The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes third bhumi which is Chapter X 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 X - The third Bhūmi

(91) When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Best of Men, what state of heart exists in Bodhisattvas as they pass on from the second bhūmi to the third?”

Then the elder Kātyāyana replied to Kāśyapa, “Hear what the unsurpassed state of heart of the Bodhisattvas is which links up[1] the two bhūmis.

“O venerable son of the Conqueror, the hearts of Bodhisattvas as they pass from the second bhūmi to the third are set on renunciation”.

These lords of men render happy the condition of all creatures; but they do this in no wise for the sake of their own well-being, nor for the sake of enlightenment.

They buy one verse of a wise saying[2] with the sacrifice of wife and child....[3]

“There are obstacles of jungle, of hostile forces, and of mountains, but the real obstacles for man are his fickle and restless passions[4] which stifle charity.

“There are obstacles of weeds, of undergrowth, of brambles and reeds, which choke trees, but the obstacles in the way of man are falsehood, guile and slander.”


(92) This single verse of a wise saying was bought by a Bodhisattva when he was yearning for the ultimate truth.


A certain brāhman approached a seer,[7] a lord of men, and said to him, “I have here an exhilarating verse of a wise saying.

“The price of it is your head.” The seer, ready to sacrifice his head, replied, “Quickly tell me, brāhman, this verse of a wise saying.”

[The brāhman recited]

“If those who yearn for a Bodhisattva’s career, happen to commit an unseemly deed, it does not become manifest, being obscured by the force of abundant merit, as an oil-lamp is dimmed by the rays of the sun.”

A rākṣasa[8] said to a certain king named Surūpa, “I have here a stanza of a wise saying for sale, if you want to buy it.

“As the price of it I would have your son, your queen and yourself to devour. Take it if you can, for this verse is compact with dharma.”

King Surūpa, free from bondage to the world and full of reverence for dharma, replied, “Take what you want, and let me have the verse. Complete the bargain without delay.”

(93) Then the rākṣasa recited this verse of a wise saying:—

“It is better to dwell in the hells that throb with lamentations[9] where one meets people one wishes far away, and is separated from the people one loves, than in the society of wicked men”

A piśāca[10] said to a king’s minister named Sanjaya, “Give me your heart and hear in return a verse of a wise saying.”

Without a tremor the brave Sanjaya replied, “I give you my heart. Speak that verse of a wise saying.”

Then the piśāca recited this verse of a wise saying:—

“As the fire that burns when grass and wood are set alight never stops burning, so craving is never assuaged by indulgence in sensual pleasures.”

A certain poor man said to a merchant named Vasundhara, “This verse of a wise saying will be given you in return for all you possess.”

The Bodhisattva replied:—

“I give you all I have. Speak the verse of a wise saying. For the good praise what is well-spoken in accordance with true principles.”

Then the poor man recited this verse of a wise saying:—

“When men are foolish plenty is changed to dearth. (94) But a single wise man transforms dearth to plenty”.

A certain man said to a king named Surūpa, “At the price of Jambudvīpa you may hear a verse of a wise saying.”

The Bodhisattva replied:—

“I give you Jambudvīpa and all you desire. Quickly speak this verse of a wise saying, truly say what you will.”

Then the man recited this verse of a wise saying:—

“When egotism, selfishness, passion[11] and pride prevail, then Tathāgatas appear in the world to quell them”.

A certain hunter said to a deer named Satvara, “I have here a verse of a wise saying. Give me your flesh and you shall hear it.”

[The deer replied]

“If in return for my perishable flesh I can hear this wise saying, I give you it. Quickly utter the wise saying.”

Then the hunter recited this verse of a wise saying:—

“The dust beneath their feet is better for men than a mountain of gold. The dust takes away sorrow, the mountain of gold multiplies it”.

(95) His slave said to a king named Nāgabhuja, “In return for the sovereignty of the four continents you may have a wise saying.”

The Bodhisattva replied:—

“I give you the sovereignty of the four continents. Quickly speak; do not delay but tell me this wise saying.”

Then his slave recited this verse of a wise saying:—

“They say that it is as difficult to distract the wisdom of the sage as it is to pluck out his hair by the roots. So the stainless company of monks, having won the power of knowledge, and, through their virtuous conduct, torn up malice by the root, shine with minds that are rid of malice. The stainless teacher of the world, also, shines, does not cast off his burden, and is followed by good men”.

Thus for the sake of a wise saying a Bodhisattva hurls himself down precipices. For its sake, again, he gives up his boat on the wide ocean.

He sacrifices his eyes in return for hearing a verse of a wise saying. Again, he throws himself into the fire as the price of hearing a verse of wise saying.

And many other such arduous tasks do the valiant and glorious Conquerors undertake for the sake of words of wisdom.

(96) When this had been said the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Again, O son of the Conqueror, how do Bodhisattvas who are in the third bhūmi lapse and fail to reach the fourth?”

