Scriptural

Alavaka Sutta – Part 1

This sutta caught my attention recently because it concerns a Yaksha. A Yaksha is a powerful tutelary spirit or elemental demon who can become aggressive if he perceives his territory being threatened or trespassed. If we try to relate this to our modern world or if you do not believe in the supernatural, then you can perhaps consider Yashas as powerful guys with powerful weapons who happened to be also extremely territorial.

Alavaka is the name of a Yaksha who ate human sacrifice and not surprisingly, this human sacrificial practice was the idea of a terrified King! You see, that King trespassed Alavaka’s domain and was going to be eaten. He pleaded for his personal freedom by promising Alavaka human sacrifices in exchange. Initially, he sent criminals to Alavaka but ran out of criminals. Then he started sending weak people (children) instead.

Buddha came into the story because He was going to stop Alavaka.

Sometimes people ask, “Why didn’t Buddha save the King earlier in order to stop the human sacrifice from taking place in the beginning?” Foremost, we need to understand that Buddha is not a god. Moreover, no being (god/goddess) can prevent suffering in this world.

Buddha taught that sufferings are inevitable in our world and only the Truth can save us from suffering. However, not everyone is receptive to the Truth and Buddha only appears to those who are ready to listen and be enlightened.

In this story, Buddha entered Alavaka’s palace while he was away and sat on Alavaka’s throne. When Alavaka heard that Buddha was in his palace, he rushed back immediately and tried to displace Buddha from the throne with his supernatural powers. He failed to remove Buddha and the following verses in the sutta recorded the conversation between them.

Evaṁ me sutaṁ. Ekaṁ Samayaṁ Bhagavā Ālaviyaṁ viharati Ālavakassa yakkhassa bhavane. Atha kho Ālavako yakkho yena Bhagavā tenupasaṅkami. Upasaṅkamitvā Bhagavāntaṁ etada’voca. 
Thus have I heard: On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Ālavi, in the abode of the demon Ālavaka. At that time, the demon Ālavaka approached the Blessed One, and on arrival, said to the Blessed One:

Nikkhama samaṇā’ti. Sādhā’vuso’ti Bhagavā nikkhami. 
“Get out, you recluse.” Saying, “Very well, friend,” the Blessed One went out. 

Pavisa samaṇā’ti. Sādhā’vuso’ti Bhagavā pāvisi. 
“Come in, you recluse.” Saying, “Very well, friend,” the Blessed One went in. 

Dutiyam’pi kho Ālavako yakkho Bhagavantaṁ etada’voca. Nikkhama samaṇā’ti. Sādhā’vuso’ti Bhagavā nikkhami. 
“Get out, you recluse,” said the demon Ālavaka to the Blessed One a second time. Saying, “Very well, friend,” the Blessed One went out. 

Pavisa samaṇā’ti. Sādhā’vuso’ti Bhagavā pāvisi. 
“Come in, you recluse.” Saying, “Very well, friend,” the Blessed One went in. 

Tatiyam’pi kho Ālavako yakkho Bhagavantaṁ etada’voca. Nikkhama samaṇā’ti. Sādhā’vuso’ti Bhagavā nikkhami. 
“Get out, you recluse,” said the demon Ālavaka to the Blessed One a third time. Saying, “Very well, friend,” the Blessed One went out. 

Pavisa samaṇā’ti. Sādhā’vuso’ti Bhagavā pāvisi. 
“Come in, you recluse.” Saying, “Very well, friend,” the Blessed One went in. 

Catuttham’pi kho Ālavako yakkho Bhagavantaṁ etada’voca. Nikkhama samaṇā’ti. Nakhvā’haṁ āvuso nikkhamissāmi. Yan te karaṇīyaṁ taṁ karohī’ti. 
“Get out, you recluse,” said the demon Ālavaka to the Blessed One a fourth time. “No, oh friend, I will not go out. Do what you will.”

The above opening in this sutta is quite unusual because we see how Buddha exited and returned to Alavaka thrice. If we interpret this portion metaphorically, Buddha represents the Truth that cannot be forcefully removed. The Truth is ever-present in our hearts and cannot be removed. However, one can choose to turn away from the Truth, but even then, we cannot help calling out to the Truth.

Many beginners experience this too. Thus our Buddhist practice swings back and forth.

Or

We may ignore the Truth of impermanence but sooner or later, we will have to look at it.

The Buddha’s compliance with Alavaka’s request to exit and return can also be interpreted as compassion and patience. As mentioned earlier, Alavaka was embarrassed by his inability to forcefully evict Buddha. Thus when he requested Buddha to leave his palace, Buddha complied. Alavaka already heard about Buddha being the enlightened one, the teacher of gods and men from other spirits. Thus, Alavaka was also curious about Buddha but wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to have Buddha in his palace.

Hope you will enjoy this new series.

May all be well and happy.

Categories: Scriptural

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