Once the Lord Buddha was staying at Rajagaha, on Vultures' Peak. When the night was nearly over, Pancasikha of the gandhabbas, lighted up the entire Vultures' Peak with a splendid radiance. He approached the Lord, saluted him, stood to one side and said: 'Lord, I wish to report to you what I have personally seen and observed when I was in the presence of the Thirty-Three Gods.' He continued : " Lord Buddha in earlier days, long ago, on the fast-day of the fifteenth at the end of the Rain retreats; the 33 Gods assembled and rejoiced that the devas' hosts were growing whereas the asuras' hosts are declining (as Sutta 18, verse 12). Then Sakka, the king of gods uttered this verse: "The 33 gods rejoice, their leader too, Praising the Tathagata, and Dhamma's truth, Seeing new-come devas, fair and glorious Who've lived the holy life, now well reborn. Outshining all the rest in fame and splendour, The mighty Sage's pupils singled out. Seeing this, the Thirty-Three rejoice, their leader too, Praising the Tathagata, and Dhamma's truth."
Then Sakka continued to tell the 33 gods the eight truthful statements in praise of the Lord Buddha. Sakka sang praises for the blessed one and he said that the Buddha had well explained:
1. Lord Buddha has striven for the welfare and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare and happiness of devas and humans. We can find no teacher endowed with such qualities, whether we consider the past or the present, other than the Lord Buddha.
2. Buddha's Teaching is truly well-proclaimed, visible here and now, timeless, inviting inspection, leading onward, to be realized by the wise and we can find no pro-claimer of such an onward-leading doctrine, either in the past or in the present, other than the Lord Buddha.
3. What is right and what is wrong, what is blameworthy and what is blameless, what is to be followed and what is not to be followed, what is base and what is noble, what is foul, fair and mixed in quality. We can find none who is a pro-claimer of such things other than Lord Buddha.
4. Taught his disciples the path leading to Nibbana. Nibbana and the path coalesce just like the waters of the Ganges and the Yamuna coalesce and flow on together. We can find no pro-claimer of the path leading to Nibbana other than the Lord Buddha.
5. Buddha has gained companions, both learners and those who having lived the life, have abolished the corruptions and the Lord dwells together with them, all rejoicing in the one thing. And we can find no such teacher other than the Lord Buddha
6. The gifts given to the Lord are well-bestowed, his fame is well established, so much so that the Khattiyas will continue to be attached to him, yet the Lord takes his food-offering without conceit. We can find no teacher who does this other than the Lord Buddha.
7.Buddha acts as he speaks, and speaks as he acts. We can find no teacher who does likewise, in every detail of doctrine other than the Lord.
8. The Lord Buddha has transcended passed beyond all 'how' and 'why', he has accomplished his aim in regard to his goal and the supreme holy life. And we can find no teacher who has done the like, whether we consider the past or the present, other than the Lord.
After Sakka proclaimed these eight truthful statements in praise of the Buddha, the 33 Gods were even more pleased, overjoyed and filled with delight and happiness at what they had heard in the Lord's praise. Then certain gods exclaimed: "Oh, if only 4 fully- enlightened Buddhas were to arise in the world and teach Dhamma just like the Blessed Lord! That would be for the benefit and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit and happiness of devas and humans!" And some said: "Never mind four fully-enlightened Buddhas - three would suffice!" while others said: "Never mind three - two would suffice!"
Sakka said: "It is impossible, gentlemen, it cannot happen that two fully-enlightened Buddhas should arise simultaneously in a single world-system. May this Blessed Lord continue to live long, for many years to come, free from sickness and disease as that would be for the benefit and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world it would be for the benefit and happiness of devas and humans! "
The next part of the Sutta mentioned that Brahma Sanankumara descended from his heaven and came into the assembly hall where Sakka and the 33 gods have gathered. Brahma was pleased , overjoyed and filled with delight at what he had heard in the Lord Buddha's praise.
Then Brahma Sanankumara assumed a grosser form and appeared in the shape of Pancasikha and said to the 33 gods: "for how long has the blessed one been one of mighty wisdom? " Then Brahma narrated to the audience the story of the Great Steward : " Once upon a time there was a king called Disampati. His chaplain was a Brahmin called the Steward. The King's son was a youth called Renu, and the Steward's son was called Jotipda. Prince Renu and Jotipda, together with six other Khattiyas, formed a group of eight friends. When the Steward died, King Disampati mourned him, saying: 'We had entrusted all our responsibilities to the Steward, while we indulge in the pleasures of the five senses. Now the Steward has passed away!' "
Hearing this, Prince Renu told his father not to mourn over the death of the Steward as his son Jotipda is cleverer than his father was and has a better eye for what is advantageous. He told his father to let Jotipda manage all the business. Then the King called a man to send for Jotipda. When Jotipda arrived, they exchange courtesies and the King said: 'We wish the Reverend Jotipda to manage our affairs. Do not refuse. I will install you in your father's place and consecrate you as Steward.' 'Very good, Lord', replied Jotipda.
