Picture above is taken from a wall painting in the Burmest Temple in Burmah Road, Penang, Malaysia (click on picture for a bigger view). Below is extracted from the Notes section (page 478) of Venerable Acariya Mun Bhuridatta Thera- A Spiritual Biography:
Spiritual partner. Literally, “one’s partner in developing the spiritual perfections (parami).
Most living beings have an individual, usually of the opposite sex with whom they have maintained an intimate, personal relationship spanning countless lifetimes over many eons of existance. Life after life, those couples who share a deep spiritual commitment will reconnect and renew their relationship, assisting each other to develop one or another aspect of spiritual perfection. Such a devoted companion is considered to be essential for the eons-long quest to become a fully-enlightened Buddha, as Gautama Buddha’s own story illustrates:
In a past eon of the world, as a forest-dwelling ascetic named Sumedha, he threw himself at the feet of an earlier Buddha, Dipankara, and resolved to become a Buddha himself in future. As he made this vow, a young woman bearing incense and flowers stepped forth joyously to congratulate him. He immediately rejected her support, saying that as a forest-dwelling ascetic he was determined to live alone. Dipankara Buddha then cautioned the young ascetic, telling him that every aspirant to Buddhahood had a spiritual companion (pada-paricarika) who was his inseparable partner throughout the long, ardous journey to perfection. After that, through countless lives, the Bodhisatta and his spiritual partner labored and sacrificed together for the benefit of other living beings as they traveled the Path of Awakening.
Here is the Excerpt of The Spiritual Partner (in past lives) of Ajahn Mun (I include in my blog because the story had always touched me)- page 162 of the biography by Ajahn Maha Boowa (translated by Ajahn Dick Silaratano):
Sitting in meditation after his final attainment, Acariya Mun recalled a certain personal matter from his past- the one which he had not taken much interest in it before. Here I would like to tell a story relevant to Acariya Mun’s past. I feel it would be a shame to leave out such an intriguing story, especially as this type of relationship may be following every one of you like a shadow, even though you are unaware of it. Should the story deemed in any way unseemly, please blame the author for not being properly circumspect. As you may have already guessed, this is a private matter that was discussed only by Acariya Mun and his inner circle of disciples. I have tried to supress the urge to write about it here, but the more I tried to suppress it, the stronger this urge became. So, I finally gave in and, after writing it down, the urge gradually subsided. I must confess that I am at fault here, but I hope the reader forgives me. Hopefully, it will provide everyone, caught in the perpetual cycle of birth and death, something worthwhile to think about.
The story concerns Acariya Mun’s longtime spiritual partner. Acariya Mun said that in previous lives he and his spiritual partner had both made a solemn vow to work together toward the attainment of Buddhahood. During the years prior to his final enlightenment, she occasionally came to visit him while he was in samadhi. On those occasions, he gave her a brief Dhamma talk, then sent her away. She always appeared to him as a disembodied consciousness. Unlike beings from most realms of existenace, she had no discernible form. When inquired about her formless state, she replied that she was so worried about him that she had not yet decided to take up existance in any specific realm. She feared that he would forget their relationship- their mutual resolve to attain Buddhahood in the future. So out of concern, and a sense of disappointment, she felt compelled to come back and check on him from time to time. Acariya Mun told her then that he had already given up that vow, resolving instead to practice for Nibbana in this lifetime. He had no wish to be born again, which was equivalent to carrying all the misery he had suffered in past lives indefinitely into the future.
Although she had never revealed her feelings, she remained worried about their relationship, and her longing for him never waned. So once in along while she paid him a visit. But on this occasion, it was Acariya Mun who thought of her, being concerned about her plight, since they have gone through so many hardships together in previous lives. Comtemplating this affair after his attainment, it occurred to him that he would like to meet her so they could reach a new understanding. He wanted to explain matters to her, and thus remove any lingering doubts or anxieties regarding their former partnership. Late that very night and soon after this thought occurred to him, his spiritual partner arrived in her familiar formless state.
