Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

30. Description of the World

Chapter 2: Uttarakuru

The Land of Uttarakuru

1. The Buddha told the monks, “The continent of Uttarakuru has many mountains. There are scenic parks and lakes beside those mountains where an assortment of refreshing flowers and trees grow. Their flowers and fruit are bountiful, and countless birds sing to each other peacefully.

2. “Moreover, there are many rivers in those mountains. Their currents flow gently without any rapids, and they’re covered with a multitude of flowers that float downstream smoothly. Those streams flow between two rows of various trees. Their branches are flexible, and their flowers and fruit are bountiful. Lush grass grows in clockwise coils on the land. It has the color of a peacock or a kingfisher and the fragrance of vārṣika flowers, and it’s soft as heavenly cloth. The ground is also soft to walk on. The earth sinks four inches and then springs back when one lifts their foot. The land is level like the palm of a hand, without any high or low points.

3. “Monks, that land of Uttarakuru has four Anavatapta lakes on its four sides. Each of them is a hundred yojanas across. Their water is clear and unpolluted, and they’re ringed by stepped embankments made of the seven treasures … countless birds sing to each other peacefully, and nearby Lake Mandākinī is not decorated any different than before.

4. Those four great lakes each produce four great rivers that are ten yojanas wide. Their currents flow gently without any rapids, and they’re covered with many flowers that float downstream smoothly. Those streams flow between two rows of various trees. Their branches are flexible, and their flowers and fruit are bountiful. Lush grass grows in clockwise coils on the land. It has the color of a peacock or a kingfisher and the fragrance of vārṣika flowers, and it’s soft as heavenly cloth. The ground is also soft to walk on. The earth sinks four inches and then springs back when one lifts their foot. The land is level like the palm of a hand, without any high or low points.

5. “Moreover, that land is devoid of gullies, pits, brambles, or stumps, nor does it have biting insects, venomous snakes, scorpions, tigers, and other dangerous animals. The earth is made purely of many treasures, without any stones or sand. The weather is mild, and the seasons are gentle, being neither cold nor hot. There isn’t any kind of trouble.

6. “That land is moist. Dust and dirt doesn’t kick up, as though it were a wetland. There isn’t any dust that blows around. A hundred kinds of grass grow constantly, for there isn’t any winter or summer. The trees are abundant, and their flowers and fruit are bountiful. Lush grass grows in clockwise coils on the land. It has the color of a peacock or a kingfisher and the fragrance of vārṣika flowers, and it’s soft as heavenly cloth. The ground is also soft to walk on. The earth sinks four inches and then springs back when one lifts their foot. The land is level like the palm of a hand, without any high or low points.

7. “There’s always natural rice present on that land. It grows by itself without being planted and doesn’t have any husk or chaff. It looks like a cluster of white flowers, resembling the food of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, and it possesses many flavors.

8. “That land always has natural iron kettles present. They have maṇi gems called Brilliant Light in the bottom, which cook food when the light goes out. It doesn’t require firewood, fire, or troublesome human labor.

The Magical Trees of Uttarakuru

9. “That land has a kind of tree called Bending Over. When men and women stop under them when it rains, their leaves line up such that water doesn’t drip between them.

10. “Also, there are perfume trees that stand thirty-five kilometers[1] tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces natural perfume. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce natural perfume.

11. “Also, there are cloth trees that stand thirty-five kilometers tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of clothing. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of clothing.

12. “Also, there are ornament trees that stand thirty-five kilometers tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of things to ornament a person’s body. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of things to ornament a person’s body.

13. “Also, there are flower garland trees that stand thirty-five kilometers tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of garlands. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of garlands.

14. “Also, there are vessel trees that stand thirty-five kilometers tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of vessels. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of vessels.

15. “Also, there are fruit trees that stand thirty-five kilometers tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of fruit. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of fruit.

16. “Also, there are musical instrument trees that stand thirty-five kilometers tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of musical instruments. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself to produce all sorts of musical instruments.

Lake Sudarśana

17. “That land has a lake named Sudarśana that’s a hundred yojanas across. Its water is clear and unpolluted, and it’s ringed by stepped embankments made of the seven treasures. The lake has on all four sides seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees … and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before. That Lake Sudarśana has a tree to its north named Āmra, which is 3.5 kilometers around and stands fifty kilometers tall. It’s branches and leaves spread out in all four directions to cover twenty-five kilometers.

18. “The Sugati River flows east from Lake Sudarśana, and it’s a yojana wide. Its current flows gently without any rapids, and it’s covered with many flowers that float downstream smoothly. That river flows between two rows of various trees. Their branches are flexible, and their flowers and fruit are bountiful. Lush grass grows in clockwise coils on the land. It has the color of a peacock or a kingfisher and the fragrance of vārṣika flowers, and it’s soft as heavenly cloth. The ground is also soft to walk on. The earth sinks four inches and then springs back when one lifts their foot. The land is level like the palm of a hand, without any high or low points.

