Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra

by Helen M. Johnson | 1931 | 742,503 words

This page describes The first incarnation of Rishabha as the merchant Dhana which is the second part of chapter I of the English translation of the Adisvara-caritra, contained within the “Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra”: a massive Jain narrative relgious text composed by Hemacandra in the 12th century. Adisvara (or Rishabha) in jainism is the first Tirthankara (Jina) and one of the 63 illustrious beings or worthy persons.

Part 2: The first incarnation of Ṛṣabha as the merchant Dhana

Now then—there is a continent named Jambūdvīpa, enclosed by innumerable circles of oceans and continents, and surrounded by a diamond wall. It is adorned with rivers, zones, and mountains, and at its center, like a navel, stands Meru made of gold and jewels. It (Meru) is a lac of yojanas high, adorned with three terraces; and its peak, forty yojanas high, is adorned with shrines of the Arhats. To the west of it, in the Videhas there is a large city, Kṣitipratiṣṭhita by name, an ornament to the whole earth. In it Prasannacandra was king, unwearied in works of dharma, resembling the king of the gods, resplendent with great magnificence. There also lived a merchant, named Dhana, with a wealth of fame, the sole depository of wealth as the ocean is that of rivers. Unequaled wealth belonged to this magnanimous man, which, like the moon’s rays, had benefit to others as its sole result. By whom was he not attended—he, always the sole mountain for the river of good conduct, purifying the earth? In him were qualities, such as generosity, earnestness, strength of character, which are unfailing seeds for the growth of the tree of fame. In his house were heaps of jewels, as if they were grain, and piles of divine garments, as if they were sacks. His house, with its horses, mules, camels, and other draught-animals, looked like the ocean with its sea-monsters. He was foremost among wealthy, virtuous, and renowned men, like breath among the body-winds. A rich man, he filled his attendants with wealth, just as a large lake fills adjacent ground with its water.

One day, he, like embodied energy, wished to go with much merchandise to the city Vasantapura. Then the merchant Dhana had a drum beaten, and a proclamation made to the people throughout the whole city.  “The merchant Dhana is going to Vasantapura. Whoever wishes to go, may go with him. He will give merchandise to those without it, conveyances to those who have no conveyances, companions to the friendless, and provisions to those lacking in provisions. He will protect his weak followers from robbers and from attacks by wild animals on the way, and will cherish them like relatives.” At an auspicious moment, propitious rites having been performed by high-born women, be, vigorous, ascended his chariot and went outside the city. All the people who were going to Vasantapura came there at the sound of the drum of departure, as if summoned by public-criers.

Just then, the Ācārya Dharmaghoṣa, purifying the earth by dharma by his wandering as a sādhu, approached the merchant. Dhana hastily rose and with, folded hands praised the Ācārya shining like the sun with the light of his penance. Questioned by Dhana in regard to the reason of his coming, the Ācārya explained, “I am going to Vasantapura with your caravan.” The merchant replied, “I am fortunate today, O Blessed One, since you who should be visited, have come and are going with my caravan.”

He gave orders to his cooks, “Prepare food, drink, etc., every day for the Ācārya.” The Ācārya said, “Food, etc., which has not been made nor caused to be made, nor intended (for them) is suitable for ascetics. Water too that has come from tanks, wells, ponds, etc., is prohibited unless it is purified by some means,[1] according to the teaching of the Jinas, O caravan-chief.” Just then, some one brought the merchant a dish filled with ripe mangoes that looked like fragments of a twilight-cloud. Then Dhana, whose mind was filled with delight, said, “Favor me and accept this fruit.” The Sūri said, “We are not allowed to even touch such fruit, etc., that has not been purified, to say nothing of eating it, O layman.” Dhana said, “Oh, what observance of vows hard to observe! Such is impossible for careless men even for a day. I will see that you get food, etc., that is suitable for you. Please set out, today.” And bowing to the muni, he left him.

Then the merchant set out with horses, camels, carts, and oxen moving to and fro, like the ocean with its high waves. The Ācārya too set out, surrounded by sādhus, like the embodied mūlaguṇas followed by the uttaraguṇas.[2] Dhana went at the head of the caravan and a friend of his, Māṇibhadra, brought up the rear. They advanced unhindered, attended by multitudes of horsemen at their sides. With his white umbrellas he made the sky look as if it were made of autumn clouds, and with his peacock-feather umbrellas he made it look as if made of rainy-season clouds. His merchandise, difficult to carry, was carried by camels, buffaloes, fine oxen, mules and donkeys, like the earth by the dense winds.[3] The mules had wings, as it were, in the sacks on their sides, and went like deer, so that their steps could not be seen because of their speed. The carts, the place of sport of the young men placed in them, looked like moving houses. The huge-bodied, high-shouldered buffaloes, carrying water, satisfied the people’s thirst, like clouds that have reached the earth. Then the earth, pressed on all sides by the weight of his loads of merchandise, cried out, as it were, by the creaking of the line of carts. The dust, raised on all sides by the multitudes of oxen, camels, and horses, covered the sky so that dense darkness prevailed. Far away, the Yaks with their young, their ears erect, trembled at the sounds of the oxen’s bells by which the heavens were deafened. Even though carrying large loads, even though walking, the camels frequently lopped off the tops of the trees with their necks turned. The donkeys, with their ears erect and necks outstretched, biting each other with their teeth, were at the very last, with bags put on their backs. Surrounded on all sides by armed guards, the caravan advanced along the road, as if inside a cage of adamant. Robbers stayed at a distance from the caravan though it had great wealth, just as if it were the serpent-king with a head-jewel of great value. Dhana, equally eager for the poor man’s obtaining and the rich man’s enjoying, led them all with him, like the lord of the herd leading young elephants.

