Kayashata pointed out the following to Kumorata, “Long ago the World-honoured One prophesied that, a thousand years after His entry into nirvana, a great scholar would appear in Tokhara who would pass on the Marvellous Transmission. Your meeting me at the present time fulfills this most propitiously.” As a result of hearing this, Kumorata awakened his ability to see his former lives.
Kumorata (S. Kumorata, ‘The Youthful One’) was from a Brahman family in Tokhara. In the far past he had been a deva in the sixth heaven in the realm of desire; whilst there he saw a Bodhisattva’s necklace of precious stones and suddenly felt a craving for it. Having thus lapsed, he was reborn in Trayastrimsha, the second heaven in the realm of desire; there he heard Indra of the Kushikas expounding The Scripture of Great Wisdom and became persuaded of its Truth; as a result of this, he ascended to Brahma’s heaven in the realm of form. Because of his great intelligence he skillfully expounded the essentials of Buddhism and all in that heaven so respected him that they made him their teacher. When the time came for the Ancestral rank to be passed on he descended to Tokhara.
Kayashata, whilst on a preaching tour, arrived at Tokhara where he noticed that one of the Brahman’s lodgings had a distinctive air about it. Kayashata was about to enter that house when Kumorata asked him whose follower he was. Kayashata replied, “I am a disciple of the Buddha.” When Kumorata heard the Buddha’s name he grew extremely frightened and immediately slammed the door shut. Kayashata knocked at the door for some time before Kumorata answered, “No one home!” Kayashata asked, “Who then is this that replies ‘No one!’?” When Kumorata heard these words he knew that Kayashata was no ordinary person, so he quickly opened the door and invited him in. As related above, Kayashata told him of the Buddha’s ancient prophecy and he realized his ability to know his previous lives.
What is happening here needs to be handled carefully. Even though you may have a clear grasp of what the words teach or may comprehend that birth and death, coming and going, comprise the true human body, if you do not understand that your TRUE ORIGINAL NATURE is void of substance, luminous, unimaginable and unbeclouded, you do not know what IT is that the Buddhas have realized. Therefore, were you to see the light that streams from a Bodhisattva, you would be startled; were you to see the countenance of some Buddha, you would be attracted to it. Why is this? Because you would still not have rid yourself of the three poisons of greed, anger and delusion.
Now when we look at the account of Kumorata’s previous lives, we see that he regressed and descended to the Trayastrimsha heaven because of a covetous attraction; moreover, according to the story of his former life, having been stirred by the preaching of the Dharma by Lord Indra, he ascended to Brahma’s heaven and later was reborn in Tokhara. His accumulation of merit and his piling up of virtues was not without fruit; having been aroused by Kayashata, he had awakened to his ability to see his former lives.
‘The ability to see one’s former lives’ is conventionally understood as meaning to know the past and the future, but of what use would that be? If you become aware that your original and unchanging TRUE NATURE is neither enlightened, unenlightened or a delusion, then the hundreds of thousands of gateways to the Teaching, along with their immeasurably profound meanings, are all seen to be welling-up in the mind. Both the stumbling of sentient beings and the realization of enlightenment by the Buddhas lie within your own breast; in no way are they the elements of sense objects nor are they ‘mental phenomena’. When you arrive at this state, what is to be taken as past, what as present? What pertains to the Buddhas, what to sentient beings? Not a single object blocks the eye, not a single speck of dust comes in touch with the hand; there are just the qualities of being, void of substance and luminous, simply being unclouded, free of everything and boundless. The Tathagata who realized enlightenment in the distant past is in fact the sentient being who, by nature, does not swerve. Even when someone awakens to the TRUTH in this way, nothing is added; likewise, whilst someone has not yet realized the TRUTH, he lacks nothing.
To touch upon the awareness that it has been like this since time began is what is meant by ‘awakening to one’s ability to see former lives’. If you have not reached this state, you will be needlessly disturbed by a nature that is a mixture of delusion and enlightenment; so caught up will you be in past and future that you will not know what your TRUE NATURE is and will not see clearly that your TRUE ORIGINAL NATURE does not err. If you are thus, you will be wont to play at being a Buddha in an attempt to attain the supraworldly or play at being a Bodhisattva in an attempt to take unjust possession of His ‘coming far off from the West’. The original impulse to renounce the world and the original intention to ‘come from the West’ were simply for the sake of these deluded actions and not for any other purpose. By all means take heed of the above account and know that the actions of Kayashata and Kumorata were spiritually alive and bright-mindedly frank. To know THAT which has radiance from the first is called ‘the ability to see one’s past lives’.
Do you want to hear my humble words today? I trust that they will convey the underlying principle.
Clinging to a body from a past life,
made ever so remote by the passage of time,
We suddenly meet face to face with the ONE from ancient days.
(from The DENKOROKU: The Record of the Transmission of the Light by Zen Master Keizan Jokin. Translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey Press, 2001.)