DN 18: Janavasabha sutta: Brahma addresses the gods
Thus have I heard.
The Buddha was once staying in Nādika, at the Brick House. He was explaining the rebirths of various devotees that had passed away namely the Kāsis and Kosalans, the Vajjians and Mallas, the Chetis and Vaṃsas, the Kurus and Pañcālas, the Macchas and Sūrasenas. Buddha said: "This one has been reborn there, and such an one there. More than 50 Nādikan devotees having completely destroyed the Five fetters that bind people to this world, were reborn spontaneously and would attain Nibbana without returning to this world (Non- returners). 90 of them, who have destroyed the Three fetters, reduced their greed, hatred and delusion, have become Once-returners, and on their first return to this world shall make an end of suffering. Over 500 of them having completely destroyed the Three fetterss were stream-winners who are incapable of reborn in any states of woe, but are assured of attaining to the Nibbana." The devotees in Nadika were pleased and delighted to hear the Buddha's declaration.
Then Venerable Ananda thought: ' there were also Magadhan disciples who were devoted to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, they too observed the discipline perfectly and has passed away. However the blessed one had not explain their rebirth. King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha for example was a righteous and lawful king, friend of brahmins, laymen,town-folk and country-folk. His men praised King Bimbisara and were happy under his rule. They wondered why Buddha had not declare his rebirth since Buddha attained his enlightenment in Magadha. If the Exalted One declare nothing concerning the rebirth of Magadhans, they will be hurt. And since they would be hurt, how can the Exalted One keep silence?’ Hence Venerable Ananda decided to approach the Buddha to ask about the fate of Magadhans after their deaths the following morning.
After Ananda had gone, the blessed one went for alms round in Nadika. When he returned to the brick house , he thought about the question on the destiny of Magadhans after they passed on. He went into a secluded area for meditation. After the meditation, Venerable Ananda noticed that the Buddha's face looks bright and shining and he associated with the blessed one's mind being at ease. Then Buddha told Ananda that after he asked the fate of Magadhan devotees, he perceived the detiny and fate of each of them. Then an invisible spirit (yakkha) made himself heard, saying “I am Janavasabha, blessed one; I am Janavasabha, well-farer!” Buddha asked if Ananda knew anyone by the name of Janavasabha.
Ananda replied : "I have never heard of one bearing such a name as Janavasabha. Moreover, lord, on hearing such a name as Janavasabha, my hairs stood on ends. Janavasabha will not be a low- ranking yakkha."
Buddha: " Ananda, after i heard that voice, the yakkha appeared before me as a noble vision and he declared that he is “Bimbisāra. He said this is the seventh time he had been reborn into the communion of the great King Vessavaṇa. He also said that having passed away as a human king, I have now become among the devas, a king of non-human beings. 7 states here and 7 states there (14 rebirths), King Bimbisara recalled these past lives. He was destined not to be reborn in states of woe and now is there desire in him to become a Once-returner.”
Buddha asked the yakkha on what ground can he know of such an august specific attainment?
Yakkha Janavasabha replied : " I learnt the teachings from you blessed one, not otherwise. From the time when i have absolute faith to the blessed one, from then on I am destined not to be reborn in states of woe and now desire has arisen in me to become a Once-returner. Now, lord Buddha, I have been sent on a message concerning some business by King Vessavaṇa to King Virūḷhaka. On my way I saw the blessed One entering the Brick House, sitting down to think over, concentrating his whole mind upon the deceased Magadhan devotees to know their future, their fate after this life. since i just heard King Vessavaṇa announced to his assembly what those folks ates were so it occurred to me that I would visit the blessed One and I would announce it to him. These are the two reasons why I came forth to visit the blessed one. "
Bimbisara (Yakkha Janavasabha) proceed to tell the Buddha the story of an assembly of the devas in the realm of the Thirty-Three Gods on the full moon uposatha of the rainy season. During that meeting, all 33 gods were seated in the Sudhamma Hall with a vast celestial company and Four Great Kings from four quarters. There was Dhataraṭṭha, Great king of the East, Virūḷhaka Great king of the South, Virupakkha Great king of the West and Vessavaṇa Great king of the North. There were devas who recently reborn in the heaven of the Thirty-Three gods because they had lived the holy life under the blessed One, when they appear they outshone the other gods in brightness and glory. Thats the reason why the 33 gods were filled with joy and happiness, saying :“the devas' host are growing, the asuras' hosts are declining!" Sakka, ruler of the gods, when he saw the satisfaction felt by the 33 gods, expressed his approval in these verses 33 gods and their leader rejoice, Praising the Tathagata and the Dhama's truth, Whereas they see the new-comer devas, beautiful and bright, Who have lived the holy life, now reborn Outshining all the rest in fame and splendour, The mighty sage's pupils singled out Seeing this, the 33 gods and their leader rejoice Praising the Tathagata and the Dhamma's truth
In the course of their deliberations, a glorious radiance came forth out of the North, and a splendour shone around surpassing the divine glory of the devas. Then Sakka said to the 33 gods :“Gentlemen, when such light is seen and when such radiance shines forth, Brahma will appear. The appearance of such radiance is the first sign of the manifestation of Brahma ."
