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XVIII:9 The inattentive lay-disciples
On one occasion, five lay-disciples were present while the Buddha was expounding the Dhamma at the Jetavana monastery. One of them was asleep while sitting, the second was scratching the earth with his fingers, the third was trying to shake a tree, the fourth was looking up at the sky. The fifth was the only one who was respectfully and attentively listening to the Buddha. Venerable Ananda, who saw the different kinds of behaviour of the five disciples commented, 'Venerable Sir! While you were expounding the Dhamma only one out of those five people were listening attentively'. Then Ananda described the different attitudes of the other four to the Buddha and asked why they were behaving thus.
The Buddha then explained that these people could not get rid of their old habits. In their past existences, the first one was a snake. As a snake usually coils itself up and goes to sleep, so also this man had gone to sleep while listening to the Dhamma. The one who was scratching the earth with his hand had been a subterranean creature. The one who was shaking the tree had been a monkey. The one who was gazing up at the sky had been an astrologer and the one who was listening attentively to the Dhamma had been a learned brahmin. The Buddha then said, 'Ananda, you must remember that one must be attentive to be able to understand the Dhamma and that there are many people who cannot understand the Dhamma.'
Ananda then asked, 'Venerable Sir, what are the things that prevent people from being able to realise the Dhamma?' The Buddha replied, 'Ananda, passion (raga), ill will (dosa) and ignorance (moha) are the three things that prevent people from realising the Dhamma. There is no fire like the fire of lust. Passion burns always and without any break.'