The Bodhisatta floats the tray, and it falls into the river at the very same place as three previous trays; a Naga king realizes that a Buddha is to be enlightened
When Sujata had returned home, the Great Being rose from his seat with the golden tray of milk rice and went to the bank of the Neranjara River. He bathed, then climbed up and sat on the river bank. He made the milk rice into 49 mouthfuls, which he then ate. The Pathamasambodhi states that "it was a meal that would nourish him for seven days."
Having finished his meal, he floated the tray on the river and made a vow that, if he was to attain Buddhahood, the tray should float upstream. When he released it, the tray did indeed float upstream for a distance of 80 sork [forearm-lengths] where, having reached a deep area, it sank down into the realm of Kala, the Naga king, falling on top of the trays of three previous Buddhas with a "clunk."
The three past Buddhas who had floated those trays were Kakusandha, Konagamana, and Kassapa. The Great Being would be the fourth who had been enlightened at this place.
Kala the Naga king had been sleeping since the time of the previous Buddhas. He would wake every time he heard the sound of a tray falling. Each time he heard that sound, he would know that another Buddha had arisen in the world. On this occasion it was the same: hearing the sound of the Great Being's tray falling on top of the others, he drowsily mumbled to himself, "Yesterday a Great Victor [the Buddha Kassapa] arose in the world. Now another one is arising!" And with that he arose, made obeisance to the new Buddha, and went back to sleep.
The episode of the Great Being floating the tray, the tray floating upstream, and Kala the naga king, in his subterranean realm, is an allegory which can be explained thus: the tray is the Buddha's teaching (sasana); the river is the world or worldly beings: the teachings of the Buddha will lead people against the stream of the world to the stream of Nibbana. That is, to the transcendence of suffering in which there is no birth, no aging, no sickness and no death, unlike the stream of the world which flows to birth, aging, sickness and death. The naga king sleeping in his subterranean world is a symbol for worldly beings who are still thick with defilements-when a Buddha arises in the world they know it is a Buddha, but still they go back to "sleep" due to the power of their defilements.
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