The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes story of abhiya which is Chapter IV(a) 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 IV(a) - The story of Abhiya

(34) The perfectly enlightened Exalted One, having fully realised the end he had striven for, stayed at Rājagṛha[1] on Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa,[2] teaching devas and men, respected, esteemed, revered, honoured and venerated, and at the summit of his attainment and glory. He possessed the monk’s requisites of robe, bowl, bed, seat and medicines for use in sickness. There, spotless like a lotus in water, he exhorted[3] those already possessing merit to acquire further merits, consolidated in fruition those partaking of it, and confirmed memories of past lives in those partaking of those memories. He gave devas and men a taste of ambrosial rain and led thousands of beings to win immortality. He raised them up from the great abyss, from the jungle of rebirth in an incessant round, without beginning or end,[4] of birth, old age and death; from the pitiless thickets[5] of rebirth in evil plights, in hells, and so forth. He established them in repose, steadfastness, calm, bliss, fearlessness and in Nirvana. He converted the people of Aṅga and Magadha, of Vajjī and Malla, Kāśi and Kośala, of Cetī, Vatsā [6] and Matsyā,[7] of Sūrasena, of Kuru and Pañcāla, of Śivi and Daśārṇa, of Aśvaka and Avanti.[8] He excelled in the knowledges, and was self-dependent.[9] He abode in deva states,[10] in immovable, unchangeable states. A Buddha, he abode in a Buddha’s states; a Conqueror, he abode in a Conqueror’s states; an expert, he abode in an expert’s states, and omniscient he abode in the states of omniscience. He had attained control over his thoughts, and, in short, the Buddha abode in whatever states appropriate to an Exalted One that he desired.

Now the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana dressed early and set out for the city of Rājagṛha to beg for alms. But before he had gone far this thought occurred to him:

“It is as yet much too early to go to Rājagṛha for alms. (35) What, then, if I were to go where the company of the Śuddhāvāsa[11] devas are? It is a long time since I have visited them.”

Then the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana by means of his magic power reached the Śuddhāvāsa devas in one stride. The multitudes of the Śuddhāvāsa devas saw him coming from afar and came forth to meet him.

“Here,” said they,

“here is the noble Mahā-Maudgalyāyana. Hail and welcome to the noble Mahā-Maudgalyāyana. After a long absence the noble Mahā-Maudgalyāyana has taken the opportunity to come here.”

And the multitudes of Śuddhāvāsa devas bowed their heads at the feet of the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana and stood on one side.

A certain Śuddhāvāsa deva then spoke to the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana thus, “Strange is it,” said he,

“wonderful is it, O noble Maudgalyāyana, that it is so hard to attain the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment. For it takes a hundred thousand kalpas to do so.”

Then the blessed Śuddhāvāsa deva related the following tale to the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana:

For a hundred thousand kalpas a monk called Abhiya lived in passion, malice and folly. Now at that time, Maudgalyāyana, there was a city named Vasumata[12] (36) which was thriving, prosperous, peaceful, having an abundance of food, was thronged by a multitude of happy citizens, was free from violence and riots, rid of thieves, and busy with commerce.

Now, Maudgalyāyana, in this great city of Vasumata, there was a merchant named Uttiya, who was virtuous, powerful, rich, wealthy, opulent, with great property, and having plenty in his treasury and granary. He had an abundance of gold, silver, luxuries, elephants, horses, cattle, sheep, bondsmen, bondswomen, and workmen. He believed in the teaching of the exalted Sarvābhibhū and paid homage to the Buddha, the dharma and the Saṅgha[13] and was devoted to Nanda and other monks.

Now, Maudgalyāyana, the monk Nanda and the monk Abhiya came to the house of the merchant Uttiya, and the monk Nanda was honoured, revered, esteemed, venerated and respected in the merchant’s household, but not so the monk Abhiya.

Now, Maudgalyāyana, the daughter of the merchant Uttiya was the wife of a certain great householder in the great city of Vasumata, and she was especially devoted to the monk Nanda.

Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, the monk Abhiya, because of his jealous nature, made a false accusation of adultery against the monk Nanda.

“The monk Nanda,” said he, “is unchaste, wicked, licentious, and a secret sinner. He is living a dissolute life with the daughter of Uttiya the merchant.”

(37) People in the great city of Vasumata took up[14] this accusation, which they considered worth listening to and believing in. Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, the priests and laymen in the great city of Vasumata, and Uttiya the merchant, decided that the monk Nanda should no longer be honoured, revered, esteemed and venerated as before.

Genuine men readily repent and feel remorse for a wrong deed.

And thus, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, this thought occurred to the monk Abhiya:

“Because of my jealous nature I falsely accused the monk Nanda of immorality, although he is free from passion, malice and folly, and is a worthy and distinguished man. Much demerit have I begotten. What, then, if I now ask the monk Nanda’s pardon, and confess my sin before the exalted Sarvābhibhū?”

Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, the monk Abhiya asked forgiveness of the monk Nanda, and confessed his sin before the exalted Sarvābhibhū.

Next, he went to the merchant Uttiya and said to him,

“I should like, householder, to make an offering to the exalted Sarvābhibhū and his company of disciples. Pray, give me the means of doing so.”

And Uttiya the merchant gave the monk Abhiya much gold, and other rich householders did the same.

(38) Now, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, in the great city of Vasumata, there were two dealers in perfume who were devoted to the monk Abhiya.

So, the monk Abhiya, with a hundred thousand pieces[15] in his hand, went to the two perfume dealers and said to them,

“My good friends,[16] I want these one hundred thousand pieces’ worth of keśara[17] essence. I shall take care[18] of it and offer it to the exalted Sarvābhibhū and his company of disciples.”

The two perfume-dealers gave[19] him a hundred thousand pieces’ worth of keśara essence. Then the monk Abhiya feasted and regaled the exalted Sarvābhibhū and his company of disciples with plentiful and palatable food, both hard and soft. When he saw that the exalted Sarvābhibhū had eaten, washed his hands, and put away his bowl, he scattered the hundred thousand pieces’ worth of keśara essence on, over and about him and his company of disciples.

And when he had done so he conceived the thought:

“Ah, may I in some future time become a Tathāgata, an Arhan, a perfect Buddha, proficient in knowledge and conduct, a Sugata, an unsurpassed knower of the world[20], a driver of tameable men, a teacher of devas and men, as this exalted Sarvābhibhū now is. Thus may I become a Great Man,[21] endowed with his thirty-two marks,[22] my body adorned with his eighty minor characteristics,[23] and possessing the eighteen distinctive attributes[24] of a Buddha, strong with the ten powers[25] of a Tathāgata, confident (39) with a Buddha’s four grounds of confidence,[26] as the exalted Sarvābhibhū now is. Thus may I set rolling the unsurpassed wheel of dharma never yet set rolling[27] by recluse, brahman, deva, Māra,[28] Brahmā or any one whatsoever. May I, reborn again in the world, together with dharma, preserve the community of disciples in harmony as the exalted Sarvābhibhū now does. Thus may devas and men decide that I am to be hearkened to and believed in as they now do this exalted Sarvābhibhū. Having myself crossed, may I lead others across; released, may I release others; comforted, may I comfort others; emancipated, may I emancipate others. May I become all this for the benefit and welfare of mankind, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of the multitude, for the good of devas and men.”

Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, the exalted Sarvābhibhū, aware of this vow of the monk Abhiya, said to him,

“You will, Abhiya, in some future time, after a hundred thousand kalpas, become a Tathāgata of the name of Śākyamuni, an Arhan, a perfect Buddha, proficient in knowledge and conduct, a Sugata, an unsurpassed knower of the world, a driver of tameable men, a teacher of devas and men, even as I now am. You will become endowed with the thirty-two marks of a Great Man, your body adorned with his eighty minor characteristics. You will have the eighteen distinctive attributes of a Buddha. You will be strong with the ten powers of a Tathāgata, and confident with a Buddha’s four grounds of confidence, even as I now am. And thus you will set rolling the unsurpassed wheel of dharma never yet set rolling by recluse, deva, Māra, or anyone else. Reborn again in the world, together with dharma, you will preserve (40) in harmony the company of disciples as I do now. Thus will devas and men decide that you are to be hearkened to and believed in, as they now do me. Having yourself crossed, you will lead others across; released you will release others; comforted, you will comfort others; emancipated, you will emancipate others, as I now do. You will become all this for the benefit and welfare of mankind, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of the multitude, for the good and well-being of devas and men.”

Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyama, as soon as it was proclaimed by the perfect Buddha Sarvābhibhū that the monk Abhiya would win the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment, the system of the three-thousand worlds trembled and quaked six times.[29] The eastern region rose, the western subsided; the eastern region subsided, the western rose; the southern region rose, the northern subsided; the southern region subsided, the northern rose; the middle regions subsided, the extremities rose; the middle regions rose, the extremities subsided. The devas of earth[30] shouted and made their cries heard. “It has been proclaimed by the exalted perfect Buddha, Sarvābhibhū, that this monk Abhiya will win the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment. He will do this for the welfare and benefit of mankind, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of the multitude, for the good and well-being of devas and men.” When they heard the shout of the devas of earth, the devas of the sky, the Caturmahārājika devas, the Trāyastriṃśa devas, the Yāma devas, the Tuṣita devas, the Nirmāṇarati devas, the Paranirmitavaśavartin devas, and the devas in Brahmā’s entourage, raised a shout and made their cries heard. (41) “Thus, friends,” said they, “has it been proclaimed of the monk Abhiya by the exalted Sarvābhibhū that he will win the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment. He will do this for the welfare and happiness of mankind, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of the multitude, for the welfare and happiness of devas and men.”

Then there appeared a great radiance, immense and sublime in the world. And the spaces between the worlds, regions of blackness plunged in blackness, of gloom plunged in gloom, dark[31] regions, unfathomed,[32] never before fathomed, where the moon and sun, powerful and majestic though they are, with all their brilliance cannot make their brilliance prevail,[33] with all their light cannot make their light prevail, suddenly become suffused with this radiance. And the beings who had been reborn in those spaces exclaimed to one another, “Lo! there are other beings reborn here. Lo! there are other beings reborn here.”

Now, all those beings were for that instant, for that moment, immersed in bliss. Even those reborn in the great hell Avīci excelled the splendour of devas, of Nāgas,[34] and of Yakṣas.

The realms of Māra were eclipsed,[35] rendered lustreless and joyless. Shattered they fell a kos[36] (42), two kos, three. Shattered they fell for yojanas, for twice five yojanas. And wicked Māra was unhappy, discomfited, remorseful, tortured by the sting within him.

[The Anugīta-gāthā]

Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, when they heard that it had been proclaimed of the monk Abhiya that he would win the perfect enlightenment, the two perfume-dealers, enraptured, rejoicing, elated, and glad, conceived this thought:

“When the monk Abhiya becomes awakened to the perfect enlightenment, then may we become his chief disciples, the chief pair, a noble pair, like this pair of disciples[37] of the exalted Sarvābhibhū, the one pre-eminent for wisdom, the other for magic power”.

Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, the daughter of Uttiya the merchant heard that it had been proclaimed of the monk Abhiya by the exalted Sarvābhibhū that he would win the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment.

And when she had paid honour, reverence, respect and veneration to the Exalted One and his company of disciples, she made this vow:

“A false accusation was made against me by the jealous monk Abhiya. When, therefore, through serving the exalted Sarvābhibhū and his company of disciples, I shall have acquired merit,[38] by the power of this root of merit, I shall slander the monk Abhiya with false accusations wherever he be reborn (45), until he has attained to perfect enlightenment.”

Now, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, perhaps you will think that it was somebody else of the name Abhiya who at that time and on that occasion was the disciple of the exalted Sarvābhibhū. But you must not think so. And why? It was I, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, who at that time and on that occasion was the exalted Sarvābhibhū’s disciple named Abhiya.

