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...
Appendix III - Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra (translated by Dharmarakṣa)
From: Note III. The Same Title Given to Different Works
The Chinese translators in making new translations of foreign texts, often give as their reason for doing so that the former translation or translators could not be understood or relied on. But in explanation of this we must remember that the originals themselves in the hands of successive translators, though bearing the same name, were not always copies of the same works. For instance, in the case of the work Fo-pan-ni-pan-king, that is, the Parinirvāṇa Sūtra, translated into Chinese by Pih-fă-tsu, between 290 and 306 A.D. We cannot doubt that the text used by this translator was another form of the Mahā-parinibbāna-Sutta embodied in the Southern Canon.
But how widely another work bearing the same title, viz. Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, and translated into Chinese by Dharmarakṣa, the same priest who turned the Buddhacarita into that language, differs from the simple Sūtra just named, the following brief extract will show. We will select the incident of Cunda's offering, which is thus expanded in the last work:
TRANSLATED BY DHARMARAKṢA.
KIOUEN II, § 1.
'At this time, in the midst of the congregation, there was a certain Upāsaka (lay-disciple) of the city of Kuśinagara, the son of a blacksmith, whose name was Cunda; this man, with his whole family, fifteen persons in all, had devoted himself to a religious life. At this juncture then it was that Cunda, rising from his seat, addressed Buddha in the orthodox way and said: "Oh that the world-honoured (Tathāgata) and the members of this great assembly would receive our poor offering, the very last to be presented, for the sake of bringing the benefit thereof to innumerable creatures! World-honoured one! from this time we are without a master, without a friend, with no means of advance, no helper, no refuge. Oh that Tathāgata would of his great compassion deign to receive this offering of ours before he enters Nirvāṇa. World-honoured! it is as though a Kṣatriya, or a Brahman, or a Vaiśya, or Śūdra were to be reduced by poverty so far as to be compelled to go to another land, and there by industry prepare a piece of ground for cultivation. He procures a serviceable ox for the plough, and carefully roots up all the noxious weeds, and removes all stones and broken vessels from the ground, and then only awaits the grateful rain from heaven to crown his endeavours—so it is with me, the ox yoked to the plough is this body of mine, the cleared land (is the work of) supreme wisdom, the impediments and weeds removed are all the sources of sorrow which I have put away, and now we only await the rain of the sweet dew of the law! Look upon us, we are poor and perishing from want, without a friend, no help, no refuge; oh that Tathāgata would pity us even as he had compassion on his son Rahula!"
'Then Tathāgata replied: "Well said! well said! Cunda. For your sake I will relieve the poverty of the world, and cause the rain of the insurpassable law to descend upon the field, and bring forth abundant fruit. Whatever your request, it shall be granted and I receive your offering. For as I accepted the gift of the shepherd girls before arriving at supreme wisdom, so now will I accept your corresponding gift before entering Nirvāṇa, and thus enable you to accomplish fully the Pāramitā of charity." Cunda replied: "Let not Tathāgata say that the merit of these two gifts is the same, for surely when the shepherd girls offered their food, the world-honoured one had not entirely got rid of all the sources of sorrow, or completed every growth of the seeds of wisdom; nor was he able at that time to cause others to complete the Pāramitā of charity by accepting their gifts; but this last offering is like a God in the midst of gods. The first offering was made for the support of the body of Tathāgata still suffering from human wants: this last offering is made to Tathāgata possessing an eternal, sorrowless, and unchangeable (vajra) body, the body of the law; everlasting, boundless. In these (and other) respects, then, it seems to me the two offerings differ in character and in merit." Tathāgata answered: "Illustrious youth! for ages innumerable (countless asaṅkhyeyas of kalpas) Tathāgata has possessed no such body as that you named, as suffering from human wants or necessities—nor is there such an after-body as that you describe as eternal, illimitable, indestructible. To those who as yet have no knowledge of the nature of Buddha, to these the body of Tathāgata seems capable of suffering, liable to want (but to others it is not so). At the time when Bodhisattva received the offering of food and drink at the hands of the shepherd girls, he entered into the Samādhi known as vajra, and beheld the nature of Buddha, and so obtained the highest and most complete enlightenment (and thus was supposed to have eaten the food); so now as he receives your offering he enters the same condition; in this (and other respects) the offerings differ not in character. But principally for this reason, that as he then began to declare his law and preach it for the good of men, but did not completely exhaust the twelve portions of it, so now, having received your offering, he will preach the law in its entire form (i.e. including the Vaipulya, or last section) for the good of the assembly. But still, as in the former case, he ate not, so neither does he now eat."
