Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

14. Questions Asked by Śakra the Lord of Gods

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was staying north of the village of Āmbara of Magadha in the Indrasāla cave on Mount Vaidehaka.

Lord Śakra Visits the Buddha

2. It was then that Śakra the Lord of Gods had a wonderful thought to come and see the Buddha: “Now, I will go to the Bhagavān!”

3. When the Trāyastriṃśa gods heard that Śakra the Lord of Gods had a wonderful thought to visit the Buddha, they immediately went to Lord Śakra and said, “Excellent, Lord Śakra! You’ve had a wonderful thought to visit the Tathāgata. We’d also like to go with you to visit the Bhagavān.”

4. Śakra the Lord of Gods then told the gandharva Pañcaśikha, “Now, I’m going to visit the Bhagavān. You can come with me and these Trāyastriṃśa gods to visit the Buddha.”

5. Pañcaśikha replied, “Very well.” Then Pañcaśikha took his cymophane lute and strummed it at the front of that assembly of Trāyastriṃśa gods as an offering.

6. Śakra the Lord of Gods, the Trāyastriṃśa gods, and Pañcaśikha then suddenly disappeared from up in the Dharma Meeting Hall. In the time it takes a strong man to flex his arm, they arrived on Mount Vaidehaka in the north of Magadha.

7. At the time, the Bhagavān had entered the samādhi of blazing fire, and Mount Vaidehaka looked like one giant flame. The people in the countryside saw its appearance and said, “Mount Vaidehaka looks like one giant flame. Is this due to the power of gods that are arriving?”

8. Śakra the Lord of Gods told Pañcaśikha, “The Tathāgata, the Arhat, is so hard to see, but we can go down to this place of seclusion that’s quiet without voices, where the animals gather. There, the Bhagavān is constantly attended to by great spirits and gods. You can take the lead and play music with your cymophane lute to delight the Bhagavān. I and the gods will be right behind you!”

9. Pañcaśikha replied, “Very well.” He did as he was instructed, going first to visit the Bhagavān with his cymophane lute in hand. When he was not far away from the Buddha, he played his lute and sang these lyrics:

10. The Bhagavān then roused from his samādhi and told Pañcaśikha, “Good, Pañcaśikha, good! You’re able to praise the Tathāgata with your clear voice and harmonious cymophane lute. The sound of both your lute and voice are neither long or short. Their compassion and gracefulness moves people’s hearts. Your song is replete with many meanings and explains the bonds of desire, the religious life, the ascetic, and Nirvāṇa!”

11. Pañcaśikha then said to the Buddha, “I remember when the Bhagavān became a Buddha sitting beneath the Ajapāla Nigrodha tree on the bank of the Nairañjanā River in Uruvilvā. The great god general’s son Sikhaddi and the gandharva king’s daughter had a rendezvous just to enjoy themselves. I saw the way they were feeling at the time and composed this song. The lyrics explain the bond of desire, and they explain the religious life, the ascetic, and Nirvāṇa.

12. “After she heard my song, the goddess raised her eyes, smiled, and said to me, ‘Pañcaśikha, I’ve never seen a Tathāgata, but I heard the other gods in the Trāyastriṃśa Dharma Meeting Hall praising the virtues and abilities possessed by the Tathāgata. You’ve always been faithful and close to the Tathāgata. I think I’d like to be friends with you.’ Bhagavān, after speaking with her that one time, I never spoke with her again.”

13. Śakra the Lord of Gods then had this thought, “Now that Pañcaśikha has finished playing his music, I’d better keep him in mind.” Lord Śakra then remembered him.

14. Pañcaśikha again thought, “Now Lord Śakra will remember me!” He then took his cymophane lute and went to Lord Śakra.

15. Lord Śakra told him, “Praise the intent of the Trāyastriṃśa gods in my name. Go exchange these greetings with the Bhagavān, ‘Has your daily life been easy? Are you in good health?’”

16. Pañcaśikha accepted Lord Śakra’s instructions and went to the Bhagavān. He bowed his head at his feet and stood to one side. He said to the Bhagavān, “Śakra the Lord of Gods and the Trāyastriṃśa gods have sent me to exchange greetings with the Bhagavān: ‘Has your daily life been easy? Are you in good health?’”

