The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes sunshades which is Chapter XXVI 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 XXVI - The Sunshades

When the Kambalas and the Aśvataras of the Ganges saw the five hundred sunshades of King Śreṇiya Bimbisāra and the five hundred sunshades of the people of Vaiśālī, they too held up[1] five hundred sunshades for the Exalted One as he crossed the river. The Yakṣas also held up five hundred sunshades, as did the Cāturmahārājika devas. An exquisite sunshade was held up by the deva Sunirmita. Five hundred sunshades were held up by the Paranirmitavaśavartin devas, five hundred by the Four Great Kings and five hundred by the Trāyastriṃśa devas. A sunshade was held up by Śakra, lord of the devas, by the deva Suyāma, and five hundred sunshades by the Tuṣita devas. The deva Santuṣita (Saṃtuṣita) held up an exquisite sunshade. Five hundred sunshades were held up by the devas of Brahmā’s world, and an exquisite one by Great Brahmā himself. (264) The Śuddhāvāsa devas held up five hundred sunshades for the Exalted One as he crossed the Ganges, and a Maheśvara[2] deva held up one.

By whom could these thousands of sunshades carried by devas and men for the Exalted One be exceeded?

Scions of kings faithful in the daily performance of religious duties deserve the sunshade. He deserves it, too, this illustrious valiant man.[3]

Those brave men deserve it who, victorious over foreign foes, wield invincible sovereignty....[4]

How then does not the Exalted One deserve hundreds seeing that he has vanquished all the lusts so that none remains, and vanquished Namuci,[5] too, and his hosts?

Carrying the five hundred sunshades which shone like tremulous stars, glittered like stars, and were of matchless brilliance, with handles bejewelled with beryl,

King Bimbisāra followed behind the Daśabala. And the Exalted One with his host went on towards the land of the Vajjis.[6]

Stepping on the bridge of boats the Exalted One crossed the water, and there on the other side were throngs of Licchavis holding up five hundred sunshades.

Then when they saw the mighty lord, the Nāgas who have numerous[7] dwelling-places in the mountains and those whose home is the Ganges held up five hundred sunshades.

Powerful and brilliant Yakṣas who wander the paths of earth and have numerous abodes therein, and Asuras, too, joyfully held up five hundred sunshades.

There, also, rejoicing devas held up five hundred sunshades with flowing garlands, and having the fair beauty of the full moon,

(265) While the Four Guardians of the world, with joyful hearts and free of pride and conceit, laid the dust raised by the dancers, and held up five hundred sunshades for one who is the equal of him who bears the earth.[8]

And he, the lord of the Three-and-Thirty devas, held up for the foremost in all the world[9] a sunshade that was a network of gold and jewels with a well-wrought garland of red flowers.

Suyāma,[10] too, came up to the lord of the Yāmas, who is adored by Yama, Varuṇa and Nāga, and held up a sunshade for him who moves with the speed of a storm-cloud,[11] a sunshade yellow like the autumn rain-cloud.

A dweller in Tuṣita, again, who was rid of delusion, assumed the grossness of corporeal form[12] and came and devotedly held up a sunshade for the Exalted One.

The deva Sunirmita held up a sunshade with its handle well-fashioned of beryl, its ten hundred ribs of gleaming coral, and its covering of flowers in bloom.

A Paranirmitavaśavartin deva fashioned for him who is extolled in the three worlds a sunshade covered with a weight of gold, with hanging garlands of clustered gems.

With devoted mind Brahmā held up a sunshade like the moon for him whose heart is as clear as the path of the wind, for the crusher of his opponents.

A Maheśvara[13] deva, again, held up for him who fully deserved it a sunshade made of the seven precious substances, adorned with festoons of celestial flowers.

Thus was this great throng of Kāmāvacara devas[14] assembled by their great lord,[15] the ruler of Suras, to do homage to him whose strength is matchless.

(266) The Exalted One conjured[16] up as many Buddhas as there were sunshades. They who held the sunshades did not see one another’s Buddha, and each thought, “Under my sunshade there stands the saviour, the Sugata, the standard-bearer.” Through the Buddha’s power devas and men beheld the abode of the highest of the devas.

Then the Exalted One, the moon-like man, conjured up by magic these many Buddhas. The Exalted One made them appear, but the crowd did not see one another’s Buddha.

In the aerial abodes of the highest devas the Buddhas of the ten powers make the serene heaven bright as a sacrificial post glittering with jewels.[17]

All are of golden colour, all endowed with the thirty-two marks of excellence, all are like a mass of gold, all move like stately elephants.

All are gracious in their ways, and their web of radiance is resplendent; all possess infinite virtue, all are creators of joy.

Devas and men, seeing the sky made resplendent by the Daśabalas, are greatly stirred by elation and utter shouts of Ha! Ha!

They move on in a vibrant loud-murmuring throng, and from the sky they release a cloud of fragrant powdery dust.

