Maudgalyayana Endures the Effects of Past Karma
Maudgalyayana, the Buddha’s other chief disciple, and Shariputra’s lifelong friend, met his own end two weeks later. But his death was not as peaceful, even though he too had long since become an arhat.
As an arhat, he would never again be reborn in the six paths of the hell-dwellers, hungry-ghosts, animals, fighting demons, humans, or heavenly beings. He no longer set in motion the karmic activity that would bind him to the world, because as with all arhats his every action was selfless and complete in that moment without any residue of clinging or aversion that would lead to future effects.
However, even arhats could only mitigate and not completely eradicate the ripening of past karma. The arhats simply had to mindfully and patiently endure the effects of those causes they were responsible for prior to attaining enlightenment.
In this case, in a past life the man who would become Maudgalyayana and his wife of that lifetime grew tired of caring for his aged and blind parents. To get rid of them, he took them into the forest, faked an attack by bandits, beat them with a stick and then left them to die. For this deed he was reborn in hell, but even after that time in hell there was still a karmic seed left from that act of heartless violence.
It came to fruition through the jealousy of a band of naked ascetics, who blamed Maudgalyayana for stealing their supporters away with his miraculous powers. In order to get rid of Maudgalyayana they hired a band of robbers to kill him.
Maudgalyayana used his miraculous powers to evade them for almost a week, not out of fear but out of compassion for the robbers, who would fall into hell for killing an arhat. On the seventh day, however, his powers failed him due to the ripening of his past misdeed and the bandits caught up with him and beat him to death with their staffs until they had broken every bone in his body.
Maudgalyayana’s last act was to use his miraculous powers to appear before the Buddha to tell him what had happened and to announce that he was now entering parinirvana. In this way, Maudgalyayana also made the final journey, so to speak, beyond all suffering and pain.
Moral of the Story: Supernatural power does not have the power to expiate one’s grave past karma. Endurance is the key to let the karmic retribution completes its own course of action.