Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Devas' Deathbed Advice to Citta (sutra)

Maurice O'Connell Walshe, translator, Gilanadassanam Sutra (SN 41.10)
Fairies (devas, "shining ones," both seen and unseen, exist.

At that time Citta the householder was a sick man, suffering from a serious illness. Then a number of devas [elemental spirits, fairies, woodland sprites] who dwell in gardens, forests, and trees, the devas of healing herbs and of great trees in the forest, gathered together and said to Citta the householder [Note 1]:

"Make a resolve, householder: 'In some future time may I be a king, a world-ruler!'" [2]

To this Citta replied... "That is something impermanent, something to be rejected and passed over."

Now Citta's friends, colleagues, and blood-relatives heard him say this, and they said to him: "Sir! [3] Set up mindfulness. Don't ramble!"

"What have I said that makes you tell me to set up mindfulness and not to ramble?"

"Why, sir, you just said: 'That is something impermanent, something to be rejected and passed over.'"

"Yes, but I said that to the devas who dwell in gardens... who bade me make a resolve that in some future time I might be a king, a world-ruler."

"Sir, what purpose did those devas have in mind in urging you to make such a resolve?"

"This is what those devas thought: 'This householder Citta is a virtuous man, of noble disposition. If he makes a resolve that in some future time he may be a king, a world-ruler, this will be profitable to that virtuous man, having made such a resolve with a pure heart, and will bring the just man a just and great reward...' So then I replied, 'That is something impermanent, something to be rejected and passed over.'"

[Citta then instructs them to practice generosity and have perfectly verifiable-faith in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha and passes away as follows:] "Thus should you train yourselves: We will be endowed with verifiable confidence in the Buddha:

  • Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and fully awakened, perfect knowledge and conduct, well-gone and welcome, an expert with regard to the world, the unexcelled trainer of those fit to be tamed, the teacher of devas and human beings, awakened, blessed.
  • We will be endowed with verifiable confidence in the Dharma: This Path/Practice is well-expounded by the Blessed One, verifiable here and now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.
  • We will be possessed of verified confidence in the Sangha: The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples who have practiced well... who have practiced rightly... who have practiced methodically... who have practiced masterfully -- in other words, the four pairs, the eight types of noble individuals -- the community of the Blessed One's instructed disciples: worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of respect, an incomparable field of merit for the world.
  • Whatever there may be in our family that can be given away, all that will be shared unstintingly with these virtuous ones who are of admirable character. Thus should you train yourselves."
1. A whole Samyutta (
SN 41) is devoted to this householder (see also Vol. II, No. 23), who is held up as a model layperson in SN 17.23 (not translated here). His name is not the same as citta "mind," but means "bright, shining" [which is interesting because the mind is said to be luminous in its original, undefiled nature].
2. Cakkavatti or Chakravartin (literally, "a wheel-turning monarch," the Indian term for a universal ruler. This was what Siddhartha Gautama could have become if he had not become a buddha. The devas are aware of Citta's great virtues (though they possibly exaggerate in thinking he could become a world-ruler), but are not wise enough to think of his spiritual progress (cf.
SN 1.20, n. 4).
3. Ayyaputta = Ariyaputta, literally "son of the Ariyans," not a racial epithet but rather the follower (instructed disciple) of the Noble Ones (cf.
SN 22.7, n. 1).

Meeting the Devas
Wisdom Quarterly (TRAVEL JOURNAL)

Two of us, two WoQies, went deep into forbidden Asia in search of an enlightened Buddhist teacher. Two Americans wandering in Orwellian dystopia searching for satori.

I was looking for the answer, the key, that would unlock enlightenment (as if I only needed that one ineffable "answer"); she was following her bliss, trusting that I was onto something, not wanting to be left behind in spiritual vacuum of Southern California. We were in Burma under the current regime, slowly on our way to India to sit where the Buddha sat.

It was a cheap hotel, a converted tenement flat, in the city center -- our old copy of Lonely Planet recommended it as a cheap stay for shoestring backpackers. Across the street sits a golden stupa complex that seems to mark the exact center of Rangoon, at that time the capital (now it's the secret city of Naypyidaw), not far from a five-star hotel full of older European adventure travelers dashing through this blacklisted country. They'd wear their passport stamps like badges so their dinner party guests might gasp, "You took a truncheon to the head to take some photos?"

There were roaches, rats, and worst of all mosquitoes. Only the fans kept them at bay. But the periodic brown outs meant those fans went off more than half the time. The Burmese are lovely and kind, walking like shadows compared to their neighbors that over-the-top kindness of northern Thailand.