When they saw this magical miracle of the creation of Buddhas by the Exalted One, the devas paid him exceeding great homage. They showered on and over the Exalted One flowers of the coral-tree, of the great coral-tree, of the karkārava,[18] of the great karkārava, of the rocamāna (267) of the great rocamāna, of the bhīṣma, of the great bhīṣma, of the samantagandha, of the great samantagandha, and of the pāriyātraka,[19] flowers of gold and silver, powder of the sandal-wood tree, of the aloe-wood tree, and of the keśara. All around for six yojanas and to the depth of a man’s knees there is a flood of celestial sweet-smelling powder.

The monks asked the Exalted One, “What is this majesty, lord, for which these thousands of sunshades are held up by devas, Nāgas and kings? Is it the majesty of deva, or of Nāga or of Yakṣa?” The Exalted One replied, “Monks, this majesty appertains to the Tathāgata as a result of his righteousness in former lives. If the Tathāgata in the course of his many lives (saṃsāra) were not to awaken to the supreme perfect enlightenment, he would rule as many kingdoms of a universal king as there are sunshades here for the Exalted One. But, as it is, for the Tathāgata who has perfect virtue through the extinction of sin there will be utter passing away.”

Then the Exalted One said to the venerable Vāgīśa,[20] “Let there come to your mind, Vāgīśa, the recollection of a former association of yours with the Tathāgata.”

“So be it, lord,” replied the venerable Vāgīśa, and in obedience to the Exalted One he on that occasion recited these verses:—

“Once upon a time there was a Master, a brahman who had nothing to fear, being immune from rebirth, a brahman perfected in the holy life.

“Seeing men in misery and consigned to states of wretchedness, he set rolling the wheel of dharma, and shed abroad an incomparable light.

“When he had set rolling the wheel of dharma and shed abroad that incomparable light, he passed utterly away, a perfect Buddha, a great seer, with all possibility of rebirth extinct.

“For him his disciples who had naught to fear and his most advanced and well-trained students erected a tope to perpetuate his fame.

“Noble, priest and commoner paid homage to the great seer (268) foregathering there in motley garlands for dance and music and song.

“And then the brahman who was the wise parent of the Buddha thought, ‘What now if I were to make a canopy, fair and white, and studded with gems?’

“When he had raised this spotless canopy over the lofty tope, the father shed tears and paid homage to his son.

“Having performed this lovely deed in praise of the Buddha, the brahman died, as is the lot of those that are born.

“As a result of that act, during eighty kalpas of the world’s dissolution and evolution he experienced no rebirth into evil states. Such was the fruit that canopy bore.

“When he was reborn among men, he then ruled in righteousness as a universal king on earth, triumphant and mighty.

“He was a noble, possessing divers domains and a large retinue. He was honoured with a white sunshade which ensured his comfort.

“When he passed hence he was reborn in the deva-world, as the foremost of devas, worshipped by the body of the devas.

“Thus worshipped by the throng of devas and clothed in the garb of sovereignty,[21] he enjoyed while living there also the reward for the white canopy.

“Supreme of devas was he, and supreme of men, universally supreme of devas and men.

“Leaving that existence wherein he was supreme of devas and men, he passed into his last existence (269), and became a perfect Buddha, a seer, with the possibility of rebirth extinct.

“It was he who discovered the way that leads to the cessation of ill, and the winning of which makes an end of suffering.

“All the Buddhas of the past acknowledge[22] him to be the valiant and the glorious one; all those who like him were virtuous and wise acknowledge him to be the supreme of Buddhas.

“All the Buddhas who have been here[23] on earth from time to time without a doubt pass on to the state of bliss, thereby winning the reward of their own karma.

“Thou wert that wise brahman, and I was thy pupil,[24] I who have been urged by thee, O valiant one, to call to mind a previous birth.”

“Verily, so was it as you say, Vāgīśa. I was the brahman then, and you, friend, my pupil,

“You, who have been urged by me to call to mind a previous birth. Therefore men should offer banner and flag and white canopy.

“They should set railings round the topes and put thereon the mark of the out-spread hand.[25] Well does this conduce to the conferring of rich merit.

“This and whatever other honour is paid to the Buddha, all becomes productive, fruitful, and leading to immortality.

“For I know of no worship here on earth equal to this, much less superior to it. I know of none other by worshipping whom you will attain greater merit.

“If a man were to worship here on earth all the devas without ceasing (270) and make them all the most costly offerings, he would not gain equal blessings.

“It is no easier to win sight of the Buddhas, who are so great in glory, in mercy, in compassion and in beneficence, than it is to see the flower of the glomerous fig-tree.[26]

“Thus those who laud me for my concentration, my virtue, my wisdom, my attainment, my withdrawal from the world, for my exertion, my nobility of birth, and for my past, all become mighty and meritorious, command obedience[27] in all their lives, and become renowned among men.

“When a man has thus developed the roots of goodness, this prison-house of body will not trouble him much afterwards.

