Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

30. Description of the World

Chapter 1: The Continent of Jambudvīpa

Introduction

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

2. After their meal, a group of monks gathered up in the meeting hall. They had this discussion: “Gentlemen, it’s amazing! What causes the destruction of heaven and earth? What causes their formation? What are the countries where sentient beings live?”

3. The Bhagavān was in a quiet place at the time and overheard them clearly with his heavenly ear. He heard those monks saying this, having gathering up in the meeting hall after their meal. The Bhagavān then emerged from his quiet hut, went to the meeting hall, and sat down. Knowing it, he purposefully questioned them. He asked the monks, “You were having a discussion earlier. What was it that you were discussing?”

4. The monks said to the Buddha, “We gathered here in the meeting hall after our meal and discussed this: ‘Gentlemen, it’s amazing! What causes the destruction of heaven and earth? What causes their formation? What countries do sentient beings live in?’ This was what we were discussing after gathering here in the hall.”

5. The Buddha told the monks, “Good, good! Everyone who’s left home should practice two things: The first is the noble silence, and the second is [the noble] discussion of the Dharma. When all of you gather in a meeting hall, you should practice noble silence or [noble] discussion of the Dharma. Monks, would you like to hear the Tathāgata describe the formation and destruction of heaven and earth and the cities and countries where sentient beings live?” The monks said to the Buddha, “Indeed, Bhagavān, now would be a good time! We’d be glad to hear it. Once the Bhagavān has explained this, we’ll remember it!”

6. The Buddha said, “Monks, listen closely! Listen closely and consider it well! I will explain it for you.”

The Buddha Realm

7. The Buddha told the monks, “Just as one sun and moon orbit the four continents and shine their light on them, there are a thousand such worlds.[2] In a thousand worlds, there are a thousand suns and moons, a thousand Sumeru mountain kings, four thousand continents, four thousand great continents, four thousand oceans, four thousand great oceans, four thousand nāgas, four thousand great nāgas, four thousand garuḍas, four thousand great garuḍas, four thousand unpleasant destinies, four thousand great unpleasant destinies, four thousand kings, four thousand great kings, seven thousand great trees, eight thousand great hells, ten thousand great mountains, a thousand King Yamas, a thousand four god kings, a thousand Trāyastriṃśa Heavens, a thousand Yama Heavens, a thousand Tuṣita Heavens, a thousand Nirmāṇarati Heavens, a thousand Paranirmitavaśavartin Heavens, and a thousand Brahma Heavens. This is a small thousand worlds.

8. “Like one small thousand worlds, a thousand of those small thousand worlds are a medium thousand worlds. Like one medium thousand worlds, a thousand of those medium thousand worlds are a triple-thousand great thousand worlds. Such worlds revolve around as they form and are destroyed. The sentient beings that inhabit them are called a single Buddha realm.”

The World

9. The Buddha told the monks, “Now, this Earth is 168,000 yojanas deep,[3] and its bounds are endless [in the four directions]. Where the earth stops, there’s water. The water is 3,030 yojanas deep, and its bounds are endless. Where the water stops, there’s air. The air is 6,040 yojanas deep, and its bounds are endless.

10. “Monks, the ocean’s water is 84,000 yojanas deep, and its bounds are endless. Sumeru the mountain king is 84,000 yojanas in the water, and it rises to a height of 84,000 yojanas above the ocean. Below, it’s roots connect it to the earth with many hard points. That mountain goes straight up without any bends. All sorts of trees grow on it, and the trees produce many fragrances. The fragrances pervade the mountain’s forests. Many noble people, great spirits, and marvelous gods make their homes there. The foundation under that mountain is entirely gold sand. Four crags emerge from that mountain’s four sides that are 700 yojanas high with a mixture of colors throughout and made of the seven treasures. Those four crags are slanted, leaning precariously over the ocean.

11. “Sumeru the mountain king has stairways made of the seven treasures. At the bottom, the stairways are sixty yojanas wide. On both sides, the path is bordered by a seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees.

12. “The gold walls have silver gates, the silver walls have gold gates, the crystal walls have beryl gates, the beryl walls have crystal gates, the ruby walls have emerald gates, the emerald walls have ruby gates, and the coral walls have gates made of many treasures.

13. “The balustrades had gold balusters with silver rails, silver balusters with gold rails, crystal balusters with beryl rails, beryl balusters with crystal rails, ruby balusters with emerald rails, emerald balusters with ruby rails, and coral balusters with rails made of many treasures.

