The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes conversion of the asuras which is Chapter XIII 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 XIII - The conversion of the Asuras

Exalted Buddhas convert beings by means of three miracles, the miracle of magic power, the miracle of instruction, and the miracle of preaching the dharma.[1] By means of these three miracles (138) many thousands of beings were converted to the Āryan dharma by the Exalted One in the Banyan Grove.

Then the Asura lords Rāhu,[2] Vemacitrin[3] and Mucilinda accompanied by sixty nayutas of Asuras carrying large and fragrant garlands, and many thousands of male and female Asuras decked out in full adornment and wearing jewelled ear-rings, came in the majesty and splendour of Asuras to the Banyan Grove at Kapilavastu. Standing in the air above the Banyan Park, they paid worship and honour to the Exalted One. With all kinds of perfumes, garlands, dances, songs, music and musicians skilled in playing all kinds of musical instruments, they honoured, venerated, esteemed, worshipped and revered the Exalted One. Then they turned their thought to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment. “Ah,” thought they, “may we become in some future time Tathāgatas, Arhans, perfect Buddhas, endowed with knowledge and conduct, Sugatas, incomparable knowers of the world, drivers of tameable men, and teachers of devas and men, as this Exalted One now is. May we become possessed of the thirty-two marks of excellence of a Great Man, the eighty lesser characteristics, radiant bodies, and the eighteen special attributes of a Buddha. May we become strong with the ten powers of a Tathāgata, confident on the four grounds of confidence, as this Exalted One now is. May we set rolling the incomparable wheel of dharma as has now been done by the Exalted One. May devas and men deem us worthy of obedience and faith as they now do the Exalted One. May we keep a company of disciples in harmony as the Exalted One now does. May we, having ourselves crossed, lead others across; ourselves free, set others free; ourselves comforted, give comfort to others; ourselves released, give release to others. May this come to pass for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, in compassion for the world, for the sake of the great multitude, and for the welfare and happiness of devas and men.

Then the Exalted One, aware of this aspiration in the hearts of the Asuras, (139) on that occasion smiled. And immediately on his smiling there issued from the mouth of the Exalted One rays of many different colours, blue, yellow, red, crimson, white, translucent, and golden, which lit up the whole Buddha-field, while hosts of devas from the lowest to the highest heaven[4] came and saluted the Exalted One three times from the right, and then disappeared from before him.

Then the venerable Aśvakin[5] came to the Exalted One, and raising his joined hands said to him, “It is not without cause, not without reason that Tathāgatas, Arhans, and perfect Buddhas smile. What, Lord, is the cause, what the reason of thy smiling?” And the Exalted One in reply to the venerable Aśvakin discoursed in verse on this aspiration of heart on the part of the Asuras.

Then the Lord of bipeds smiled, aware of the sublime thought of the Dānavas.[6]Stretching forth his joined hands when he saw that smile on the Sugata’s face, Aśvakin questioned him, saying,

“The Light of the world, the Sage supreme, does not smile without a cause. O Man supreme, tell the cause of the smile thou hast now given, O Benefactor of the world.

“To-day without a doubt the thought of the sublime enlightenment has been begotten by someone in this throng, and the Tathāgata aware of this one’s mental disposition[7] smiles his delightful smile.

(140) “Yet do I stand here perplexed at seeing the smile on the Sugata’s face. O Man supreme, speak without delay and dispel the perplexity of those who are in doubt.

“That smile which the Light of the world did give when he saw the Dānavas worshipping him, declare the meaning of it, that, when they hear it, the host of the Asuras will be glad.”

The Exalted One replied:

“Well is it for you, O Aśvakin, that you ask as to why the Benefactor of the world smiled. I will tell you the whole purport of it. Listen with undivided mind as I speak.

“The Asuras here paid me honour, for they seek the

supreme enlightenment. When they have left their lives as Asuras, they will pass to heaven and dwell there in joy a long time.

“And when they have dwelt in the devas’ city for a long time, endowed with the five strands of sensual pleasures, they will come again to the world of men and will worship the Conquerors, the Lords of bipeds.

“For many a hundred-thousand kalpas they will again and again show honour[8] to Conquerors; (141) and then they will themselves all become Conquerors, triumphant over their foes, brilliantly arrayed in golden splendour.”

When this proclamation about the Asuras was made, the world of devas and men became glad and exultant. And many a hundred-thousand beings then and there were established in the incomparable career.[9]

Then Sambara, a lord of the Asuras, on that occasion spoke this verse:

“May I ever consort with friends like these. Observing this rule[10] and because of it[11] may we worship the Supreme of bipeds.”

Footnotes and references:


Cf. vol. 1, p. 238 (text) where for the third miracle dharmadeśanā we have ādeśanā, “mind-reading.”


Rāhu was the Hindu demon of the eclipse of sun and moon, and appears as such in Buddhist legend. See D.P.N. for references.


The BSk. form (cf. Divy. 126, 148, Lal. Vist. 241) of the Pali Vepacitti, often mentioned with Rāhu and Mucilinda.




The Mhvu. name of one of the Bhadravargiyā Bhikṣūs who in other BSk. texts is called Aśvajit (Pali Assaji). See Edgerton, B.H.S.D.


I.e. the Asuras. See Vol. 1, p. 55 n. 3.


Āśaya, BSk., Pali āsaya, for āśayaṃ, metri causa(?).


Pūja for pūjām. See Edgerton, Gram., § 9. 19.


Anuttarayāna. But there is not necessarily any allusion here either to Hīnayāna or Mahāyāna.


Literally, “observing which,” yaṃ niśāmya.


Literally, “because of which,” yamāgamya. For āgamya see vol. 1, p. 198, n. 2.