A story of the Buddha
translated by F.L. Woodward, Buddhist Stories, The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar 1994 (1925)*
There was a lecture given to five men, when the Buddha was staying at Jeta Grove. It is said that these men, who wanted to hear the Law, went to the Residence, saluted the Master and sat down aside. Now it is not the way of the Buddhas to only give the truth to rich people while changing it for poor people. Whatever the subject of Their teachings, it is always as if They were drawing it down from above the Stream Celestial (Akasa-Ganga).
Nevertheless, although the Master was preaching without distinction, of the five laymen who sat there, one being drowsy, fell asleep; another sat grubbing in the ground with his finger; the third idly shook a tree to and fro; the fourth sat gazing at the sky and paid no heed to what was said; while the fifth was the only one of them who listened.
So the elder Ananda, who stood there fanning the Buddha, observing the behavior of these men said to Him: 'Lord, you are teaching the Truth to these men even as the voice of the thunder when the heavy rains are falling. Yet, look at them: they sit doing this and that, while you are preaching.'
'Ananda,' the Buddha said, I think you don't know these men.'
'I don't know them, Lord'
'Of these five men, the one that sits asleep was reborn as a goblin-snake in many a birth, and laying his head on his coils would go to sleep. So now he sleeps and my words don't reach him.'
'But tell me, Lord; was this in births successive or only now and then?'
'At one time he was at intervals a human being, at another time a deva, at yet another time a snake-goblin. But even one omniscient could not recount in full the births he underwent at intervals. Be that as it may, for many successive births he took shape as a snake-goblin, and slept and slept, nor can he have his fill of sleep. Yonder man, who sits grubbing in the earth with his finger, took birth as an earth-worm many a time and bored the earth. Now, too, he does the same and does not hear my words. That one, who sits there and shakes a tree, was born many times successively as a monkey. It is his nature to do so - a habit ingrained in many former births. Thus no sound of mine can penetrate his ears. Next, yonder brahmana, who sits gazing at the sky, was born for many times successively as an astrologer, a star-gazer. By dint of ingrained habit even today he looks up at the sky, and no sound of mine can penetrate his ears. But this one, who sits attentively listening to the Law, was for many times a master of the three Vedas, a brahmana who could repeat the Sacred Texts. So now also he pays good attention to my words, just as if he were linking up a mantra.'
'But Lord', said Ananda, 'your teachings reach deep into people. How can it be that when you preach the Law these men don't listen at all?'
'Ananda, I think you consider my teachings easy to hear.'
'Lord, is it hard to hear then?'
'Yes, certainly, Ananda, it is hard to hear and understand.'
'Ananda, such things as The Buddha, or The Law, or the Order of Brethren (Buddhist monks) have not been heard of by these beings for countless cycles of time. Therefore they cannot listen to this Law. In this round of births and deaths, whose beginning is incalculable, these beings have come to birth hearing only the talk of diverse animals. They spend their time in song and dance, in places where men drink and gamble and the like. Thus they cannot listen to the Law.'
'But what, Lord, is the actual, immediate cause they cannot hear?'
'Ananda, because of hatred, delusion and craving they cannot hear. There is no fire like the fire of lust. It burns up creatures, not even leaving ash behind. The world-fire that ends the cycle, which arises owing to the appearance of the seven suns, also leaves no ash behind. But that only happens now and again. But the fire of lust is always burning. For that reason I say to you that there is no fire like lust, no raving like hatred, no snare like delusion, and no torrent like craving.'
The Buddha then sang this verse:
There is no fire like Lust that harms mankind;
No beast like Hatred can devour;
No snare like Folly can entrap has power;
No flood like Craving caries them away.
At the end of this lecture, the layman who was listening attentively to the Law was established in the Fruits of Stream-winning (the secondstage of the first initiation), and to those who had already won the Stream the teaching was a blessing.
(from the Dhammapada Commentary)
* The English has been modernised by the editor of Buddha's World