The Heaven of 33
[Chapter 1. Co-operation]
Once upon a time, when King Magadha was ruling in the land, there was a young noble called, ‘Magha the Good’. He lived in a remote village of just 30 families. When he was young, his parents married him to a girl who had qualities of character similar to his own. They were very happy together, and she gave birth to several children.
The villagers came to respect Magha the Good because he always tried to help improve the village, for the good of all. Because they respected him, he was able to teach the five steps of training, to purify their thoughts, words and deeds.
Magha’s way of teaching was by doing. An example of this happened one day when the villagers gathered to do handicraft work. Magha the Good cleaned a place for himself to sit. Before he could sit down though, someone else sat there. So he patiently cleaned another place. Again a neighbor sat in his place. This happened over and over again, until he had patiently cleaned sitting places for all those present. Only then could he himself sit in the last place.
By using such examples of patience, Magha the Good taught his fellow villagers how to cooperate with each other, without quarrelling. Working together in this way, they constructed several buildings and made other improvements that benefitted the whole village.
Seeing the worthwhile results of patience and cooperation, based on following the gentle ways of the Five Training Steps, all in the village became calmer and more peaceful. A natural side effect was that former crimes and wrong-doing completely disappeared!
You would think this would make everybody happier. However, there was one man who did not like the new situation at all. He was the head of the village, the politician who cared only about his own position.
Formerly, when there were murders and thefts, he handed out punishments. This increased his position of authority, and caused the villagers to fear him. When husbands or wives had affairs with others, the head man collected fines. In the same way, when reputations were damaged by lies, or contracts were not lived up to, he also collected fines. He even got tax money from the profits of selling strong liquor. He did not mind that drunkenness led to many of the crimes.
It is easy to see why the head man was upset to lose so much respect and power and money, due to the people living peacefully together. So he went to the king and said, “My lord, some of the remote villages are being robbed and looted by bandits. We need your help.”
The king said, “Bring all these criminals to me.”
The dishonest politician rounded up the heads of all 30 families and brought them as prisoners to the king. Without questioning them, the king ordered that they all be trampled to death by elephants.
All 30 were ordered to lie down in the palace courtyard and the elephants were brought in. They realized they were about to be trampled to death. Magha the Good said to them, “Remember and concentrate on the peacefulness and purity that come from following the Five Training Steps, so you may feel loving-kindness towards all. In this way, do not get angry at the unjust king, the lying head man, or the unfortunate elephants.”
The first elephant was brought in by his mahout. But when he tried to force him to trample the innocent villagers, the elephant refused. He trumpeted as he went away. Amazingly, this was repeated with each of the king’s elephants. None would step on them.
The mahouts complained to the king that this was not their fault. “It must be,” they said, “that these men have some drug that is confusing the elephants.”
The king had the villagers searched, but they found nothing. Then his advisers said, “These men must be magicians who have cast an evil spell on your mighty elephants!”
The villagers were asked, “Do you have such a spell?” Magha the Good said, “Yes we do.” This made the king very curious. So he himself asked Magha, “What is this spell and how does it work?”
Magha the Good replied, “My lord king, we do not cast the same kinds of spells that others cast. We cast the spell of loving-kindness with minds made pure by following the Five Training Steps.”
“What are these Five Training Steps?” asked the king. Magha the Good said, “All of us have given up the five unwholesome actions, which are: destroying life, taking what is not given, doing wrong in sexual ways, speaking falsely, and losing one’s mind from alcohol.”
“In this way we have become harmless, so that we can give the gift of fearlessness to all. Therefore, the elephants lost their fear of the mahouts, and did not wish to harm us. They departed, trumpeting triumphantly. This was our protection, which you have called a ‘spell’.”
Finally seeing the wholesomeness and wisdom of these people, the king questioned them and learned the truth. He decided to confiscate all the property of the dishonest village head man and divide it among them.
The villagers were then free to do even more good works for the benefit of the whole village. Soon they began to build a big roadside inn, right next to the highway crossroads.
This was the biggest project they had yet undertaken. The men were confident because they had learned so well how to cooperate with each other for a common goal. But they had not yet learned how to cooperate in this work with the women of the village. They seemed to think it was ‘man’s work’.
