Once upon a time when the Buddha was alive...
There were many talented disciples under the Buddha, such as Sariputta, who was foremost in wisdom, and Moggallana, who had the divine eyes.
Because Moggallana had the divine eyes he experienced the unusual and observed other beings from the invisible world.
This is an episode from when the Buddha and his disciples lived in Rajagaha:
Moggallana had been training at Mt. Girddhakuta; one morning he and Lakkhana were descending the mountain toward Rajagaha to collect alms.
On their way Moggallana suddenly stopped, looked up the sky, and grinned. Then he started walking again as if nothing had happened.
Lakkhana, however, noticed his grin.
"My friend, Moggallana, why did you smile? You did it the other day, too. What was that all about?"
Lakkhana had noticed Moggallana's odd behavior that sometimes he had shown
"Please do not ask me now, Lakkhana. I will tell you in the presence of the Buddha."
Lakkhana didn't ask about it again.
After collecting alms, as soon as they finished breakfast, Lakkhana urged Moggalla and they headed to the Bamboo Grove where the Buddha stayed.
They offered vows and greeted the Buddha, and Lakkhana repeated his question.
Then Moggallana said:
"I will now tell you since we are in the Buddha's presence.
Actually, Lakkhana, at that time I had spotted a strange creature flying over the sky.
It had a fat pig-like body with a human head and a tail-like tongue with maggots at the end.
I couldn't help but smiling because of such an unusual form."
"What? Does such a thing exist?" Lakkhana asked with surprise, and the Buddha said:
"My disciples, in fact I have also seen that creature at Girddhakuta.
But anybody who does not have divine eyes wouldn't believe it even if I told him many times.
If one does not believe what I say, it will create a bad karma and he will suffer; that is why I have not told anybody about that creature."
Now the rest of the disciples showed up and asked:
"The Buddha, what on earth is it? Why does it have such an appearance?"
"My disciples, do you want to know what it is?"
"The Buddha, if you know what it is, please tell us."
What the Buddha told was amazing:
A long time ago, there was a temple around here and two monks were training in harmony.
One day, a traveling preacher visited there.
They welcomed him and next day three of them went to collect alms.
The two monks thought the traveling preacher's speech would be new for the people in the village, so they asked him to preach.
As they thought, his sermon was very successful.
Since then, they started visiting the villages to collect alms with his sermons.
Because the preacher looked down on the two monks for he thought they were country people and they had no knowledge, he started to have a dark ambition to take over the temple.
"Sir, the other one of you seems a good person, but please be careful.
He always tells me negative things about you.
Please don't tell him that I told you about it. Because I trust you."
Occasionally he gave both of the monks such kind of idea.
The two monks, who had been worked in harmony, started avoiding each other and their relationship was getting awkward.
At last they started arguing over trifles and left the temple in opposite directions as if they did not want to see each other's faces.
"Sir, please do not leave, both of you. Please think this over again."
The traveling preacher pretended as though he had cared about them, but he was satisfied with the result; his plan worked.
The Buddha continued:
"Listen, my disciples. That traveling preacher, after his death, fell into the Hell of Avici (one of the eight great hot hells) and had suffered there for an extremely long time.
He finally got out of the hell, but he became a hungry spirit because of his bad karma, and now he is wandering around as he looks."
After the Buddha finished the story, the disciples who had gathered and listened to him with their curiosity started to sigh.
"Oh, how terrible the outcomes of the bad deeds are!" said the disciples with their serious looks.
Then, Moggallana again mentioned:
"Actually, the Buddha, I have also seen another strange being.
On the other day, when I was going down the mountain, I saw a skinny being with no body skin flying over the sky.
And kites and crows were chasing and pecking it. The being went away with agony."
"Well. You have seen it too, Moggallana. I have also encountered that being.
But I did not tell anybody about it because without divine eyes, no one would believe it."
"The Buddha, that is why I did not tell it, either.
I knew you would prove it exists. That's why I decided to tell about it."
"I see. My disciples, what Moggallana has just told us is true," said the Buddha.
Being encouraged by the Buddha's words, Moggallana continued:
"In fact, the Buddha, I have also seen a different unusual creature.
The other day, when I was descending the mountain, I saw a strange being with hair made of needles and knives.
Whenever it moved, the sharp edged hair stabbed its body and cut the skin to bleed.
It was crying in pain while scavenging for kitchen waste and dirt. I couldn't help but gaze at it.
But I have kept silent because without divine eyes no one would believe it"
"I see. My disciples, I have seen that being, too. What Moggallana told us is true."
"And, the Buddha, I have seen another one too," said Moggallana.
"One day, I smelled something like a cesspool, when I was at the mountain.
I turned around and I saw a human-like being which had an inflated belly and very thin throat.
It was scavenging the excrement. It ran away when I approached it and I can still remember its miserable appearance."
The rest of the disciples asked:
"The Buddha, does such a being actually exist? Does it even smell?"