Acariya Mun began by asking her about her present realm of existance. He wanted to know why she has no discernible form like beings from other celestial realms, and what exactly was her present condition. The formless being answered that she lived in one of the minor ethereal states of being in the vast sentient universe. She reiterated that she was waiting in that realm because of anxiety concerning him. Having become aware of his desire to meet her, she came to him that night.
Ordinarily, she didn’t dare to visit him often. Though sincerely wanting to see him, she always felt shy and hesitant. In truth, her visits were in no way damaging to either of them for they were not of such a nature to be harmful. But still, her long standing affection for him made her hesitant about coming. Acariya Mun had also told her not to visit too often, for although not harmful, such visit could nevertheless become an emotional impediment, thus slowing his progress. The heart is very sensitive by nature, it could well be affected by subtle emotional attachments, which could then interfere with the practice of meditation. Convinced that this was true, she seldom came to visit him.
She was quite aware that he had severed his connection with birth and death, including former friends and relatives- and of course the spiritual partner who was counting on him- with no linge, as lingering regrets whatsoever. After all, it was an event that had a dramatic effect throughout the world systems. But rather than rejoice with delight, as she would have done in the past when they were together, this time she felt slighted, prompting an unorthodox reaction. She thought instead that he was being irresponsible, neglecting to consider the loyal spiritual companion who had shared his suffering, struggling together with him through so many lifetimes. She felt devastated, now left alone in misfortune, clutching dukkha but unable to let go. He had already gone beyond dukkha, leaving her behind to endure the burden of suffering. The more she thought about it, the more she felt like one bereft of wisdom who, nonetheless, wanted to reach out and touch the moon and stars. In the end, she fell back to earth clutching her misery, unable to find a way out of such grievous misfortune.
Despondent, hapless being that she was, and struggling to endure her misery, she pleaded with him for assistance, “I am desperately disappointed. Where can I possibly find happiness? I so want to reach out and touch the moon and stars in the sky! It’s just terrible, and so painful. You yourself are like the moon and the stars up in the sky shining so brightly in every direction. Having established yourself in Dhamma, your existance is never bleak, never dreary. You’re so completely content and your aura radiates throughtout every part of the universe. If I am still unfortunate enough, please kindly show me the way of Dhamma. Please help me bring forth the bright, pure knowledge of wisdom, releasing me quickly from the cycle of repeated birth and death, to follow you in the attainment of Nibbana so that I will not have to endure this agony much longer. May this vow be strong enough to produce the results that my heart desires, allowing me to attain the grace of enlightenment as soon as possible.”
Convulsed with sobs of anguish, such was the fervent plea of that sorrowful formless being as she expressed her hopes of gaining enlightenment.
Acariya Mun replied that his intention in wishing to see her was not to elicit regrets about the past: “People who wish each other well should not think that way. Haven’t you practiced the four brahmaviharas: metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha?
The formless spirit replied: “I have practiced them for so long that I can’t help thinking about the closeness we once shared practicing them together. When a person saves only himself, as you have, it is quite natural for those left behind to be disappointed. I’m in misery because I have been abandoned without any concern for my welfare. I still can’t see any possibility of easing my pain.”
He cautioned her: “Whether practicing on your own or in concert with others, goodness is developed for the purpose of reducing anxiety and suffering within yourself, not for increasing them until, being agitated, you become all upset. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes, but the tendency of people with kilesas is to somehow muddle through, not knowing which path is the right one for a smooth, safe passage. We don’t know if what we are doing is right or wrong, or whether the result will be happiness or suffering. We know the pain in our hearts, but we don’t know a way out of it. So we are left to fret about our misfortune, as you see me doing now.”
Acariya Mun said that the formless spirit was adamant in her complaints about him. She accused him of making his escape alone, showing no pity for her- she who for so long had struggled together with him to go beyond dukkha. She complained that he made no effort to assist her so that she too could gain release from suffering.
