This super cold Texas Saturday, I proudly present the amazing past life of the great Thera Nagasena.
THEIR PREVIOUS HISTORY (PUBBA-YOGA).
[ From sacredtexts.com ] 'Mahasena Deva(the Bhikkhu)' Re-incarnation as Nagasena
Now at that time there dwelt, in the mountain region of the Himâlayas, on the Guarded Slope, an innumerable company of Arahats (brethren who, while yet alive, had attained Nirvâna). And the venerable Assagutta, by means of his divine power of hearing, heard those words of king Milinda. And he convened an assembly of the Order on the summit of the Yugandhara mountain, and asked the brethren: 'Is there any member of the Order able to hold converse with Milinda the king, and resolve his doubts?'
Then were they all silent. And a second and a third time he put the same question to them, and still none of all the number spake. Then he said to the assembled Order: 'There is, reverend Sirs, in the heaven of the Thirty-three, and east of the Vegayanta palace, a mansion called Ketumatî, wherein dwells the god Mahâsena. He is able to hold converse with Milinda the king, and to resolve his doubts.' And the innumerable company of Arahats vanished from the summit of the Yugandhara mountain, and appeared in the heaven of the Thirty-three.
And Sakka, the king of the gods, beheld those brethren of the Order as they were coming from afar. And at the sight of them he went up to the venerable Assagutta, and bowed down before him, and stood reverently aside. And so standing he said to him: 'Great, reverend Sir, is the company of the brethren that has come. What is it that they want? I am at the service of the Order. What can I do for you?'And the venerable Assagutta replied: 'There is, O king, in India, in the city of Sâgala, a king named Milinda. As a disputant he is hard to equal, harder still to overcome, he is the acknowledged superior of all the founders of the various schools of thought. He is in the habit of visiting the members of the Order and harassing them by questions of speculative import.'
Then said Sakka, the king of the gods, to him: 'That same king Milinda, venerable one, left this condition to be born as a man. And there dwells in the mansion Ketumatî a god, Mahâsena by name, who is able to hold converse with him and to resolve his doubts. That god we will beseech to suffer himself to be reborn into the world of men.'
So Sakka, the king of the gods, preceded by the Order, entered the Ketumatî mansion; and when he had embraced Mahâsena the god, he said to him: 'The Order of the brethren, Lord, makes this request of you-to be reborn into the world of men.'
'I have no desire, Sir, for the world of men, so overladen with action (Karma). Hard is life as a
man. It is here, Sir, in the world of the gods that, being reborn in ever higher and higher spheres, I hope to pass away!'And a second and a third time did Sakka, the king of the gods, make the same request, and the reply was still the same. Then the venerable Assagutta addressed Mahâsena the god, and said: 'On passing in review, Lord, the worlds of gods and men, there is none but thee that we find able to succour the faith by refuting the heretical views of Milinda the king. The whole Order beseeches thee, Lord, saying: "Condescend, O worthy one, to be reborn among men, in order to lend to the religion of the Blessed One thy powerful aid."'
Then was Mahâsena the god overjoyed and delighted in heart at the thought that he would be able to help the faith by refuting the heresy of Milinda; and he gave them his word, and said: 'Very well then, venerable ones, I consent to be reborn in the world of men,'
Then the brethren, having thus accomplished the task they had taken in hand, vanished from the heaven of the Thirty-three, and reappeared on the Guarded Slope in the Himâlaya mountains. And the venerable Assagutta addressed the Order, and said: 'Is there, venerable ones, any brother belonging to this company of the Order, who has not appeared in the assembly?'
Thereupon a certain brother said there was, that Rohana had a week previously gone into the mountains, and become buried in meditation, and suggested that a messenger should be sent to him. And at that very moment the venerable Rohana aroused himself from his meditation, and was aware that the Order was expecting him. And vanishing from the mountain top, he appeared in the presence of the innumerable company of the brethren.
And the venerable Assagutta said to him: 'How now, venerable Rohana! When the religion of the Buddha is in danger of crumbling away, have you no eyes for the work of the Order?'
'It was through inadvertence, Sir,' said he.
'Then, venerable Rohana, atone for it.'
'What, Sir, should I do?''There is a Brahman village, venerable Rohana, called Kagangala, at the foot of the Himâlaya mountains, and there dwells there a Brahman called Sonuttara. He will have a son called Nâgasena. Go to that house for alms during seven years and ten months. After the lapse of that time thou shalt draw away the boy from a worldly life, and cause him to enter the Order. When he shall have abandoned the world, then shalt thou be free of the atonement for thy fault.'
