“Mahakatyayana” means “Literary Embellishment.” If there was an argument lacking literary grace, he would polish it. With preeminent talents, he was skilled at debating and able to convince and please practitioners of external paths. One day, a practitioner of the external path who stubbornly believed in discontinuity asked him, “If people who do evil have to suffer after they die, they should return to the world. Yet, they never return after they die. Therefore we should know that there are no future lives.” The Venerable Mahakatyayana said, “It is just like the criminals in the world who are imprisoned—how could they possibly return home?” The practitioner then asked, “If people who do good ascend to the heavens after they die, how is it that no one ever comes back?” The Venerable One answered, “It is like someone who has fallen into the toilet and been able to get out—would he be willing to fall into the toilet again?” His unimpeded eloquence left his opponent speechless. Therefore he was considered foremost in debate. The Venerable Mahakatyayana was skilled at teaching and transforming living beings in dreams, inspiring them to bring forth the Bodhi resolve and attain the Bodhi Way.
There was a disciple who used to be a king, called King VÁraÜa, cultivating the Way on the mountain. His country was bullied and humiliated by the king of a neighboring country. Seeking revenge for this insult, he made a request to return to the lay life. Venerable Mahakatyayana agreed with the condition that he would stay for a night. During that night, he dreamt about how he organized his army, went on a punitive expedition, and was captured. In shock, he woke from his dream and went to Mahakatyayana to repent. Afterwards he cultivated patience and eventually accomplished the Way.
Venerable Mahakatyayana was the “Foremost in Debate” in Buddhism. He was able to elaborate on principles that no one could even think of. He could speak of truths that ordinary people could not speak of. Thus he caused one to be absolutely convinced. Instead of using force and power to oppress others, he used his unimpeded eloquence in debate to win public admiration. Therefore, he was considered the “Foremost in Debate”.
His name means “Literary Embellishment”. “Literary” means that he had considerable literary talent. If a composition was poorly written, he could turn it into an excellent piece with some correction and polishing. Therefore he was called, “Literary Embellishment.” “Literary Embellishment” does not mean concealing faults and glossing over wrongs. It does not mean that he could cover up his own mistakes so others would be unable to distinguish between right and wrong, or that he could keep others in ignorance of his faults. This was not the case! This was literary grace. Therefore, his talents were preeminent.
He correctly understood principles and since he was correct, whenever he was debating with someone, he would have his view and that was the truth. Once he spoke of this truth, it would be impossible for any bystander not to admire him and be convinced. Such was the capability that he possessed.
A very remarkable example will illustrate this point. There was a practitioner of the external path who insistently upheld the view of discontinuity and the view of permanence. To uphold the view of discontinuity means to believe that things have always been the way they are—there are neither past causes and future results, nor future lives and previous lives; to hold the view of permanence means to believe that as long as we are human beings we will be human beings forever—we will not give rise to confusion, create karma and undergo the retribution—such things do not exist. So this practitioner came to Mahakatyayana to debate with him.
What did he ask? He said, “Everyone says that those who do evil will undergo retributions and endure suffering after they die. Yet, just take those who died. None of them have ever returned to tell everyone of the suffering that they have undergone after they died. Have you ever seen such a person—a person who returned to tell everyone the news after he died? No! Since you haven’t seen any, I know that this is just our imagination. After a person dies there will not be future lives. If there are future lives, why doesn’t he return to inform us so that all of us will stop doing evil? Since he never comes back, of course there are no future lives.”
He spoke justly and forcefully; however, without exerting the slightest effort, Mahakatyayana defeated the challenge. He said, “Do you know why? It is just like a prisoner in the world. Is it easy for this person to get out of the prison? He never returns to report to everyone because he is locked up and does not have the freedom to return.”
This practitioner of the external path said, “Okay! Let’s say you are right in explaining why a person who has committed a crime does not return to inform everyone. But it is said that those who do good will ascend to the heavens. Even if those who committed a crime do not return to report the bad things, those who have ascended to heaven should return to report the good news. He should tell us how happy he is and how he enjoys his blessings in the heavens. He should at least return to tell the people in the world a little bit. Then why doesn’t he ever return?”
Mahakatyayana said, “Our world is like a toilet, and we are living in it, with feces and urine all over our body, giving off an unbearable smell. If this person escaped from the toilet, do you expect him to plunge back in again? Do you think he would be willing to do that? It is just like a toddler who doesn’t know anything. After he has defecated he doesn’t know how to clean himself; if he understood, he would not let the filth stay on his body. Why would he want to return to the toilet?” Then the practitioner of the external path was speechless and unable to respond. There were many cases like this.
Therefore, Mahakatyayana was very eloquent and was always correct no matter what he said. When he spoke, he reasoned well and whatever he said would be principled. Instead of using sophistry and fallacious reasoning, he argued fairly and sensibly. Accordingly, he was the foremost in debate.
Venerable Mahakatyayana was very skilled at teaching and transforming living beings while they were asleep in their dreams. We all dream; in our dreams, we may make a fortune, become a government official, or become a top scholar. Ah! There are lots of good dreams. We even dream that we get married. In brief, there are ineffably many good dreams; there are also ineffably many bad dreams.
Mahakayayana knew that some people would not believe the Dharma if you spoke it to them. If you let them see past, future and present situations in their dreams—just like in a movie—they would become awakened upon encountering the circumstances. Therefore, he frequently crossed over people in dreams.
There was a king who bowed to Mahakatyayana as his teacher and joined the monastic life. After he became a monk, his country was bullied and humiliated by the king of the neighboring country. The former king could not let it go; he wanted to return to the lay life to go on a punitive expedition against the king of the neighboring country. Therefore, he pleaded with Mahakatyayana to allow him to return to the lay life, so that he could organize his army and go to the battlefront and fight. Mahakatyayana agreed, saying, “Okay! But you have to stay here for one night before you go.” Hence, he stayed there for one night.
That night, the former king had a dream. He dreamt about how he reorganized the army and sent armed forces to suppress the enemy. However, he lost the war, his army was completely annihilated, and he himself was captured. Once he was captured, he had to be decapitated. As he was about to die, he woke in shock from his dream. Therefore, he knew that this matter was not much fun, and went to Mahakatyayana to repent, saying, “I don’t want to return to the lay life anymore! I don’t want to care about this trivial matter anymore!” Accordingly, he cultivated patience, and accomplished the Way. So Mahakatyayana had this ability to inspire, teach and transform people.
To be continued