19. “Moreover, in that river there are boats made of many treasures. When people want to go into the river to bathe or entertain themselves, they take off their clothes on the shore and ride the boats to the middle of the river. When they’re finished with their recreation, they cross the river to find clothes to put on. When they emerge from the water and get dressed, they don’t look for their original clothes.

20. “Next, they go to a perfume tree, and the tree bends over for them. The people take various assorted perfumes in their hands and rub them on their bodies.

21. “Next, they go to a cloth tree, and the tree bends over for them. The people take various assorted clothing and put on what they like.

22. “Next, they go to an ornament tree, and the tree bends over for them. The people take all sorts of ornaments and decorate themselves with them.

23. “Next, they go to a garland tree, and the tree bends over for them. The people take various assorted garlands and put them over their heads.

24. “Next, they go to a vessel tree, and the tree bends over for them. The people select from all sorts of precious vessels and take one of them.

25. “Next, they go to a fruit tree, and the tree bends over for them. The people take all sorts of sweet fruits. Some eat the fruit, some put them in their mouths, and some drink their juice.

26. “Next, they go to a musical instrument tree, and the tree bends over for them. The people take various musical instruments and strum or drum them. With wondrous voices in harmony with their music, they walk to parks and entertain themselves as they like. Sometimes it’s for one day … two days … or seven days. Afterward, they leave, but they have no fixed home.

27. “The Wondrous Body River flows south from Lake Sudarśana … The Wondrous Flavor River flows west from Lake Sudarśana … The Reflection River flows north from Lake Sudarśana in the same way.

Sudarśana Park

28. “East of Lake Sudarśana, there’s a park named Sudarśana, which is a hundred yojanas across. It’s surrounded on all four sides with seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees of a mixture of assorted colors that are made of the seven treasures.

29. “That park has four large gates on its four sides, and it’s surrounded by a balustrade made of the seven treasures. Inside the park, it’s clean and devoid of brambles. The ground is level without any gullies, pits, or hills, nor does it have biting and stinging insects, venomous snakes, scorpions, tigers, and other dangerous animals. The earth is made purely of many treasures, without any stones or sand. The weather is mild, and the seasons are gentle, being neither cold nor hot. There isn’t any kind of trouble.

30. “That land is moist. Dust and dirt doesn’t kick up, as though it were a wetland. There isn’t any dust that blows around. A hundred kinds of grass grow constantly, for there isn’t any winter or summer. The trees are abundant, and their flowers and fruit are bountiful. Lush grass grows in clockwise coils on the land. It has the color of a peacock or a kingfisher and the fragrance of vārṣika flowers, and it’s soft as heavenly cloth. The ground is also soft to walk on. The earth sinks four inches and then springs back when one lifts their foot. [The land is level like the palm of a hand, without any high or low points.]

31. “Natural rice is always present in that park. [It grows by itself without being planted] and doesn’t any husk or chaff. It looks like a cluster of white flowers, possesses many flavors, and resembles the food of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven.

32. “That park always has natural iron kettles present. They have maṇi gems called Brilliant Light in the bottom, which cook food when the light goes out. It doesn’t require firewood, fire, or troublesome human labor.

33. “That park has a kind of tree called Bending Over. When men and women stop under them when it rains, their leaves line up such that water doesn’t drip between them.

34. “Also, there are perfume trees that stand thirty-five kilometers tall with abundant flowers and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces all sorts of perfume. Those trees are sometimes thirty kilometers tall … twenty-five … twenty … as little as 2.5 kilometers tall. Their flowers and fruit are abundant. When the fruit is ripe, [the skin splits open by itself] to produce all sorts of perfume … The musical instrument trees are likewise.

35. “People in that land walk around in that park for recreation, staying for one … two … or seven days. That Sudarśana Park has no wardens, so people can wander through it as they like and leave afterward.

36. “South of Lake Sudarśana, there’s a forest park called Mahāsudarśana … West of Lake Sudarśana, there’s a forest park called Recreation … North of Lake Sudarśana, there’s a forest park called Fully Flowering that are likewise.

37. “At the middle and end of the night in that land, the nāga king of Anavatapta often creates pure clouds according to the season. They wrap around the world and release sweet showers that last as long as it takes to milk a cow. Rain water with eight flavors wets and permeates the land. The water doesn’t stand, though, so the ground doesn’t become muddy. It’s like a florist watering flowers to keep them from withering, and they are moistened and refreshed.

