The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes story of dharmapala which is Chapter IX 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 IX - The Story of Dharmapāla

The Exalted One said:—

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the city of Benares, in the province of Kāśi, there ruled a king named Brahmadatta. He had put down all opponents and enemies and his province was well controlled. He was liberal, generous, virtuous, mighty, powerful and wealthy, having many beasts of burden. His realm was thriving, prosperous, peaceful and well-supplied with food, and was thickly peopled.

That king had a household priest named Brahmāyus, who was master of the three Vedas, the indexes, the ritual and of the fifth branch of study, that is, traditional lore,[1] and was perfect[2] in phonology, etymology and grammar. As a teacher he was expert in the Brāhmaṇas and Vedas, and also in the śāstras. He was generous and charitable and lived in accordance with the path of the ten moralities. He had a young son named Dharmapāla.

Then Brahmāyus reflected: “It is time for my son Dharmapāla to study the Vedas, but it is not proper for him to do so under me. Being familiar with his father he will not study. I shall place him in a guru’s household. In his hermitage in the Himalayas this brāhman, who is perfect in the Vedas, is teaching five-hundred brāhman youths to recite the Vedas. Therefore Dharmapāla, entrusted to his care,[3] will leam[4] the Vedas by heart.”

Now not far from this hermitage there was a large pool of water, and in this pool dwelt a water demon[5], who time and again destroyed people bathing there. The young brāhman Dharmapāla often bathed in this pool.

The thought occurred to his tutor: “There in the pool of water dwells a water demon who often destroys men, and this Dharmapāla, the priest’s son (78) is wont to bathe in that pool of water. Now if he should be devoured by the water demon whilst bathing there, the priest would be wroth with me and ask me why I did not keep him from the pool of water.” The tutor, thereupon, called the young Dharmapāla and said to him, “Do not bathe in that pool of water, in which there dwells a cruel demon, lest you be devoured by him.”

In that pool of water there also dwelt a mighty Nāga with a great retinue. And the son of that Nāga king was friendly with the young brāhman Dharmapāla, and liked talking and chatting with him. He carried the young brāhman away into the dwelling place of the Nāgas. And there the young Nāga enjoyed talking and chatting with the young brāhman, and the young brāhman Dharmapāla, in his turn, explained the path of the ten moralities.

Now a certain young brāhman of the same age as Dharmapāla, and resembling him, was going into the village by the same road, and he bathed in that pool. He was killed by the water demon. His half-devoured body was seen floating on the surface of the water by another young brāhman. The latter returned to the hermitage and told the tutor that Dharmapāla had been devoured by the water demon. The brāhman, with all his five-hundred students, went to the pool and there saw a young brāhman’s body half devoured by the water demon. When they saw him they all cried out. They dragged him out of the water, arranged a funeral pile and burnt him to ashes. The brāhman put his bones in a jar and with his whole company went to Brahmāyus in Benares. Sobbing and weeping he came to Brahmāyus and said to him, “Dharmapāla has been killed by a water demon. Here are his bones.”

But Brahmāyus replied to the brāhman, “Not so. Dharmapāla was a young boy, and in our family young boys have not previously died.” And the brāhman Brahmāyus addressed Dharmapāla’s tutor in verses:—

(79) None of us harms[6] a living soul, nor takes what is not his. None of us sins in deed or thought. We all shun what is not upright. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

There is never any anger among us; never are we enraged. We do not in rage vent our anger. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

We listen to the dharma of the bad and of the good, but we take no delight in the dharma of the bad. We ignore the bad and take delight in the good.[7] Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

Again and again we give numerous gifts, and a beggar is never unwelcome to us. And when we have given our gifts, we do not regret them. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

As for the brahmans and recluses[8] who come begging and crying to us, we are glad to hear and see them. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

The brahmans and virtuous recluses (80) who come to us begging and crying, we satisfy with food and drink. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

We satisfy with food and drink those who come begging to us, the blind, the helpless, the poor and the destitute. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

We do not desert our wives, nor do our wives desert us. And so we live the chaste life.[9] Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

Everyone of us who is born becomes virtuous, self-controlled, devout and pious; he becomes learned and perfect in his knowledge of the verses. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

Mother and father, sister and brother, and loyal[10] kinsman, we live in accordance with dharma for the sake of winning heaven. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

Mother and father, sister and brother, and those who are our household servants, we all live in accordance with dharma, with our gaze on heaven. Therefore it is that none of us dies young.

