Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

30. Description of the World

Chapter 3: Noble Wheel-Turning Kings

1. The Buddha told the monks,[1] “The world has noble wheel-turning kings who achieve seven treasures and possess four miraculous virtues.

2. “What are the seven treasures achieved by a noble wheel-turning king? First is the golden wheel treasure, second is the white elephant treasure, third is the blue horse treasure, fourth is the magic jewel treasure, fifth is the beautiful woman treasure, sixth is the householder treasure, and seventh is the army general treasure.

The Golden Wheel Treasure

3. “How does a noble wheel-turning king achieve the golden wheel treasure? If a noble wheel-turning king arises in Jambudvīpa, he’ll be a water-anointed warrior [king]. During the fifteenth-day full moon, he’ll bathe in a fragrant wash, ascend to his high hall, and entertain himself with a group of maidens. The wheel will spontaneously appear before him. It has a thousand spokes and possesses a glowing light. It’s something made by a heavenly artisan, not something made in this world. It is made of pure gold and about fourteen feet in diameter.

4. “After seeing this, the noble wheel-turning king thinks to himself, ‘In the past, I’ve heard senior elders say, “If a water-anointed warrior king bathes in a fragrant wash during the fifteenth-day full moon, ascends to his high hall, and surrounds himself with maidens, the wheel will spontaneously appear before him. It has a thousand spokes and possesses a glowing light. It’s something made by a heavenly artisan, not something made in this world. It’s made of pure gold and fourteen feet in diameter. He’s then known as a noble wheel-turning king.” Now, this wheel has appeared! But is it that one? I had better test this wheel treasure.’

5. “The noble wheel-turning king then summons his four armies and faces the golden wheel treasure with his right shoulder bared. He kneels on his right knee, touches the golden wheel with his right hand, and says: ‘Head east. Turn according to the Dharma, and don’t go contrary to the eternal law.’ The wheel then turns east.

6. “The wheel-turning king then follows it, leading his four armies, and four spirits are ahead of the golden wheel, guiding it. The king stops his horses where the wheel stops to dwell. When the lesser kings in the east see the great king arrive, they come to the king with gold bowls holding silver grain and silver bowls holding gold grain. They present them to their chief, saying, ‘Welcome, Great King! The lands in this eastern region are plentiful now [with many treasures,] and the people are prosperous. Their culture is gentle, loving, and loyal. Please, Noble King, rule them properly! We’ll serve you, right and left, and accept what’s appropriate.’

7. “The wheel-turning king tells the lesser kings, ‘Stop, gentlemen! Stop! You’ve given offerings to me, but I will simply rule with the correct Dharma. Don’t go out of your way to serve me, and let no one in the country act contrary to the Dharma. Don’t kill beings yourselves and instruct other people not to kill beings … don’t steal … don’t commit sexual misconduct … don’t speak duplicitously … harshly … falsely … frivolously … don’t be greedy … jealous … don’t hold wrong views … This is what I call my way of ruling.’

8. “When the lesser kings hear this instruction, they follow the great king as he tours their countries. He’ll go east until the ocean is in sight, and next travel south, west, and north, going wherever the wheel goes. The kings in those regions each presents their countries in the same way as the lesser countries in the east do.

9. “Here in Jambudvīpa, there’s a land called Fertile Bounty, which has many treasures. It’s forests and rivers are pure, and its terrain is flat and wide. The wheel will travel around it, passing through all its towns, going twelve yojanas east to west and ten yojanas south to north. In the middle of the night, heavenly spirits will build a metropolis surrounded by seven fortress walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees decorated with the seven treasures … and countless birds will sing to each other peacefully.

10. “After it’s built, the golden wheel treasure will also enter the city and travel through its streets, going four yojanas east to west and two yojanas south to north. In the middle of the night, heavenly spirits will build a palace hall that’s seven stories tall and made of the seven treasures … and countless birds will sing to each other peacefully in same way.

11. “After it’s built, the golden wheel treasure will go up into the sky and hover above the palace hall, complete and unmoving. The noble wheel-turning king will celebrate, ‘This golden wheel treasure is a true sign to me that I really am a noble wheel-turning king now!’ This is his accomplishment of the golden wheel treasure.