So Jotipda was appointed as steward in his father's place and he carried out the business his father had carried out, not doing any business his father had not done. He accomplished all the tasks his father had accomplished, and no others. People praised Jotipda saying: 'This Brahmin is truly a steward! Indeed he is a great steward!' And that is how the young Brahmin Jotipda came to be known as the Great Steward.
One day the Great Steward went to the group of six nobles and said: 'King Disampati is aged and his life is near its end and he cannot last much longer. When King Disampati dies, Prince Renu will most likely be appointed as King. Gentlemen, you should go to Prince Renu and say: "We are the beloved, dear and favored friends of the Lord Renu, sharing his joys and his sorrows. When our Lord King Disampati passed on, the king-makers are bound to appoint Lord Renu as King. If the Lord Renu should gain the kingship, let him share it with us." The six nobles agreed, and they went to Prince Renu and spoke to him as the Great Steward had proposed. Prince Renu replied "Well, who apart from myself ought to prosper but you? If gentlemen, I gain the kingship, I will share it with you.'
In due course King Disampati died, Prince Renu King took over the kingship. King Renu abandoned himself to the attachment of five sensual pleasures. Then the Great Steward went to the six nobles and said: 'Gentlemen, now King Renu has abandoned himself from the sensual pleasures as the sense-pleasures are intoxicating. You should go to him and say: "Do you remember you word, Lord?" King Renu replied: ''Gentlemen, I remember my word. Who is there who can divide this mighty realm of earth, so broad in the north and so narrow like the front of a cart in the south, into seven equal parts?' The six nobles suggested the Great Steward?'
King Renu sent a man to send for the Great Steward. After exchanging courtesies with him, the Great Steward sat down to one side. Then the King said: 'My Lord Steward, go and divide this mighty realm of earth into seven equal parts.'' The Great Steward he did so.
The land was divided such that King Renu's country was in the centre, Dantapura to the Kdingas, Potaka to the Assakas, Mahissati to the Avantis, Roruka to the Soviras, Mithila to the Videhas, Campa to the Angas goes, Benares to the Kasi, thus did the Steward dispose. The six nobles were delighted with their respective gains and at the success of the plan. Hence Sattabhu, Brahmadatta, Vessabhu and Bharata, Renu and two Dhataratfhas, these are the seven Bharat kings."
Then the six nobles went to the Great Steward and said: 'Reverend Steward, just as you were a beloved, dear and faithful friend to King Renu, so you have been to us. Please manage our affairs for us! We trust you will not refuse.' So the Great Steward helped to manage the 7 realms and he also taught the mantras to seven distinguished Brahmins and seven hundred advanced pupils.
In due course, praises spread about the Great Steward, people said: 'The Great Steward can see Brahma with his own eyes, talks with him face to face and consults with him!' Then the Great Steward thought: 'Now there's good report circulating around concerning me, that I can see Brahma with my own eyes but it is not true. However, I have heard it said by aged and respectable Brahmins, the teachers of teachers, that anyone who withdraws into meditation for the four months during the Rains season, can develop the absorption on compassion, can see Brahma with his own eyes, talk with him face to face and consult with him. Suppose I were to do this?'
Hence the Great Steward went to King Renu and told him of his wish to go into retreat and develop the absorption on compassion. He told the king during this period nobody is to come near him except to bring him food.The King and six nobles let the Great Steward to go ahead of his plans. Then the Great Steward went to the seven Brahmins and the seven hundred pupils and told them of his intentions, he told them: 'Gentlemen, you carry on with reciting the mantras you have heard and learnt, and teach them to each other.' Then he went to his forty equal-ranking wives, and they said: 'Reverend Steward, do as you think fit.'
So the Great Steward erected a new lodging to the east of the city and stayed there for four months during the Rains season, so as to develop the absorption on compassion. But at the end of four months he felt nothing but dissatisfaction and weariness. He thought: 'I heard it said that anyone who withdraws into meditation during rains season, developing the absorption on compassion, can see Brahma with his own eyes. But I cannot see Brahma with my own eyes and i cannot talk, discuss or consult with him!' Brahma Sanankumaa read his thoughts and immediately he disappeared from the Brahma world and appeared before the Great Steward.The Great Steward felt fear and trembling, his hair stood on end at such a sight as he had never seen before. And thus fearful, trembling, with hair standing on end, he addressed Brahma in these verses:
Steward: '0 splendid vision, glorious and divine, Who are you, Lord? I fain would know your name.' Brahma: 'In highest heaven I am known by all: Brahma Sanankumara' Steward: 'A seat, and water for the feet, and cakes are fitting for a Brahma. Let the Lord Decide what hospitality he would. ' Brahma: 'We accept the gift that's offered: now declare What it is you wish from us - a boon of profit in this very life, or in the next. Say, Lord Steward, what it is you'd have.'