14. “Above those balustrades, there are precious nettings. The gold netting is hung with silver bells, the silver netting is hung with gold bells, the beryl netting is hung with crystal bells, the crystal netting is hung with beryl bells, the ruby netting is hung with emerald bells, the emerald netting is hung with ruby bells, and the coral netting is hung with bells made of many treasures.

15. “The gold trees have gold roots and limbs and silver leaves, flowers, and fruit. The silver trees have silver roots and limbs and gold leaves, flowers, and fruit. The crystal trees have crystal roots and limbs and beryl leaves, flowers[, and fruit]. The beryl trees have beryl roots and limbs and crystal leaves, flowers[, and fruit]. The ruby trees have ruby roots and limbs and emerald leaves, flowers[, and fruit]. The emerald trees have emerald roots and limbs and ruby leaves, flowers[, and fruit]. The coral trees have coral roots and limbs and leaves, flowers[, and fruit] made of many treasures.

16. “Each of the seven walls has four gates. The gates have balustrades, and towers and terraces are above the seven walls. They’re surrounded by scenic parks and lakes where myriad precious flowers and plants grow. The rows of treasure trees are full with flowers and fruit, and they produce fragrances that blow in the four directions to the delight of passersby. Ducks, geese, cakras, and other rare kinds of birds in countless thousands sing peacefully to each other.

17. “Furthermore, halfway up Sumeru the mountain king, the stairways are forty yojanas wide. On both sides, the path is bordered by seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees … Countless birds of many kinds sing peacefully to each other as they do at the lower stairways.

18. “At the top of Sumeru the mountain king, the stairways are twenty yojanas wide. On both sides, the path is bordered by seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees … Countless birds of many kinds sing peacefully to each other as they do at the middle stairways.”

19. The Buddha told the monks, “There are yakṣa spirits that live on the lower stairway called Karoṭapāṇi. The yakṣa spirits that live on the middle stairway are called Mālādhāra. The yakṣa spirits that live on the upper stairway are called Sadāmada.

The Heavens

20. “The four crags rise to a height of 42,000 yojanas, and the four great god kings live on them in their palaces. Their palaces have seven fortress walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees with precious bells … Countless birds of many kinds sing peacefully to each other as before.

21. “The palace of the Trāyastriṃśa gods is at the summit of Mount Sumeru. It has seven fortress walls made of treasures, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees … Countless birds of many kinds sing peacefully to each other as before.

22. “The same number of yojanas up from the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven is the palace of the Yama gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Yama Heaven palace is the palace of the Tuṣita gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Tuṣita Heaven palace is the palace of the Nirmāṇarati gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Nirmāṇarati Heaven palace is the palace of the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven palace is the palace of the Brahmakāyika gods.

23. “The god Māra’s palace is halfway between the Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven and the Brahmakāyika Heaven. It’s 6,000 yojanas in diameter and has seven fortress walls made of treasures, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees … Countless birds of many kinds sing peacefully to each other as before.

24. “The same number of yojanas beyond the Brahmakāyika Heaven palace is the palace of the Ābhāsvara gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Ābhāsvara Heaven is the palace of the Śubhakṛtsnā gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Śubhakṛtsnā Heaven palace is the palace of the Bṛhatphala gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Bṛhatphala Heaven [palace] is the palace of the Asaṃjñika gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Asaṃjñika Heaven [palace] is the palace of the Avṛha gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Avṛha Heaven [palace] is the palace of the Atapa gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Atapa Heaven [palace] is the palace of the Sudarśana gods. The same number of yojanas beyond the Sudarśana Heaven [palace] is the palace of the Mahāsudarśana gods. The same distance beyond the Mahāsudarśana Heaven [palace] is the palace of the Akaniṣṭha gods.

25. “Above the Akaniṣṭha Heaven are the gods who cognize the abode of space … the gods who cognize the abode of consciousness … the gods who cognize the abode of nothingness … the gods who cognize the abode with and without conception.

26. “These are called the boundaries of sentient beings and the worlds of sentient beings where they all are born, grow old, fall ill, and die. They acquire these aggregates and these existences, and none go beyond that.”

The Four Continents

27. The Buddha told the monks, “North of Mount Sumeru, there is a continent named Uttarakuru. That land is perfectly square and 10,000 yojanas across. The people there have square faces that resemble the shape of their land.