'Let it be even as thou sayest,' said the venerable Rohana in assent.Now Mahâsena the god passed away from the world of the gods, and was reborn in the womb of the wife of the Brahman Sonuttara. And at the moment of his conception three strange, wonderful things took place:--arms and weapons became all ablaze, the tender grain became ripe in a moment, and there was a great rain (in the time of drought). And the venerable Rohana went to that house for alms for seven years and ten months from the day of Mahâsena's re-incarnation, but never once did he receive so much as a spoonful of boiled rice, or a ladleful of sour gruel, or a greeting, or a stretching forth of the joined hands, or any sort of salutation. Nay rather it was insults and taunts that fell to his share: and there was no one who so much as said, Be so good, 'Sir, as to go on to the next house.'
But when all that period had gone by he one day happened to have those very words addressed to him. And on that day the Brahman, on his way back from his work in the fields,  saw the Elder as he met him on his return, and said: 'Well, hermit, have you been to our place
'Yes, Brahman, I have.'
'But did you get anything there?'
'Yes, Brahman, I did.'
And he was displeased at this, and went on home, and asked them: 'Did you give anything to that hermit?'
'We gave him nothing,' was the reply.
Thereupon the Brahman, the next day, seated himself right in the doorway, thinking to himself: 'To-day I'll put that hermit to shame for having told a lie.' And the moment that the Elder in due course came up to the house again, he said: 'Yesterday you said you had got something at my house, having all the while got nothing! Is lying allowed to you fellows?'
And the Elder replied: 'Brahman, for seven years and ten months no one even went so far as to suggest politely that I should pass on. Yesterday this courtesy was extended to me. It was to that that I referred.'
The Brahman thought to himself: 'If these men, at the mere experience of a little courtesy, acknowledge in a public place, and with thanks, that they have received an alms, what will they not do if they really receive a gift!' And he was much struck by this, and had an alms bestowed upon the Elder from the rice and curry prepared for his own use, and added furthermore: 'Every day you shall receive here food of the same kind.' And having watched the Elder as he visited the place from that day onwards, and noticed how subdued was his demeanour, he became more and more pleased with him, and invited him to take there regularly his midday meal. And the Elder gave, by silence, his consent; and daily from that time forth, when he had finished his meal, and was about to depart, he would pronounce some short passage or other from the words of the Buddha.
Now the Brahman's wife had, after her ten months, brought forth her son; and they called his name Nâgasena. He grew up in due course till he became seven years old, and his father said to the child: 'Do you want, dear Nâgasena, to study the learning traditional in this Brahmanical house of ours?'
'What is it called, father?' said he.
'The three Vedas are called learning (Sikkhâ), other kinds of knowledge are only arts, my dear.'
'Yes, I should like to learn them, father,' said the boy.
Then Sonuttara the Brahman gave to a Brahman teacher a thousand pieces as his teaching fee, and had a divan spread for him aside in an inner chamber, and said to him: 'Do thou, Brahman, teach this boy the sacred hymns by heart.'
So the teacher made the boy repeat the hymns, urging him to get them by heart. And young Nâgasena, after one repetition of them, had learnt the three Vedas by heart, could intone them correctly, had understood their meaning, could fix the right place of each particular verse 1, and had grasped the mysteries they contained 2. All at once there arose in him an intuitive insight into the Vedas, with a knowledge of their lexicography, of their prosody, of their grammar, and of the legends attaching to the characters in them. He became a philologist and grammarian, and skilled alike in casuistry and in the knowledge of the bodily marks that foreshadow the greatness of a man 3.
Then young Nâgasena said to his father: 'Is there anything more to be learned in this Brahmanical family of ours, or is this all?'
'There is no more, Nâgasena, my dear. This is all,' was the reply.
And young Nâgasena repeated his lesson to his teacher for the last time, and went out of the house, and in obedience to an impulse arising in his heart as the result of previous Karma, sought a place of solitude, where he gave himself up to meditation. And he reviewed what he had learnt throughout from beginning to end, and found no value in it anywhere at all. And he exclaimed in bitterness of soul: 'Empty forsooth are these Vedas, and as chaff. There is in them neither reality, nor worth, nor essential truth!'
That moment the venerable Rohana, seated at his hermitage at Vattaniya, felt in his mind what was passing in the heart of Nâgasena. And he robed himself, and taking his alms-bowl in his hand, he vanished from Vattaniya and appeared near the Brahman village Kagangala. And young Nâgasena, as he stood again in the doorway, saw him coming in the distance. At the sight of him he became happy and glad, and a sweet hope sprang up in his heart that from him he might learn the essential truth. And he went  to him, and said: 'Who art thou, Sir, that thou art thus bald-headed, and wearest yellow robes?'
