[This story is part of our Arahant series.]
Once, they say, the elder Mahāsīva of ‘Mountainpeak’ lived in the city of Mahagama, in Tissa’s Abbey.
There, he taught eighteen groups of young monks in the three baskets – the traditional teachings of the Buddha as they had been handed down – in full length and according to its exact meaning. Following the elder’s instruction sixty thousand monks achieved holiness.
One of those young monks thought to himself: “O, what a blessing this happiness of salvation is! I bet our teacher enjoys it too.” And as he explored his teacher’s heart, he realized that his teacher was still a worlding, someone who was still subject to the cycle of rebirth who had not even attained to the state of a stream enterer.
The young monk thought: “Through a clever gift, I will arouse urgency in my teacher!” He left his hut and went to Mahasiva, venerating his teacher with a deep bow. Finishing all obligations of a pupil he sat down.
Then the Elder Mahasiva said to his disciple: “Why have you come, brother alms-goer?” – “’When the Venerable Sir will offer me an opportunity, I would like to learn a verse of the Dhamma (dhammapada)‘, this was my idea with which I came to the Venerable Sir.” – “Many monks learn from me at this time, brother. I do not think that there will be any opportunity for you.”
And when he had not received any opportunity from his teacher for a whole night and a whole day he went back to Mahasiva and asked him: “If you have so little time, Venerable Sir, how do will you be able to give death an opportunity?” Mahasiva thought: “This monk has not come to learn from me. He has come, to shake me up, that is why he came.
Then his disciple said to him: “Like all the other monks, o Sir, who benefited from your instruction so you too need to develop your own mind and benefit from the teaching of the Tipitaka.”
After these words he venerated his teacher a last time and vanished before his teacher’s eyes by mental power into the jewel-colored sky.
After his former student had filled him with a sense of urgency he finished all classes in the afternoon and evening. Then he prepared his bowl and robe, and after he gave a final lesson in the morning he took on all thirteen ascetic practices of purification (dhutaṅga) with firm determination and departed for the monastery of ‘Mountainpeak”. There, he removed bed and chair from his monk’s cell and made this silent vow: “Until the achievement of holiness I will not sit on a chair nor rest on a bed.”
Then he directed his mind on walking meditation with the thought: “Today, verily, will I attain holiness, today, verily, will I acquire holiness.”
Without gaining any holiness, however – despite all efforts to reach it, came along the day of the big pavarana – the full moon ceremony at the end of the three months of the rain season retreat. When he realized that he still had not achieved path nor fruit of Nirvana, Mahasiva thought: “O, how difficult is this for me, although devoted to Vipassana to attain to holiness (arahatta)!”
However, without giving up and only practicing standing and walking meditation for thirty years he applied himself to the work of a true ascetic.
One night, when the full moon disc of another pavarana ceremony lit up the nightly sky, he thought: “What is probably brighter? The bright moon or my unbroken virtue?”
And as he reflected on his virtues as a monk which since the day of his higher ordination he had not broken, not even the smallest of all rules, a deep joy and satisfaction arose in him.
On the foundation of this joy his mind concentrated and he attained the supramundane knowledges, and together with analytical knowledge, experienced the Nibbana of an Arahant.”
Manorathapurani, AN Commentary