Again, you may think that at that time and on that occasion the two perfume-dealers of the great city of Vasumata were some two others. No more must you think that either. And why? Because at that time and on that occasion you two, Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, were those two perfume-dealers. The vow you made then was your initial vow.

Perhaps, again, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, you will think that at that time and on that occasion the daughter of Uttiya the merchant was somebody else [......].[39] In pursuance of that vow the Brāhman woman made false accusations against me in every one of my lives until I attained perfect enlightenment.

Perhaps, again, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, you will think that at that time and on that occasion the merchant named Uttiya in the great city of Vasumata was somebody else. You must not think that. It was this Śuddhāvāsa deva here who, at that time and on that occasion, was the merchant named Uttiya in the great city of Vasumata. And he remembers these hundred thousand kalpas and recollects the dharma.

Here ends the story of Abhiya, with the accompanying verse, in the Mahāvastu-Avadāna.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Pali Rājagaha, the capital city of Magadha.

2.

“Vulture Peak,” one of the five hills around Rājagṛha. Here is resumed the story interrupted at p. 4 by the account of Mahā-Maudgalyāyana’s visits to the other worlds—only the compiler has forgotten that the nidāna was there located at Śrāvastī, not as here at Rājagṛha, more than a hundred miles to the south-west.

3.

Literally, “to cause to enter,” “ establish in,” “ exhort to,” niveśayati, like Pali niveseti.

4.

Anavarāgra, a Sanskritisation of Pali anamatagga. See Pali Dictionary.

5.

Read gahana for grahaṇa.

6.

Pali Vaṃsā.

7.

Pali Macchā.

8.

With this list of Central India peoples, compare similar and more or less identical lists at A. 1. 213; 4. 252, 256, 260; D. 2. 200; 3. 5.

9.

Svayambhū, see p. 3, where the word is translated “Self-becoming one.” The term is translated “self-dependent” by Rhys Davids in S.B.E. 36, p. 16 (= Miln. p. 214), and that translation is adopted here as being in keeping with the preceding expression, i.e. the Buddha is independent of others for the knowledge in which he excels. See footnote l.c. Cf. also Miln. p. 256, Sayambhū... Tathāgato, anācariyako, “Self-dependent for his knowledge is the Tathāgata, without a master.”

10.

Vihāra, here a state or condition of moral or spiritual life. In the Pali texts these states are more dogmatically defined. They either denote the sublime states in general, usually three in number (e.g. D. 3. 220), devavihāra, brahmavihāra and ariyavihāra, or, more specifically, the four qualities or forms of the brahmavihāra, viz. mettā, karuṇā, muditā and upekkhā, i.e. “love, pity, sympathy, and disinteresteḍness." These are also called the four appamaññas or “infinite conditions,” and are referred to in Divy. 224. Cf. also Mahāvastu, 2. 419.

11.

See p. 28.

12.

Otherwise unknown.

13.

“The Order, the priesthood, the Buddhist Church.” (Pali Dictionary.)

14.

Sevitam, cf. use of sevati in Pali—“to embrace,” “make use of.”

15.

Probably the square copper coin called kahāpaṇa in Pali and kārṣāpaṇa in Sanskrit.

16.

Plural of Vāsiṣṭha, properly a member of the gotra of that name, tracing its descent from the sage Vasiṣṭha, but here, and often, purely a conventional term of polite address.

17.

A perfume prepared from the flower of that name.

18.

Parihariya, participle from pariharati, cf. parihareyam, “may I preserve”, p. 39, et al.

19.

Pariharensu of the text is obviously, as Senart points out, a mistake due to the proximity of parihariya, for the context requires a verb of “giving,” and Senart suggests paridadensu.

20.

Lokavidanuttara. In the corresponding formula in Pali texts, anuttara is invariably an adjective qualifying the next term in the series, purisadammasārathi—at least, it is always so translated. But in the Mahāvastu the adjective is always written as the final part of the above compound term. It should be added that on p. 229 of text puruṣadamyasārathin is clearly qualified by anuttara, but in a context different from the present one.