The White Elephant Treasure

12. “How does he accomplish the white elephant treasure? The noble wheel-turning king will be sitting up in his correct [Dharma] hall in the morning, and the elephant treasure will suddenly appear before him. Its hair is all white, stands flush in seven places, and has the ability to fly. Its head is mottled, and its six tusks are delicate and have real gold between them.

13. “When he sees this, the king will think, ‘This elephant treasure is excellent. If it’s well trained, I could ride it!’ He tests its training, and it’s be capable of doing everything it should. The wheel-turning king then wants to further test the elephant, so he mounts it and rides it out of the city in the morning. He travels around the four oceans and returns when it’s time to eat.

14. “The wheel-turning king will celebrate, ‘This white elephant treasure is a true sign to me that I really am a noble wheel-turning king now!’ This is his accomplishment of the elephant treasure.

The Blue Horse Treasure

15. “How does the noble wheel-turning king accomplish the blue horse treasure? The noble wheel-turning king will be sitting up in his correct [Dharma] hall in the morning, and the horse treasure will suddenly appear before him. It’s dark blue in color with a vermillion mane and tail. It’s head and neck are like an elephant’s and has the ability to fly.

16. “When he sees this, the king will think, ‘This horse is excellent. If it’s well trained, I could ride it!’ He then tests its training, and it’s capable of doing everything it should. The noble wheel-turning king wants to further test this horse treasure, so he mounts it and rides out of the city in the morning. He travels around the four oceans and returns when it’s time to eat.

17. “The wheel-turning king will celebrate, ‘This blue horse treasure is a true sign to me that I really am a noble wheel-turning king now!’ This is his accomplishment of the blue horse treasure.

The Magic Jewel Treasure

18. “How does he accomplish the magic jewel treasure? The noble wheel-turning king will be sitting up in his correct [Dharma] hall in the morning, and the magic jewel treasure will suddenly appear before him. It’s substance and color are transparent and lacks any flaws or defilement.

19. “When he sees this, the king will think, ‘This jewel is marvelous! When it glows, it could light the interior of the palace!’ The wheel-turning king then tests this jewel by summoning his four armies and placing the jewel treasure atop a tall banner. He carries this banner out of the city during a dark night, and the jewel’s light illuminates an area that’s a yojana in radius. Inside the city, people can go about their business as they do during the day.

20. “The noble wheel-turning king will celebrate, ‘This magic jewel is a true sign to me that I really am a noble wheel-turning king now!’ This is his accomplishment of the magic jewel treasure.

The Beautiful Woman Treasure

21. “How does he accomplish the beautiful woman treasure? The beautiful woman treasure will suddenly appear [before him]. Her countenance is agreeable, and her appearance is handsome. She isn’t too tall or short, too crude or fine, too white or black, or too sharp or gentle. In winter, her body is warm, and she’s cool during summer. The hair pores of her whole body exude the scent of sandalwood, and her breath has the fragrance of an utpala flower. Her words are gentle, stimulating, and calm. She’s the first to rise and the last to sit. She doesn’t do anything inappropriate. The noble wheel-turning king isn’t attached to seeing her, so he doesn’t think about her for a moment, much less being intimate with her.

22. “After seeing her, the noble wheel-turning king will celebrate, ‘This beautiful woman treasure is a true sign to me that I really am a noble wheel-turning king now!’ This is his accomplishment of the beautiful woman treasure.

The Householder Treasure

23. “How does he accomplish the householder treasure? A householder man will suddenly appear with a natural storehouse of treasures and measureless wealth. The householder will have an eye from past merit that clearly sees hidden treasures in the earth and whether they have owners or not. He sees and knows all this. When the treasure has an owner, he will protect it for them. When a treasure doesn’t have an owner, he will collect it and provide it for the king’s use. The householder treasure goes to the King and says, ‘Great King, you don’t need to worry about paying me a salary. I can take care of myself.’

