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Vimanavatthu (Stories of the Mansions) & Petavatthu (Stories of The departed)
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Minor Anthologies Vol. 4 is the Pali Text Society English translation by I.B. Horner, with commentarial excerpts, of Vimanavatthu (Stories of the Mansions); & translation by H.S. Gehman of Petavatthu (Stories of the Departed). These books are found in the Khuddaka-nikaya.
Vimana means mansion. Here it refers to celestial mansions gained by beings who have done acts of merit. In this text are eighty-five verses grouped in seven vaggas. In the first four vaggas, celestial females give an account of the acts of merit they have performed in previous existences as human beings and of their rebirth in deva realms where magnificent mansions await their appearance. In the last three vaggas the celestial males tell their stories.
The Venerable Maha Mogallana, who could visit the deva realm, brought back stories as told to him by the devas concerned and recounted them to the Buddha who confirmed the stories by supplying more background details to them. These discourses were given to bring out the fact that the human world offers plenty of opportunities for performing meritorious acts. The objective for such discourses was to refute the wrong view of those who believe that nothing exists after this life (the annihilationists) and those who maintain that there is no resultant effect to any action.
The vivid accounts of the lives of the devas in various deva abodes serve to show clearly that the higher beings are not immortals, nor creators, but are also evolved conditioned by the result of their previous meritorious deeds. They too are subject to the laws of annica, dukka and anatta and have to strive themselves to achieve the deathless state of nibbana.
The stories of petas are graphic accounts of the miserable beings who have been reborn in unhappy extistences as a consequence of their evil deeds. There are fifty-one stories divided into four vaggas, describing the life of misery of the evil-doers, in direct contrast to the magnificent life of the devas.
Emphasis is again laid on the beneficial effects of giving; whereas envy, jealousy, miserliness, greed and wrong views are shown to be the causes of one's appearance in the unhappy world of the petas. The chief suffering in this state is shown as the severe lack of food, clothing and dwelling places for the condemned being. A certain and immediate release from such miseries can be given to the unfortunate being if his former relatives perform meritorious deeds and share their merits with him. In Tirokuttapeta Vatthu, a detailed account is given on how King Bimbisara brings relief to his former relatives who are unfortunately suffering as petas. King Bimbisara does this by making generous offerings of food, clothing and dwelling places to the Buddha and his company of bhikkhus and sharing the merit thus accrued with the petas who have been his kin in previous lives.
Excerpted from U Ko Lay's, Essence of Tipitaka.