The Old & Young Monks Who Killed & Saved Ants

Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts,
suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

– Dhammapada Verse 1

Opening and closing this article are the famous first two twin verses of the Dhammapada, which is a collection of sayings by the Buddha inspired by real events. Once, some monks sighted some dead insects, which they suspect to be trampled by the old and blind Cakkhupala during his walking meditation. Hearing this, the Buddha remarked that just as they didn’t see him killing the insects, Cakkhupala did not either. Besides, as he was already an arahat, it was impossible for him to have the intention to kill. Thus, he did not create any negative karma. His blindness however, was the negative karmic result of having blinded someone in a past life. A woman had promised him then, when he was a physician, to become his servant, together with her children, if her eyes get completely cured. However, she lied that her eyes were getting worse when they became cured. Out of vengeance, he gave her another ointment, which really blinded her.

In a related story, the master of a young novice monk, who could see probable events in the future, saw that the latter was likely to pass away eight days later due to negative karma. Out of compassion, he sent him home for a break, to see his parents one last time. Unaware of his situation, the novice went off delightedly. On his journey, he noticed an ant nest with a stream nearby. Its level was rising due to rain upstream. Attempting to prevent the ants from drowning, he used soil to built an embankment around the nest and diverted the stream away. To great astonishment, eight days later, his master saw him returning cheerily to the monastery. Perplexed at how he escaped death, he realised that his act of saving the insects had amassed so much merits, that his life expectancy extended. As such, the novice lived to a ripe old age.

The two stories illustrate the central role of intention in the creation of karma, be it positive or negative. As the Buddha taught, ‘It is intention [or volition; instead of just an action], monks, that I call kamma [karma], for having willed, one performs an action through body, speech and mind.’ Just as the old monk’s ill intention created great negative karma, the young monk’s pure intention create immense merits [pure karma]. Though both did not create new negative karma, they had to suffer for their past negative karma. Despite this, both were able to make the best of their situations. We too should take our negative karma in our stride, to rise above our present situations. We are not limited by our karma; only by our lack of diligence to do better, to render our negative karma relatively powerless with overwhelming positive karma and wisdom. Karma is not cast in stone!

Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts,
happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

– Dhammapada Verse 2

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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