Dharma Pearls

Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

24. Dhruva

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was staying at the city of Nālanda in Prāvārika’s mango grove.[2] He was accompanied by a large assembly of 1,250 monks.

2. At the time, there was a prominent man’s son named Dhruva[3] who came to the Buddha, bowed his head at his feet, and sat down to one side. That prominent man’s son said to the Buddha, “It would be excellent, Bhagavān, if you could please tell the monks, ‘If a priest, a prominent man’s son, or a householder comes, show them the superhuman state with a display of miraculous abilities.’”

3. The Buddha told Dhruva, “I never instruct the monks to show the superhuman state with a display of miraculous abilities. I simply teach my disciples to peacefully contemplate the path in an empty and quiet place. If they have virtues, they should keep them to themselves. If they have defects, they should disclose them.”

4. The prominent man’s son Dhruva again said to the Buddha, “Please, Bhagavān, tell the monks: ‘If a priest, a prominent man’s son, or a householder comes, show them the superhuman state with a display of miraculous abilities.’”

5. The Buddha again told Dhruva, “I never instruct the monks to show the superhuman state with a display of miraculous abilities. I simply teach my disciples to peacefully contemplate the path in an empty and quiet place. If they have virtues, they should keep them to themselves. If they have defects, they should disclose them.”

6. The prominent man’s son Dhruva said to the Buddha, “I don’t have doubts about the superhuman state. It’s only that the region of Nālanda is bountiful, and the population is thriving. If someone were to display miraculous abilities, they would profit greatly by it, and the Buddha and his large assembly are skilled at converting others and spreading the path.”

7. The Buddha once again told Dhruva, “I never instruct the monks to show the superhuman state with a display of miraculous abilities. I simply teach my disciples to peacefully contemplate the path in an empty and quiet place. If they have virtues, they should keep them to themselves. If they have defects, they should disclose them.

8. “Why is that? There are three miraculous abilities. What are three? One is miraculous abilities, the second is observing other minds, and third is instruction.

9. “What are the miraculous abilities? Prominent man’s son, a monk learns measureless miraculous abilities. They’re able to form countless [bodies] from a single body and recombine those countless bodies into one [body]. Whether near or far, [they can move through] mountains, rivers, and stone walls freely and without obstruction like walking through air. They fly in the air like birds while sitting cross-legged. They go in and out of the earth as though it were water. They walk on water as though it were dry land. Their bodies smoke and burn like a large fire. They touch the sun and moon with their hands and stand as high as the Brahma Heaven.

10. “If a faithful prominent man or householder were to see monks displaying these measureless miraculous abilities … standing as high as the Brahma heaven, he would visit other prominent men and householders who haven’t become believers and tell them, ‘I saw a monk display measureless miraculous abilities … standing as high as the Brahma Heaven.’ Those prominent men and householders who aren’t believers yet will say to that believer, ‘I’ve heard that there’s the spell of Gola[4] that can display such measureless miraculous abilities … standing as high as the Brahma Heaven.’”

11. The Buddha again told Dhruva, “Those non-believers would have this to say. Wouldn’t this be an insult?”

Dhruva said to the Buddha, “It really would be insulting.”

12. The Buddha said, “This is why I don’t tell the monks to display miracles to convert people. I simply teach my disciples to peacefully contemplate the path in an empty and quiet place. If they have virtues, they should keep them to themselves. If they have defects, they should make them known. Thus, prominent man’s son, this is the miraculous ability displayed by my monks.

13. “What’s called the miraculous ability of observing other minds? Here, a monk displays measureless miraculous abilities of observation, observing the thoughts in the minds of sentient beings and becoming aware of what they’ve done in private.

14. “Suppose a faithful prominent man or householder sees monks displaying measureless miraculous abilities of observation, observing the thoughts in the minds of sentient beings and becoming aware of what they’ve done in private. He would visit some other prominent men or householders who haven’t become believers and tell them, ‘I saw a monk display measureless miraculous abilities of observation, observing the thoughts in the minds of sentient beings and knowing what they had done in private.’ Those prominent men or householders who aren’t believers yet would produce this insult upon hearing that: ‘There’s the spell of Gandhārī that can observe other minds … and knowing what they’ve done in private.’

15. “How is it, prominent man’s son? Wouldn’t this be an insult?” Dhruva said to the Buddha, “It really would be insulting.”

