Lord Buddha once addressed Ananda Thera, “Ananda, beings subject to birth, old age, death, sorrow, weeping, lamentation, pain, grief and utter despair come to me as a good friend and to rid themselves of all their miseries”,
‘Kalyana Mitta’ or ‘Good Friend’ is the pivotal factor, the very substratum of success in life, here and hereafter. It remains no less an element in the case of a Bodhisatta too, as most fascinatingly demonstrated in Ghatikara Sutta, which also stands as an outstanding example of the sheer vagaries of samsaric existence.
The Blessed One was on a wandering mission through the state of Kosala with a large group of Bhikkhus when He stepped off the road and expressed a smile. Thathagathas do not smile for nothing, and when they do an immense column of brilliant light emanates from the four teeth, perambulates their sacred body thrice and disappears from where it arose.
Questioned by Ananda Thera, the Blessed One declared that a prosperous township by the name of Vehalinga once existed there, where Kashyapa Buddha had His monastery, where He advised Bhikkhus and defined the Four Noble Truths.
Ven. Ananda Thera thought if the Blessed One too remained there a short while, people would offer flowers and venerate the ground consecrated by two Samma Sambuddhas and become heaven-bound, so he folded his patched robe in four and made a seat for Him.
Bodhisatta realised from the grasp itself that it wasn’t his, but Buddha’s spell that drove him to do the inconceivable.
Seated on it the Blessed One said “Ananda, there was a benefactor of Kashyapa Buddha, a potter named Ghatikara, who suggested to his young Brahmin friend Jothipala that they go to see Buddha.
Jothipala then was none other than the Blessed One Himself, He disclosed in the end.
“What good is seeing a bald-pated recluse like that”, blurted Jothipala. The request of Ghatikara was rejected for the second and the third time. “Then let’s have a bath” said Ghatikara, and both went to the river taking with them the necessary bathing powder. The potter repeated the request thrice standing close to Jothipala from that part of the river demarcated for low-caste bathers.
“Get away from here, friend” muttered Bodhisatta Jothipala, knocking down with the strength of a tusker the wooden pole that separated the high caste from the low-Attakatha.
The potter wouldn’t give up. He knew, “this wise Jothipala would be convinced by Buddha’s sight alone, the Dhamma, doubtless”. After all what are friends for, he thought. He went upto Jothipala and held him by his hair, the unthinkable.
Bodhisatta realised from the grasp itself that it wasn’t his, but Buddha’s spell that drove him to do the inconceivable. He said, “Friend Ghatikara, is meeting Buddha so important a thing?” “Yes it is”, came the reply.
The two of them did go to see Kashyapa Buddha who proclaimed the Dhamma to both. Awakening Jothipala’s hidden memories, Kashyapa Buddha said, “Jothipala, having willed Buddhahood under the Bo-tree you are now a creature become base. Laxity is not helpful to such a person” – Attakatha.
He then delivered a sermon dwelling on the unending woes of sensual attachment and the untold blessings of renunciation in a manner that spurred him towards homelessness with unflinching determination. Freeing himself from the shackles of a jumbled existence, Jothipala entered the Noble Order the following day to reach the sublime state of ‘consciousness of the adaptative moment’ (Anuloma gnana) as Bodhisattas in the presence of Samma Sambuddhas do.
Ghatikara could not follow suit, he had his blind parents to care for. Kassapa Buddha spent half a month in Vehalinga before proceeding to Isipathana at Benares. King Kiki of Kasi kingdom having heard of Buddha’s arrival offered Him and a thousand disciples a ‘maha dana’ the following day, at end of which he invited Kassapa Buddha to spend the three month Rains retreat at Benares.
Buddha informed him that a prior invitation has already been accepted by Him. When the earnest request was turned down thrice the King was very sad and displeased, not with Kashyapa Buddha, though. (The king was an avowed follower of naked ascetics before. One day his daughter Uralachadda a Sowan attainee succeeded in coercing her father to listen to Kassapa Buddha from behind a screen. He attained Sowanhood whilst seated on the chair, ripped the screen apart and prostrated himself at Buddha’s feet. Such a person can have no displeasure with a Buddha, there was sadness of heart over his inability to hear the lofty Dhamma for three months, over his losing an opportunity to tend for twenty thousand Bhikkhus – Majjimanikayattakatha)
Finally he asked “Lord, is there a greater benefactor than I?”
