During the time of the Buddha, there was a virtuous monk who thought the question, "Where do the four elements cease without remainder?" He decided to pose this question to the devas, and so through meditative ability he at length traveled to Catumaharajika (plane of the Four Guardian's Heaven). He asked the devas there, "Where do the four elements cease without remainder?" They shook their heads, "We don't know, monk." Even the Four Great Kings did not know. Disappointed, he returned to the human plane and decided to ask the devas of the next heaven, Tavatimsa.
Again he meditated, and traveled to Tavatimsa where he asked the devas and the King Sakka, "Where do the four elements cease without remainder?" They looked discouraged and said, "We cannot tell you." Again he returned to earth.
Next he asked the Yamas, then the devas of Tusita, then the creators of Nimmanarati, then the highly pleased ones of Paranimmitavasavatti--none of the devas could answer his question!
At last, he meditated and ascended to the Brahma planes of the first jhana, with his mental body. When he spoke of asking the Mahabrahma a question, the Mahabrahma appeared and gloriously intoned: "Behold, I am the Great Brahma, creator of all that is, father of all who have and shall be, seer of all, the conqueror..." Delighted, the monk humbly asked, "Great Brahma, where do the four elements cease without remainder?"
The Mahabrahma responded, "I am the Great Brahma, creator of all that is, father of all who have and shall be, seer of all, the conqueror..."
The monk was confounded. "Yes, but where do the four elements cease without remainder, Great Brahma?"
"I am the Great Brahma, creator of all that is, father of all who--"
The monk interrupted, "--Yes, yes, I've heard all that. But I asked you, where do the four elements cease without remainder?" Agitated, the Mahabrahma grasped the monk, and they reappeared on a far side of his world. "Look here, little monk. What do you think you're doing? Did you see those Brahmas? They think I know everything. If you want to know where the four elements cease without remainder, then go ask the Buddha and spare me the embarrassment!"
The monk promptly returned to earth and sought out Siddhatta Buddha. He related the story to him, and the Buddha said, "you are like a bird that has returned to me after having found no land out in the ocean... In Nibbana, the four elements cease without remainder."
The monk was pleased.
Sometimes no Buddhas arise in the world. Sometimes they do. When it happens, it is for the welfare and happiness of men, out of compassion for all creatures. For a long, long time he has been working to become a Buddha. He met other Buddhas along the way. And after his long striving he attains his final life, yet not without showing everyone else how to get there.