The Story of Sukha the Novice: All Success Comes from Merit

Dear Dhamma friends, dear children,

Some people only get the chance to collect merit very rarely. On that occasion, by thinking wisely, they do meritorious actions. If they don’t think wisely they will miss the chance. This story is about a wise person who took the greatest advantage from the opportunity he received.

A long time ago there lived in Benāres a youth named Gandha, and he was the son of the principal treasurer of the city. When his father died, the steward of his property opened the door of his storeroom and said to him, “Master, now you are the possessor of all this wealth which once belonged to your father, and of all this wealth which once belonged to your grandfather and to those who went before him.” And when he had so said, he brought out store after store of treasure and showed them to him. Gandha looked at the stores of treasure and said, “But why did they not take this treasure with them when they went to the other world?”

“Master, there are none that can take their treasure with them when they go to the other world. All that men take with them when they die is their kamma, whether it is good or whether it is evil.”

When Gandha heard this, he thought to himself, “How foolish of them them to amass all these treasures and then to go away and leave them! As for me, I will take them with me when I go.” This was the thought that passed through Gandha’s mind. But instead of saying to himself, “I will give alms. I will render honor to whom honor is due,” he reflected, “I will eat up all this wealth before I go.”

Accordingly he spent a hundred thousand gold coins in building a bath-house of crystal. At a cost of a hundred thousand gold coins he had made a bath-seat of crystal. At a cost of a hundred thousand gold coins he had made a couch to sit on. At a cost of a hundred thousand gold coins he had made a bowl for his food. At a cost of a hundred thousand gold coins he caused to be built a pavilion over his dining-hall. At a cost of a hundred thousand gold coins he had made a copper-plated holder for his bowl. At a cost of a hundred thousand gold coins he had a magnificent window built in his house. For his breakfast he spent a thousand gold coins, and for his evening meal he spent a thousand gold coins. And for the purpose of providing himself with food at midday on the day of full moon he spent a hundred thousand gold coins.

On the day when he intended to eat this food, he spent a hundred thousand gold coins in decorating the city, caused a drum to be beaten and the following proclamation to be made, “Let all behold the manner in which Gandha eats his meals.” Straightway the people of the city assembled, bringing with them beds and couches. And Gandha, having first bathed in his bath-house which had cost him a hundred thousand gold coins, in perfumed water drawn from sixteen containers, seated himself on his couch which had cost him a hundred thousand gold coins. Having so done, he opened his magnificent window and displayed himself to view, seated on that couch. And his servants placed his bowl in that copper-plated holder and served him with food. In such splendor, surrounded by a company of dancers, did Gandha enjoy that feast.

A short time afterwards a certain villager came to the city and staid in the house of a friend. Now it so happened that it was the day of full moon. On this day men went about the city beating drums and crying out, “Let all behold the splendor in which Gandha takes his meals.” The villager’s friend said to him, “Have you ever seen the splendor in which Gandha takes his meals?” “No, my friend,” said the villager. “Well then, come, let us go. There is the drum making the rounds of the city. we shall see great splendor and magnificence.” So the city man took the countryman with him, and they went out together. The people of the city climbed on beds and couches and looked on.

Just then the villager smelled the savor of food and said to the city man, “I feel greedy for that bowl of rice.” “Friend, do not wish for that. You could never get it.” “Friend, if I do not get it, I shall not be able to live any longer.” The city man, unable to restrain the villager, standing in the outer circle of the crowd, cried out three times with a loud voice, “I bow myself before you, master.”

“Who is that?” said Gandha.

“It is I, master.” “What is the matter?”

“There is a certain villager here who is greedy for the rice in your bowl. Please give him just a morsel of rice.”

“He cannot have it.”

“Friend, did you hear what he said?”

“Yes, I heard. ‘If I can have some of the rice, I can live. But if I cannot have it, I shall surely die.’”

Thereupon the city man cried out again with a loud voice, “Master, this villager says that if he cannot have some of your rice, he will surely die. Spare his life, I beg you.”

“Sir, every morsel of rice is worth a hundred gold coins, two hundred gold coins. If I give rice to everyone who asks for it, what shall I have to eat myself?”

“Master, if this villager cannot have some of your rice, he will die. Spare his life, I beg you.”

“He cannot have it. However, if it be really true that unless he receives some of the rice he will die, let him work for hire for me for three years. If he will do that, I will let him have the bowl of rice.”

