śakra, I wonder whether he has penetrated what has been imparted to him or not. Now I should find that out. Then, with the help of his ‘bases of supernormal power’, Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, as one might bend and again stretch out one’s arm, instantly went to the Trāyastriṃśa gods. On seeing Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana coming from afar, Śakra the chief of gods rose and went to him respectfully, saying, “Welcome Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana! The Venerable has not come here for a very long time indeed. We hope the Venerable will favour us with an exposition of making clear the meaning of the Teaching and will take his seat here”.

Now Maudgalyāyan asked Śakra the chief of gods, “I should like to hear from you what the Exalted One taught you about overcoming sensuous greed. This the opportunity for you to let me know”.

“Just now,” replied Śakra the chief of gods, “I am extremely busy with heavenly affairs. I have both personal things to do and also things concerning the gods. I have forgotten what I was taught. Formerly, Maudgalyāyana, there was a battle with the demons. On the very day the fighting broke out, the gods were victorious and the demons retreated. I personally went to fight at that time. Soon after the victory I returned as leader of the gods and took my seat in the uppermost heavenly palace named Vaijayanta Palace. The palace was given this name on account of our victory in battle. Flights of stairs have been achieved and there is a series of roads worthwhile looking at. At the upper end of each of all the uppermost stairways belonging to the Vaijayanta Palace there are seven hundred gabled houses and up there in of them there are seven nymphs each of whom have seven attendants. Hopefully, Venerable Maudgalyāyana will take a look at them.”

Then the chief of gods Śakra and the heavenly ruler Vaijayanta, having stepped behind Venerable Maudgalyāyana, accompanied him to Vaijayanta Palace. On their arrival Śakra … and the heavenly ruler Vaijayanta said to Mahā-Maudgalyāyana: “This is Vaijayanta Palace; please fully enjoy seeing it.”

“This is a very fine place,” Maudgalyāyana said to the heavenly ruler. “It is all due to meritorious acts persistently performed in previous existences that as natural consequence this gem of a palace was obtained. It is just like people who, for a little while, are happy and congratulate themselves by saying, ‘It is like the heavenly palace—all is obtained due to meritorious acts performed in previous existences.’”

Now the nymphs to the left and right of Śakra, the chief of gods, ran away helter-skelter. Just like persons who are timid and shy, similarly the nymphs, a moment ago close to Śakra … , on seeing Mahā-Maudgalyāyana coming from afar, ran away panic-stricken. At the same time the following occurred to Mahā-Maudgalyāyana: “This Śakra the chief of gods is too much given to indolence. Now I should cause come feeling of terror.” Immediately, with the toe of his right foot, Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana touched the ground so that the palace began to tremble and quake in six ways. While both Śakra and Vaijayanta, frightened out of their wits so that their hair stood on end, thought: “This Mahā-Maudgalyāyana has indeed great psychic power in that he is capable of letting this palace start trembling and shaking. Absolutely extraordinary! Absolutely unparalleled! There has never been anything like this.” Then the following came into Mahā-Maudgalyāyana’s mind: “Now this Śakra is frightened out of his wits this is the occasion for my asking about the deep meaning of what the Exalted One told him.”

“How, Kauśika,” Maudgalyāyana asked ‘Sakra, “does one subject to sensuous greed over come it according to what the Tathāgata told you? This is the opportunity for you to speak to persons like me who are anxious to listen.”

“Maudgalyāyana,” replied Śakra the chief of gods, “a while ago I approached the Exalted One, bowed down my head at the Exalted One’s feet and stood to one side. Then I asked the Exalted One how a monk overcomes sensuous greed and realises his heart’s release; how he, revered by gods and men, finally reach the ‘place of unconditioned’ where there is neither distress or suffering. And these were the words of the Exalted One addressed to me: ‘In this respect, Kauśika, when a monk has listened to the teaching that there is nothing whatsoever to cling to, he does not cling to forms and fully realises that in respect of existential constituents there is nothing in terms of “I” and “mine”. Thus, after having understood what all existential constituents really are like, he thoroughly contemplates whatever painful, pleasant or neither painful nor unpleasant feelings he feels as being impermanent, non-existent, without any remainder whatsoever and as not being annihilated. On account of his contemplating in this manner there is nothing for him to cling to, no worldly notions occur to him and he is not afraid of anything. Because of his fearlessness he realises complete Nirvāṇa. He knows in accordance with this fact: birth and death have come to an end … and there will be no more coming into existence. So it is, Sakra … that a monk overcomes sensuous greed … and finally reaches the “place of the unconditioned” where there is neither distress nor suffering.’

“After listening to these words, I bowed down my head at the Exalted One’s feet, circumambulated him thrice, withdrew and returned to the heavenly regions.”

On receiving these words of profound teaching, Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana said goodbye to Śakra, the chief of the gods, and to Vaiśravaṇ. When the complete teaching had been communicated to Maudgalyāyana, he disappeared among the Trāyastriṃśa gods and went to Srāvastī, to Jetṛ’s Grove in Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park as quickly as a person might bend and again stretch out his arm. He approached the Exalted One, bowed down his head at the Exalted One’s feet and sat down at one side. Having taken his seat, Maudgalyāyana said to the Exalted One:

“The Tathāgata has imparted to Sakra, the chief of gods, the teaching as to how one overcomes greed. If only the Exalted One would impart to me also.”

“You shall know it,” the Exalted One replied to Maudgalyāyana, “Śakra … approached me … and standing at one side, he asked me to explain the problem to him as to how a monk overcomes sensuous greed and realises his heart’s release. I said to Śakra: ‘If a monk, Kauśika, fully understands that all existential constituents are empty and there is nothing in terms of “I” and “mine”, then there is nothing for him anymore to cling to. He fully realises that in respect of existential constituents there is nothing in terms of “I” and “mine” and, therefore, he knows all existential constituents to be impermanent, non-existent, without remainder and as not being annihilated. On account of his contemplating in this manner there is nothing for him to cling to … he realises complete Nirvāṇa. He knows in accordance with fact … no more coming into existence. So it is … that a monk overcomes sensuous greed and realises his heart’s release.’ Then Śakra … rose from his seat, bowed down his head at my feet, withdrew and returned to the heavenly regions.”

After listening to the Buddha’s words, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana was pleased and respectfully applied himself to his practice.