Tales of Karmic Becoming

Ræl H. Bishop


A group of bandits went walking down a road. Three bandits lead the group – their captain, a novice, and a rather headstrong one. The three of them conversed, planning their next move. They spotted a crowd in the distance, and snuck up on them.

Scanning the crowd for a target, the group eyed a rather impassive monk. The captain crept up on the monk. Before he could turn, the bandit captain thrust out his sword and cleaved the monk’s head clear off his shoulders. Those nearby fled the scene. As the monk’s head landed the novice stood back, ambivalent. The novice thought such an act was truly awesome, but something very deep in his being felt unnerved by it. The captain motioned for them to chase the other monks, knowing they’d be easy pickings.

They soon came upon the bustling monastery these monks resided in. In its courtyard sat an unusually large man with strange features, most notably a protrusion at the top of his head. Not caring, the bandits convened and snuck up behind this man. Urged on, the novice then leapt out from hiding and aimed for the man’s shoulder. He closed his eyes and… felt no resistance.1

The captain stood back, stunned. The novice’s dagger had not even pierced the monk’s skin. The monk then turned to face them, leaving the captain and the novice frozen in their tracks; the headstrong one, however, fled the scene.

“Who are you? Why does your skin not shed blood?

The monk then spoke a phrase so profound it left the two dumbfounded.

This monk was none other than a Buddha. The novice bandit dropped his dagger and leapt to the Buddha’s feet, declaring his newfound allegiance to him. The captain was soon to follow. The Buddha nodded to the two of them in acceptance, and they were overjoyed.

The two bandits, now monks, lived with the monastic community. There they learned of the problems of existence, those of rebirth, of actions and their consequences, the causes of suffering, and the cessation of such causes. The Buddha said thus:

“All in the world fades. What you consider yourself ceases to be one day – but your acts remain until they fruition, thus keeping the cycle of rebirth in motion. Even these truths fade. When I cease to be, these truths will begin to decline. There will be times where this knowledge disappears entirely. In these periods of vacancy, other Buddhas will be born to restore these truths.”

The novice monk decided in that moment to stay in rebirth to one day become such a restorer of the truth, and vowed to keep that promise. The captain made a similar vow, instead to become the loyal attendant of such a Buddha – an arhat. The two monks looked to the Buddha for acceptance of their vows. The Buddha nodded to the two of them in acceptance, and they were overjoyed.

Later on, the two monks became curious about where their own histories will take them. The monks anxiously prodded the Buddha, asking him where they will go in the next lives. The Buddha refused to answer. They asked a second time. The Buddha refused to answer. They asked him a third time. The Buddha responded thus:

“The misdeeds you two have accrued in these lives and in ones since past are numerous. The retribution for such acts is great. You two will spend many lives in hells. For your histories are short, and the grave acts you have committed will take hold immensely. The both of you will spend many subsequent lives as hungry ghosts, and many more as animals.”

The two monks wept heavily at this news. The Buddha responded thus:

“But worry not. For the vows you have made in this life will reign eternal. By making such vows, you two are destined to leave rebirth. The paths to Buddhahood and to arhatship2 are not easy. But their attainment has been willed, and attained it will be.”

The two monks, drying up their tears, understood the Buddha’s words. They lived out their days in the community of the Buddha, accompanying him during his last days of life. Upon the Buddha’s entrance into parinirvana – death without return – his remains were cremated and transformed into pure, white crystal pellets. A miraculous occurrence, the two converted monks held some of these pellets in their hands. Though now gone, the pellets made it seem as if the Buddha was still here. This was the end of that Buddha’s journey, but the start of their own.


0. Image at the top of the page is a modification of "Jaques Callot’s “Soldiers Attacking Robbers", 1622, public domain.

1. Slight artistic license was taken here. In the Pali canon, Buddhas can, in fact, be wounded, and “shedding the blood of a Buddha” is one of the six acts whose karmic burden is so great one ends up in hell immediately after this life.

2. Arhats (also called arahants) are those who, by following the Buddha’s teachings, have attained nirvana, escaping rebirth and embodying the religious ideal. Like Buddhas, they are no longer reborn, but unlike Buddhas, they do not have his full perfections, powers, and insight. Read more at AccessToInsight:

Introduction | Bandit | The Lamb