The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes buddha’s visit to veshali which is Chapter XXIV 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 XXIV - The Buddha’s visit to Veśālī

(253) Here begins the story of the sunshades.

On the slopes of the Himalayas there dwelt a Yakṣinī,[1] named Kuṇḍalā, who in two successive years gave birth to five hundred sons, and when she had begotten these thousand sons she died. These sons were sent to Vaiśālī[2] to rob it of its strength,[3] and when they came there they robbed men of their strength.

There are two kinds of disease which are produced by demonic agency,[4] maṇḍalaka and adhivāsa.[5] The plague maṇḍalaka, when it attacks a family, does not spare anyone, but carries away everybody. The plague called adhivāsa attacks a whole district.

Now the people of Vaiśālī were stricken with the adhivāsa and many died.[6] They prayed to one deva after another, and they wondered who would come and relieve the affliction of the people of Vaiśāli. They sent for Kāśyapa Pūraṇa, saying, “Come, a demonic plague has broken out among the people of Vaiśālī. If you come, it will be allayed.”[7]

Kāśyapa Pūraṇa came to Vaiśālī but failed to allay the plague. And the people reflected, “Kāśyapa has come, but the demonic plague has not been allayed.”

Then they sent for Maskari Gośāliputra, but when he came, he, too, could not allay the demonic plague. They sent for Kakuda Kātyāyana, but he again, when he came, was not able to allay the plague. They sent for Ajita Keśakambala, but he again, when he came, could not allay the plague. They sent for Sañjayin Veraṭṭiputra, but he again, when he came, could not allay the plague. Finally, they sent for Nirgrantha Jñātiputra, but no more could he, when he came, allay the plague.

Now some dead kinsmen of these people of Vaiśālī had been reborn among the devas, and some of these called to the people of Vaiśālī (254) saying, “Those who have been summoned by you are not experts; they do not speak as experts, nor are they able to allay the demonic plague that rages among the people of Vaiśālī. Now here is the Buddha, the Exalted One, who has appeared after incalculable kalpas, an Arhan, perfectly enlightened, who is possessed of the insight that comes from perfect knowledge, who has great magic power and great majesty, who is all-knowing and all-seeing. Whenever he stays in a meadow on the outskirts of a village, all disease and strife, all riot, calamity and trouble in that village are stayed. Summon him, and when he comes the demonic plague that rages among the people of Vaiśālī will be allayed”.

He dwells, the fair offspring of the lotus-like womb, in Rājagṛha’s fair citadel. By him who has vanquished all the lusts, all unhappy strife is quelled.

To whatever stricken village, town or city the Golden One comes, he there quells troubles, as a heavy shower of rain lays the dust.

Fetch him whose beauty is radiant, whose splendour is golden, whose countenance is genial as the sun at noontide, who is sweetly redolent of virtue.[8] Thus will the plague be stopped.

Now at Vaiśālī there was a certain Licchavi[9] named Tomara, a courtier who was learned and had a great following and retinue. The people sought him and despatched him with the injunction: “Go to Rājagṛha, where the exalted Buddha is staying. He is staying there at the invitation of Śreṇiya[10] Bimbisāra. When you come to him offer him and his company the homage of the Licchavis of Vaiśālī. Inquire after his health, well-being, ease and comfort.[11] Speak to him thus, ‘Lord, among the Licchavis of Vaiśālī there has broken out a demonic plague, and many thousands have fallen on misfortune and distress. Well would it be if the Exalted One (255) who is beneficent and benevolent would come and bring mercy to Vaiśālī

Tomara obeyed the Licchavis, and with a fitting escort riding in fine carriages left the city of Vaiśālī and set out for Rājagṛha. He reached that city, entered it, and proceeded to the (place called) Kalandakanivāpa[12] in the Bamboo Grove,[13] in order to see, approach and worship the Exalted One.

Now at that time, on the holy day, the fifteenth day, the day of the full moon, the Exalted One was preaching the dharma which is lovely in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end, to five hundred monks and several thousands of other people, and proclaiming the holy life which is entirely perfect, pure and clean. Tomara the Licchavi, after proceeding in his carriage as far as the ground allowed, alighted and set out on foot to where the Exalted One was. But he was not able to make his way through the great crowd which was gathered there and reach the Exalted One.

So, throwing his robe over one shoulder, he held out his joined hands towards the Exalted One, and addressed him in verse:—

“On the pure holy fifteenth day the seers, with Śakra, lord of the Three-and-Thirty devas, gather to worship thee. By these art thou honoured, O thou who bearest what others cannot bear.[14]

“Shining forth thou fittest with thy radiance the farthest ways. Thou dost refresh all this multitude with thy teaching of the dharma as the great cloud refreshes the earth with water.

