The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes ten bhumis which is Chapter VII 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 VII - The ten Bhūmis

Here must be given the Ten Bhūmis[1] and the history of Dīpaṃkara.

Homage to the Buddhas! Homage to the Arhans!

The beginning of the Ten Bhūmis.

Incomparable is the insight into dharma of those who in the round of rebirths[2] (64) have gathered lives through several hundred kalpas. The glorious Conquerors pass through ten bhūmis.[3] Hear,[4] ye wise, with what feats of wonder[5] they do so.

Rid of pride, arrogance, conceit and folly, endued with perfect gentleness, feeling reverence for the omniscient ones, listen to the noble Conqueror’s teaching.

When the Tathāgata, the Śākyan’s joy, radiant like the sheen of gold, passed away, the earth, girt by sea and sky, with its rocks and forests and mountains, shook.

Seeing the hair-raising, terrible earthquake, Kāśyapa, perfect in piety,[6] then fell to thinking:—

“Why does the firm and wealth-bearing earth, that supports ocean and sky, with its mountains, shake to-day with such a terrible roar? Surely it is because the Tathāgata has passed away.”

And when, with his deva-sighi,[7] he saw that the Tathāgata adored by the Kinnara[8] devas(65) had made an end of all the ties that bound him to existence and had passed away between the twin Sāl[9] trees, he said,

“Now it is not seemly for me to go to Gotama, the Tathāgata, by means of my magic power. A pilgrim on foot will I go to see the peerless sage, the best of speakers.”

When he had thus reflected, the wise Kāśyapa, the monk supreme among the many monks, distressed in mind made haste and presently came to him who had won final release.

Then Kāśyapa felt an overpowering desire to salute the Conqueror’s feet, to salute the great seer’s feet, by caressing them with his head.

Four sturdy Mallas[10] had come on the scene carrying large firebrands fanned to flame, which had been prepared by the chief Mallas.

The firebrands were carried by the energetic and strong chariot-warriors to the funeral-pile (66), but there they were at once extinguished as though they had been drenched with water.

In doubt and perplexity the Mallas, reverently, obeisantly and courteously approached Aniruddha,[11] who had a deva’s sight, to ask him this question.

“What, we pray you, is the reason, what the cause, O son of the Conqueror, that these firebrands which we brought with us have been suddenly put out? Noble sir, declare the reason for this.”

[Aniruddha replied] “The devas, you must know, are gracious to Kāśyapa, and it is by the force of his magic power that the flames will not burn before he who has pre-eminence comes along.”

Thus did the pious Kāśyapa realise his desire to salute with his head the two feet of the glorious and mighty Daśahala, the great sage.

And the saintly[12] Kāśyapa, a son of the Conqueror, honoured by all the monks, raised his joined hands and went up to the Conqueror’s funeral-pile, reverently, with bowed head and a humble heart.

(67) When he saw the Tathāgata in all his superb beauty laid out on a funeral-pile, he exclaimed, “Fie on existence that always bears the manifest marks of its true nature.”[13]

“What creature is there that comes into existence without falling into the power of death, since he who was but lately radiant as fire and gold, is now extinguished like a lamp without a light?”

The glorious Kāśyapa, reverently raising his joined hands threw himself on his face at the Conqueror’s feet, and for the last time adored the great seer and sage.

Those two feet, adorned with perfect circles, extolled by Dānava[14] devas and honoured by Yakṣa[15] snake-demons forthwith broke through the funeral-pile.

Taking in his hands the feet of the sage, and bringing them together over his head, Kāśyapa turned[16] to the great and learned sage [Aniruddha] and spoke to him:—

(68) “Why, learned friend, are the sage’s feet dulled and not gleaming? Tell me the whole cause of it, I pray you. Why do these feet no longer charm the eyes?”

When he had heard this, the learned and wise [Aniruddha] replied to Kāśyapa: “These cold feet have been soiled by the floods of tears of mourners, besmirched by their weeping.

“Soiled, therefore, by weeping men the great sage’s feet do not now gleam as they used to do. Understand the matter so, my devout friend.”

Kāśyapa, his mind full of the greatest reverence for the Master, fell on his face, and again and again caressed with his hands the Sage’s feet which were marked with perfect circles.

As soon as the Master’s feet had been saluted by the pious and virtuous Kāśyapa, the funeral pyre of the Lord of the world went up in flames, fanned by a gust of wind.

(69) As the moon-like body of the Conqueror was burning the five hundred holy men came up and together recited a chant as he passed away:—

“He who bore the excellent marks of a Great Man has passed away, he who was our Master, the guide of Suras[17] and Asuras. What does it profit us to tarry in the world any longer? Let us now abandon our bodies.

