The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes fourth bhumi which is Chapter XI 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 XI - The fourth Bhūmi

(101) When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Again, O son of the Conqueror, what deeds do Bodhisattvas who are established in perseverance refrain from doing because they are out of place?[1].

The elder Kātyāyana, skilled in the Conqueror’s teaching, replied to the pious Kāśyapa in verse.

“Learn what deeds the Bodhisattvas practise, and what deeds they do not practise because they are out of place.

“The glorious Bodhisattvas do not deprive a mother or a father or an arhan of life.

“They do not create schisms in the Saṅgha, nor do they raze topes to the ground. They do not in any way harbour evil thoughts against a Tathāgata.

“They are not led to commit sin by their wrong belief.[2] They do not have to expiate[3] a bad deed; what need, I pray you, to expiate a good one?

“As they pass from one existence (saṃsāra) to another, they do not adhere to doctrine based on heresy, but only to the true doctrine or virtue based on knowledge.

“When they sit or lie in the shade of a tree they do not harm the leaves. Even in anger they do not resort to blows.

“These supreme men practise the ten right ways of behaviour. (102) They do not weave a spell to strike the person of another man.

“Wholly concerned with karma and detached from all excitement, they are not cast down by adversity nor elated by prosperity.

“In deed, in speech, in thought, their dispositions are wholly pure and their charity perfect.

“These men, honoured of the world, having reached the beginning of the eighth bhūmi do not lapse, and they definitely cultivate good karma.

“In all the other bhūmis, from the first to the seventh, these supreme men cultivate mixed karma.

“Cultivating such and other similar karma the mighty men pass through all the ten bhūmis filled with compassion for the worlds.”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Again, O son of the Conqueror, do Bodhisattvas who do not lapse pass into states of desolation like ordinary men, or do they not? Do they, like ordinary men, pass into very low states, or do they not?”

The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa, “Bodhisattvas, my pious friend, who are not liable to lapse, do not in the course of these seven bhūmis, in any way, for any reason, at any time, or by any chance, pass into a hell, nor are they reborn in a brute state, nor do they become poor(103) or infirm. But they become Brahmās, Pratyekabrahmās,[4] Indras, Upendras,[5] Yakṣa kings and Yakṣas, Nāgas and kings of Nāgas, Gandharvas and kings of Gandharvas, universal kings and kings of regions. They become chief counsellors, heads of merchant guilds, provincial chieftains, sons of kings and merchants and of a king’s chief wife. They become valiant, courageous and powerful leaders. They become men who are esteemed, respected, saluted and obeyed. They become men who are dear to, beloved of, and popular with the multitude. They become men whom people praise and delight in. They become wealthy men, powerful men, with a large retinue, men of resolution and influence. If, as a result of reviling an Āryan[6] at any time or in any way while they are in one of the seven bhūmis, they incur rebirth in the great hell Avīci, they go to an especial part of it. They are not reborn among the perpetual ghosts, nor among the Asuras. They are not reborn as inferior animals nor in Uttarakuru,[7] nor as women, nor as eunuchs. Thus, then, in all the ten bhūmis they become men, and have all the limbs, great and small, and all the faculties of men, unimpaired.

“If a Bodhisattva slays another Bodhisattva, or a disciple of the Buddha, or one who has entered the stream,[8] or if those who are qualifying themselves[9] for the state of a Pratyekabuddha(104) slay an ordinary man, they go to hell.[10] Whether Bodhisattvas in the first seven bhūmis murder or rob or commit any utterly wrong act, none of these things can lead them to hell. And as for the wrong karma accumulated by Bodhisattvas before they make their vow, this, once they have evoked the thought of enlightenment, is hidden away like a troop of deer by a great rock.

“If a Bodhisattva has not attained the condition of heart to make a vow, this matures in him in the course of his second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh bhūmis,[10] at the cost of whatever pain in the head that may be involved.”

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Again, O son of the Conqueror, with what kind of homily do the Tathāgatas exhort Bodhisattvas who do not lapse, when, having won the favour of the Buddhas as laymen, they go forth to the homeless state?”

