Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

19. The Great Congregation

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was staying at Kapilavastu in the country of the Śākyans. He was accompanied by a large assembly of five hundred monks, all of whom were arhats. Marvelous gods had also gathered from the ten directions to honor the Tathāgata and the saṅgha of monks.

2. It was then that four Śuddhâvāsa gods up in heaven each thought to themselves, “Today, the Bhagavān is staying at Kapilavastu in the country of the Śākyans. He’s accompanied by a large assembly of five hundred monks, all of whom are arhats. Marvelous gods have also gathered from the ten directions to honor the Tathāgata and the saṅgha of monks. Now, let’s go visit the Bhagavān as well. We’ll each praise the Tathāgata with a verse.”

3. Those four Śuddhâvāsa gods then disappeared from their heaven and arrived at Kapilavastu of the Śākyans in the time it takes a strong man to flex his arm. Once they had arrived, those four Śuddhâvāsa gods bowed their heads at the Buddha’s feet and stood to one side.

4. The first Śuddhâvāsa god went before the Buddha and praised him with this verse:

5. After speaking this verse, that god withdrew and stood to one side. Another Śuddhâvāsa god then composed a verse:

6. Having spoken this verse, that god withdrew and stood to one side. Another Śuddhâvāsa god then composed a verse:

7. Having spoken this verse, that god withdrew and stood to one side. Another Śuddhâvāsa god composed a verse:

8. After those four Śuddhâvāsa gods had presented these verses, the Bhagavān approved of them. They bowed at the Buddha’s feet, circled him three times, and suddenly disappeared.

9. Not long after they left, the Buddha told the monks, “There’s a great congregation of gods today! There’s a great gathering of gods today! Marvelous gods from the ten directions have come to honor and look upon the Tathāgata and saṅgha of monks. Monks, the Tathāgatas, Arhats, and Completely Awakened Ones of the past also had great congregations of gods, just as I do today. The Tathāgatas, Arhats, and Completely Awakened Ones in the future will have great congregations of gods, just as I do today.

10. “Monks, this great congregation of gods today consists of spirits and sublime gods from the ten directions who’ve come to honor and look upon the Tathāgata and saṅgha of monks. They also praise their names in verses that they speak for you.

11. “Monks, you should know:

12. “Among the earth spirits, there are 7,000 yakṣas of various kinds that possess miraculous powers, appearances, forms, and names. With delighted thoughts, they’ve come to the assembly of monks in this grove.

13. “The spirit of Mount Haimavata leads 6,000 demons and yakṣas of various kinds that possess miraculous powers, appearances, forms, and names. With delighted thoughts, they’ve come to the assembly of monks in this grove.

14. “The spirit Śātā leads 3,000 demons and yakṣas of various kinds that possess miraculous abilities, appearances, forms, and names. With delighted thoughts, they’ve come to the assembly of monks in this grove.

15. “These 16,000 demon spirits and yakṣas of various kinds possess miraculous abilities, appearances, forms, and names. With delighted thoughts, they’ve come to the assembly of monks in this grove.

16. “There’s also the spirit Viśvamitra who lives in Aśvaka and leads 500 demons. They possess miraculous abilities and majestic virtue.

17. “There’s also the spirit Kumbhīra who lives on Mount Vepula of Rājagṛha. He leads countless demon spirits who respectfully surround him.

18. “There’s also the Eastern God King Dhṛtarāṣṭra who leads gandharva spirits that possess great majestic virtue. He has ninety-one sons who are all named ‘Indra’ and possess great miraculous power.

19. “There’s the Southern God King Virūḍhaka who leads nāga kings that possess great majestic virtue. He has ninety-one sons who are also named ‘Indra’ and possess great miraculous power.

20. “There’s the Western God King Virūpākṣa who leads kumbhāṇḍa demons that possess great majestic virtue. He has ninety-one sons who are also named ‘Indra’ and possess great miraculous power.