“When[15] they hear thy words, sweet as pure[16] honey, O great seer, and bear them in mind, they hold out their joined hands in adoration and praise, saying, (256) ‘We come to thy refuge, O thou who bearest what others cannot bear.’ And they receive thy acceptance and welcome.

“Here, Lord, am I with the Tomaras[17] who full of faith come to thy refuge, and who, thus zealous for the teaching of the Sugata, will make an end of birth and death.”

When these verses were concluded the great crowd made way, and Tomara the Licchavi went up to the Exalted One, bowed at his feet, and said to him, “Lord, the Licchavis of Vaiśālī, young and old, the people within Vaiśālī and those without, salute the Exalted One and his disciples. They inquire after his ease and comfort, and bid us say, ‘In Vaiśālī, Lord, a demonic plague has broken out, and many thousands have fallen on misfortune and distress. The Exalted One is merciful and compassionate towards the worlds of devas and men. Well would it be if the Exalted One would come to Vaiśālī and bring mercy to its people

The Exalted One replied, “O Tomara, the Tathāgata is staying here by invitation of king Śreṇiya Bimbisāra. Go and ask his permission.”[18]

Tomara the Licchavi bowed at the feet of the Exalted One, and after saluting him and his disciples three times from the right, he set out for Rājagṛha. There he went to king Śreṇiya Bimbisāra, and, after greeting him well and truly, said, “Your majesty, in Vaiśālī a demonic plague has broken out, and

many thousands are fallen on misfortune and distress. Six experts came in answer to our summons, namely, Kāśyapa Pūraṇa, Maskarin Gośālin, Ajita Keśakambalin, Kakuda Kātyāyana (257), Sañjayin Veraṭṭikaputra, and Nirgrantha Jñātiputra. But the demonic plague among the people of Vaiśālī was not allayed by their coming.

“Then, your majesty, the devas announced to the Licchavis: ‘Here is this Buddha, the Exalted One, who after an incalculable kalpa has appeared in the worlds of devas and men with the majesty of dharma. He is a shelter, a protection, a refuge, and a relief for the worlds of devas and men, a deva above all devas, a teacher of devas and men, of Nāgas, of Asuras, of Yakṣas, of Rākṣasas, of Piśācas, and of Kumbhāṇḍas.[19] Whenever he comes to a field bordering a village every disastrous[20] plague is checked by the influence of the Buddha, the dharma and the Saṅgha. Fetch him, and when he comes the demonic plague among the people of Vaiśālī will be allayed.’ Well would it be, your majesty, if you granted permission to the Exalted One to go to Vaiśālī and bring mercy.”

Thus addressed, King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra said to Tomara the Licchavi, “If, O son of Vasiṣṭha, the Licchavis of Vaiśālī will march out in procession as far as the boundary of their own territory to meet the Exalted One on his way from Rājagṛha to Vaiśālī, just as I shall escort him as far as the boundary of mine, then I shall allow the Exalted One to go from Rājagṛha to Vaiśālī.”

Then Tomara the Licchavi, in obedience to King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra, sent messengers to the assembly at Vaiśālī to report: “O sons of Vasiṣṭha, thus does King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra say to Tomara the Licchavi.” These messengers in obedience to Tomara the Licchavi went to Vaiśālī and reported to the assembled Licchavis: “Thus, O sons of Vasiṣṭha, does King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra answer Tomara the Licchavi: ‘If the Licchavis of Vaiśālī will march out in procession as far as the boundary of their territory to meet the Exalted One on his way from Rājagṛha to Vaiśālī, just as I shall escort him as far as the boundary of mine, then I shall allow the Exalted One to go from Rājagṛha to Vaiśālī

When this had been said, the Licchavis of Vaiśālī replied to the messengers, “Thus, O sons of Vasiṣṭha, must King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra be told on behalf of the Licchavis: ‘Your majesty, the Licchavis of Vaiśālī (258) will march out as far as the boundary of their territory to meet the Exalted One

The messengers in obedience to the assembly of the Licchavis returned to Rājagṛha and reported to Tomara. And Tomara the Licchavi, complying with what the messengers said, went to King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra and said to him, “Your majesty, the Licchavis of Vaiśālī will march out to meet the Exalted One. If it please you, allow the Exalted One to go to Vaiśālī and bring mercy."