'They call me a recluse, my child' (Pabbagita: literally, 'one who has abandoned;' that is, the worldly life).
'And why do they call thee "one who has abandoned?"'
'Because a recluse is one who has receded from
the world in order to make the stain of sinful things recede. It is for that reason, my child, that they call me a recluse.'
'Why, Sir, dost thou not wear hair as others do?'
'A recluse shaves off his hair and beard on the recognition of the sixteen impediments therein to the higher life. And what are those sixteen 1? The impediments of ornamenting it, and decking it out, of putting oil upon it, of shampooing it, of placing garlands round it, of using scents and unguents, and myrobalan seeds, and dyes, and ribbons, and combs, of calling in the barber, of unravelling curls, and of the possibility of vermin. When their hair falls off they are grieved and harassed; yea, they lament sometimes, and cry, and beat their breasts, or fall headlong in a swoon--and entangled by these and such impediments men may forget those parts of wisdom or learning which are delicate and subtle.'
'And why, Sir, are not thy garments, too, as those of other men?'
'Beautiful clothes, my boy, such as are worn by worldly men, are inseparable from the five cravings 2. But whatsoever dangers lurk in dress he who wears the yellow robes knows nothing of. It is for that reason that my dress is not as other men's.'
'Dost thou know, Lord, what is real knowledge?'
'Yes, lad, the real knowledge I know; and what is the best hymn (mantra) in the world, that too I know.'
'Couldst thou teach it, Lord, to me too?'
'Yes, I could.'
'Teach me, then.'
'Just now is not the right time for that; we, have come down to the village for alms.'
Then young Nâgasena took the alms-bowl the venerable Rohana was carrying, and led him into the house, and with his own hand supplied him with food, hard and soft, as much as he required. And when he saw that he had finished his meal, and withdrawn his hand from the bowl, he said to him: 'Now, Sir, will you teach me that hymn?'
'When thou hast become free from impediments, my lad, by taking upon thee, and with thy parents' consent, the hermit's dress I wear, then I can teach it thee.'
So young Nâgasena went to his father and mother, and said: 'This recluse says he knows the best hymn in the world, but that he cannot teach it to any one who has not entered the Order as his pupil. I should like to enter the Order and learn that hymn.'
And his parents gave their consent; for they wished him to learn the hymn, even at the cost of retiring from the world; and they thought that when he had learned it he would come back again.
Then the venerable Rohana took Nâgasena to the Vattaniya hermitage, to the Vigamba Vatthu, and having spent the night there, took him on to the Guarded Slope, and there, in the midst of the innumerable company of the Arahats, young Nâgasena was admitted, as a novice, into the Order.
26. And then, when he had been admitted to the Order, the venerable Nâgasena said to the venerable Rohana: 'I have adopted your dress; now teach me that hymn.'
Then the venerable Rohana thought thus to himself: 'In what ought I first to instruct him, in the Discourses (Suttanta) or in the deeper things of the faith (Abhidhamma)?' and inasmuch as he saw that Nâgasena was intelligent, and could master the Abhidhamma with ease, he gave him his first lesson in that.
And the venerable Nâgasena, after hearing it repeated but once, knew by heart the whole of the Abhidhamma--that is to say, the Dhamma Sangani, with its great divisions into good, bad, and indifferent qualities, and its subdivisions into couples and triplets--the Vibhanga, with its eighteen chapters, beginning with the book on the constituent elements of beings--the Dhâtu Kathâ, with its fourteen books, beginning with that on compensation and non-compensation--the Puggala. Paññatti, with its six divisions into discrimination of the various constituent elements, discrimination of the various senses and of the properties they apprehend, and so on--the Kathâ Vatthu, with its thousand sections, five hundred on as many points of our own views, and five hundred on as many points of our opponents' views--the Yamaka, with its ten divisions into complementary propositions as to origins, as to constituent elements, and so on--and the Patthâna, with its twenty-four chapters on the reason of causes, the reason of ideas, and the rest. And he said: 'That will do, Sir. You need not propound it again. That will suffice for my being able to rehearse it.'Then Nâgasena went to the innumerable company of the Arahats, and said: 'I should like to propound the whole of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, without abridgement, arranging it under the three heads of good, bad, and indifferent qualities.' And they gave him leave. And in seven months the venerable Nâgasena recited the seven books of the Abhidhamma in full. And the earth thundered, the gods shouted their applause, the Brahma gods clapped their hands, and there came down a shower from heaven of sweet-scented sandal-wood dust, and of Mandârava flowers! And the innumerable company of the Arahats, then and there at the Guarded Slope, admitted the venerable Nâgasena, then twenty years of age, to full membership in the higher grade of the Order.
