Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Introduction to 1.3.5
Maṇḍūkadevaputtavimānavatthu - The Frog Transforms into a Deva
Aṅgīrasassa namatthu, sakyaputtassa sirīmato;
Yo imaṃ dhammaṃ desesi, sabbadukkhāpanūdanaṃ.1
Homage to the Radiant One, the glorious son of the Sakyans,
Who taught the Dhamma which dispels all suffering.
This lesson presents a lovely story of a frog, who by his desire to listen to the teaching of the Dhamma with the thought ‘Dhamma is being taught!’ (saddhammassavanaṃ), left his water abode. Desiring to listen to the Buddha’s preaching he came out of his shelter and was unintentionally pierced by a cowherd, who also attended the same discourse. Even though he died, Maṇḍūka’s desire to hear Dhamma gave him immediate rebirth in the tāvatiṃsā devā world and, in order not to miss any single word of the discourse, he reappeared on the spot as a resplendent deva. His brightness was visible, blinding and dazzling the other beings present. Buddha then, with the intention to display the benefits of the desire to listen to the Dhamma, asked him how he became so luminous.
Here Maṇḍūka (frog) uttered these verses which introduce the Vimānavatthu, a selection of texts and stories of beings and their deeds who gain birth in higher fields. They show attractive evidence of the powerful potential that the wish of coming into contact with Dhamma provides even for beings of the animal world.
When he announces his verses, he uses the following wording:
iddhiṃ passa yasañca me — this power of mine that you can witness.
The term used here iddhi should be understood for a normal being as healthy personal qualities such as longevity, good health, wealth, etc. But mostly the texts point to iddhi to express supernatural powers (abhiññā) such as making oneself invisible, walking on water, flying through the air, reading the mind of other’s, etc.
The Buddha always strongly discouraged his disciples to practise or demonstrate any of these abilities but on the other hand encouraged them to establish themselves in the four bases of iddhi, the iddhipāda.2 Gods (deva, devatā), like this frog, in general hold and display one or more of these powers as an inherent quality, according to the sphere in which they dwell.
The complete translation of the title, Maṇḍūkadevaputtavimānavatthu, would be ‘the deva, a frog’s son’s property in the vimāna’. A vimāna should be imagined as a luxurious dwelling ground, usually a palace that springs into existence according to the deeds of their future owners.
Stories of beings and their deeds who gain birth in higher or lower worlds are collected in the Vimānavatthu or the Petavatthu. Four lower worlds3 are found below the human world, itself a linking sphere, from where humans can decide their own destiny by performing such kamma that would lead one farther below or above. All these higher spheres are related in the Dhammacakkappavattanasuttaṃ at the Isipatana park, from where the happy news spread after the Buddha set in motion the wheel of Dhamma. There are all together thirty-one spheres above the human world: five deva worlds enjoying sense pleasures, sixteen more deva worlds with heavenly beings free from sense desires, and four spheres of the brahma worlds, beings without any matter.4
After the Buddha had thus surveyed the world and perceived and accepted the request of Brahmā Sahampati,5 the Brahma realized that the Buddha was now dedicated to disseminate his teaching, confirmed by the Buddha with the following renowned stanza.
Disvāna brahmānaṃ sahampatiṃ gāthāya paccabhāsi–
Apārutā6 tesaṃ amatassa dvārā;
ye sotavanto pamuñcantu saddhaṃ;
vihiṃsasaññī7 paguṇaṃ na bhāsiṃ;
dhammaṃ paṇītaṃ manujesu brahme’ti.
Now the door of the deathless is opened,
Open for those to hear, let them dissolve their faith!
Considering my wearisome fatigue, I did not teach,
Brahmā, that sublime Dhamma to mankind.
It is due to Brahmā Sahampati that the Buddha opened the door to the deathless. He offered inclined people living in darkness to perceive brightness; he enabled inclined people living in brightness to remain in brightness.
The sublime Dhamma is still available, the magnificent teaching of Vipassana is accessible today. Let one endeavour to belong to one of the two categories of beings that are moving towards brightness!8
1. Āṭānāṭiyasuttaṃ, Pāthikavaggapāḷi, Dīghanikāyo.
2. The four iddhipāda are part of the 37 bodhipakkhiyadhamma. For more details refer to 3.7.0 Right Effort – Sīlalakkhaṇapañho – Proceeding Further on the Path - the Wholesome Base of Sīla Is Only a Precondition.
3. The lowest states of existence are called apāyā lokā and are to be imagined below the human world. They are niraya (Hell or purgatory), asura (titans), peta (ghost) and tiracchānalokā (animal world). Accounts of beings and their downfall are found in the Petavatthu. A lovely example is presented with the story of Aṅkura in lesson 3.5.11 Aṅkurapetavatthu – ‘Not Even Harming a Tree’.
6. apārutā: apāpurati (pp.) — open.
7. vihiṃsasaññī: vihiṃsā + saññī — cruelty, injury + having perception, aware.