The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories

Dhammapada Verse 290
Attanopubbakamma Vatthu

Matta sukhapariccaga
passe ce vipulam sukham
caje mattasukhirh dhiro
sampassam vipulam sukham

Verse 290: If by giving up small pleasures great happiness is to be found, the wise should give up small pleasures seeing (the prospect of) great happiness.

1. vipulam sukham: According to the Commentary, it means the bliss of Nibbana.

The Story of the Buddha's Former Deeds

While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (290) of this book, with reference to the power and glory of the Buddha as witnessed by many people on his visit to Vesali.

Once, a famine broke out in Vesali. It began with a serious drought. Because of drought, there was almost a total failure of crops and many people died of starvation. This was followed by an epidemic of diseases and as people could hardly cope with the disposal of the corpses there was a lot of stench in the air. This stench attracted the ogres. The people of Vesali were facing the dangers of destruction by famine, disease and also by the ogres. In their grief and sorrow they tried to look for a refuge. They thought of going for help from various sources but finally, they decided to invite the Buddha. So a mission headed by Mahali, the Licchavi prince, and the son of the chief brahmin were sent to King Bimbisara to request the Buddha to pay a visit to Vesali and help them in their distress. The Buddha knew that this visit would be of much benefit to many people, so he consented to go to Vesali.

Accordingly, King Bimbisara repaired the road between Rajagaha and the bank of the river Ganga. He also made other preparations and set up special resting-places at an interval of every yojana. When everything was ready, the Buddha set out for Vesali with five hundred bhikkhus. King Bimbisara also accompanied the Buddha. On the fifth day they came to the bank of the river Ganga and King Bimbisara sent word to the Licchavi princes. On the other side of the river, the Licchavi princes had repaired the road between the river and Vesali and had set up resting places as had been done by King Bimbisara on his side of the river. The Buddha went to Vesali with Licchavi princes but King Bimbisara stayed behind.

As soon as the Buddha reached the other bank of the river heavy rains fell in torrents, thus cleansing up Vesali. The Buddha was put up in the rest-house which was specially prepared for him in the central part of the city. Sakka, king of the devas, came with his followers to pay obeisance to the Buddha, and the ogres fled. That same evening the Buddha delivered the Ratana Sutta and asked the Venerable Ananda to go round between the threefold walls of the city with the Licchavi princes and recite it. The Venerable Ananda did as he was told. As the protective verses (parittas) were being recited, many of those who were sick recovered and followed the Venerable Ananda to the presence of the Buddha. The Buddha delivered the same Sutta and repeated it for seven days. At the end of the seven days, everything was back to normal in Vesali. The Licchavi princes and the people of Vesali were very much relieved and were overjoyed. They were also very grateful to the Buddha. They paid obeisance to the Buddha and made offerings to him on a grand and lavish scale. They also accompanied the Buddha on his return journey until they came to the bank of the Ganga at the end of three days.

On arrival at the river bank, King Bimbisara was waiting for the Buddha; so also were the devas and the brahmas and the king of the Nagas with their respective entourage. All of them paid obeisance and made offerings to the Buddha. The devas and the brahmas paid homage with umbrellas, flowers, etc., and sang in praise of the Buddha. The Nagas had come with barges made of gold, silver and rubies to invite the Buddha to the realm of the Nagas; they had also strewn the surface of the water with five hundred kinds of lotuses. This was one of the three occasions in the life of the Buddha when human beings, devas and brahmas came together to pay homage to the Buddha. The first occasion was when the Buddha manifested his power and glory by the miracle of the pairs, emitting rays of light and sprays of water; and the second was on his return from the Tavatimsa deva world after expounding the Abhidhamma.

The Buddha, wishing to honour the Nagas, then paid a visit to the realm of the Nagas accompanied by the bhikkhus. The Buddha and his entourage went in the five hundred barges brought by the Nagas. After his visit to the realm of the Nagas, the Buddha returned to Rajagaha accompanied by King Bimbisara. They arrived at Rajagaha on the fifth day. Two days after their arrival at Rajagaha, while the bhikkhus were talking about the amazing grandeur and glory of the trip to and from Vesali, the Buddha arrived on the scene. On learning the subject of their talk, the Buddha said to them, "Bhikkhus, that I have been revered so much by brahmas, devas and human beings alike and that they have made offerings on such a grand and lavish scale to me on this occasion is not due to the power I now possess; it is simply because I had done some small meritorious deeds in one of my previous existences that I now enjoy such great benefits". Then the Buddha related the story of one of his past existences, when he was a brahmin by the name of Sankha.

Once there was a brahmin named Sankha who lived in the city of Taxila. He had a son named Susima. When Susima was sixteen years old, he was sent by his father to another brahmin to study astrology. His teacher taught him all that should be learnt, but Susima was not fully satisfied. So, his teacher directed him to approach the paccekabuddhas who were then staying in Isipatana. Susima went to Isipatana, but the paccekabuddhas told him that he must first become a bhikkhu. Thus, he became a bhikkhu, and was instructed how to conduct himself as a bhikkhu. Susima diligently practised meditation and he soon comprehended the Four Noble Truths, acquired Bodhi nana, and became a paccekabuddha himself. But as a result of his previous kamma Susima did not live long; he realized parinibbana soon afterwards.

Sankha, the father of Susima, came in search of his son, but when he arrived he only found the stupa where the relics of his son were enshrined. The brahmin felt very much distressed at the loss of his son. He proceeded to clean up the precincts of the stupa, by clearing away grass and weeds; then he covered up the ground with sand and sprinkled it with water. Next, he went into the nearby woods for some wild flowers and stuck them on the wet ground. In that way, he offered his services and paid respect to the paccekabuddha who was once his son. It was because of that good deed done in that previous existence of his that the Buddha gained such benefits, that he was showered with such lavish offerings, that he was shown such deep reverence and great devotion on that particular occasion.

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 290: If by giving up small pleasures great happiness is to be found, the wise should give up small pleasures seeing (the prospect of) great happiness.



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*Verse 416
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*These two stories have the same verse.