28. “East of Mount Sumeru, there’s a continent named Pūrvavideha. That land is perfectly round and 9,000 yojanas across. The people there have round faces that resemble the shape of their land.

29. “West of Mount Sumeru, there’s a continent named Godānīya. That land is the shape of a half moon and 8,000 yojanas across. The people there have faces that likewise resemble the shape of that land.

30. “South of Mount Sumeru, there’s a continent named Jambudvīpa. That land is narrow in the south and wide in the north, and it’s 7,000 yojanas across. The people there have faces that likewise resemble the shape of that land.

31. “The north side of Mount Sumeru is made of heavenly gold that shines northward. The east side of Mount Sumeru is made of heavenly silver that shines eastward. The west side of Mount Sumeru is made of heavenly crystal that shines westward. The south side of Mount Sumeru is made of heavenly beryl that shines southward.

The Great Trees of the World

32. “Uttarakuru has a great tree king named Amra. It’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction.

33. “Pūrvavideha has a great tree king named Kadamba. It’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction.

34. “Godānīya has a great tree king named Tinduka. It’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction. That tree also has a banner of a stone bull under it that’s one yojana tall.

35. “Jambudvīpa has a great tree king named Jambu. it’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction.

36. “The king of the garuḍa birds and the king of the nāgas have a tree named Kūṭaśālmali. It’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction.

37. “The king of the asuras has a tree named Good Day. It’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction.

38. “The Trāyastriṃśa Heaven has a tree named Pārijāta. It’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction.

Lesser Mountains around Sumeru

39. “Mount Sumeru is bordered by a mountain named Khadiraka. It’s 42,000 yojanas tall and 42,000 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

40. “That mountain sits 84,000 yojanas away from Mount Sumeru, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

41. “Not far beyond Mount Khadiraka, there’s a mountain named Īśādāra. It’s 21,000 yojanas tall and 21,000 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

42. “That mountain sits 42,000 yojanas away from Mount Khadiraka, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

43. “Not far beyond Mount Īśādāra, there’s a mountain named Yugandhara. It’s 12,000 yojanas tall and 12,000 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

44. “That mountain sits 21,000 yojanas away from Mount Īśādāra, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

45. “Not far beyond Mount Yugandhara, there’s a mountain named Sudarśana. It’s 6,000 yojanas tall and 6,000 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

46. “That mountain sits 12,000 yojanas away from Mount Yugandhara, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

47. “Not far beyond Mount Sudarśana, there’s a mountain named Aśvakarṇa. It’s 3,000 yojanas tall and 3,000 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

48. “That mountain sits 6,000 yojanas away from Mount Sudarśana, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

49. “Not far beyond Mount Aśvakarṇa, there’s a mountain named Nimindhara. It’s 1,200 yojanas tall and 1,200 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

50. “That mountain sits 3,000 yojanas away from Mount Aśvakarṇa, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

51. “Not far beyond Mount Nimindhara, there’s a mountain named Vinitaka. It’s 600 yojanas tall and 600 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

52. “That mountain sits 1,200 yojanas away from Mount Nimindhara, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

53. “Not far beyond Mount Vinitaka, there’s a mountain named Cakravāḍa. It’s 300 yojanas tall and 300 yojanas across. Its extent is spacious with a mixture of colors throughout, and it’s made of the seven treasures.

54. “That mountain sits 600 yojanas away from Mount Vinitaka, and utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, puṇḍarīka flowers, reeds, pine trees, and bamboo groves grow between them. They produce all sorts of fragrances that fill the area.

Beyond the Lesser Mountains

55. “Not far beyond Mount Cakravāḍa is a great ocean. On the north shore of that ocean is the great tree king named Jambu that’s seven yojanas around and a hundred yojanas tall. It’s limbs and leaves spread out for fifty yojanas in each direction. It’s bordered by an open area.

56. “There’s also a forest named Āmra that’s fifty yojanas across.[4]

There’s another forest named Campā that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Śāla that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Tāla that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named *Natala that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Being Male that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Being Female that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Male and Female that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Santāna that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Candana that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named *Kadula that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named *Panasa that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Bilva that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Fragrant Mango that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Pear that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Pomegranate that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Being Sweet that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Harītaka that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Vibhītaka that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Āmalaka that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Amalī that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Mango that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Ikṣu that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Śāla that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named *Śālana that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Uruvilvā (?) that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Great Uruvilvā (?) that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Atimuktaka that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Campaka that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Pāṭala that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Sumana that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Vārṣika that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named *Talari (?) that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named *Kaśa that’s fifty yojanas across.