24. “The noble wheel-turning king wants to test the householder treasure. He orders them a boat prepared to go sailing on a river, then he tells the householder, ‘I need a treasure of gold. Quick, give it to me.’

“The householder replies, ‘Just a moment, Great King, while I go onto shore.’

25. “The king presses him, ‘I need it immediately. Get it for me right now.’

“The householder treasure accepts the king’s command and kneels down on the boat. He puts his right hand into the water, and a precious jar comes out of the water after his hand. Like a caterpillar climbing a tree, that householder treasure is likewise. Putting his hand in the water, a treasure will climb his hand as he lifts it out of the water. He fills the boat up [with treasures] and then asks the king, ‘How much treasure does the king need?’

26. “The noble wheel-turning king says to the householder, ‘Stop, stop! I didn’t need any treasure; it was just a way to test you. You’ve already given offerings to me.’

“Hearing what the king said, that householder immediately throws the treasures back into the water.

27. “The noble wheel-turning king will celebrate, ‘This householder treasure is a true sign to me that I really am a noble wheel-turning king now!’ This is his accomplishment of the householder treasure.

The Army General Treasure

28. “How does he accomplish the army general treasure? The army general treasure will suddenly appear [before him]. He’s shrewd, courageous, and good at planning. He goes to the king and says, ‘Great King, if there’s anyone you need defeated, don’t worry about it. I can handle it for him.’

29. “The noble wheel-turning king wants to test the army general treasure. He assembles the four armies and tells him, ‘Now, take charge of the army. Assemble those who haven’t yet assembled and disperse those who have assembled. Equip those who haven’t yet been equipped, and dismiss those who’ve been equipped. Let go those who haven’t yet been on leave, and have those who’ve been on leave remain.’

30. “Hearing what the king said, the army general treasure leads the army. He assembles those who haven’t yet assembled and disperses those who have assembled. He equips those who haven’t yet been equipped and dismisses those who’ve been equipped. He lets go those who haven’t yet been on leave and has those who’ve been on leave remain.

31. “When he sees this, the noble wheel-turning king will celebrate, ‘This army general treasure is a true sign to me that I really am a noble wheel-turning king now!’ This is the noble wheel-turning king’s accomplishment of the seven treasures.

The Four Miraculous Virtues

32. “What are his four miraculous virtues? First is a long life that’s incomparable and isn’t cut short. Second is physical vigor that’s incomparable and tireless. Third is a handsome appearance that’s incomparable. Fourth is a treasury that’s incomparable and overflowing. These are the seven treasures and four virtues accomplished by a noble wheel-turning king.

The Way the Noble King Rules

33. “After a long time, the noble wheel-turning king will order his horses readied and go out for a ride to visit his park. He tells the driver, ‘Be a good driver, and go at a calm pace. Why is that? I want to closely observe the country and see that the people are happy and untroubled.’

34. “Once he has observed the country’s people from the side of the road, he then tells his driver, ‘Continue at a leisurely pace. I want them to closely observe the Noble King’s majestic appearance.’

35. “The noble wheel-turning king kindly nurtures the people and their needs like a father loving his children. The people are fond of the king like children looking up to their father. They all pay tribute to the king with their valuables, hoping that he will accept their gifts.

36. “But the king says, ‘Stop, people! I have my own treasures. You can use these for yourselves.’

The Transformation of the Land

37. “When a noble wheel-turning king governs Jambudvīpa, the land is level without any brambles, gullies, or hills, nor does it have biting insects, scorpions, stinging insects, venomous snakes, and other dangerous animals. The stones, sand, and rocks naturally disappear, and gold, silver, and jewels appear on the ground. The seasons are mild, being neither cold nor hot. The ground is soft and lacks any dust or dirt. As though coated with oil, it’s pure and glistening without any dust or dirt.

38. “When the noble wheel-turning king governs the world, the land is like that. It produces springs that are pure and never dry up. Lush grass grows on the land, and it’s always green in winter and 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, without leaving a depression. There’s also natural rice without chaff or husk that possesses many flavors.

