Scriptural

Kevatta Sutta – Part 18

Recollection of Past Lives

“With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes).

For many of us, this part of the sutta seems implausible. That is because we do not have 4th Jhana capability. According to biography of Dipa Ma, she had followed such instructions and verified that these supranormal capabilities in the sutta are indeed achievable.

He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details. Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, ‘I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.’ In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives… in their modes and details.

If you noticed in the sutta, once we are in 4th Jhana, one simply inclines the mind to the various ‘task’. The tricky part is the ability to maintain the mind at that state of stillness while experiencing new experiences or getting “hit face on” by new revelations.

Meditation masters advice us to incline our mind towards Viapasana instead of gaining new sensory experiences. (example divine sight or sound or smell etc.) Having said that, Buddha Himself had recollected his own previous lives. Therefore, it can’t be that bad right?

Going back to the sutta, you will notice that Vipassana meditation comes immediately after the 4th Jhana achievements. After that comes the rest of the supranormal investigation. This is because it is important to obtain wisdom through Vipassana first. When we have successfully obtained wisdom, we won’t go astray.

Thus, Vipassana and the development of wisdom comes first.

The Passing Away & Re-appearance of Beings

“With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the passing away and re-appearance of beings.

After investigating oneself, one investigate other beings.

He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: ‘These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, and mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell.

One is able to perceive clearly how the wrong actions, speech and thoughts lead the mind towards unfortunate circumstances and situations. Almost like being caught in a whirlwind that sucks a person into deeper and deeper dire situations.

But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, and mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.’

This sutta clearly states that entry to heaven is dependent on our right actions, speech and mind.

Furthermore, one should not revile a noble one. (Noble ones are not necessarily limited to people who appear Buddhist) We tend to be territorial and myopic due to our ego and attachment. We like to judge people according to their external appearances, race, culture, family, profession, religion, and etc. Subsequently, we cherish thoughts of disgust or contempt towards others, even though we do not know that person well. If we have such habits, be warned that we could be shutting ourselves out from a better rebirth. This is because we have contempt and hatred in our mind. (A reminder not to be homophobic since this is pride month)

Sometimes, a non-Buddhist behaves more Buddhist than so-called “Buddhist” (if you know what I mean)

Next is the importance of right views and doing things under the influence of right views. In short, our motivation needs to be pure. We cannot pretend to be good people. We may fool others but we cannot fool ourselves. Thus, hypocrites will not enjoy good rebirth.

Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — he sees beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma. Just as if there were a tall building in the central square [of a town], and a man with good eyesight standing on top of it were to see people entering a house, leaving it, walking along the street, and sitting in the central square. The thought would occur to him, ‘These people are entering a house, leaving it, walking along the streets, and sitting in the central square.’ In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the passing away and re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma…

I was at a meditation retreat once and it was my turn for an interview with the teacher (a Sri Lankan monk). Just then a group of bereaved family members came into the room to speak with bhante (a respectful term for teacher). They were holding a picture of the deceased and asking bhante for help. (Possibly to help say a few prayers for a better rebirth?)

I was just sitting beside bhante at that time. Somehow, for a split moment, you can sense bhante “zooming out” from where we were. I think the bereaved sensed it too because everyone just became dead quiet. Then bhante was back. All the while he was just sitting there with us but you can sense he left and return? Then he said, “He is in a very dire situation now.” He spoked kindly and in a very down to earth manner. No exaggeration what so ever. As if commenting about the weather. But that sentence had a very strong impact on the bereaved. Seemed like he intentionally left much unsaid. Then he advised them to do lots of charitable acts in the name of the deceased. For me, that was my first hand encounter of someone performing the above stated task.

Hope you enjoy this sharing.

May all be well and happy.

Categories: Scriptural

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