The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes temptation by mara 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 - The temptation by Māra

Note: The account of this episode closely resembles the Padhāna-sutta (Sn. 424ff).

Now while the Bodhisattva was living his life of austerity in the forest of penance near Uruvilvā, on the banks of the river Nairañjanā, wicked Māra approached him and said, “What wilt thou gain by this striving?[1] Go and live at home. Thou wilt become a universal king. Perform the great sacrifices, the horse-sacrifice, the human sacrifice, the “throwing of the peg,”[2] the “house-unbarred”,[3] the “red-lotus” and the “white-lotus” sacrifices.[4] If thou wilt have performed these sacrifices, when thou diest thou wilt rejoice in heaven and wilt beget great merit. Striving is difficult and hard to surmount.[5] (238) To live a life of chastity means the loss of blameless merit.”[6] The Bodhisattva replied, “I have no use for deeds of merit, thou wicked one.”

Seeing these pleasant woods and forest thickets near Uruvilvā, I strove the striving.[7] When I had come to the end of my striving for the attainment of the uttermost good, Namuci[8] came along speaking words of commiseration.

“Thou art lean” said he, “haggard of look, and death is near to thee. Stop thy great striving, or else thou hast no hope of life.

“Life is the greatest good for thee, for by living thou canst perform deeds of merit. Do these meritorious deeds, so that when dead thou wilt not sorrow.

“By living a brāhman’s life[9] and tending the sacrificial fire, thou wilt beget unending merit. But what wilt thou achieve by this striving?

“Hope is far from striving, which is a difficult task and hard to surmount.”[10] These were the words Māra spoke in the presence of the Bodhisattva.

Then the Bodhisattva replied, and said to Māra,[11] “Thou son of darkness[12], thou wicked one, I have not come hither in quest of merit.

“I have no use, Māra, for the tiniest of merits. Why Māra, dost thou not speak to those who have use of merits?

“I do not think that I am immortal, for life has death as its end. Relying on my holy life, I shall go thither whence there is no return.

(239) “The wind can dry up the streams of the rivers; why may I not dry up my blood by my resolute exertion?[13]

“The body dries up, and its gall, phlegm and humour; let the flesh and blood also presently waste away.

“While the flesh is failing the mind becomes more tranquil; there come to be greater mindfulness, zeal and concentration. “He who lives thus and has reached the highest plane is not this broken body; look rather at the purity of his being.[14]

“I have will, zeal, and wisdom. I see none in the world who could keep me from my striving.

“[ ][15] That luxury is destructive of life. I am disgusted with life at home.

“Therefore, keeping mindful, self-possessed and free of attachment [ ][16]

“Now here I am, having by my struggle made the minds of others to grow, and having by my strength pierced the jungle of passions I have achieved what is to be achieved.”[17]

“From beneath the bodhi-tree, before I yet had won my immortal state, I saw Māra’s mailed hosts approaching with their banners flying.[18]

(240) “(And I said), I shall advance to the fight; I shall not retreat to manoeuvre for position.[19] By and by I will repel this host.

“Thy first army is called desire, and the second discontent;[20] the third is called hunger and thirst, and the fourth craving.

“The fifth is called sloth and torpor, and the sixth fear;[21] the seventh is doubt, and the eighth is pride. Then there are greed, and falsely won praise, esteem and renown.

“This is Namuci’s mailed and bannered host. Many a recluse and brāhman are seen in the thick of the fray.[22]

“A craven does not overcome this host, even if he does he will rue it.[23] But I will destroy it as easily as water destroys an unbaked vessel of clay.[24]

“Winning control over thy shafts,[25] making mindfulness my good servant, living with an access of zeal, I will win over even thy own disciples.

“Foolish, stupid people give themselves to indolence, but I will go, in spite of thee, to the place where ill ceases.”[26]

Then, overcome with grief, Māra’s lyre slipped from his armpit[27] and the disconsolate fiend forthwith vanished from sight.

Footnotes and references:


Prahāṇa. See p. 120, n. 2.


Reading śamyāprāsa for somaprāsa (“throwing of soma”!). Divy. 634 has śamyapvāśa.


Nirargaḍa, Pali niraggala.


Padumaṃ puṇḍarīkam ca. With the exception of these two, these sacrifices are often mentioned together (see e.g. A. 2. 42; 4. 151; It. 21; S. 1. 76). The commentary on S. (SA. 1. 145 ff.) says that they were all harmless and bloodless sacrifices until the time of King Okkāka (Sn. 302 ff.). The assamedha was then sassamedha, “sacrifice for a good harvest,” and purisamedha was a general feed of six months. The “house-unbarred” and “throwing the peg” suggest a time of festivity when all kept open house and indulged in games, though the commentary says that the latter was called “a bond to bind maidens’ hearts.” The red-lotus and white-lotus sacrifices, however, are not mentioned elsewhere, and there is no real clue as to their nature. All that one can safely say is that the use or presence of the lotus in Indian ritual is quite in keeping with the Indian regard for that flower.