'At this time the congregation having heard that the world-honoured would preach the law in its fulness after receiving the offering of Cunda, rejoiced with exceeding joy, and opened their mouths with one accord in these words of praise: "Well done! well done! exceedingly fortunate Cunda! Thy name is now established (in meaning), well art thou called Cunda, for thou hast established a most excellent method of deliverance, and, therefore, thou art well named. Now shall your name be much honoured among men. Well done, Cunda! it is indeed seldom that a Buddha appears in the world, and to be born when he is born is exceedingly difficult; to believe in him and listen to his law is difficult; but how much more so to have the privilege of offering to him the last gift before he enters Nirvāṇa. Glory to Cunda! Glory to Cunda! Like the autumn moon on the 15th day of the month, your merit is full, and as all men look up to the cloudless moon with admiration and reverence, so do we reverence thee. Glory to Cunda! Now then Buddha has received from you his very last offering! thus have you completed the Pāramitā of charity! Glory to Cunda!" &c.
Then the assembly uttered these verses:
"Although born in the rōle of men,
Already hast thon overleapt the six heavens,
And therefore this united congregation
With supreme reverence make this request (of thee);
The most adorable amongst men
Is now about to enter Nirvāṇa!
You then, we pray, to pity us,
And respectfully entreat Buddha (on our behalf)
For a longer period to remain in the world,
To bring profit and advantage to countless assemblies;
And to declare fully the treasures of wisdom,
The sweet dew of the most exalted law.
If you consent not to make this request,
Our destiny will be yet incomplete;
We therefore, on this account, and with this view,
Respectfully entreat thee as our leader."
'At this time Cunda, overjoyed as a man whose father or mother, after having been conveyed to the tomb, suddenly re-appears alive, again prostrated himself before Buddha and repeated the following verses:
"Oh! fortunate one that I am—to have gained such distinction,
To have been born thus happily as a man!
To have cast away covetousness and folly,
To have got rid for ever of the three evil ways of life,—
Oh! fortunate one that I am, to have gained this!
To have found such a treasure of gold and gems,
To have met with such a distinguished teacher,
To have rescued myself from birth as a beast.
The appearance of Buddha in the world is like that of the Udumbara flower;
It is difficult to have faith in him when born,
And having met with him, to sow the seeds of virtue,
Whereby for ever to escape the sorrows of hell (Pretas),
And to destroy and put to rout
The combined power of all the Asuras (this also is difficult).
Truly to attain this when Buddha is born
Is as difficult as to cast a mustard seed on the point of a spear.
But now having completed (the Pāramitā) of charity,
It is my happy privilege to deliver both Devas and men from life and death.
The law of Buddha is an uncontaminated law,
Like the pure flower on the surface of the water,
Able to deliver to the utmost (those highest in existence),
Able to rescue eternally from the waters of birth and death.
It is difficult when born to be born as a man,
To meet with Buddha in the world is difficult,
Even as it is hard for a blind turtle
To find the hole in a piece of wood floating on the great ocean.
And now on the ground of this offering of food,
I aspire to attain the highest recompense,
Deliverance from the whole concourse of sorrows,
To destroy them and be held by them no more.
I desire not as my aim in this
To be born as a man or a Deva,
Like others who look only for this recompense:
And when obtained find no real delight.
But now Tathāgata, by receiving my offering,
Has inspired me with true and lasting joy,
Even as the Hiraṇya (golden?) flower
Placed on (or in a setting of) scented sandal-wood,—
So my body, like that flower,
Is now filled with joy in consequence of Tathāgata;
Like that sandal-wood (setting), having received my gift,
Such is the delight that now fills my soul.
And my present reward is equally great,
Beyond any other in point of excellence,
For Śakra, and Brahma, and all the gods
Here present, adore and reverence (bring their offerings to) me.