When the villager heard that, he said to his friend, “So be it, friend.” Then he took leave of his son and wife, saying to them, “I intend to work for hire for three years in order to obtain this bowl of rice.” And having so said, he entered Gandha’s house. During his term of service he performed all of his duties most faithfully. Whether in the house or in the forest, whether by day or by night, all the duties which fell to him were performed just as they should have been. He became known to all the residents of the city as Food-earner, Bhattabhatika.

When his term of service was completed, Gandha’s steward said to his master, “Bhattabhatika’s term of service is now completed. It was a difficult task he performed for the space of three years in working for hire. Not a single piece of work he undertook was done incorrectly.” Gandha gave orders to all the members of his household, except his own dear wife Cintamani, to wait on that day upon Bhattabhatika only, saying, “Today you are to render precisely the same attentions to him as you have been accustomed to render to me.” So saying, he bestowed his own state upon Bhattabhatika.

So Bhattabhatika bathed in the same kind of water as that in which Gandha had been accustomed to bathe, and in the same bath-house, and sat on Gandha’s bath-seat after his bath, and put on Gandha’s garments, and sat down upon Gandha’s couch. And Gandha caused a man to go about the city beating a drum and crying out, “Bhattabhatika worked for hire in the house of Gandha for the space of three years, and by so doing obtained for himself a bowl of rice. Let all look upon the splendor and magnificence in which he eats his meal.” The people of the city climbed beds and couches and looked on. Every place Bhattabhatika looked at quaked and shook. Dancers stood in attendance about him. Servants brought the bowl of rice to him and set it before him.

When it was time for him to wash his hands, a certain paccekabuddha on Mount Gandhamāna arose from a state of meditation which had lasted seven days, and considering within himself, “Where shall I go today to receive alms?” saw Bhattabhatika. Then this thought occurred to him, “This man has worked for hire for three years and by so doing has received a bowl of rice. Has this man faith or not?” Perceiving that he had faith, the paccekabuddha considered further, “Even they that have faith do not always take the trouble to give alms. Will this man take the trouble to give alms to me?” Immediately he became aware of the following, “He will surely bestow favor upon me, and by bestowing favor upon me he will earn for himself a rich reward.” So the paccekabuddha put on his upper robe, took his bowl in his hand, and soaring through the air, alighted in the middle of the assembly and showed himself standing before his very face.

When Bhattabhatika saw the paccekabuddha, he thought to himself, “Because I have not previously given alms, it has been necessary for me to work for hire in the house belonging to someone else for three years in order to obtain the bowl of rice. This rice which I have just received will keep me for a night and a day. But if I give this to this noble person, it will keep me for countless millions of cycles of time. I will give it to this noble person and to none other.” Thereupon Bhattabhatika, who had earned possession of the bowl of rice by working for hire for three years, without so much as putting a morsel of rice in his mouth, suppressed his desire, took the bowl in his own hands, and went to the paccekabuddha and placed the bowl in the hands of another. Then he worshiped the paccekabuddha, and taking the bowl in his left hand, with his right hand poured the rice into the bowl of the paccekabuddha. When half of the rice had been emptied into his bowl, the paccekabuddha covered the bowl with his hand. Bhattabhatika, however, said to him, “Reverend Sir, one portion cannot be divided into two. I ask you not to bestow favor upon me in this present life, but to bestow favor upon me in the life to come. I desire to keep nothing for myself, but to give you all without reserve.” And without keeping back anything at all for himself, he gave all without reserve to the paccekabuddha, thereby earning much merit for himself. When he had so done, giving all he possessed, he saluted the paccekabuddha again and said to him, “Reverend Sir, all because of this bowl of rice I worked for hire in the house of another for three years and endured much suffering. May happiness alone be my portion from now on in the various places where I shall be reborn. Grant that I may be a partaker of the same truth which you have seen.” “So be it,” said the paccekabuddha, adding, “May all your desires be granted, even as the wishing-jewel grants them. May all your longings be fulfilled, even as the moon on the full moon day.” And by way of thanksgiving he pronounced the following Stanzas,

May what you seek and wish for quickly be obtained;
May all your longings be fulfilled, even as the moon on full-moon day.
May what you seek and wish for quickly be obtained;
May all your longings be fulfilled, even as the wishing-jewel fulfills them.

