The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

Also known as the Mahabuddhavamsa, this book is a large compilation of stories involving the Buddha, formar Buddhas, Buddhist disciples, and former lives. In Theravada Buddhism, biographies of Buddhist monks and nuns are known as Apadana, while the stories of Buddha’s former lives are known as Jataka. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled b...

The Author’s Introduction

Namo Buddhāya Siddam

Kīdiso te Mahāvīra,
Abhinīhāro Naruttama,
Kamhi kāle tayā Dhīra,
Patthitā Bodhim uttamā?

Buddha, who is endowed with the four kinds of right exertion[1], who is the “Ohighest among men and higher than devas and Brahmās, and who is thus Chief of these three categories of beings! How should we comprehend your resolve to gain Buddhahood of great glory, that pervades the whole universe extending from the bottom realm of intense suffering to the top realm of Brahmās. Since when has your mind become inclined to achieve the prime laurel of Perfect Self-Enlightenment, which surpasses the Enlightenment of a Private Buddha and the Enlightenment of a Disciple?”

This enquiring note of acclamation was sounded in the sky over the city of Kapilavatthu on the first waning moon of Kason, in the year 104 Mahā Era. The background story, in brief, of this question is narrated below.

The Buddha, the Omniscient One and Lord of the Three Worlds, observed the first rainretreat (vassa) in the Deer Park of Isipatana, Vārāṇasī, in the year 103 Mahā Era. During this retreat, He converted the Five Ascetics and the group of 54 friends headed by Yasa, son of a wealthy man, leading them to arahantship. When the retreat was over, He asked them to disseminate the Dhamma, which is excellent in all three aspects—the beginning, the middle and the end–and no two of them going in the same direction. He himself went alone towards the forest of Uruvelā to convert the three ascetic Kassapa brothers and their followers, numbering one thousand.

On the way to Uruvelā, on reaching Kappāsika grove, the Buddha met with thirty Bhadda-vaggiya brothers who were searching for an absconding woman. He established them in the lower Paths and Fruitions and made them ehi-bhikkhus. Then He proceeded alone to Uruvelā where He liberated the eldest brother, Uruvelā Kassapa and his 500 followers from heretical views. He did the same for Nadī Kassapa and his 300 followers and Gayā Kassapa and his 200 followers. Finally, He preached to all the one thousand ascetics, the Ādittapariyāya-sutta on the stone slab at Gayāsīsa and thereby established them in the Fruition of Arahantship. And, together with the one thousand newly accomplished arahants, the Buddha set out on a journey to the city of Rājagaha.

The day the Buddha arrived in Rājagaha, He helped King Bimbisāra and the brahmin householders, one hundred and ten thousand in all, with His Teaching to reach the state of sotāpatti-phala and another ten thousand brahmin householders established in the Three Refuges. The following day, the Buddha accepted the Veḷuvana Monastery which was generously donated by King Bimbisāra in support of His ministry. It was the first monastery He had ever accepted and the occasion of His acceptance of the monastery was marked by a great earthquake. From that time onwards, He had taught all those worthy of conversion, who came to Him, including those who would eventually become Chief Disciples, Great Disciples and Ordinary Disciples. He did so as though He were dispensing among them the medicine for deathlessness.

While the Buddha was thus busily engaging Himself, His father, King Suddhodāna, sent nine ministers, one after another, each with one thousand men, on a mission to invite Him to return to Kapilavatthu. Instead, they became arahants and neither conveyed the King’s message to the Buddha nor sent back any information to the King. So the Buddha’s playmate, the minister Kāḷudāyī, was sent as the tenth envoy, also with one thousand men. Kāḷudāyī and his men became arahants, too, and spent their time enjoying the bliss of their spiritual attainment. When the cold season was over and spring arrived, Kāḷudāyī made a humble request to the Buddha, in sixty-four verses, persuading Him to return to the home of His kinsmen. The Buddha then journeyed to the city of Kapilavatthu on the first day after the full moon of Tabaung travelling slowly, covering only one yojana a day, and arrived at Kapilavatthu on the first day after the full moon of Kason in the year 104 Mahā Era.