The Bhagavān replied, “May you, Lord Śakra, and the Trāyastriṃśa gods have long, happy, and untroubled lives. Why is that? The hosts of gods, worldly people, and asuras are all cherish their life spans, happiness, and lack of trouble.”

17. Lord Śakra again thought, “We ought to approach the Bhagavān and bow to him.” He then went to the Bhagavān with the Trāyastriṃśa gods. They bowed at the Buddha’s feet and withdrew to stand to one side. Lord Śakra then said to the Buddha, “Don’t mind us, Bhagavān. Should we sit nearby or at a distance?” The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “Your host of gods is large, but they can sit nearby.”

18. The Bhagavān then made the Indrasāla Cave enlarge itself so that none of them were obstructed by it. Lord Śakra, the Trāyastriṃśa gods, and Pañcaśikha all bowed at the Buddha’s feet and sat to one side.

The Story of Gopaka and the Disciples

19. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “One time, the Buddha was staying at a priest’s residence in Śrāvastī. At the time, the Bhagavān had entered the samādhi of blazing fire. For some reason, I was riding my thousand-spoked treasure chariot to visit Virūḍhaka. As I went by in the sky, I saw a goddess standing with her palms together in front of the Bhagavān. I immediately said to that goddess, ‘If the Bhagavān rouses from samādhi, you should exchange these greetings with the Bhagavān in my name: “Has your daily life been easy? Are you in good health?”’ I wondered later if she had conveyed this thought for me. Bhagavān, do you recall if she did?”

20. The Buddha said, “I do remember it. That goddess immediately put the question to me with her goddess’s voice, and I roused from samādhi. It was like the sound of a woman’s chariot.”

21. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “In the past, I held a meeting for some reason with the Trāyastriṃśa gods in the Dharma Meeting Hall. Those gods back then had said, ‘If a Tathāgata arises in the world, the host of gods will increase and the host of asuras will diminish!’ Now that I see the Bhagavān in person, I personally see and know it myself. I’ve realized it myself: ‘The Tathāgata, the Arhat, has arisen in the world, and the host of gods are increasing, and the host of asuras are diminishing!’

22. “Here, there was the Śākyan woman Gopikā who had purely cultivated the Bhagavān’s religious life. She was born in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven’s palace as my son after her body broke up and her life ended. The Trāyastriṃśa gods all praised him, ‘The great godling Gopaka has great virtue and majesty!’

23. “There were another three monks who had purely cultivated the Bhagavān’s religious life. They were born as inferior gandharva spirits after their bodies broke up and their lives ended. Every day, they came to serve us as messengers. When Gopaka saw them, he harassed them with these verses:

The Origin of Enmity and Conflict

26. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “If you have a moment, I would like to clarify a doubt of mine.”

The Buddha said, “Go ahead and ask your questions. I will explain them for you, one by one.”

27. Lord Śakra then asked the Buddha, “What bonds do gods, worldly men, gandharvas, asuras, and other sentient beings all associate with that they become enemies and take up arms against each other?”

The Buddha told Śakra, “The arising of the bond of enmity has its origin in greed and jealousy. Therefore, it leads gods, worldly people, asuras, and other sentient beings to take up arms against one another.”

28. Lord Śakra then said to the Buddha, “Indeed, it is, Bhagavān! The arising of the bond of enmity has its origin in greed and jealousy. Therefore, it leads gods, worldly people, asuras, and other sentient beings to take up arms against one another. Now that I’ve heard the Buddha’s explanation, a snare of doubt has been removed. I won’t wonder about it anymore.

29. “But I don’t understand the arising of this greed and jealousy. Where do they come from? What are their causes and conditions? What’s their source? From what do they come to exist? From what do they cease to exist?”

The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “The arising of greed and jealousy have their origin in love and hate. Love and hate are their causes and conditions. Love and hate are their source. From them, they come to exist. In their absence, they cease to exist.”

30. Lord Śakra then said to the Buddha, “Indeed, it is, Bhagavān! The arising of greed and jealousy have their origin in love and hate. Love and hate are their causes and conditions. Love and hate are their source. From them, they come to exist. In their absence, they cease to exist. Now that I’ve heard the Buddha’s explanation, my confusion is completely removed. I won’t wonder about it anymore.

31. “But I don’t understand the arising of love and hate. What are their causes and conditions? What is their source? From what do they come to exist? From what do they cease to exist?”