“Therefore one should perform meritorious deeds, thus laying up a store for the life beyond. For meritorious deeds are a sure foundation for men in the life beyond.”

When the Exalted One had crossed the Ganges he came to the frontiers of Vaiśālī and caused the demons of the plague to flee. But wicked Māra filled with living things the way which had been garnished with flowers and swept and prepared by the Licchavis for the progress of the Exalted One. He also conjured up a beggar named Kuṇḍala, who said to the Buddha as he went along this way, “Turn back.”

“The ground is covered with many creatures, small, large, and medium-sized. When the Buddha walks over these creatures lying on the ground, his tread will be the cause of suffering.”

(271) The Exalted One replied:—

“The touch of the Tathāgatas is as gentle as that of the breezes that waft lightly down from the sky. The touch of the bodies of the supreme Buddhas, the Tathāgatas, inflicts no harm.[28]

“The Exalted One can walk over beings without striking against them. He inspires them with no fear nor causes them harm. The Exalted One makes the green fields bear plenteous crops for all creatures.”

When the Exalted One and his company of disciples came near, the Licchavis asked him, “In whose house will it be the Exalted One’s pleasure to stay on the morrow? Will it be the house of one of the Vaiśālakas within the city or of one of those without?” The Exalted One replied, “O sons of Vasiṣṭha, the Tathāgata will not deign to stay with any of the Vaiśālakas, whether those within or those without.”

A parrot able to talk like a man had been sent by Gośṛṅgī to the other bank of the Ganges, and the bird in Gośṛṅgī’s name, had invited the Exalted One and his company of disciples to partake of a meal on the morrow. And the Tathāgata had accepted.

Then the Licchavis, the Vaiśālakas from within the city, the twice eighty-four thousand kings, and the rest of the great crowd, the wealthy nobles and householders, were stricken with amazement and wondered how a parrot could talk. The Exalted One replied, “What marvel is that Gośṛṅgī’s parrot talks with a human voice? O sons of Vasiṣṭha, this supremacy of the parrot was adjudged to it by other birds.”

Footnotes and references:


Literally “held out,” pragṛhita.


See note p. 155.


There is a lacuna here of a noun or nouns qualified by, or forming part of, a compound ending in sampannā.


I.e., some particular king present to the mind of the author of these verses, or a king in general. Senart takes the reference to be to the Buddha, but he is said below to be deserving of hundreds of sunshades.


I.e. Māra. See p. 165.


The text has Vaji, the popular form of the Sanskrit Vṛji, Pali Vajji. For the name Vajjis used to denote the Licchavis, see p. 209.


Mahābala. Senart cites the Mahāvyutpatti for this use of the word. See Böhtlingk and Roth s.v.


Dharaṇidhara for dharaṇīdhara, “bearing the earth,” epithet of fabled elephants, also of Śeṣa, Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa, and Śiva.


Jagāgrasya, is a doubtful conjecture of Senart’s.


Reading (e)va Suyāma for Vasuyāmā. There does not seem to be any mention of Vasuyāma devas elsewhere, although Senart lists the word Vasuyāma as a proper name in his index. The verb dhārayi, also, implies a singular subject. With this emendation the idea seems to be that Suyāma, himself the lord of the Yāma devas (see p. 165) comes to the Buddha as to an overlord.


Ghanapavanagati. Another doubtful reading.


Samvartitakharasamavapu. Otherwise these devas would be invisible.


Or Maheśvara simply. See note p. 155.


See p. 126.


Or Maheśvara. Here apparently the proper name of the lord of the Suras.


Literally “fashioned” or “created,” nirmita.


This description of the phantom Buddhas as appearing in the sky seems to be an interpolation here, for the rest of the scene is on the Ganges.


Cf. karkāru, “a species of gourd,” Beninkasa cerifera; Pali kakkāru, the same, but also “a heavenly flower” at J. 3. 87, 88.


The coral-tree Erythmica Indica, a tree in Indra’s heaven. Senart, following one MS., prefers the form pāriyātra(ka) to pāripātra, and regards the Sanskrit form pārijāta as “le reflet prâcritisant” of the former. The Pali form of the name is pāricchattaka, due to the popular etymology of pari + chatta, “shading all round.” For other trees in Indra’s heaven see pp. 27, 118.


See note p. 129.


Aiśvaryakambalasthita; but the reading is doubtful.


Some verb like abhijānanti must be supplied in this stanza. The reading in parts is not above suspicion.


Following Senart’s emendation ye ca tahiṃ for ye ca te hi.


Antevāsin, see note p. 22.


Pañcāṅgulāni, Pali pañcaṅgulika or °aka, i.e. an apotropaic mark as seen, for example, on the Bharhut tope. (See Pali Dictionary for references.)


See p. 190.


Ādeyavacanā, cf. Pali vacanam anādiyitvā, “not paying attention to his word.” PvA. 212.


Literally “no harm arises because of his body” (śarīramāgamya). For āgamya see note p. 198.

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