The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes story of purna the son of maitrayani which is Chapter XXXVI 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 XXXVI - The story of Pūrṇa the son of Maitrāyaṇī

(377) The Exalted One was staying in Benares teaching devas and men, and so on.[1]

Now another group of thirty men happened to be going along the road not far from Ṛṣivadana. The Exalted One, in order to do them a kindness, sat down by the roadside. When they saw the Exalted One they advanced to bow at his feet. Then the Exalted One converted them all to the state of having control over the powers, initiated them with the formula of “Come, monks,” and ordained them. Such was the initiation, ordination and admission into monkhood of these venerable thirty men.

The Exalted One was staying in Benares, in the Deer Park at Ṛṣivadana, teaching devas and men, and so on.

Now in the land of the Kośalas there was a village named Droṇavastuka,[2] where there lived a certain brahman, who was rich, wealthy, opulent, having great possessions and property, money, treasuries and granaries, abundance of gold, silver and other resources, a large number of female and male slaves and servants, elephants, horses, goats and sheep. This rich brahman had a brāhman wife, named Maitrāyaṇī,[3] who was gracious, lovely, distinguished of mien, and endowed with the flower of beauty to perfection. Maitrāyaṇī had a young son named Pūrṇa,[4] who was gracious and handsome, of fresh beauty, virtuous and dignified. He had rendered service to former Buddhas, had broken his bonds, had knowledge of the Āryan truths, and was in his last existence.

Pūrṇa had heard that King Śuddhodana had a son named Sarvārthasiddha, who was endowed with the thirty-two marks of a Great Man. Now a Great Man who was thus endowed had two alternative careers open to him; there was no third. If he continued living at home he would become a universal king over the four continents, triumphant, just, a king of righteousness, possessing the seven treasures. These treasures are the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the householder, the woman, and the counsellor the seventh. He would have a full thousand sons, brave, courageous, comely, (378) and vanquishers of their foes. He would hold sway over these four continents, to wit, Jambudvīpa, Pūrvavideha, Aparagodānika and Uttarakuru. He would rule and govern this great earth, bounded by its ocean and mountains, in prosperity and peace, without scourge, weapon or any sort of violence, but with justice. If, on the other hand, he went forth from home into the homeless state, he would become a Tathāgata, an Arhan, a perfect Buddha, endowed with knowledge and good conduct, a Sugata, a peerless knower of the world, a driver of tameable men, a teacher of devas and men, famous and renowned,[5] not led by others, triumphant, invincible, having insight into knowledge and the good, self-control and self-mastery. And a seer[7] of great magic and power would make an absolute proclamation on four grounds that he would become a Buddha in the world, and soothsayers would do so as well.[8]

When the Exalted One left home, Pūrṇa also on the same day left home and went to a retreat in the Himalayas. He there embraced the religious life of a seer, achieved the four meditations, attained the five super-knowledges and became a seer of great magic and power. He had twenty-nine young seers as pupils, all of whom were masters of the six Vedāṅgas,[9] had achieved the four meditations, attained the five superknowledges and possessed great magic and power. He said to his pupils, “A Buddha has appeared in the world. He is staying in Benares, in the Deer Park at Ṛṣivadana, teaching men the dharma which is fair in the beginning, in the middle and in the end, profitable, well-articulated[10] and absolutely perfect, and he reveals to them the perfectly pure and clean brahma-life.

“All the skandhas are without refuge: they are afire, full of terrors and untrustworthy are they, without substance,” so does Gotama proclaim.

“Let us then, young men, go to Benares, to the Deer Park at Ṛṣivadana, (379) to see Gotama, the Exalted One. For it is good to see such Tathāgatas, Arhans and perfect Buddhas and to worship[11] them.” “So be it,” said the young men in answer to Pūrṇa. [And they came and saw Gotama][12] the Exalted One as he revealed the brahma-life. They saw that he was endowed with the thirty-two marks of a Great Man and with the eighty lesser characteristics; that his body was radiant; that he was gifted with the eighteen special attributes of a Buddha;[13] that he was strong[14] with the ten powers of a Tathāgata and confident on the ground of the four assurances; that his faculties and mind were under control, as he had attained the perfection of utmost restraint and self-control, the perfection of consummate restraint and self-control; that his faculties were turned inwards and that his mind was not turned outwards, but was steady through its having attained its true state. He was transparent as a pool, untroubled and serene. He stood erect like a sacrificial pillar of jewels or of gold, radiant with splendour, ablaze with glory, sublime, and a joy to behold.

When Pūrṇa beheld him, his mind became exceeding calm. Serene of heart he approached the Exalted One, bowed at his feet, and said to him, “Lord, initiate me. Lord, ordain me.” Then the Exalted One pronounced the formula of “Come, monks” over Pūrṇa the son of Maitrāyaṇī and the twenty-nine others. “Come monks,” said he, “live the brahma-life under the Tathāgata.” And when the formula of “Come, monks” had been pronounced over them every mark of the seer, every badge, every emblem and every sign disappeared from all of them.[15] They were seen to have three robes and the sumbhaka[16] bowls, their hair in its natural state, and their deportment established—all just like those of monks who had been ordained a hundred years. Such then was the initiation, ordination and admission into monkhood of Pūrṇa the son of Maitrāyaṇī and his twenty-nine compainons.

He and his twenty-nine companions were converted by the Exalted One into the state of having mastery over the powers.

And when he had attained that state he addressed the Exalted One in these seemly verses:

(380) Glad[16] am I, O kinsman of the sun,[17] that when thou wast in Tuṣita thou didst become an elephant, snow-white like Hima’s summit, and didst enter a womb for the last time.

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that thy mother and thy father in this world were both of comely form, and wast born in the family of a great king.