He tried to console her: “When two people eat food together at the same table, inevitably one will be full before the other. It’s not possible for both to be fully satiated at the same moment. Take the case of the Lord Buddha and his former spouse, Yasodhara. Although for many ages they have jointly developed goodness of all kinds, the Lord Buddha was the first to transcend dukkha, returning then to teach his former spouse so that later she also crossed over to the other shore. You should consider this lesson carefully and learn from it, instead of complaining about the person who’s right now trying his best to find a way to help you. I am earnestly searching for a means to help you cross over, and yet you accuse me of being heartless and irresponsible. Such thoughts are very inappropriate. They will merely increase the discomfort for both of us. You should change your attitude, following the example of the Lord Buddha’s former spouse- and excellent example for everyone, and one giving rise to true happiness.
“My reason for meeting you is to assist you, not to drive you away. I have always supported your development in Dhamma. To say that I have abandoned you and no longer care for your welfare is simply not true. My advice to you emanates from a heart whose loving kindness and compassion are absolutely pure. If you follow this advice, practicing it to the best of your ability, I will rejoice in your progress. And should you receive completely satisfactory results, I will rest contented in equanimity.
“Our original aspiration to achieve Buddhahood was made for the express purpose of crossing beyond the cycle of rebirth. My subsequent desire to attain the status of savaka instead, was actually a desire aimed toward the Supreme Happiness, Nibbana. As I’ve followed the righteous path through many different lives, including my present status as a Buddhist monk, I’ve always done my utmost to keep in touch with you. Throughout this time, I have taught you as best I could with the immense loving compassion that I feel for you. Never was there a moment when I thought of forsaking you to seek only my own salvation- my thoughts were constantly full of concern, full of sympathy for you. I have always hoped to free you from the misery of birth in samsara, leading you in the direction of Nibbana.
“Your abnormal reaction- feeling offended because you suppose that I’ve abandoned you without any concern for your well-being- is of no benefit to either of us. From now on, you should refrain from such thinking. Don’t allow these thoughts to arise, trampling all over your heart, for they will bring only endless misery in their wake- a result incompatible with my objective, as I strive with heartfelt compassion to help you out.
“Escaping without a care? Where have I escaped to? And who is it that I don’t care about? At this moment, I am doing my utmost to give you every possible assistance. Doesn’t everything I’ve taught you arise solely out of such compassionate concern as I am showing you right now? The constant encouragement I have provided comes straight from a heart full to the brim with a compassion that exceeds all the water in the great oceans, a compassion that pours forth unsparingly, wihtout concern that it may run dry. Please understand that helping you has always been my intention and accept this Dhamma teaching that I offer. If you just trust me and practice accordingly, you will experience the fruits of inner happiness for yourself.
“From the day I first ordained as a monk, I have sincerely practiced the way of Dhamma- never a moment have I thought ill of anyone. My motive in wanting to meet with you was not to deceive you, or cause you harm, but to assist you as best I can with all my heart. If you refuse to trust me, it will be difficult for you to find anyone else so worthy of your complete faith. You said you were aware of the universe trembling that night. That trembling, do you think it was caused by the ‘Dhamma of deception’ arising in the world? Is that why you’re so hesitant about taking to heart the advice I have so graciously offered you? If you understand that Dhamma is indeed the Dhamma of Truth, then you should consider the trembling of the universe that night as a decisive factor in your faith, and take comfort in the fact that you still have great resources of merit. You are still able to listen to a timely exposition of Dhamma, even though your birth in that formless realm of existance should render such a thing impossible. I consider it my good fortune to be able to teach you now. You should feel proud of your own good fortune in having someone to come and rescue you from the hopeless gloom that your misguided thinking had caused. If you can think positively like this, I shall be very pleased. Such thinking will not allow dukkha to bind you so tightly that you can’t find a way out. It won’t allow Dhamma to be seen as something mundane, or compassionate concern to be seen as something malevolent.”
As she listened to Acariya Mun present these reasoned arguments with such loving compassion, his spiritual partner felt as though she was being bathed in a stream of celestial water. Gradually she regained her composure. Enchanted by his discourse, her mind soon became calm, her manner respectful.
