The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes chapter of the thousand (sahasravarga of the dharmapada) which is Chapter XLIV 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 XLIV - The chapter of the thousand (Sahasravarga of the Dharmapada)

The Exalted One left the retreat of Uruvilvā-Kāśyapa with his community of one thousand two hundred and fifty monks, and came to Dharmāraṇya[1] where some great seers had their hermitage. Seven hundred Matted-hair Ascetics lived there, all of whom had mastered the four meditations and attained the five super-knowledges. All were two thousand years old; their roots of merit were mature and they were in their last existence.

For their sake the Exalted One entered their retreat and recited to the Matted-hair Ascetics the Sahasravarga of the Dharmapada.[2]

Better than a thousand speeches made up of profitless words is one profitable speech by which a man who hears it is made calm.[3]

Better than a thousand verses made up of profitless words is one profitable verse by which a man who hears it is made calm.[4]

Better than a man who beats in combat hundreds of thousands of men is he who conquers one, his own self. He, verily, is the noblest conqueror.[5]

He who can beat hundreds of thousands month after month, is not worth a fraction[6] of him who puts his faith in the Buddha.

(435) He who can beat hundreds of thousands month after month, is not worth a fraction of him who puts his faith in the dharma.[7]

He who can beat hundreds of thousands month after month, is not worth a fraction of him who puts his faith in the Saṅgha.

He who can beat hundreds of thousands month after month, is not worth a fraction of those who have mastered the rules of morality.

He who can beat hundreds of thousands month after month, is not worth a fraction of those who have the well-preached dharma.

Month after month the foolish man may take his meal on tip of kuśa grass,[8] but he is not worth a fraction of the man who puts his faith in the Buddha.[9]

Month after month the foolish man may take his meal on tip of kuśa grass, but he is not worth a fraction of the man who puts his faith in the dharma.

Month after month the foolish man may take his meal on tip of kuśa grass, but he is not worth a fraction of the man who puts his faith in the Saṅgha.

Month after month the foolish man may take his meal on tip of kuśa grass, but he is not worth a fraction of the man who puts his faith in the meditations.

Month after month the foolish man may take his meal on tip of kuśa grass, but he is not worth a fraction of the men who have mastered the rules of morality.

Month after month the foolish man may take his meal on tip of kuśa grass, but he is not worth a fraction of the men who have the well-preached dharma.

A man may live a hundred years in careful tendance of the sacred fire, eating from his bowl, dwelling among corpses, and performing many a penance;

A man may, too, for just one moment worship one in whom the self is developed—that one act of worship is worth more than a hundred years of sacrificing.[10]

Whatever a man has offered or sacrificed in this world (436) as he pursues his year-long quest of merit, is worth but a quarter of the homage paid to upright men.[11]

One may live for a hundred years, immoral, with mind unconcentrated, but better is the one day’s life of him who is moral and who meditates.[12]

One may live for a hundred years, sluggish and inert, but better is the one day’s life of him who firmly exerts his energy.[13]

One may live for a hundred years without seeing the Buddha’s teaching, but better is the one day’s life of him who sees it.

One may live for a hundred years without seeing the unsurpassed dharma, but better is the one day’s life of him who sees it.

One may live for a hundred years without seeing the rise and fall of things, but better is the one day’s life of him who sees them.[14]

One may live for a hundred years without seeing the immovable,[15] but better is the one day’s life of him who sees it.

One may live for a hundred years without seeing the immortal, but better is the one day’s life of him who sees it.{GL_NOTE::}

The Matted-hair Ascetics were all converted by the Exalted One to mastery of the powers, and they all passed to nirvana. The Exalted One paid honour to their bodies and erected topes for them. He then left Dharmāraṇya and returned to the Goatherd’s Banyan-tree.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Or “the Forest of Dharma”. Senart gives this as a proper name in his introduction, but does not list it as such in his index. There is no corresponding Pali place-name in D.P.N., nor does it appear in B.H.S.D. either as a proper or common noun.

2.

Dharmapadeṣu sahasravarga. Cf. the Sahassavagga of the Pali Dhammapada, vv. 100 ff. Senart maintains that the use of the two genitives vācānām and gāthānām, both dependent on sahasram, in the first two stanzas, respectively, with a qualifying adj. in the nom., saṃhitā, is not without parallel in our text, but that it puzzled the redactor of the corresponding Pali who was misled to adopt what, according to Senart, is the less admissible construction of sahassam with the nom., sahassam... vācā. Senart argues from this that the Pali represents an inferior tradition as compared with the Mhvu. Max Müller (S.B.E. X, p. 13, n.) however, says, “Here the Pali text seems decidedly more original and perfect.”

3.

Dh. 100.

4.

Dh. 101

5.

Dh. 103.

6.

Literally, “is not worth a sixteenth part of” kalamarghati ṣoḍaśīm Cf. Pali kalaṃ nāgghati soḷasim. This is verse 106 in Dh. but a different main verb in each text, yajetha (from yajati) in Dh. and jayeta (from jayati) in Mhvu., gives a completely different turn to each. It is needless to remark how easily these two similarly sounding verbs could be confused in oral tradition. There can be little doubt that the Pali yajati is more original here, and gives a better sense.

7.

This and the next nine stanzas are not in the Pali Dh. See vol. II, p. 202, n. 5.

8.

A proverbial expression for a scanty meal.

9.

The first line of this stanza and the last line of the preceding together make up stanza 70 of Dh., in the chapter entitled Bālavaggo “The Chapter of the Fool.” For svākhyātadharmānām, however, the Dh. has saṅkhātadhammānam “those who have reckoned on or recognised the truth of things or the dhamma.” Saṅkhātadhamma is an epithet of the Arhan (S. 2.47; 4.210) and of the Paccekabuddha (Sn. 1038). It might seem better, therefore, to emend the Mhvu. accordingly and read saṅkhyāta, which in BSk. has a meaning similar to the Pali saṅkhāta.

10.

These last two verses are comparable to, but not identical with Dh. 107.

11.

Dh. 110.

12.

Dh. 112.

13.

Dh. 113.

14.

Sc. nirvana, acyutaṃ padam.

15.

Dh. 114.

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