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that thou didst come down and expose thyself to the world of life but wast untouched by aught of it, nor defiled by gall, blood and phlegm.

Glad am 1, O kinsman of the sun, that those who saw thy golden beauty felt perfect joy of heart, like that of snakes when they follow a crimson thread.[18]

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that thou madest the earth to tremble when thou wast born for the sake of the welfare of men, and that after being born thou didst take seven strides.

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that when thou wast born, O Sage, Guhyaka lords held up a sunshade and fans on both sides of thee.

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that as soon as thou wast born there sprang up two wells of water, the one warm and the other cold.

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that thou didst go forth from home renouncing the pleasures of men, the seven treasures and the four continents.

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that, leaving thy queen and thy folk and renouncing the seven fair treasures, thou didst make an end of birth and death.

(381) Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that a great radiance uprose when the Exalted One’s heart won deliverance, O Hero,[19] and men[20] became entirely happy.

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that this noble congregation, calmed and perfectly joyful, has to-day been converted by the Conqueror. O Vanquisher of thy foes,[21] thou dost near thy destiny.[22]

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that the vow thou madest of yore has now come to pass, O Saviour of the world. Thy vow and its fulfilment[23] have prospered.[24]

Glad am I, O kinsman of the sun, that thy cry of “In all the habitations of men there is none equal to me” permeated the ten quarters. Thou hast reached the highest sphere in accordance with thy nature.[25]

All hail![26] Happy and whole is the Exalted One. This task of thine doth prosper. All hail! By thee has Namuci[27] been overcome and all his host. All hail! this world and the world beyond are known to thee.

All hail! Sahampati entreated thee.[28] All hail! Thou didst assent, O Hero. All hail! Thou didst set rolling in righteousness the wheel of dharma with its twelve parts.[29]

All hail! Thou didst cry out with a lion’s roar. All hail! There is no one anywhere to gainsay thee. All hail! The dharma has been attained by the Conqueror. All hail! There is no envy of thee, O Noble One.

All hail! I have the deva-eye. All hail! I have the superhuman ear. In the Himalayas I saw Māra.[30] All hail! Now I have seen thine encounter with him.

(382) Here I have won the five super-knowledges. All hail!

Here is the docility of pupils. All hail! We[31] do not associate with evil.[32] All hail! We know[33] the king of dharma.

All hail! We are come to the refuge. All hail! We have understood[34] the Four Truths. All hail! We have assurance in thy dharma. All hail! We have attained unto mastery.

Thus then in the presence of the Exalted One, on the road mentioned, in Benares, in the Deer Park did the venerable Pūrṇa rejoice and exult at having attained the dharma.

Here ends the story of Pūrṇa the son of Maitrāyaṇī.

Footnotes and references:


Literally “describing the occasion in detail,” vistareṇa nidānaṃ kṛtvā, i.e., as such occasions are generally described.


Pali, Doṇavatthu.


Pali, Mantānī, sister of Aññākondañña (Ājñātakauṇḍinya).


Pali, Puṇṇa.


A paraphrase of vighuṣṭaśabdo vighuṣṭakīrtirekho. The first compound is easily explained, “the renown of whom is proclaimed.” But the second is difficult. Does it imply a fame that is proclaimed in writing, rekhā being = lekhā “writing”? Even so, the compound is hard to construe,? “having the writing of a proclaimed renown.” Senart lists the compound in his index, but has no note on it. Neither is it given in B.H.S.D. 


Alluding to Asita, whose proclamation of the Buddha is described in the same terms. See vol. 2, p. 33 (text). The four grounds on which the proclamation is based are explained on p. 43 (text) as consisting of four qualities of the thirty-two marks. The translation of the former passage (2. p. 30) is to be emended, as Asita is there “proclaiming” (vyākaritvā) the Buddha on four grounds (caturhi kāraṇehi) not “explaining” (vyākaritvā) what the four grounds were. The wrong rendering of ekāṃśena, there, is due to this mistaken interpretation.


See, e.g., vol. 1, p. 364.


I.e., “Six limbs” of the Vedas, or the six subjects, and the corresponding works dealing with each, which comprised the study of the Vedas.




Reading paryupāsanāya for paryupāsanā of the text.


Lacuna in text.


Āveṇikā buddhadharmā. See vol. 1, p. 33, n. 4. B.H.S.D. has nothing to add on the obscure word āveṇika, but refers to Konow: Avhandl. Norkse viden, Akad. 1941, II. Hist.—Fil. Kl., p. 41.


From this point several of the adjectives are nom. case, as though the construction of the sentence was overlooked. Before the end of the passage the acc. is restored.


See p. 67, n. 2.


See p. 67, n. 3.


Literally “it is agreeable to me,” pṛyaṃ me.


Literally “of the family or clan of the thousand-rayed one,” daśaśataraśmisagotra.


Phaṇikā anugatā va raktasūtram. The simile is obscure.


Vīra, a doubtful restoration of Senart’s.


There is no subject to bhavensu, but some word like sattvā or janā can be easily supplied.


Śatrudamane, should be voc.


Kālaṃ upesi.


Literally, “coming”, “result”, āgama.


Perhaps we should read samṛddhā, pl., for samṛddho.






I.e., Māra.


Sc. to set rolling the wheel of dharma. See p. 304f.


See p. 326.


Mṛtyu = Māra.


Mo, nom. pl. See p. 8, n. 5.


Pāpasaṅgata. Cf. Pali pāpasaṅgatika, M. 2.222, 227.


Or “experience”, “understand”, anubhomo.


Abhisamita, which, if correct, must be interpreted as plural. The MSS. have abhisame which Edgerton (B.H.S.D.) suggests, with a question mark, may be an aorist.

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