The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa, “My pious friend, Bodhisattvas who are in the third bhūmi lapse and fail to reach the fourth in fourteen ways. What fourteen? They become addicted to dishonest gambling with the dice. They seek seclusion too often. When they come to rule over their kingdoms they are overcome by avarice and rob their own subjects[12] of all their possessions. They accuse of murder people who do not deserve to be called into account for any offence. They do not protect those in danger of being killed. They mutilate men. They fall into erring ways. Even though they have wealth they do not dispense to others the means of life. And though they take up the religious life they do not learn by heart the great doctrine,[13] even while the Buddhas themselves teach it. Although they have already made a vow, they do not preach the great doctrine. They follow those who are bound to the flesh, not those who are bound to dharma. They do not repeatedly declare the splendour of the Buddha. They teach that Buddhas are of the world.[14] They do not teach that Buddhas transcend the world.

“In these fourteen ways, my pious friend, Bodhisattvas who are in the third bhūmi lapse and fail to reach the fourth. All Bodhisattvas who, being in the third bhūmi, have lapsed, are lapsing, or will lapse, do so in these fourteen ways. There is nothing more to add.”

(97) When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Again, O son of the Conqueror, when the Bodhisattvas who do not lapse first evolve the thought of enlightenment, to what kind of wellbeing are they wedded, and how many creatures become happy and joyful?”

The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied in verse to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa:

All creatures become happy and joyful when this incomprehensible, marvellous thought, instinct and permeated with the idea of the way of enlightenment, is born in the great seers.

Those who are under doom of death in seven nights,[15] those who dwell in the pitiless hells, and those in the world of ghosts, all become glad and happy.

For those seven nights, in sympathy with the Bodhisattva’s virtue, men do not die. Earth, with its oceans, quakes, and the glittering summit of Mount Meru[16] trembles.

This earth as a rule remains fixed on its foundations, immovable in space. This is beyond doubt. But now, through the power of these beings who have laid up a store of all good deeds, this earth trembles in all its wide extent.

(98) Then a certain deva of Trāyastriṃśa, named Namatideva, who was a Bodhisattva, hitched his robe over one shoulder, and, stretching out his joined hands in the direction of the Exalted One, sang his praises in these verses in the presence of a throng of holy men.

Thee I praise, whose form, radiant as gold, with beauty uneclipsed by the newly risen sun and with lustrous splendour, is perfectly marked with all the thirty-two marks of men who live in the right way, thee I praise, who art supreme in goodness, full of splendour, mightier than the earth and its mountains, unsurpassed in strength, who art serene and self-controlled, skilled in mindfulness and the Discipline,[17] and revered of Suras and Asuras.

After many a course of life spread out over a long time, meritorious, conferring bounteous blessings, and aiming at the destruction of existences, the Sage, by means of divers praiseworthy merits previously achieved in plenty and variety through acts of goodwill, came near unto peace. But though he had found the eternal blissful abode that is honoured of Asuras and Suras, he renounced it for the sake of enlightening men. He came down to the surface of earth, was born in the family of Ikṣvāku,[18] and stood in glory, immovable and firm.

Desiring to enter the womb of Queen Māyā in the form of a noble lotus-white elephant, he, the light of the world,[19] left the fair realm of Tuṣita, and came down to earth to raise up the people whom he saw were wanton and blind and who had succumbed to doubt and unrighteousness.

(99) Then did the jewel-strewn earth, rich in varied treasure and wealth, quake in salutation to the great Sage, the lord of the Sākyans, who is rich in experience, replete with mindfulness, and well-stored with merit.

Queen Māyā was on the terrace of her valiant husband’s fair palace, like a goddess among the Suras, being entertained by merry dancing accompanied by songs and music that were a delight to ear, heart and eye.

To the anxious king the queen said, “My lord, if you will, I shall withdraw to the forest, to the Lumba[20] park, which is carpeted with flowers, and filled with the sweet notes of the cuckoo which give joy to heart and soul.”

She went, and wandered forth with her women, roaming the forest, glad and happy and eager. While she paced the forest, she espied a lumbinī tree bearing fresh creepers and shoots, and, in the rapture of perfect joy and gladness she grasped a branch of it, and playfully lingered there. As she held the branch she gave birth to the Conqueror of the unconquered mind, the great supreme seer.

As soon as he is born devas, with two showers laden with exquisite flowers, the one cold the other warm, bathe the Lord of men, who is honoured in the realm of the Asuras, the great Lord of the three worlds,[21] compassionate, the world transcending, a refuge here, in heaven and on earth, to whom old age and death are no more, whose like the earth does not know, who is wise, whose eyes are like a lotus-leaf, and who is the delight of Suras and Asuras.