Now the next day after he had thus been admitted into full membership in the Order, the venerable Nâgasena robed himself at dawn, and taking his bowl, accompanied his teacher on his round for alms to the village below. And as he went this thought arose within him: 'It was, after all, empty-headed and foolish of my teacher to leave the rest of the Buddha's word aside, and teach me the Abhidhamma first!'
And the venerable Rohana became aware in his own mind of what was passing in the mind of Nâgasena, and he said to him: 'That is an unworthy reflection that thou art making, Nâgasena; it is not worthy of thee so to think.''How strange and wonderful,' thought Nâgasena, 'that my teacher should be able to tell in his own mind what I am thinking of! I must ask his pardon.' And he said: 'Forgive me, Sir; I will never make such a reflection again.'
'I cannot forgive you, Nâgasena, simply on that promise,' was the reply. 'But there is a city called Sâgala, where a king rules whose name is Milinda, and he harasses the brethren by putting puzzles to them of heretical tendency. You will have earned your pardon, Nâgasena, when you shall have gone there, and overcome that king in argument, and brought him to take delight in the truth.'
'Not only let king Milinda, holy one, but let all the kings of India come and propound questions to me, and I will break all those puzzles up and solve them, if only you will pardon me!' exclaimed Nâgasena. But when he found it was of no avail, he said: 'Where, Sir, do you advise me to spend the three months of the rains now coming on 1?'
'There is a brother named Assagutta dwelling at the Vattaniya hermitage. Go, Nâgasena, to him; and in my name bow down to his feet, and say: "My teacher, holy one, salutes you reverently, and asks whether you are in health and ease, in full vigour and comfort. He has sent me here to pass the three months of the rains under your charge." When he asks you your teacher's name, tell it him. But when he asks you his own name, say: "My teacher, Sir, knows your name."'
And Nâgasena bowed down before the venerable Rohana, and passing him on his right hand as he left him, took his bowl and robe, and went on from place to place till he came to the Vattaniya hermitage, begging for his food on the way. And on his arrival he saluted the venerable Assagutta, and said exactly what he had been told to say,  and to the last reply Assagutta said: 'Very well then, Nâgasena, put by your bowl and robe.' And the next day Nâgasena swept out the teacher's cell, and put the drinking water and tooth-cleansers ready for him to use. The Elder swept out the cell again, threw away the water and the tooth-cleansers, and fetched others, and said not a word of any kind. So it went on for seven days. On the seventh the Elder again asked him the same questions as before. And on Nâgasena again making the same replies, he gave him leave to pass the rainy season there.
Now a certain woman, a distinguished follower of the faith, had for thirty years and more administered to the wants of the venerable Assagutta. And at the end of that rainy season she came one day to him, and asked whether there was any other brother staying with him. And when she was told that there was one, named Nâgasena, she invited the Elder, and Nâgasena, with him, to take their midday meal the next day at her house. And the Elder signified, by silence, his consent. The next forenoon the Elder robed himself, and taking his bowl in his hand, went down, accompanied by Nâgasena as his attendant, to the dwelling-place of that disciple, and there they sat down on the seats prepared for them. And she gave to both of them food, hard and soft, as much as they required, waiting upon them with her own hands. When Assagutta had finished his meal, and the hand was withdrawn from the bowl, he said to Nâgasena: 'Do thou, Nâgasena, give the thanks to this distinguished lady.' And, so saying, he rose from his seat, and went away.And the lady said to Nâgasena: 'I am old, friend Nâgasena. Let the thanksgiving be from the deeper things of the faith.'
And Nâgasena, in pronouncing the thanksgiving discourse 1, dwelt on the profounder side of the Abhidhamma, not on matters of mere ordinary morality, but on those relating to Arahatship 2. And as the lady sat there listening, there arose in her heart the Insight into the Truth 3, clear and stainless, which perceives that whatsoever has beginning, that has the inherent quality of passing away. And Nâgasena also, when he had concluded that thanksgiving discourse, felt the force of the truths he himself had preached, and he too arrived at insight 4--he too entered, as he sat there, upon the stream (that is to say, upon the first stage of the Excellent Way to Arahatship).
Then the venerable Assagutta, as he was sitting in his arbour, was aware that they both had attained to insight, and he exclaimed: 'Well done! well done, Nâgasena! by one arrow shot you have hit two noble quarries!' And at the same time thousands of the gods shouted their approval.