Then the paccekabuddha formed the resolution, “May this multitude stand watching me until I reach Mount Gandhamāna.” Straightway he flew through the air to Gandhamādana, and the multitude stood watching him. When he reached Gandhamāna, he divided the food among five hundred paccekabuddhas. Each received enough for himself. When the multitude saw him dividing the food among the paccekabuddhas, they sent up thousands of shouts of applause, to the extent that the noise was like the noise of simultaneous bursts of thunder.

When Gandha heard the shouts, he thought to himself, “Bhattabhatika has been unable to endure the splendor and glory which I bestowed upon him. Therefore this multitude has assembled and is making fun of him.” So he sent out men to investigate the matter. The men returned and told Gandha what had happened, saying, “Master, in like manner may they endure splendor and glory.” When Gandha heard this, his body was filled with the five sorts of joy. Said he, “Oh, what a difficult task it was that this man performed! And to think that during all the time that I enjoyed this splendor and glory I should never have taken the trouble to give anything!” So he summoned Bhattabhatika and asked him, “Is the report true that you have done this and that?”

“Yes, master.”

“Well! take these thousand gold coins and make over to me the merit that you have earned by bestowing this gift.” Bhattabhatika did so, and Gandha divided all of his possessions into two parts and gave Bhattabhatika one of the portions.

Bhattabhatika became warm friends with Gandha and ate with him and drank with him and lived with him. Having lived out his term of life, he passed from that existence and was reborn in the World of the Gods. After enjoying heavenly bliss in the World of the Gods for the space of an interval between two Buddhas, he obtained a new existence in the dispensation of Gautama Buddha in the city Sāvatthi in the household of a supporter of the arahant Sāriputta.

Story of the Present: Sukha the Novice

His mother received the treatment usual for the protection of her unborn babe, and after a few days the longing of pregnancy came upon her. Thought she, “Oh, that I might give food of rich flavor to the arahant Sāriputta and his five hundred monks! Oh, that I might put on yellow robes, take a golden vessel in my hand, sit down in the outer circle of the congregation, and partake of the food left uneaten by those monks!” In this way she did, and satisfied her longing. And on other festival occasions also she gave like offerings. Finally she gave birth to a son, and on the day appointed for the naming of the child she said to the arahant Sāriputta, “Reverend Sir, confer the precepts on my son.” Said the Elder, “What shall be his name?” Said the mother, “Reverend Sir, from the day when he was conceived, no one in this house has experienced pain. Therefore his name shall be Happy, Sukha Kumara.”

At the age of seven he went forth and became a novice monk under the arahant Sariputta. For seven days his mother and father bestowed rich offerings within the monastery in honor of his reception into the Order, giving food of a hundred flavors to the order of monks presided over by the Buddha, returning in the evening to their own home. On the eighth day, while the order of monks were making the rounds of the village, the Elder Sāriputta performed various duties about the monastery. Afterwards, directing the novice to take his bowl and robe, he himself entered the village for alms.

While this young samanera was going on alms round with arahant Sariputta, he saw people making a canal. Then he asked, “Dear venerable Sariputta, what are these people making? What are these people digging?”

“These are water canals. Dear novice, the stream of water is led along by this canal. The water will flow according to the shape of the canal. From that water the crops are grown. If the water just flows everywhere, the crops will never grow.” Then the novice said, “Oh, is that so?” looking at the water stream. Then the novice monk asked, “Dear sir, does this water have a mind that allows it to go in these different directions?”

“No, dear novice.”

“So this water has no mind. It is the canals that guide it to the proper place.”

“Yes, novice, that’s how it is.”

Then the novice monk started thinking like this, “Water does not have a mind but the canal can guide it to the proper place. Now, I have a mind. I should be able to guide this mind in the directions taught by the Buddha.”

As they continued walking along, the novice saw an arrow maker straightening the rods of arrows. After passing this place, the novice monk asked, “Dear sir, what are those?”

“Dear novice, those are called arrows.”

“Venerable sir, how do they make them?”

“Dear novice, first they heat the rods with fire and then they straighten them.”

“Then, venerable sir, do those rods have a mind?”

“No, novice monk.”

Then the novice monk started thinking like this, “Even these rods do not have a mind. It is straightened by heating with fire. Now, I have a mind. Why can’t I remove the twisted parts of this mind.”

