The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes seventh bhumi which is Chapter XIV 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 XIV - The seventh Bhūmi

When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “My pious friend, what is the state of heart, linking the two bhūmis, of Bodhisattvas who do not lapse, as they advance from the sixth bhūmi to the seventh?

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

The mind of the supreme benefactors of mankind is bent on self-control. Such is their state of heart that links the two bhūmis as they advance to the seventh.

(128) When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Conqueror, with what quality of act of body, do Bodhisattvas who do not lapse become endued from the first bhūmi onwards? With what quality of act of speech, with what quality of act of thought? In short, with what quality of being do they become endued?”

The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied to the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa, “From the first bhūmi onwards these are the acts of Bodhisattvas who do not lapse. They preach and commend abstention from murder. They praise beings in the various bhūmis who are so disposed and who do not henceforth in any way, even when associated with evil companions, deprive living things of life. After passing through the first seven bhūmis, they conceive pity for those beings who have a hard lot to bemoan. They apply themselves to the practice of morality. They renounce their kingdoms or whatever sovereignty is theirs. They go forth from home into the homeless state, and they constantly preach the dharma of abstention from murder.

“Once upon a time, my pious friend, when he was in his seventh bhūmi, this Perfect Man was a king named Kuśa. His queen was named Apratimā, she who has since become Yaśodharā, the mother of Prince Rāhula. He who is now the wicked Devadatta was then a regional king,[1] named Jaṭhara. When Jaṭhara heard of Queen Apratimā, the passion of desire seized his mind, and he sent a messenger to King Kuśa, saying

Give me your consort Apratimā, let her become my wife. If you give her not, then get your forces ready to fight.

Send me a message, O king, to acquaint me of your choice. (129) If you do not, so will you and your kingdom fall into my power.

When he heard this, King Kuśa said to his wife, “Listen, my queen, to the words of faṭhara, and tell me what you think of them.”

The queen, shedding a flood of tears, replied to King Kuśa,

“My lord, I am adept[2] whether the need he for stabbing or thrusting with the sword, and so expert that not even you surpass me in the use of arms.

“O king, you shall see Jaṭhara’s proud[3] head cut off by me and rolling all gory at your feet.

“Woman though I am, I’ll shoot an arrow that will pierce faṭhara’s body, nay, go through it and pierce the ground where it lies food for dogs.

“Whether he be on horseback, in chariot, or riding an elephant, or at the head of a brave army, I will make an end of faṭhara.

“However invulnerable he may be, I’ll slay him by some means or other, by incantation, speū, or ruse of words.[4]

“I would deliver you, my lord, of two such foes as he; my magic power is incalculable, the world is as straw to me.

(130)“Let the king, therefore, be undismayed, and, wearing sweet-smelling garlands, let him pace his palace-grounds and amuse himself among his thousand women.”

“Then, O son of the Conqueror, Queen Apratimā devised a trick whereby King Jaṭhara, all unsuspecting, entered King Kuśa’s inner apartment, and fell into her power. Queen Apratimā then put her right foot over King Jaṭhara’s heart and her left on his ankles, and recited these verses:—

When bees sip the flowering creepers of the forest in spring-time, their wings become spotted with pollen,

You have not heard it said, O wretched man, that the creepers still preserve their virgin freshness. Other bees do not take their pleasure there.

You have not heard it said, O wretched man, that the lotus

which a wild elephant in rut has once uprooted, trampling it in mud and water, still preserves its virgin freshness. Other elephants do not wanton there.

You have set your heart on winning this graceful woman of faultless body, who, when she lies at night like a necklace of pearls in the arms of an honoured king, trembles with joy. You are like a man who, standing on earth, would fain win the moon.