By this time Magha the Good had four wives. Their names were Good-doer, Beauty, Happy and Well-born. Of these, the first wife, Good-doer, was the wisest. She wanted to pave the way for the women to benefit from cooperating in doing good work. So she gradually became friendly with the boss in charge of the roadside inn project.
Because she wanted to contribute by helping in a big way, she gave a present to the boss. She asked him, “Can you think of a way that I may become the most important contributor to this good work?”
The boss replied, “I know just such a way!” Then he secretly constructed the most important part of the building, the roof beam that would hold the roof together. He wrapped it up and hid it with Good-doer, so it could dry for the time necessary to become rigid and strong.
Meanwhile, the men of the village continued happily in the building project. At last they got to the point of installing the roof beam. They began to make one, but the boss interrupted them. He said, “My friends, we cannot use fresh green wood to make the roof beam. It will bend and sag. We must have an aged dry roof beam. Go find one!”
When they searched in the village, they found that Good-doer just happened to have a perfect roof beam. It was even the right size! When they asked if they could buy it from her, she said, “It is not for sale at any price. I wish to contribute the roof beam for free, but only if you let me participate in building the inn.”
The men were afraid to change their successful ways. So they said, “Women have never been part of this project. This is impossible.”
Then they returned to the construction boss and told him what had happened. He said, “Why do you keep the women away? Women are part of everything in this world. Let us be generous and share the harmony and wholesomeness of this work with the women. Then the project and our village will be even more successful.”
So they accepted the roof beam from Good-doer, and she helped to finish the building of the inn. Then Beauty had a wonderful garden built next to the inn, which she donated. It had all kinds of flowers and fruit trees. So, too, Happy had a lovely pond dug, and planted beautiful lotuses in it. But Well-born, being the youngest and a little spoiled, did nothing for the inn.
In the evenings, Magha the Good held meetings in the roadside inn. He taught the people to assist their parents and elders, and to give up harsh words, accusing others behind their backs, and being stingy.
It is said that the lowest heaven world contains the gods of the four directions, North, East, South and West. Because he followed his own teachings, Magha the Good died with happiness in his heart. He was reborn as Sakka, king of the second lowest heaven world.
In time, the heads of all the other families of the village, as well as Good-doer, Beauty and Happy, also died. They were reborn as gods under King Sakka. This was known as the “Heaven of 33”.
[Chapter 2. Compassion]
At that time, so very long ago, there were some unfortunate ugly gods called ‘Asuras’. They had taken to living in the second heaven world.
The one who had been Magha the Good in his previous life, was now Sakka, King of the Heaven of 33. He thought, “Why should we, who are the 33, live in our Heaven of 33 with these unfortunate ugly Asuras? Since this is our world, let us live happily by ourselves.”
So he invited them to a party and got them drunk on very strong liquor. It seems that, in being reborn, King Sakka had forgotten some of his own teachings as Magha the Good. After getting the Asuras drunk, he got them to go to a lower world, just as big as the Heaven of 33.
When they sobered up and realized they had been tricked into going to a lower heaven world, the Asuras became angry. They rose up and made war against King Sakka. Soon they were victorious, and Sakka was forced to run away.
While retreating in his mighty war chariot, he came to the vast forest where the Garudas have their nests. These are gods who, unfortunately, have no super powers. Instead they are forced to get around by flapping huge heavy wings.
When King Sakka’s chariot drove through their forest, it upset their nests and made the baby Garudas fall down. They cried in fear and agony. Hearing this, Sakka asked his charioteer where these sad cries were coming from. He answered, “These are the shrieks of terror coming from the baby Garudas, whose nests and trees are being destroyed by your powerful war chariot.”
Hearing this suffering, King Sakka realized that all lives, including his own, are only temporary. Hearing this suffering, the compassion of the Great Being, which passes from life to life, arose within him and said, “Let the little ones have no more fear. The first training step must not be broken. There can be no exception. I will not destroy even one life for the sake of a heavenly kingdom that must some day end. Instead I will offer my life to the victorious Asuras. Turn back the chariot!”
So the chariot returned in the direction of the Heaven of 33. The Asuras saw King Sakka turn around, and thought he must have reinforcements from other worlds. So they ran, without looking back, down to their lower heaven world.
