The Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King (A Life of Buddha)

by Samuel Beal | 1883 | 108,941 words

This book is called “A Life of Buddha” by Asvaghosha Bodhisattva, in Chinese known as the “Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King”. It was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmaraksha (or Dharmakshara) A.D. 420. The most reliable of the lives of Buddha known in China is that translated in the present volume, the Buddhacarita-kavya. It was no doubt written...

Varga 25. Parinirvāṇa

When Buddha went towards the place of his Nirvāṇa, the city of Vaiśālī was (as if) deserted, as when upon a dark and cloudy night the moon and stars withdraw their shining. . 1900

The land that heretofore had peace, was now afflicted and distressed; as when a loving father dies, the orphan daughter yields to constant grief. . 1901

Her personal grace unheeded, her clever skill but lightly thought of, with stammering lips she finds expression for her thoughts; how poor her brilliant wit and wisdom now! . 1902

Her spiritual powers (spirits[1]) ill regulated (without attractiveness[2]), her loving heart[3] faint (poor) and fickle (false), exalted high[4] but without strength, and all her native grace neglected (without rule)[5]; . 1903

Such was the case at Vaiśālī; all outward show[6] now fallen (sorry-looking), like autumn verdure in the fields bereft of water, withered up and dry; . 1904

Or like the smoke of a half-smouldering[7] fire, or like those who having food before them yet forget to eat, so these forgot their common household[8] duties, and nought prepared they for the day's emergencies. . 1905

Thinking thus on Buddha, lost in deep reflection, silent they sat nor spoke a word. And now the lion-Licchavis[9], manfully enduring their great sorrow, . 1906

With flowing tears and doleful sighs, signifying thereby their love of kindred, destroyed for ever all their books of heresy, to show their firm adherence to the true law[10]. . 1907

Having put down all heresy (or heretics), they left it once for all[11] (never to return); severed from the world and the world's doctrines, convinced that non-continuance (impermanence) was the great disease (evil). . 1908

(Moreover thus they thought): 'The lord of men now enters the great quiet place (Nirvāṇa), (and we are left) without support and with no saviour; the highest lord of "means" (means of saving men) is now about to extinguish all his glory in the final[12] place (of death). . 1909

'Now we indeed have lost our steadfast will, as fire deprived of fuel; greatly to be pitied is the world, now that the lord gives up his world-protecting (office), . 1910

'Even as a man bereft of spiritual power (right reason) throughout the world is greatly pitied. Oppressed by heat we seek the cooling lake, nipped by the cold we use the fire; . 1911

'But in a moment all is lost[13], the world is left without resource[14]; the excellent law (superlative law), indeed, is left, to frame the world anew, as a metal-caster frames anew his work[15]. . 1912

'The world has lost its master-guide, and, men bereaved of him, the way is lost; old age, disease, and death, self-sufficient[16], now that the road is missed, pervade the world without a way. . 1913

'What is there now throughout the world equal to overcome the springs of these great sorrows? The great cloud's rain alone can make the raging and excessive fire, that burns the world, go out. . 1914

'So only he can make the raging fire of covetous desire go out; and now he, the skilful maker of comparisons[17], has firmly fixed his mind to leave the world! . 1915

'And why, again, is the sword of wisdom, ever ready to be used for an uninvited friend (i.e. on behalf of the friendless), only like the draught of wine given to him about to undergo the torture and to die[18]? . 1916

'Deluded by false knowledge the mass of living things are only born to die again; as the sharp knife divides the wood, so constant change divides the world. . 1917

'The gloom of ignorance like the deep water, lust like the rolling billow, sorrow like the floating bubbles, false views (heresy) like the Makara[19]fish, . 1918

'(Amidst all these) the ship of wisdom only can carry us across the mighty sea. The mass of ills (diseases) are like the flowers of the (sorrow) tree, old age and all its griefs, the tangled boughs; . 1919

'Death the tree's tap-root, deeds done in life the buds, the diamond sword of wisdom only strong enough to cut down the mundane tree! . 1920