On the same day the Sakyan princes welcomed the Buddha and His host of bhikkhus in a great ceremony, they took them to Nigrodhārāma Monastery as arranged beforehand. On arrival at the Monastery, the Buddha sat in the seat specially prepared for Him and remained quietly surrounded by twenty thousand arahants. The Sakyans, who took too great a pride in their high birth, thought to themselves: “This Prince Siddhattha is younger than us. He is only a young brother, or a young nephew, or a young grandson of ours.” And, puffed up with conceit, they urged their younger kinsmen: “You bow in homage to the Buddha; we shall, however, stay behind you.”

The Buddha knew the inner minds of the Sakyan princes were dwelling with pride of their birth and thought to Himself: “These proud kinsfolk of mine do not realize that they have grown old without accomplishing anything beneficial for themselves. They know nothing about the nature of a Buddha. They know nothing about the power of a Buddha. What if I should display a Buddha’s might by performing the Twin Miracle of water and fire. I will make a jewelled walk in the sky, a platform as broad as the ten thousand universe. And, I will walk to and fro on it and pour forth a shower of sermons to suit the temperaments of all those who come to me.” No sooner had He resolved thus, the Brahmās and devas acclaimed their joyous approval.

Then the Buddha entered upon the fourth jhāna making white (colour) as His object of concentration. On arising from that jhāna, He made a firm resolve that light should spread all over the ten thousand universe. Immediately after that resolution, all the universe was flooded with light to the great delight of devas, humans and Brahmās. While they were rejoicing, the Buddha rose up into the sky by developing the supernormal power through exercise of the fourth jhāna. Then He proceeded to perform the Yamakapāṭihāriya (the Twin Miracle), which consisted of the appearance of flames of fire and streams of water emitted alternatively (1) from the top and bottom of the body, (2) from the front and the back, (3) from the eyes, (4) from the ears, (5) from the nose, (6) from the shoulders, (7) from the hands, (8) from the sides, (9) from the feet, (10) from the fingers, toes and from between one finger and another as well as from between one toe and another, (11) from each hair of the body, and (12) from every pore of the body. The emitted fire-sparks and water-sprays fell amidst the crowds of human and celestial beings as though the Buddha was letting the dust fell from His feet onto their heads. This exhibition of the Twin Miracle with the emission of fire and water alternately from the body of the Buddha created a marvellous spectacle of great splendour which inspired all the Sakyan princes with awe and reverence, moving them to utter words of resounding praise.

After the performance of the Twin Miracle, the Buddha created a jewelled walk of great brilliance which extended from east to west reaching even beyond ten thousand universe. He then walked up and down the jewelled walk and delivered several discourses to devas and humans suiting their mental dispositions.

At that time, the Venerable Sāriputta, who was residing at Gijjha-kūṭa Hill in Rājagaha, saw (through his supernormal power) the whole event (taking place at Kapilavatthu) and thought to himself: “I shall now go to the Buddha and make a request for a complete narration of the life histories of the Bodhisattas and the Perfections they had fulfilled.” Accordingly, he lost no time to gather the five hundred arahants, who were all his coresidents, and said to them: “Come, we will go. We will pay a visit to the Master and ask Him about the past stories of the Buddhas.” Having urged them to accompany him, they travelled through space by means of supernormal power, at so fast a speed which surpassed that of the wind and the storm. In a moment, the Venerable Sāriputta, with the company of bhikkhus, arrived before the Buddha and paid homage to Him. Then he uttered the verse,

Kīdiso te Mahāvīra,
Abhinīhāro nar’uttama,
etc
.

mentioned at the beginning, thereby asking the Buddha to narrate elaborately how He had received the Definite Prophecy from the Former Buddhas and how He had fulfilled the Ten Perfections, which extend to thirty in all, for the Bodhisattas.