"My disciples, I have seen that being, too. What Moggallana told us is true."
"The Buddha, what on earth is it? Why does it have such a look?"
"Well, my disciples, I will tell you a story about her karma."
The Buddha started the story:
A long time ago, there was a paccekabuddha (one who has reached his own enlightenment by practicing alone) nearby.
When he was practicing in the mountain, he became sick, and he visited a doctor and had himself examined.
"Sir, it would be the best for you to eat meat for treatment."
Following what the doctor said, the paccekabuddha went to a town and begged for meat at a religious landlord's house.
When the landlord's saw the paccekabuddha, he was willing to offer food, but he had to leave soon to go far away for business.
So he told his wife to do so:
"Instead of my doing so, provide the honorable paccekabuddha some good meat to accumulate virtue because I have to leave now."
"Don't worry, I will take care of it. So you can leave for your business."
The wife, however, was very stingy and she did not like giving alms.
"How shameless it is not to do any work.
If I give him food, I bet he will come everyday. I have to drive him back."
Muttering like that, she took his bowl, went inside of the house, put her stool in it, covered with cooked meat and handed it to him.
The paccekabuddha took his bowl and his face was distorted with the smell.
He washed the bowl at a river and went away with a sad look.
"My disciples, what the woman has become is the hungry spirit that Moggallana had seen.
Because of that bad karma, she only takes excrement.
Even now she is wandering around and giving off a bad smell from her body."
After the Buddha had finished the story, the disciples who had listened seriously talked each other:
"Oh, how terrible the outcome of a bad deed is! We need to tell the people to work for good deeds more willingly."
Since then, Moggallana and the disciples started to convey their hearts to the world of hungry spirits occasionally, like when they meditate.
Because of their efforts, one day Moggallana encountered a lot of hungry spirits entering through the city gate.
As soon as the hungry spirits spotted him, they approach him and begged him:
"Sir, with your mercy, if you see us miserable, please convince our kin to have services with the Buddha and his disciples and save us by the virtues from the services."
They had frail charred bodies with distended bellies and throats thin like nails.
Whenever they approached the delicious food, it changed into bloody pus. Whenever they tried to drink water, it changed into fire.
Their appearances were truly miserable.
"I understand. We will do as much as we can. Anyway, what kind of bad karma made you the way you are now?"
"When we were alive, we were the son and his buddies of a landlord in Rajagaha and we used to hang around.
We made fun of religions. Whenever we spotted the begging monks, we thought that only giving them food made them come everyday.
And we interrupted other people's offerings, too.
We thought that after our deaths, our lives were just over, but we did not imagine we would be kept alive as such forms. Please help us."
He had pity on them and after he got their names and houses, he visited each person's house and told the story about them.
Many of their children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters were religious; they believed what he told them and they decided to hold a huge religious ceremony.
They invited the Buddha and the all the disciples in Rajagaha.
"The Buddha, please accept this service for the kin of this landlord who are in miserable circumstances at the spiritual world.
Using the virtues from this offering, please save them from being the hungry spirits."
Moggallana asked the Buddha for them and the Buddha accepted it willingly.
The Buddha embraced the hungry spirits with his divine power.
When he deepened his prayer, amazingly even the people without the divine eyes were able to see the hungry spirits.
Everyone was shocked by the sad appearances of the hungry spirits that Moggallana had seen; some took their breath away and some looked away from them.
"Is that the consequence of the people who used be well-to-do!? How horrible the punishment of bad deeds are!"
When the Buddha saw that the people understood deeply, he preached that your actions driven by greed, stinginess and attachment could cause the suffering.
He also taught that to depart from the self-centered way and to act for others with your pure heart is the closest way to being bodhisattva and absolute comfort.
The people there started having religious belief and promised to take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.
Some of them reached to the level of shrotapanna (stream-enterer or sudaon), which refers to a person who has entered one of the stages of faith leading to Buddhahood.
The hungry spirits' ugly bodies vanished by the high virtue of the donations and the Buddha's teaching.
They were able to be reborn in the thirty-three heavenly worlds.
Despite their previously ugly and pitiful appearances, now they live in the heavenly worlds joyfully and delightfully, like angels.
"How fortunate we are! Because of Moggallana, who made his effort to ask the Buddha and his disciples for the service with our relatives, we are able to stay in this marvelous heavenly worlds."
Then they descended from the heavenly worlds and approached from above of the Buddha while he was teaching at the Bamboo Grove as usual with Moggallana beside him.
As they showed their shining, brilliant appearances with the golden crowns, the jewelry accessories and the beautiful clothes on.
They honored the Buddha and Moggallana, and offered their true appreciation.
"My disciples, look at these angels shining brilliantly. These are what the hungry spirits we offered the service became."
The people there were amazed by the Buddha's words and looked at the angels.
They understood the importance of the dharma, and saw them off to the heavenly worlds.