Then the elder Kātyāyana replied to Kāśyapa, “By means of discourses without illustrations, arranged in due order.

“The lords, learned in the Jātakas and other lore, preach to the concourse of Bodhisattvas self-control, charity, and restraint, as the qualities that bring a Bodhisattva’s career to a great maturity.[12]

“The wise Tathāgata tells them too of Him, the supreme of men, who for the sake of mankind’s well-being, cultivates incomparable karma.

“He is styled ‘Lord’ by the Exalted One,[13] and takes up a life of austerity based on knowledge. (105) A Bodhisattva like this is rare in the world. So does the Conqueror expound in his teaching.”

“It is in this and like manner, my pious friend, that the Buddhas teach dharma to the concourse of Bodhisattvas

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Conqueror, to what stage of his career as Bodhisattva are the events related by the Conqueror in the Jātakas to be assigned?”

Then[14] the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied, “My pious friend, the Jātakas related by the Conqueror go back to the eighth bhūmi.”

“From what point do Bodhisattvas begin to renounce all they possess, and make difficult sacrifices?”

“It is from the eighth bhūmi that Bodhisattvas begin to renounce all they possess and to make difficult sacrifices.

“From the eighth bhūmi onwards, my pious friend, Bodhisattvas are to be honoured with the honour due to a perfect Buddha.

“On this point it is said”:—

From the eighth bhūmi onwards, O son of the Conqueror, Bodhisattvas are to be looked upon as perfect Buddhas. For after that they do not lapse.

Henceforth they are masters of the profound meditations[15] (106) and their knowledge is purified.

Henceforth they speak words that are founded on knowledge, and in their wisdom renounce life because of its vileness.[16]

Henceforth, whatever birth is pure that they do achieve, and whatever form is pure that do they win.

Henceforth, they are born of whatever sex they wish, and as whatever kind of deva they wish.

Henceforth, as ascetic pilgrims,[17] they become destroyers of existence; they abhor the pleasures of sense and extol release.

Henceforth, they become the most excellent of eloquent men, pupils of the glorious perfect Buddhas, the devas above all other devas.

Thus are they bidden by the Buddhas, the preachers of dharma, at the moment of their passing away, “O wise men, teach dharma, and take up the banner of the seer.”

Henceforth they train many to be arhans, and many to qualify for discipleship.

Henceforth, devas, Yakṣas, Guhyakas,[18] follow the great being, the Bodhisattva, until they win back their true nature.

Henceforth, the form of the Bodhisattvas is supreme in the world of men and devas, and unsurpassed are the lustre, the radiance, the fame and glory and might of the Bodhisattvas (107), and hard to attain by the world.

And though there are no Buddhas in the world at the time, the Bodhisattvas come to have 'the five super-knowledges.[19] Perceiving the depravity of lusts, they extol renunciation of the world.

Henceforth, devas, Asuras, and Brahmās, allured by their virtues, come to them with hands joined in adoration.

Such is the mode of life of the holy Bodhisattvas when they are in the eighth bhūmi.

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Conqueror, what sort of dharma do Bodhisattvas who do not lapse preach to men, when they exercise the sway of universal kings? When there are no Buddhas in the world, with what sort of appeal do they win men? In what way[20] do they deal[21] with men?”

The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied, “My pious friend, Bodhisattvas who do not lapse and are universal kings teach men dharma in this way. Intent upon the ten right ways of behaviour they proclaim to men: ‘Do not kill nor steal. Safeguard the wives of other men. Eschew falsehood, treachery, cruelty, frivolous and senseless talk, covetousness, malevolence and heresy.’ Laying up heaps of gold in front of their palaces, they declare,

Whoever is in need of anything let him take from this heap of gold. (108) My riches were acquired righteously; do not, my friends, have any misgiving.

I shall give you garlands, perfumes, incense and fragrant powder. Do not, my friends, be cast down, but be glad.

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “Through what kinds of deeds do Bodhisattvas who are universal kings become possessed of the seven treasures?”