'Ignorance (is like) the burning fire-glass, covetous desire the scorching rays, the objects of the five desires the (dry) grass, wisdom alone the water to put out the fire. . 1921

'The perfect law, surpassing every law, having destroyed the gloom of ignorance, we see the straight road leading to quietness and rest, the end of every grief and sorrow. . 1922

'And now the loving (one), converting men, impartial in his thoughts to friend or foe, the all-knowing,. perfectly instructed, even he is going to leave the world! . 1923

'He with his soft and finely modulated voice, his compact body and broad shoulders, he, the great Rishi[20], ends his life! Who then can claim exemption? . 1924

'Enlightened, now he quickly passes hence! let us therefore seek with earnestness the truth, even as a man meets with the stream beside the road, then drinks and passes on. . 1925

'Inconstancy, this is the dreaded enemy—the universal destroyer—sparing neither rich nor poor; rightly perceiving this and keeping it in mind, this man, though sleeping, yet is the only ever-wakeful.' . 1926

Thus the Licchavi lions, ever mindful of the Buddha's wisdom, disquieted with (the pain of) birth and death, sighed forth their fond remembrance of the man-lion[21]. . 1927

Retaining in their minds no love of worldly things, aiming to rise above the power of every lustful quality[22], subduing in their hearts the thought of light or trivial matters, training their thoughts (hearts) (to seek) the quiet, peaceful place; . 1928

Diligently practising (the rules) of unselfish, charitable conduct; putting away all listlessness, they found their joy in quietness and seclusion, meditating only on religious truth. . 1929

And now the all-wise (omniscient), turning his body round with a lion-turn[23], once more gazed upon Vaiśālī, and uttered this farewell verse: . 1930

'Now this, the last time this, I leave (wander forth from) Vaiśālī—the land where heroes[24] live and flourish! Now am I going to die.' . 1931

Then gradually advancing, stage by stage[25] he came to Bhoga-nagara (Po-ki’a-shing), and there he rested in the Śāla[26] grove, where he instructed all his followers (Bhikṣus) in the precepts: . 1932

'Now having gone on high (ascended into heaven)[27] I shall enter on Nirvāṇa: ye must rely upon the law (religious truth)—this is your highest, strongest, vantage ground[28]. . 1933

'What is not found (what enters not) in Sara, or what disagrees with rules of Vinaya, opposing the one true system (of my doctrine), this must not be held by you[29]. . 1934

'What opposes Dharma, what opposes Vinaya, or what is contrary to my words, this is the result (speech) of ignorance, ye must not hold such doctrine, but with haste reject it. . 1935

'Receiving that which has been said aright (in the light)[30], this is not subversive of true doctrine, this is what I have said[31], as the Dharma and Vinaya say. . 1936

'Accepting that which I, the law, and the Vinaya declare, this is (the truth) to be believed. But words which neither I, the law, nor the Vinaya declare, these are not to be believed. . 1937

'Not gathering (explaining) the true and hidden meaning, but closely holding to the letter[32], this is the way of foolish teachers, but contrary to my doctrine (religion) and a false way of teaching. . 1938

'Not separating the true from false, accepting in the dark without discrimination, is like a shop where gold and its alloys are sold together, justly condemned by all the world. . 1939

'The foolish masters, practising (the ways of) superficial wisdom, grasp not the meaning of the truth; but to receive the law (religious doctrine) as it explains itself, this is to accept the highest mode of exposition (this is to accept the true law). . 1940

'Ye ought therefore thus to investigate true principles, to consider well the true law and the Vinaya, even as the goldsmith does who melts and strikes and then selects the true (metal). . 1941

'Not to know the Sūtras and the Śāstras, this is to be devoid of wisdom; not saying properly that which is proper, is like doing that which is not fit to see. . 1942

'Let all be done (accepted) in right and proper order, according as the meaning of the sentence guides, for he who grasps a sword unskilfully, does but inflict a wound upon his hand. . 1943

'Not skilfully to handle words and sentences, the meaning then is hard to know; as in the night time travelling and seeking for a house, if all be dark within, how difficult to find. . 1944