“We have entirely accomplished our duties; we have attained griefless endless permanence, having passed through all the various lives. Let us then, even here and now, pass away.”

When they had thus spoken, Kāśyapa, pure in his piety, said to the holy men, “No, my friends, you cannot here and now pass away, immune from any source of rebirth.

“For, if you did, sectarians and heretics would arise and do harm to the peerless doctrine. This is the occasion of the Śramaṇa’s[18] cremation, and that is all we are concerned with.

“Those world-saviours, those many lion-hearted men, (70) the wise and valiant yet to come, could not appear exultantly in the world if the Master’s teaching were not unified.[19]

“Therefore, without a break and in perfect unison, recite the Sugata’s excellent teaching, so that this recital well and truly made, may long have bright renown among men and dev as.”[20]

“So be it,” said these holy men, heeding Kāśyapa’s words. And they pondered then, “In what place, now, shall be held the assembly of those who believe in the dharma?

“Let it be in the pleasant luxuriant grove near the fair city of Rājagṛha that is the capital of Magadha’s lord, in the grotto named Saptaparṇa.

“On the northern slope of Mount Vaihāya, on a rocky-surfaced spot of earth shaded by divers trees. There let the council of dharma be held

Then, strong by their mastery of magic power(71) those sons of the Conqueror instanteously rose up in the air, and flew like a flock of flamingoes on their way to lake Mānasa.[21]

Alighting on the slope of the fair mountain they entered the forest and there sat down. When the Sugata’s teaching had been recited bands of celestial drums crashed forth.

And when they who were establishing the Sugata’s teaching heard the echoing sound of the drums and saw the terrible quaking of the earth, they spoke thus to the saintly Kāśyapa:—

“Why, pious friend, does the earth with its oceans and its streams tremble? Why do celestial drums joyfully resound? And why are celestial garlands strewn around?”

And the pious Kāśyapa replied to the holy sons of the Conqueror: “These companies of devas have assembled because they have heard the harmonious recital of the doctrine.

“These assembled devas, themselves characterised by noble harmony, reverently rejoice, and do honour to the Peerless One. (72) Eager were they to hear[22] the whole harmonious doctrine.

“For after many a hundred kalpas of existence, during the long night he conceived this thought[23] for the benefit and welfare of devas and men: ‘Free myself, I will set men free.’

“‘I, who have won the highest good that is beyond grief, and the cessation of the ill of rebirth in all states, for the benefit of devas and men will set rolling the wondrous wheel of dharma in the city of the Kāśis.’

“With those five sages, the supreme guide of those who preach the Vinaya delivered hosts of devas and nayutas of koṭis of beings from rebirth and death.

“He, the lion-hearted man, the Exalted One, who gave happy release to men and devas who were wont to be fond of existence, having crushed all his adversaries, has now passed away without regret.”

When the hosts of devas hovering in the air had heard this entrancing discourse of the pious Kāśyapa, they joyfully uttered these heart-delighting words:—

“Hail, hail to him who is an expert in piety, (73) who is the infallible expositor of the Master’s teaching. You have proclaimed the worth of him whose wisdom is infinite. Men and devas have found joy in the excellent Conqueror.[24]

“For he is supreme among devas and men. He is the Foremost Man,[25] the mighty sage, the unsurpassed refuge, the Lord, he who has discerned the truth for the sake of living beings.

“He whose virtues are sung here, the knowing Daśabala, has shown that the skandhas[26] are but as a lightning’s flash, as a bubble of air, or as the snow-white foam on the crest of a wave.

“He whose virtues are sung here, the Foremost Man, has shown the pleasures of sense to be like a black serpent’s head, like a flashing[27] sword, and like cups full of poison.

“By his perfectly sound beliefs he saw the unfluctuating bliss beyond, and out of his joy in charity he ungrudgingly revealed the wonder of it.

“As a glow-worm loses its brightness when the sun rises, (74) and no longer glistens,[28] so, when the light-bringing Conqueror arises fickle heretics lose their lustre.

“Behold, he who had won perfect strength in magic power, he who was a lord with a Conqueror’s might, possessed of clear insight, a Buddha, the eye of the world,[29] radiant like an orb of gold, has passed away.

“Fie on those existences which are like autumn clouds, or like cities of sand, since he who possessed a store of virtues and an ocean of consummate wisdom, has passed away.

“For a hundred causes and reasons the Guide roars the roar of a lion-man, as he sees that no death will again follow his life. No greater truth than this exists.”

The sky was gay with garlands of celestial blossoms while this hymn of praise to the Sugata was sung. Pervaded by the essence of celestial sandalwood the sky was fragrant with ambrosial perfume.

