Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

4. Janavṛṣabha

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha traveled to Giñjaka’s Residence of Nādikā.[2] He was accompanied by a large assembly of 1,250 monks.

Ānanda’s Request

2. At the time, the Venerable Ānanda was sitting in a quiet room and thought to himself, “It’s amazing! Extraordinary! The Tathāgata gives his assurances to people that are beneficial to many. When that minister Kakkhaṭa’s[3] life ended, the Tathāgata described it: ‘This person’s life has ended. Having cut the five lower bonds, he was born up in the heavens and obtained complete cessation. He won’t return to this world.’ Second was Kaḍaṅgara, third was Vikaṭa, fourth was Kātyarṣabha, fifth was Cāru, sixth was Upacāru, seventh was Bhadra, eighth was Subhadra, ninth was Triśaṅku, tenth was Sutriśaṅku, eleventh was Yaśas, and twelfth was Yaśottara.[4] When those ministers’ lives ended, the Buddha also described them: ‘Having ended the five lower bonds, he was born up in the heavens and obtained complete cessation. He didn’t return [to this world].’

3. “Again, there were another fifty people whose lives ended. The Buddha described them: ‘They ended the three bonds of lust, anger, and delusion and became once-returners. They returned once to this world and then reached the end of suffering.’

4. “Again, there were 500 people whose lives ended. The Buddha described them: ‘They ended the three bonds and became stream entrants. They won’t fall to bad destinies and will reach the end of suffering in no more than seven rebirths.’

5. “There were disciples of the Buddha in many places whose lives ended. The Buddha described them all as having had ‘a certain birth in a certain place, a certain birth in a certain place.’ The Buddha described it of those whose lives ended in the sixteen countries, namely Aṅga, Magadha, Kasi, Kośala, Vṛji, Malla, Cedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Pañcāla, Aśvaka, Avanti, Maccha, Sūrasena, Gandhāra, and Kāmboja.[5] When people from Magadha died who were from the royal family or friends of the king, the Buddha didn’t describe [their birth places].”

6. Ānanda then emerged from his quiet room and went to the Bhagavān. He bowed his head at his feet, sat to one side, and said, “I was in a quiet room and thought to myself, ‘It’s amazing! Extraordinary! The Tathāgata gives his assurances to people that are beneficial to many. … The Buddha described it of those whose lives ended in the sixteen countries … When people from Magadha died who were from the royal family or friends of the king, the Buddha didn’t describe [their birth places].

7. “Please describe them, Bhagavān! Please describe them, Bhagavān! It would be beneficial to all; gods and humans would be put at ease.

8. “Moreover, the Buddha attained his awakening in Magadha, yet it’s only people there whose lives have ended that he hasn’t provided an account [of their rebirth]. Please describe them, Bhagavān! Please describe them, Bhagavān!

9. “Moreover, King Bimbisāra of Magadha was a layman, a devotee of the Buddha who provided much support. Since his life ended, many people are confident and support the three treasures because of the king, yet now the Tathāgata hasn’t provided a description [of his rebirth]. Please describe it, Bhagavān! It would be beneficial to sentient beings, and gods and humans would be put at ease.”

After he had requested this of the Bhagavān on behalf of the people of Magadha, Ānanda rose from his seat, bowed to the Buddha, and departed.

The Buddha Encounters the Yakṣa Janavṛṣabha

10. The Bhagavān then put on his robes and took his bowl and went to Nādikā. After soliciting alms, he went to a place in the Great Forest and sat under a tree. There, he contemplated the birthplaces of people from Magadha whose lives had ended. It was then that there was a yakṣa spirit[6] not far away from the Buddha that announced its name, saying to the Bhagavān, “I am Janavṛṣabha! I am Janavṛṣabha!”[7]

11. The Buddha said, “What’s the reason you are announcing your name to be Janavṛṣabha?[8] What’s your reason for using this wondrous word that claims you see the steps of the path?”