39. “During that time, there are perfume trees with abundant flowers and fruit. When their fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces natural perfume, and the fragrance wafts through the air.

40. “Also, there are cloth trees with abundant flowers and fruit. When their fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces all sorts of clothing.

41. “Also, there are ornament trees with abundant flowers and fruit. When their fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces all sorts of things to ornament a person’s body.

42. “Also, there are flower garland trees with abundant flowers and fruit. When their fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces all sorts of garlands.

43. “Also, there are vessel trees with abundant flowers and fruit. When their fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces all sorts of vessels.

44. “Also, there are fruit trees with abundant flowers and fruit. When their fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces all sorts of fruit.

45. “Also, there are musical instrument trees with abundant flowers and fruit. When their fruit is ripe, the skin splits open by itself and produces many musical instruments.

46. When a noble wheel-turning king governs the world, the nāga king of Anavatapta produces great unseen clouds in the middle of the night. They wrap around the world and release heavy rains that last as long as it takes to milk a cow. The 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, moistening, refreshing, and preventing them from withering. Those rains moisten the land in the same way.

47. “After the middle of the night, the sky is clear without any obscuring clouds. A cool breeze blows from the ocean that’s pure and gentle. It blows lightly on a person and makes their whole body feel pleasant.

48. “When the noble [wheel-turning] king governs [the world], Jambudvīpa is bountiful with the five grains, the people prosper, and their wealth is abundant. No one wants for anything.

The End of a Noble Wheel-Turning King’s Life

49. “When a noble wheel-turning king properly governs the land in future times, he’ll do so without crookedness and practice the ten good deeds. The people in that time will also cultivate right view and the ten good deeds. The king will live for a long time until his body becomes seriously diseased. When he reaches the end of his life, he’ll be like a happy person who ate a little too much and feels a bit unwell. When his life ends, he’ll be born up in the Brahma Heaven. The beautiful woman treasure, householder treasure, army general treasure, and the people of the land will sing and play music when they inter the noble [wheel-turning] king’s body.

50. “The beautiful woman treasure, householder treasure, army general treasure, and the people in the country bathe the king’s body in fragrant water. They wrap it with cotton and then in five hundred layers of cloth. They place the king’s body in a gold coffin and pour fragrant oil on it. They then place that coffin in a second larger iron coffin. Another wooden coffin is built on the outside of it. They then pile fragrant firewood on top of cloth and cremate him. A shrine of seven treasures that’s one yojana across is built at a crossroads. It’s multi-colored and made of the seven treasures.

51. “That shrine has a gate on each of its four sides, and it’s surrounded by a balustrade made of the seven treasures. There’s five yojanas of open space on all four sides, then seven park walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees.

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

53. “The gold balustrades have gold balusters with silver rails. The silver balustrades have silver balusters with gold rails. The crystal balustrades have crystal balusters with beryl rails. The beryl balustrades have beryl balusters with crystal rails. The ruby balustrades have ruby balusters with emerald rails. The emerald balustrades have emerald balusters with ruby rails. The coral balustrades have coral balusters with rails made of many treasures.

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

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

56. “The four park walls also have four gates, and they’re surrounded by balustrades. There’s also towers and lookouts made of treasures on top of the walls. There are trees and groves on all four sides, as well as springs and ponds where all sorts of flowers grow. The trees are abundant, and their flowers and fruit are bountiful. Their many fragrances are sweet-smelling, and diverse birds sing peacefully [to each other].

57. “After that shrine is built, the beautiful woman treasure, householder treasure, army general treasure, and the people in the whole country bring offerings to the shrine. They give to the needy whatever food, clothing, elephants, horses, and treasure carts that they need. They give them all sorts of things that they need.

58. “Such are the majestic virtues of a noble wheel-turning king.”


Endnotes

  1. This chapter is largely the same as the story of Mahāsudarśana found in DĀ 2 (and parallel with DN 17). However, the author(s) have inserted some mythical geography into the narrative and depict Jambudvīpa being transformed to resemble Uttarakuru. One wonders if this may have been among the first glimmers of Buddhist pure land thought. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 31 May 2022