'Losing the meaning, then the law (dharma) is disregarded, disregarding the law the mind becomes confused; therefore every wise and prudent master neglects not to discover the true and faithful meaning.' . 1945

Having spoken these words respecting the precepts of religion, he advanced to the town of Pāvā[33], where all the Mallas (lih sse) prepared for him religious offerings of every kind. . 1946

At this time a certain householder's son[34], whose name was Cunda, invited Buddha to his house, and there he gave him, as an offering, his very last repast. . 1947

Having partaken of it and declared the law (preached), he onward went to the town of Kusi (Kuśinagara), crossing the river Tsae-kieuh (Tsaku) and the Hiraṇyavatī (Hi-lan)[35]. . 1948

Then in that Śāla grove, a place of quiet and seclusion (hermit-rest), he took his seat: entering the golden river (Hiraṇyavatī) he bathed his body, in appearance like a golden mountain. . 1949

Then he spake his bidding thus to Ānanda: 'Between those twin Śāla trees, sweeping and watering, make a clean space, and then arrange my sitting-mat (couch), . 1950

'At midnight coming, I shall die' (enter Nirvāṇa). Ānanda hearing the bidding of his master (Buddha), his breath was choked with heart-sadness; . 1951

But going and weeping he obeyed the instruction, and spreading out the mat he came forthwith back to his master and acquainted him. Tathāgata having lain down with his head towards the north and on his right side, slept thus. . 1952

Resting upon his hand as on a pillow with his feet crossed[36], even as a lion-king; all grief is passed, his last-born body from this one sleep shall never rise. . 1953

His followers (disciples) round him, in a circle gathered, sigh dolefully: 'The eye of the (great) world is now put out!' The wind is hushed, the forest streams are silent, no voice is heard of bird or beast. . 1954

The trees sweat out large flowing drops, flowers and leaves out of season singly fall, whilst men and Devas, not yet free from desire, are filled with overwhelming fear. . 1955

(Thus were they) like men wandering through the arid desert, the road full dangerous, who fail to reach the longed-for hamlet; full of fear they go on still, dreading they may not find it, their heart borne down with fear they faint and droop. . 1956

And now Tathāgata, aroused from sleep, addressed Ānanda thus: 'Go! tell the Mallas, the time of my decease (Nirvāṇa) is come; . 1957

'They, if they see me not, will ever grieve and suffer deep regret.' Ānanda listening to the bidding of his master (Buddha), weeping went along the road. . 1958

And then he told those Mallas all—'The lord is near to death.' The Mallas hearing it, were filled with great, excessive grief (fear). . 1959

The men and women hurrying forth, bewailing as they went, came to the spot where Buddha was; with garments torn and hair dishevelled, covered with dust and sweat they came. . 1960

With piteous cries they reached the grove, as when a Deva's day of merit (heavenly merit or enjoyment) comes to an end[37], so did they bow weeping and adoring at the feet of Buddha, grieving (to behold) his failing strength. . 1961

Tathāgata, composed and quiet, spake: 'Grieve not! the time is one for joy; no call for sorrow or for anguish here; . 1962

'That which for ages I have aimed at, now am I just about to obtain; delivered now from the narrow bounds of sense, I go to the place of never-ending rest and peace (purity). . 1963

'I leave these things, earth, water, fire, and air, to rest secure where neither birth nor death can come. Eternally delivered there from grief, oh! tell me! why should I be sorrowful? . 1964

'Of yore on Śīrṣa's[38] mount, I longed to rid me of this body, but to fulfil my destiny I have remained till now with men (in the world); . 1965

'I have kept (till now) this sickly, crumbling body, as dwelling with a poisonous snake; but NOW (capitals sic—JBH) I am come to the great resting-place, all springs of sorrow now for ever stopped. . 1966

'No more shall I receive a body, all future sorrow now for ever done away; it is not meet for you, on my account, for evermore, to encourage any anxious fear.' . 1967

The Mallas hearing Buddha's words, that he was now about to die (enter the great, peaceful, quiet state), their minds confused, their eyes bedimmed, as if they saw before them nought but blackness, . 1968

