Among the Buddha’s disciples was his personal attendant named Ananda, who had faithfully served by the Buddha’s side for more than 20 years. Venerable Ananda bore the 30 marks of perfection in his countenance, which he had attained through spiritual cultivation, while the Buddha himself displayed the 32 marks of perfection.
Whenever the Buddha and Venerable Ananda were out together, people would comment that they looked very alike. Sometimes when Venerable Ananda was out alone, there were some who would mistake him for the Buddha himself.
One day during the seventh lunar month, when Venerable Ananda was deep in meditation, a hideous being with fangs appeared in front of him.
“Who are you? Why do you have such a terrifying appearance?” asked Venerable Ananda.
The being replied, “I am known as ‘Fiery-Faced’. I am hideous while you have a beauteous countenance, yet in three days’ time, you will be as ghastly-looking as I am now.”
Roused from his meditative state and filled with fear and panic, Ananda quickly sought out the Buddha for advice on the vision that he had just seen.
The Buddha offered him these words: “Impermanence pervades life. If, in our pursuit of spiritual cultivation, we are focused only on benefiting ourselves and continually give rise to unwholesome thoughts, then after our life comes to an end, we, too, will take rebirth in the Realm of Ghosts.”
Hearing this, Venerable Ananda was anxious to find out how he could be saved. The Buddha replied thus: “You must rely on the virtuous merits of many spiritual cultivators. If you receive the blessings of many such cultivators, you will be able to avoid an unfortunate rebirth in the ghost realm.”
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The “普渡公” (“por dor gong”) that people worship at their doorways in contemporary times is known as “Fiery-Faced King of Ghosts” in Buddhism. He is a Bodhisattva who manifested as a Ghost King before Ananda to help him realise that his life is subject to impermanence, too. He warned him that one should not be arrogant of one’s beautiful appearance, for when one’s blessings have been depleted, one, too, will take on a hideous form.
As the Buddha had advised Ananda, “You must create positive affinities with many other people; do reach out with a sincere heart quickly to the great number of spiritual cultivators to form positive affinities with them. Then, you will be fine.”
Translated by the Tzu Chi Singapore translation team