The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes enlightenment of dipamkara which is Chapter XXII 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 XXII - Enlightenment of Dīpaṃkara

In the middle of the lotus-pond a lotus appeared with petals as large as chariot-wheels, and surrounded by thousands of other lotuses. (228) The Bodhisattva sat cross-legged on that lotus, which immediately closed up to form a peaked roof over him.

All the outward marks of a layman vanished from the Bodhisattva’s person, and he appeared in the yellow robes of a recluse. Then, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, the Bodhisattva Dīpaṃkara entered and abode in the first meditation,[1] which is aloof from sense desires and from sinful and evil ideas, is attended by applied and sustained thought, and is born of solitude and is full of zest and ease.

Suppressing applied and sustained thought, he entered and abode in the second meditation, which is born of concentration, is full of zest and ease, and is free from applied and sustained thought through the mind becoming inwardly calm and one-pointed.[2] Indifferent to the fervour of zest,[3] he abode mindful and self-possessed,[4] and entered and abode in the third meditation, which is free of zest, and experienced in his person that ease whereof the Āryans declare, “He that is indifferent[5] and mindful dwells at ease.” By putting away ease and by putting away ill, by the passing away of the happiness and misery he formerly felt, he entered and abode in the fourth meditation, which is utter purity of equanimity[6] and mindfulness and is free of ill and ease.

Thus with heart composed, purified, cleansed, without blemish, free of the lusts, supple, ready to act, firm and unperturbed, he, in the first watch of the night, turned and applied his mind to acquire the sight of the deva-eye.[7] By means of his deva-eye he sees fair beings and foul beings passing away and coming to birth, perceives how they go to bournes of good and to bournes of ill in accordance with their karma.

Then the Bodhisattva, with heart composed, purified, cleansed, without blemish, free of the lusts, supple, ready to act, firm and unperturbed, in the middle watch of the night, recalled to mind his many different sojournings on earth, to wit, one birth, two births, three births, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, hundred, thousand, many hundreds (229), many thousands, many hundred-thousands. He recalled to mind kalpas of the world’s dissolution, kalpas of the world’s evolution,[8] kalpas of both evolution and dissolution, many kalpas of the world’s dissolution, many kalpas of the world’s evolution, and many kalpas of both dissolution and evolution. (He remembered thus:) “At such and such a time I was named so and so, I was of such and such an ancestry, belonging to such and such a family. I ate such and such food. I had such and such an end to my life, and I experienced such and such ease and ill.” Thus does he recount his different previous existences in all their details and particulars.

Then the Bodhisattva, with heart composed, purified, cleansed, without blemish, free of the lusts, firm and unperturbed, in the last watch of the night, in the flush of dawn[9] towards daybreak, woke up to all that the “elephant-man,”[10] the “lion-man,” the “bull-man,” the “red-and-white-lotus-man,” “the white-lotus-man,”[11] the “man of the yoke,” the “true man,” the “noble steed of a man,”[12] the peerless driver of tameable men, the Sugata,[13] the mindful, the steadfast, and the intelligent man has at all times and everywhere to know, attain, become aware of and become fully aware of; he awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment by insight gained in a momentary flash of thought.

And then this great earth trembled and quaked six times, and the devas of earth raised a shout and made it heard in heaven, as they cried, “This exalted Dīpaṃkara, friends, will become awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment for the welfare and happiness of man, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of the great multitude, for the welfare and happiness of devas and men.” When they heard the shout of the devas of earth, the devas of the heavens, namely, the Trāyastriṃśa devas, the Yāma devas, the Tuṣita devas, the Nirmāṇarati devas, and the Paranirmitavaśavartin devas, at that moment, at that instant immediately raised a shout that reached the devas in Brahma’s world, crying, “This exalted Dīpaṃkara, friends, will become perfectly enlightened. And he will become so for the welfare and happiness of men, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of the great multitude, for the welfare and happiness of devas and men.”

Then a great radiance, immense and sublime, shone forth in the world. And all the intervals between the spheres, regions of blackness lapped in blackness, of gloom lapped in gloom (230), and of eternal darkness,[14] where the moon and sun, powerful and majestic as they are, with all their brilliance cannot make their brilliance penetrate, with all their light cannot exert their light, even these regions become suffused with this radiance. The beings who had been reborn in those spheres became aware of one another (and cried), “Lo! There are other beings reborn here. Lo! There are other beings reborn here. Lo! There are other beings reborn here.” Now all these beings were for that moment, for that instant, immersed in bliss. Even those reborn in the great hell Avīci excelled the splendour of devas, of Nāgas, and of Yakṣas. The realms of Māra were eclipsed, rendered lustreless, gloomy and joyless. They fell in fragments, here for one kos, there for two, there for three. They fell in fragments for yojanas. Their standards too fell, and wicked Māra was unhappy, discomfited, remorseful, tortured by an inward sting.

