Shakyamuni Buddha

Story of Kala

Far better than sovereignty over the earth, or far better than going to the abodes of the devas, or far better than ruling supreme over the entire universe, is (the attainment of) Sotapatti Fruition.

Dhammapada Verse 178:

While we are familiar with Anathapindika, the famous lay disciple of Buddha; we do not hear much about his family. Thus, I am pleasantly surprised by this verse about his son, Kala.

Kala reminds me of the many youths whom I met when I was volunteering at a Buddhist Centre. While their parents are devoted and pious, they only appear at the temple once a year during the Vesak holiday. Most of them came unwillingly because their parents insisted on their presence.

Likewise, Kala was one such youth. While Anathapindika was extremely devoted to Buddha, his son Kala would find all excuses and ways to avoid Buddha. He wasn’t interested in listening to sermons or meditation. Anathapindika was concerned that his son’s detest for Dharma and practice would lead to a bad rebirth. Thus, Anathapindika tried to bribe his son by offering him 100 coins if Kala would stay in Buddha’s monastery for a day. Unfortunately, the sly youth spent his day at the monastery idling away, without meeting Buddha nor listening to any Dharma. Anathapindika had to honor his promise even though Kala did not gain anything from his one-day stay at the monastery.

Subsequently, Anathapindika made a second bribe and increased the bargain. He would give Kala 1000 coins if Kala were to learn a stanza from Buddha. Kala skipped happily to the monastery and asked Buddha to teach him a stanza. Buddha taught him a verse but willed that Kala couldn’t retain it in memory. Desiring the 1000 coins, Kala repeated the verse over and over again. His concentrated chanting resulted in Jhana and his perception of Dharma. In this manner, Kala attained Sotapatti level of enlightenment.

The next day, Kala accompanied the Buddha and His retinue of monks to Anathapindika’s house. After Anathapindika had served a meal to Buddha and Sangha, he gave Kala 1000 coins. To his surprise, Kala (the wayward son) refused to accept the coins. Anathapindika was amused and told Buddha the reason for giving Kala the 1000 coins.

In response, Buddha explained that Kala had gained something more precious, Sotapatti enlightenment. Thus, Buddha spoke the verse above.

Anathapindika’s apprehension about Kala being reborn in lower realms due to his detest for Dharma shouldn’t be misunderstood. Rebirth in lower realms due to detesting Dharma is not a form of divine punishment. Our rebirth is driven by Karma. When a person detests Dharma, it means that his mind does not take joy in being good. Qualities such as loving-kindness, patience, compassion, austerity, and etc do not take roots. Instead, one is inclined towards negativities. Such as intoxicants, promiscuities, careless conduct, wanton entertainments, and etc. It has nothing to do with religion but the kind of energy that our mind is attracted to. If we habitually rejoice in all things good, then our mind will be attracted to higher planes of existence. If our mind is attracted to greed, sexual desires, hatred, killings, drunkenness, and etc; then it will take rebirth in lower realms.

Anathapindika’s bribery is nothing new. I suspect some of my fellow Buddhist friends offer bribes to entice their children into attending Buddhist classes on Sunday too. In a way, we can consider it a skillful means. For example, attend Sunday class in the morning and I’ll let you play computer games in the afternoon?

Sottapatti is the 1st stage of enlightenment in Theravada tradition. Once we achieve that, the maximum number of rebirths before ultimate enlightenment is no more than 7 occurrences.

May all be well and happy. May the pandemic end.

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