The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “The arising of love and hate has its origin in desire. Desire is their cause and condition. Desire is their source. From this, they come to exist. In its absence, they cease to exist.”

32. Lord Śakra then said to the Buddha, “Indeed, it is, Bhagavān! The arising of love and hate has its origin in desire. Desire is their cause and condition. Desire is their source. From this, they come to exist. In its absence, they cease to exist. Now that I’ve heard the Buddha’s explanation, my confusion is completely removed. I won’t wonder about it anymore.

33. “But I don’t understand the arising of desire. What are its causes and conditions? What is its source? From what does it come to exist? From what does it cease to exist?”

The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “Craving arises from perception. Perception is its cause and condition. Perception is its source. From this, it comes to exist. In its absence, it ceases to exist.”

34. Lord Śakra then said to the Buddha, “Indeed, it is, Bhagavān! Craving arises from perception. Perception is its cause and condition. Perception is its source. From this, it comes to exist. In its absence, it ceases to exist. Now that I’ve heard the Buddha’s explanation[, my confusion is completely removed.] I won’t wonder about it anymore.

35. “But I don’t understand the arising of perception. What is its cause and condition? What it its source? From what does it come to exist? From what does it cease to exist?”

36. The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “The arising of perception has its origin in error.[3] Error is its cause and condition. Error is its source. From this, it comes to exist. In its absence, it ceases to exist.

37. “Śakra, if there’s no error, then there’s no perception. Without perception, there’s no desire. Without desire, there’s no love or hate. Without love or hate, there’s no greed or jealousy. If there’s no greed and jealousy, then sentient beings wouldn’t hurt each other.

38. “Śakra, it’s only the condition of error that’s the root of this. Error is its cause and condition. Error is its source. From this, there is perception. From perception, there is desire. From desire, there is love and hate. From love and hate, there is greed and jealousy. Because of greed and jealousy, sentient beings are led to hurt each other.”

39. Lord Śakra then said to the Buddha, “Indeed, it is, Bhagavān! Error is the origin of perception. Error is its cause and condition. Error is its source. From this, there is perception. Error is the origin of its existence. In the absence of error, it ceases to exist.

40. “If there were no error in the first place, then there wouldn’t be perception. Without perception, there wouldn’t be desire. Without desire, there wouldn’t be love and hate. Without love and hate, there wouldn’t be greed and jealousy. If there were no greed and jealousy, then sentient beings wouldn’t hurt each other.

41. “It’s only because of error that perception arises. Error is its cause and condition. Error is its source. From this, there is perception. From perception, there is desire. From desire, there is love and hate. From love and hate, there is greed and jealousy. It’s because of greed and jealousy that all sentient beings are led to hurt each other. Now that I’ve heard the Buddha’s explanation, my confusion is completely removed. I won’t wonder about it anymore.”

The Nature of Error

42. Lord Śakra again asked the Buddha, “Do all the ascetics and priests on the path to cessation completely eliminate error, or is error not eliminated on the path to cessation?”

The Buddha addressed Lord Śakra, “Not all the ascetics and the priests on the path of cessation completely eliminate error. Why is this? Lord Śakra, the world has a variety of realms, and sentient beings depend on their own realms, firmly defending them. They aren’t able to abandon them. They say, ‘Mine is true; the rest is false.’ Therefore, Lord Śakra, not all the ascetics and priests on the path to cessation entirely eliminate error.”

43. Lord Śakra then said to the Buddha, “Indeed, it is, Bhagavān! The world has a variety of sentient beings, and each depends on their own realm, firmly defending it. They aren’t able to abandon them. They say, ‘Mine is true; the rest is false.’ Therefore, not all the ascetics and priests on the path to cessation entirely eliminate error. Hearing the Buddha’s words, my confusion is completely eliminated. I won’t wonder about it anymore.”

44. Lord Śakra again asked the Buddha, “How many kinds of error are there on the path to cessation?”

45. The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “There are three kinds of error: One is speech, second is perception, and third is pursuit. Speech is words that harm oneself, harm others, and harm both oneself and others. When these words are abandoned, one’s words don’t harm oneself, don’t harm others, and don’t harm both oneself and others. When that’s known, a monk’s words are such that he focuses his attention and isn’t distracted.

