The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes gotama’s youth which is Chapter III 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 III - Gotama’s youth

King Śuddhodana, his women-folk and a young boy were out walking in the pleasure grounds. As the Bodhisattva strolled in the pleasure grounds he came to tilled lands where he saw some ploughs at work. These ploughs threw up a snake[1] and a frog. The young boy took the frog to eat, but threw away the snake. The Bodhisattva saw this, and became deeply stirred by the sight.

Pleasure, the body and life itself are burnt out together. Now I shall attain deathless release from existence. For I can not check my exertion, which is like the flow of the ocean’s water on the sea-shore.

The Bodhisattva was sitting in the shade of a rose-apple tree in the forenoon, and the shade did not leave[2] him as the sun’s rays moved round. He stayed there immersed in the first meditation,[3] which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought.

From the slopes of the Himalayas five seers came travelling through the air on their way to the Vindhyas. But they could not pass over the Bodhisattva.

We have passed over the lofty and broad[4] peak of Meru with its precious stones and diamonds (46) as easily as an elephant cuts its way through the dense forest-trees of Vṛndā[5] with their interlacing boughs.

We can pass safely over the immortal strongholds, the abodes of devas and Gandharvas, supporting ourselves high in air. But near this wood we have to come to earth. Pray whose presence does this magic portend?[6]

Devas recited verses in reply:

It is the son of the Śākyan king, the scion of a kingly race. Adorned with his many radiantly beautiful and excellent marks, he is resplendent like the newly risen sun.

Here alone in the wood, absorbed in meditation, is the prince. This power of magic is the sign of him who is blessed with hundreds, yea, koṭis of good qualities.

For he is the true light that has appeared in the blinding darkness. He will attain that dharma which will comfort the world of life.

The Great Sage has appeared in a world that was scorched by the fire of lusts. He will attain that dharma which will gladden the world of life.

Through the wild wastes of the ocean of sorrow a goodly course has been found. He will attain that dharma which will lead men across the world of life.

The three-fold world was lost in the wilderness of recurrent birth. He, with his vision, will point out the most excellent Way.

During the long night the sons of men were bound to the way of rebirth (saṃsāra). But he, the king of dharma, will set their fetters loose.

(47) When men are abused they yearn for a brave champion. In council they yearn for a wise man, and at meal-times they love to honour a dear friend.[7]

When it was time to eat the king asked for the boy. “Where will the boy take his food?” asked he. When they heard the king, chamberlains, eunuchs, grooms and dwarfs ran out in all directions in search of the boy. A chamberlain saw the boy meditating in the shade of the rose-apple tree, and though the sun’s rays moved on the tree’s shadow did not leave the boy. Seeing this, the chamberlain was amazed, and thought that the boy was greatly blessed in that a lifeless thing like the shadow of a tree was not willing to leave him.[8]

The chamberlain reported this to King Śuddhodana, saying,

The orb of the darkness-dispelling sun goes round, O king, but the rose-apple tree’s shade does not leave Siddhārtha, the possessor of the pure, noble and best marks, as he meditates in the shadow of it[9], immoveable as a mountain.

When the king had heard the chamberlain he went to the boy and saw him in the shade of the rose-apple tree. In his amazement the king said:—

He is like the sacrificial fire on a mountain top, like the moon amid the starry host. The sight of him shining like a lamp as he lingers there immersed in meditation, stirs my whole frame with joy.

And he said, “Blessed surely is he to whom unconscious things humbly submit.” So King Śuddhodana bowed at the feet of the Bodhisattva sitting in the shade of the rose-apple tree.

(48) King Śuddhodana reflected, “Since the boy’s heart delights in calm meditations, verily the prophecy of the seer Asita will turn out true.” The king prepared a spacious harem for the boy so that he might find delight at home. For the young women he had varied ornaments of different kinds prepared, and he caused a proclamation to be made in the city of Kapilavastu bidding all young women to hurry to the royal park, where the young Siddhārtha would distribute jewels among them. In obedience to the king’s command many thousand maidens hurried out to the park.

The daughter of the Śākyan Mahānāma, Yaśodharā by name, came in great splendour and bashfully caressed[10] the boy.

Footnotes and references:


Dīrghaka, “the long one.” Cf. Pali dīgha in same sense.


This miracle of the unmoving shade is also found at J. I.88. Miss I. B. Horner, who calls the translator’s attention to the subject, also remarks that in both texts the phenomenon is associated, more or less closely, with ploughing. In J. this ploughing is a ritual act. In both texts, further, the Bodhisattva is about to enter on the first meditation.


Dhyāna. See Vol. I, pp. 127, 183.


The first line of this stanza is very corrupt and Senart has practically substituted for it a line of the parallel passage in Lal.Vist. (p. 128, Lefmann). For the word thus restored as tiryagatyarthavistārikam, which Foucaux (p. 117) translates “extrêmement... étendu”, two of the Mhvu. MSS, have respectively tenekaśotre sasthāvarā and tenaikaśrotasaṃsthāvarā. These readings would seem to suggest that the original text described Mount Meru as the home of animal and plant life, trasa sthāvarā (Pali tasathāvarā), in addition to precious stones. It is also worthy of note that the same MSS. have for the word restored as gaja, “elephant,” the word jaṅgama, the very synonym which at Mhvu. 1. 207 replaces trasa in the compound trasasthāvarā. But teneka and tenaika seem beyond the possibility of emendation.


The forest of Vṛndā near Mathurā.


Literally, “whose sign is this power of magic,” kasya lakṣmī nivarteti ṛddherbalam.


This verse, a sort of adage as Senart says, is introductory to what follows; having no connexion with the preceding verses.


Literally, “the unconscious shadow does not leave him,” acetanā, chāyā na jahāti.


Literally “with (in) obscured light,” dhyāma-ābham. Cf. Vol. I, p. 36, n. 1.


Or “hugged,” allīnā, literally “adhered, clung to.” (On form see p. 413 n. 1). Cf. the Pali formula allīyati kelāyati manāyati mamāyati, e.g. M. I.260, allīyetha kelāyetha, “hug and cherish” (Lord Chalmers), and S. 3. 190, where the translation renders the first two verbs by “delight in and be amused by.”

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