The Dhammapada, verse 16: “Happy are the well-doers here and hereafter.”

Idha modati pecca modati —

katapuñño ubhayattha modati.

So modati so pamodati —

disvā kammavisuddhamattano.

“Here he rejoices, hereafter he rejoices. In both states the well-doer rejoices. He rejoices, exceedingly rejoices, perceiving the purity of his own deeds.”

Whereas the previous verse posits an unpleasant rebirth for immoral and cruel people, this verse promises a joyous rebirth for those who try to spend their lives doing good. As an encouragement for those who practice virtue, the commentary tells the story of the layman Dhammika:

Dhammika was the senior layperson in the city of Sāvatthi, the head of a group of five hundred laymen (and, presumably, laywomen,) each with a retinue of five hundred lay followers. He and his wife, were exceedingly generous: they delighted in giving alms, and they brought up their seven sons and seven daughters to do the same.

Eventually Dhammika was stricken by a serious illness, and he began to waste away. On his deathbed, he asked to be visited by some of the monks who were staying nearby in the company of the Buddha. Out of compassion and gratitude, the Lord sent along a group of monks to attend to their supporter in his final hours. When they arrived, Dhammika told them that his eyesight was failing him, and that he only wanted to hear a single sutta before he died: the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, known in English as the Foundations of Mindfulness. In the notes to his translation, Narāda Thera explains that, according to Buddhist tradition, the most important determining factor for what rebirth a person will take when they pass away is the state of mind at the moment of death; Dhammika probably wanted to end his life with full awareness and tranquility. The monks gladly complied with his request, and began to recite the sutta for his benefit.

At that exact moment, Dhammika had a vision of six chariots descending from the six heavenly planes, each beautifully adorned and drawn by a thousand horses each. In the chariots were six devas, each one a representative from their respective heavenly planes. “Permit us to convey you to our celestial realm.” they said in turn. “Even as one shatters a clay vessel and replaces it with a vessel of gold, even so are living beings reborn to take their pleasure in our celestial world.” His virtue was so highly regarded throughout the numerous planes of existence that each heavenly realm was competing for him! But Dhammika was more interested in hearing the monks recite the Dhamma than he was in hearing the devas’ entreaties. Unwilling to miss a single word, he cried out, “Wait! Wait!” Surprised, everyone present, including his sons and daughters, believed that he was pleading for the monks to stop. The children bemoaned their father’s apparent change of heart, and the monks rose and respectfully went away.

When their father came to his senses, his sons and daughters explained what had happened. Dhammika explained to them that he was not trying to interrupt the monks, but was chastising the devas who even then remained hovering in the air before him. Unbelieving, his children asked him where these mysterious invisible chariots were. He responded by asking them to bring a wreath of flowers, after which he asked, “Which celestial world is the most delightful?” “Dear father, the most delightful is the world of the Tusita gods, the abode of the mothers and fathers of the Buddhas and of all the Future Buddhas.” He asked them to toss the wreath of flowers into the air, and say, “Let this wreath of flowers cling to the chariot which came from the World of the Tusita gods.”

They did as he asked, and the wreath clung to the chariot from the realm of the Tusita gods just as they had commanded. “This wreath hangs suspended from the chariot which came from the World of the Tusita gods.” Dhammika told his children. “I am going to the World of the Tusita gods; do not be disturbed. If you desire to be reborn with me, do works of merit even as I have done.” So, having comforted his children and encouraged them to develop and cherish their virtue and generosity, the great lay supporter died and way conveyed to a heavenly abode.

Back at the monastery, the monks told the Buddha about the mysterious goings-on in Dhammika’s home. The Buddha reassured them that he didn’t mean to interrupt their recitation, but to silence the devas who were distracting him. He comforted them by telling them exactly where he had gone, and said, “They that are heedful, be they laymen or monks, rejoice in both planes equally” before reciting the verse above.

I think that this verse and its backstory are important, primarily because it serves as a lesson on the value of both good works and purity of heart; not only did Dhammika dedicate his life to serving and caring for others, but he died with a mind and heart full of reverence for the truth. In some ways, I think this mirrors Christian teachings on grace and repentance — even if someone spends their life doing little good, Buddhist tradition promises us that they can be assured a decent rebirth if they die with a penitent heart full of faith. The original text’s elaborate descriptions of the glory of such heavenly rewards are really beside the point. Like the one before it, this verse is essentially reminding us that our actions, and even our thoughts, make a difference. If we try our best to purify and elevate both, something good is bound to happen either in this world or the next.

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