12. Janavṛṣabha said, “I’m not from some other place. I was once a human king, a layman in the Tathāgata’s teaching. I whole-heartedly recollected the Buddha when my life ended, and I was born a prince of the god king Vaiśravaṇa as a result. From then until now, I’ve always clearly known the teachings, attained stream entry, and haven’t fallen to a bad destiny. For seven births, my name has always been Janavṛṣabha.”

Janavṛṣabha’s Story

13. After staying for as long as was fitting in the Great Forest, the Bhagavān then returned to Giñjaka’s Residence of Nādikā. There, he prepared a seat, sat down, and addressed a monk, “Go tell Ānanda for me that I’ve summoned him.” He replied, “Very well.” He accepted the Buddha’s instruction and summoned Ānanda.

14. Ānanda quickly came to the Bhagavān. He bowed his head at his feet, stood to one side, and said, “I see that the Bhagavān is looking better than usual. His faculties are peaceful and settled. What has he been contemplating for his appearance to be like this?”

15. The Bhagavān told Ānanda, “Shortly after you had come to me and requested a description of [the destinies] of people from Magadha, I put on my robe and took my bowl to Nādikā to solicit alms. When I was done soliciting alms, I went to the Great Forest and sat under a tree to contemplate the birthplaces of people from Magadha whose lives have ended. Not far from me, there was a yakṣa spirit that announced its name, saying to me, ‘I am Janavṛṣabha! I am Janavṛṣabha!” Ānanda, have you heard the name Janavṛṣabha before?”

16. Ānanda said to the Buddha, “I’ve never heard it before. Now that I hear that name, it frightens me; my hair is standing on end. Bhagavān, this yakṣa spirit must have great majesty for it to be named Janavṛṣabha!”

17. The Buddha said, “I first asked it, ‘What’s the reason you’ve used this wondrous word that claims you see the steps of the path?’

18. “Janavṛṣabha said, ‘I’m not from somewhere else where there was some other teaching. I was once a human king who was a disciple of the Bhagavān, a devoted layman. I had whole-heartedly recollected the Buddha when my life ended, and afterward I became a son of god king Vaiśravaṇa. I attained stream entry and didn’t fall to a bad destiny. In no more than seven rebirths, I’ll reach the end of suffering, and I’ll always be named Janavṛṣabha during those seven births.

19. “‘Once, the Buddha was in the Great Forest sitting under a tree, and I was riding a heavenly thousand-spoked treasure chariot for some minor reason. I was about to return to the god king Vaiśravaṇa when I spotted the Bhagavān under a tree in the distance. He looked handsome, and his faculties were peaceful and settled like a deep pond that’s clear, tranquil, clean, and reflective. Seeing him, I thought, ‘Now, I better go ask the Bhagavān about where the people of Magadha have been born after their lives ended.’

20. “‘There was another time when King Vaiśravaṇa spoke this verse to his assembly:

The Council of Gods

21. “‘Moreover, once the Trāyastriṃśa gods were gathered in one place for some minor reason. The four god kings were each seated in their places. Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat to the east and faced west with Lord Śakra in front of him. Virūḍhaka sat to the south and faced north with Lord Śakra in front of him. Virūpākṣa sat to the west and faced east with Lord Śakra in front of him. Vaiśravaṇa sat to the north and faced south with Lord Śakra in front of him. The four god kings had already been seated, and afterward I was seated.

22. “Again, there were other great spirits and gods who had purely cultivated the religious life with the Buddha and had been born in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven when their lives ended. The gods increased, and they received the five heavenly merits: 1. The lifespan of gods, 2. the form of gods, 3. the names of gods, 4. the pleasure of gods, and 5. the majesty of gods.