16. The Buddha said, “This is why I don’t tell the monks to display miracles to convert people. I simply teach my disciples to peacefully contemplate the path in an empty and quiet place. If they have virtues, they should keep them to themselves. If they have defects, they should disclose them. Thus, prominent man’s son, this is the miraculous ability of observation displayed by my monks.

17. “What is the miraculous ability of instruction? Prominent man’s son, suppose a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One arises in the world, and he perfects the ten epithets. Among gods, worldly men, and demons, whether they’re in the assemblies of Māra, gods, ascetics, or priests, he realizes the Dharma for himself and teaches it for others. His words are all genuine in the beginning, middle, and end. Their content and expression are pure, and they perfect the religious life.

18. “After hearing it, a prominent man or a householder believes it. They investigate it and think: ‘It’s not fitting for me to remain at home. If I remain at home, it’ll be like being bound in chains, unable to purely cultivate the religious life. Now, I’d better shave my hair, put on the three Dharma robes, leave home, and cultivate the path. Equipped with virtues … I’ll accomplish the three insights that produce the great radiance of knowledge that dispels darkness. Why is that? These things are a result of diligence, enjoyment of a solitary and quiet dwelling, and focused attention that’s not lost.’ Prominent man’s son, this is the miraculous ability of instruction displayed by my monks.”

19. The prominent man’s son Dhruva then asked the Buddha, “Are there any monks who’ve accomplished these three miraculous abilities?”

20. The Buddha told the prominent man’s son, “I wouldn’t say they are numerous, but there are several monks who’ve achieved these three miraculous abilities. Prominent man’s son, there was a monk in this assembly who thought to himself, ‘How are the four elements of this body made to cease forever, which are earth, water, fire, and air?’ That monk instantly headed for the heavenly road. He went to the Heaven of the Four God Kings and asked the four god kings, ‘How are the four elements of this body made to cease forever, which are earth, water, fire, and air?’

21. “Prominent man’s son, those four god kings replied to that monk, ‘We don’t know. How are the four elements made to cease forever? There’s a heaven above us called the Trāyastriṃśa, which is sublime and supreme. The gods there have great wisdom. Perhaps they know how to make the four elements cease?’

22. “Hearing this, the monk then instantly headed for the heavenly road. He went up to the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven and asked those gods, ‘How are the four elements of this body made to cease forever, which are earth, water, fire, and air?’

Those Trāyastriṃśa gods replied to the monk, ‘We don’t know. How are the four elements made to cease forever? There’s a heaven above us called Yama which is sublime and supreme. Having great wisdom, the gods there may know.’ He went there and asked, but they said they didn’t know.

23. “Thus, he went to the Tuṣita Heaven … the Nirmāṇarati Heaven … the Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven. They said, ‘We don’t know. How are the four elements made to cease forever? There’s yet another heaven above us that’s sublime and supreme, and they have great wisdom. It’s called the Brahmakāyika. Those gods may know how the four elements are ceased forever.’

24. “That monk then instantly headed for the Brahma road. He went to that Brahma Heaven above and asked, ‘How are the four elements of this body made to cease forever, which are earth, water, fire, and air?’

“Those Brahma gods replied to the monk, ‘We don’t know. How are the four elements made to cease forever? Now, there’s the heaven of King Great Brahmā the Undefeatable, Ruler of a Thousand Worlds, the Noble Lord, Highest Attainer of Sovereignty, Creator of Everything, and Parent to Sentient Beings. He may know how the four elements are ceased forever.’

25. “Prominent man’s son, that monk immediately asked, ‘Now, where would King Great Brahmā be?’

“Those gods replied, ‘We don’t know where Great Brahmā is, but judging by what we see, he’ll appear soon.’ Soon after, the Brahma King suddenly appeared.

26. “Prominent man’s son, that monk went to the Brahma King and asked him, ‘How are the four elements of this body made to cease forever, which are earth, water, fire, and air?’

“That King Great Brahmā told the monk, ‘I am the king of Brahmas, the Undefeatable, Ruler of a Thousand Worlds, the Noble Lord, Highest Attainer of Sovereignty, Creator of Everything, and Parent to Sentient Beings.’

27. “That monk then told the Brahma King, ‘I didn’t ask about that. My question is: How are the four elements made to cease forever, which are earth, water, fire, and air?’