Dhana made a march day by day like the sun, looked for by all the people with wide-open eyes. At that time, it was the fiery summer season terrible to travelers, diminishing the water of the ponds and rivers, as well as shortening the nights. Winds that were like fires, thoroughly unbearable, blew, and the sun spread its heat that was like a mass of fire on all sides. The members of the caravans stopped at every tree near a pond and, having entered every water-dispensary, drank much water, and fell (on the ground). The buffaloes’ tongues hung out, as if impelled by breathing, and disregarding whips, they entered the mud of the rivers. The oxen, too, ignored their drivers, and, even if the whips were falling, at every opportunity they went to trees off the road. Bodies melted completely, like balls of wax, from the sun’s rays which were like hot needles. The sun assumed the full role of a hot plough-share, and the dust had the unbearableness of a dung-fire thrown on the road. The young women of the caravan entered the streams on the way, everywhere, and put on their necks lotus-stalks they had pulled up. The matrons of the caravan looked just as if they were wearing wet clothes (to keep cool) on the road, because of their garments wet from perspiration. The travelers alleviated the fatigue caused by the heat by fans made from the leaves of the palāśa, palmyra-palm, date-palm, lotus, and plantain.

Then arrived the season characterized by clouds that terminated the movements of travelers as well as the duration of the summer. With terror the caravan saw a cloud in the sky that was like a demon holding a bow and discharging arrows in the shape of rain. The cloud, repeatedly brandishing lightning like a firebrand, terrified the travelers very much, as if they were children. River-banks at once gave way, like the hearts of the travelers, from the high floods of the rivers pouring forth. All the high and low ground of the earth was made level by the waters. Alas! What discrimination can there be in the rise to prosperity of fools?[4] As a result of the impassibility of the road from the water, thorns, and mud, two miles seemed like eight hundred. Travelers advanced very slowly, sunk into new mud up to the knees as if they had put on boots.

Long clubs of her own arms, as it were, were extended by an evil fate in the guise of rivers to obstruct travelers on every road. The carts mired everywhere in the terrible mud on the road, as if seized by the earth from anger at her long crushing. The camels, led by ropes by their riders who had dismounted, slipped at every step and fell on the road. When the merchant Dhana noticed the impassibility of the road, he stopped and made a camp at that very place in the forest. The people made thatched huts there to pass the rainy season. For people who act according to time and place never suffer. The Sūri with the sādhus dwelt in a thatched hut as an upāśraya on ground free from lives pointed out by Māṇibhadra. Because of the size of the caravan and the length of the rainy season, every one’s provisions, barley, etc., gave out. Then the members of the caravan, afflicted by hunger, went here and there to eat bulbs, roots, etc., ragged like ascetics. At the beginning of night, the miserable plight of the caravan was fully described to its leader by his friend Māṇibhadra. Then the merchant remained in continuous thought about the caravan’s trouble, motionless as the ocean undisturbed by wind. Then in a moment sleep came to him worn out by anxiety. For excessive grief and excessive happiness are its chief causes.

During the last watch of the night, a certain stable-watchman, sincere at heart, recited as follows: “Our Master, whose fame has spread in every direction, keeps his promises even though he has suffered misfortune. He surely does!” When Dhana heard that, he thought, “Some one is ridiculing me. Who can it be? Who in my caravan here is especially unfortunate? Oh, I know. The Ācārya Dharmaghoṣa came with me. He lives only on alms that have not been made, nor caused to be made (for him) and are pure. Now when the whole caravan is destitute, how does he, who does not touch bulbs, roots, fruit, etc., live? Only today have I thought of him whom I led and for whom I assumed responsibility on the road. What have I, thoughtless, done? How can I show my face to him today, to whom as yet no service, not even in words, has been done? Nevertheless, I will see him today and wash away my sin. What business has he, indifferent to everything, with me?” To him, engaged in these reflections and eager for the sight of the Muni, the fourth watch of the night seemed like another night.

