The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes visit to the shuddhavasa devas which is Chapter V 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 V - A visit to the Śuddhāvāsa Devas

Thus have I heard. The Exalted One was once staying near Rājagṛha on Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa. Then the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana dressed early in the morning, took his alms-bowl and robe, and set out for the city of Rājagṛha in quest of 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. What now if I pay a visit to the Śuddhāvāsa devas?” Then the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana (55), in the time it would take a strong man to stretch out his bent arm and bend his outstretched arm, rose up in the air at Rājagṛha and in one instantaneous stride alighted near the Śuddhāvāsa devas.

The Śuddhāvāsa devas saw him coming when he was yet far off, and came in a body to meet him. They bowed their heads at his feet, and stood to one side.

As they thus stood to one side the numerous Śuddhāvāsa devas addressed the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana in verse:—

It was after a very long time, after he had passed through a hundred thousand kalpas in quest of the perfection of enlightenment, that the infinitely precious Buddha appeared in the world.

When they had thus spoken, the numerous Śuddhāvāsa devas bowed their heads at the feet of the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, stood to one side, and forthwith vanished.

Then the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana reflected, “So hard is it to win enlightenment, requiring as it does a hundred thousand kalpas”.

After that, the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, in the time it would take a strong man to stretch out his bent arm and bend his outstretched arm, with one instantaneous stride disappeared from the world of the Śuddhāvāsa devas and alighted in the city of Rājagṛha (56). He went on his round for alms in the city of Rājagṛha, and when he had returned, after the midday meal, he put down his bowl, doffed his robe, washed his feet, and went to the Exalted One. Bowing his head at the feet of the Exalted One, he sat down on one side. And as he thus sat down, the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana said to the Exalted One, “Lord, after I had dressed early in the morning, I took my bowl and my robe and went to collect alms in the great city of Rājagṛha. I had not gone far, Lord, before the thought occurred to me: “It is much too early as yet to go to the great city of Rājagṛha to collect alms. What now if I go to visit the Śuddhāvāsa devas? It is long since I have visited them.” Then in the time it would take a strong man to stretch out his bent arm or bend his outstretched arm, I rose in the air at Rājagṛha, and in one instantaneous stride I alighted near the company of the Śuddhāvāsa devas. The numerous Śuddhāvāsa devas, Lord, saw me coming a long way off, and when they had seen me they came to meet me, bowed their heads at my feet and stood to one side.

As they thus stood the numerous Śuddhāvāsa devas addressed me in a verse:—

It was after a very long time, after he had passed through a hundred thousand kalpas in quest of the perfection of enlightenment, that the infinitely precious Buddha appeared in the world.

“When they had thus spoken the numerous Śuddhāvāsa devas bowed their heads at my feet (57) and departed. Hence the thought occurred to me: ‘How hard it is to win the unsurpassed enlightenment, since it requires a hundred thousand kalpas. What now if I go to the Exalted One and question him on this matter? What the Exalted One will declare that will I believe What does the Exalted One say concerning this?”

When the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana had thus spoken, the Exalted One said to him, “The one hundred thousand kalpas of the Śuddhāvāsa devas are too short a time, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana. It is for immeasurable incalculable kalpas and under a countless number of Tathāgatas, Arhans, and perfect Buddhas that those who seek perfect enlightenment in the future go on acquiring the roots of virtue. I knew three-hundred koṭis of Buddhas of the name of Śākyamuni, whom, with their communities of disciples, I honoured, venerated, revered, worshipped and esteemed when I was a universal king aiming at perfect enlightenment in the future. And those exalted Buddhas thus proclaimed to me: ‘You will in the future become a Tathāgata, an Arhan, a perfect Buddha, proficient in knowledge and conduct, a Sugata, an unsurpassed knower of the world, a driver of tameable men, and a teacher of devas and men.’

“Again, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, I knew eight-hundred Buddhas named Dīpaṃkara, who, with their communities of disciples were honoured, venerated, revered, worshipped and esteemed by me, when, as a universal king I was aiming at perfect enlightenment in the future. And these exalted Buddhas proclaimed to me.” Repeat everywhere as in the first section: “You will become in the future” and so on. I knew(58), Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, five hundred Buddhas of the name of Padmottara. Repeat as above: “You will become in the future” and so on. I knew eight thousand Buddhas named Pradyota, three koṭis named Puṣpa, eighteen thousand named Māradhvaja, at the time when I was living the holy life and aiming at perfect enlightenment in the future. And these exalted Buddhas made their proclamation of me.