All the devas, the Trāyastriṃśa devas and the others, glad and joyful leave their abodes and gather together in the forest glade. (100) “The scion of the Ikṣvākus” [they exclaim] “has come down to the earth’s surface where he stands in glory, immovable and firm.” When he had taken seven full strides, like the lion, the master, king and lord of beasts, he roared out,[22] “I unsurpassed, supreme in the world. For me there is no more either old age or death. I have overcome the oppression of existence.

A celestial sunshade studded with gems, clear as crystal and gay with flowers, brilliantly white like camphor, stood up of itself in the air, unsupported by hand, and shaded the Lord and Guide of men.[23] A chowrie fan made in heaven, of stiff strong hair, having the incomparable sheen of mother-of-pearl, studded with gems and gold, and pearly white, is waved with its handle upwards.

Loud roars of drums resound, echoing in the clouds and pervading the sky. In the path of Daśabala the Conqueror the devas pour down showers of celestial blossoms and powder of sandal-wood. Suras and devas give vent to hundreds of cries in their exceeding great joy. “The creator of happiness is victorious!” In ocean and on earth hidden treasures of many precious stones were revealed as the earth and water heaved through the power of the Tathāgata.

Here ends the third bhūmi of the Mahāvastu-Avadāna.

Footnotes and references:


Sandhicitta—a strange expression, the only parallel to which that is known to Senart is sandhyābhāṣya in the Lotus, translated by Burnouf (p. 343) as “le laṅgage énigmatique.” This parallelism, if it is anything more than formal, would require for the Mahāvastu expression some translation other than that given above. The term occurs too persistently to admit of any doubt as to its correctness. Now, the Mahāvastu does not define the temporal or spatial relations of the several bhūmis, but it would seem that there was conceived to be some intermediate stage between every two of them. As, then, the Bodhisattva’s citta, or state or disposition of the heart, within each bhūmi is so fully described, it becomes necessary to describe his citta when he is in the intervening stage, or in process of passing from one bhūmi to another.


Subhāṣitā gāthā—“a well-spoken verse.”


A lacuna, representing the second half of this stanza and that of the next one. The first half of the latter is evidently the introduction to a short tale which, on the analogy of the following, related an example of the Bodhisattva’s self-sacrifice. But it is too fragmentary to be translated. The next two stanzas are the subhāṣitā: gāthā [?] which he won by this self-sacrifice.


Vanāni—an example of a play on words. Vana in the first line is taken literally in its sense of “jungle” or “forest," but here it is equated with Pali vana (from vanati, vanoti—“to desire”)—“lust,” “desire." It is a commonplace of Pali exegesis to explain the meaning of the first vana with reference to the second. See Pali Dictionary, s.v.


A lacuna, representing probably the gāthā subhāṣitā referred to in the next stanza.


The second stanza on this page is omitted as it is obviously corrupt. It forms a part only, and an obscure one at that, of the account of a transaction between a Bodhisattva and a snake-charmer, who has a subhāṣitā gāthā for sale.


Ṛṣideva. Deva can here be no more than an honorific term. Ṛṣi, simply, is used below.


One of a class of demons, generally haunting the water, and nocturnal and harmful in their habits.


Paridevitakampana, an admittedly doubtful conjecture of Senart’s.


A demon, generally malignant.


Reading rāgo for nānā. So Senart.


Atrāntareṇavijitavāsinām, literally, “the conquered (or subject) inhabitants there within,” i.e. the subjects of the country to the government of which he has been appointed. Senart considers atra° to be due to a faulty restitution of atta° for ātma°, and translates “les habitants de leurs prop res territorie et de ceux des autres.” But such a conjecture is quite uncalled for, as the MS. atrāntareṇa—“there within,” makes satisfactory sense.


Bāhuśrutya, abstract term from the adjective bahuśruta. Compare Pali bāhusacca (implying a Sanskrit bāhuśrautya) and bahussuta.


Literally “they display the Buddhas on (for) an equality with the world,” lokasamatāye deśenti. This was, of course, a heresy from the point of view of those Buddhists, the Lokottaravādins, whose especial scripture the Mahāvastu was.


Text and interpretation both doubtful.


A mythical golden mountain at the centre of Jambudvīpa.


I.e. the Vinaya or the collection of rules and regulations governing the conduct of Buddhist monks.


Descended from Ikṣvāku, a son of Manu Vairasvata. See below p. 293.


Lokāloka. Cf. note p. 37.


In the tradition the name of this park is Lumbinī, but here the latter is the name of the tree. See immediately below.


The reference here is simply to the three worlds of popular conception viz. the world above (sc. of the devas), the earth, and the world below (niraya), rather than to any of the groups of three planes or spheres of psychological experience.


The text here is corrupt. The translation is made on the emendation suggested by Senart in his notes.


Reading nṛpatinayanaṃ for °tanayaṃ of the text. Even though tanayaṃ, from tan, “to stretch,” would seem at first sight appropriate here, it is difficult to see how the form could give the required sense, i.e. the sunshade “stretched over” the Lord of men shaded him. Note that one MS. actually has nayanāṃ.