When he finished speaking, she admitted her mistake: “My affection and my hopeless yearning for you have caused so much trouble. I believed that you have discarded me, going your own way, which left me feeling neglected. I became terribly disappointed. I couldn’t stop thinking how useless and rejected I felt, with no one to turn to. But now that I have received the light of Dhamma, my heart is cool and contented. I can now put down the burden of misery that I’ve been carrying, for your Dhamma is like a divine nectar washing over my heart, cleansing it and making it bright. Please forgive me whatever wrong I have done to you through my ignorance. I am determined to be more careful in the future- never shall I make such a mistake again. “
When she finished speaking, Acariya Mun advised her to take birth in a more appropriate realm of existance, telling her to cease worrying about the past. Respectfully, she promised to follow his advice, then made one, final request: “Once I have taken birth in a suitable realm, may I come and listen to your advice as before? Please give me your blessing for this. ” Once Acariya Mun had granted her request, she immediately vanished.
The formless spirit having departed, Acariya Mun’s citta withdrew from samadhi. It was nearly five a.m and almost light. He had not rested the entire night. Having been sitting in samadhi at around eight p.m, he had spoken with that formless spirit for many hours into the night.
Not long afterwards, the same spirit came to visit him again. This time she came in the bodily form of a beautiful deva, although in deference to the especially revered monk she was visiting, she was not adorned in the ornamental style customary of the devas.
Upon arriving, she explained to him her new situation: “After listening to your explanation, which removed all my doubts and relieved me of the misery that was tormenting me, I came to birth in the Tavatimsa heavenly realm- a celestial sphere full of delightful pleasures, all of which I now enjoy as a result of the goodness we have performed together as human beings. Although I experience this pleasant existance as a consequence of my own good deeds, I can’t help remembering that you, venerable sir, were the one who initially encouraged me to do good. On my own, I would never have had the wisdom capable of accomplishing this to my complete satisfaction.
“Feeling fortunate enough to be reborn in heavenly splendor, I am wholly contented, and no longer angry or resentful. As I reflect back on the immense kindness you’ve always shown me, it becomes apparent to me how important it is for us to choose discretely in our lives- concerning everything from our work to our food to our friends and companions, both male and female. Such discretion is crucial for leading a smooth, untroubled existance. This is especially true when choosing a spouse to depend on, for better or for wose. Choosing a spouse merits special attention, for we share everything with that person- even our very breath. Every happiness and every sorrow along the way will necessarily affect both parties.
“Those who have a good partner, even though they may be inadequate in terms of their intelligence, their temperament, or their behavior, are still blessed to have someone who can guide and encourage them in dealing with their affairs- both their secular affairs, which promote peace and stability in the family, and their spiritual affairs, which nourish the heart. All other matters will benefit as well, so they won’t feel they are groping blindly in the dark, never certain how these matters will turn out. Each partner being a good person, they compliment each other to create a virtual paradise in the family, allowing everyone to remain peaceful, contented and free from strife at all times. Always cheerful, such a household is undisturbed by its temperament outbursts. All members contribute in creating this atmosphere: each is calm and composed, firmly established in the principles of reason- instead of just doing whatever they like, which is contrary to the very moral principles that insure their continual peace and contentment. Married couples work together to construct their own future. Together they create good and bad kamma. They create happiness and misery, virtue and evil, heaven and hell, from the very beginning of their relationship onwards to the present and into the future- an unbroken continuum.
“Being blessed with the chance to accompany you through many lives, I’ve come to realise this is my own situation. By your guidance, venerable sir, I have made goodness an integral part of my character. You have always steered me safely through every danger, never letting me stray in the direction of evil or disgrace. Consequently, I’ve remained a good person during all those lifetimes. I cannot tell you how deeply moved I am by all the kindness you’ve shown me. I now realise the harm caused by my past mistakes. Please kindly forgive my transgressions so that no lingering animosity remains between us.”
Assenting to the deva’s request, Acariya Mun forgave her. He then gave her an inspiring talk, encouraging her to perfect herself spiritually. When he had finished, she paid him her respects, moved off a short distance, and floated blissfully up into the sky.
Some of the resentful comments she made when she was still in a formless spirit was too strange to record here, so I’ve been unable to recount every detail of their conversation; and for that I ask your forgiveness. I am not really that satisfied with what has been written here either, but I feel that without it a thought-provoking story would have been left out.