17. Mahasudassana Sutta

Introduction

The Mahasudassana Sutta returns the reader to that place and moment of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 16) where the Buddha, preparing to leave the body, lay down in a lion pose between the twin sal trees in Kusinara. Ananda asks the Buddha not to leave the body in such a remote, lost in a jungle village, but the Buddha stops the disciple. “Do not say that, Ananda. After all, there were times, when this place was the capital of a kingdom of a great king, the world-bearer.”

King Mahasudassana, his treasures and qualities

King Mahasudassana conquered the territories in four directions and by his rule ensured the inhabitants a happy and prosperous life. In the capital Kusinara, surrounded by the seven walls of precious metals and stones, precious trees grew. Trumpets of elephants, neighing of horses, roar of wagons, singing, sounds of musical instruments and exclamations of joy and contentment were constantly heard in the city (this description conveys the image of a mandala that contains the riches and magnificence of the visible world).

King Mahasudassana possessed seven treasures:

  • The Treasure of the Wheel, which by its rotation revealed to the king and his army the way to conquering new lands;
  • The Elephant Treasure, on which the king could ride the lands from sea to sea. This elephant could travel through the air;
  • The Horse Treasure, with qualities similar to those of the Elephant Treasure;
  • The Jewel Treasure, a stone that could illuminate the darkness so that people, thinking that the day has come, were starting in their daily chores;
  • The Woman Treasure, a goddess from heavenly spheres, faithful to the king and loving him dearly;
  • The Householder Treasure that could save the king’s treasures and find treasures anywhere, even in the middle of the river;
  • The Counsellor Treasure, capable of giving wise and faithful advice.

(The seven treasures of Mahasudassana are a manifestation of the reality of the world of Thirty-Three Gods, ruling the world under the leadership of Sakka).

Mahasudassana also had four qualities: he was more beautiful than other people, had a longer life, was not susceptible to disease and was honored and dear to all his subjects (these qualities are inherent in Brahma, see Brahmajala Sutta, Digha Nikaya 1).

The creation of the Lotus Lakes and the construction of the Dhamma Palace

Mahasudassana ordered to create lotus lakes, which blossomed year-round, covered with lotuses of assorted colors. Near these lakes were created bathhouses and guest houses, and everyone who needed something could find there what they wanted (the lotus lakes that satisfy all desires are an image of the concentration of consciousness in the heart, where the mind becomes like a lotus lake, that feeds on internal sources and is independent of rain or rivers).

Together, people and gods built a palace for King Mahasudassana called Dhamma. It had 84 thousand rooms (a symbolic number equal to the number of species of living beings in the universe, according to the views in ancient India). Also in this palace there were fences, steps, precious trees, nets of bells and the lake Dhamma (these images symbolize the four purified accumulations-skandhas: the palace with steps and fences symbolizes a form; precious trees symbolize perceptions; networks with bells symbolize concepts; the lake Dhamma symbolizes samskaras. The king himself in the house, present in 84,000 rooms symbolizes the pure skandha of consciousness).

Reflections of King Mahasudassana

Looking at his greatness and wealth, King Mahasudassana reflected: “What is the reason for such prosperity?” Meditating, Mahasudassana realized that the reason for his prosperity is in the giving, self-control and renunciation that he manifested in past lives. Then King Mahasudassana retired to the room with a pointed roof, sat cross-legged, and made a firm decision: “Let the lust stop! Let the bad intentions stop! Let the cruelty stop! “(Qualities opposite to self-control, renunciation and giving).

Reflecting and cleansing the mind, the king experienced entering the four jhānas (focusing on the object that has form, focusing on concentration (of bodily qualities), focusing on the state of equanimity and focusing on stopping the involvement in the activities of the senses (renouncing the states of happiness and unhappiness); see Samaññaphala Sutta, Digha Nikaya 2). Then Mahasudassana extended friendliness, compassion, love of virtue and serene peace to all directions (four brahmaviharas, for details see Tevijja Sutta, Digha Nikaya 13).

The visit of Queen Subhadda and the rebirth of Mahasudassana

Queen Subhadda once thought that she had not seen Mahasudassana for a long time, while he was staying in the Dhamma Palace. When she entered the king’s room, she saw him lying on his right side in a lion’s pose (just as, while preparing for dying, the Buddha lay down). The queen began to ask Mahasudassana not to leave the body, but he reproached her: “You should not speak like this. One should say thus: all pleasant things are impermanent and subject to change. It is not good to die, filled with desire. It is painful and blameworthy. Leave the attachment to 84,000 monasteries, 84,000 horses, elephants, householders, kshatriyas, piles of clothes … ”

Just like a person feels drowsy after a hearty meal – so felt Mahasudassana and when he left the body, he immediately was reborn in the world of Brahma.

Explanation of connections between rebirths

Concluding the story, the Buddha explains the connection between reincarnations. Six times the Buddha had left the body in Kusinara before, and the last time He did this as the King Mahasudassana. But now, looking around all the worlds, the Buddha could not find the place where He will leave the body the next time (this means that that earthly birth of the Buddha was the last one).

Conclusion

To understand the connection of the reincarnations, explained by the Buddha in the Mahasudassana Sutta, it is best to get acquainted with Mahapadana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 14). There the Buddha tells of another chain of seven incarnations beginning with the Buddha Vipassi. In both cases, the connection of incarnations in worlds, different in their subtlety, is being described. In this Sutta, King Mahasudassana is a subtle image of the Buddha himself, the perfect king, the world ruler in the world of Dhamma. His jewels are symbols: the wheel is the spread of the Dhamma; the elephant is the power of austerity; the horse is an honed and skillful in analysis mind; the jewel – Awakening; the woman – Sangha disciples; the householder – the Sangha of laymen; the counselor – a collection of celestial beings who patronize the Dhamma.

Vladimir Pyatsky and Smadar Pyatsky
Translation: Natalia Tsimbler