“Prominent man’s son, that Brahma King again answered the monk, ‘I am the king of Brahmas, the Undefeatable, Ruler of a Thousand Worlds, the Noble Lord, Highest Attainer of Sovereignty, Creator of Everything, and Parent to Sentient Beings.’

28. “The monk again told him, ‘I didn’t ask about that. My question is: How are the four elements made to cease forever?’

29. “Prominent man’s son, that Brahma King said the same thing for a third time. He wasn’t able to answer that monk’s question about how the four elements are made to cease forever. King Great Brahmā then took the monk aside with his right hand and led him to private place. He said to him, ‘Now, monk, I’m the wisest of the Brahma kings; there’s nothing I don’t know and see, which is why I didn’t answer you [honestly]: “I don’t know or see how these four elements are made to cease forever.”’

30. “He also told the monk, ‘You are quite a fool! You set aside the Tathāgata and put your question about this to us in the heavens. You should ask the Bhagavān about this and remember well what he tells you about it.’

31. “He also told the monk, ‘The Buddha is in Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park of Śrāvastī. You can go and ask him there.’

32. “Prominent man’s son, the monk then suddenly disappeared from the Brahma Heaven. In the time it takes a strong man to flex his arm, he arrived in Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park of Śrāvastī. He came to me, bowed his head at my feet, and sat to one side. He said, ‘Bhagavān, how are the four elements of this body made to cease forever, which are earth, water, fire, and air?’

33. “I then told him, ‘Monk, it’s like a merchant who takes a hawk with him when he goes out to sea. The bird flies to the east, west, south, and north. When it finds dry land, it stops there [and circles]. If there’s no land, then it returns to the ship. Monk, you’re likewise. You went up to the Brahma heavens asking about this. Not achieving anything, you’ve returned to me. Now, I will help you accomplish this goal.’

34. “I then spoke in verse:

35. The prominent man’s son Dhruva said to the Buddha, “Bhagavān, what was this monk’s name? How is he remembered?”

The Buddha told the prominent man’s son, “This monk’s name was Aśvajit.[5] That’s how he should be remembered.”

36. When the prominent man’s son Dhruva heard what the Buddha taught, he rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. The direct parallel for this sutra is DN 11. [back]
  2. Ch. 那難陀, MCh. “na-nan-da,” P. Nāḷandā. Ch. 波婆利掩次, MCh. “pua-bua-lji-iam-tsi,” P. Pavārikamba. I’ve adopted the Skt. equivalent of the Chinese transliterations. [back]
  3. Dhruva. Ch. 堅固. This back-translation is an educated guess based on the Chinese translation of his name as “steadfast,” which differs from the Pali and Sanskrit interpretation of Kevaddha or Kaivarta as meaning “fisherman” or “mariner.” We should note that the Sarvâstivāda version of this sutra agrees with the Theravāda in naming the interlocutor Kaivartin, which is a Sanskritization of Kevaṭṭa. A Chinese transliterated equivalent of Kevaṭṭa (鷄筏多) is found in Xuanzang’s Mahāvibhāṣā (another Sarvâstivāda source), which quotes this sutra’s introduction at T1545.531c6-532a15. A classical Chinese glossary (T2130.1021a11) interprets a close equivalent of that transliteration (鷄和哆) to mean “fisherman” like P. Kevaddha. [back]
  4. Gola. Ch. 瞿羅. This is a guess at an obscure transliteration. Both DN 11 and Mahāvibhāṣā (T1545.531c26) cite a spell called Gandhārī (健馱梨, c.f. T2128.767c7). In this version, the second spell will be called Gandhārī, which will be called Māṇikā in DN 11 and Kṣaṇika (刹尼迦) in the Mahāvibhāṣā (T1545.532a5). [back]
  5. Aśvajit. Ch. 阿室已, MCh. “a-shiet-i.” This is the only occurrence of this transliteration in Chinese Buddhist texts. A clue that we have about its meaning comes from the glossary 新集藏經音義隨函錄 (K 34.1257.1061c) which reads: “阿室已: 下一音似亦云阿說木此云馬勝.” 木 here is likely a typo for 示. 阿說示 is a better known transliteration for one of the Buddha’s initial disciples, Skt. Aśvajit (P. Assaji), and 馬勝 (“horse victor,” i.e., a thoroughbred) was a Chinese translation of his name. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 27 March 2021