King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra then allowed the Exalted One to go to Vaiśālī, and his ministers were bidden to prepare carefully the road from Rājagṛha to the banks of the Ganges and have it made like a chequer-board, level and even, like the palm of the hand, with an awning stretched over it, carpeted with bright cloth, draped with festoons of fine cloth, well-scented, sprinkled and swept, and strewn with flowers. “Make,” said he, “a pontoon bridge over which the Exalted One and his disciples shall cross the Ganges on their way to Vaiśālī. At intervals of half a yojana have tents provided with a supply of food and drink, beds and every amenity for the Exalted One and his disciples, so that he and his monks may travel in comfort from Rājagṛha to Vaiśālī.”

The desires of devas are fulfilled by the thought of their minds; those of kings by the word of command; those of rich men are fulfilled without delay, and those of the poor by their own exertions.[21]

So the king commanded, and his ministers prepared everything in accordance with his command.

The Exalted One set forth with his company of monks. King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra, with his chariots and troops, his queen, his son, his ministers and his court, carrying five hundred royal sunshades girt with festoons of fìne cloth, with flags and banners flying, in great royal pomp, magnificence and splendour escorted the Exalted One on his way to Vaiśālī, halting at intervals of half a yojana, until he came to the boundary of his domain on the banks of the river Ganges.

The Licchavis of Vaiśālī heard in what manner (259) King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra was escorting the Exalted One on his way from Rājagṛha to Vaiśālī. And when they had heard they in turn carefully prepared the road in their own domain from Vaiśālī to the banks of the Ganges, and had it made even and level like a chequer-board, like the palm of the hand, sprinkled and swept, strewn with garlands of flowers, with an awning stretched over it, carpeted with bright cloth, draped with festoons of fine cloth, and well-scented. Here and there they placed mimes, dancers, athletes,[22] wrestlers and musicians. At intervals of half a yojana they made provision of tents, with a supply of couches, drink and food for the Exalted One and his company of disciples. Within Vaiśālī they yoked eighty-four thousand chariots, nay, twice eighty-four thousand chariots, which were beflagged and merrily rattling, garlanded with pretty flowers, and carrying sunshades, banners and pennants. Having each mounted his own fine chariot with a fragrant garland in his hand, in great regal pomp and magnificence, and to the accompaniment of the great multitude’s concerted roar of cries and bravos, the sound of drums, tabours, cymbals, and trumpets, they went forth from the city of Vaiśālī as far as the river Ganges to meet the Exalted One and to do him honour.

N ow this was the manner of their array. There were Licchavis with dark-blue horses and chariots,[23] dark-blue reins and whips and staves, dark-blue garments, decorations, turbans and sunshades, dark-blue insignia[24] of swords, jewels, shoes and fans.

This has been described in verse[25]:—

Dark-blue horses and chariots, dark-blue reins, whips, and turbans; five dark-blue insignia, and dark-blue garments and decorations.

There were Licchavis with yellow horses and chariots, yellow reins, whips and staves, yellow garments, decorations, turbans and sunshades, yellow swords, jewels and shoes.

This has been described in verse:—

(260) Yellow horses and chariots, yellow reins, whips and turbans; five yellow insignia, yellow garments and decorations.

There were Licchavis with crimson horses and chariots, crimson whips and staves, crimson garments and decorations, crimson turbans and sunshades, crimson insignia of jewels, shoes and fans.

This has been described in verse

Crimson horses and chariots, crimson reins, whips and staves, five crimson insignia, and crimson garments and decorations.

There were Licchavis with red horses and chariots, red whips and staves, red garments and decorations, red turbans and sunshades, and red insignia of swords, jewels, shoes and fans.

This has been described in verse:—

Red horses and chariots, red reins, whips and staves, five red insignia, and red garments and decorations.

There were Licchavis with white horses and chariots, white whips and staves, white garments and decorations, white swords and white insignia of jewels, shoes and fans.

This has been described in verse:—

White horses and chariots, white reins, whips and staves, five white insignia, and white garments and decorations.

There were Licchavis with tawny horses and chariots, tawny reins, whips and staves, tawny garments (261) and decorations, tawny turbans and sunshades, tawny swords, and tawny insignia of jewels, shoes and fans.

This has been described in verse:—

Tawny horses and chariots, tawny reins, whips and staves, five tawny insignia, and tawny garments and decorations.

There were Licchavis with mottled[26] horses and chariots, mottled reins, whips and staves, mottled garments and decorations, mottled turbans, sunshades and swords and mottled insignia of jewels, shoes and fans.

This has been described in verse:—

Mottled horses and chariots, mottled reins, whips and staves, five mottled insignia, and mottled garments and decorations.