The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied in verse:—

I shall relate how the valiant man, the king of the four continents, the wealthy lord, wins the seven treasures.

As the result of former meritorious conduct, the noble man wins the treasure of the wheel that shines like the orb of the newly-risen sun, and is lovely in all its ten-hundṛed spokes.

With honest intent[22] he dispenses charity that serves to help. Thus he wins the invincible and triumphant wheel that knows no obstacle.

He wins the wondrous treasure of the seven-limbed elephant that is lily-white like a mass of snow, and swift like the strong wind.

He destroys his foes, and thus makes safe the way in dangerous places. Thus does he win the fair treasure of the elephant that moves with the speed of a bird.

Through his store of merit acquired by good deeds well done, the king wins also the treasure of the well-trained horse, that is black as a bee, with a golden mane streaming in the wind.

(109) In his covered waggon[23] he has carried a mother, a father, and a venerable teacher, and for this good deed the king wins the wondrous treasure of the horse.


In a former existence the king was temperate in his enjoyment of his wife, and for this he wins the treasure of the woman.

The noble king, great in self-control, wins also the treasure of the householder who is wealthy, opulent, and plentifully supplied with a store of riches.

Because he has given of his stores of wealth to venerable teachers out of respect for them, the king wins therefore the treasure of the wealthy householder.

The mighty lord, free from desire, wins also the fair treasure of the counsellor, who is a wise leader, prudent and skilled, who is the guiding standard of the four continents.

In that he, having entered upon the Way himself, has shown the Way to the blind and the lost, he therefore wins the peerless excellent treasure of the counsellor.

It is by these deeds, my pious friend, that the treasures are won, and it is in such righteousness that the king rules the earth.

(110) When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyāpa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Conqueror, in what ways do Bodhisattvas, who have conceived the thought of enlightenment for the first time while in the fourth bhūmi, lapse and fail to reach the fifth?”

The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied, “In seven ways. What seven? They become corrupters of nuns, of men, and of eunuchs. By the power of spells they cause unnatural disease in others. They seduce good men from virtue. They become shameless and unscrupulous.[25] In these seven ways, my pious friend, do Bodhisattvas who for the first time, while they are in the fourth bhūmi, evolve the thought of enlightenment, lapse and fail to reach the fifth”.

Thus, then, O son of the Sugata, you have had explained to you the delectable fourth bhūmi of the Bodhisattvas whose goal is enlightenment.

Here ends the fourth bhūmi of the Mahāvastu-Avadāna.

Footnotes and references:


Asthānatāye (no) samupacaranti. The na is adopted from the reading of five MSS. Senart, however, rejects the negative, and translates “quelles actions... accomplissent pour avancer vers le but” [littéralement “pour ne pas demeurer en place”]. Below, line 7, Senart makes the obviously necessary correction of asthānanto into asthānatāye. Na sevante of this line corresponds closely with na samupacaranti of the passage in question, and it is not easy to see why Senart should reject the negative here and in so doing incur the necessity of giving a different sense to asthānatā in the two places respectively.


Reading, with Senart, drṣṭhiye for pṛṣṭhiye.


Nāśeti (for nāśayati). Cf, Pali nāseti (with abl.) in saṃe sense.


The text has brāhmaṇā and pratyekabrāhmaṇā, but, as Senart rightly points out, we have to do here with “divine categories,” and the reading should therefore be brahmāṇā and pratyekabrahmāṇā. “Brahmā” was a generic term for all the devas in Brahmaloka, the highest heaven, and generally referred to as Brahmakāyikā devas. The peculiar Buddhist treatment of the gods of Hinduism made them into celestial reincarnations of men, with the result that even Mahā-Brahmā himself was pluralised, the Pali texts mentioning several of them by name. Cf. below p. 84. In the same way, immediately below we read of Indras and Upendras. The term “Pratyekabrahmā” is a formation analogous with that of Pratyekabuddha, but though the Pali texts mention a few Pratyekabrahmās by name, no definition of this class of beings seems to be given anywhere. (See further D.P.N., s.v. “Brahmaloka.”)


