The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes first bhumi 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 first Bhūmi

“O son of the Conqueror, Bodhisattvas in their first bhūmi, ordinary men though they be, win fruition, become worthy of offerings[1] in the worlds, where they have bright renown. They are as described in this verse:—

The glorious Bodhisattvas are perfect in liberality and light up the worlds to make them shine as radiantly as moon and sun.

“There are eight rules of conduct for Bodhisattvas when they are in the first bhūmi. What are the eight? They are liberality, compassion, indefatigability, humility, study of all the scriptures, heroism, contempt for the world, and fortitude. They are as described in this verse:—

(19) The Bodhisattvas delight in generosity, and themselves become objects of pity.[2] A Although overwhelmed by ills, yet in their wisdom they turn for consolation to the words and virtues of the sweetly-speaking Exalted Ones. Thus do these beings live in their first bhūmi.

Judging the doctrines which pass current to be without substance, and realising what human affection is, they abandon the world, deeming it a thing of straw. They amass virtue through enduring bitter sufferings.

“There is one reason why Bodhisattvas lapse in their second bhūmi. What is that one? They come to contemplate life with satisfaction. There are two reasons why Bodhisattvas lapse in the second bhūmi. What are the two? They become lustful and indolent through indulgence in sensual pleasures. Again, there are three reasons why Bodhisattvas lapse in their second bhūmi. What are the three? They become covetous, timid and weak-willed. There are six reasons why Bodhisattvas who have lived[3] in the first bhūmi lapse in the second bhūmi. What are the six? They live without being conscious of the impermanence of things. They become addicted to harmfulness. They become inveterate haters. They become gross and sluggish, and immersed in the affairs of the world. O son of the Conqueror, (80) Bodhisattvas who have lapsed, are lapsing, and will lapse do so for these twelve reasons, and for no other.”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Conqueror how great merit do the Bodhisattvas, both those who lapse, and those who do not, generate when they first conceive the thought, ‘May we become perfect Buddhas?’”

When this was said, the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa, “Behold, O son of the Conqueror, he who vows to win enlightenment generates richer merit than he who should present the Daśabalas with Jam-bud vīpa and its hoard of the seven precious substances. O son of the Conqueror, he who vows to win enlightenment generates richer merit than he who should give the Daśabalas the four continents with their heaps of jewels. O son of the Conqueror, he who vows to win enlightenment generates richer merit than he who should give the virtuous Buddhas all the three thousand universes with their stores of treasures and riches. O son of the Conqueror, he who vows to win enlightenment generates richer merit than he who should offer the Saviours of the world whole universes as numerous as the sands of the river Ganges, and all filled with heaps of precious stones. O son of the Conqueror, he who vows to win enlightenment generates richer merit than he who should honour Foremost Men[4] by giving them whole universes as numerous as the sands of the ocean, and all their varied precious stones.”

And why? Because these are not the purposes of ordinary men. Because it is for the sake of mankind that these valiant men form their wishes.

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Again, O son of the Conqueror, (81) do those Bodhisattvas who continue in unwavering progress[5] make their first vow when they have acquired merits, or when they have acquired the roots of goodness?”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa in verse[6]:—

First they worship the glorious Tathāgatas with great reverence, but not yet do these supreme men turn their thoughts towards becoming a Foremost Man.

These wise men honour koṭis of Pratyekabuddhas, men who have won the highest good, but not yet do they turn their thoughts to a knowledge of the whole dharma.

They worship koṭis of those who have won mastery over all the powers,[7] A long since reached perfect mastery, but not yet do these leaders turn their thoughts to crossing the ocean of knowledge.

But when they have laid up abundant store of merit, and have body and mind well developed, they approach the beautiful Buddhas, turn their thoughts towards enlightenment, (and say:)—

“By the root of goodness I have laid in store may I have insight into all things.(82) May not the realisation of my vow be deferred too long, but may my vow be fulfilled.

“May my store of the root of goodness be great enough for all living things. Whatever evil deed has been done by me, may I alone reap its bitter fruit.”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “How, O son of the Conqueror, do those Bodhisattvas who do not lapse, become steadfast and brave?”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa in verse:—

“If I am doomed to dwell in Avīci from this moment to that in which I am to become aware of the ultimate truth, I shall go through with it, nor shall I withdraw my vow to win omniscience. Such is my resolve.

