Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

30. Description of the World

Chapter 10: War

Vemacitrin’s Bonds

1. The Buddha told the monks, “Once, the gods and asuras went to war. At the time, Śakra the Lord of Gods gave the Trāyastriṃśa gods this order: ‘All of you, go and do battle with them. If you are victorious, tie up the asura Vemacitrin with five bonds and bring him to the Sudharma Meeting Hall. I want to look at him.’ Accepting Lord Śakra’s instructions, the Trāyastriṃśa gods equipped themselves [with armor and weapons].

2. “The asura Vemacitrin gave the asuras this order: ‘All of you, go and do battle with them. If you are victorious, tie up Śakra the Lord of Gods with five bonds and bring him to the Saptaśirīṣa Meeting Hall. I want to look at him.’ Accepting the asura Vemacitrin’s instructions, the asuras equipped themselves [with armor and weapons].

3. “The hosts of gods and asuras then fought a battle. The gods were victorious, and the asuras retreated. The Trāyastriṃśa gods tied up the asura king with five bonds, brought him to the Sudharma Hall, and showed him to Lord Śakra.

4. “When the asura king saw the heavens, he was delighted, and an aspiration arose in him. He thought, ‘This place is supreme! Perhaps I will live here. How could I go back to the asura palace?’ When that thought occurred to him, he was freed from the five bonds and was presented with five delights. When the asura had the thought to return to his own palace, then the five bonds tied him back up, and the five delights left him.

5. “The bonds tying up the asura then became quite strong. The bonds that tie up Māra are even stronger than his was. Someone who posits a self is bound by Māra. Someone who doesn’t posit a self is freed from Māra’s bonds. The feeling of self is a bond. The feeling of craving is a bond.[n] ‘I will exist’ is a bond. ‘I will not exist’ is a bond. ‘I’ll have form’ is a bond. ‘I’ll have no form’ is a bond. ‘I’ll have form and no form’ is a bond. ‘I’ll have conception’ is a bond. ‘I’ll have no conception’ is a bond. ‘I’ll have conception and no conception’ is a bond. ‘Self’ is a great trouble, an abscess, and a thorn.

6. “Therefore, a noble disciple knows that ‘self’ is a great trouble, an abscess, and a thorn. They abandon the notions of self and cultivate selfless conduct. They regard that ‘self’ as a heavy burden, as reckless, and as existence.

7. “Something that has a self would be conditioned, and something that has no self would be conditioned. Something with form is conditioned, and something without form is conditioned. Something with and without form is conditioned. Something with conception is conditioned, and something without conception is conditioned. Something with and without conception is conditioned. Something that’s conditioned is a great trouble, an abscess, and a thorn. Therefore, a noble disciple abandons being conditioned and practices to be unconditioned.”

Śakra Tolerates Vemacitrin’s Insults

8. The Buddha told the monks, “Once, the gods and asuras went to war. At the time, Śakra the Lord of Gods gave the Trāyastriṃśa gods this order: ‘All of you, go and do battle with them. If we are victorious, tie up the asura Vemacitrin with five bonds and bring him to the Sudharma Meeting Hall. I want to look at him.’ Accepting Lord Śakra’s instructions, the Trāyastriṃśa gods equipped themselves [with armor and weapons].

9. “The asura Vemacitrin gave the asuras this order: ‘All of you, go and do battle with them. If you are victorious, tie up Śakra the Lord of Gods with five bonds and bring him to the Saptaśirīṣa Meeting Hall. I want to look at him.’ Accepting the asura Vemacitrin’s instructions, the asuras equipped themselves [with armor and weapons].

10. “The hosts of gods and asuras then fought a battle. The gods were victorious, and the asuras retreated. The Trāyastriṃśa gods tied up the asura king with five bonds, brought him to the Sudharma Hall, and showed him to Lord Śakra.

11. “Roaming the Sudharma Hall, the Asura King saw Lord Śakra from a distance and spoke harsh insults about his five bonds.

12. “The attendant to the Lord of Gods was in front of Śakra, and he spoke this verse:

13. “Śakra the Lord of Gods also spoke in verse to answer his attendant:

14. “The attendant again spoke in verse to Lord Śakra:

15. “Lord Śakra replied to his attendant in verse:

16. “The attendant again spoke in verse to Lord Śakra:

17. “Lord Śakra again replied to his attendant in verse:

18. The Buddha told the monks, “Was Śakra the Lord of Gods another person at the time? Don’t have this view. At that time, Śakra the Lord of Gods was me. I was cultivating tolerance and not behaving violently. I was constantly praising tolerant people. If some wise person wants to set out on my path, they should cultivate patient silence and not feel animosity.”