(131) “Then, my pious friend, at that moment King Jaṭhara cried out, “Be gracious, lady, and spare me.” And King Kuśa said to Queen Apratimā:

“O queen, let this craven man go unpunished, for he has turned to you for protection, holding out suppliant hands. Such mercy is the dharma of the good”

“Once upon a time, my pious friend, this Exalted One, being then a king of the Nāgas, named Ugra, had been brought under the spell of the charms and magic herbs of a wizard, and was held in duress.[5] But through his carelessness the wizard’s spell lost its power, and Ugra, the Nāga king, said to himself, “I could easily reduce this wretched man to ashes, but that would not be seemly for us who are devoted to the preservation of dharma.” And he recited this verse:—

You have lost the spell of your magic, and I could with my own power reduce you to ashes. But I spare you, and as far as I am concerned, long life be yours.

“Once upon a time, my pious friend, this Exalted One was a lion, a king of beasts, and this wretched man Devadatta was a hunter.

“Now the hunter, under the influence of a bitter hatred long pent up, shot the lion with a poisoned arrow when he was alone in the forest, in a small grove that was his wonted haunt, reclining unsuspecting, motionless, tranquil, and without looking round. When he had been shot, the lion, unmoved, with inexhaustible fortitude, and relying on his own strength and without any fear(132) slightly raised his head, and saw that worthless man timidly approaching his lair. And when he saw him, he reflected, “Now I could easily kill that foolish man, even though he were to run to a mountain-top, to a cavern, to a wood, or even to hell itself.”

But having quoted the words, “Hatred is not allayed by hatred”[6] he recited this verse:

I am shot by a poisoned shaft that wounds me in a vital spot. Let not the same happen to-day to this terrified man. You have nothing to fear.

“Once upon a time, my pious friend, this Exalted One was a worthy caravan-leader. Now the caravan, under the guidance of the treacherous Devadatta who was in collusion with brigands, happened to go on a long trek through the forest. Moved by long-standing hatred Devadatta went up to the caravan-leader to point him out for the brigands to kill. But the brigands were seized by the merchants led by the caravan-leader. When, with their guide in front, they were led up for execution, they cried out in their helplessness and implored the caravan-leader to spare them. And the guide himself, guilty as he was of treachery, raised suppliant hands and begged the caravan-leader for immunity. Then in him, whose life was lived in mercy, there was aroused the compassion that he had fostered during hundreds of thousands of existences, and he granted pardon to the would-be murderers.

Then he addressed the guide:—

Though I could release smoke on the wind to destroy the whole land, and guide and robbers as well, yet I let them go with their lives.

“Again, my pious friend, when this Exalted One was a king, his principal wife (133) was caught in sin. But in response to her entreaties he spared her life, even though she had already been led out to the place of execution.

The king, endued with the gentleness and rectitude he had accumulated in the past, calmed the queen’s fears, and recited this verse:

The executioner could make his steel pierce her body, which is as soft as a vessel of unbaked clay. But I spare your life and restore you to your former position.

“Such and others like them, my pious friend, are some of the hundred thousand difficult acts of body, speech and thought which are performed by Bodhisattvas who do not lapse.

“They are Bodhisattvas who live on from life to life (saṃsāra) in the possession of manifold good qualities. They are Bodhisattvas who have won the mastery over karma, and made their deeds renowned through their accumulation of merit. They are resolute and valiant, intent on endurance, trustworthy, upright and sincere. They are generous, firm, gentle, tender, patient, whole[7] and tranquil of heart, difficult to overcome and defeat, intent on what is real[8], charitable, and faithful to their promises. They are intelligent, brilliantly intelligent, gifted with insight, and not given to gratification of sensual desires.[9] They are devoted to the highest good. They win converts by the (four) means of sympathetic appeal.[10] They are pure in conduct and clean of heart, full of exceeding great veneration, full of civility to elder and noble. They are resourceful, in all matters using conciliatory and agreeable methods, and in affairs of government they are adept in persuasive speech. They are men whose voice is not checked in the assembly, men who pour forth their eloquence in a mighty stream.[11] With knowledge as their banner they are skilled in drawing the multitude to them. They are endowed with equanimity, and their means of living is beyond reproach. They are men of successful achievements, and are ready to come to the assistance of others and help those in distress. (134) They do not become enervated by prosperity, and do not lose their composure in adversity. They are skilled in uprooting the vices of mean men.[12] They are unwearying in clothing the nakedness of others.[13] They are anxious not to blight the maturing of their karma, and they acquire the roots of virtue by keeping themselves aloof from passion, hatred and folly. They are skilled in bringing solace to those in trouble and misfortune. They do not hesitate[14] to render all kinds of service. In all matters they are untiring in their purpose. They are endowed here in this world with the profound attributes of a Buddha. In their progress towards their goal they are undefiled in acts of body, speech and thought. Through the uprightness of their lives in former existences they are untarnished and pure in conduct. Possessing perfect knowledge they are men of undimmed understanding. They are eager to win the sphere of power of a Buddha—so far are they from refusing it.[15] With knowledge as their banner they are untiring in speech and skilled in teaching.[16] Being of irreproachable character they are immune from disaster. They are free from sin. They shun the three-fold distractions.[17] Leaving vain babblers alone,[18] they love their enemies. They do not indulge in sexual pleasures.[29] They know how to win the affection of all creatures. When they enter the world they become endowed with powers that are in accordance with the vow they have made. In all matters they are skilled in the knowledge of correct and faulty conclusions. They are rich in goodness[20] and blessed with good qualities. Eminent, wise in their illimitable virtue, they are serene among their fellows.