But alas! all the world
Is filled with unutterable sorrow,
In the knowledge that the world-honoured Buddha
Is about to enter Nirvāṇa.
And the cry is heard on every hand,
'The world is left without a ruler.'
But it is not well thus to leave mankind,
They should rather be looked on as an only son,
And Tathāgata dwelling in their midst
Should completely expound the supreme law—
That law, grand as the precious Sumeru,
Planted firmly in the midst of the great sea.
The wisdom of Buddha is able completely to dissipate
The dark gloom of our ignorance,
Even as when in the midst of space
A rising cloud is suddenly dispersed.
Tathāgata is able to destroy for ever
The entire concourse of sorrows,
Even as the sun, when he bursts forth,
Disperses with his brightness the blackness of the cloud.
So it is that now the entire world
Laments and weeps with affliction
On account of the torrents of suffering
Which fall heavily upon all in their passage thro’ birth and death.
On this account, therefore, the world-honoured
Ought to strengthen and increase the faith of men,
That they may escape these sorrows,
And to remain a longer while in the world."
'Then Buddha replied to Cunda: "Even so! even so! it is as you, say—the birth of a Buddha in the world is rare as the appearance of the Udumbara flower, and to be able to believe in him is also a matter of extreme difficulty; but infinitely more difficult is it to be selected as the one to present a last offering to him before he enters Nirvāṇa. What room, then, O Cunda, is there for sorrowful thoughts? your heart should rather dance for joy! for you are the one thus selected to offer the last offering, and so complete your work of charity. Make not, then, such a request that Buddha should remain longer in the world, for you should now be able to realise (kwan°) even the highest truth [the province or domain (keng kiai) of all the Buddhas], the impermanency of all things, that all systems of religion (or, elements of being)—(hing°) both as to their nature and attributes—are also impermanent.
And then for the sake of Cunda he repeated these Gāthās:
"All things in the present world
Being produced, must return to destruction;
Although the term of life were immeasurably long,
Yet it must in the end come to a close.
Prosperity gives place to adversity,
Plenty is succeeded by want,
Youth before long yields to decay,
The ruddy colour of health is paled by disease,
Life, also, is followed by death,
There is no such thing as permanency.
The most absolute monarchs,
Whose might none can dispute,
These also come to naught and change,
The years of their life are just the same,
Involved in the wheel of transmigration.
The rolling stream of life goes on,
And there is no continuing place for any.
There is no real joy to be found in the world,
For the mark set upon all these things
Is that they are all empty and unreal,
Liable to destruction and change,
Ever accompanied by sorrow,
Tinctured with fears and regrets,
And the bitterness of old age, disease, and death,
Even as an insect born in filth.
What wise Ivan would desire
To continue in the midst of such things as these (or find his joy therein)?
So the sorrows to which the body is joined,
Are even like this impure substance.
Surrounded, as it were, with these, man lives
Without any reasonable hope of escape.
And so even the bodies of the Devas
Are likewise perishable and impure;
All things liable to desire are unreal,
And, therefore, I have east off this cloak of covetousness.
I have discarded the very thought of desire,
And so I have arrived at the only truth,
And passed beyond the boundary of Being.
To-day I shall reach Nirvāṇa
To-day I shall cross to that shore;
I have for ever got rid of sorrow,
And therefore it is to-day
I shall he (or am) ravished with unutterable joy.
In this way and by these means it is
I have arrived at the one reality:
For ever free from the bonds of grief,
To-day a shall reach Nirvāṇa.
No more disease, old age, or death,
The days of my life interminable, inexhaustible.
Now shall I enter Nirvāṇa!
Just as a great fire which is extinguished.
Cunda! you ought not therefore
To think of measuring the truth of Tathāgata,
You should rather contemplate his true nature.
As the great Mount Sumeru,
So am I resting on Nirvāṇa,
Receiving and keeping in me the only joy.
This is the law of all the Buddhas.
Weep, then, and lament no, more!"'
Footnotes and references:
See some remarks on this point in the eleventh volume of the Sacred Books of the East, p. xxxvi.
That is, in any inferior position in the animal creation.