There’s another forest named Grape that’s fifty yojanas across.

57. “Beyond that is an open region. In that open region, there’s an [utpala] flower lake that’s fifty yojanas across. There’s also a padma flower lake, a kumuda flower lake, and a puṇḍarīka flower lake. They’re filled with venomous snakes, and each is fifty yojanas across.

58. “Beyond that open region, there’s an ocean in an open area named *Ujanna (?). There’s a noble wheel-turning king’s road beneath this sea that’s twelve yojanas wide. On both sides, the road is bordered by seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees that are decorated all around and made the seven treasures. When a noble wheel-turning king arises in the land of Jambudvīpa, that sea naturally recedes to expose the road just above its surface.

59. “Not far beyond that sea, there’s a mountain named *Uja (?). That mountain is majestic. Trees grow abundantly there, flowers and fruit are bountiful, and their many fragrances are sweet-smelling. There’s also a diversity of animals with no species that isn’t present.

60. “Not far beyond Mount *Uja (?) is a mountain named Golden Wall. There are 80,000 caves inside of it, and 80,000 elephant kings stay in those caves. Their bodies are all white, their heads are mottled, and they have six tusks in their mouths and gold between their teeth.

61. “Beyond that Mount Golden Wall, there’s a mountain named Himavat. It’s five hundred yojanas across and five hundred yojanas high. The ocean is to its east and west, and there are treasure mountains twelve yojanas tall between it and Mount Himavat.

Lake Anavatapta

62. “Crags rises up a hundred yojanas from Mount Himavat. Lake Anavatapta is at the summit of that mountain. It’s fifty yojanas across with refreshing, clear, and unpolluted water. It has a stone wall made of seven treasures, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees with all sorts of colors that are made of the seven treasures.

63. “Those balustrades have gold balusters with silver rails, silver balusters with gold rails, beryl balusters with crystal rails, crystal balusters with beryl rails, ruby balusters with emerald rails, emerald balusters with ruby rails, and coral balusters with rails made of many treasures.

64. “The gold netting has silver bells, the silver netting has gold bells, the beryl netting has crystal bells, the crystal netting has beryl bells, [the ruby netting has emerald bells, the emerald netting has ruby bells,] and the coral netting has bells made of many treasures.

65. “The gold tāla trees have gold roots and limbs and silver leaves, [flowers,] and fruit. The silver tāla trees have silver roots and limbs and gold leaves, [flowers,] and fruit. [The beryl trees have beryl roots and limbs and crystal leaves, flowers, and fruit.] The crystal trees have crystal roots and limbs and beryl [leaves,] flowers, and fruit. The ruby trees have ruby roots and limbs and emerald leaves, flowers, and fruit. [The emerald trees have emerald roots and limbs, and ruby leaves, flowers, and fruit.] The coral trees have coral roots and limbs, and [leaves,] flowers, and fruit made of many treasures.

66. “On Lake Anavatapta’s shores, there are scenic parks and pools with heaps of myriad flowers and all sorts of trees with abundant leaves, flowers, and fruit. The sweet smell of their fragrances blow in all directions. All kinds of birds peacefully sing to each other. The bottom of Lake Anavatapta is full of gold sand, and it has stairs with handrails on four sides. There are gold handrails with silver steps, silver handrails with gold steps, beryl handrails with crystal steps, crystal handrails with beryl steps, ruby handrails with emerald steps, emerald handrails with ruby steps, and coral handrails with steps made of many treasures. A balustrade surrounds the lake, and the four kinds of flowers grow there in a mixture of blues, yellows, reds, and whites. The flowers are like cartwheels, and their roots are like wheel hubs. The roots of those flowers produce sap that’s white as milk and tastes sweet as honey.

67. “The Gaṅgā River flows from a cow’s mouth, going east from Lake Anavatapta. Five hundred rivers join it as it flows to the eastern ocean. The Sindhu River flows from a lion’s mouth, going south from Lake Anavatapta. Five hundred rivers join it as it flows to the southern ocean. The Vakṣu River flows from a horse’s mouth, going west from Lake Anavatapta. Five hundred rivers join it as it flows to the western ocean. The Sita River flows from an elephant’s mouth, going north from Lake Anavatapta. Five hundred rivers join it as it flows to the northern ocean.