Durabhisambhaṇaṃ (sic) for durabhisambhuṇaṃ, for which see Vol. I, p. 35. n. 3. The corresponding Pali (Sn. 429) is durabhisambhavo.


Anavadyapuṇyapārihāṇi brahmacaryavāsaṃ, where brahmacarya is used in the specific Buddhist sense. Sn. (428) is different here, having carato ca te brahmacariyaṃ... pahūtaṃ cīyate puññaṃ, “while you live a brahman student’s life, you will heap up plentiful merit,” i.e. brahmacariya is used in the orthodox Hindu sense. Perhaps our text is at fault; pārihāṇi is certainly suspect. The verse below is nearer to Sn.


Prahāṇaṃ prahitaṃ mayā, where prahitam is the Pali pahita, past. part, of padahati. For prahāṇa see p. 120, n. 2. The translation has been adopted from Minor Anthologies, III.


I.e. Māra. For explanation of the epithet see Vol. I, p. 65, n. 3.


Brahmacaryam. See n. 2.


Durabhisambhuṇa. See n. 1.


Taṃ tathā idāniṃ Māraṃ Bodhisattvo (a)dhyabhāṣata. Perhaps we should emend the first three words to taṃ tathāvādinaṃ, “to Māra speaking this,” as in Sn. 430, for this gives a simpler text.


Kṛṣṇabandhu. Cf. M. 1. 337, where Māra is called Kaṇha, “the dark one.”


Literally, “the blood of me who am resolute,” mama prahitātmasya śoṇitam. For the sentiment cf. 5. 2. 28; A. 1.50; M. I.481. With prahitātma cf. Pali pahitattā.


Sn. and Mhvu. differ considerably here.






There is nothing in Sn. which corresponds to these last four verses. In vanaṃ bhinditvā there is a play on the two meanings of vana, “wood” and (in Pali) “lust,” “desire.” See Vol. I, p. 73, n. 2. Cf. also Dh. 283, vanaṃ chindatha.


The reference to the bodhi-tree shows that these verses are not in place here. The temptation by Māra described in the rest of the text is that undergone by the Buddha when he was still practising austerities in the forest; that which he underwent under the bodhi-tree forms another episode and is described, e.g., in J. I.71 ff. and BuA. 239 f.


Nāhaṃ sthānārthamupāviśe, “I shall not go within (?) for the sake of position.” Sn. 442 has mā maṃ ṭhānā acāvayi, “lest he move me from my place.” But the Mhvu. tradition is definitely in favour of the text reading, for one MS. has sthānārthāya viṣye and another sthānārthaṃ viṣo (?).


Reading arati for ārati of the text. N.B. The Royal Danish Academy’s A Critical Pali Dictionary cites this passage as having arati.


Bhīru, a masc. substantive, as at Sn. 437 (vl. for ābhīru in text).


Literally, “plunged there,” pragāḍhā atra. Sn. 441 has na dissanti, which E. M. Hare (Woven Cadences, p. 64) renders “go astray.” Two MSS. of the Mhvu. also have the negative na, but the sequence of verses hereabouts differs so much in the two texts that it would be inadvisable to seek to emend the Mhvu. to make it accord with Sn. The line following this in Sn. has no corresponding one in the Mhvu.


Jitvā vā anuśocati. This does not make good sense, but the apparatus criticus affords no clue to emendation. Sn. 439 has jetvā ca labhate sukham, “he who has conquered wins happiness.”


Sn. 443 has āmaṃ pattaṃ va aṃhanā, “as (one destroys) an unbaked pot with a stone.” Does a Pali v.l. ambhanā suggest that ambunā (as in Mhvu.) is the original reading? Water is certainly more natural as a destroyer of unbaked pots, and is found elsewhere in Mhvu. in like similes.


Vaśākaritvāna te śalyam. Sn. 444 has vasiṃkaritvā saṃkappam, “having my purpose in control.” But there is no clue to an emendation of Mhvu.


There is no stanza in Sn. corresponding to this.


The text here clearly calls for emendation. As printed it reads tasya śokaparītasya vināśaṃ gacchi ucchriti. Senart is doubtful of the correctness of this and suggests that ucchriti is used in a figurative sense. But even so it is difficult to construe the genitive tasya, etc. Sn. 449 reads tassa sokaparetassa vīṇā kacchā abhassatha. Now for gacchi ucchriti of the text the MSS. have gacchito (gacchoto, sic) sṛta, which may plausibly be emended to read kacchato osṛta (= ava° = apasṛta). The line as adopted for translation is, therefore, tasya śokaparītasya vīṇā kacchato osṛta. For Māra’s lyre see S. I.122.

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