Then the venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana addressed the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa, “O son of the Conqueror,” said he, “set the holy men to examine those in the assembly whose minds are assailed by doubt.”(75)

And so Kāśyapa said to Aniruddha, Upāli, the elder Alakuṇḍala-Bhaṭṭiya, and Sundarananda:—

“O sons of the Conqueror, examine the minds of those assembled and find out who is doubting and on what matter.”

And they, experienced in the Conqueror’s teaching, obeyed, and said “So be it.” They can see the minds of others as clearly as a fruit held in their hands.

To the holy Pralambabāhu Kāśyapa said, “Create at once an arena on the summit of Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa.

“Eighteen thousand have come together for the assembly. Call up your magic power to scrutinise them all.”

To the holy Vicintacūta Kāśyapa said, “Create at once in the sky clouds that shall be as rich in water as the Ganges.

“Everywhere let flowers of divers scents spread their fragrance, and forthwith cause the smell of raw human flesh to disappear

haryakṣaṃ nāma vaśibhūtaṃ kāśyapa idam abravīt* |

To the holy man named Haryakṣa Kāśyapa said, “O son of the Sugata, quickly exert your concentration to prevent the goods of householders being lost.”

To the holy man Varuṇa Kāśyapa said, “Keep away from men baneful flies and gnats.”

(76) To the holy man Ajakarṇa Kāśyapa said, “Keep away from men hunger and thirst and sickness.”

And the sons of the Conqueror obeyed Kāśyapa, saying “So be it,” and bestirred themselves to the tasks ordained them.

Then the elder Kāśyapa said to Kātyāyana, “Speak of the careers of the great-hearted kings of dharma.”

When this had been said, the wise and noble-born Kātyā-ayna, in reply to Kāśyapa’s question, spoke of the careers of the Buddhas.

“Hear, O son of the Conqueror, the careers, set out in due order, of the all-seeing Buddhas whose conduct is unsullied.

“Verily, O son of the Conqueror, there are ten bhūmis for the Bodhisattvas [...].[30] What are the ten?

“The first is called durārohā,[31] the second baddhamānā, the third puṣpamaṇḍitā,

“The fourth rucirā, the fifth cittavistarā, the sixth rūpavatī, the seventh durjayā,

“The eighth is called janmanideśa; the ninth derives its name from yauvarājya, and the tenth from abhiṣeka. These are the ten bhūmis.

(77) When Kātyāyana had so spoken in verse, the learned Kāśyapa then, following his purpose,[32] addressed this incomparable exhortation to Kātyāyana.

“Tell me now the manner of the transitions from bhūmi to bhūmi, and how the glorious Bodhisattvas lapse[33] as they pass from one life to another.

“And how do these choice beings[34] advance[35]? This tell me. And say what their dispositions are.

“How do they who are endued with the essence of being[36] convert beings? How do they give alms? All this explain to me.

“Do you, who have seen Buddhas and can speak with charm, tell me their names and origin.” Thus spoke Kāśyapa.

When they had heard these words the saintly great beings[37] stood up in reverence for the great-hearted Buddhas.

When this had been spoken Kātyāyana said to Kāśyapa, “It is not possible, O son of the Conqueror, to measure the bhūmis of Bodhisattvas. They last through so many, nay infinite, kalpas. But every existence (saṃsāra) of Bodhisattvas is succinctly defined as an “earth,” whence the name bhūmi.”

When Kātyāyana had said this, the venerable Ānanda asked him, “If, O son of the Conqueror, a single bhūmi is immeasurable, (78) how, I ask you, can there be a distinct conception of the others?”

When this had been said, the venerable Kātyāyana addressed the venerable Ānanda in verse:—

As the kalpa has been declared immeasurable by the discerning, truth-speaking One himself, and the preaching of the dharma goes on for several kalpas—this, my friend, is what the pre-eminent man teaches.

So the bhūmi has been declared immeasurable by the discerning One whose understanding is unobstructed. And this definition of general characteristics[38] applies equally to the other bhūmis.

Footnotes and references:


Bhūmi, literally “ground,” “soil,” “earth,” here used to denote a career, or stage of development, of a Bodhisattva.


Vatte, according to Senart for varte, an irregular Sanskritisation of the Pali vaṭṭa. But the whole passage is obscure, and vatte is strangely placed in the construction. Perhaps, we should read vande, “I extol the incomparable insight into dharma of those who have, etc.”


Literally, “there are ten bhūmis of the glorious Conquerors.”


Adopting Senart’s suggestion of suṇātha for sadā.


