By Lin Sen-shou
Maudgalyayana was considered to have attained the highest supernatural powers. He belonged to the Brahman caste, and he came from Kolita village near Rajagrha in the kingdom of Magadha. He was originally a pupil of Sanjaya, the leader of another religion. It was there that he met Sariputra [whose story will be described later in this series]. The two slowly became dissatisfied with Sanjaya's teaching, and they made an agreement that if either of them found a better religious teacher, he would tell the other. Sariputra became Buddha's disciple first and then told his friend to join with him. After he began to follow Buddha, Maudgalyayana attained the arhathood in just seven days.
One day when Maudgalyayana was in the city, he ran into a pratyeka-buddha. This person's graceful behaviour really impressed him, so he invited him to his house as a guest of honour. However, the pratyeka-buddha was not an eloquent speaker, so he demonstrated his understanding by displaying his extraordinary powers, appearing and disappearing here and there. Maudgalyayana was impressed and vowed to have such supernatural powers in his future life.
One time Maudgalyayana was returning from begging for food. As he approached a forest, a young woman was waiting for him. She was an attractive woman that any man would dream about. She walked out of the forest and called out to Maudgalyayana. "Venerable One, what's your hurry? Do we have time for a chat?" Maudgalyayana stopped walking and looked at her . He not only saw her face clearly, but he also saw her evil intentions: she had been paid by a rival religious group to seduce and corrupt him. "You poor woman," He said to her seriously. "Your body is so filthy that you were paid to seduce me!" The woman was shocked to hear that. Her mouth opened and she pointed a finger at him. "How, how could you say that?" she stuttered. "Don't try to fool me," Maudgalyayana said sternly . "I knew it as soon as I saw you. You have fallen into an abyss of depravity, like an elephant sinking into a sand trap without any hope of getting free." The woman lowered her hand and her head, and she was silent for a short while. Then she raised her head and spoke to Maudgalyayana sadly. "Venerable One, now you know the whole thing, so I won't try to hide it from you anymore. I have heard that you are the disciple with the greatest supernatural powers, but I didn't believe that you could resist my beauty. Now I know the truth. I regret my past misconduct and I want to change my ways, but I have no idea how to go about it. I feel my future is very dark." As she talked, her tears flowed continually.
Maudgalyayana comforted her. "You don't need to feel so sad, and you don't need to think that you have no hope. As long as you repent, you can be saved, no matter how serious your crimes were. When your clothes are dirty, you have to wash them to make them clean. When your body is dirty, you have to bathe to clean it. So in the same way, when your mind is filthy, you can use Buddha's teachings to make your mind pure. My teacher, Buddha, can help anyone take a new path in life, as long as that person sincerely desires to do so ." The woman's eyes were filled with delight and she smiled happily. "Really? Buddha is willing to help me?" "Yes, he is the most compassionate person in the world. He is certainly willing to help you. What is your name?" "Venerable One, my name is Utpalavarna, and I am from Taksasila. When I was 16, my husband was married into my family. After a while, my father passed away. Later I discovered to my dismay that my mother was having an affair with my husband because she was lonely! We already had a daughter! I left the house with hatred in my mind. "I was remarried later.
One time my new husband went travelling on business, and when he returned, he brought a young concubine with him. When I found out about it, I cried and demanded to see who the girl was. I wanted to know why she had stolen my husband away from me. I was heartbroken when I saw that the girl was my own daughter! "I couldn't understand why such terrible things happened to me. First my mother robbed my husband from me, and then my own daughter stole my other husband. So I left. I hated this world and I cursed it. I hated everyone. I became a whore because I wanted to use my body to get back at everyone. And that is how I spend my sinful days. "Venerable One, I am willing to do anything if I am paid, and now you know why I am here. I am so glad that you have power over me. I apologize for what I have done."
When Utpalavarna finished telling her story, Maudgalyayana saw that she also had a sincere, honest, beautiful heart, so he comforted her. "You have had a terrible life, but if you are willing to follow Buddha's teachings wholeheartedly, your future will be totally different. Why don't you come with me to see Buddha?" Utpalavarna was delighted that she could go to Buddha, because she realized that her future would be different. And indeed, she became a disciple of the Buddha and later became a nun.