Then the 33 gods and the four great kings said: " Let's find out what comes out of this radiance, having know the truth then we will go towards it. "
Bimbisara (Yakkha Janavasabha) continued to narrate to Buddha: " Lord buddha, Whenever Brahma Sanaṅkumāra appears before the Thirty-Three gods, he appears as a grosser form as his usual appearance is not such as to be perceptible to their eyes. Brahma outshines the other devas in radiance and glory just like a gold figure outshines the human figure. When Brahma Sanaṅkumāra appears before the Thirty-Three Gods, there is no god in that assembly that salutes him, or rises up, or invites him to be seated. They all sit in silence, with palms together and cross-legged, thinking he will sit down on the couch of that god from which he wants something. The one god on whose cough Brahma sits down is as thrilled and delighted as a duly-appointed Khattiya king when he assumes his royal office.
Brahma Sanaṅkumāra having assumed a grosser form, appeared to the 33 gods in the shape of young Pancasikha. Rising up into the air, he sat down cross-legged in the sky. Seeing the delight of the 33 gods, he uttered these verses of rejoicing: 33 gods and their leader rejoice, Praising the Tathagata and the Dhama's truth, Whereas they see the new-comer devas, beautiful and bright, Who have lived the holy life, now reborn Outshining all the rest in fame and splendour, The mighty sage's pupils singled out Seeing this, the 33 gods and their leader rejoice Praising the Tathagata and the Dhamma's truth
Brahma Sanaṅkumāra spoke with a voice of eightfold characteristics that was fluent, intelligible, sweet, audible, continuous, distinct, deep, and resonant. When Brahma Sanaṅkumāra communicated with that assembly by his voice, the sound did not penetrate beyond the assembly. Whoever has such a voice which has these eight characteristics is said to be Brahma-voiced.
Brahma Sanaṅkumāra, having created thirty-three shapes of himself , sat down cross-legged on each of the 33 gods' god's couch and addressed them: “What do you 33 gods think? The blessed One acted out of compassion for the world so as to benefit and for the happiness of the peoples, for the advantage of devas and men. Those who have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the sangha (Order), having observed the moral precepts; upon death they will be reborn such that some of them as Paranimmita-Vasavatti gods, some of them as the Tusita gods, or the Nimmanaratti devas, or the Yama, or of the Thirty-Three Gods, or of the Four Great Kings. Those who fill the number of the lowest group, they go to fill the number of the Gandhabba host.”
Every one of the gods thought that Brahma Sanankumara was talking to him alone as Brahma was sitting in his couch: All of Brahma's form speak with one voice, Having spoken, all at once are silent Then all the 33 gods and their leader think " He speaks to me alone" Then Brahma Sanaṅkumāra assumed a single form and he sat down on the couch of Sakka, lord of the gods and he addressed the Thirty-Three Gods: "“Now what do you think of the completeness of the Blessed One, the Arahant, Buddha Supreme, who knows, who sees the four roads to power? Also how to develop, perfect and practice these four roads? What are the four roads? In the first place a monk develops concentration of intention accompanied by effort of will, concentration of energy, concentration of consciousness and concentration of investigation accompanied by effort of will. Ascetics or brahmins if the past and in future have realized such powers in different ways and they developed and practiced them. Then Brahma asked the 33 gods if he had developed these four roads, the latter agreed.