There were Licchavis with golden sunshades mounted on elephants caparisoned in varied adornments. There were Licchavis in golden palanquins decked out with jewels of all kinds, in beflagged golden chariots moving with a merry sound and carrying arrows and axes, sunshades, banners and streamers. In such pomp, array, and circumstance, with such regal power, magnificence and splendour did the Licchavis of Vaiśālī, accompanied by Gośṛṅgī[27] and Āmrapālikā[28] and the people generally, go forth with twice eighty-four thousand carriages as far as the banks of the Ganges to meet the Exalted One.

When the Exalted One, on the other bank of the Ganges, had instructed, gladdened, and thrilled King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra and brāhmans from Magadha with talk about dharma, and had established eighty-four thousand brāhmans of Magadha in the comprehension of it, he looked towards the Licchavis of Vaiśālī (262) and addressed his monks.

“Monks,” said he, “you did not see the devas of Trāyastriṃśa when of yore they set out from their city of Sudarśana to their pleasure-garden. So now look at the Licchavis of Vaiśālī. And why? Because, monks, it was with just such magnificence as theirs that the Trāyastriṃśa devas marched forth from the city of Sudarśana to their pleasure-garden.

Kinsmen who dwell in peace with one another enjoy prosperous and sound government. And so the Master, when he was among the Licchavis, compared them to the devas.[29] Though they were not seen[30] on that past occasion, such was the array of the Trāyastriṃśa devas when they came to the pleasaunce as is now the magnificence of the Licchavis.

Carrying golden sunshades, some on elephants, others in golden palanquins, and others in golden chariots, the Licchavis march out to the meeting.

All gather together with their kinsmen, young, middle-aged and old, decked out in crimson garments, and in glittering array march out to meet the Exalted One.

By this time pontoon bridges had been thrown across the river Ganges, by King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra, by those from within Vaiśālī (263), by those from without, and by the Nāgas of the Ganges, the Kambalas and the Aśvataras[31] (each party saying), “The Exalted One will cross by ours.”

Gośṛṅgī, by the mouth of a parrot, invited the Exalted One and his company of disciples to a meal on the morrow. The Exalted One silently intimated his consent, and through the Buddha’s power the parrot understood the Exalted One’s silent intimation of his consent. The bird bowed at the feet of the Exalted One and took leave of him and his company of disciples after saluting them from the right. It then returned to the lady Gośṛṅgī and said to her, “In your name I invited the Tathāgata, the Arhan, the perfect Buddha and his company of disciples to a meal on the morrow, and he silently accepted.”

The Exalted One stepped on to a bridge of boats. King Sreṇiya Bimbisāra saw the Exalted One on his bridge. Those from within Vaiśālī saw the Exalted One and his company of disciples on theirs; those from without Vaiśālī saw them on theirs, and the Kambalas and Aśvataras, the great Nāgas of the Ganges, saw them crossing by their bridge.

Footnotes and references:

1.

A female Yakṣa, see p. 25.

2.

Veśālī, the capital city of the Licchavis, see below p. 209.

3.

Ojohāraha, ojas, “strength” and hāraka, from harati, “to take away”; the adjectival ending -ka, as often in this text, expresses purpose.

4.

Ārddhā, from root ṛdh, which also gives ṛddhi (iddhi) so often used in the sense of “magic” or “psychic” power. Here it is identical in meaning with amanuṣya, “not human,” which is the adjective used elsewhere in this passage to describe the plague which befell Veśālī. “Demonic” is a convenient, though not exact, rendering.

5.

Or, respectively, a disease confined to a restricted area or circle, maṇḍala, and one affecting a whole neighbourhood or district, adhivāsa. It is possible, of course, that the former refers to the skin disease (white-leprosy) so called. Cf. the ahivātakaroga at Vin. i. 78-9, J. 2. 79; 4. 200.

6.

This account of the Buddha’s visit to Vaiśālī is found in Pali texts only in the Commentaries (KhpA. 160; SnA. 1. 278; DhA. 3. 436). The six experts who were called in to deal with the plague were the heads of six “heretical” schools contemporary with the Buddha. Their names in Pali are—Pūraṇa-Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Kakudha (Pakudha) Kaccāna, Ajita Kesakambala, Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta, and Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta. (D.P.N.)

7.

Pratipraśrabdha, and pratiprasrabhyati (below) from prati-śrabh or -srabh, not in this sense in classical Sanskrit, but so used in Pali (paṭippassambhati, etc., see Pali Dictionary).

8.

Varasurabhiśīlagandha. Senart compares kṣāntyā saurabhyasampannā, “fragrant with calm” in Lal. Vist. 41. 9, and refers to the use of the same figure elsewhere in Buddhistic style.

9.