When it was dawn, Dhana with the chief persons (of the caravan), dressed in white and wearing ornaments, went to the Sūri’s retreat which was situated on high, dry ground free from lives, covered with a roof of palāśa, with walls of straw with crevices. Dhana saw the Muni Dharmaghoṣa, like the churning-stick of the ocean of evil, like a road to emancipation, like an assembly-hall of dharma, like an abode of splendor, a hoar-frost for the bush of passions, a carrier of the wealth of happiness, a wonderful ornament of the Jain congregation, a wishing-tree for people desiring emancipation, like penance concentrated in a mass, like the scriptures embodied, like a Tīrthaṅkara. He saw munis there, some engaged in meditation, some absorbed in silence, some engaged in kāyotsarga[5]; some were reading aloud the scriptures, some were teaching, some sweeping the ground, some paying homage to their gurus, some discoursing on dharma, some expounding texts, some giving their approval (of the exposition), and some reciting the tattvas (supreme principles). He paid homage to the Ācārya and the sādhus in turn, and they gave him the greeting of dharmalābha[6], the destroyer of evil.

Then he seated himself at the Ācārya’s lotus feet, like a king-goose, and penetrated with joy, began to speak thus: “When I invited you to go with me, O Blessed One, I showed zeal which was quite useless, like the thundering of clouds in autumn. [7] From that time on, I never questioned you, nor paid my respects to you, nor aided yon at any time with food, drink, clothes, etc. What have I done in my confusion, asleep though awake, since I, forgetful of my promise for a long, long time, have neglected you! Forgive my careless conduct, O Blessed One. For the great, like the earth, always bear everything.” The Sūri said, “Have you indeed not aided me by protection from wild beasts and robbers on the road? Your own caravan has given me suitable food, drink, etc. Therefore, we lacked nothing. Do not worry, sir.” Dhana replied, “The good always see only good qualities. So to me, though I am sinful, Your Reverence speaks thus. I am completely ashamed of my own negligence. Please send sādhus so I can bestow food, as I desire.” The Sūri said, “You know that it will be according to circumstances.[8] Food, etc., that has not been made, nor caused to be made, and is free from life, is suitable for us.” “I shall give to the sādhus only that which is suitable,” Dhana said, bowed, and went to his own abode.

Then just behind him came two sādhus, and by chance there was nothing, food, drink, etc., suitable for them. Searching here and there, the merchant himself saw some fresh ghee, pure as his own heart. “Here is something suitable,” the caravan-chief said. Saying, “I accept it,” the sādhu held out his dish. Thinking, “I am blessed, I have done my duty, I am virtuous,” with the hair on his body erect from pleasure, he himself gave the ghee to the sādhu. After the gift of ghee had been made, Dhana paid homage to the munis, making grow his bulb of merit, as it were, with the water of the tears of joy. They bestowed ‘dharmalābha,’ equal to a perfect charm for the accomplishing of all happiness, and went to their retreat. At that time, by the power of his gift the seed of the tree of mokṣa, the seed of enlightenment, difficult to gain, was acquired by the merchant. At night he went again to the munis’ abode, entered, bowed to the guru, saying, “Instruct me.” The Sūri Dharmaghoṣa gave this sermon, almost equal to that of a Śrutakevalin,[9] in a voice like thunder.

Footnotes and references:


Aśastropahatam. I.e., the life in water must be destroyed. Boiling is the most usual method, but others may be used, such as mixing salt water with fresh, putting in ashes, etc. Śastra here applies to any means of destroying life.


The mūlaguṇas are the same as the mahāvratas and therefore 5 in number. The uttaraguṇas are any additional acts of self-denial and various authors give different numbers. Hem. himself (Yog. p. 251a) says mūlaguṇas for yatis are the mahāvratas, and for laymen the aṇuvratas. Uttaraguṇas for yatis are piṇḍavi-śuddhi, etc., and for laymen the guṇa- and śikṣāvratas.

The ‘piṇḍavi-śuddhi, etc.,’ is explained (Yog. 1. 26, p. 41b):

piṇḍasya yā viśodhiḥ samitayo bhāvanās tapo dvividham,
pratimā abhigrahaścaiva uttaraguṇavidhānāni.

Piṇḍaviśodhi has 4 subdivisions—the 4 kinds of food; samiti 5; bhāvanā 25, (each mahāvrata has 5 supporting clauses, Yog. I. 25, pp. 41 f); tapas 12; pratimā 12 (sādhupratimās); abhigraha 4, with reference to substance, time, place, and condition.


See App. I.


There is double meaning here. The words also mean ‘at the rise of waters’.


Indifference to the body by one standing or sitting, with the arms hanging down, is called kāyotsarga. Yog. 4. 133.


May you obtain dharma.


In India, of course, there is no rain in the autumn.


The phrase ‘Vartamāna yoga’ is still used in reply to an invitation to come for alms. The sādhu will not commit himself, as by doing so, some fault might be committed.


One who knows all the scriptures thoroughly.

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