There in his lotus pavilion, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, the exalted Dīpaṃkara was attended by the Four Royal devas, by Śakra, the lord of devas, by the devas Suyāma, Santuṣita, Vaśavartin, Great Brahmā, and a company of many other devas. They paid sublime homage to the exalted Dīpaṃkara. They scattered on, about, and over the exalted Dīpaṃkara flowers of the celestial coral-tree, of the great coral-tree, of the karṇikāra,[15] of the rocamāna,[16] of the bhīsma,[17] of the great bhīsma, of the samantagandha,[18] of the great samantagandha, and powder of the sandal-wood tree, of the aloe-wood tree, of keśara, and of tamāla leaves. They worshipped him with thousands of celestial musical instruments. And then he was entreated by Great Brahmā to set rolling the incomparable wheel of dharma.

The exalted Dīpaṃkara silently intimated his assent to Great Brahmā. When the devas understood that he assented, rejoicing, delighted, enraptured, (231) joyous and content, they bowed at the feet of the exalted Dīpaṃkara, saluted him three times from the right, and departed.

After that night, the Exalted One emerged from his retirement and went wandering through the provinces.

Like the golden newly-risen sun in the sky, Dīpaṃkara fills a hundred yojanas with his radiance.

As he went on his way doing good to a great multitude of devas and men, Dīpaṃkara, out of pity for his father Arcimat and his kinsfolk, came with eighty-thousand monks to the royal city of Dīpavatī. King Arcimat heard of this, for they told him, “The exalted Dīpaṃkara with eighty-thousand monks is coming to the royal city of Dīpavatī out of pity for his folk.”

They carefully prepared the ten kos way from the park in the Lotus Grove to Dīpavatī and had it made even, like a chequered board, like the palm of a hand; they had it sprinkled and swept, with an awning stretched over it, and carpeted with bright cloth, festooned with bands of fine silk, well-scented, and crowded with dancers, mimes, athletes,[19] wrestlers and musicians in all directions. Still more was the universal king’s citadel decorated, being made gay with hundreds of festoons. A rich scented garland was held by King Arcimat, and the people, too, everywhere from twelve yojanas around brought their garlands. And the king with eighty-thousand of his vassals and other people went forth to meet the exalted Dīpaṃkara.

Footnotes and references:


Dhyāna, Pali jhāna. The translation above follows closely that of the jhāna passages in the Pali texts, e.g., A. 4.410f. (= Grad. S. 4. 276) and D. 1.37-8 (= Dial. 1.50-1). In the case of the first jhāna, however, the Pali texts have vivicca, “aloof,” in the nominative agreeing with the subject, while the Mahāvastu has viviktaṃ, accusative, agreeing with dhyānam.


Adhyātmasaṃprasādāccetasa: ekotībhāvād. Instead of adhyātma, which evidently has adverbial force, the Pali has the adjectival ajjhattam, taken in Grad. S. (l.c.) as qualifying jhānaṃ and translated “self-evolved,” but in Dial, (l.c.) as qualifying sampasādanam and translated “internal.” In place of the causal genitives samprasādād and ekotībhāvād, the Pali has the accusative substantives sampasādanaṃ and ekodibhāvaṃ used apposition-ally to jhānaṃ.


Pritervirāgādupekṣaka. Upekṣaka is adjective from upekṣā, Pali upekkhā or upekhā, “hedonic neutrality or indifference, zero point between joy and sorrow, disinterestedness, neutral feeling, equanimity. (Pali Dictionary.)


Reading samprajāna for samprajānaṃ.


I.e. to emotion.


Upekṣā. See note 2 above.


See note pp. 125-26.


Samvartakalpa and vivartakalpa. See note p. 43.


Nandīmukhāyām rajanyām, “in the joy-faced night,” although the etymology is not certain. Nandīmukhā is found as an epithet of night, especially of the eve of the uposatha, in Lal. Vist. 441, 447, and in Pali at V. 1.288 and 2. 236.


In other places where these expressions occur they have been rendered by conventional epithets such as “heroic,” “valiant,” etc., but they have been rendered literally here, because, coming together in the same sentence they have a certain naïveté which would be spoilt by a paraphrase.


With these two terms cf. samaṇapuṇḍarīka and samaṇapaduma at A. 2. 86-90.


Puruṣājāneya. Ājāneya, Pali ājāniya (contr. ājañña), “of good race or breed,” especially applied to a thoroughbred horse.


Here denoted by the synonymous gatima = gatimant.


Literally “darkness (or blackness) become darkness long ago,” aghā aghasaṃbhūtapūrvā. The Pali Dictionary, s.v. agha, wrongly cites this as aghasaṃvṛta°. (The reference, 2. 240, is also wrong; it should be 1.230 and 1.240). See note p. 35.


Pterospermum acerifolium or Cassia fistula.


Unknown, but cf. rocana, the name of various flowering trees.




Name of a tree and its flowers in the Mahāvyutpatti,


Ṛllaka. This word occurs also in the Lotus and is translated (p. 170) and explained (p. 409) by Burnouf as “musiciens,” on the analogy of ṛllari “a musical instrument.” He suggests, however, that the word may be a mistake for jhallaka or jhalla, which is given by Böhtlingk and Roth as meaning “athlete.” This suggestion is accepted by Senart, and followed in the translation.

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