46. “Perception also harms oneself, harms others, and harms both oneself and others. Abandoning these perceptions, his perception is such that they don’t harm himself, don’t harm others, and don’t harm himself and others. When he knows this, the monk’s perception is such that he focuses his attention and isn’t distracted.

47. “Lord Śakra, pursuits also harm oneself, harm others, and harm both oneself and others. Abandoning these pursuits, one’s pursuits are such that they don’t harm oneself, don’t harm others, and don’t harm both oneself and others. When he knows this, the monk’s pursuits are such that he focuses his attention and isn’t distracted.”

48. Śakra the Lord of Gods then said, “Having heard the Buddha’s explanation, I won’t wonder about this anymore.”

Noble Detachment

49. He also asked the Buddha, “How many kinds of noble detachment are there?”

50. The Buddha addressed Lord Śakra, “There are three kinds of detachment. One is the body of joy, second is the body of sorrow, and third is the body of equanimity. Lord Śakra, that body of joy harms oneself, harms others, and harms both oneself and others. After becoming detached from this joy, such joy as that doesn’t harm oneself, doesn’t harm others, and doesn’t harm both oneself and others. When he knows this, the monk focuses his attention and doesn’t lose it. That’s called accepting the complete precepts.

51. “Lord Śakra, that body of sorrow harms oneself, harms others, and harms both oneself and others. After becoming detached from this sorrow, such sorrow as that doesn’t harm oneself, doesn’t harm others, and doesn’t harm oneself and others. When he knows this, the monk focuses his attention and doesn’t lose it. That’s called accepting the complete precepts.

52. “Furthermore, Lord Śakra, that body of equanimity harms oneself, harms others, and harms both oneself and others. After becoming detached from this equanimity, such equanimity as that doesn’t harm oneself, doesn’t harm others, and doesn’t harm both oneself and others. When he knows this, the monk focuses his attention and doesn’t lose it. That’s called accepting the complete precepts.”

53. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “Having heard the Buddha’s explanation, I won’t wonder about this anymore.”

Perfection of the Sense Faculties

54. He also asked the Buddha, “How many things are called ‘the noble Vinaya’s perfection of the faculties’?”

55. The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “The eye perceives form, which I say are of two kinds: approachable and unapproachable. The ear … sounds … nose … odors … tongue … flavors … body … touches … mind … notions, which I say are of two kinds: approachable and unapproachable.”

56. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “Bhagavān, without a detailed discernment of this concise statement by the Tathāgata, I don’t fully understand, ‘The eye perceives form, which I say are of two kinds: approachable and unapproachable. The ear … sounds … nose … odors … tongue … flavors … body … touches … mind … notions, which I say are of two kinds: approachable and unapproachable.’

57. “Bhagavān, when skillful qualities decrease and unskillful qualities increase as the eye observes forms, I would say this is the same as the eye perceiving forms that are unapproachable. When skillful qualities decrease and unskillful qualities increase as the ear … sounds … nose … odors … tongue … flavors … body … touches … mind … notions, I would say they are unapproachable.

58. “Bhagavān, when skillful qualities increase and unskillful qualities decrease as the eye sees form, I would say this is the same as the eye perceiving forms are that approachable. When skillful qualities increase and unskillful qualities decrease as the ear … sounds … nose … odors … tongue … flavors … body … touches … mind … notions, I would say they are approachable.”

59. The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “Good, good! This is called ‘the noble Vinaya’s perfection of the faculties’.”

60. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “Hearing the Buddha’s explanation, I won’t wonder about this anymore.”

The Ultimate Goal

61. Again, he asked the Buddha, “How many things does a monk call ‘the ultimate goal, the ultimate goal of the religious life, the ultimate goal of peace, and the ultimate goal that has no remainder’?”

The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “To personally extinguish the suffering caused by craving is the ultimate goal, the ultimate goal of the religious life, the ultimate goal peace, and the ultimate goal without remainder.”

62. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “In the long night of the past, I was caught in a snare of doubt. Now, the Buddha has released me from that doubt.”

The Buddha Questions Lord Śakra

63. The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “Haven’t you visited ascetics and priests to ask about this subject?”

64. Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “I remember that once I visited an ascetic or priest to inquire about this subject. One time, I and the assembly of gods had gathered in the meeting hall and discussed ‘Will a Tathāgata arise in the world? Has he arisen yet?’

