Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

1. The Great Legend

Introduction

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was in Śrāvastī at the Flowering Grove Hut of Jeta’s Grove.[2] He was accompanied by a large assembly of 1,250 monks.

2. It was then that the monks gathered in the Flowering Grove Hall after soliciting alms.[3] They engaged in a discussion with each other: “You monks, only the unsurpassed sage is so extraordinary! His miraculous powers are far-reaching, and his authority is tremendous. He has come to know the countless buddhas of the past who have entered nirvāṇa, broken the bonds, and eliminated speculation.

3. “He also knows how many eons ago those buddhas existed as well as their names, surnames, birth castes, the meals they had, the length of their lives, and what suffering and happiness they experienced.

4. “He also knows that those buddhas possessed such precepts, such principles, such wisdom, such liberation, and such abodes.”

5. “What do you think? Does the Tathāgata know this by discerning well the nature of things, or does he know these things because the gods come and tell him?”

6. The Bhagavān was in a quiet place at the time and clearly overheard the monks having that discussion with his heavenly ear. He rose from his seat, went to the Flowering Grove Hall, prepared a seat, and sat down.

7. Knowing the answer, the Bhagavān asked them, “Monks, what have you been discussing after gathering here?” The monks then related to him what it had been.

8. The Bhagavān told the monks, “Good, good! With complete faith, you’ve left home to cultivate the path, and you practice as you should. All of you have two types of conduct: The first is noble discussion of the teaching, and the second is noble silence. This discussion of yours is as it should be. The Tathāgata’s miraculous powers and authority are tremendous. He entirely knows the events of countless eons in the past. He knows it because he understands well the nature of things and because the gods come and tell him.”

9. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

The Seven Buddhas

10. He also told the monks, “Would you like to hear about the circumstances of the buddhas in the past? The Tathāgata knows them with the knowledge of past lives. I’ll tell you about them.”

The monks said to him, “Bhagavān, now would be a good time for it!” “We’d be glad to hear it!” “Excellent, Bhagavān!” “Once the discourse is complete, we’ll approve of it!”

11. The Buddha told the monks, “Listen closely! Listen closely, and consider it well! I’ll discern and explain it for you.” The monks then accepted the teaching and listened.

12. The Buddha told the monks, “Ninety-one eons ago, there was a buddha in the world named Vipaśyin. He was a tathāgata, an arhat, who arose in the world. Furthermore, monks, thirty-one eons ago, there was a buddha named Śikhin. He was a tathāgata, an arhat, who arose in the world. Furthermore, monks, thirty-one eons ago, there was a buddha named Viśvabhū. He was a tathāgata, an arhat, who arose in the world. Furthermore, monks, during the present eon of fortune, there was a buddha named Krakucchanda. He was a tathāgata, an arhat, who arose in the world. Another was named Kanakamuni, and another was named Kāśyapa. Now, I’ve also achieved the supreme and perfect awakening during this present eon of fortune.”

13. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

14. “You should know that during the time of Buddha Vipaśyin, people lived for 80,000 years. During the time of Buddha Śikhin, people lived for 70,000 years. During the time of Buddha Viśvabhū, people lived for 60,000 years. During the time of Buddha Krakucchanda, people lived for 40,000 years. During the time of Buddha Kanakamuni, people lived for 30,000 years. During the time of Buddha Kāśyapa, people lived for 20,000 years. In the present time that I’ve arisen in the world, few people live more than a hundred years, and many live for less.”

15. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

16. “Buddha Vipaśyin arose from the warrior caste, and his clan was Kauṇḍinya. Buddha Śikhin and Buddha Viśvabhū were from the same caste and clan. Buddha Krakucchanda arose from the priestly caste, and his clan was Kāśyapa. Buddha Kanakamuni and Buddha Kāśyapa were from the same caste and clan. Now, I’m a tathāgata, an arhat, who arose from the warrior caste, and my clan is Gautama.”

17. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

18. “Buddha Vipaśyin sat under a pippala tree and achieved the supreme and perfect awakening. Buddha Śikhin sat under a puṇḍarīka tree and achieved the supreme and perfect awakening. Buddha Viśvabhū sat under a sāla tree and achieved the supreme and perfect awakening. Buddha Krakucchanda sat under a śirṣa tree and achieved the supreme and perfect awakening. Buddha Kanakamuni sat under an udumbara tree and achieved the supreme and perfect awakening. Buddha Kāśyapa sat under a nyagrodha tree and achieved the supreme and perfect awakening. Now, I am a tathāgata, an arhat, who sat under a ’pattha tree and achieved the supreme and perfect awakening.”[5]

19. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

20. “Tathāgata Vipaśyin taught Dharma to three congregations. The first congregation had 168,000 disciples. The second congregation had 100,000 disciples. The third congregation had 80,000 disciples. Tathāgata Śikhin taught Dharma to three congregations. The first congregation had 100,000 disciples. The second congregation had 80,000 disciples. The third congregation had 70,000 disciples. Tathāgata Viśvabhū taught Dharma to two congregations. The first congregation had 70,000 disciples, and the next congregation had 60,000 disciples. Tathāgata Krakucchanda taught Dharma to one congregation of 40,000 disciples. Tathāgata Kanakamuni taught Dharma to one congregation of 30,000 disciples. Tathāgata Kāśyapa taught Dharma to one congregation of 20,000 disciples. Now, I teach Dharma to one congregation of 1,250 disciples.”

21. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

22. “The Buddha Vipaśyin had two disciples who were foremost: 1. Khaṇḍa, and 2. Tiṣya. The Buddha Śikhin had two disciples who were foremost: 1. Abhibhū, and 2. Sambhava. The Buddha Viśvabhū had two disciples who were foremost: 1. Bhujiṣya, and 2. Uttama. The Buddha Krakucchanda had two disciples who were foremost: 1. Sañjīva, and 2. Vidhura. The Buddha Kanakamuni had two disciple who were foremost: 1. [Ṣovana] (?), and 2. Uttara. The Buddha Kāśyapa had two disciples who were foremost: 1. Tiṣya, and 2. Bharadvāja. Now, I have two disciples who are foremost: 1. Śāriputra, and 2. Maudgalyāyana.”

23. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

24. “Buddha Vipaśyin had an attendant disciple named Aśoka. The Buddha Śikhin has an attendant disciple named Kṣemakāra. The Buddha Viśvabhū had an attendant disciple named Upaśānta. The Buddha Krakucchanda had an attendant disciple named Subuddhi. The Buddha Kanakamuni had an attendant disciple named Svastika. The Buddha Kāśyapa had an attendant disciple named Sumitra. I have an attendant disciple named Ānanda.”

25. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

26. “The Buddha Vipaśyin had a son named Proper Heart. The Buddha Śikhin had a son named Measureless. The Buddha Viśvabhū had a son named Subuddhi. The Buddha Krakucchanda had a son named Uttama. The Buddha Kanakamuni had a son named Sārthavāha. The Buddha Kāśyapa had a son named Gathered Army. Now I have a son named Rāhula.”

27. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

28. “The Buddha Vipaśyin’s father was named Bandhumat, and he was from a lineage of warrior kings. His mother was named Bandhuvatī, and the king ruled from a city named Bandhuvatī.”

29. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

30. The Buddha Śikhin’s father was named Aruṇa, and he was from a lineage of warrior kings. His mother’s name was Prabhāvāti, and the king ruled from a city named Aruṇavāti.”

31. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

32. “The Buddha Viśvabhū’s father was named Supradīpa, and he was from a lineage of warrior kings. His mother’s name was Famous Virtue, and the king ruled from a city called Anupama.”

33. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

34. “The Buddha Krakucchanda’s father was named Yajñadatta, and he was from the priestly caste. His mother was named Suśākhā. The king was named Kṣema, and the capital was named Kṣemāvatī after the king.”

35. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

36. “The Buddha Kanakamuni’s father was named Mahāguṇa, and he was from the priestly caste. His mother’s name was Sujayā, and the king then was named Śobha. The capital was named Śobhavatī after the king.”

37. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

38. “The Buddha Kāśyapa’s father was named Brahmadatta, and he was from the priestly caste. His mother was named Dhanavatī, and the king then was named Kṛkin. The king ruled from a city called Vārāṇasī.”

39. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

40. “My father is named Śuddhodana, and he is from a lineage of warrior kings. My mother’s name is Great Pure Wonder, and the king rules from the city called Kapilavastu.”

41. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

42. “These were the conditions, names, castes, and birthplaces of those buddhas. What wise person who hears these circumstances wouldn’t rejoice and feel delighted by it?”

The Buddha Vipaśyin

The Bodhisattva’s Birth

43. The Bhagavān then told the monks, “Now, I’d like to give a talk on the events of past Buddhas using the knowledge of past lives. Would you like to hear it?”

The monks replied, “Now is the right time. We’d be glad to hear it!”

44. The Buddha told the monks, “Listen closely! Listen closely and consider it well! I will give you a discerning explanation.

45. “Monks, you should know the way it always is with buddhas. When Bodhisattva Vipaśyin’s spirit descended from the Tuṣita Heaven to his mother’s womb and entered through her right side, he was properly mindful and undisturbed.

46. “At that moment, there was an earthquake, and a great radiance illuminated the whole world. The sun and moon couldn’t compare to its brilliance. Sentient beings in complete darkness saw each other and recognized where they were going. When this light illuminated Māra’s palace, and the gods, Śakra, Brahmā, ascetics, priests, and other sentient beings were all outshined by that great radiance, the light of those gods naturally disappeared.”

47. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

48. “Monks, you should know the way it always is with buddhas. While he was in his mother’s womb, Bodhisattva Vipaśyin was focused and undisturbed. There were four gods armed with spears who stood guard over his mother so that neither humans nor non-humans could harm her. This is the way it always is.”

49. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

50. He also told the monks, “This is the way it always is with buddhas. When Bodhisattva Vipaśyin’s spirit descended from the Tuṣita Heaven to his mother’s womb, he was focused and undisturbed. His mother’s body was relaxed, she didn’t have any kind of illness, and her wisdom improved. His mother looked into her womb and saw the Bodhisattva’s body with fully formed faculties. It was the color of purple gold and without any blemish. She was like a man with eyesight seeing a pure beryl that’s transparent and lacks any obstructions to his vision. Monks, this is the way it always is with buddhas.”

51. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

52. The Buddha told the monks, “[This is the way it always is with buddhas.] When Bodhisattva Vipaśyin’s spirit descended from the Tuṣita Heaven to his mother’s womb, he was focused and undisturbed. His mother’s heart was pure, without any notions of desire. Nor was she burned by the fire of lust. This is the way it always is with buddhas.”

53. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

54. The Buddha told the monks, “This is the way it always is with buddhas. When Bodhisattva Vipaśyin’s spirit descended from the Tuṣita Heaven to his mother’s womb, he was focused and unconfused. His mother upheld the five precepts, purified the religious practice, and was faithful and loving. These virtues being accomplished, she was happy and fearless. When her body broke up and her life ended, she was born in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. This is the way it always is [with buddhas].”

55. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

56. The Buddha told the monks, “This is the way it always is with buddhas. When he was born, Bodhisattva Vipaśyin emerged from his mother’s right side. There was an earthquake, and a radiance illuminated [the whole world]. Just as when he first entered her womb, there wasn’t any dark place that wasn’t illuminated. This is the way it always is [with buddhas].”

57. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

58. The Buddha told the monks, “This is the way it always is with buddhas. When he was born, Bodhisattva Vipaśyin emerged from his mother’s right side, and he was focused and undisturbed. The Bodhisattva’s mother held onto a tree limb, neither sitting nor lying down. Four gods stood in front his mother and presented fragrant water. They said, ‘Indeed, heavenly mother! Now you’ve given birth to a holy son. Don’t feel anguish over it!’ This is the way it always is [with buddhas].”

59. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

60. The Buddha told the monks, “This is the way it always is with buddhas. When he was born, Bodhisattva Vipaśyin emerged from his mother’s right side, and he was focused and undisturbed. His body was clean, not being sullied by filth. It was like a man with eyesight putting a pure, bright jewel on white silk, and neither of them dirties the other because they are both pure. The Bodhisattva emerged from the womb in the same way. This is the way it always is [with buddhas].”

61. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

62. The Buddha told the monks, “This is the way it always is with buddhas. When he was born, Bodhisattva Vipaśyin emerged from his mother’s right side, and he was focused and undisturbed. Upon emerging from her right side, he fell to the ground and walked seven paces without anyone helping him. He looked all around in the four directions, raised his hand, and said, ‘Only I am exalted by both heaven and earth, for I will save sentient beings from birth, old age, illness, and death.’ This is the way it always is [with buddhas].”

63. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

64. The Buddha told the monks, “This is the way it always is with buddhas. When he was born, Bodhisattva Vipaśyin emerged from his mother’s right side, and he was focused and undisturbed. Two streams of water sprung forth, one hot and one cold, which were provided to bathe him. This is the way it always is [with buddhas].”

65. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

The Thirty-Two Signs

66. “When the prince was first born, his father, king Bandhumat, summoned a group of physiognomists and fortune-tellers to examine him and determine his [future] fortune or misfortune.

67. “The physiognomists accepted his command and examined the prince. Lifting his robe, they saw he had the full set of signs. The fortune-tellers said, ‘Someone possessing these signs will have one of two destinies, without a doubt. If he remains at home, he’ll become a noble wheel-turning king. He’ll be the king of the four continents, and his four armies will be complete. He’ll rule with the correct Dharma without any wickedness, and he’ll be a blessing to the world. The seven treasures will come naturally to him. He’ll have a thousand courageous sons who defeat foreign adversaries, and there’ll be a great peace under heaven without the use of weapons. If he leaves home, he’ll achieve perfect awakening and be given the ten epithets.’

68. “The physiognomists then said to the king, ‘This son born to the king has thirty-two signs. He’ll have one of two destinies, without a doubt. If he stays at home, he’ll become a noble wheel-turning king. If he leaves home, he’ll achieve perfect awakening and be given the ten epithets.’”

69. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

70. “His father the king repeated himself three times, asking the physiognomists, ‘Look again at the prince’s thirty-two signs. What are they called?’

“The physiognomists lifted the prince’s robe and described his thirty-two signs: ‘First, his feet are flat. The soles of his feet are level and full, and they step on the ground comfortably. Second, the wheel sign is on the soles of his feet. Complete with a thousand spokes, they shine with many lights. Third, his hands and feet are webbed like the king of geese. Fourth, his hands and feet are soft like heavenly cloth. Fifth, his fingers and toes are unmatched in slenderness and length. Sixth, his heels are so full one never tires of looking at them. Seventh, his calves are straight up and down like a deer’s legs. Eighth, his bones are a chain, their joints hooking together like chain links. Ninth, his organ is hidden like that of a horse. Tenth, his hands hang lower than his knees. Eleventh, each of his pores has a hair growing from it, the hair curls to the right, and it’s the color of a dark blue beryl. Twelfth, his hairs curl to the right, are blue in color, and turn upward. Thirteenth, his body is gold-colored. Fourteenth, his skin is fine and soft, and dirt doesn’t stick to it. Fifteenth, his shoulders are even, full, rounded, and attractive. Sixteenth, he has the svastika symbol on his chest. Seventeenth, his body is twice as long as a human. Eighteenth, his seven points are equally full. Nineteenth, his body’s length and breadth is like that of a nyagrodha tree. Twentieth, he has rounded cheeks like a lion. Twenty-first, his breast is dignified like that of a lion. Twenty-second, he has forty teeth in his mouth. Twenty-third, he is dignified and symmetrical. Twenty-fourth, the gaps between his teeth are hidden. Twenty-fifth, his teeth are pure white and bright. Twenty-sixth, his throat is clean, and whatever flavored food he eats is always agreeable. Twenty-seventh, his tongue is so long and broad, it can lick his left or right ear. Twenty-eighth, his Brahmā voice is clear. Twenty-ninth, his eyes are deep blue. Thirtieth, he has eyes like a bull king that blink together, up and down. Thirty-first, he has a white tuft of soft and shiny hair between his brows. It’s a fathom long when pulled taut, and it curls to the right like a jewel when released. Thirty-second, he has a fleshy knot on his crown. These are the thirty-two signs.’”

71. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

The Bodhisattva’s Early Life

72. The Buddha told the monks, “When he was born, Bodhisattva Vipaśyin was sheltered from cold, heat, wind, rain, and dust by gods in the sky who held white parasols and jeweled fans for him.”

73. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

74. “His father, the king, provided him with four nannies: The first fed him milk, the second bathed him, the third rubbed him with incense, and the fourth entertained him. They joyously nurtured him without any neglect.”

75. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

76. “When he was a youth, the whole country’s men and women watched him without tire.”

77. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

78. “While he was a youth, the whole country’s men and women would pass him around and hold him up as though they were looking at a jeweled flower.”

79. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

80. “When he was born, the Bodhisattva’s eyes were unblinking like a Trāyastriṃśa god. He was named Vipaśyin because he didn’t blink.”

81. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

82. “When he was born, the Bodhisattva’s voice was clear, gentle, and harmonious like the voice of a kalaviṅka bird.”

83. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

84. “When he was born, the Bodhisattva’s vision could see clearly as far away as a yojana.”

85. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

86. “When he was born, the Bodhisattva grew up to adulthood and was educated in the way [of governing] in the royal hall. His favor reached the common people, and his reputation for virtue was heard far away.”

87. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

The Bodhisattva Leaves Home

88. “At that point, the Bodhisattva wanted to go out sight-seeing, so he ordered his driver to prepare a chariot and horses to tour a forest park. Once the chariot and horses were ready, the driver returned and said, ‘Now is a good time.’ The prince then rode in the precious chariot to the scenic park. While they were on the road, they saw an elderly man. His hair was white, his teeth had fallen out, and his wrinkled body was bent. He walked wearily with a cane and was short of breath.

89. “The prince asked his aide, ‘What sort of man is that?’

“He answered, ‘This is an old man.’

90. “The prince also asked, ‘What is “old”?’

“He answered, ‘Old age happens as the end of one’s life approaches. When there aren’t many years left, it’s called being old.’

91. “The prince asked, ‘Will I be likewise? Will I not escape this hardship?’

“He answered, ‘Yes, anyone born is sure to become old. It doesn’t matter if they are upper or lower class.’

92. “The prince was disturbed and unhappy. He told his driver to turn the chariot around and go back to the palace. He silently thought to himself, ‘To think I’ll also have to suffer being old!’”

93. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

94. “His father, the king, asked the driver, ‘Did the prince enjoy his excursion?’

“He answered, ‘He didn’t enjoy it.’

95. “The king asked him why, and the driver replied, ‘We happened upon an old man on the road, which made him unhappy.’

96. “His father, the king, then thought silently to himself, ‘The physiognomists foretold that the prince would leave home, and now he isn’t happy. What can I do about it? I’ll devise a way to make him stay in the inner palace and entertain him with the five desires. He’ll be delighted, which will prevent him from leaving home!’ He then decorated the palace’s guest quarters and selected some maidens to entertain the prince.”

97. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

98. “After that time, the prince again ordered his driver to prepare a chariot and horses for an excursion, and they encountered a sick man on the road. His body was limp, and his belly was huge. His face and eyes were dark, and he was lying alone in his own waste without anyone looking after him. His illness was so painful that he couldn’t speak.

99. “The prince looked back at his driver and said, ‘What sort of man is that?’

“He answered, ‘That is a sick man.’

100. “The prince asked, ‘What is ‘sick’?’

“He answered, ‘Sickness is being attacked by one of many diseases. When a person is still alive and hasn’t died yet, they are called sick.”

101. “‘Will I be likewise? Haven’t I escape this hardship yet?’

“‘Yes, anyone born becomes sick. It doesn’t matter if they are upper or lower class.’

102. “The prince was disturbed and unhappy. He told the driver to turn the chariot around and return to the palace. He thought silently to himself, ‘To think I’ll also have to suffer being sick!’”

103. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

104. “His father, the king, again asked the driver, ‘Did the prince enjoy his excursion?’

“He answered, ‘He didn’t enjoy it.’

105. “The king asked him why, and the driver answered, ‘We happened upon a sick man on the road, and he wasn’t happy about it.’

106. “His father, the king thought, ‘The physiognomists foretold that the prince would leave home, and now he isn’t happy. What can I do about it? I’ll devise a way to improve his entertainment. He’ll be delighted, which will prevent him from leaving home!’ The king then decorated the palace guest quarters and selected maidens to entertain the prince.”

107. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

108. “At another time, the prince ordered his driver to prepare a chariot and horses for an excursion, and they encountered a dead man on the road. Multi-colored banners were posted in front and behind his corpse, and his relatives and family were lamenting, crying as they took it out of the city. The prince again asked, ‘What sort of man is that?’

“He answered, ‘That’s a dead man.’

109. “‘What exactly is “dead”?’

“‘Death is the end. Breath goes first, warmth goes next, and then the faculties decay. When a person dies, they go somewhere else and live in a separate family. Therefore, it’s called death.’

110. “The prince also asked the driver, ‘Will I be likewise? Haven’t I escaped this trouble?’

“He answered, ‘Yes, everyone born is sure to die. It doesn’t matter if they are upper or lower class.’

111. “The prince was disturbed and unhappy. He told the driver to turn the chariot around and return to the palace. He silently thought, ‘To think I too will have to suffer this death!’”

112. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

113. “His father, the king, again asked the driver, ‘Did the prince enjoy his excursion?’

“He answered, ‘He didn’t enjoy it.’

114. “The king asked him why, and the driver answered, ‘We happened upon a dead man on the road, and he wasn’t happy about it.’

115. “His father, the king, thought, ‘The physiognomists foretold that the prince would leave home, and now he isn’t happy. What can I do about it? I’ll devise a way to improve his entertainment. He’ll be delighted, which will prevent him from leaving home!’ The king then decorated the palace guest quarters and selected maidens to entertain the prince.”

116. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

117. “At another time, he ordered his driver to prepare a chariot and horses for an excursion, and they encountered an ascetic on the road. He wore Dharma clothes and carried a bowl, looking at the ground as he walked. The prince asked his driver, ‘What sort of man is that?’

“His driver replied, ‘That is an ascetic.’

118. “The prince also asked, ‘What is an ascetic?’

“He answered, ‘An ascetic renounces loved ones, leaves home, and cultivates the path. He controls his faculties so that he isn’t defiled by external desires. He’s kind to everyone, and he doesn’t do any harm. When he encounters suffering, he isn’t saddened. When he meets with pleasure, he isn’t delighted. He’s accepting like the earth; therefore, he’s called an ascetic.’

119. “The prince said, ‘Excellent! This is the path is that truly severs worldly ties. It’s subtle, pure, and clear. This is the only way to happiness.’ He then ordered his driver to pull the chariot over [beside the ascetic].

120. “The prince then asked the ascetic, ‘What’s the purpose of cutting off one’s hair and beard, putting on Dharma robes, and carrying a bowl?’

“The ascetic replied, ‘A person leaves home wanting to train their mind, forever part with defilement, kindly nurture living things, and do no harm. They quiet their vain thoughts; their only work is the path.’

121. “The prince said, ‘Excellent! This path is the truest!’ He immediately ordered his driver, ‘Take my precious clothes and carriage and return them to the King. I’m going to cut off my hair and beard, put on the three-piece Dharma robe, and leave home to cultivate the path. Why is that? I want to train my mind, discard defilement, and purify my life in order to seek the methods of the path.’

122. “Thereupon, the driver took the prince’s precious chariot and robes and returned them to his father, the king. Afterward, the prince cut off his hair and beard, put on the three-piece Dharma robe, and left home to cultivate the path.”

123. The Buddha told the monks, “When he saw the elderly man and the sick man, the prince recognized the suffering of the world. When he saw the dead man, his feelings of attraction to the world ceased. Then, he saw the ascetic and the vastness of the great awakening. He dismounted his precious chariot and walked away from bondage, step by step. This was how he genuinely left home, his genuine renunciation.

The Bodhisattva Achieves Awakening

124. “When the people of the country heard that the prince had cut off his hair and beard, put on a Dharma robe, carried a bowl, and left home to cultivate the path, they said to each other, ‘This path must be genuine for the prince to give up his position as the country’s heir. That’s a serious thing to discard!’ Eighty-four thousand people in the country went to the prince wanting to become his disciples and leave home to cultivate the path.”

125. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

126. “The prince then accepted them as disciples, and they traveled together, giving teachings in various places. From town to town and country to country, he was paid respects everywhere with the four types of service and support. The Bodhisattva thought, ‘When I travel through these countries with a large assembly, the hustle and bustle of people isn’t right for me. When will I be free of these crowds of people? The genuine pursuit of the path is done in a secluded place; then, a person can fulfill their aspirations. In a quiet place, I could focus my efforts on cultivating the path.’

127. “He also thought, ‘Sentient beings are pitiable, always living in darkness and experiencing the physical frailties of birth, old age, illness, and death, that collection of myriad pains. Dying here, they’re born there, and they’re born here after dying there. As a result of this mass of suffering, they cycle around endlessly. When will I comprehend this mass of suffering and extinguish birth, old age, and death?’

128. “Again, he thought, ‘Where does birth and death come from? What’s the condition for their existence?’ He then wisely examined their source. Old age and death comes from birth. Birth is the condition for old age and death. Birth arises from existence. Existence is the condition for birth. Existence arises from clinging. Clinging is the condition for existence. Clinging arises from craving. Craving is the condition for clinging. Craving arises from feeling. Feeling is the condition for craving. Feeling arises from contact. Contact is the condition for feeling. Contact arises from the six senses. The six senses are the condition for contact. The six senses arise from name and form. Name and form are the condition for the six senses. Name and form arise from consciousness. Consciousness is the condition for name and form. Consciousness arises from volition. Volition is the condition for consciousness. Volition arises from ignorance. Ignorance is the condition for volition.

129. “‘From the condition of ignorance, there’s volition. Volition is the condition for consciousness. Consciousness is the condition for name and form. Name and form is the condition for the six senses. The six senses are the condition for contact. Contact is the condition for feeling. Feeling is the condition for craving. Craving is the condition for clinging. Clinging is the condition for existence. Existence is the condition for birth. Birth is the condition for old age, illness, death, grief, sorrow, pain, and trouble. This whole mass of suffering exists on the condition of birth. This is the formation of suffering.’

130. “When the Bodhisattva contemplated the formation of this mass of suffering, knowledge arose, vision arose, awakening arose, insight arose, comprehension arose, wisdom arose, and realization arose.

131. “The Bodhisattva contemplated this as well: ‘The absence of what would cause the absence of old age and death? The cessation of what would cause the cessation of old age and death?’

