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Dhammapada Verse 344 Vibbhantabhikkhu Vatthu

The Story of an Ex-Bhikkhu

While residing at the Veluvana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (344) of this book, concerning a bhikkhu who was a pupil of the Venerable Mahakassapa.

As a pupil of the Venerable Mahakassapa, this bhikkhu had achieved the four mental absorptions (jhanas). But one day, as he went for alms food at his uncle’s house, he saw a woman and felt a great desire to have her. Then he left the Order of the Bhikkhus. As a layman, he was a failure as he did not work hard. So, his uncle drove him out of the house, and subsequently, he became mixed up with some thieves. All of them were caught by the authorities and were taken to the cemetery to be executed. The Venerable Mahakassapa saw his pupil as he was being led out and said to him, “My pupil, keep your mind steadfastly on a subject of meditation.” As instructed, he concentrated and let himself be established in deep mental absorption. At the cemetery, while the executioners were making preparations to kill him, the ex-bhikkhu was very much composed and showed no signs of fear or anxiety. The executioners and the onlookers were awe-struck and very much impressed by the man’s courage and composure and they reported about him to the king and also to the Buddha. The king gave orders to release the man. The Buddha on hearing about the matter sent his radiance and appeared to the thief as if in person.

Then the Buddha spoke to him in verse as follows:

Verse 344: Having left the forest of desire (i.e., the life of a householder), he takes to the forest of the practice (i.e., the life of a bhikkhu); but when he is free from the forest of desire he rushes back to that very forest. Come, look at that man who having become free rushes back into that very bondage.

At the end of the discourse, the thief who was steadfastly keeping his mind on the arising and perishing of the aggregates discerned the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and non-self nature of all conditioned things and soon attained Sotapatti Fruition. Later, he went to the Buddha at the Jetavana monastery, where he was again admitted to the Order by the Buddha, and he instantly attained Arahatship.

This story highlights that our efforts, no matter how small, are never in vain. We might think that we are not capable of understanding the Dhamma and give up easily. However, it’s essential to persevere in our efforts towards the Dhamma. Our mental state can change rapidly from one state to another, even within a single lifetime. This thief had the potential to become an Ariya by becoming a Bhikkhu, and he had the gati of a Brahma (he developed the 4 Jhanas). However, he became a thief as he had not even reached the sotāpanna stage (Because of distorted Sanna and Kāma ragā). This is another example of the fragility of Anariya Jhanas. He acquired the gati of a being of the Apayas, and during his execution, he would have died with a high Dosa. But thanks to the intervention of the Venerable Arahant Mahakassapa, he regained mastery of his jhanas even though he was about to die. If he had been executed, he would have been reborn in a Brahma world. But with the help of Lord Buddha, he became a sotāpanna, which eliminated the possibility of him becoming a thief again. He finally became an arahant and eliminated all possibilities of future rebirth. He also acquired the Ariyas Jhanas, which were unbreakable until his parinibbãna.