Then the Buddha, who was still on the walkway, responded with two verses:

Pītipāmojjajanānaṃ,
Sokasallavinodanaṃ,
etc.,

meaning: “Listen to the Buddhavaṃsa Discourse which could give you joy and happiness, remove the thorns of sorrow and bestow upon you the three kinds of bliss, namely, human existence, divine existence and Nibbāna. Having thus listened, try to follow and practise the Path, as will be explained in this Discourse, that could dispel conceit, eradicate sorrow, liberate you from saṃsāra and put an end to all suffering.” Thus the Buddha, out of compassion, urged all devas, humans and Brahmās reciting the verse numbering four bhāṇavāras (1080 stanzas).[2]

The Commentary on The Buddhavaṃsa

The Buddhavaṃsa Text is included in the Khuddaka Nikāya of the Suttanta-piṭaka which was recited at the First, Second and Third Councils by arahants. The Commentary on it, entitled Madhuratthavilāsinī, consisting of 26 bhāṇavāras, was authored by the Venerable

Buddhadatta, a resident of the Port Monastery of Kāvīrapaṭṭana of the Coḷa Country in South India.

The Great Buddhavaṃsa Story

During the reign of King Bagyidaw (A.D.1819-37), the Fourth Founder of the City of Ratanāpūra, the first Ngakhon Sayadaw, recipient of the title of Ādiccavaṃsābhidhaja Mahādhammarājādhirājaguru, wrote the Buddhavaṃsa Story in prose. He combined the Text and its Commentary, interspersed with certain Pāli verses and their word-for-word translations for the aforesaid benefits of joy, end of sorrow, etc., by young men and women of good families. He did not translate the whole Text word for word (as there already exist well known translations in that style called nissaya.)

That Buddhavaṃsa in Myanmar prose was published in 1297 M.E (1935) by Zambumeitswe Piṭaka Press, Yangon, in three volumes with the title, “The Great Buddhavaṃsa Story.”

Sudhammavatī Buddhavaṃsa

Not long after the Great Buddhavaṃsa Story was been published, The Sudhammavatī Buddhavaṃsa Story appeared in one volume of poetical prose, written by Editor U Htun Sein.

The State Buddhasāsana Council’s Version of The Mahābuddhavaṃsa

After the founding of the new independent country of the Union of Myanmar, the people, both the Sangha and the laity, were busy assiduously making preparations and arrangements, shouldering their respective responsibilities for holding the Sixth Buddhist Council. The Prime Minister U Nu, seeing their dedicated activities, was inspired by the profound thought of bringing out a new version of the Buddhavaṃsa Text and its Commentary, a version that should include everything that is connected with the Buddha. Accordingly, he requested me, in his house, on the occasion of anekaja ceremony and inauguration of his shrine-room, to write such a saga of the Buddhas in commemoration of the great event of the Buddhist Council.

I said to the Prime Minister then: “I have been assigned to participate as a Tipiṭakadhara in the Sixth Buddhist Council which is to be held soon, and I still have to work hard to become qualified for the title.” With this excuse, I refused to comply with his request. Indeed, at that time, I had just passed the written examination in the Vinaya-piṭaka and was about to sit for another one on the Abhidhamma Piṭaka.

Succession of Compilers

Undaunted by my refusal of his request, the Prime Minister persisted in his earnest effort to produce the proposed book by approaching other scholars. And the compilation started first under the supervision of Medhāvī Sayagyi U Saing. Some months later, when only a portion had been done, the work was interrupted until Mahāpaññābala, Paṭhamagyaw Sayagyi U Kyee Pe took over as supervisor. In the same way, the compilation again passed on to Aggamāpaṇḍita Sayagyi U Lin, M.A. After one and a half years, he could finish compiling only the first volume of the series (from the story of Sumedha up to the end of the story of Buddha Kassapa). Then U Lin passed away to our great regret, leaving only the fame of his learning.

