Discomfort in the Guise of Pleasure

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Today I’m going to tell you a story from Udana (Verses of Joy), a collection of discourses each containing a verse of joy uttered by the Buddha. It is classified under the Khuddaka Nikaya. I do not know whether you can accept the credibility or agree with the moral of the story.

The moral of the story can be summarised in the following verse uttered by the Buddha at the end of the discourse called Suppavasa Sutta (Ud 2:8):

Discomfort in the guise of pleasure
The unloved in the guise of love
Pain in the guise of bliss
Overpower the heedless one.

The Suffering of Suppavasa

It is the story of Suppavasa, from the Koliya clan, who was foremost among all women in providing good, nourishing food to the Buddha and the Sangha.

At the time of the story, Suppavasa was pregnant, not for the usual 9 months but endured seven years of difficult pregnancy. During the last seven days of her pregnancy she faced complications in delivering her baby. Suppavasa had already attained the first stage of sainthood, and as such, her precepts were internalised in her. So amidst her suffering, she always remembered and recalled the Triple Gem: “The Buddha is indeed a fully Enlightened One who teaches Dhamma for abandoning suffering such as this; the Sangha of disciples is indeed on the right path to abandon suffering such as this; Nibbana is indeed perfect bliss where such suffering is not found.

When she heard that the Buddha was passing through the area, she asked her husband to go and pay respects to the Buddha. Upon hearing about her condition, the Buddha wished Suppavasa happiness and safe delivery of a healthy baby. At that very moment, Suppavasa delivered her child safely.

The couple then invited the Buddha and the Sangha for house dana for 7 days. It so happened that a supporter of Ven Moggallana had also invited the Sangha for dana on the same day. So the Buddha asked Ven Moggallana to request his supporter to postpone his dana to allow Suppavasa the opportunity to do dana first. The supporter agreed on condition that Ven Moggallana could guarantee that, after the next seven days, the former would still be alive and have the means as well as the faith to do dana. Ven Moggallana told the supporter that he could only guarantee the first two, and that he himself had to uphold his faith. The supporter agreed.

The newborn child paid respects to the Buddha. In reply to a question from Venerable Sariputta, the child said that it was suffering to be in his mother’s womb for seven years. Suppavasa was very happy to see her newborn child paying respects to the Buddha. Therefore, when the Buddha asked her whether she would endure having to bear seven more of such children, she replied that she wouldn’t mind another seven such pregnancies. Upon hearing this, the Buddha expounded the above verse.

To paraphrase, the verse says that the unenlightened do not see suffering as such. We see non-happiness as happiness, discomfort as comfort and the unlovable as lovable. As such, people are always chasing after these things. We are thus caught in the suffering of samsara because we are not enlightened.

The Cause of the Suffering of Mother and Child
The child in later life became a monk, Ven Sivali, renowned as the arahant who was extremely well-supported by devotees, never lacking in requisites. The question then arises: “Suppavasa and her child were highly spiritually matured people. Why did they still have to go through such suffering?” This is because in their past lives, they had accumulated bad kamma as well.

This story of their past lives is told in the Commentaries as well as in the Jataka Tales. Once a Kosalan king conquered Varanasi, killed its king, Kasika, and took his chief consort to be his own. King Kasika’s son managed to escape. The prince rallied his relatives and friends round him and, in an effort to regain his father’s lost kingdom, had the royal city under siege and gave the king an ultimatum: “Give me my kingdom or give me war.” The prince’s mother, now the queen consort of the new king, sent him a secret letter advising him not to wage war and kill but rather to take control of the four gates of the city walls, the points of entry into the city, thus cutting off all food supplies into the city. Unknown to mother and son, there was another small gate through which the city continued to receive its supplies. This resulted in a stalemate which lasted for seven long years, until the mother discovered the existence of this fifth gate. She then informed her son who promptly took control of it and within seven days managed to regain the kingdom.

Now, mother and son had collaborated in the siege and caused suffering to many. As a result, this bad kamma brought about the seven years of suffering to mother and child caused by the seven years of pregnancy and seven days of difficult delivery.

Thus one cannot escape from one’s kamma. So be mindful of your actions. The next time you trap a rat, make sure you release it as soon as possible and not prolong its suffering.

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