31. The Heaven of 33 [Chapter 3. Merit]
Buddhist Tales for Young and Old, volume 1, Prince Goodspeaker, Stories 1-50
King Sakka returned victoriously to his palace in the Heaven of 33. Next to it stood the mansion of his first wife, the reborn Good-doer. Outside the mansion was the garden of his second wife, the reborn Beauty. And there was the heavenly pond of his third wife, the reborn Happy.
However, Well-born had died and been reborn as a slender crane in the forest. Since he missed her, Sakka found her and brought her up to the Heaven of 33 for a visit. He showed her the mansion and the garden and the pond of his three wives. He told her that, by doing good work, the other three had gained merit. This merit had brought them happiness, both in their previous lives and in their rebirths.
He said. “You, my dear crane, in your previous life as Well-born, did no such good work. So you did not gain either merit or happiness, and were reborn as a forest crane. I advise you to begin on the path of purity by following the Five Training Steps." After being taught the five steps, the lovely crane decided to follow them. Then she returned to the forest.
Not long afterwards, King Sakka was curious about how the crane was doing. So he took the shape of a fish and lay down in front of her. The crane picked him up by the head. She was just about to swallow the King of the Heaven of 33, when the fish wiggled his tail.
Immediately the crane thought, “This fish must be alive!" Remembering the first training step, she released the living fish back into the stream. Rising from the water, King Sakka returned to his godly form and said, “It is very good, my dear crane, that you are able to follow the Five Training Steps." Then he returned to the second heaven world.
In the fullness of time, the crane died. Following the Five Training Steps had brought her both merit and a peaceful mind. So she was reborn in the wonderful state of mankind, into a potter’s family in Benares, in northern India.
Again King Sakka was interested in finding out where the one who had been Well-born, and then the crane, was now reborn. He found her in the potter’s family, and wanted to help her in gaining merit and finding happiness.
So he disguised himself as an old man and created a cart full of golden cucumbers. He went into Benares and shouted, “Cucumbers! Cucumbers! I have cucumbers!"
When people came to buy these amazing cucumbers, he said, “These golden cucumbers are not for sale. I will give them away, but only to one who is wholesome, that is, one who follows the Five Training Steps."
The people said, “We never heard of the Five Training Steps. But we will buy your golden cucumbers. Name your price!" He repeated, “My cucumbers are not for sale. I have brought them to give to any person who practices the Five Training Steps." The people said, “This man has come here only to play tricks on us." So they left him alone.
Soon Well-born heard about this unusual man. Even though she had been reborn, she still had the habit of following the Five Training Steps. So she thought, “This man must have come to find me."
She went to him and asked for the golden cucumbers. He said, “Do you follow the Five Training Steps? Have you given up destroying life, taking what is not given, doing wrong in sexual ways, speaking falsely, and losing your mind from alcohol?" She answered, “Yes sir, I do follow these steps, and I am peaceful and happy."
Then the old man said, “I brought these cucumbers especially for you, to encourage you to gain more merit and future happiness." So he left the cart of golden cucumbers with her, and returned to the Heaven of 33.
Throughout the rest of her life, the woman was very generous with all this gold. Spreading her happiness to others, she gained merit. After she died, she was reborn as the daughter of the King of the Asuras. She grew up to be a goddess of great beauty. To the Asuras this seemed like a miracle, since the rest of them were the ugliest of all the gods.
The Asura king was pleased with his daughter’s goodness, as well as her famous beauty. He gathered all the Asuras together and gave her the freedom to choose a husband.
Sakka, King of the Heaven of 33, knew of the latest rebirth of the one who had been his wife Well-born, then a crane, and then a potter’s daughter. So he came down to the lower heaven world and took the shape of an ordinary ugly Asura. He thought, “If Well-born chooses a husband whose inner qualities of wholesomeness are the same as hers, we will be reunited at last!"
Because of her past associations with Magha the Good, reborn as King Sakka, now disguised as an ordinary Asura, the beautiful princess was drawn to him. So she picked him from among all the Asuras.
King Sakka took her to the Heaven of 33, made her his fourth wife, and they lived happily ever after.
The moral is: The Five Training Steps are the beginning of wholesomeness. Wholesomeness is the beginning of peace and happiness.
The Heaven of 33 [Chapter 3. Merit]