68. “In the palace of Anavatapta, there is a hall with five pillars where the Nāga King Anavatapta always lives.”

The Meaning of “Anavatapta”

69. The Buddha said, “Why is it called Anavatapta? What’s the meaning of ‘Anavatapta’? Here in Jambudvīpa, there’s a nāga king who stopped having three troubles. Only the nāga Anavatapta has none of these three troubles. What are the three?

70. “First, all the nāgas throughout Jambudvīpa suffer from hot winds and hot sand that cling to their bodies and burn their skin and flesh. It even burns their bones and marrow, causing them misery. Only the nāga Anavatapta doesn’t have this trouble.

71. “Second, all the nāga palaces throughout Jambudvīpa have fierce winds that blow through them. They lose their treasure-decorated clothes, and their nāga bodies are left exposed, which causes them misery. Only the Nāga King Anavatapta doesn’t have this trouble.

72. “Third, when all the nāga kings throughout Jambudvīpa entertain themselves in their respective palaces, great garuḍa birds take the opportunity to snatch them or their newly born, for they like to eat nāgas. The nāgas are afraid of them and always feel distressed about this. Only the nāga Anavatapta doesn’t have this trouble.

73. If the garuḍa birds decide to go there, their lives end. Therefore, it’s called Anavatapta (Anavatapta in Chinese means ‘No Distress’).”

74. The Buddha told the monks, “On the right side of Mount Himavat, there’s a city named Vaiśālī. That city has seven black mountains to its north. North of those seven black mountains, there’s a fragrance mountain. There are always sounds of music and singing at that mountain. It has two caves: One is called Painted and the second is called Skillfully Painted.[5] They’re made of seven heavenly treasures that are soft and pleasant smelling like heavenly cloth. The Gandharva King Sarasvatī lives there with 500 gandharvas.

The Elephant King Susaṃsthita

75. “North of the caves Painted and Skillfully Painted is a sal tree king named Susaṃsthita. It’s surrounded on four sides by 8,000 other tree kings. An elephant king lives under the tree king Susaṃsthita that’s also named Susaṃsthita. His body is all white, he stands flush in seven places, and he has the ability to fly. His head is red and his hair is multicolored. His six tusks are delicate, and there’s gold between them. He’s surrounded by 8,000 elephants that follow him. Those 8,000 elephants live under the 8,000 other tree kings in the same way.

76. “North of that tree king Susaṃsthita is a large lake named Mandākinī. It’s fifty yojanas across, surrounded all around by 8,000 ponds, and its water is refreshing and unpolluted. It’s surrounded by an embankment made of bricks of the seven treasures, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees that are made of the seven treasures.

77. “[The balustrades] have gold balusters with silver rails, silver balusters with gold rails, crystal balusters with beryl rails, beryl balusters with crystal rails, ruby balusters with emerald rails, emerald balusters with ruby rails, and coral balusters with rails made of many treasures.

78. “The gold netting is hung with silver bells, the silver netting is hung with gold bells, the crystal netting is hung with beryl bells, the beryl netting is hung with crystal bells, the ruby netting is hung with emerald bells, the emerald netting is hung with ruby bells, and the coral netting is hung with bells made of many treasures.

79. “The gold trees have gold roots and limbs and silver leaves, flowers, and fruit. The silver trees have silver roots and limbs and gold leaves, flowers, and fruit. The crystal trees have crystal roots and limbs and beryl [leaves,] flowers, and fruit. The beryl trees have beryl roots and limbs and crystal [leaves,] flowers, and fruit. The ruby trees have ruby roots and limbs and emerald [leaves,] flowers, and fruit. The emerald trees have emerald roots and limbs and ruby [leaves,] flowers, and fruit. The coral trees have coral roots and limbs and [leaves,] flowers, and fruit made of many treasures.

80. “The bottom of that lake is strewn with gold sand, and it has stairways made of seven treasures all around it. The gold stairs have silver steps, the silver stairs have gold steps, the beryl stairs have crystal steps, the crystal stairs have beryl steps, the ruby stairs have emerald steps, the emerald stairs have ruby steps, and the coral stairs have steps made of many treasures. There are also precious balustrades on both sides of those stairs.

81. “The four kinds of flowers grow in that lake with a mixture of blues, yellows, reds, and whites. The flowers are like cartwheels and their roots are like wheel hubs. The roots of those flowers produce sap that’s white as milk and tastes sweet as honey.

82. “There are many scenic parks, forests, and ponds on all four sides of that lake where various refreshing flowers and trees grow. Their flowers and fruit are bountiful, and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before.

83. “When the elephant king Susaṃsthita decides to entertain himself in the lake, he thinks of the other 8,000 elephant kings. Those 8,000 elephant kings then think to themselves, ‘The elephant king Susaṃsthita is thinking of us now! We ought to pay the elephant king a visit.’ Then the herd of elephants go before him.

84. “The elephant king Susaṃsthita then goes to Lake Mandākinī with the other 8,000 elephants. Some among those elephants carry parasols and hold precious fans for the elephant king. Some among them dance and play music in front of them.

85. “When the elephant king Susaṃsthita enters the lake to bathe, they dance and play music to entertain each other. Some of the elephants wash the king’s trunk, some wash his mouth, some wash his head, some wash his tusks, some wash his ears, some wash his stomach, some wash his back, some wash his tail, and some wash his feet. Some of them pick flowers and roots, wash them, and give them to the king to eat. Some of them throw the four kinds of flowers on the king.

86. “After he has bathed, drank, eaten, and entertained himself, the elephant king Susaṃsthita goes onto the shore and stands facing the tree Susaṃsthita. Afterward, the other 8,000 elephants each go into the lake to bathe, drink, eat, and entertain themselves. When they’re finished, they come back out and go to the elephant king.

87. “The elephant king then leads the other 8,000 elephants to the tree king Susaṃsthita. Some among them carry parasols for the elephant king. Some bear precious fans to fan the elephant king, and some among them dance and play music in front of the others.

88. “When the elephant king Susaṃsthita reaches the tree king, he sits, lies down, or walks around as he likes. The other 8,000 elephants each are free to sit, lie down, and walk around as they like.

89. “In that tree’s forest, there’s a circle [of trees] eight fathoms in size, a circle nine fathoms in size … ten fathoms … fifteen fathoms in size. Only the elephant king Susaṃsthita was within a circle sixteen fathoms in size around the sal tree king. When those other 8,000 sal trees drop their limbs and leaves, a cool breeze blows through the forest from outside. Also, when the other 8,000 elephants defecate and urinate, yakṣas remove it from the forest.”

90. The Buddha told the monks, “The elephant king Susaṃsthita possesses great miraculous abilities. Such is his virtue. Although he was born an animal, he received such fortune.”


Endnotes

  1. This sutra does not have a direct parallel with any Pali sutta, but various passages and stories that it collects are found in Pali suttas and paracanonical sources. The closest parallels to the entire text are the Lokaprajñapti of the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma (which exists in Tibetan) and the Pali version of the same called the Lokapaññatti. [back]
  2. The author(s) of this text envisioned the Earth as a flat plane, and the world as a circle bounded by a ring of mountains with Mount Sumeru at its center. This was not a universal belief in the ancient world, however. Ancient Greeks believed the world was spherical as early as 500 BCE because they believed a sphere was the perfect shape. Later Greeks noticed clues that the Earth is round such as the rounded shadow cast on the moon during eclipses and that different constellations are visible from different latitudes. Eratosthenes appears to have been the first person to accurately calculate the Earth’s circumference in 240 BCE.[back]
  3. yojana. A yojana is an ancient Indian unit of distance similar to a league. Like most ancient units of measurement, there was no exact value. Depending on its local definition, one yojana usually ranged from 7 to 9 miles (11.25 to 14.5 km), or about twice the distance of a league. Thus, 168,000 yojanas would be approximately 1,344,000 miles (2,162,958 km).
    I’ve left yojana untranslated so that the reader can see the original numbers, but it should be understood that a thousand yojanas is a very large distance. To give some perspective, we know today that the Earth is a sphere with a circumference of about 3,100 yojanas and a radius of 500 yojanas, and the Moon is about 30,000 yojanas away from the Earth.[back]
  4. This list of thirty-five forests isn’t found in other sources, and some of the names are obscure. Reconstructions I’m somewhat confident about are marked with *, and those that are guesses are marked with (?). Some are translated to Chinese, which I translate to English. [back]
  5. Painted … Skillfully Painted. The present text reads 晝 and 善晝, which would mean “Day” and “Good Day.” An alternate Chinese translation has instead “mixed colors” and “skillfully mixed colors.” If 晝 is a typo for 畫, then the original passage would read “Painting” and “Good Painting,” which would agree with the alternate version. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 19 June 2022