132. “He then wisely observed their origin: ‘Old age and death don’t exist when birth doesn’t exist. Old age and death cease when birth ceases. Birth doesn’t exist when existence doesn’t exist. Birth ceases when existence ceases. Existence doesn’t exist when clinging doesn’t exist. Existence ceases when clinging ceases. Clinging doesn’t exist when craving doesn’t exist. Clinging ceases when craving ceases. Craving doesn’t exist when feeling doesn’t exist. Craving ceases when feeling ceases. Feeling doesn’t exist when contact doesn’t exist. Feeling ceases when contact ceases. Contact doesn’t exist when the six senses don’t exist. Contact ceases when the six senses cease. The six senses don’t exist when name and form don’t exist. The six senses cease when name and form cease. Name and form don’t exist when consciousness doesn’t exist. Name and form cease when consciousness ceases. Consciousness doesn’t exist when volition doesn’t exist. Consciousness ceases when volition ceases. Volition doesn’t exist when ignorance doesn’t exist. Volition ceases when ignorance ceases.

133. “‘It’s because ignorance ceases that volition ceases. Consciousness ceases because volition ceases. Name and form cease because consciousness ceases. The six senses cease because name and form cease. Contact ceases because the six senses cease. Feeling ceases because contact ceases. Craving ceases because feeling ceases. Clinging ceases because craving ceases. Existence ceases because clinging ceases. Birth ceases because existence ceases. Old age, death, grief, sorrow, pain, and trouble cease because birth ceases.’

134. When the Bodhisattva contemplated the cessation of this mass of suffering, knowledge arose, vision arose, awakening arose, insight arose, comprehension arose, wisdom arose, and realization arose.”

135. “The Bodhisattva observed these twelve causal conditions in forward and reverse order. When he truly knew and saw them, he rose from his seat and achieved the supreme, correct, and perfect awakening.”

136. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

Brahmā’s Request

137. “When the Buddha Vipaśyin first achieved awakening, he often cultivated two contemplations: The contemplation of peace and the contemplation of escape.”

138. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

139. “In a quiet place, Buddha Vipaśyin again had this thought: ‘Now, I’ve attained this unsurpassed teaching that’s profound, subtle, hard to understand, hard to see, calming, pure, known by the wise, and not within the reach of ordinary fools. This is because sentient beings acknowledge different things, have different views, accept different things, and have different trainings. Based on their different views, they each pursue what delights them and study their professions. They therefore can’t understand this profound dependent origination, but nirvāṇa’s end of craving is twice as hard to know. If I were to teach it, they surely wouldn’t understand, and I’d be troubled by it.’ After having this thought, he remained silent and didn’t go on to teach the Dharma.

140. “Knowing what the Buddha Vipaśyin was thinking, the Brahma King thought to himself, ‘Now, it’ll be very sad when this world is destroyed. Buddha Vipaśyin has attained knowledge of this profound and subtle teaching, but he doesn’t want to teach it!’ In the time it takes a strong man to flex his arm, Brahma instantly came down from his Brahma Heaven palace to stand in front of the Buddha. He bowed his head at the Buddha’s feet and withdrew to stand to one side.

141. “The Brahma King knelt on his right knee and saluted the Buddha with his palms together. He said, ‘Please, Bhagavān, use this time to teach the Dharma! These sentient beings today have weakened their defilements, their faculties are strong, they’re respectful, and they could be easily educated. Fearing the afterlife and having no salvation from misdeeds, they can desist from their evil ways and be born in good destinies.’

142. “That Buddha told the Brahma King, ‘So it is, so it is! It’s as you say, but I thought to myself in a quiet place, “The correct Dharma I’ve attained is profound and subtle. If I taught it to others, they surely wouldn’t understand, and I’d be troubled by it.” So, I’m silent, not wanting to teach the Dharma. I’ve gone through countless eons of hardship without quitting and cultivated the unsurpassed practice. Now, I’ve won this hard to get Dharma for the first time. If I taught it to lustful, hateful, and ignorant sentient beings, they’d surely not put it into practice. It would be pointless and wearisome. This teaching is subtle and contradicts the world. Sentient beings who are defiled by desire and benighted by foolishness can’t be confident about it. Brahma King, I observe this to be so. That’s why I’ve remained silent and don’t want to teach the Dharma.’

143. “The Brahma King repeated his encouragement three times in earnest: ‘Bhagavān, if the Dharma isn’t taught, then it’ll be very sad when the world is destroyed. Please, Bhagavān, take this time to expound it. Don’t let sentient beings fall to other destinies!’

144. “The Bhagavān listened to the Brahma King repeat this encouragement three times, and he then looked at the world with his buddha eye. Sentient beings had weakened their defilements, and their faculties were sharp and dull, so teaching them would be hard with some and easy with others. Those who easily accepted the teaching feared their misdeeds in the afterlife, so they could desist from their evil ways and be born in good destinies. They were like utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, and puṇḍarīka flowers. Whether they’re beginning to grow from the muck but haven’t emerged from the water, they’ve grown enough to emerged from the water, or they’ve emerged from the water but haven’t bloomed yet, they’d easily bloom when they didn’t have the water’s muck clinging to them. The world’s sentient beings were likewise.

145. “The Bhagavān told the Brahma King, ‘I do pity all of you. I will disclose the Dharma entrance to immortality now. This teaching is profound and subtle; it’s difficult to understand, but I will teach those who’ll believe, accept, and enjoy listening to it. I won’t teach those who’ll be troubled or gain nothing from it.’

