Translated by Andrew Yang
A younger brother repaying grievances with compassion
In the times of Sakyamuni Buddha, there was a farmer in Benares, India, whose wife had passed away leaving behind two sons. The family of three lived on a few acres of meagre vegetable plots, and felt life was happy. Later, the farmer became seriously ill, and on the deathbed, told his sons, “The younger one of you is only ten years old now. You must take good care of him and fulfill your responsibility as the elder brother. In time, when he is old enough, give him some of the land so he could till himself, and the two of you should take care of each other”.
The next day, the farmer died, leaving the brothers deeply miserable.
And a year passed when the elder brother had got married, but his wife was not a kind person. Being jealous of her husband’s kindness towards the younger brother, she soon grew sick of and started picking on whatever the young brother-in-law did, as not a single thing he was doing would please her. And often she would say to her husband, “You are spoiling your brother. Instead, you should let him learn to live by himself and be independent. If you don’t let go of him now, he will grow up to take away half of our land and bring us trouble.” The elder brother, however, being affectionate and remembering their father’s last words, would not listen to her.
Nonetheless, it is not impossible to think the same way as one’s partner living under the same roof. And with such an unkind wife telling things day and night, how would he not change? As more time passed, indeed, he gradually began to loathe his own brother too.
One day, goaded on by his wife he lost his cool and took the younger one to a corpse forest far away from home (see Note 1). Before he realized it, the brother was tied to a thick tree trunk. “Because of you,” said the elder of the two, “I quarrel with your sister-in-law all the time, and you’re simply a burden in the family. Now I will leave you here so you can reflect on why you’ve brought us so much trouble. I will come back to take you home tomorrow”.
Physically, the young man was no match for his angry and yet determined elder brother. And frightened, he pleaded, “Brother! Please don’t leave me here in this scary forest. Tigers, wolves and all other fierce beasts will soon devour me. For the sake of our father, please forgive me and take me home!” The elder brother felt conflicted, knowing what he was doing was vicious. On the other hand, acutely reminded of his wife’s constant nagging, he felt he had to get rid of his brother just to have peace at home. In the end, overwhelmed by selfishness, he ignored his young brother’s begging and walked out of the corpse forest on him.
Just then, in the remote city of Rajgir, while Sakyamuni Buddha was in meditation, to his eyes was revealed the scene of an elder brother tormenting his younger brother. At the same time, Buddha heard the young man’s desperate pleading, and so he shone a compassionate light from between his eyebrows to lend him protection, and immediately appeared before him in person, saying, “Poor boy! Don’t panic, I’m here to rescue you”.
The younger brother looked up and saw a solemn and kind Buddha standing right in front and smiling to him, and he asked, “Who is it?”
Came the reply, “It is Buddha.”
The younger brother said, “So you are the compassionate Buddha. I would very much like to be a Buddha like you to help those in suffering.” Just then, the rope that tied the young man fell off by itself. In sincerity he bowed to Buddha, took refuge from him, and asked for ordination to become a monk. And Sakyamuni Buddha took him back to Rajgir City. From then on, he practice the Dharma with Buddha’s sangha and, after a few years, attained arhat phala (see Note 2).
Thus, the younger brother became enlightened and often would miss his elder brother. He asked Buddha one day, “The World’s Worthy One, although my elder brother once meant to do me harm, I received Buddha’s salvation because of what he did. So, what I am today has been achieved with his help. I want to go and deliver him from suffering, in order to repay Buddha’s grace. Would I have Buddha’s permission?”
Buddha smiled, “Go home, Bhikkhu. Your brother and sister-in-law will be moved by your compassion and forgiveness!”
Upon getting Buddha’s permission, the younger brother flew home right away with his supernatural capacity. When the sister-in-law saw him reappear, she ran back to her room in panic and hid herself, scared that as the brother had not died, he must have come back for revenge. Meanwhile, her husband was beside her and at a loss what to do too. The younger brother said to them, “My Brother and Sister-in-law, you don’t have to hide. I am here to thank you. Because you took me to the corpse forest, I had the opportunity to meet Buddha and become a monk. After that I became an arhat, and now I live free from any suffering from life or death. I hope that you can also practise the Dharma and as soon as possible leave suffering for joy. All the wealth and even lives in this world are transient and impermanent. What you now possess through desperate pursuits will be given up one day. It is better to let go of all desires and cravings the soonest possible. Working hard to follow the Dharma will help end the cycle of death and rebirth for you once and for all and reach blissful Nirvana.”
The younger brother’s words awakened his elder brother and sister-in-law from a nightmare, and his generosity in harbouring no hatred made them deeply ashamed. Thereupon, they decided to follow him to his vihara in a bamboo grove, where they took refuge from Buddha and became renunciate Buddhists.