For verily dharma protects him who lives by dharma, (81) as a large umbrella protects us in time of rain. This blessing comes from dharma well-practised. He who practises dharma does not pass to bourne of ill.

He who does not practise dharma is an indolent fellow. As for the bourne to which he goes who practises what is not dharma, the sin[11] he commits destroys him as does a black snake which he has grasped with his hands. For dharma and what is not dharma do not bear similar fruit. What is not dharma leads to hell. Dharma wins the heavenly bourne.

Verily dharma protects him who lives by dharma, as a large umbrella protects us in time of rain. My Dharmapāla was guarded by dharma. These are the bones of another. It is well with my boy.

The brāhman and his company were fed, and then dismissed, by the brāhman Brahmāyus. He returned to his hermitage and there he saw the young Dharmapāla. And they all marvelled that the priest should be so certain.[12]

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that the brāhman named Brahmāyus at that time and on that occasion was somebody else. But you must not think so. And why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the brāhman named Brahmāyus. Again, monks, it may be that you will think that the son of the brāhman Brahmāyus at that time and on that occasion was somebody else. You must not think so. Rāhula here at that time and on that occasion (82) was the son of Brahmāyus, named Dharmapāla. Then, too, was I certain of Dharmapāla’s safety, just as on this other occasion I was certain that I had the long-lost fist of the Śākyans.[13]

Here ends the Dharmapāla-Jātaka.

Notes on the Story of Dharmapāla:

Compare, for the general theme and the language of some of the verses, the Mahādhammapāla Jātaka (J. iv. 50 ff).

Footnotes and references:


Literally “traditional lore as a fifth,” itihāsapañcama, see Vol. I, p. 231., where this stock description of a brahman’s attainments has already occurred, though with some minor differences. Nirghaṇṭha, “the indexes," here is obviously a textual error for nighaṇṭa, Pali nighaṇḍa. Neither of these two Mhvu. passages gives the terms in the same order as they are in the corresponding Pali formula, which, besides, includes perfection in “the science of world speculation and the knowledge of the signs of the Great Man,” lokāyatamahāpurisa-lakkhaṇesu anavayo e.g. D. 1. 88. The Mhvu. would seem to be too partisan to allow these latter attainments, so characteristic of a Buddhist adept, to be shared by brāhmans.


Analpaka “not little,” “not wanting,” which bears out the meaning given to the corresponding Pali term anavayo in P.E.D., though the etymology of the latter remains doubtful.


Anuparītta, past part, of anu-pari-dā.


Senart prints the causative form adhyāpehi, though two MSS. have a form based on the radical. The causative is met with elsewhere in the Mhvu. in the sense of the primary form. For “h” in the future suffix, cf. kāhiti, Vol. 2, p. 41, and such Pah forms as ehiti from i, and hehīti, heti, for bhaviṣyati.


Rākṣasa. See Vol. I, p. 73, n. 5.


The first three verbs axe 3rd person optative singular, literally, “one should not harm, etc.,” i.e. “it is our rule that no one should harm,” for with the fourth verb we come to the 1st person plural.


Reading asatāṃ hitvā satāṃ rocayāma: for asatāṃ hi tvasatāṃ rocayāma: It is strange that Śenart should not have thought of this emendation, for it requires but a new joining of syllables, hitvā for hi tu-asa.” He is forced to translate his text by “car aux méchants nous ne disons que ce qui convient aux méchants!” J. 4. 53, has hitvā asante na jahāma sante.


Reading śramaṇa for śravaṇa of the text, which may be a copyist’s error due to the proximity of śravaṇa, “hearing” in the next pāda but one.


Dharmacarya, here for the usual brahmacarya. On the identity of Brahmā and dhamma (dharma) see Miss I. B. Horner’s article Early Buddhist Dhamma in Artibus Asiae, xi, pp. 115 ff.


Literally “not siding with others,” ananyapakṣika.


Adharma, “non-dharma.”


Literally “that it should be known,” jñātam.


Literally, “Dharmapāla was known by me... just as the long-lost fist... was known...” The comparison is between Brahmāyus’ certainty of knowledge about Dharmapāla’s safety and the Buddha’s certainty that he could draw upon the native and inherited skill of the Śākyans. Cf. n. 1. p. 74.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: