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...

Lives of Buddha (2): Siu-hing-pen-k’i-king

We have next to consider a work translated into Chinese by two Śramaṇas from India in the year A.D. 194, and named Siu-hing-pen-k’i-king.

This work belongs to case lxviii in my Catalogue of the Buddhist Tripiṭaka, and is numbered 664 by Mr. Bunyiu Nanjio. It was translated by Cu-ta-lih (Mahābāla) and Kong-mang-tsiang. As the title indicates, it is a brief memoir of Buddha's preparatory career (i.e. preparatory to his enlightenment), in two parts[1] and seven vargas. It is stated in the work, Kao-săng-fu, K. i, fol. 8/1, that this book was brought from Kapilavastu by the Śramaṇa Dharmaphala (Tan-kwo). This is also repeated in the work Lai-tai-san-pao, K. iv, fol. 18. The opening scene therefore lies in Kapilavastu. Its language is sufficiently exaggerated, but not to that wearisome degree found in the later Sūtras. It begins with the nomination of Buddha by Dīpaṅkara, and ends with the defeat of Māra under the tree of knowledge. It therefore includes both the distant and the intermediate epochs. I shall give the headings of the seven vargas, with some remarks on the character of the narrative.

Varga 1 (pp. 1-9). 'Exhibiting change.' The scene is laid in Kapilavastu, in the Nyagrodha Vihāra. Surrounded by a vast assembly of disciples, Buddha enquires of Maudgalyāyana, 'Can you for the sake of all living things[2] declare the origin of my career (pen k’i)?' On this Maudgalyāyana, addressing Buddha in the usual orthodox way, asks him to recite the history in virtue of his own inherent spiritual power. On this Buddha declares how he had been born during innumerable kalpas in every character of life for the sake of stemming the tide of lust and covetousness which engulphed the world, and by a life of continual progress through the exercise of the virtues of wisdom, patience, charity, &c. had arrived at the final condition of enlightenment. He then gives the history of his nomination when Dīpaṅkara was Buddha, and of his successive births until finally, after having been born as Vessantara, he occupied the Tuṣita heaven, and thence descended to be born in Kapilavastu as the Bodhisattva about to accomplish his career as Buddha.

Varga 2. Bodhisattva descends as a spirit. In this section we find an account of Bodhisattva's conception. He descends under the form[3] of a white elephant, and is seen by Māyā in a dream: 'She beholds in the middle of heaven a white elephant resplendent with glory, and lighting up the world, accompanied by music and sounds of rejoicing, and whilst accompanying Devas scatter flowers and incense, the elephant approaches her, and for a moment hovers above the spot and disappears.' The dream is interpreted by the soothsayers as an exceedingly fortunate one, because 'it indicated the descent of a holy spirit (Shing-shin) into the womb.' The child born therefore would be either a wheel-turning flying-as-he-goes (fi-hing), universal monarch, or a Buddha 'born to save the world.'

The queen from that moment leads a pure, uncontaminate life.

'Now on account of this conception,
Bearing as I do a Mahāsattva,
I give up all false, polluting ways,
And both in heart and body rest in purity.'

The kings of neighbouring countries bring their presents of gold, silver, jewels, and robes, and on the eighth day of the fourth month the child is born under an Aśoka tree. The angels sing for joy, and thirty-two supernatural events indicate the nativity. We need not enumerate all these events; the first, however, is that the earth was greatly shaken, and all rough and hilly places became smooth. The fifteenth is, the star Puṣya came down and appeared waiting on the prince. The last is that the tree spirit (i.e. the spirit residing in the tree under which the Bodhisattva was born) appearing from it as a man bowed his head in worship[4]. We then have an account of Asita's visit and prediction. The varga concludes with the account of his superiority over his teachers.

Varga 3. The athletic contest. This section contains an account of the prince's marriage with Ku-i (Gopī) after the exhibition of his strength in fighting, wrestling, and archery. The prince in this account restores the elephant to life which Devadatta had killed, and is charged by Devadatta and his followers as being strengthened by Māra (the devil) in doing the wonders he did. He marries Gopī, and with 60,000 attendant women dwells in his palace. But his heart is not at rest.

Varga 4. The excursion for observation. This is the usual account of the prince's visit to the garden and the sights he beheld. The charioteer is accompanied by 1000 other chariots and 10,000 cavalry. A Śuddha Deva called Nandahara assumes the form of an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a Śramaṇa successively, and thus determines the prince to leave the world (worldly life) and become an ascetic. In order to distract his mind the king requests the prince to attend a ploughing festival. Whilst thus engaged he beholds the suffering of the oxen, and the heat and toil of the men, and the countless insects being destroyed and devoured by the birds. Retiring under the shadow of a Jambu tree[5] he enters Dhyāna (profound meditation). The king hearing where he was proceeds to the spot, and observes the branches of the trees bent down[6] over the prince, and on approaching the horses bend their knees in reverence. The king and his retinue then return to the city. On entering the gate he is met by countless thousands of people with flowers and incense, whilst the soothsayers shout with joy, 'O king! live for ever!' The king enquiring the reason, the Brahmans tell him that to-morrow the seven treasures would appear, and the king would become a 'holy ruler' (a Cakravartin).