Defeating the Asuras with Gentle Words

19. The Buddha told the monks, “Once, the Trāyastriṃśa gods and the asuras went to war. Śakra the Lord of Gods said to the asura ’Citrin, ‘Friend, why are you equipped with weapons? Do you harbor ill-will and want to fight me? Now, I’ll have a discussion of doctrine with you to determine who wins and who loses.’

20. “That asura ’Citrin said to Lord Śakra, ‘Even if I did put down these weapons and stop to debate doctrine with you, who’d decide who won and who lost?’

21. Lord Śakra instructed him, ‘We will simply hold a discussion. Those who are wise in your host and in my host of gods will decide who wins and who loses.’

22. “The asura said to Lord Śakra, ‘You begin with a verse.’

“Lord Śakra replied, ‘You are the elder god. You should be the first to speak.’

“The asura ’Citrin then spoke a verse to Lord Śakra:

23. “After he said this verse, the host of asuras rejoiced and cheered, saying, ‘Excellent!’ The host of gods were silent and had nothing to say.

24. “The asura king said to Lord Śakra, ‘It’s your turn to speak a verse.’

25. “Lord Śakra then said to the asura in verse,

26. “After Lord Śakra spoke this verse, the Trāyastriṃśa gods rejoiced and cheered, saying, ‘Excellent!’ The host of asuras were silent and had nothing to say.

27. “Lord Śakra then said to the asura, ‘It’s your turn to speak a verse.’

28. “The asura again spoke in verse:

29. “After the asura king said these verses, the host of asuras celebrated, rejoiced, and cheered, saying, ‘Excellent!’ The host of Trāyastriṃśa gods were silent and had nothing to say.

30. “The king of asuras then said to Lord Śakra, ‘It’s your turn to speak a verse.’

31. “Śakra the Lord of Gods then spoke these verses for the asura:

32. “After Śakra the Lord of Gods had spoken these verses, the host of Trāyastriṃśa gods celebrated, rejoiced, and cheered, saying, ‘Excellent!’ The host of asuras were silent and had nothing to say.

33. “The host of gods and host of asuras both withdrew a short distance and said to each other, ‘The asura king’s verses were an assault, like drawing a sword on an opponent. They create the root of conflict, increase the bond of anger, and establish the source of the three existences. Śakra the Lord of Gods’ verses attack no one, like not drawing a sword against an opponent. They don’t create conflict, don’t increase the bond of anger, and put an end to the source for the three existences. What the Lord of Gods has said is good, and what the asura has said is not good. The gods are the winners, and the asuras are the losers!’”

34. The Buddha told the monks, “Was Śakra the Lord of Gods another person at the time? Don’t have this view. Why is that? [Śakra the Lord of Gods] was me. That time, I defeated the host of asuras with gentle words.”

Defeating the Asuras with Compassion

35. The Buddha told the monks, “Once, the gods and asuras again went to war. That time, the asuras were the victors, and the gods weren’t their equal.

36. “Śakra the Lord of Gods road a thousand-spoked treasure chariot as he fled in terror. In the middle of the road, he saw a nest in a sal tree, and a pair of chicks was in the nest. He told his driver in verse:

37. “Hearing Lord Śakra’s verse, his driver immediately steered the chariot to avoid the birds. The chariot then was headed toward the asuras, and the host of asuras saw his treasure chariot turning around in the distance. Those soldiers then said to each other, ‘Śakra the Lord of Gods is headed towards us in a thousand-spoked treasure chariot! He must want to come back and fight us! How could that be!?’ The host of asuras then were routed. The gods won a victory, and the asuras retreated.”

38. The Buddha told the monks, “Was Lord Śakra another person at the time? Don’t have that view. Why is that? [Śakra the Lord of Gods] was me. That time, I was engendering compassion for sentient beings. Monks, you’ve left home to cultivate the path in my teaching. You ought to engender compassion and sympathy for all beings.”

Śakra’s Victory Hall

39. The Buddha told the monks, “Once, the gods and asuras went to war. That time, the gods were the victors, and the asuras retreated. Śakra the Lord of Gods returned to his palace after that victory and built a hall that he named Supremacy. It was a hundred yojanas long from east to west, and sixty yojanas wide from north to south. That hall had a hundred rooms, and the rooms had seven curtained balconies. There were seven beautiful women on each balcony, and each beautiful woman had seven servants. Śakra the Lord of Gods didn’t withhold from those beautiful women any supplies of clothing, meals, or ornaments. He received these fortunes as a result of his past deeds. Being victorious in battle against the asuras, he rejoiced and built this hall, so it was called the Hall of Supremacy. No other hall was comparable to it in a thousand worlds, so it was called Supremacy.”

