Nītha the Scavenger

Translation by Henry Adams from the Sutra on Wisdom and Folly (Xiangujing), Fascile 6, Chapter 30 (賢愚經卷第六 T0202_.04.0397a24)

Thus I have heard. At one time the Buddha was dwelling at Jetavana in the country of Sravasti.

At that time, many people lived inside the walled city of Shravasti.  There were few lavatories, so most people went outside the city to urinate and defecate.

There were also wealthy people of high status, who did not venture outside the city walls.  They would use containers for toilets and hire people to take them outside the city.

There was one man named Nītha who was extremely poor and destitute.  He had nowhere to go and earned a meager living taking out the toilet pots.

At that time, the World-Honored One came to know of his situation and resolved to liberate him.  He instructed Ananda that they would go into the walled city with the intention of bringing Nītha out and saving him.  When they arrive a short distance from the city, they happened upon Nītha carrying a clay pot filled to the brim with filth on his way out to dispose of it.

When Nītha saw the World-Honored One, he was extremely ashamed and went back to find another road by which he could discreetly leave the city. 

Again, he saw the Buddha and was doubly embarrassed, so he went back again trying to run away.  In his haste, he bumped the clay pot filled with filth against a wall, where it shattered dousing his body in urine and feces.  He was deeply ashamed and could not bear to meet the Buddha.

At that time, the World-Honored One went straight to Nītha and said to him, “Would you like to leave this life and join the Sangha, or not?”

Nītha replied, “The Tathāgata is more honored than a king adorned with gold jewelry.  You are surrounded by disciples who are all of noble birth.  I am the most destitute and despised.  How could I join them and be ordained?”

The World-Honored One told him, “My Dharma is pure and marvelous.  It is like pure water that can completely wash away any defilements.  Moreover, it is like a great fire that can burn anything.  Large or small, beloved or despised, it can burn them all up.  My Dharma is like that.  It is vast without boundary.  Among the poor and the rich, male and female, those who practice it all bring an end to their various desires. 

At that time Nītha having heard what the Buddha said, received shinjin (faith in the Dharma) and awakened the desire to leave [his life of destitution and join the Sangha].  The Buddha instructed Ananda to take Nītha outside the city to the edge of a great river, where he cleansed his body.  Once he was cleaned up, they proceeded to Jetavana so the Buddha could teach the sutras of the Dharma. The principle that all people suffer, renouncing birth-and-death, and that nirvana is lasting peace.  Nītha quickly understood the meaning of the teachings and attained the first fruit of understanding.  Joining his palms he faced the Buddha and asked to become a sramana (monk).

The Buddha then said, “Welcome, Bhikkhu (monk).”  Nītha’s hair dropped away and he was clothed in the Dharma robes.  The Buddha once again taught the essential Dharma of the Four Noble Truths.  All Nītha’s remaining defilements where eliminated and he became an arhat (one who has attained enlightenment), fully endowed with the three kinds of awareness and six supernormal powers.

At that time the citizens of Shravasti heard that Nītha had joined the Sangha.  They became very upset and angry, saying, “How could the World-Honored One ask this low-class man to join the Sangha and study the Way.  How could we bow before him and make offerings of alms to him.  When we invite the Buddha and his disciples to our homes, if he comes along, he will pollute our floors and chairs.”  Carrying on this manner, they asked the king what should be done.

When the king heard of it, he too became enraged and felt that he needed to lodge a protest.  Thereupon, he mounted his chariot, and accompanied by his many vassals, set out for Jetavana to inquire with the Tathāgata regarding what the meaning of this was. 

When they arrived in front of the gate, they paused for a brief rest outside the gate to Jetavana.  There was a large boulder there, upon which sat the Bhikku Nītha sewing his robe.  Seven hundred heavenly beings had each brought flowers and incense as offerings.  Circumambulating with their right shoulders facing him, they bowed in reverence. When the king saw this, he felt deep joy having arrived at the place of the Bhikkhus, and said, “I wish to see the Buddha, please let him know I am here.” 

The Bhikkhu Nītha’s body sunk into the stone, and he emerged inside the grove out where the Buddha was dwelling.  The Buddha instructed Bhikkhu Nītha that he should lead the king into the grove.  Bhikkhu Nītha returned to the gate, emerging from the stone as easily as if passing through water.

Bhikku Nītha conveyed the Buddha’s invitation for the king to enter and ask his question.

The King thought, “Let me set aside the question I came ask.  Let me inquire as to what virtuous practices this monk has accomplished, such that he has such marvelous abilities.”  The king then entered to meet the Buddha.

The king bowed before the feet of the Buddha and circumambulated him three times to the right.  He then sat facing the Buddha and addressed the World-honored One, saying, “This monk who greeted us at the gate has marvelous abilities that are hard to attain.  He passed through stone as if it were water and emerged from the stone without leaving an indentation.   Please tell me what his name is.

The World-honored One told him, “This is the lowly scavenger I saved from your walled city.  He is now an arhat.  He is the person you came here to complain to me about.”

Hearing the words of the Buddha, the king abandoned his pride, and his joy was immeasurable.