Then Brahma went on : " There are three gateways for arriving at Bliss proclaimed by the Blessed One who knows, who sees. Which are the Three? In the first place, someone dwells in association with sense pleasures, in association with unwholesome conditions. He on a certain occasion hears the ariyan dhamma, studies it and practices it . By doing so, he takes to a life detached from the sense pleasures, not associated with unwholesome conditions. As a result of the dissociation, he experiences pleasant feeling, then gladness and then happiness. (dissociation from sense pleasures)
In the second place, there is someone whom the grosser conditions precedent to action, speech and thought are not entirely calmed down. He on a certain occasion hears the Aryan dhamma preached, studies it and practices it. Having done so, the grosser conditions precedent to action, speech and thought in him become entirely calmed down. And from this he experiences pleasant feeling, then gladness and then happiness. (allaying the gross tendencies of body, speech, and mind)
In the third place, there is someone who does not really know what is right and wrong, what is blameworthy and what is not, what is to be practices and what is not, what is base and what is noble, what is foul, fair or mixed in quality. He on a certain occasion hears the Aryan Dhamma, studies it and practices it. Having done so he comes to know in reality what is right and wrong, what is blameworthy and what is not, what is to be practices and what is not, what is base and what is noble, what is foul, fair or mixed in quality. From that, he knows and sees; ignorance is put away, wisdom has arisen, pleasant feeling arises followed by gladness. ( knowing what is right and wrong, based on the law of karma).These are the three gateways to the bliss proclaimed by the Blessed one who knows and sees. "
Brahma Sanankumara went on: "Now what do you think 33 gods , how well does the Blessed One, who knows, who sees and pointed out the Four foundations of Mindfulness for attaining of that is good! What are they? Here a monk who abides contemplating the body as the body, earnestly, clearly aware and mindful. Having put away all hankering and fretting for the world, he becomes fully concentrated and completely serene, from that he gains knowledge and vision externally of the bodies of others. He then abides contemplating feelings as feelings, contemplating the mind as the mind and contemplating his own mind-objects as mind-objects. These are the four foundations of mindfulness.
Then Brahma Sanankumiira's speech: ''What do the 33 gods think? How well has the Lord Buddha who knows and sees pointed out the seven requisites of concentration, for the development of perfect concentration? What are the seven? They are right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness. That one-pointedness of mind that is produced by these seven factors is called the Ariyan right concentration with its bases and requisites. From right view arises right thought, from right thought arises right speech, from right speech arises right action, from right action arises right livelihood, from right livelihood arises right effort, from right effort arises right mindfulness, from right mindfulness arises right concentration, from right concentration arises right knowledge which results in right liberation.
If any-one truthfully declare: "Well-proclaimed by the Lord is the Dhamma, visible here and now, timeless, inviting inspection, leading onward, to be comprehended by the wise each one for himself", were to say: "Open are the doors of the Death-less!"; he would be speaking in accordance with the highest truth. Those who have unshakable faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha and are endowed with the virtues pleasing to the Noble Ones; those beings who have arisen here after death because of their dhamma training, amounting to more than 2400 Magadhan followers having destroyed the three fetters become Stream-Winners, incapable of falling into states of woe and certain of enlightenment, and indeed there are Once- Returners here too.
With regards to Brahma Sanankumara's speech, the Great King Vessavana reflected in his mind: 'It is marvellous, it is wonderful, that such a glorious Teacher should arise, that there should be such a glorious proclamation of Dhamma, and that such glorious paths to the sublime should be made known!' Then Brahma Sanankumara, reading King Vessavaga's mind, said to him: 'What do you think, King Vessavana? There has been such a glorious Teacher in the past, and such a proclamation, and such paths made known, and there will be again in the future such glorious teacher will arise.
Then the Great King Vessavan, having heard and received this teaching in person, passed it on it to his followers. And the yakkha Janavasabha, having heard it himself, related it to the Lord Buddha. And the Lord Buddha, having heard it himself and also come to know it by his own super- knowledge, related it to the Venerable Ananda, who in turn related it to the monks and nuns, the male and female lay- followers. By doing so the holy life waxed influential and prosperous spreading far and wide.
In summary, this sutta talks about the rebirth of King Bimbisara into Yakkha Janavasabha who appeared before Buddha as the latter concentrates to find out what happen to Magadhans after death. Then Yakkha Janavasabha related to Buddha the teachings of Brahma Sanankumara namely: the four roads to power, the three gateways to bliss, the four foundations of mindfulness and the 7 requisites of concentration.
References: 1. www.accesstoinsight.org 2. https://suttacentral.net/ 3. The long discourses of the Buddha (Bhikkhu Bodhi)