On this matter it is said:—

As it is not possible for any bird to reach the confines of the sky, so is it not possible for any man to comprehend the good qualities of the self-becoming Buddhas.

“All the charms and medicines, my pious friend, which have been devised for the benefit and welfare of the world and for the service of men, (135) were discovered by Bodhisattvas. All the remedies that are current in the world for the benefit and welfare of men were prescribed by Bodhisattvas. All the sciences devoted to the ascertainment of truth which are known in the world were developed by Bodhisattvas. All the methods of calculating in the world, and all the forms of writing were invented by Bodhisattvas. All the names of the styles of writing known in the world were introduced by Bodhisattvas. These[21] are the Brāhmī style, the Puṣkarasāri, the Kharosti,[22] the Yāvanī (Greek),[23] the brahmavāṇī, the puṣpā, the kutā, the śaktinā, [24]  the vyatyastā,[25] the lekhā,[26] the mudrā,[27] the style of Uttarakuru,[28] of Magadha, that of the Daradas,[29] of the Chinese, of the Hūṇas,[30] of the Abhīras,[31] and of the Vaṅgas,[32] the sīphalā style, the Tramiḍa (Dravidian),[33] the Dardura,[34] the Ramaṭha,[35] the bhayā, the vaicchetukā, the gulmalā, the hastadā, the kasūlā, the ketukā, the kusuvā, the talikā, the jajarideṣu, and the akṣarabaddhā.[36]

“All fields of gold, silver, tin, copper, lead, precious substances and gems were revealed by Bodhisattvas. All the expedients that exist for the service of men were the inventions of Bodhisattvas.

“On this matter it is said”:—

The peerless pre-eminent men pass through their successive lives (saṃsāra) aware of what is good for the world. Their lives are better than those of devas, men, and Guhyakas. For the perfect knowledge gained by these lords is unsurpassed.

(136) When this had been said, the venerable Mahā-Kāśyapa asked the venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana, “O son of the Conqueror, what is the state of heart of Bodhisattvas who do not lapse (as they advance from the seventh bhūmi to the eighth?)”.[37] The venerable Mahā-Kātyāyana replied, “There arises in them, my pious friend, a heart that is set on the great compassion[38] as they advance from the seventh bhūmi to the eighth.”

Such is the description of the seventh bhūmi.

Here ends the seventh bhūmi of the Mahāvastu-Avādana.

Footnotes and references:


Pradeśarājā, as distinguished from a cakravartin. (See note p. 1.)


Reading bhadrā for bhadra. So Senart.


Samakūṭam. Senart takes this as equal to kūṭasamam, and translates “haute comme une montagne.” But as kūṭa originally means “forehead” the meaning may be simply “proud” or “haughty” (carriage of the head).


Vacanakartṛma, which must be taken as equivalent to kartṛmavacana. Senart explains kartṛma as an arbitrary restitution from the Pali kittima, “artificial,” “clever.” The regular Sanskrit form is kṛtṛma.