Awakening a brother reincarnated into a cow
Again, during the days of Sakyamuni Buddha, in Rajgir there also lived two brothers. Their parents had died early, leaving them a large estate. The ambitions of the two, though, differed completely. The elder brother was righteous, and the younger brother loved wealth. The former admired the Dharma and constantly practised philanthropy, and so his wealth was gradually depleting. The latter loved money and was good at trading, and he saw his wealth increase day by day.
One day, the younger brother who loved money tried to persuade his elder brother. “We unfortunately lost our parents early on, but should use the wealth they left us well by growing it as much as we can, so our parents’ souls in heaven are comforted. You are now giving away your wealth left and right, and all day long do nothing productive but study Buddhist scriptures with other monks. That’s why your wealth dwindles day by day, and you will be laughed at some day.”
The elder brother who loved righteousness said, however, “Brother, you think that increasing our inheritance is being pious to our parents, but in my view, to be pious to them is to provide for The Three Jewels, and do good wherever possible while returning the merits to them, so that their souls leave suffering for joy and that they attain eternal deliverance. Such is true filial piety. Besides, it is more meaningful to share the Dharma and our wealth with the public than to enjoy it all by ourselves!”
Thus, the two brothers disagreed so much with each other that they soon parted ways to lead their separate lives, and neither could change or persuade the other. In the next few years, the younger brother was so successful in making money and a name for himself that his family became the richest in the region. He was busy doing business all day long and had no time to think how one could ever deliver oneself from the shackles of mortal life. Sometimes, to ensure his business was profitable, he did things expedient when he could to reach his goal. In the meantime, the older brother concentrated on personal cultivation, was later converted by Buddha and, ordained as a monk, practised meditation day and night with dedication. A few years later, he attained arhat phala (again see Note 2) and was liberated beyond the suffering of reincarnation. When the younger brother heard the news, not only was he unhappy, but he felt angry, for he thought that his brother merely lived a passive, unproductive life in pursuing Buddhism.
In this connection there is a Buddhist saying, “Only when impermanence strikes will one know that he is living a dream. Now he takes with him nothing except for the karma that follows him round (see Note 3).” The younger brother, as it happened, died in his 50s. While alive, he had been so greedy and made so much evil karma by hurting his business partners that as a result, upon death he fell into the path of animals with transmigration and was reborn as an ox. This ox was next bought by a merchant to transport salt, every day travelling long distances among hills, and was often whipped miserably.
Missing his younger brother day in and day out, upon achieving arhat phala the elder brother located him in his next life through supernatural power. One day, knowing with prescience that the opportunity to awaken him had arrived, he manifested himself at a hillside on the ox’s salt transportation route. While the younger brother who had now become an ox was passing by, the elder brother instantly recognized the ox as his reincarnated younger brother, so he said, “Brother, where is the wealth now that you earned with so much hard work all your life? Did you ever get a chance to spend some of that money? You said that Buddhism cannot increase one’s wealth, and so you refused to be a practitioner, thinking that nothing but money was the real treasure. But now look at me. Buddhism has freed me from the suffering of reincarnation and eliminated all my trouble, and that’s how I have obtained the sacred fruition. But in your case, you were so driven by greed that you have become an ox. Repent, and that is what you should do now!”
And as he finished speaking, the elder brother used his supernatural power to make his younger brother aware of his original self. The ox, having gotten his brother’s message but unable to speak a word, simply shed tears and wailed while realizing that it was wrong for him to have sought wealth by hook or by crook and feeling the most remorseful for having now been reborn as an ox.
The elder brother then purchased the ox, kept him in a Buddhist temple, and placed him under the refuge of The Three Jewels. Later, when the ox died, he was eventually reborn into Trayastrimsa, the second heaven in the desire realm as a deva (see Note 4).
Note 1: According to the customs in India at the time, if someone died in a family unable to afford a burial or cremation, the remains would be placed in a corpse forest for birds and beasts to feed on.
Note 2: Arhat phala is the highest level of enlightenment in Hinayana Buddhism. An arhat is a sage who has eliminated all mental trouble, such as self-view and ignorance. He has the four wisdoms that are mellow and thorough and resides in peace and joy. Having transcended the three realms of existence and six paths of reincarnation, he is no longer inflicted by the suffering from life or death.
Note 3: “Impermanence” here means death. The sentence says that only when ordinary people face dying will they realize that life is but a dream, and that when they die, they cannot take anything away with them, nothing except for the karma that they have made, either good or evil, which follows their divine consciousness all the way into one of the six paths of reincarnation.
Note 4: In the Buddhist view of the cosmos, the Trayastrimsa heaven is the second of the six heavens in the desire realm. This heaven has many wonderful treasures, including amazing mansions and chambers, pavilions, gardens, baths and terraces. The lifespan of the devas living in this heaven is 1,000 years, revelling in joys ten thousand times greater than in the human world. For more details, please refer to “Trayastrimsa” in Volume 20 of Dirgha Agama, or The Long Discourses.