Buddha went up to the Trayastrimsas heaven to preach to his deceased mother and the heavenly beings. After some time, the disciples missed Buddha very much, so they went to visit Maudgalyayana in the Jetavana Garden . They paid their respects to him, sat down and asked, "Venerable One, do you know where Buddha is ?" "Yes, I know where he is," Maudgalyayana replied . "He is now in Trayastrimsas , preaching to his mother and the celestials." The disciples were happy to hear this, so they got up and went back to their monastery. Three months passed, and they went to Maudgalyayana again. "Venerable One, you know that we have not seen Buddha for a long time and we miss him very much. We hope you will go to Trayastrimsas for us and bring our best regards to Buddha. Please tell him that we miss him very much and that we would like to see him. We do not have the power to go up to visit him, whereas the heavenly beings have the power to travel down to earth to see him. So we hope Buddha will return to earth as soon as possible." Maudgalyayana agreed.
After they all left, he went into meditation and immediately ascended to Trayastrimsas. When he arrived there, he saw Buddha preaching with all the heavenly beings around him. The scene was not different from ones on earth. Maudgalyayana prostrated himself before Buddha. "All the celestials here once heard sermons by the buddhas, so they were able to reach this heaven after they died. Isn't that true?" "Yes, you are right," Buddha said to him. "All of them came here that way." When the sermon was over, the celestials prostrated themselves before Buddha and left. Maudgalyayana again spoke to Buddha. "Buddha, the monks asked me to bring their best regards to you. They miss you very much and would like to see you. However, they do not have the power to come up to see you in person, so they hope that you will return to earth as soon as possible." Buddha smiled. "Maudgalyayana, just tell them that in seven days I will return to the udumbara tree outside the city of Sankasya." After Buddha finished talking, Maudgalyayana prostrated himself before him and returned to earth. He then told all the disciples what had happened. Seven days later, Buddha returned to earth.
It is said that Maudgalyayana's mother was a very bad woman. She scolded any monk or beggar who came to their house for food. She was greedy and mean, so after she died, she was punished in hell. One time, Maudgalyayana thought of his mother and became quite worried, so he entered meditation and started searching for his mother. He finally found her in the realm of hungry ghosts . Her neck and limbs were very small. Her belly was large and, like other hungry ghosts, she did not have any food or water. Maudgalyayana wanted to help his mother, so he used his powers to create a bowl of food and a cup of water and offered them to her. However, when the food and water just barely touched her lips, a ball of fire shot out from her mouth. It burned the food and evaporated the water . Maudgalyayana did not know what to do, so he returned from the realm of hungry ghosts and went to ask Buddha for help. Buddha told him to offer food to many monks and ask all of them to pray for his mother to save her from hell. Maudgalyayana did this, and days later his mother appeared before him, dressed in white. She joyfully told him that she had been elevated to the realm of the heavens, and then she disappeared.
Maudgalyayana was meditating next to the Ganges River one evening, and he saw a number of ghosts coming to the river to drink the water. These ghosts saw him and prostrated themselves before him. They asked him why this fate had befallen them. "I am hungry all the time," one said. "I want to drink from the river, but whenever I try, the water boils and burns inside my body. Can you tell me why I am like this?" "You used to be a fortune-teller," Maudgalyayana replied, "but you lied, cheated and insulted other people. Now you are receiving the results of your actions." "My body is constantly torn and chewed by large dogs," a second ghost said. "Whenever the wind comes, my flesh grows back again. Can you tell me why?" "You used to kill animals to sacrifice to your gods, so you are experiencing the results now." A third ghost came to him. "My stomach is like a large urn, but my throat and my limbs are as thin as needles. I cannot eat or drink. Can you tell me why?" "When you were a government official, you enjoyed bullying the citizens and you were very cruel to them. You taxed them to death and robbed them of their wealth, so you are this way now." "My head is huge and there are tongues growing all over my body," a fourth ghost wailed. "These tongues are constantly bleeding. Can you tell me why?" "You deceived people. You constantly said things that hurt others. You insulted people all the time and you stirred up bad feelings, so you are this way now."
One day, Maudgalyayana was travelling past the foot of Mount Rsigiri in Magadha. A group of naked religious cultists saw him, and they threw rocks and killed him. When King Ajatasatru heard about this, he was so angry that he ordered all those naked cult members to be seized and killed. When the news reached Buddha and the monks, they were quite upset. Some of the monks asked Buddha, "Since Maudgalyayana had supernatural powers, why didn't he defend himself against these religious people?" Buddha sighed. "Supernatural powers cannot be used to fight against karma. He could only delay the result of his karma, but he could not change it. Maudgalyayana was a fisherman in one of his past lives. Many fish died in his hands , and now he had to pay the price. The body is impermanent, and to an enlightened person, death is actually emancipation. He was able to exchange his life to attain truth and enlightenment, so we should be happy for him."