Desire Is the Cause of Warfare

40. The Buddha told the monks, “Once the Asura [King Rāhu] thought to himself, ‘I have great authority, and my miraculous powers aren’t few, but the Trāyastriṃśa, sun, and moon gods are always in the sky roam around my summit freely. Now, I think I’ll take the sun and the moon and make them into earrings so I could travel freely!’

41. “The Asura King’s anger flared, and he thought about the asura *Prahata. [1] The asura *Prahata then thought to himself, ‘The Asura King is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ He ordered those to his right and left to equip themselves with weapons. He then rode a treasure chariot to the Asura King while surrounded by a countless host of asuras. He went before the Asura King and then stood to one side.

42. “The [Asura] King also thought about the asura Śambara. The asura Śambara then thought to himself, ‘The [Asura] King is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ He ordered those to his right and left to equip themselves with weapons. He then rode a treasure chariot to the Asura King while surrounded by a countless host of asuras. He went before the Asura King and then stood to one side.

43. “The [Asura] King also thought about the asura Vemacitrin. The asura Vemacitrin then thought to himself, ‘The [Asura] King is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ He ordered those to his right and left to equip themselves with weapons. He then rode a treasure chariot to the Asura King while surrounded by a countless host of asuras. He went before the [Asura] King and then stood to one side.

44. “The [Asura] King also thought of the great minister of asuras. The great minister of asuras thought to himself, ‘The [Asura] King is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ He ordered those to his right and left to equip themselves with weapons. He then rode a treasure chariot to the Asura King while surrounded by a countless host of asuras. He went before the [Asura] King and then stood to one side.

45. “The [Asura] King also thought of the lesser asuras. The lesser asuras then thought to themselves, ‘The [Asura] King is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ They got ready and equipped themselves with weapons. They then went to the Asura King with countless other asuras. They went before the [Asura] King and then stood to one side.

46. “The Asura King Rāhu then got himself ready, donning treasure armor. He rode a treasure chariot while surrounded by countless hundreds of thousands of asuras equipped with weapons and armor. He headed out to the frontier to make war on the gods.

47. “The Nāga Kings Nanda and Upananda coiled their bodies around Mount Sumeru seven times and shook the mountains and valleys. Fine clouds spread out and released a misting rain. They smacked the ocean’s surface with their tails, which stirred up waves that reached the summit of Mount Sumeru.

48. “The Trāyastriṃśa gods then had this thought, ‘Now, these fine clouds have spread out and released a misting rain … stirred up waves that reach up to here. The asuras must be coming to make war on us; that’s the reason for these strange signs!’

49. “An army of countless millions of nāga warriors were in the ocean, too. They were armed with lances, bows and arrows, and swords, and they wore heavy treasure armor. Being well equipped with such weapons, they opposed the asuras and fought them. Sometimes the host of nāgas were victorious and chased the asuras back to their palace. Sometimes the host of nāgas retreated, and the nāgas couldn’t return to their palace. Instead, they would run to the Karoṭapāṇi yakṣa spirits and tell them, ‘The host of asuras are about to attack the gods. We tried to oppose them, but they just defeated us. You should arm yourselves, muster your strength, and go to battle with them!’

50. “When the yakṣa spirits heard this from the nāgas, they readied themselves, taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They then went with that host of nāgas to fight the asuras. If they won the battle, they would chase the asuras back to their palace. If they weren’t their equals, they wouldn’t return to their own palace. Instead, they would run to the realm of the Mālādhāra yakṣa spirits and tell them, ‘The host of asuras are about to attack the gods. We tried to oppose them, but they just defeated us. You should arm yourselves, muster your strength, and go to battle with them!’

51. “When the Mālādhāra yakṣa spirits heard this from the nāgas, they readied themselves, taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They mustered their strength and fought the asuras. If they won the battle, they would chase the asuras back to their palace. If they weren’t their equals, they wouldn’t return to their own palace. Instead, they would run to the realm of the Sadāmattā yakṣa spirits and tell them, ‘The host of asuras are about to attack the gods. We tried to oppose them, but they just defeated us. You should arm yourselves, muster your strength, and go to battle with them!’