The Assignment Given to Me

It was on the 11th day of the waxing moon in the month of Nadaw, 1316, (December 6, 1954), that Sayagyi U Lin passed away. Four days later, the sponsor of my ordination and spiritual father, the wealthy Sir U Thwin, Thadosirī Sudhamma, Chairman of the State Buddhasāsana Council and Patron of the Sixth Buddhist Council, came to see me at the request of the Prime Minister and asked me not to refuse should the Prime Minister make a request for writing a Buddhavaṃsa. On the full moon day of Pyatho, 1316 (8-1-55), the Prime Minister himself came to see me at my temporary residence at the Sangha Yeiktha Meditation Centre and made a formal request as follows:

(1) Please supervise the compilation of a treatise on the lives of the Buddhas. In so doing, please include everything about the Buddha, not leaving out even minor details. If one volume is not enough, make it two; if two is not enough make it four, eight and so on. It is important that the work should be exhaustive.

(2) The writing should be intelligible and interesting to all, young and old, even to non-Buddhists, who wish to know about the lives of the Buddhas.

(3) Should the Venerable Sayadaw undertake the task of writing the Mahā Buddhavaṃsa in Myanmar, it will be welcomed by all, both the Sangha and the laity alike.

The request had been made repeatedly, the first time in 1313 M.E. (A.D.1951), the second time in 1315 (1953); and now in 1316 (1954), by my spiritual father and finally by the Prime Minister himself. I therefore felt that I should no longer refuse to comply with their request. Accordingly I gave my consent firmly saying: “Very well, Dāyakagyi, when the proceedings of the Council are over, I will take charge of the compilation and supervise the work to the best of my ability without sparing my energy.”

After the Prime Minister left, I reminded myself of following dictum:

Yaṃ hi kayirā taṃ hi vade,
Yam na kayirā na taṃ vade
.

Akarontaṃ bhāsamānaṃ,
Parijananti paṇḍitā
.

One should say what one would do,
One say not what one does not.
He who says but does not do
Is subject to blame by the wise.

Request made by the State Buddhasāsana Council

Not long after I had promised the Prime Minister, the State Buddhasāsana Council also made its own request. In reply to it, I stipulated the following three terms for carrying out the work: (1) the work would be done voluntarily without acceptance of any honorarium, (2) I would have nothing to do with office administrative work, and (3) I would take charge of the literary matters only in which I feel competent. I added that if these three conditions were agreeable to the State Buddhasāsana Council, it would mean that I had accepted the assignment.

Some days later, three officials from the State Buddhasāsana Council, namely, Chief Editor U Ba Hmi and Editors Saya Htun and Saya U Ba Than, approached me with the favourable reply that the State Buddhasāsana Council had agreed to all the points raised by me. Then, in accepting the compilation work, I said to Saya Htun and Saya U Ba Than: “Subject to failure is a work without a leader; so is a work with too many leaders. I accept the work as its supervisor so that the compilation of the Buddhavaṃsa may not fail. You carry on with the assignment as has been planned since the time of Sayagyi U Lin. I shall attend to the editing work when the proceedings of the Council come to an end.” The Prime Minister’s Request in Writing

As though ‘to drive in a nail where it is already firm or to strap on an iron belt where it is already tight,’ the Prime Minister’s formal request in writing came. The letter was dated the 14th waxing moon of Nadaw, 2499 Sāsana Era or 1317 Myanmar Era (December 28, 1955). (The translation of the letter is omitted here.)

Sayagyi U Lin’s Great Learning

When the Sixth Buddhist Council and the ceremonies commemorating the 2500 year of Buddhism in 1318 Myanmar Era (M.E.) (1956) came to an end, in compliance with the Prime Minister’s request and in fulfilment of my promise, I started editing the MSS(manuscripts) so far prepared on the Mahabuddhavaṃsa. I found them running over 700 pages, written while the Sayagyi was still alive, full of noteworthy facts with profound meaning, covering a wide field but not easy to be grasped by ordinary people. In preparing these MSS it looked as if the Sayagyi was making a final display of his great genius of learning.