With hands conjoined, spake thus to Buddha: 'Buddha is leaving now the pain of birth and death, and entering on the eternal joy of rest (peaceful extinction); doubtless we ought to rejoice thereat. . 1969

'Even as when a house is burnt a man rejoices if his friends are saved from out the flames; the gods! perhaps they rejoice—then how much more should men! . 1970

'But—when Tathāgata has gone and living things no more may see him, eternally cut off from safety and deliverance—in thought of this we grieve and sorrow. 197 I

'Like as a band of merchants crossing with careful steps a desert, with only a single guide, suddenly he dies! . 1972

'Those merchants now without a protector, how can they but lament! The present age, coming to know their true case[39], has found the omniscient, and looked to him, . 1973

'But yet has not obtained the final conquest;—how will the world deride! Even as it would laugh at one who, walking o’er a mountain full of treasure, yet ignorant thereof, hugs still the pain of poverty.' . 1974

So spake the Mallas, and with tearful words excuse themselves to Buddha, even as an only child pleads piteously before a loving father. . 1975

Buddha then, with speech most excellent, exhibited and declared the highest principle (of truth), and thus addressed the Mallas: 'In truth, ’tis as you say; . 1976

'Seeking the way, you must exert yourselves and strive with diligence—it is not enough to have seen me! Walk, as I have commanded you; get rid of all the tangled net of sorrow; . 1977

'Walk in the way with steadfast aim; ’tis not from seeing me this comes,—even as a sick man depending on the healing power of medicine, . 1978

'Gets rid of all his ailments easily without beholding the physician. He who does not do what I command sees me in vain, this brings no profit; . 1979

'Whilst he who lives far off from where I am, and yet walks righteously, is ever near me! A man may dwell beside me, and yet, being disobedient, be far away from me. . 1980

'Keep your heart carefully—give not place to listlessness! earnestly practise every good work. Man born in this world is pressed by all the sorrows of the long career (night) [of suffering], . 1981

'Ceaselessly troubled—without a moment's rest, as any lamp blown by the wind!' The Mallas all, hearing Buddha's loving instruction, . 1982

Inwardly composed, restrained their tears, and, firmly self-possessed, returned. . 1983

Footnotes and references:


Shin-tung generally means 'spiritual (miraculous) powers,' but here it refers to the 'spirits' or 'good spirits,' i.e. the bearing or cheerful tone of mind.


Without dignity.


That is, her heart capable of love now poor and estranged, i.e. incapable of earnest attachment.


The symbol 'shing' denotes not only 'power' generally, and hence used for the Sanskrit 'jina,' but also 'a headdress worn by females.' It thus corresponds with the Greek ἔξουσια (1 Cor. xi. 10). The phrase in the text may therefore mean 'her horn (headdress) exalted, but bereft of power,' where there is a play on the second word 'Eh' (power).


'Dignified and yet no ruler.'


Outward glory.


Like the smoking (ashes) of a fire put out.


Kung sz’ may mean 'public and private,' or as in the text.


The difficulty here, as before, is to know whether one Licchavi is referred to, or the whole clan. We may observe that there is an Accadian root 'lig' or 'lik,' meaning 'lion.' Sayce, Assyrian Grammar.


Ching-fă = saddharma.


The passage may possibly mean that they sent away all heretics from their city; but the whole verse is obscure.


The 'final' or 'highest' place.


This is a doubtful translation; the original is sih kwoh in, 'all openly or widely (gone).'


Without a place of refuge, or a lodging-place. The line literally translated is, 'All things that live, what refuge have they?'


This is the idea, as it seems, of the original, implying that the law of Buddha alone was left to take the place of the teacher.


Tsz’-tsai, independent, without control.


'Powerful in making comparisons,' one of Buddha's characteristic names. The construction of these lines is unlike Chinese, and is evidently adapted from the Sanskrit original.


The sense seems to be that the sword of Buddha's wisdom, instead of rescuing the friendless, has only been used, as the executioner's draught, to lull the pain of death.


A mythical sea monster (see for a probable representation of it, Bharhut Stūpa, plate xxxiv, fig. 2).


The great Ṛṣi (Mahesi), even he has come to die, who then can claim exemption? It would seem, from this episode, that the Licchavis were now convinced of the law of impermanence, and this was the lesson they most needed to learn, being of a proud and haughty disposition.


That is, of Buddha, the lion of the Śākya tribe (Śākyasiṃha). There is here, of course, reference to the Licchavi lion, as contrasted with the Śākya lion. It will be well to bear in mind that the beautiful pillar described by Stephenson, Cunningham, and others, found near the site of Vaiśālī, was surmounted by a 'lion.'


Tih, corresponding to guṇa.


In the text it is yuen shin, 'his round or perfect body;' in Fă-hien the symbol is hwui, turning' (cap. xxv). The passage in Fă-hien may be translated 'turning his body with a right-turn-look.' Here the passage is 'turning (yuen for hwui) his body with a lion-turn;' in the Pāli (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xi, p. 64) it is 'he gazed at Vesāli with an elephant look' (nāgapalokitaṃ), on which word Mr. Rhys Davids has an interesting note. The lion appears to be the favourite with Northern Buddhists, the elephant (nāga) with the Southern.


Lih sse, generally translated 'Mallas;' in Fa-hien 'Kin kang lih sse' has been translated by Vajrapāṇi (cap. xxiv), but this is not correct; it is singular that 'lih sse'--in old Chinese 'lik sse'--should be applied as another term for Licchavis. As stated above, lik is an Accadian root for 'lion'--is the Chinese symbol 'lik,' strong, allied to this?


The stages according to the Pāli (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xi, p. 66) were from Vesāli to Bhaṇḍa-gāma, from Bhaṇḍa-gāma to Hatthi-gāma, from Hatthi-gāma to Amba-gāma, from Amba-gāma to Jambu-gāma, and thence to Bhoga-nagara.


At the Ānanda Ketiya (in the Pāli, as above).


This is a singular phrase, 'having ascended into heaven I shall enter Nirvāṇa'--it may refer to the process hereafter named through which the mind of Buddha passed (entering the dhyānas &c.) ere he died; but anyhow, it is a curious phrase.


This then is the noble, conquering place.


It will be well to compare this sermon with that in the Pāli (op. cit. pp. 67, 68).


This dictum has been often quoted as illustrating the breadth of Buddha's teaching, 'keep and receive the right (vidyā) spoken (words),' or 'whatever is according to right reason' (see Wassiljew, Buddhismus, pp. 18, 68).


The distinction between Dharma Vinaya and 'what I have said,' seems to point to the numerous discourses which are called 'Fo shwo' (in Chinese, i.e. spoken by Buddha. Compare with this phrase the Pāli 'Tathāgatena vutto,' see Leon Féer, Études, p. 192; Childers, Pāli Dict. sub vutti).


This 'holding to the letter' is also alluded to in the Pāli (see Childers, sub voce vyañjanam).


Sacred Books of the East, vol. xi, p. 70. It would seem from the people of Pāvā being called Mallas that they were allied with the Licchavis.


There is nothing said in the text about Cunda being a worker in metals, or about the character of his offering, or its consequences on Buddha's health. The expression 'householder's son' may be also translated a 'householder,' the symbol 'tseu' (son) being often used, as Wassiljew (Buddhismus, p. 168) has observed, as an honorific expletive.


Kuśinagara is the present Kasia. I do not find any reference in General Cunningham's account of this city (Archæological Survey of India, I, 76 seq.) to the river Tsaku, but the Hiraṇyavatī is still known as the Hirana.


'With one leg resting on the other,' Sacred Books of the East, vol. xi, p. 86.


The time when a Deva's sojourn in heaven is approaching its end is indicated by certain signs (fading of the head-garland, restlessness on. his couch, &c.), on observing which there is general grief among the Devīs and others, his companions.


Near Gayā.


Men now living having learned their case, or condition, from the teaching of Buddha.

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