Now the venerable Nâgasena arose and returned to Assagutta, and saluting him, took a seat reverently apart. And Assagutta said to him: 'Do thou now go, Nâgasena, to Pâtaliputta. There, in the Asoka Park, dwells the venerable Dhamma-rakkhita. Under him you should learn the words of the Buddha.'
'How far is it, Sir, from here to Pâtaliputta.'
'A hundred leagues 1, Nâgasena.'
'Great, Sir, is the distance. It will be difficult to get food on the way. How shall I get there?'
'Only go straight on, Nâgasena. You shall get food on the way, rice from which the black grains have been picked out, with curries and gravies of various sorts.'
'Very well, Sir!' said Nâgasena, and bowing
down before his teacher, and passing him on the right side as he went, he took his bowl and his robe and departed for Pâtaliputta.
At that time a merchant of Pâtaliputta, was on his way back to that city with five hundred waggons. And when he saw the venerable Nâgasena coming in the distance, he stopped the waggons, and saluted Nâgasena, and asked him: 'Whither art thou going, father?'
'To Pâtaliputta, householder.'
'That is well, father. We too are going thither. It will be more convenient for thee to go with us.'
And the merchant, pleased with Nâgasena's manners, provided him with food, hard and soft, as much as he required, waiting upon him with his own hands. And when the meal was over, he took a low seat, and sat down reverently apart. So seated, he said to the venerable Nâgasena: 'What, father, is your name?'
'I am called Nâgasena, householder.'
'Dost thou know, father, what are the words of Buddha?'
'I know the Abhidhamma.'
'We are most fortunate, father; this is indeed an advantage. I am a student of the Abhidhamma, and so art thou. Repeat to me, father, some passages from it.'
Then the venerable Nâgasena preached to him from the Abhidhamma, and by degrees as he did so there arose in Nâgasena's heart the Insight into the Truth, clear and stainless, which perceives that whatsoever has in itself the necessity of beginning, that too has also the inherent quality of passing away.
And the Pâtaliputta merchant sent on his waggons in advance, and followed himself after them. And at a place where the road divided, not far from Pâtaliputta, he stopped, and said to Nâgasena: 'This is the turning to the Asoka Park. Now I have here a rare piece of woollen stuff, sixteen cubits by eight.  Do me the favour of accepting it.' And Nâgasena did so. And the merchant, pleased and glad, with joyful heart, and full of content and happiness, saluted the venerable Nâgasena, and keeping him on his right hand as he passed round him, went on his way.
But Nâgasena went on to the Asoka Park to Dhamma-rakkhita. And after saluting him, and telling him on what errand he had come, he learnt by heart, from the mouth of the venerable Dhamma-rakkhita, the whole of the three baskets 1 of the Buddha's word in three months, and after a single recital, so far as the letter (that is, knowing the words by heart) was concerned.. And in three months more he mastered the spirit (that is, the deeper meaning of the sense of the words).But at the end of that time the venerable Dhamma-rakkhita
addressed him, and said: 'Nâgasena, as a herdsman tends the cows, but others enjoy their produce, so thou too carriest in thy head the whole three baskets of the Buddha's word, and still art not yet a partaker of the fruit of Samanaship.'
'Though that be so, holy one, say no more,' was the reply. And on that very day, at night, he attained to Arahatship and with it to the fourfold power of that Wisdom possessed by all Arahats (that is to say: the realisation of the sense, and the appreciation of the deep religious teaching contained in the word, the power of intuitive judgment, and the power of correct and ready exposition) 1. And at the moment of his penetrating the truth all the gods shouted their approval, and the earth thundered, and the Brahma gods clapped their hands, and there fell from heaven a shower of sweet-scented sandal dust and of Mandârava flowers.
Now at that time the innumerable company of the Arahats at the Guarded Slope in the Himâlaya mountains sent a message to him to come, for they were anxious to see him. And when he heard the message the venerable Nâgasena vanished from the Asoka Park and appeared before them. And they said: 'Nâgasena, that king Milinda is in the habit of harassing the brethren by knotty questions and by argumentations this way and that. Do thou, Nâgasena, go and master him.'
'Not only let king Milinda, holy ones, but let all the kings of India, come and propound questions to
me. I will break all those puzzles up and solve them. You may go fearlessly to Sâgala.'
Then all the Elders went to the city of Sâgala, lighting it up with their yellow robes like lamps, and bringing down upon it the breezes from the heights where the sages dwell.
Love Buddha's dhamma,