By the end of the three-month summer retreat period, the bhiksus had attained a certain degree of realization in the Dharma, and their bodies and minds were purified and at ease. To express their gratitude towards the Buddha, the biksus approached the Buddha and respectfully prostrated before him. The Buddha then compassionately inquired on the bhiksus, “In these past three months of your daily lives, have you had any material shortages? Has your body and mind been joyful and at peace?”
Buddha's attendant Ananda, standing off to one side, saw how much the Buddha was caring for everyone in attendance, and was very moved by the Buddha's great heart of compassion. Because of this, he respectfully asked the Buddha, “World Honored One, your compassion makes all disciples very inspired. This merciful heart of yours that cannot bear to see any living beings suffer hardships, when did this mind first arise in you?”
The Buddha smiled and responded to Ananda, “Immeasurable kalpas ago, there were two sinners that lived in the hells. The guards in these hells peeled off the skin on their bodies and used them as straps to pull the carts. In addition to this, the guards ordered them both to pull one of these extremely heavy iron carts. During the process of pulling these carts, the guards would also use iron clubs to beat them. In this way these two sinners repeatedly struggled back and forth, not even having the time to be able to catch their breath.”
“One of these two finally became exhausted and collapsed onto the ground. When the guards saw what had happened, they once again started beating this man fiercely. Witnessing the misery of his partner, the other man became filled with feelings of strong pity. He then told the guards, “Could you please allow me to take his place? I can pull this cart by myself.” When the guards heard this, they flew into a rage, and with their iron clubs beat this man to his death. However, due to this thought of compassion that arose in him, this sinner put an end to the karmic consequences that kept him in the hells, and proceeded to be reborn in the heavens to enjoy his karmic rewards.”
After finishing his story, the Buddha told Ananda, “The man in this hell that possessed the heart full of compassion and was willing to replace his partner, was actually myself in one of my previous lives. Ever since that lifetime, seeing the immeasurable suffering of all those beings, I brought out the mind of great compassion. From then on, in all my rebirths, I have harbored thoughts of compassion and mercy, without ever diminishing, continuously until the present.” After hearing the account of the Buddha's past chain of cause and effect, Ananda was filled with admiration and gratefulness. He joyfully cultivated very diligently according to this teaching.
The sutra says, “The mind of the Buddha is the mind of great compassion.” Also, “All buddhas of the past, present, and future, great compassion is fundamental.” Developing compassion towards all sentient beings is the first step on the path of cultivation, and is essential to attaining buddhahood. When your intentions and your views are right, your path of cultivation will be straightforward and direct. The day of reaching enlightenment is on the horizon.