38. “After the middle of the night in that land, the sky is clear of any obscuring clouds. A cool breeze blows from the ocean that’s pure and gentle. It blows lightly over a person and makes their whole body feel pleasant.

The People of Uttarakuru

39. “That land is bountiful, and the people are prosperous. If they need to eat, they put natural rice into a kettle. At the bottom of the kettle is a brilliant light gem, which causes the food to be spontaneously cooked, and then the light of the gem goes out by itself. People come and eat as much as they like. When the owner doesn’t rise, the food never runs out, but if the owner does rise, then the food will run out.

40. “The food is fresh and clean, looking like a cluster of white flowers, possessing many flavors, and resembling the food of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. Those who eat the food don’t have any illnesses, and their vitality is restored. Their appearance is peaceful and cheerful, and it doesn’t decline at all.

41. “Again, the people of that land are the same in type of body and appearance such that they can’t be distinguished from one another. Their appearance is youthful like a twenty-year-old in Jambudvīpa. Their teeth are even, straight, pure white, and their gaps aren’t visible. Their hair is dark blue and without any dirtiness. Their beards are eight inches long, and their eyebrows stop growing once they aren’t too long nor short.

42. “When the men of that land feel amorous, they look passionately at a woman and then walk away from her. The woman follows after him as he goes to a forest park. If that woman is a relative of the man’s father or mother and they shouldn’t have sex, the trees don’t bend for them, and they each go their separate ways. If she isn’t a relative of his father or mother and they could have a relationship, the trees bend over and encircle them with a screen. They then enjoy each other for as long as they like, whether for one day, two days … or seven days. Then, they go their separate ways.

43. “After being pregnant for seven or eight days, the woman gives birth. Depending on whether it’s a boy or a girl, she puts the child at a major crossroads and leaves them there. Travelers who pass by that side of the road give them a finger to suck, which produces sweet milk that satisfies and nourishes the child. After seven days pass, the child has grown up and joins the other people. The boys go with a group of men, and the girls go with a group of women.

44. “When those people die, they don’t lament and cry together. They decorate the corpses, place them by an intersection, and leave them there. There’s a bird called Uccaṃgama that takes the corpses away and leaves them in other regions.

45. “Again, when the people of that land go to defecate or urinate, the ground opens up, and it closes back up when they are finished.

46. “The people of that land don’t have romantic attachments, nor do they accumulate things. Their life spans are always an exact length, and they’re born in heaven when they die. Why are their life spans always exactly the same? Those people cultivated the ten good actions in previous lives and were born in Uttarakuru after their bodies broke up and their lives ended. They live for a thousand years, no more or less. This is why those people have life spans that are an exact length.

47. “Furthermore, those who kill living beings fall to evil destinies, and those who don’t kill living beings are born in good destinies. So it is with those who steal, commit sexual misconduct, who speak duplicitously, harshly, falsely, or frivolously, and who are greedy, jealous, or hold wrong views. They fall to evil destinies. Those who don’t steal, don’t engage in sex, don’t speak duplicitously, harshly, falsely, or frivolously, who aren’t greedy or jealous, and who don’t hold wrong views are born to good destinies.

48. “Sometimes, those who don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t engage in sex, don’t speak duplicitously, harshly, falsely, or frivolously, aren’t greedy or jealous, and don’t hold wrong views are born in Uttarakuru when their bodies break up or their lives end. They live for a thousand years, no more or less. This is why those people have life spans that are an exact length.

49. “Furthermore, those who are stingy and greedy aren’t capable of generosity. They fall to evil destinies when they die. Those with open minds aren’t stingy and capable of generosity, so they’re born in good places. Some people give to ascetics and priests, or they give to the poor, beggar children, the sick, and the suffering. They provide clothing, meals, carriages, flower garlands, perfumes, seats, and shelter. They also build shrines and provide lamps for them. Those people are born in Uttarakuru when their bodies break up and their lives end. They live for a thousand years, no more or less. This is why those people have life spans that are an exact length.

50. “Why is Uttarakuru praised as superior? That land’s people aren’t taught the ten good acts, but their behavior naturally consists of those ten virtues. They’re born in good places when their bodies break up and their lives end. This is why those people receive that praise that Uttarakuru is superior.

51. “What’s the meaning of ‘Uttarakuru’? Among the other three continents, its land is the best and supreme. Therefore, it’s called ‘Uttarakuru’ (Uttarakuru in Chinese means ‘Highest’).


Endnotes

  1. The translator in this chapter chose to use a Chinese unit of distance, the li (里), for what was probably a smaller Indian unit. A li is a much shorter distance than a yojana, being about half a kilometer. I’ve translated it to modern measurements I.e., seventy li equals about 35 km, which would be about 2.75 yojanas. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 30 May 2022