Sambādhamāpanna, cf. Pali sambādhapaṭipanna, of the moon when eclipsed. (5. 1. 50.)


I.e. Dhammapada, 5: Na hi verena verāni sammantīdha kudācanam.


Aparyādinnacitta. See above p. 66.


Satvayukta, unless we should read satyayukta, “devoted to truth,” “truthful”.


Atittiga, according to Senart, a Pali form for the Sanskrit atriptiga, tṛpti (Pali titti) being often used by the Buddhists to denote “gratification of sensual desires.”


Saṅgṛhītagrāhiṇas, here taken to refer to the four sangrahavastūni. See above p. 4.


Literally “making a mighty voice to flow,” ugravacanamarṣayitṛ.


Literally “men who look on what is mean or despicable,” kutsitadarśin.


Parakopīnacchādaneṣu aparikhinnās. Kopīna is the Pali corresponding to the Sanskrit kaupīna, “pudenda,” “loincloth.” Senart prefers to give a figurative meaning to the expression and translates,”ils sont infatigables à dissimuler les actions honteuses du prochain.” He also refers to the further meanings of kaupīna given by Böhtlingk and Roth, viz. “Unrecht” and “Unthat.”


Literally “are not kept away by doubt” vicikitsā-aparivarjita.


A curious sentiment. Literally “their main object is not to refuse it,” apratyādeśanaparās.


The MS. pravarjana hardly makes sense, and Senart, therefore, suggests pravacana in the sense of “teaching.” (Cf. Pali pāvacana.) This suggestion is adopted here as giving adequate sense, although Senart also suggests as an alternative reading, āvarjana, the Sanskritisation of the Pali āvajjana, which would give the meaning “skilful in attending or turning [to impressions at the doors of their senses].” See S. Z. Aung and Mrs. Rhys Davids)">Cpd. 85, 227; Kvu. trs. p. 221. n. 4.


Auddhatya, “a strange distortion of the Pali uddhacca, “overbalancing, agitation, excitement, flurry.” (Pali Dictionary.) See on this term Dial. 1. 82; Dhs. trs. 119; S. Z. Aung and Mrs. Rhys Davids)">Cpd. 18, 45, 83.


Sthitalapā, thus translated, on Senart’s suggestion that it equals sthapitalapā.


Reading amaithunagāminas for maithuna° which all the MSS. have!


Adopting Senart’s suggestion and reading sattvāḍhyās for the satvādyās of the text.


Terms derived from geographical, national, or tribal names are written with a capital initial. A few others can be explained etymologically as denoting peculiar variations of a standard type, but the rest are obscure. See Senart’s note, in which he calls attention to the analogous list in Lal. Vist., 143, 17 ff., which however, is not sufficient to restore all the doubtful terms in this list. All are here rendered by the feminine adjectival form to agree with lipi, “writing,” with which most of them are compounded.


I.e. Kharoṣṭhī.


Yāvanī, “Ionian” or “Greek.”


Senart suggests, on the analogy of Lal. Vist., which has śakārilipi, that the right reading is śākāri, and cites the Prakrit dialect of the same name.


“L’écriture tournée” (Senart).


“L’écriture épistolaire” (Senart).


“L’écriture des sceaux” (Senart).


The text has ukaramadhuradarada, which is obviously corrupt. Senart suggests uttarakurudarada, or, perhaps better, uttarakurumagadhadarada. The second suggestion has been followed here.


? the people of what is now Dardistan in Kashmir.


? the Huns, who broke up the Gupta empire at the end of the 5th century A.D. (Cambridge History of India, 1. p. 304.)


A tribe of northern India.


The people from whom Bengal derives its name. The MSS. have vanda (sic).


Tramiḍa. For the variant forms of the name of this people see Caldwell: Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages, pp. 12-14.


A mountain in the south of India.


A people in the west.


Akṣarabadhaṃ, a conjecture of Senart’s for akṣabadhaṃ of the text, and translated by him, “liée aux lettres, s’exprimant par la succession des lettres.”


The answer shows that the words bracketed must be supplied.


Mahākaruṇā. See note p. 157.

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