“I knew, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, five hundred Buddhas of the name of Padmottara, who, with their communities of disciples were honoured by me. I knew ninety thousand named Kāśyapa; fifteen thousand named Pratāpa; two thousand named Kauṇḍiṇya, and eighty-four thousand Pratyekabuddhas. I knew the Tathāgata, Arhan and perfect Buddha Samantagupta. I knew the thousand Buddhas named Jambudhvaja; the eighty-four thousand named Indradhvaja; the fifteen thousand named Āditya; the sixty-two hundred named Anyonya, and the sixty-four(59) named Samitāvin.

Suprabhāsa was the name of the Tathāgata, Arhan, and perfect Buddha when the Bodhisattva Maitreya, as the universal king, Vairocana, was aiming at perfect enlightenment in the future and first acquired the roots of goodness. And, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, when Suprabhāsa was the Tathāgata, the measure of man’s life was four times eighty-four thousand koṭis of years, and men lived more or less to this age.[1]

“Again, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, when Suprabhāsa was the Tathāgata, Arhan and perfect Buddha, there were three assemblies. The first assembly of disciples consisted of ninety-six koṭis, who were all arhans, who had destroyed the āśravas,[2] who had kept all the observances, who were emancipated by perfect knowledge, who had broken the fetters that tied them to existence and who had reached the goal they had set themselves. The second assembly of disciples consisted of ninety-four koṭis, who were all arhans, who had destroyed the āśravas, had kept the observances, were emancipated by perfect knowledge, had broken the fetters that bound them to existence, and had reached their goal. The third assembly of disciples consisted of ninety-two koṭis who were all arhans, who had destroyed the āśravas, had kept the observances, were emancipated by perfect knowledge, had broken the fetters that bound them to existence, and had reached their goal.

“Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, when King Vairocana had seen the exalted Suprabhāsa, he experienced a sublime thrill, ecstasy, joy and gladness. For ten thousand years he honoured (60) venerated, revered, worshipped and esteemed that Exalted One and his community of disciples. With honour and reverence he gave his protection to the assembly and to the community of disciples, and assured to men their due span of years. Then he conceived the thought: “May I become in some future time a Tathāgata, 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, as this exalted Suprabhāsa now is. Thus may I preach the dharma that is endowed with all good qualities, altogether perfect in all good qualities, as the exalted Suprabhāsa now does. Thus may I preserve in harmony a community of disciples as the exalted Suprabhāsa now does. Thus may devas and men decide that I am to be hearkened to and believed in as they now do the exalted Suprabhāsa. May I become so 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.”

“Even so, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, there is something to add to this. For it was after he had been a Bodhisattva for forty-four kalpas that Maitreya conceived the thought of enlightenment.

“There was a Tathāgata, Arhan, and perfect Buddha named Aparājitadhvaja who, with his community of disciples, was honoured, venerated, revered, worshipped and esteemed by me, when, as the universal king, Dṛḍhadhanu, I was aiming at perfect enlightenment in the future. I clothed him with five hundred costly[3] (61) suits of garments, and when he passed utterly away I erected a tope for him, a yojana high and a yojana deep.[4] And all the time, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, this was my aspiration: “When beings come to be without refuge, support, protection, shelter and succour, when they become characterised[5] by fickleness, malice and folly, when they live in accordance with wrong standards of conduct, and generally go to crowd the worlds of woe, then may I awake to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment. May I do so 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.” For the Tathāgatas, Arhans, and perfect Buddhas, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, live their lives for the sake of the world, doing the things that are hard to do.”

Thus spoke the Exalted One, and the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana was enraptured, and rejoiced at what he had said.

Thirty koṭis of Conquerors named Śākyamuni appeared in the world, and eight-hundred-thousand named Dīpaṃkara.

Sixty thousand named Pradyota...[6] Then three koṭis of lion-voiced Buddhas named Puṣpa.

Eighteen thousand Sugatas of the name Māradhvaja appeared in the world while [Śākyamuni] lived the holy life in his desire to attain omniscience.

He adored five hundred Sugatas named Padmottara (62) and two thousand others named Kauṇḍiṇya.

He adored infinite countless koṭis of nayutas of Pratyeka-buddhas, and a thousand Buddhas named Jambudhvaja.

Eighty-four thousand Sugatas named Indradhvaja, and ninety thousand named Kāśyapa;

Fifteen thousand Sugatas named Pratāpa, and fifteen thousand named Āditya.

Sixty-two hundred Sugatas named Anyonya, and sixty-four thousand named Samitāvin.