As they continued walking along, they saw a workshop with carpenters planing a piece of wood, removing all the bends. After passing this place, the novice monk asked, “Dear sir, who are they?”

“Dear novice, they are carpenters.”

“What do they do?”

“They cut wood. They remove curves. They make carts, cartwheels and furniture.” Then the novice asked, “Venerable sir, do those wheels have a mind? Do those carts have a mind?” “No, dear novice.”

Then the novice started thinking, “What an amazing thing! Those wheels don’t have a mind. Those carts don’t have a mind. If even these things without a mind can be controlled, why can’t I control my mind?”

Then the novice addressed arahant Sariputta, “If you, venerable sir, could take your robes and alms bowl, I will stay here for some time.” When this was said, the arahant Sariputta did not get angry thinking, “How can this novice monk leave me half way giving back the alms bowl for me to carry.” With a heart of loving kindness, by seeing the benefit of this novice monk’s future, the arahant Sariputta accepted his robes and bowl. Then the novice worshiped arahant Sariputta and said, “Venerable sir, if you receive alms food of one-hundred flavors can you please share that with me?” “Oh, dear novice, do you get food with one-hundred flavors every day?” “Well, I said so because we get those things due to merit done in the past.”

Then the arahant Sariputta thought to himself, “If this young novice monk meditates outside the kuti he might get disturbed.” So arahant Sariputta told him, “You can go back to the monastery and use my kuti.”

Having gone back to the monastery he started meditating. Because of the merit of this novice monk, the god Sakka saw him sitting in meditation. Then god Sakka commanded the Gods of the Four Great Kings to protect him. This novice didn’t even hear so much as the sound of a bird. The gods bound to the sun and moon came to protect the novice. The novice monk’s mind became steady and stilled. Without any disturbances he became a non-returner, an anagami.

Meanwhile, the arahant Sariputta visited the house of one of his devotees. On that day they had prepared delicious food with one-hundred flavors. After receiving food, arahant Sariputta started to leave. They asked him, “Dear sir, why don’t you eat the food here then go?” “Today a novice monk is in my kuti waiting.”

That day, the Supreme Buddha had been watching all of these event using his psychic powers. The novice monk was striving hard to realize the Four Noble Truths fully. By then the novice had reached the level of non-returner. The Buddha thought, “This novice has the merit to become an arahant.”

At that moment, the arahant Sariputta was coming back from alms round with food for the novice monk. The Blessed One, using his supernatural powers, stood in front of the kuti where the novice monk was waiting. As the arahant Sariputta approached the kuti, the Buddha stopped him and asked the following questions.

“Sariputta, what did you get?”

“Blessed One, I got food.”

“What does food bring?”

“Blessed One, it brings feelings.”

“What does feeling bring?”

“Blessed One, it brings things made with the four great elements.”

“Dear Sariputta, what do the four great elements bring?”

Blessed One, it is the internal sense faculties, the external sense faculties, and consciousness.”

The novice monk inside the kuti overheard this very clearly. He quickly understood the impermanent nature of food and feelings, the destruction of form, the changing nature of contact and became an arahant with the help of this advice. Then the Buddha said to the arahant Sariputta, “OK, dear Sariputta, now you can offer food.”

The arahant Sariputta knocked on the door and the novice came out and started fanning him. “Dear novice, now you can have your food.”

“But how about you, dear sir?”

“I ate, dear novice. You may eat now.”

The novice ate his meal. That morning the gods of the sun were holding back the movement of the sun to give the novice time to eat this morning meal. After the novice ate his meal the gods released the sun and it quickly passed into evening.

This seven year old novice became an arahant on the eighth day of his monk life with the offerings and blessings of devas and brahmhas.

In the monastery, the other monks started questioning why the morning had lasted so long and the evening came so quickly. The Supreme Buddha overheard this discussion and explained to them, “It’s not what you think. For this meritorious novice, the gods bound to the sun and moon give protection. The god Sakka gives protection. The Gods of the Four Great Kings give protection. Even I give protection to this young novice monk.”

The Supreme Buddha then spoke these beautiful verses:

Udakañhi nayanti nettikā,
Usukārā namayanti tejanaṃ;
Dāruṃ namayanti tacchakā,
Attānaṃ damayanti subbatā.

145. Irrigators guide water to wherever it is needed. Arrow makers shape arrows to fit to task. Carpenters fashion wood for the desired design. In the same way, the obedient ones tame themselves.


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