Then the Great Steward thought: 'Brahma Sanankumara offers me a boon. What shall I choose - benefits in this life, or the next? I am an expert in matters of advantage in this life, and others consult me about this. Suppose I were to ask Brahma Sanankumara for something of benefit in the next life? And he addressed Brahma in these verses:
'I ask Brahma Sanankumara this, Doubting, him who has no doubts I ask (For others too I ask): By doing what Can mortals reach the deathless Brahma world?' Brahma: 'That man who rejects all possessive thoughts, alone, intent, compassion-filled, aloof from stench, free from lust ; Established thus and training thus then can mortals reach the deathless Brahma World.'
Steward: I understand "Spurning possessive thoughts". This means that one renounces one's possessions, small or great, leaves one's relatives (few or many) and shaving off hair and beard, goes forth from the household life into homelessness. I understand "Alone, intent". That means that one goes off on one's own and chooses a lodging in the forest, at the foot of a tree, in a mountain glen, in a rocky cave, a charnel-ground, in the jungle or on a heap of grass in the open. I understand "Compassion-filled". That means that one dwells suffusing one quarter with a mind filled with compassion, then a second, then a third and a fourth quarter. Thus one abides suffusing the whole world, up, down and across, everywhere, around, with a mind filled with compassion, expanded, immeasurable, free from hatred and ill-will. That is how I understand "Compassion-filled". But the Lord's words about "Aloof from stench" I do not understand what's that: What do you mean, Brahma, by "stench" among men? What hindrance causes man to stink and fester, Heading for hell, away from Brahma-realm?'
Brahma: 'Anger, lying, fraud and cheating, Avarice, pride and jealousy, Coveting, doubt and harming others, Greed and hate, stupor and delusion: The loathsome stench are reasons heading for hell and away from Brahma Realm.
Steward: 'As I understand the Lord's words about the stench, these things are not easy to overcome if one lives the household life. I will therefore go forth from the household life into the homeless state.' Brahma: 'Reverend Steward, do as you think fit.
So the Great Steward went to King Renu and said: "My Lord, please appoint another minister to manage your affairs. I wish to go forth from the household life into homelessness (renunciation). After what Brahma has told me about the stench of the world, which cannot easily be overcome by one living the household life, I am going forth into homelessness. So King Renu, lord of this realm, you have to rule your own land as i can't counsel you anymore. " King Renu: 'If anything you lack, I'll make it good for you. If anyone hurt you, my royal arms shall guard you. You my father, I your son, Steward, stay put!' Steward: 'I lack nothing, no one harms me; No human voice I heard - i cannot stay at home.' King Renu asked why the Great Steward will abandon home? Steward replied: "'Before I went on this retreat I thought of sacrifice (Lighting the sacred fire, strewing kusa-grass). But Brahma from Brahma-realm's appeared before me and answered my question hence I can stay no more.'' Then King Renu said: "I trust your words and we will follow. Steward, be our Master. Like a beryl-gem, clear, of finest water, So purified, we'll follow in your wake. If you go forth from the household life into homelessness, I will do the same. Wherever you go, we will follow.'
Then the Great Steward went to the six nobles to inform of his intention to become an ascetic and resign from his post. The six nobles thought that he would be greedy for money and tried to bribe him to stay. But steward replied: 'Enough, gentlemen, I have received plenty of wealth from my lords already. That is the very thing that I am renouncing in order to go forth from the household life into homelessness, as I have explained.' Then the six nobles thought that he will be greedy for women and tempted him. Steward replied: 'Enough, gentlemen, I already have forty equal wives and I am leaving them in order to go forth from the household life into homelessness, as I have explained.' The six nobles saw his determination and decided to do likewise like the steward.
Steward told the six nobles: "If you renounce those lusts that bind most men, Exert yourselves, be strong and patiently endure! This is the path that's straight, the peerless path, The path of truth, guarded by the good, to Brahmas realm."