There were these and countless other Daśabalas,[7] noble Kolita,[8] all lights of the world who had overcome impermanence.[9]

All the powers of those who bear the excellent marks of a Great Man, O Kolita, do not come within the time and definition of what is impermanent.[10]

Apprehending the remorseless force of impermanence, (Śākyamuni) as soon as he had worshipped [a Buddha], resolutely exerted himself to destroy that power.

“An immeasurable incalculable kalpa afterwards, Maudgalyāyana, there was a perfect Buddha named Ratna, a Tathāgata, an Arhan, a perfect Buddha, proficient in knowledge and conduct, a Sugata, an unsurpassed knower of the world, a driver of tameable men, and a teacher of devas and men. At that time I was a universal king.

“For the exalted Ratna[11] I built eighty-four thousand gabled buildings, (63) bright and fair to behold, made of the seven precious substances, gold, silver, pearls, beryl, crystal, white coral and ruby. When I had presented these to the Exalted One I made a vow to win enlightenment. (To which Ratna replied), “Exalted Buddhas do not pass away until they have anointed an heir to the throne. He will become a Buddha in the world immediately after me. As I now proclaim of Maitreya, he will become the Buddha next after me.”

This Exalted One with his eighty-four thousand disciples, lived on for eighty-four cycles of the world’s dissolution and evolution. At each dissolution of the world the Exalted One, together with his eighty-four thousand disciples, passed into the realm of the Ābhāsvara devas. When the world re-evolved once more, he came into the world and preached dharma. And at each such time I became a universal king, and built and presented to the exalted Ratna eighty-four thousand gabled buildings.

“This, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, is the “resolving” career. And what is the “conforming” career? In this career, the great being, the Bodhisattva, is established in conformity with his (future) enlightenment. This, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, is the “conforming” career.

“And what is the “persevering “career? Vivartacaryā means that Bodhisattvas fall away and go again through the round of rebirths. Avivartacaryā means that they are unwaveringly set for enlightenment.”

Footnotes and references:

1.

Antarā ca uccāvacatā āyuṣa: literally, “(men’s) lives were high and low within (this limit).”

2.

A wrong Sanskritisation of the Pali āsava, a term for which many translations have been offered, but none of them entirely satisfactory. It has been deemed better to retain the Buddhist Sanskrit form. Meanwhile, the definitions of āsava in the Pali Dictionary will give an indication of its meaning, literal and applied: (1) “Spirit, the intoxicating extract or secretion of a tree or flower.” (2) “Discharge from a sore.” (3) “In psychology, a technical term for certain specified ideas which intoxicate the mind....” The āsavas are four in number, viz. sensuality, love of life, speculation, and ignorance.

3.

Reading mahārhantehi, “ worth much,” for mahantehi, “ large, great.” The former is conjectured from the MS. variation between mahantehi and arhantehi. Senart’s note, however, is : “ On remarquera la résolution anomale du composé : mahantehi . . . duṣyayugaśatehi est pour mahāduṣya.”

4.

Abhiniveśena, literally “in entering in (sc. the earth).” Abhiniveśa in this case is several times used in the Mahāvastu to denote a dimension in contradistinction to “height,” e.g. 1. 196; 3. 222, 232.

5.

Utsada = Pali ussada in this sense, possibly a derivative meaning from that of “prominent,” “prominence.” See note p. 6.

6.

A lacuna.

7.

A name for the Buddhas as possessing the “ten powers.” See p. 126.

8.

I.e.—Mahā-Maudgalyāyana. See p. 6.

9.

The text and metre are faulty here. Senart’s interpretation is: “tous ces flambeaux du monde ne peuvent être énuméré à cause de (notre) impermanence.” This, like his translation of the next stanza (q.v.), is somewhat strained, and not in keeping with the concluding portion of this verse passage, the burden of which is the apprehending and overcoming of the power of impermanence. The word samitā, which is unintelligible here, has been, in the above translation, taken to conceal some form of the causative of śam, like śamayitvā, for example, “having suppressed” or” overcome.” This, of course, involves reading unityatām for anityatāya. Senart assumes in the place of samitā some word meaning “qui ne peut être énuméré.”

10.

Anityatāya, for anityatāye, which is demanded by the metre, is here taken as an oblique case used in a genitive sense. Senart’s translation is “tous les forces... échappent au temps et à l’énumération, à cause de notre impermanence.” But the enumeration of a Tathāgata’s balāni, was, of course, quite a definite one, and a commonplace of Buddhist dogmatics.

11.

Here and on the next page called Ratnavan.