21. “There’s the Northern God King named Vaiśravaṇa who leads yakṣa demons that possess great majestic virtue. He has ninety-one sons who are also named ‘Indra’ and possess great miraculous power.

22. “These four god kings are the protectors of the world and possess great majestic virtue. Their bodies shine as they come to visit Kapilavastu.”

23. The Bhagavān then wanted to vanquish their illusory and deluded thoughts, so he composed this incantation:[2] “Deceptive (māyā) is [Kiṭi]; deceptive is [Kiṭi]! [So is Vikiṭi; so is Vikiṭi]! Candana, Kāmaśreṣtha, Kunikaṇṭha, Nikaṇṭha, Praṇāda, Upapañcaka, the charioteer of gods Mātali, the gandharva Citrasena, Nara, Janavṛṣabha, Sīva, Mucalinda, Viśvamitra, Yugandhara, [Pañcaśikha], Tumburu, and Sūryavarcasā.

24. “God kings, gandharvas, and rākṣasas such as these all possess miraculous abilities, appearances, and forms. With delighted thoughts, they have come to visit the assembly of monks in this grove.”

25. The Bhagavān then created another incantation:

26. The Bhagavān then created an incantation for the asuras:

27. The Bhagavān again created an incantation for the gods:

28. The Bhagavān again created an incantation for sixty-eight priests of the five penetrations:[3]

29. There was then another 1,000 five-powered priests for whom the Tathāgata also compiled an incantation.

30. The first Brahma king of this world and the gods of the Brahma heavens possessed miraculous abilities. There was a Brahma prince named Tiṣya who possessed great miraculous power.

31. There was also the other Brahma kings of the ten directions, each of whom was surrounded by their followers as they came. There was a great Brahma king from beyond 1,000 worlds who saw the great congregations of the Bhagavān. He came quickly with his followers surrounding him.

32. King Māra saw the great congregation around the Bhagavān and had a cruel thought. He thought to himself, “I’ll lead an army of demons to go and destroy that entire congregation. I won’t let any of them escape!”

33. He then commanded his fourfold army to beat their chariots with their hands, which sounded like crashing thunder. None who saw them weren’t frightened by it. He sent a great storm of wind, rain, lightning, and thunder at that great congregation that surrounded Kapila Grove.

34. The Buddha addressed the monks who were delighted with this assembly: “You should know that today Māra’s host is coming with evil intent!”

35. He then said in verse:

36. The gods, spirits, yakṣas, and sages of five powers who surrounded the Buddha saw what Māra was doing and were shocked like never before. When the Buddha taught this Dharma, 84,000 gods became removed from dust and free of defilement, and their vision of the Dharma was purified.

37. The gods, nāgas, yakṣas, spirits, asuras, garuḍas, kiṃnara, mahoragas, humans, and non-humans who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced and approved.


Notes

  1. Parallel texts include DN 20, DN 32, T 19, SN 1.37, SĀ 1192, and T100.105. [back]
  2. What follows is transliterated by the Chinese translator as a magical formula. When the Middle Chinese pronunciations are used instead of modern Mandarin, we can discern clear parallels to Pali verses found in both DN 20 and 32. However, the original language that was transliterated was an unknown dialect of Central Asia (perhaps Tocharian or Gandhari). This makes deciphering the P. or S. equivalents difficult at times, especially when the verses differ from Indic parallels and include names unfamiliar to us. I’ve used brackets to indicate reconstructions and question marks for guesswork. I have largely followed the Japanese translation by Karashima. [back]
  3. Aside from the first and last lines and a couple common words, this section unfortunately is completely obscure and lacks an Indic parallel. This makes a reconstruction of P. or S. equivalent names too difficult to attempt. I’ve chosen to transliterate the Middle Chinese pronunciations with IPA symbols that linguists may find helpful. Perhaps a parallel will be discovered that will help us decipher this passage in the future. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 30 July 2022