Upendra was a name for Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa as a younger brother of Indra.


I.e., literally a member of an Aryan clan considered to possess superior moral qualities as compared with the indigenous tribes, and by implication denoting a Buddhist as being an Aryan par excellence. Hence “noble” in a moral sense, cf. “the four Aryan truths,” etc.


See note p. 7. Rebirth in this mythical land would not, from the description of it in Pali texts, seem to be on the whole a bad eventuality. Still, it was an inferior state to rebirth among the devas.


Śrotāpanna, Pali sotāpanna, the “stream” being, by a change of metaphor, identified with the “noble eightfold way.” Or, “the stream” of dharma.


Viniṣṭha. Senart doubts this reading as the prefix vi is neither found with nor is it apposite to the sense of, this participial adjective. He accordingly suggests pari° which is regular Sanskrit.


This seems inconsistent both with what precedes and with what follows, and Senart’s suggestion that the whole passage is an interpolation can be readily accepted.


Jātiṣu, for bhūmiṣu. Here, at least, a jāti, “birth,” of a Bodhisattva is synonymous with a bhūmi.


Literally, “great maturity,” mahāpakaṃ, shortened metri causa from mahāpākaṃ, is Senart’s conjecture for the meaningless sahāyakaṃ. Or, should we not read mahāphalaṃ, “great fruition”?


Bhagavato. Genitive for instrumental; or read bhagavatā.


Evamukte, “when it has been so spoken” or “when this had been said.” To avoid repetition, this phrase is left untranslated, or rendered “then” as here, in the ensuing dialogue, as often elsewhere.


Dhyāna, Pali jhāna, described and explained below, pp. 127, 183.


Kucchattā, explained by Senart as a pure Prakrit form, in virtue both of its inflexion -ttā for -tvāt, and of its stem kuccha for kutsa. The derived form kucchatva, a new formation for kutsā, does not appear to be found either in Sanskrit or in Pali.


Tīrthika. Usually in Buddhist Sanskrit this word has the bad connotation of “heretic,” Pali itthiya. Senart cites Lal. Vist. 313. 19 for the use of tīrtha, in a good sense. The classical Sanskrit form tīrthaka means “worthy,” “holy,” “ascetic,” etc., but, of course, from the Hindu point of view.


In the popular mythology demigods and guardians of Kuvera’s wealth. From the root guh, “to hide.”


Abhijñā. Pali abhiññā. See note p. 201, where they are, however, as usually in the Pali texts, given as six in number. Generally the Mahāvastu makes them to be five. Cf. S. 2. 216.


Read kevarūpaṃ for kevarūpām. So Senart.


Read na... upekṣante, for ca... upekṣante, i.e. “[do] not ignore.” Ca gives a sense contrary to the tenour of the passage.


Read °saṅkalpo for °saṅkalpe.


Hayana, so Senart, after the Amarakoṣa (187. 4).


The first line of the first of the two couplets which, on the analogy of the rest of the passage, should be devoted to the treasure of the “jewel,” is followed, after a lacuna in the text, by the second line of the first couplet on the treasure of the woman. Because of this confusion, the two lines are omitted in translation.


Anotrāpiṇas, corresponding to the Pali anottāpin, alternative form for anottappin, a negative adjective from ottappa. Senart, as against Childers and the P.T.S. Dictionary, derives ottapa from apatrapya, apa first weakening into ava = o. The latter form is found in Mahāvastu, 3.53 and in Daśabhūmīśvara, fo. 19a. The “r” in the Sanskrit anotrāpiṇ is, therefore, according to Senart, an example of “l’heureuse rencontre d’une restitution faite à l’aveugle.” The root trap, which literally means “to be ashamed,” certainly seems to suit the sense of this derivative better than tap used in a metaphoric sense, “to be tormented by remorse.” Besides, the Pali verb ottappati is difficult to explain as being from or for uttappati (so P.T.S. Dictionary), for there is nothing to justify the modification of ut (ud)- into ot-. But both the form and meaning are explicable on the supposition that this verb is derived from apa (= ava = o) + trap.

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