Vikurviṣu, from vikurv, this stem having, as Senart shows, the sense of “miracle,” etc., derived from the primary sense of vikṛ, “to transform,” etc.


Or, “in scrupulous observance of routine rules of conduct.” Dhutaguṇa is the virtue of keeping what in Pali is termed dhutaṅga, “a set of practices leading to the state of, or appropriate to, a dhuta, that is, to a scrupulous person” (Pali Dictionary). The use of dhutaraja on p. 66 in the sense of “undefiled,” literally, “with defilement shaken off” (dhuta), serves to show that the dhutaṅga practices were regarded as marking, or conducing to, stainlessness of character.


See p. 125.


Literally “a what-do-you-call-it man,” kiṃ-nara. For formation compare Sanskrit kiṃsakhi, “a bad friend,” etc., and Pali kimpurisa, “a wild man of the woods.” A Kinnara was half man, half beast, or, as in Pali, a bird with man’s head. As in the case of other fabulous beings, these were taken up by late Buddhist thought and classed as devas or re-incarnations of human beings.


Śāla or sāla, “Shorea robusta.”


Inhabitants of Malla, one of the sixteen Mahājanapadas or provinces of India in Gotama’s time. They are generally identified with the Malloi of the Greek accounts of the wars of Alexander the Great. (D.P.N.)


In Pali usually Anuruddha, first cousin of the Buddha, and one of his most eminent disciples.


Dhutarajo, see note p. 53.


An alternative rendering, favoured by Senart, would be, “He exclaimed, ‘Fie on existence,’ in a voice that betrayed his true nature.” The position of iti, however, on which Senart bases his version, is often irregular in the Mahāvastu, and it does not necessarily support him, while the sentiment of the next stanza seems to support the translation given above.


A name for the Asuras, as being descendants of Danu.


See note p. 25.


Antikāvacara = santikāvacara, “keeping” or “being near.”


“Gods” of Hindu mythology as opposed to “Giants” (Asuras). The name is formed from asura (as-ura) on the false assumption that the latter was a negative formation. Cf. note p. 24.


I.e. the Buddha, the “ascetic” or “recluse,” par excellence.


Saṅkaliya “un optatif passif de saṅkal dans le sens d’ ‘accumuler,’ ‘réunir’” (Senart). Some form of samṣkṛ “make perfect” (cf. śāsanakarā, p. 71) or of saṅkḷip would be expected here. Note that one MS. has saṃkariya.


Maru, a frequent synonym for deva.


A sacred lake, the resort of wild geese and swans, on Mount Kailāsa, in the Himalayas, the home of Kuvera and Śiva. Cf. Meghadūta, 7 and 11.


“Le potentiel śṛṇuya comporte un nuance de désir” (Senart).


Abhyupagata for the usual cittamabhyupagata.


The text has Jetavane “in Jeta Grove,” but, as Senart points out, Jeta Grove is obviously out of place in this scene. Senart suggests that the right reading should be Jinavare, and this has been adopted for the translation.


Agrapuruṣa, see note p. 4.


“The elements or substrata of sensory existence, sensorial aggregates which condition the appearance of life in any form” (Pali Dictionary, s.v. khandha).


Ruccha, which Senart takes to be a Prakrit form of rukṣa.


The same simile, in very much the same words, is found in Udāna, p. 73. (The translator owes this reference to Miss I. B. Horner.)


Locanaṃ bhagavatasya, literally “the eye of the Exalted One”; bhagavatasya must be regarded as a genitive of definition, so that the phrase is equivalent to “the Exalted One who is the eye” (sc. of the world). Cf. lohapradyota and note p. 37.




These names mean respectively, “Difficult to enter,” “Fastening.” “Adorned with flowers,” “Beautiful,” “Expansion of the heart,” “Lovely,” “Difficult to conquer,” “Ascertainment of birth,” “Installation as Crown Prince,” and “Coronation.” See Har Dayal: The Bodhisaítva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature (1932), pp. 273 ff.


Literally “for this purpose,” ityartham.


vivartante—“turn away.”


Sattvasārā, i.e. the Bodhisattvas. Cf. M. 3. 69, sattasārā applied to paccekabuddhas.


Samvartante—“Come to be,” “arise,” etc. Both this verb and vivartante are here used in more or less their literal sense, without reference, that is, to their special application to denote, respectively, the “evolution” and “dissolution” of a cycle of the world. (See note p. 43.)


Sattvasamanvitā, same as sattvasārā.


Mahāsattvā, i.e. the saintly disciples already referred to.


Adopting Senart’s interpretation of sāmānyasaṅketānāṃ nirūpaṇaṃ.

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