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XXVI:37 Vangisa the skull-tapper
Once in Rajagaha there was a brahmin by the name of Vangisa who by simply tapping the skull of a dead person could tell whether that person was reborn in the world of the devas, or the human beings, or a suffering state. The brahmins took Vangisa to many villages and people flocked to him and paid handsomely to find out from him where their various dead relatives were reborn.
On one occasion, Vangisa and his party came to a place not far from the Jetavana monastery. Seeing many people who were going to the Buddha, the brahmins invited them to come to Vangisa who could tell where their relatives had been reborn. But the people said to them, 'What does Vangisa know! Our Teacher is one without a rival, he only is the Enlightened One.' As a result there was a heated argument between the people and the brahmins. Finally one person said, 'Come now, let us go and find out which of the two knows more, Vangisa or The Buddha.' So they all went to the Jetavana Monastery.
The Buddha, knowing their intention, instructed a bhikkhu to bring the skull of a person reborn in hell, of a person reborn in the animal world, of a person reborn in the human world, of a person reborn in the deva world and also that of an Arahant. The five were placed in a row. When Vangisa was shown the skulls, he could tell where the owners of the first four skulls were reborn; but when he came to the skull of the Arahant, he was at a loss. The Buddha said, 'Vangisa don't you know? I know where the owner of that skull is.' Vangisa then urged the Buddha to teach him the skill by which he would have the ability to tell where that particular person was reborn. The Buddha advised him to enter the Holy Order first before he would teach him the skill.
So Vangisa told his brahmin friends to wait for him while he entered the Holy Order to learn the skill. As a bhikkhu, he was instructed by the Buddha to contemplate on the thirty-two parts of the body. He diligently practised meditation as instructed and within a short time attained Arahanthood.
When the other brahmins came to ask him whether he had acquired the skill, Vangisa said, 'You all had better go now. There is no need for me to learn the skill any more. I will no longer go along with you.' Other bhikkhus hearing him asked the Buddha, 'Venerable Sir! Vangisa claims to have attained Arahanthood. Is it true?' The Buddha replied, 'Bhikkhus! He really knows the death and rebirth of beings. He is an Arahant.'
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