21.

Mahāpuruṣa, Pali Mahāpurisa, “a great man, a hero, a man born to greatness, a man destined by fate to be a Ruler or Saviour of the world.” (Pali Diet.)

22.

See p. 180.

23.

See p. 181, n4.

24.

Āveṇikā buddhadharmās. The adjective āveṇika is of obscure origin, but its general sense is made clear by its use in Pali, e.g. S. 4. 239, Pañcimāni ... mātugāmassa āveṇikāni dukkhāni yāni mātugāmo paccanubhoti aññatreva purisehi, i.e. “the five special misfortunes of females not shared by men.” The Commentary defines āveṇika by patipuggalikāni asadharaṇāni purisehi, i.e. “peculiar, not common to males.”

25.

See p. 126.

26.

Vaiśāradya, Pali vesārajja. These four assurances are that enlightenment has been won, that the āśravas (see p. 49) have been eradicated, that the obstacles (see p. 117) have been recognised, and that the way of salvation has been preached. See M. 1. 71.

27.

In this formula the Mahāvastu (Vol. I) regularly has apravartitam, “not set rolling” (or apravartiyam, “not to be set rolling”). The only reminiscence in the Mahāvastu of the Pali appaṭivattiyam, e.g. Sn. 557, which has usually been translated “not to be rolled back” is the reading aprattivarttiyam of one MS. on p. 330.

28.

The “god of death” (√mṛ, “to die”), but, more properly, as regards function, the Buddhist devil or Satan.

29.

Literally “in six changes” or “disturbances,” vikāra.

30.

Bhūmyā devā, i.e. the “spirits” of the primitive culture or popular belief, like the yakṣas, rākṣasas and others, whom the Buddhists recognised as a class of devas. Cf. A. 4. 118.

31.

Agha. Senart, being practically confined for parallels to the Lotus and Lal. Vist., is in difficulties regarding this word, and is constrained to render it by “souffranees,” thus differing from Burnouf who, in Appendix III to the Lotus had translated it “pécheresses.” The parallel passages in Pali texts since published, e.g., A. 2. 130; 5. 5. 454; and D. 2. 12, however, make it clear that agha is either a substantive meaning “darkness” or “blackness” or an adjective, “dark,” “black.”

32.

Asaṃvidita, “unknown,” “uncomprehended.” The corresponding word in the Pali parallel passages is asaṃvuta, “unrestrained,” “orderless,” “baseless,” and is explained by the Commentary on A. 2. 130 as heṭṭhāpi appatiṭṭha, i.e. “ without a support beneath.”

33.

Abhisaṃbhuṇanti. According to the Pali Dictionary, this is a variant form of sambhavati (sambhoti), having the more particular sense of “to reach” or “to be able to.” The Commentary on Sn. 396 has the gloss asambhuṇanto: asakkonto (“unable”). See also the long note by Senart who, after an examination of its use in Buddhist Sanskrit, arrives at pretty much the same interpretation of its meaning.

34.

A class of beings in primitive Indian belief, evidently surviving in Buddhist folklore. In form they were snakes, and were gifted with miraculous powers. But there is undoubtedly great confusion between the Nāgas as supernatural beings, and as the name of certain non-Aryan tribes. In the Mahāvastu, e.g. p. 190, we hear of Nāga devas. Nāga also means “elephant”; indeed, men were inclined to call all big things “Nāga” (A. 3. 345 fff. When the Buddha or an Arhan is styled Nāga, we are to bear in mind the accepted etymology of the name as āguṃ na karoti “does no wrong.”

35.

Dhyāma, which Senart explains as “une orthographe sanscritisante pour le pâli-prâcrit jhāma = kṣāma, “consumé, brûle," but modified in meaning here to denote “obscurci, éclipsé.”

36.

Sanskrit krośa (here krośika), a measure of distance, equal to ¼ yojana or, according to others, ½.

37.

See below.

38.

Reading, with Senart, kuśalamarjitaṃ for kuśalamūlaṃ of the MSS.

39.

Lacuna.