“Although I could quit the round of birth, death, grief and tribulation, I should not let my mind waver. Though overwhelmed with ills, I would bring blessings to the world of men.” Such is the courage and strength of these sturdy men.

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Again, O son of the Conqueror, when a Bodhisattva who does not lapse first conceives the thought of enlightenment what marvellous (83) portents are then seen?”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa in verse:—

When the vow of these, the world’s foremost men, is made for the first time, then the jewel-bearing earth, with its cities, towns, and rivers, shouts for joy.

A radiant splendour like that of the star of day is shed over all the regions of space, when a vow is first made to win the qualities of the lion-man.

Hosts of exulting Suras exclaim to one another, ‘This infinitely exalted[8] man vows to win the qualities of the lion-man.’

We must cherish him, for, surpassing in might, and being a creator of bliss, he lays up a store of bliss for the sake of the world.” This is the marvel that then comes to pass.

When this had been said the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Conqueror how many arduous tasks are performed by Bodhisattvas who do not lapse, when they are in the first bhūmi?”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa in verse:—

These brave men, who have set their faces towards omniscience, do not give way to idle regret when they have given up dear wives and beloved sons, their heads and their eyes, their jewels, carriages and beds.

(84) Though they are sentenced to be flogged, bound and scourged by violent men whose minds are bent on foul deeds, they regard these men with hearts full of meekness and friendliness, and, innocent though they are, speak to them with gentle words.

When they see a mendicant full of pride and conceit, the great men experience a thrill of joy. For, by giving him alms, they become elated at the access of virtue. They do not fall into remorse. These then are the austerities of the Bodhisattvas.[9]

Here ends the First Bhūmi in the Mahāvastu-Avadāna.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Dakṣiṇīya (Pali dakkhiṇeyya), worthy of a dakṣiṇā (Pali dakkhiṇā) or a donation to a man of religious or moral worth, intended, at least originally, to secure the alleviation of the sufferings of the pretas (petas) “ghosts”; but subsequently the idea seems to have been that the donor of such a gift acquired merit for himself.

2.

Karuṇāyamānā. In view of the context this meaning seems to be rightly preferred by Senart to the other sense of the word, “full of compassion.”

3.

Literally “have stood,” sthitā.

4.

Agrapudgalās. See note p. 39.

5.

Avaivartikatāyai pariṇāmenti; with Senart, taking the verb as a denominative from pariṇāma, “change,” “transformation,” “progress.”

6.

Some of these verses have already occurred on p. 46-7 of text.

7.

See footnote p. 126.

8.

Anantavūdagro, i.e. ananta + udagra. The MSS. have °vudagro, but the metre requires °vūd—. Senart considers the “v” due to a Pali habit of prefixing it to an initial “u,” which is at the same time lengthened. He compares Pali vūpasama, which he holds, is not from vi + upa but directly from upasama.

9.

Text corrupt. Senart prints the pāda as follows:

Paścattapo na tu tapanti taponirāśā iti,

and translates “ils ne se livrent pas, après cela, aux austérités, désespérant, comme ils font, de l’austerité." He assumes that tapas (tapo) was wrongly-written, in most MSS., because of the preceding paścdt, the compound paścattāpa being a common term for “remorse.” But the avoidance of remorse or regret on the part of Bodhisattvas is often dwelt on (see e.g., the preceding page), and that idea can be expressed here by reading paścānutāpaṃ after the analogy of the Pali pacchānutāpa (instead of the regular Sanskrit paścāttāpa, which would be unmetrical here). One MS., indeed, seems to have a reminiscence of the syllable an of anu. Such an emendation, also, does not require the change of patanti, on which all MSS. seem to be agreed, into tapanti.

Consonant with the sense given by this emended form, the latter half of the pāda is conjecturally emended into tapāṃsi tāni iti, so that the whole pāda adopted for translation reads:

Paścānutāpaṃ na patanti, tapāṃsi tāni iti.

That is to say, the verse closes by summing up the arduous tasks or austerities of the Bodhisattvas in their first bhūmi, when it is too soon to speak of their ineffectiveness. The tone of the whole passage rather stresses their value.