The Licchavis were “a powerful tribe of India in the time of the Buddha. They were certainly Khattiyas, for on that ground they claimed a share of the Buddha’s relics. Their capital was Vesāli, and they formed a part of the Vajjian confederacy, being often referred to as Vajjis” (D.P.N.).

10.

Pali Seniya, the personal name of Bimbisāra, King of Magadha and patron of the Buddha.

11.

Sparśavihāratā, cf. Pali phāsuvihāra, “comfort.” This word confirms the etymology suggested in the Pali Dictionary for Pali phāsuka as being for Sanskrit * sparśuka, root spṛś, “to touch.” Cf. phassa (Sanskrit sparśa), “what is (pleasant) to feel or touch.”

12.

A place where food (nivāpa) or offerings were given to squirrels (kalandaka). See D.P.N. for other explanations of the name.

13.

Veṇuvana, the pleasure-ground of Bimbisāra at Rājagṛha.

14.

Or,” who triumphest over the invincible,” asahyasāhi.

15.

This pada is printed as part of the preceding stanza, but in sense it belongs to the next, and is so placed in the translation.

16.

Anelika, Pali aneḷaka, Buddhist Sanskrit aneḍaka (e.g. p. 339 of this text), negative from Pali eḷam, for Sanskrit enas, “fault, impurity.”

17.

Tomara would seem, therefore, to be a family or clan name.

18.

Cf. the rule according to which monks, if they have accepted an invitation to dine or stay somewhere, must not accept one elsewhere. See, e.g., V. 4. 77, kathaṃ hi nāma bhikkhū aññatra nimantitā aññatra bhuñjissanti, “For how can monks who have been invited to one place eat at another?” Cf. also V. 2. 153; 3. 10-11; 4. 81. (The translator owes these references to Miss I. B. Horner.)

19.

A class of demons. “They had huge stomachs, and their genital organs were as big as pots, hence their name” (D.P.N.).

20.

Literally (a plague) “the ill-luck of which was black-eared” kalikālakarṇī. Cf. Pali sakuṇa kālakaṇṇi, “a bird of ill-omen.” “Disastrous,” although constituting a change of metaphor, is used here in its usual metaphorical sense.

21.

This couplet which, as Senart points out, is evidently proverbial, is very elliptical, and to make its citation apposite here, the words “the desires of... are fulfilled” have had to be supplied in translating.

22.

Ṛllaka, see p. 187.

23.

At D. 2. 96 and V. 1. 231, these different colours are assigned also to different groups or clans (?) of the Licchavis themselves. The Commentary on the latter passage (VA. 1096-7) says that these were not their natural colours but that they were smeared on them—tattha na tesaṃ pakativaṇṇā nīlā, nīlavilepanānaṃ vicittatāvasen’ (v.l. vilittigattavasen’) etaṃ vuttaṃ.

 

24.

Vyañjanā, called kakudā below, where they are said to be five in number. Cf. the five as given at J. 5.264—vālavījanī (fan), uṇhīsa (diadem or turban), chatta (canopy or sunshade), pādukā (shoes), khagga (sword). See Pali Dictionary s.v. kakudha. The two lists vary slightly, and for vālavījanī the Mahāvastu has simply vāla, “horse-hair,” etc.

25.

The usual tatredamiti ucyate, “here it is thus said,” introducing a redaction in verse, which is probably traditional and the basis of the preceding prose account.

26.

Vyāyukta, an unknown word, of doubtful meaning. The translation follows Senart’s suggestion that the word may mean “de couleurs variées.” This meaning is, etymologically, not impossible, if, that is, the word is from vi (negative) + āyukta, “joined, yoked,” i.e. “not uniform or homogeneous” (in colour).

27.

Otherwise unknown.

28.

Pali Āmbapālī or Ambapālikā, a celebrated courtesan of Vaiśālī.

29.

There is a similar comparison between the Licchavis and the Trāyastriṃśa devas at D. 2. 96.

30.

Sc. “by the monks.” But the yehi in yehi na driṣṭapurvā can not be instrumental, but must rather be analysed into ye hi, the relative being anticipatory of the teṣam referring to the devas two pādas below. Even for the Mahāvastu this is an intricate use of the relative, and it looks very much as though the words yehi na driṣṭapurvā are due to a misunderstanding of the traditional text as we have it, e.g., in V. 1. 232, yehi bhikkhave bhikkhūhi devā Tāvatiṃsā adiṭṭhapubbā, oloketha bhikkhave Licchaviparisam, “You, monks, by whom the Tāvatiṃsa were not formerly seen, look on the concourse of the Licchavis.”

31.

Two tribes of Nāgas both mentioned as living at the foot of Mount Sineru.