Turning the Dharma Wheel

146. “When the Brahma King realized that that Buddha had accepted his request, he rejoiced and celebrated. Circling the Buddha three times, he bowed his head at the Buddha’s feet and instantly disappeared.

147. “Not long after he was gone, the Tathāgata then thought to himself, ‘Now, who will be the first people I teach the Dharma?’ Then he thought, ‘I’ll go to Bandhuvatī. The king’s son Tiṣya and the great minister’s son Khaṇḍa will be the first to whom I’ll reveal the Dharma entrance to immortality.’

148. “Thereupon, in the time it takes a strong man to flex his arm, the Bhagavān instantly disappeared from that tree of awakening and went to the king’s deer preserve at Bandhuvatī. He prepared a seat there and sat down.”

149. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

150. “The Buddha Vipaśyin addressed the park’s warden, ‘Please go to the city and tell the king’s son Tiṣya and the great minister’s son Khaṇḍa, “Did you know? The Buddha Vipaśyin is residing in the deer preserve. He would like to see you if it’s a good time for it.”’

151. “The park’s warden accepted this instruction and left. He went to those two men and told them both what the Buddha had said. When the two had heard this, then went to the Buddha, bowed their heads at his feet, and withdrew to sit to one side.

152. “The Buddha gradually taught them the Dharma, teaching, instructing, profiting, and delighting them. He discussed generosity, precepts, how to be born in heaven, that desire was bad and impure, and the trouble of the higher contaminants. He praised escaping it as the most subtle, pure, and supreme thing.

153. “The Bhagavān then saw that those two men’s minds were softened, joyous, confident, and ready to accept the correct teaching. He taught them the noble truth of suffering, expounding and disclosing it. He discerned and interpreted the noble truth of suffering’s formation, the noble truth of suffering’s cessation, and the noble truth of escaping suffering.

154. “The king’s son Tiṣya and the great minister Khaṇḍa became removed from dust and free of defilement right there on their seats, and their vision of the Dharma was purified. They were like a white cloth that readily accepts a dye.

155. “At that moment, the spirit of the earth announced: ‘In the deer preserve of Bandhuvatī, the Tathāgata Vipaśyin has turned the unsurpassed Dharma wheel that couldn’t be turned by ascetics or priests, gods such as Māra and Brahma, or any other worldly person.’ Thus, it made the rounds. The voice was clearly heard by the four god kings … the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods. In an instant, the voice reached the Brahma gods.”

156. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

Vipaśyin’s First Congregation

157. “At that point, prince Tiṣya and the great minister’s son Khaṇḍa saw the Dharma and obtained its fruit truly and without pretense, and they achieved fearlessness. They then said to Buddha Vipaśyin, ‘We want to cultivate the pure religious practice of the Tathāgata’s teaching!’

158. “The Buddha said, ‘Welcome, monks! My Dharma is pure and free. Cultivating it will bring an end to suffering.’

159. “Those two men then were given the complete precepts. They hadn’t had those precepts long before the Tathāgata taught them three subjects: 1. miraculous abilities, 2. observing others’ minds, and 3. admonishments. They then become uncontaminated, their minds were liberated, and their knowledge of birth and death was unobstructed.

160. “At the time, the city of Bandhuvatī was quite populous, and many heard about those two men who had left home to train on the path, put on Dharma robes, carried bowls, and purely cultivated the religious life. They said to each other, ‘That path must be genuine to make them both give up their stations of worldly prosperity. That’s a serious thing to discard!’

161. “In that city, there were 84,000 people who visited Buddha Vipaśyin in the deer preserve. They bowed their heads at his feet and withdrew to sit at one side. The Buddha gradually taught them the Dharma, teaching, instructing, profiting, and delighting them. He discussed generosity, precepts, how to be born in heaven, that desire was bad and impure, and the trouble of the higher contaminants. He praised escaping it as the most subtle, pure, and supreme thing.

162. “The Bhagavān then saw that the minds of this great assembly were softened, joyous, confident, and ready to accept the correct teaching. He then taught them the noble truth of suffering, expounding and disclosing it. He discerned and interpreted the noble truth of suffering’s formation, the noble truth of suffering’s cessation, and the noble truth of escaping suffering.

163. “Those 84,000 people then became removed from dust and free of defilement right there on their seats, and their vision of the Dharma was purified. They were like a white cloth that readily accepts a dye. They saw the Dharma and obtained its fruit truly and without pretense, and they achieved fearlessness. They said to the Buddha, ‘We want to cultivate the pure religious practice of the Tathāgata’s teaching.’

164. “The Buddha said, ‘Welcome, monks! My Dharma is pure and free. Cultivating it will bring an end to suffering.’

165. “Those 84,000 people then were given the complete precepts. They hadn’t had those precepts long before the Tathāgata taught them three subjects: 1. miraculous abilities, 2. observing others’ minds, and 3. admonishments. They then become uncontaminated, their minds were liberated, and their knowledge of birth and death was unobstructed.

166. “In the deer preserve, there were 84,000 people who heard that the Buddha had turned the unsurpassed Dharma wheel that couldn’t be turned by ascetics or priests, gods such as Māra and Brahmā, or any other worldly person. They then went to Bandhuvatī to visit Buddha Vipaśyin. They bowed their heads at his feet and withdrew to sit to one side.”

167. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

168. “The Buddha teaching them Dharma was likewise. Then, there were 168,000 people in Bandhuvatī who formed a great assembly of monks. The monks Tiṣya and Khaṇḍa rose up into the air over that great assembly, and fire and water sprung from their bodies. They demonstrated such miracles and then taught the subtle Dharma for the assembly.

169. “The Tathāgata then thought to himself, ‘Now, there’s a great assembly of 168,000 monks in this city. They ought to go traveling from place to place in pairs for six years. When they return to the city, I’ll teach them the complete precepts.’

170. “The Śuddhāvāsa gods then knew what the Tathāgata was thinking. In the time it takes a strong man to flex his arm, they disappeared from their heavens and reappeared in front of the Bhagavān. They bowed their heads at his feet and withdrew to stand to one side. They instantly said to the Buddha, ‘So it is, Bhagavān! There’s indeed a great assembly of 168,000 monks in this city. They ought to go traveling from place to place in pairs for six years. When they return to the city, teach them the complete precepts. We will keep them safe and prevent anyone from taking advantage of them.’

“When he heard what the gods said, the Tathāgata silently accepted it.

171. “The Śuddhāvāsa gods saw the Buddha silently gave his consent. They bowed at the Buddha’s feet and instantly disappeared as they returned to their heavens above. Not long after they left, the Buddha told the monks, ‘Now, there’s a large assembly of monks in the city. You ought to each spread out to travel and teach. After six years, return and gather for the teaching of the precepts.’

172. “After accepting the Buddha’s teaching, the monks took their robes and bowls, bowed to the Buddha, and departed.”

173. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

174. “After a year, the Śuddhāvāsa gods told the monks, ‘You’ve been traveling for a year. Five years are left. Know that after six years have passed, you are to return to the city for the teaching of precepts.’

175. “Thus, when the sixth year arrived, the gods again told them, ‘Six years have passed. You should return for the teaching of precepts.’

176. After hearing what the gods said, the monks gathered up their robes and bowls and returned to Bandhuvatī. They went to Buddha Vipaśyin in the deer preserve, bowed their heads at his feet, and withdrew to sit to one side.”

177. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

178. “That Tathāgata then rose in the air above the great assembly in a cross-legged sitting posture and taught them the Precepts Sūtra. ‘Tolerance is supreme. The Buddha teaches that nirvāṇa is the highest. It’s not possible to become an ascetic by cut off one’s hair and beard and then harming others.’

179. “The Śuddhāvāsa gods weren’t far from the Buddha when he spoke these verses:

“After he spoke these verses, they instantly disappeared.”

The Śuddhāvāsa Gods

180. The Bhagavān then told the monks, “I thought to myself, ‘Once when I was on Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa at Rājagṛha, this thought occurred to me, “There’s nowhere I haven’t been born except for the Śuddhāvāsa heavens. If I were born in those heavens, I wouldn’t return to this world.”’

181. “Monks, I also had this thought: ‘I want to go up to the Avṛha Heaven.’ In the time it takes a strong man to flex his arm, I disappeared from here and appeared in that heaven.

182. “When the gods there saw me arrive, they bowed their heads and stood to one side. They said to me, ‘We were disciples of the Tathāgata Vipaśyin. Having been taught by that Buddha, we were reborn here. We recite the history of that Buddha as well as that of Buddha Śikhin, Buddha Viśvabhū, Buddha Krakucchanda, Buddha Kanakamuni, Buddha Kāśyapa, and Buddha Śākyamuni. They were our teachers. Having been taught by them, we were reborn here.’

183. “They recited the history of buddhas when I was born in the Akaniṣṭha Heaven. It was the same there, too.”

184. The Buddha then spoke in verse:

185. After the Buddha had taught this Sūtra of the Great History, the monks who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. This sutra is parallel to Pali DN 14 and Chinese T2, T3, T4, T125 (48.4). There’s also a reconstructed Skt. text from Turfan that shows a close relationship with the present text. [back]
  2. Flowering Grove Hut. Ch. 花林窟, G. *Karirakuti, P. Karerikuṭikā. The Chinese translation of this placename is in general agreement with P. Karerikuṭikā, which means Musk Rose Tree Hut. This placename is missing from the extant S. and the other Ch. translations, which only mention Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park. The P. edition mentions both locations. [back]
  3. Flowering Grove Hall. Ch. 花林堂, G. Kariramaṃḍalamaḍa, P. Karerimaṇḍalamāḷa, Skt. Karīrikamaṇḍalavāṭa. All editions except for T125 agree on the name of this place. In the present text, Skt. maṇḍalavāṭa has been translated simply as “hall,” which is likely a simplification by the Chinese translator given the existence of the placename in extant G. texts. Multiple sources agree that a maṇḍalavāṭa (lit. “circular garland”) was not a building but a circular area fenced off like a courtyard to serve as a sacred space in later Buddhist history. [back]
  4. kalaviṅka. Ch. 哀鸞. This is a Chinese translation (lit. “mourning phoenix.”) of kalaviṅka, which literally means something like The kalaviṅka is a mythical bird that sits on mountain tops and sings gentle songs. Prosaically, it also refers to birds like the Indian cuckoo. [back]
  5. ’pattha tree. Ch. 鉢多 (puat-ta). G. ?, P. assattha, S. aśvattha. 鉢多 is a well-known transliteration for S/G. pātra (“bowl”) but makes little sense here. Observing that S. aśva becomes aśpa in G., I can only speculate that the initial syllable aś- has been omitted, leaving us with -pattha. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 14 June 2022