The Nobles told Steward to wait seven years before they too will go forth into homelessness. Steward replied: "Gentlemen, seven years is far too long, I cannot wait for seven years! Who can tell how long people will live? We have to go on into the next world, we must learn by means of wisdom, we must do what is right and live the holy life, for nothing that is born is immortal. Now I am going forth as I have explained.' Then the nobles tried negotiating by asking to wait six years...five years...four years.... .three years . .two years,. . .one year before they too will go forth into homelessness and follow him. The Great Steward finds one year too long so the nobles negotiated for seven months . . . six months. . .five months . .four months,. . .three months,. . . two months,. . .one month,. . .half a month. . . But the steward replied: "Gentlemen, half a month is far too long. . . '
Finally the nobles said :'Then, Reverend Steward, just wait seven days while we hand over our kingdoms to our sons and brothers. At the end of seven days we will go forth into homelessness. Wherever you go, we will follow.' The Great steward agreed with waiting for 7 days which is not too long. Then the Great Steward went to the seven Brahmins and their seven hundred advanced pupils, and said to them: 'Now, Your Reverences, you must seek another teacher to teach you the mantras. I am going to become an ascetic. After what Brahma has told me about the stench of the world, which cannot be easily overcome by one living the household life, I am going forth into homelessness.' The Brahmins and 700 pupils tried to changed the Steward's mind by saying there is little power and profit in the homeless life and he can only have power and profit by leading a Brahmin's life. Steward replied: 'Do not say such things, gentlemen! Besides, who has greater power and profit than I have? I have been like a king to kings, like Brahma to the Brahmins, like a deity to householders and I am giving all this up in order to go forth from the household life into homelessness.' Convinced by the great steward, the Brahmins and the 700 pupils decided to follow him.
Then the Great Steward went to his forty equal wives and said: 'Whichever of you ladies wishes to may go back to her own family and seek another husband, do so as i am going into an ascetic's life' The wives replied that he is the only kinsman they could wish for, the only husband they want and they decided to follow him to go into the homelessness life. Hence at the end of 7 days, the Great Steward shaved off his hair and beard, donned yellow robes and went forth from the household life into homelessness. He went with the seven anointed Khattiya kings, the seven wealthy and distinguished Brahmins with their seven hundred advanced pupils, his forty equal wives, several thousand Khattiyas, several thousand Brahmins, several thousand householders, even some harem-women.
The Great Steward with his company wandered through villages, towns and royal cities. Whenever he came to a village or town, he was like a king to kings, like Brahma to the Brahmins, like a deity to householders. People will be full of praises of the Great Steward. The Great Steward dwelt suffusing one quarter with a mind filled with loving-kindness, then a second, then a third and a fourth quarter. He dwelt suffusing the whole world, up, down and across, everywhere, all around, with a mind filled with compassion,with a mind filled with sympathetic joy, with a mind filled with equanimity and free from hatred and ill-will (Meditation). He taught his disciples the way to union with the Brahma-world (good rebirth). Hence all of those who had been the Great Steward's pupils, those who had fully mastered his teaching, were reborn in a happy realm, in the Brahma-world. Those who had not fully mastered his teaching were reborn either among the Paranimmita-Vasavatti devas, among the Nimmanarati devas, among the Tusita devas, among the Yiima devas, among the devas of the Thirty-Three Gods, or among the devas of the Four Great Kings. And the very lowest realm that any of them attained was that of the gandhabbas. Thus the going-forth of all those people was not fruitless or barren, but productive of fruit and profit. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~After narrating this story, Pancasikha asked Buddha if he remember this story? Buddha replied: 'I do, Pancasikha as I was the Brahmin, the Great Steward, at that time. I taught those disciples the path to union with the Brahma-world. However, Pancasikha, that holy life does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to super- knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibban, but only to birth in the Brahma-world. Whereas my holy life leads unfailingly to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to super- knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana. That is the Noble Eightfold Path, namely Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Those of my disciples now who have fully mastered my teaching have by their own super-knowledge realized, by the destruction of the corruptions in this very life, the un-corrupted freedom of heart and mind. Those who have not fully mastered it, some by the destruction of the five lower fetters will be reborn spontaneously, attaining thence to Nibbana without returning to this world (non-returners); some by the destruction of three fetters and the reduction of greed, hatred and delusion will become Once-Returners, who will return once more to this world before making an end of suffering; some by the destruction of three fetters will become Stream-Winners, incapable of falling into states of woe, assured of enlightenment. Thus the going-forth, all these people will find it productive of fruit and profit.'
After listening to Lord Buddha speak, Pancasikha of the gandhabbas was delighted and rejoiced at the Lord's words. After having salted him, he passed him by on the right and vanished from the spot.
In summary, this sutta is a narration of a past life of Buddha whereby he was the Great Steward that lead an ascetic life and taught people the way to good rebirth. However at the end of the Sutta, Buddha said that's not enough to end suffering; the path that leads to enlightenment is the noble eightfold path. Those who have mastered his teachings and practiced them will reach four stages of enlightenment.
References: 1. www.accesstoinsight.org 2. https://suttacentral.net/ 3. The long discourses of the Buddha (Bhikkhu Bodhi)