52. “When the Sadāmattā yakṣa spirits heard this, they readied themselves, taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They mustered their strength and fought the asuras. If they won the battle, they would chase the asuras back to their palace. If they weren’t their equals, they wouldn’t return to their own palace. Instead, they would run to the four god kings and tell them, ‘The host of asuras are about to attack the gods. We tried to oppose them, but they just defeated us. You should arm yourselves, muster your strength, and go to battle with them!’

53. “When the four god kings heard this, they readied themselves, taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They mustered their strength and fought the asuras. If they won the battle, they would chase the asuras back to their palace. If they weren’t their equals, they wouldn’t return to their own palace. Instead, the four god kings went to the Sudharma Meeting Hall to tell Lord Śakra and the Trāyastriṃśa gods, ‘The host of asuras are about to attack the gods. We tried to oppose them, but they just defeated us. You should arm yourselves, muster your strength, and go to battle with them!’

54. “Lord Śakra then would give one of his attendant gods this order: ‘Memorize my words and relay them to the Yama gods, Tuṣita gods, Nirmāṇarati gods, and Paranirmitavaśavartin gods: “The Asura King and his countless host are coming to do battle with us. The gods should get ready and arm themselves. Help us fight them!”’

55. “That attendant god accepted Śakra’s instruction and went to the Yama Heaven … Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven with Lord Śakra’s message, telling them, ‘The Asura King and his countless host are coming to do battle with us. The gods should get ready and arm yourselves. Help us fight them!’

56. “When the Yama gods heard this, they readied themselves, taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They rode treasure chariots while surrounded by a host of countless hundreds of thousands of millions of gods and took their positions on the east side of Mount Sumeru.

57. “When the Tuṣita gods heard this, they readied themselves, taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They rode treasure chariots while surrounded by a host of countless hundreds of thousands of millions of gods and took their positions on the south side of Mount Sumeru.

58. “When the Nirmāṇarati gods heard this, they readied themselves, [taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They rode treasure chariots while surrounded by a host of countless hundreds of thousands of millions of gods] and took their positions on the west side of Mount Sumeru.

59. “When the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods heard this, they readied themselves, [taking up weapons and donning heavy treasure armor. They rode treasure chariots while surrounded by a host of countless hundreds of thousands of millions of gods] and took their positions on the north side of Mount Sumeru.

60. “Lord Śakra also thought of the thirty-three gods of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. Those thirty-three Trāyastriṃśa Heaven gods then thought, ‘Lord Śakra is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ They then ordered those to their right and left to equip themselves with weapons. They rode treasure chariots to Lord Śakra while surrounded by countless millions of gods. They went before Lord Śakra and then stood to one side.

61. “Lord Śakra also thought of the remaining gods of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. Those remaining gods then thought, ‘Lord Śakra is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ They ordered those to their right and left to equip themselves with weapons. They rode treasure chariots to Lord Śakra while surrounded by countless millions of gods. They went before Lord Śakra and then stood to one side.

62. “Lord Śakra also thought of the Viśvakarma yakṣa spirits. Those Viśvakarma yakṣa spirits then thought, ‘Lord Śakra is thinking of me now! We should quickly get ready!’ They ordered those to their right and left to equip themselves with weapons. They rode treasure chariots to Lord Śakra while surrounded by countless thousands of yakṣas. They went before Lord Śakra and then stood [to one side].

63. “Lord Śakra also thought of Nāga King Supratiṣṭhita. Nāga King Supratiṣṭhita then thought, ‘Lord Śakra is thinking of me now! I should go now.’ He then went to stand before Lord Śakra.

64. “Lord Śakra then got himself ready, equipping weapons and donning treasure armor. Riding on the crown of Nāga King Supratiṣṭhita’s head while surrounded by countless gods and yakṣas, and he left his heavenly palace to do battle with the asuras.

65. “They were equipped with spears, swords, pikes, bows and arrows, axes, hatchets, spinning discs, and snares. Their weapons and armor were made of the seven treasures. When they hit the asuras with their sharp swords, they only touched the asuras without injuring them.

66. “The host of asuras were armed with swords, pikes, bows and arrows, axes, hatchets, spinning discs, and snares made of the seven treasures. When they hit the gods with their sharp swords, they only touched the gods without injuring them. Thus, the gods and asuras of the desire realm fight with each other. Desire is the cause of it.”


Endnotes

  1. *Prahata. C. 捶打. His name is here translated to mean “to beat” or “strike” (e.g. with a fist). I believe this is same asura name that was transliterated in Chapter 6 as C. 波羅呵. Reading his name as equivalent to S. *Prahata would make sense of both. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 29 June 2022