The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 502,133 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes four great kings (caturmaharajika) which is Chapter III-d of the English translation of the Mahavastu (“great story”), dating to the 2nd-century BC. This work belongs to the Mahasanghika school of early Buddhism and contains narrative stories of the Buddha’s former lives, such as Apadanas, Jatakas and more..

Chapter III-d - Visit to other worlds (4): Four Great Kings (cāturmahārājika)

The venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana often went on a visit to the Cāturmahārājika[1] devas.

There he sees the Cāturmahārājika devas who are virtuous, mighty, long-lived, beautiful, enjoying great well-being. (31) They have the devas’ span of life, their bliss, their sway, their retinue, and their form, voice, smell, taste, touch, garments and ornaments. The ornaments they wear in front are seen from behind, those they wear behind are seen from the front. They cast no shadows. They are self-luminous. They travel through the air, going wheresoever they wish. In the bejewelled mansions[2] of the devas they have plenty of food, abundant meat and drink. They are endowed and gifted with the five modes of sensual pleasure, and disport, enjoy and amuse themselves.

But the elder saw this prosperity end in adversity. For when the self-luminous ones pass away from the realm of the Cāturmahārājika devas, they are reborn in hell and in the world of brutes, ghosts, or Asuras. When he had seen this evil vicissitude of the Cāturmahārājika devas, the elder exclaimed, “Ah, what a hard lot!” And he came to the Jeta Grove where he described it at length to the four assemblies. “Thus,” said he,” are beings reborn among the Cāturmahārājika devas as a maturing of their good karma. There they enjoy the bliss of devas. But when they pass away thence they are reborn in hell, or as brutes, ghosts and Asuras. Of a truth, the devas are transient, unstable and subject to change. Therefore we should strive after knowledge, win it, be enlightened, be fully enlightened, perform the right deed, live the holy life, and commit no sin in this world. Thus I declare.”

When they had heard the elder, many thousands of beings, devas and men, won immortality.

Footnotes and references:


Pali Cātummahārājika, the name of the devas in the lowest of the six heavens, who were regarded as the retinue of the “Four Great Kings” dwelling there as guardians of the four quarters. The Pali names of these four kings are Dhataraṭṭha, Virūḷhaka, Virūpakkha and Vessavaṇa.


Vimāna, in late Buddhist thought this was equivalent to heaven or paradise in so far as it was a place of almost magic splendour. For references to the literature describing the Buddhist happy other-world, see Pali Dictionary, s.v.

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