The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes story of sarvamdada 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 story of Sarvaṃdada

Note: Cf. the story of Vijitāvin, 3.44 ff (text).

Hail to thee,[1] Mahāvastu, the great repository of the dharma, the bringer of great welfare to the multitude, that art full of great knowledge. For thou wast revealed by the Sugata, the perfect Buddha, for the well-being of all men.

Those who teach the true dharma and those who listen to the teaching of it, all attain the immovable state of nirvana.

Sarvaṃdada had once achieved a life in which he blessed the whole world with the benefits of his practice of charity and self-control. And Śakra then lived as one who was opposed,[2] and feared lest Sarvaṃdada should dislodge him from his sovereignty.

Śakra therefore conjured up before Sarvaṃdada a hell into which had fallen the great and perfect in charity.

(251) And they cried “O hero, we pray you bring to an end this misery of ours of which charity is the cause. Let all beings be happy.”

And Śakra said, “O hero, with your calm, your charity, and your self-control, why should you not seek[3] the happiness of Bhagavatī[4] in the other world?”

Sarvaṃdada replied, “Naught do I care for the city of Bhagavatī, much less for those who long for it.[5]

“I seek the immovable state of nirvana, which knows no old age, death or disease, where there is no loved one[6] nor separation from a loved one, but the peace that comes from homelessness, and constant freedom from ill.”

Śakra answered and said, “Most hard to endure is that state wherein one wakes up to knowledge and leaves behind the enjoyment of sensual pleasures.

“Change your mind, indulge your wishes, delight in the happiness of sensual pleasure and in the happiness of easy[7] enjoyment

Sarvaṃdada replied, “If Śakra’s throne were for ever mine and were I never parted from any pleasure of sense, even then my mind would not be fixed on the comfort of the pleasures of sense, and I would not forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“The pleasant things of the devas and those of men, the happiness in this present life and in the life beyond, were I blest with these for countless years (252) I would not forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“The ills that are in this world and those manifold ills of countless kalpas that we hear of, were I afflicted therewith for countless kalpas I would not forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“If, before I became possessed of the knowledge of the highest good, I had in the meantime[8] to sojourn in the hell of Avīci, I would not let my zeal abate, nor would I forswear my vow to win omniscience.

...[9] I would eat a ball of iron and drink molten copper,[10] but I would not forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“I would dwell with murderers in a cave; I would let my body be devoured and grow up again and again. Such affliction could I bear, ere I would forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“If there rained upon me a shower of sharp arrows and knives, if every inch of my body[11] were pierced thereby, such affliction could I bear, ere I would forswear my vow to win omniscience.

(253) “If I could win this highest knowledge only after faying homage to Buddhas as countless as the sands of the Ganges, all this long series of recurrent lives could I bear, ere I would forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“If I should have to stay amid the dregs of the womb for koṭis of great kalpas[12] and if when born this body of mine should be maimed[13] during a hundred lives, I could bear my body undergoing such affliction ere I would forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“The woes of hell and the woes of the world of the brutes, and the manifold woes of the world of ghosts and of men, had my body to undergo all this affliction, I would not forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“Had I to spend in the world nayutas of lives and live for an equal number of nayutas of kalpas in hell, I could bear all this affliction for however long ere I would forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“No more can I be turned from this resolve, for I have made it for the sake of the world’s welfare. Until I have won the immortal and achieved my hope, I shall not forswear my vow to win omniscience.

“Stoutly mailed and clad in adamantine armour as I am, there will be no wearying in my charity, self-control and devotion. (254) In order to release men from being born again, I will not forswear my vow to win omniscience.”

And so, with their minds settled and their aims well resolved on, men will fare through the world with their hearts fixed on enlightenment. As though with many a leap[14] they will cross to the ocean’s other shore. They will win enlightenment and break Namuci[15] and his power.

Footnotes and references:


Reading bhadraṃte for bhadanta of the text. According to Senart such eulogies were a common feature of Northern Sanskrit compositions.


Literally, “having a life with an appearance of an obstacle,” savighnarūpacaritas. But Senart admits that his restoration of the text is very conjectural.


Prārthayet, 3rd pers. for 2nd, unless we read vīras, nom. for vīra, vocative.


As appears from the sequel, the name of a celestial city, though it does not seem to be mentioned elsewhere.


Literally, “still more, prāgeva, (do I not care).”


Priyajanaḥ. But there is a lacuna of two syllables before this word. As the usual antithesis to priyaviprayoga “separation from what is dear,” we would expect apriyasaṃyoga, “union with what is not dear.” But the MSS. do not seem to warrant a restoration on these lines.


Viṣama- to be read aviṣama-, the initial a being elided after sukhe.


The text here has the unusual expression yāvantareṇa... tāvantaraṃ yadi, which does not readily admit of an idiomatic rendering in English.


A lacuna of two lines.


Typical torments of hell. See vol. 1, p. 6 ff.


Literally “my whole body without remainder,” sarvaṃ śarīram... aśeṣam.


A mahākalpa includes the four kalpas of dissolution of the world, of the state of dissolution, of evolution, and of the evolved state.


Reading with one MS. (c)chijjeya, from chijjati, BSk. and Pali pass, of chid, Sk. chidyate, for khijjeya, the corresponding form from khid “to oppress.” The former verb as denoting a severer kind of affliction seems preferable here.


Laṅghitabahubhir-eva, an irregular compound form for bahulaṅghitaiḥ. Miss I. B. Horner has supplied an interesting note on this passage. She compares Miln. 36, where purisa (the Hero) jumps (pakkhandati) to the farther bank of a river in full spate. Others follow him, and when he sees that their minds are freed, he aspires, or leaps as it were (saṃpakkhandati) after the fruit of stream-winning. “This leaping to the Farther Shore,” she adds, “seems to me to point to Sudden Attainment—a notion that entered Buddhism after the Pali Canon, which always speaks of gradual (anupubbena) attainment.”


I.e. Māra.

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