A Leper’s Tale

5:3 (43) The Leper (Suppabuddhakuṭṭhisuttaṁ)

Thus has it been made known. At another time the Blessed One was staying near Rājagaha, at the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Sanctuary. On that occasion there lived a poor and wretched leper, Suppabuddha, who saw a large gathering of people and thought to himself, “Surely, there are some distributions of food being offered, let me go there and receive some staples of nourishment.” Coming closer, he beheld that the Blessed One was teaching Dhamma to a gathered assembly. “There is no food here, but the recluse Gotama is teaching Dhamma. Let me go near and listen to his discourse.”

The Blessed One fully comprehended what was in the minds of those gathered and asked, “Who here is capable of understanding the Dhamma?” He then glanced over at the leper Suppabuddha and said, “This one is capable of growing in the Dhamma.” So for the sake of Suppabuddha the leper he began a discourse on assorted topics such as almsgiving, virtue, and the corruption of sense desires. Then when the Dharma-Lord knew that the mind of Suppabuddha had become malleable, supple, free from all obscurations and purified, he gave voice to the Dhamma-teachings peculiar to the path—origin of suffering, way out of suffering, and cultivation of the way. And so as a clean cloth, free from stains, being procured for the reception of dye, just so was the unsoiled mind of the leper Suppabuddha as the dustless Dharma-eye arose revealing whatever was subject to dukkha and eventual cessation.

Soon afterwards, Suppabuddha the leper having heard the Dhamma, having seen the Dhamma, attained in full measure to the Dhamma, freed from former perplexities and gaining self-independence over others in regards to the Blessed One’s teachings, arose and approached the Blessed One. Having prostrated himself he sat down at one side and exclaimed, “How magnificent, O’ Lord! How truly marvelous that one should set in order what has been overturned, or uncover what was once concealed, or point out the way for one who was in darkness—giving sight to eyes long-blind just so has the Blessed One explained the Holy Dhamma. I therefore, O’ Lord, go to the Lord for refuge, to the Dhamma for refuge, and to the holy sangha for refuge. May the Blessed One now accept me as a devoted lay-follower gone for refuge from this day forth.” Thereupon, having been so instructed, Suppabuddha the leper bowed and retired from the assembly.

Not long after his departure, a cow with a young calf in tow collided with Suppabuddha and killed him. Then a large number of monks went to the Blessed One and inquired of him concerning this dire incident. “O’ Lord, that Suupabuddha the leper having been established in the way and gladdened from the sweet speech of the Tathagata has been killed. What then is his destiny, what is his future rebirth to be?”

“Monks, Suppabuddha the leper was wise indeed. He wholeheartedly practiced the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma and did not annoy me with issues pertaining to the Dhamma. With the destruction of the first three fetters, he is a stream-winner, not subject again to states of deprivation, headed for self-awakening and enlightenment for sure.”

In response, one of the monks questioned, “What was the cause of the leper’s horrible condition? Why was he so utterly retched and miserable in his disease?”

Thereupon the Blessed One told the tale of how Suppabuddha was once the son of a rich merchant in Rājagaha. One day while out walking he came across Tagarasikhin, the paccekabuddha wandering about seeking alms and thought to himself, “Who is this retched leper littering about?” With that he spat on him. Through the ripening of his callous actions he was to suffer unimaginable suffering in hell for many hundreds and thousands of years. And as for a further recompense of his deed he became that self-same retched leper you had seen before you. But upon becoming familiar with the Dhamma and the discipline made known by the Tathagata, he grew in strength and virtue as a relinquishment of this past sin and therefore became enwrapped in holy wisdom. Upon the dissolution of his sad and wretched body, he found himself in a happy and heavenly realm, in the companionship of the Tāvatiṁsa devas. And now he surpasses even them in regal beauty and divine splendor.”

Then, on realizing its significance, the Dharma-Lord uttered the following verse:

As a man with Right Vision avoids the pitfalls of this world with all his might,
So should the sage in this samsaric hell avoid evil deeds.

wretched leper, Suppabuddha: (Masefield)

dustless Dharma-eye arose: here we have a clear instance of an individual being established on the supermundane* plane through hearing Dhamma in the presence of the ariyans* – in this case the Buddha – for it is through hearing that Dhamma that he acquires the Dhammacakkhu*, the Dhamma-eye* by means of which he is then able to see the ariyan* Truth* of impermanence.

Tagarasikhin, the paccekabuddha: (Masefield)

A most salient tale of divine retribution over one’s callous actions. Having chastised and spat upon that paccekabuddha leper, the consequences were most dreadful indeed for Suupabuddha as he was to suffer the same fate, but only after experiencing the lingering agonies of the nether world. The evil karma was not completely burned-off until he suffered the same fate as Bāhiya of the Bark-Cloth at the romping of that cow with calf in-tow. At least there is a good ending. Upon reception of the Dhamma, Suupabuddha’s spirit was to be set free from his former agonies with the reward of living in the Tāvatiṁsa-heaven, yea, even surpassing the beauty of the divine devas themselves. A clear indication here that full reception of the Dhamma will trump-all.

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