When Sayagyi U Lin first planned the compilation of the Mahābuddhavaṃsa, he had in mind to write it only briefly and did so accordingly. But the Prime Minister U Nu earnestly urged him saying: “Let it be as elaborate as possible, Sayagyi. Write all there is to know about the Buddha; there cannot be anything that is too insignificant to be left out. Please write to the best of your ability for the benefit of the coming generations.” Sayagyi then put aside all that had been written before briefly and worked afresh keeping his mind steadfastly on the subject of the Buddhavaṃsa all the time. When he began working, on arrival at his office, he would put both his arms on the desk and start dictating to his stenographer, giving him no rest, sometimes making a clicking sound with his tongue, at other times, clenching the fists, closing the eyes and gnashing the teeth to concentrate his energy. All this was known from the information given by Saya Htun.

New Plan of The Compilation of The Mahā Buddhavaṃsa

Such a very ambitious literary work, which was full of noteworthy doctrinal points with their deep meanings, like a treasure house of knowledge presented by the Sayagyi as if ‘he had hoisted the flag of learning’ of his lifetime, should not be published as originally envisaged by him. I feared that readers would find it rather confusing and difficult to read and understand. Therefore the writing of the Mahā Buddhavaṃsa had to be planned anew as follows:

(1) The main subject of the Buddhavaṃsa should be treated separately;

(2) The Chapter (II) on “Rare appearance of a Buddha” should be re-written and confirmed by other learned Sayadaws;

(3) A new chapter on miscellaneous matters concerning duties which should be comprehended and performed by every aspirant of Buddhahood should be added;

(4) Explanatory notes and interpretations should be given fully in a separate chapter entitled ‘Anudīpanī’, to serve as a supplement to the first part of the first volume, and (5) Difficult usages should be made easy by replacing them with simple ones in Myanman.

When the manuscripts of the Mahā Buddhavaṃsa finally went to the press of the State Buddhasāsana Council, Sayagyi Saya Nyan, Mahāpaññābala, Professor of Pāli, acted as Chief Proof Reader.

Exhortation to Readers

This version of the Mahā Buddhavaṃsa contains the same material with the same meaning as that preserved in the original Buddhavaṃsa Text, its Commentary, etc. The only difference between the original works and this lies in the medium employed, the former in Pāli and the latter in Myanman.

Since a Buddhavaṃsa can truly confer upon its worthy readers such benefits as, (1) joy and happiness, (2) end of sorrow, and (3) the three attainments of human existence, divine existence and Nibbāna, as has been pronounced by the Buddha, this Introduction is concluded with an exhortation in verse so that each reader might enjoy his or her share of welfare.

Pātubhūto Mahābuddha-
vaṃso Buddhatthadīpako.
Buddhavādīnam’atthāya
taṃ nisāmetha sādhavo
.

O, you worthy men of gentle mind, seeking your own interest and that of others! This book of the Mahā Buddhavaṃsa, a version of the State Buddhasāsana Council, which has made its appearance in commemoration of the convening of the Sixth Buddhist Council, resembles a plot of land on which virtuous Buddhists may sow seeds of the Dhamma. It vividly describes, for the benefits of those who are virtuous devotees of Buddhism, how the Buddha, the Friend of the three classes of beings, had performed unique, meritorious deeds beginning from His existence as Sumedha. Therefore, you all who aspire after the fourfold knowledge of the Path, the true Enlightenment, should study it carefully with an eye of wisdom, fully confident that you will gain the fruits of joy and happiness, end of sorrow and the three attainments of human existence, divine existence and Nibbāna.

U Vicittasārābhivaṃsa
Tipiṭakadhara Dhammabhaṇḍāgārika
The 7th waxing moon of Wazo, 1399, Myanmar Era

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Right exertion: Sammappadhāna. The four such exertions are:

(i) The endeavour to prevent the arising of evil which has not yet arisen;
(ii) The endeavour to put away evil that has arisen;
(iii) The endcavour to bring about the arising of good which has not yet arisen; and
(iv) The endeavour to further develop the good that has arisen.

[2]:

One bhāṇavāra: is equal to about 270 stanza, each of four lines, recited in one session of the Buddhist Council.

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