65. “We looked for him, but we didn’t see a Tathāgata that had arisen in the world. Each of us returned to the palace and entertained ourselves with the five desires. Bhagavān, after that I watched the great spirits and gods freely partake of the five desires, and gradually each of their lives ended.

66. “At that point, Bhagavān, I felt great apprehension, and my hair stood on end. Then I saw an ascetic or priest dwelling in quietude who had left home and parted with desire. I went quickly to him and asked, ‘What is called the ultimate goal?’

67. “I asked about this subject, but he couldn’t answer me. Since he didn’t know, he countered by asking me, ‘Who are you?’

“I immediately replied, ‘I am Śakra the Lord of Gods.’

68. “Again, he asked, ‘How are you Śakra?’

“I then answered, ‘I am the Lord God Śakra. I have a doubt in my mind, so I came here to ask you about it.’

69. “Then the two of us came to an understanding, discussing the meaning of being Śakra. He would ask, I would answer, and then he would become my disciple. But I’m a disciple of the Buddha, and I’ve attained the path of stream entry. I won’t fall to other destinies, and I’ll surely achieve the fruit of the path in not more than seven rebirths. Please, Bhagavān, describe to me how to become a once-returner!”

70. After describing this conversation, Śakra also spoke these verses:

71. The Buddha asked Lord Śakra, “Do you recall a time in the past when you felt joy and happiness?”

Lord Śakra answered, “Yes, Bhagavān, I recall a time in the past when I felt joy and happiness. Bhagavān, it was when once I did battle with the asuras, and they retreated when I was victorious. When I returned, I rejoiced and was happy. I imagined that joy and happiness to be separate from the defiled joy and happiness of evil weapons or battle, but now I’ve attained joy and happiness from the Buddha, which lacks any of the pleasures of weaponry and conflict.”

72. The Buddha told Lord Śakra, “Now that you’ve experienced this joy and happiness, what fruits of virtue are you going to pursue?”

Lord Śakra said to the Buddha, “From that joy and happiness, I’m going to pursue five fruits of virtue. What are the five?”

73. He then spoke in verse:

74. After speaking these verses, he said to the Buddha, “I want to obtain the fruits of these five virtues from this joy and happiness.”

Conclusion

75. Lord Śakra then said to the Trāyastriṃśa gods, “You’ve venerated in front of Brahmā Kumāra above the Trāyastriṃśa heaven before. Wouldn’t it be excellent to also venerate in front of the Buddha?”

76. Soon after he said this, Brahmā Kumāra instantly appeared standing in the sky above the host of gods. He spoke this verse to Lord Śakra:

77. After saying this verse, Brahmā Kumāra instantly disappeared. Lord Śakra then rose from his seat, bowed at the Buddha’s feet, circled him three times, withdrew, and walked away. The Trāyastriṃśa gods and Pañcaśikha also bowed at the Buddha’s feet, withdrew, and walked away.

78. After they walked a little while, Lord Śakra looked over to Pañcaśikha and said, “Good, good! Earlier, you went to the Buddha first and played music by strumming your lute, then later I and the gods arrived behind you. Now I know you will succeed your father’s place as the highest of gandharvas. You shall marry Bhadrā, the gandharva king’s daughter!”

79. When the Bhagavān spoke this teaching, 84,000 gods had their dust and defilements removed, and the Dharma vision arose in them.

80. When Śakra the Lord of Gods, the Trāyastriṃśa gods, and Pañcaśikha heard what the Buddha taught, they rejoiced and approved.


Notes

  1. Parallels for this sutra include DN 21, MĀ 134, T15, and T203.73. [back]
  2. Bhadrā … your father. Bhadrā was the daughter of the king of gandharvas. Śakra indicates at the conclusion of the present sutra that Pañcaśikha was her suitor. [back]
  3. error. Ch. 調戲. This is presumably a translation of Skt. prapañca (P. papañca). This is difficult term to pin down in Indic sources, being variously interpreted as proliferation, activity, and error or false ideas. The Chinese translation adds to the difficulty because it could be read as restlessness or agitation (Skt. auddhatya, P. uddhacca) but can mean reckless or wild behavior. Given the way the term appears to take on both epistemological and moral meanings in the passages that follow, I’ve opted for “error” as a translation, assuming the original was indeed Skt. prapañca. The Japanese translators agree, translating it as “false ideas.” [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 3 September 2021