She became sick, bed ridden. With mosquitoes attacking, all we could do was light 20 incense sticks at at time or retreat to the office, where somehow an air conditioner, TV, and one angry clerk counted stacks of kyat (Burmese dollars). We were preparing to make our way to Mandalay then onto our goal in the south, what I called the "Malabar Front" from Nineteen Eighty-Four. The British author George Orwell lived here, and he was in fact describing the British/Burmese government when he coined the term "Big Brother."

There is no computer access, except in secret, very irregularly, constantly skirting censors and government blocks. We were lucky to get MSN or Hotmail to work.

Her mystery illness worsened: she wouldn't drink but sweat constantly, she was sleepy all the time, but never rested, she was not hungry, but whether she ate or not, she would never go to the restroom. What to do? She would surely die, and of course I would be to blame. I brought her, but I told her not to come, to stay back in Thailand until I returned from the this Quest, and we moved on to India.

There are no hospitals in Burma (a police state now called Myanmar) and no doctors, just little pharmacies with long lines. She's very intuitive. So I asked her what she wanted to do. She was only sure that she wanted to stay when I was recommending the inevitable -- by evacuated like a Vietnam soldier all the way back to California to recover in a nice clean PPO corporation-run hospital. It would mean failure, going to the embassy and explaining what we were doing here, paying $50,000 for the arrangements, and somehow explaining to everyone back home what had happened.

As I worried and found no easy answer weighing everything, asking her what was wrong with her, it happened. In a darkened room with no windows, with incense wafting thickly in the air, with more water bottles being chugged and a pile of plastic building up in the corner of the room, bhumma devas (Earth or elemental fairies) came.

She said they looked beautiful. I swallowed hard, "So you're dying and they're welcoming you to the other side?" She ignored the implication and smiled broadly talking to them. She was no more delirious than she had been in the past three days, which meant not at all. She was better than normal. Serene, accepting, as if she was eager to go. "This is how it ends? At 21, in a foreign land? You want your body shipped back to the States because I might as well stay in Asia.

She said they were saying it was all going to be okay. She said they said to trust me because I was good or at least good for her. Neither of those seemed the case, and I'm sure the embassy would argue that I was the worst travel partner ever for coming to one of the most dangerous countries in the world with a tall blond in tow.

And I asked, because I'm a stupid Westerner and this is how we think after college: "You say you see them, so what do they look like?" Her mouth contorted,"Hmmm," stymied, then explained that she didn't "see" them, as such. Her eyes were open and she was lucid and speaking perfectly clearly: She sensed them, knew them to be there, could feel them, could know them, could hear them... saw them in that sense. That is, the mind's eye must fill in what is perfectly clear to the other senses. I tried to ask about them, but my intellectualizing was harming matters. They were there, they were communicating, they were bringing good news. And I had bad news to break.

It had come to me, an inspiration. If I could get to a Black Market Internet connection, put in the symptoms, which was no easy doing because the system was down throughout the city. When I found a way, there it was -- deadly cholera. The cure? Ciprofloxin (ah, Cipro, what didn't it cure before overuse made germs resistant?) The answer? It turns out those "pharmacies" are their hospitals with no red tape. I bought cheap Indian (Roxy brand) Cipro, which as inexpensive as it was came with a free session with a doctor to discuss it. I told him about her symptoms, and how I thought it was cholera, he agreed, and sent me running with instructions before it was too late. I had been doing things correctly. There was nowhere to bring her to and no other way to go other than to leave the country, an option we had that they didn't.

I explained it to her, and asked her if she wanted to try the "medicine" (we don't believe in Western chemicals), but antibiotics are a little different. Even our herbs serve the same function some times. She smiled and said she trusted me. I asked why, and said it was because the devas said so and were sure. (I thought both her and those devas a little loopy for trusting me because, again, it seemed all my fault for getting her into this mess of an adventure).

She recovered fully. And later on a plane, I asked if she remembered the devas. She looked at me strangely as if I had asked the most foolish question ever, and after a long pause holding me in a fixed gaze, she answered: "Of course." Me, too. I don't know why I ever doubted that devas are real and right here particularly in natural settings. It's perfectly clear they are. It was then.

REBIRTH - What might not be clear is that the reason they came to receive, comfort, and advise her then was that not long ago, she had been one of them. She could recognize it in other people. It's just like our own Western mythology tells children, and I've asked many children for confirmation. They see them, they know what the traits are and can see that in some people, but they soon are taught to forget and deny what they know. The rest are branded "witches and weirdoes" so they stay quiet. But it's well known so long as we don't say it to anyone bent on not believing.