“Great King, in Vehalinga lives a chief benefactor of mine named Ghatikara, a potter. Now, when I declined your invitation you were displeased, but not so Ghatikara. He is one who has gone for refuge to Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, who abstains from the five evils, has unwavering faith in the Triple Gem, free from all doubt on suffering, its origin, its cessation and the manner of cessation. He eats one meal a day, observes celibacy, is virtuous.
Jothipala as Prince Siddhartha attained Supreme Enlightenment under the Bo tree as Gauthama Samma Sambuddha, however not before nature settled a score with Him.
“He has forsaken gems, jewellery and money. He does not furrow the ground, but goes into the forest to collect earth broken up by animals. He has attained Anagamihood”.
“Attakatha here is remarkable – Having heard Ghatikara has turned out pots, people bring with them clean rice, salt, ghee, honey to be given in exchange for a pot but never compare values. The pious vendor feeds his parents, supports Samma Sambuddha and gains much merit. Whatever brought is left behind, often return to bring more, knowing well much merit will accrue to them.
Kassapa Buddha continued “Great king, once at Vehalinga I went to Ghatikara’s house begging alms. Ghatikara wasn’t in. His blind parents invited me to serve myself rice from the containers in the kitchen, which I did. On hearing it Ghatikara was overjoyed at his gain. The commentary states, whether at home or in the monastery, at night or daytime, whenever he remembers that the First Person among men and gods entered his house and served food with his own hand, five-fold happiness pervades his whole body.
Said Kashyapa Buddha: “It happened a second time too. Great king, at Vehalinga when my hut began to get wet due to rain, I ordered monks to bring hay on the roof of the potter’s house. When his blind parents found out the purpose when monks started removing the hay, they pleaded that all of it be taken away. As before, rapture and happiness of Ghatikara lasted two weeks and the parents’ a week. Great king, Ghatikara’s house remained dry for three months.”
It was the vastness of Ghatikara’s and parents’ wholesome qualities, not a supernormal feat of Buddha. The ‘Atuwa’ states, men working in the rain in the vicinity used to leave their clothes on the ground, where the house was situated and even after the village became a deserted area at a later stage the ground where his house stood always remained dry. It will be so until the end of this Kalpa, one of the four known extraordinary phenomena in the world.
According to Attakatha, he realised Buddha had spoken approvingly of him to the king and he thought, whatever was received by praise was akin to the earnings made by a singer from singing and a dancer from dancing. “I am able to care for my parents and Samma Sambuddha with the Kamma I was born with’ he told himself.
As most dramatically pronounced by Kashyapa Buddha Kalpas before, Jothipala as Prince Siddhartha attained Supreme Enlightenment under the Bo tree as Gauthama Samma Sambuddha, however not before nature settled a score with Him. He was made to undergo excruciating physical suffering for six perilous years before Enlightenment, an year each for the insults heaped on Kashyapa Buddha at Vehalinga.
One of the most sensational companionships ever known, did not cease where it commenced. Ghatikara at the end of his near-perfect existence at Vehalinga was born on the pure abode of Aviha Brahma world, the plane of never-return which has a life span of a thousand Kalpas. A day in Aviha is of an unimaginably long duration of time on earth. When Prince Siddhartha cut off his hair on the bund of the Neranjana river before the six year ordeal, Ghatikara Brahma was there to offer divine ‘Atapirikara’ to recluse Boddhisatta in a most moving gesture recalling a famous friendship spanning millions of years.
There was yet another remarkable encounter. Lighting up the night sky the deva descends upon Jetawana monastery one day to convey some marvelous news in the distant world he now lives and to exchange a few nostalgic memories. He names six Bhikkhus who appeared in Aviha no sooner they departed the human world and attained Nirvana instantly by causing the cessation of name and form and severing the celestial bond. The Blessed One commends the Brahma over the deep words used and questions him whose Dhamma it was that helped them to reach the exalted state. He replies it is none others’ but the Blessed One’s own.
“Thus ended the meeting of two friends of yore, inwardly developed, bearers of their last mortal bodies,” intoned the Theras.