The future S|rambaÔÔha the householder was born into a worthy family in the city of HaÑsǎvatī, during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. While listening to a sermon by the Buddha, he saw a lay disciple being named by the Buddha as the foremost lay disciple who had firm conviction in the Teaching. He aspired to that distinction, and, after making an extraordinary offering, he expressed his wish that at some future existence his aspiration would be fulfilled.
The future S|rambaÔÔha was reborn in the deva or human realms for a hundred thousand world-cycles before being reborn into a rich man’s family of Sǎvatthi, during the time of
Buddha Gotama. His name was S|rambaÔÔha. When he came of age, he married and became a regular lay supporter of ascetics who were outside the Buddha’s Teaching.
Early one morning, the Buddha, in His routine review of the world for individuals who were ready for Enlightenment, saw the ripeness of the past merit of S|rambaÔÔha the householder to gain sotǎpatti–magga. So, He went to S|rambaÔÔha’s house for alms-food. S|rambaÔÔha thought to himself: ‚Samana Gotama comes from a royal family and has earned a vast reputation in the world. Perhaps, it is only proper for me to welcome Him.‛ Thinking thus, he went to the Buddha, made obeisance at His feet, took His alms-bowl, and conducted Him to a raised couch which was set aside for noble persons. He made offerings of food and after attending on Him, sat in a suitable place.
The Buddha preached a discourse, which suited the mental framework of S|rambaÔÔha. At the end of which, he was established in sotǎpatti-phala. After bestowing S|rambaÔÔha with Stream-Entry Knowledge, the Buddha returned to the monastery.
Then Mǎra thought: ‚This S|rambaÔÔha the householder belongs to my fold (being a follower of the ascetics which are outside the Buddha’s Teaching). But the Buddha has visited his house today. Why? Has S|rambaÔÔha become an ariya after hearing the Buddha’s discourse? Has he escaped from my domain of sensuality? I must find out.‛ Then, being possessed of powers of impersonating anyone, he assumed the form of the Buddha completed with the thirty-two marks of the great man and in perfect Buddha-style of holding the alms-bowl and the robe. In that deceitful impersonation, he stood at the door of S|rambaÔÔha the householder.
S|rambaÔÔha wondered why the Buddha visited a second time, when he was informed by his attendants. ‚The Buddha never comes without some good reason,‛ he replied, and approached the impersonated Buddha in the belief that he was the real Buddha. After making obeisance to the impersonated Buddha, he stood in a suitable place, and asked:
‚Venerable Sir, the Bhagavǎ has just left this house after having a meal. For what purpose does the Bhagavǎ come again?‛
The bogus Buddha(Mǎra) said: ‚Lay supporter S|rambaÔÔha, I made a slip in my discourse to you. I said that all of the aggregates are impermanent, woeful and insubstantial. But the five aggregates are not always of that nature. There are certain of the five aggregates that are permanent, stable and eternal.‛
S|rambaÔÔha, a Stream-Enterer, was vexed by that statement. He pondered thus: ‚This is a statement of most serious import. The Buddha never makes a slip in His speech, for He never utters a word without proper consideration. They say that Mǎra is the opponent of the Buddha. Surely this must be Mǎra himself.‛ Thinking correctly thus, he asked bluntly:
‚You are Mǎra, are you not?‛ Mǎra was shocked and shaken as if struck with an axe because it was a confrontation by an ariya. His disguise fell off and he admitted: ‚Yes, S|rambaÔÔha, I am Mǎra.‛
S|rambaÔÔha rebuked: ‚Wicked Mǎra, even a thousand of your kind will not be able to shake my conviction. Buddha Gotama, in His discourse has said: ‘All conditioned things are impermanent.’ And the Buddha’s discourse has led me to sotǎpatti–magga. Get out of here!‛ He said sternly to Mǎra, flipping his fingers. Mǎra had no words to cover up his ruse, and vanished immediately.
In the evening, S|rambaÔÔha went to the Buddha and related the visit of Mǎra to him and what Mǎra had said, and how he had dealt him. ‚Venerable Sir,‛ he said to the Buddha, ‚in this way has Mǎra attempted to shake my conviction.‛
Referring to this incident, the Buddha, during His residence at the Jetavana monastery, on the occasion of naming outstanding lay disciples in accordance with their merits, declared:
‚Bhikkhus, among My lay disciples who have unshakeable conviction in My Teaching, S|rambaÔÔha is the foremost.‛
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