Varga 5. Leaving his home. The prince without ceasing meditated on the joy of a contemplative life in the desert. Being now nineteen years old, he vowed on the seventh day of the fourth month to leave his home. In the middle of the night he was addressed by Ku-i his wife, who had been troubled by five dreams. Having appeased her, the gods determined, ere he composed himself again, to induce him to leave his home. They sent Ou-suh-man [is this Wésamuna? (Manual of Buddhism, p. 51)] to lull the people to sleep, whilst the Deva Nandahara causes all the women of the palace to appear in loathsome attitudes, &c. The prince beholding the sight, and regarding all things that exist 'as a phantom, a vision, a dream, an echo,' called his coachman to bring his horse, and accompanied by countless divine beings left the city. Leaving the city they fled on their way, till at morning light they had gone 480 lis, and arrived at the A-nu-ma country (the river Anavamā or Anomā; a Chinese note explains it as the 'ever-full'). Here he dismisses his attendant and sends him back with the horse and his jewels to Kapilavastu. Having cut off his hair, he proceeded to the Magadha country, and there has an interview with Bimbisāra rāja. To the enquiry whence he came and what his title was, he replies, 'I come from Ka-wei (Kapila or Kavila) to the east of the fragrant mountains and north of the snowy mountains.' On this Bimbisāra asks him in haste, 'Surely you are not that celebrated Siddhārtha?' On his replying in the affirmative, the king bows down at his feet, and asks why one so richly endowed and so distinguished in his person was not a universal monarch, and why he had left his home. The prince replies that he had gone forth to seek deliverance from old age, disease, and death. On this follows a long series of lines (geyas), beginning, 'Suppose we could.' Finally Bodhisattva leaves the king and encounters Arāta and Kālāma (i.e. Arāla Kālāma), but not satisfied with their teaching he again departs.

Varga 6. Six years' austerities. Bodhisattva goes forward and arrives at the valley (river-valley (cuen)) of Se-na. This valley was level and full of fruit trees, with no noxious insects or snakes. Here dwelt the Ṛṣi (Tao-sse) Se-na, with 500 followers. Here Bodhisattva took his residence under a Śāla tree. The gods offer him nectar (sweet dew), but he receives it not, but vows to take one grain of millet (hemp) a day. When he had continued thus for six years, and reduced himself to the verge of death, the two daughters of Se-na have a dream, in which they see a lily having seven colours wither away; there comes a man who waters it, and it revives, whilst other buds spring up on the face of the water. Awaking they ask their father to explain the dream, but neither he nor his followers can do so. On this Śakra descends under the form of a Brahmacārin, who explains the dream. The girls having prepared a dish of cream convey it to Bodhisattva; he receives it, and his strength revives. Having washed his hands and flung the dish into the river, whence it is carried by a golden-winged bird to heaven, he proceeds to the Bodhi tree.

Varga 7. Defeats Māra. Seated under the tree he causes a stream of light to proceed from between his eyes and to enter the dwelling of Māra. Māra, greatly disconcerted, knowing that the Bodhisattva if he fulfils his purpose will overthrow his power, resolves to oppose him. His son Sumati warns him against such an attempt, but Māra, summoning his three daughters, acquaints them with his design. They robe themselves in their choicest attire, and with 500 attendants go to the spot where Bodhisattva was. They proceed to tempt him with lascivious offers. Bodhisattva with a word changes their appearance into that of old women. On this Māra, enraged, summons the king of the demon spirits (kwei-shin) to assemble with eighteen myriads of others. They surround the tree for a distance of thirty-six yojanas, and assuming every shape (lions, bears, tigers, elephants, oxen, horses, dogs, monkeys, &c.) they belch forth smoke and fire. Bodhisattva sits unmoved. Māra then advances and endeavours to induce him to give up his purpose. Bodhisattva replies in loving words, and finally the entire host is dispersed. Buddha then arrives at perfect wisdom, the condition which neither Brahma nor any other being had yet attained, and so completes his purpose.

Footnotes and references:


Abstract of Four Lectures, p. 10.


This is given in Chinese Ta-sa-ho-kie, which can only be restored to Tasā. See Childers, sub voce.


Or, riding on a white elephant. The phrase in the Chinese is ambiguous. There is reason to suppose that the original thought was that the Bodhisattva was riding on an elephant, but was invisible as a spirit.


Tree and Serpent Worship, plate xci, fig. 4.


Tree and Serpent Worship, plate xxv, fig. 1, where the three buildings represent the three palaces built for the prince.


The leaves are bent down in the plate (op. cit.)

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