Mahakasyapa and Ananda: A Lesson About Karma and Great Compassion

Published May 13, 2015 by jptan2012

Some people, especially those who are not Buddhist or Taoist might find this post a little extreme because of the belief or teaching about reincarnation and that we humans could be reborn as animals, or insects, or could have come from either animals or insects. Nevertheless, no matter how shocking it is, and some may even consider it ridiculously degrading, the truth is this is a widely accepted belief in Buddhism and Taoism, and thus it is important to be kind and compassionate to all sentient beings.

Today, allow me to share the story of Mahakasyapa (also spelled as Mahakassapa) and Ananda. Mahakasyapa and Ananda are just two of the Sakyamuni Buddha’s (also spelled as Shakyamuni) disciple. Mahakasyapa is an old disciple, and Ananda, who is of the royal family before he became a disciple of Buddha and a monk, is young and famous not just for his astounding memory but also for being handsome.

In Buddhist temples, Mahakasyapa (Mahakassapa) is usually on the Buddha's left side (from our point of view - right side) and Ananda is on the Buddha's right side.

In Buddhist temples, Mahakasyapa (Mahakassapa) is usually on the Buddha’s left side (from our point of view – right side) and Ananda is on the Buddha’s right side.

One day, while they were out on a walk, the Buddha instructed Ananda to ask a fruit vendor for a watermelon. Ananda, confidently walked over to the lady who sells watermelon and begged for a watermelon. Remember, during those days it is traditional for monks to beg, and lay people even vendors would be very willing to donate food or whatever they can to the monks. However, much to Ananda’s surprise, the fruit lady not only denied him a watermelon, but also she rudely drove her away.

Ananda went back to the Buddha to report what happened. The Buddha then instructed Mahakasyapa to beg for a watermelon. Both Mahakasyapa and Ananda and other members of the sangha didn’t believe that Mahakasyapa will have better luck, but even before Mahakasyapa got to the fruit lady, the fruit lady ran towards him and offered him a watermelon to quench his thirst from the hot weather.

Needless to say, all the Buddha’s disciples were surprised. Then the Buddha explained to them what happened.

In one of their previous lives, Ananda and Mahakasyapa had come across the fruit lady. However, at that time the fruit lady was a cat. The cat died on the street, and when Ananda (in his previous life) saw the dead cat, he veered away because he didn’t like the smell of the rotting flesh and also he didn’t care about the dead cat. On the other hand, Mahakasyapa (in his previous life) when he saw the dead cat, he prayed for it, and picked it up to give the cat a proper burial. Mahakasyapa with his simple act of compassion and kindness towards the dead cat earned a lot of good karma affinity with the dead cat that now happens to be the fruit lady.

That simple act of compassion that Mahakasyapa did, which didn’t even cost him single money, earned him some good karma. Needless to say, Mahakasyapa did the good act of compassion and not for wanting good merits.

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