[Chapter 3. Merit]
King Sakka returned victoriously to his palace in the Heaven of 33. Next to it stood the mansion of his first wife, the reborn Good-doer. Outside the mansion was the garden of his second wife, the reborn Beauty. And there was the heavenly pond of his third wife, the reborn Happy.
However, Well-born had died and been reborn as a slender crane in the forest. Since he missed her, Sakka found her and brought her up to the Heaven of 33 for a visit. He showed her the mansion and the garden and the pond of his three wives. He told her that, by doing good work, the other three had gained merit. This merit had brought them happiness, both in their previous lives and in their rebirths.
He said. “You, my dear crane, in your previous life as Well-born, did no such good work. So you did not gain either merit or happiness, and were reborn as a forest crane. I advise you to begin on the path of purity by following the Five Training Steps.” After being taught the five steps, the lovely crane decided to follow them. Then she returned to the forest.
Not long afterwards, King Sakka was curious about how the crane was doing. So he took the shape of a fish and lay down in front of her. The crane picked him up by
the head. She was just about to swallow the King of the Heaven of 33, when the fish wiggled his tail.
Immediately the crane thought, “This fish must be alive!” Remembering the first training step, she released the living fish back into the stream. Rising from the water, King Sakka returned to his godly form and said, “It is very good, my dear crane, that you are able to follow the Five Training Steps.” Then he returned to the second heaven world.
In the fullness of time, the crane died. Following the Five Training Steps had brought her both merit and a peaceful mind. So she was reborn in the wonderful state of mankind, into a potter’s family in Benares, in northern India.
Again King Sakka was interested in finding out where the one who had been Well-born, and then the crane, was now reborn. He found her in the potter’s family, and wanted to help her in gaining merit and finding happiness.
So he disguised himself as an old man and created a cart full of golden cucumbers. He went into Benares and shouted, “Cucumbers! Cucumbers! I have cucumbers!”
When people came to buy these amazing cucumbers, he said, “These golden cucumbers are not for sale. I will give them away, but only to one who is wholesome, that is, one who follows the Five Training Steps.”
The people said, “We never heard of the Five Training Steps. But we will buy your golden cucumbers. Name your price!” He repeated, “My cucumbers are not for sale. I have brought them to give to any person who practices the Five Training Steps.” The people said, “This man has come here only to play tricks on us.” So they left him alone.
Soon Well-born heard about this unusual man. Even though she had been reborn, she still had the habit of following the Five Training Steps. So she thought, “This man must have come to find me.”
She went to him and asked for the golden cucumbers. He said, “Do you follow the Five Training Steps? Have you given up destroying life, taking what is not given, doing wrong in sexual ways, speaking falsely, and losing your mind from alcohol?” She answered, “Yes sir, I do follow these steps, and I am peaceful and happy.”
Then the old man said, “I brought these cucumbers especially for you, to encourage you to gain more merit and future happiness.” So he left the cart of golden cucumbers with her, and returned to the Heaven of 33.
Throughout the rest of her life, the woman was very generous with all this gold. Spreading her happiness to others, she gained merit. After she died, she was reborn as the daughter of the King of the Asuras. She grew up to be a goddess of great beauty. To the Asuras this seemed like a miracle, since the rest of them were the ugliest of all the gods.
The Asura king was pleased with his daughter’s goodness, as well as her famous beauty. He gathered all the Asuras together and gave her the freedom to choose a husband.
Sakka, King of the Heaven of 33, knew of the latest rebirth of the one who had been his wife Well-born, then a crane, and then a potter’s daughter. So he came down to the lower heaven world and took the shape of an ordinary ugly Asura. He thought, “If Well-born chooses a husband whose inner qualities of wholesomeness are the same as hers, we will be reunited at last!”
Because of her past associations with Magha the Good, reborn as King Sakka, now disguised as an ordinary Asura, the beautiful princess was drawn to him. So she picked him from among all the Asuras.
King Sakka took her to the Heaven of 33, made her his fourth wife, and they lived happily ever after.
The moral is: The Five Training Steps are the beginning of wholesomeness. Wholesomeness is the beginning of peace and happiness.