Ghaṭīkāra - The Potter

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Ghaṭīkāra - The Potter

‘Ghati’: pot
‘Kāra’: maker
‘Ghaṭīkāra’: the potter

Potters make pots, bowls, water containers from clay which must be set in fire, otherwise the products would soak in water and break. These days there are modern tools but in the past pottery was all manual work.

In the time of the Buddha, there was a nameless bhikkhu who did not have much social contacts. People used his profession to address him, Ghaṭīkāra, The Potter. Ghatikara had reached the level of anāgāmin (non-returner) but due to his duty to care for his blind elderly parents he could not renunciate, and remained a bhikkhu. As he was a anāgāmin he refused to dig and collect clay, avoiding harming insects and worms in the ground, and thus had to collect clay from soil pulled up by farmers' ploughs. This was hardwork and not very productive. Ghatikara was a very wise man. Though he was very wise and worked hard, he was poor due to his lack of generosity (dāna) in previous lives. Many talented poets, writers, scientists are wise and hard working but are poor due to their poor karma in previous lives.

The birth-death cycle can be endless like a river flowing non-stop, like a railway winding though many stations, each station represents a life - in some we live generously and miserly in others. It is mentioned in Abhidhamma that once a miserly thought appears in our mind, we already silently create a karma of poverty for our next life; in the same way, if we live with generosity, we leave good karma and wealth for our next life. So Ghatikara's poverty was not due to lack of paramis karma in his current life but due to poor karma from some of his previous lives.

Ghatikara was poor but he had some very good friends, and one was a man called Jotipāla (who in another later live was The Buddha himself). Jotipāla was an heir of a rich family who really liked Ghatikara but did not believe in Buddha's teaching. This is a really strange and interesting story. How a being, who had been practising for so many lives, being so close to enlightenment, and now reborn as a non-believer. Whenever monks and nuns were mention, he would disregard them as "mundaka" (the baldies). Jotipāla was born in a negative, non-believing brāhmaṇa family, with strong wrong views, partly due to some poor karma from his previous lives.

For example, if in this life I hate Chinese, then in another life, I will somehow dislike anyone with some Chinese characteristics. In Ghatikāra sutta (Majjhima Nikaya - middle-length discourses) you will find the story of people who came to dharma preachings. They might not understand any but might remember and like only one sentence. In some other lives after, in Buddha's time, when Buddha saw their karma, he would announce that sentence to them and they would be enlightened. Malevolence found in one life with have repercussion in another. Bodhisattvas are not saints because they have had some malevolence to monks and nuns in some other lives; in a triggering situation, those emotions would expand.

Ghaṭīkāra could see that Jotipāla was a non-believer but also very wise man. Ghaṭīkāra thought he would be unable to make Jotipāla go to preaching, so he did not try. The Kassapa Buddha could but Jotipāla did not follow. So in the end, Ghaṭīkāra had to pull Jotipāla along by the hairs. Jotipāla (unknowing himself that he was a Bodhisattva then) was overtaken by such drastic action and thought the person Ghaṭīkāra wanted him to meet must have been very special. And when he saw the Kassapa Buddha, he was so impressed he converted and renunciated, learning the entire Tipitaka by heart. Ghaṭīkāra himself went to devas realm after death. During the period when Siddhārtha Gautama left his palace looking for liberation, Ghaṭīkāra went down to give alms into his bowl. During his fasting period Buddha threw away the bowl. Once enlightened, Buddha was given 4 bowls from the Four Kings. So not to upset them Buddha used his power to combine the four into one bowl and used this bowl for the rest of his time. Ghaṭīkāra again came down to pay homage and listen to Buddha's preaching. Please see Ghatikara Sutta

This is the story of the most beautiful of all friendships. None other could equal the friendship of people seeking liberation together. Reading this sutta, we all wish to have such decent people near us, to guide each other, in this or many other lives. We are but leaves floating aimlessly in the ever flowing river of birth-death cycle. We are alone but we cannot live separated. We have other around us with the same level and frequency of mind. Just like today's computers. You all can have communication with me as long as you have a pass code. Password, pass code are similar to dhamma code, which we must learn and re-learn daily.

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