23. “The Trāyastriṃśa gods celebrated and rejoiced, saying, ‘The host of gods increases, and the host of asuras decreases!’ Śakra the Lord of Gods knew the Trāyastriṃśa gods were rejoicing, so he spoke in verse:

24. “The spirit Janavṛṣabha also said, ‘The Trāyastriṃśa gods had gathered in the Dharma Hall to discuss and contemplate together, making observations and determining what instructions to issue. Afterward, they gave the four god kings their orders. Accepting their instructions, the four god kings didn’t remain long in each of their positions. The light that shined in the four directions changed, and when the Trāyastriṃśa gods saw it change, they were shocked. “How strange that the light has changed!” The other great spirits and gods that were majestic were also surprised: “How strange that the light has changed!”

Great Brahmā Kumāra

25. “‘Great Brahmā then appeared in the form of a child.[9] His head had a five-pointed topknot, and he stood in the air above the assembly of gods. His handsomeness was far beyond that of the assembly. His body was purple gold in color, and his radiance outshined that of the gods.

26. “‘The Trāyastriṃśa gods didn’t get up or look, nor did they pay their respects. They didn’t ask him to sit, either. Brahmā Kumāra then went and took his seat. [The god at that] seat was delighted like a warrior of a water-anointed lineage celebrating and rejoicing when he ascends to the throne. Soon after he sat, Brahmā transformed into the shape of a child whose head was crowned with a five-pointed topknot sitting in the sky above that great assembly. He was like a hero sitting on his secure throne, lofty and unmoving.

27. “‘Then he spoke in verse:

28. “‘After he spoke this verse, Brahmā Kumāra addressed the Trāyastriṃśa gods, “When someone’s voice is pure in five ways, it comes to be called Brahmā’s voice. What are the five? 1. Their voice is genuine, 2. their voice is gentle, 3. their voice is clear, 4. their voice is sonorous, and 5. it’s heard all around and far away. A voice that has these five qualities is called Brahmā’s voice.

29. “‘“Now, I will speak further. All of you, listen well! The Tathāgata’s disciples and laymen of Magadha who’ve become non-returners, once-returners, or stream-entrants when their lives ended have been born in the Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven, Nirmāṇarati Heaven, Tuṣita Heaven, Yama Heaven, Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, and Heaven of the Four God Kings. They’ve been born to great clans of warriors, priests, and householders to whom the five desires come naturally.”

30. “‘Brahmā Kumāra then spoke in verse:

31. “‘Upon hearing these verses, King Vaiśravaṇa rejoiced and said, “The Bhagavān has appeared in the world and teaches the true Dharma. It’s amazing, extraordinary, and unprecedented! I didn’t know a Tathāgata arose in the world and taught such a Dharma in the past, and there will again be a Buddha in the future who teaches such a Dharma that will cause the Trāyastriṃśa gods to rejoice at heart.”

32. “‘Brahmā Kumāra told King Vaiśravaṇa, “Why do you say, ‘The Tathāgata appeared in the world and teaches such a Dharma. It’s amazing, extraordinary, and unprecedented!’? The Tathāgata teaches what’s good and not good with the power of skillful means. The fully expressed Dharma doesn’t attain anything, but the empty and pure Dharma does attain something. This Dharma is sublime like ghee.”

The Abodes of Mindfulness

33. “‘Brahmā Kumāra then told the Trāyastriṃśa gods, “All of you, listen closely, and consider it well! I will speak further for you. The Tathāgata, the Arhat, skillfully discerns and teaches the four abodes of mindfulness. What are the four? 1. Observe the body internally with diligence and not lazily, with focused attention that’s not lost, and by removing worldly greed and sorrow. Observe the body externally with diligence and not lazily, with focused attention that’s not lost, and by removing worldly greed and sorrow. [2-4.] Observe feelings, mind, and teachings in the same way with diligence and not lazily, with focused attention that’s not lost, and by removing worldly greed and sorrow.

34. “‘“After observing the body internally, the knowledge of other bodies arises. After observing feelings internally, the knowledge of other feelings arises. After observing the mind internally, knowledge of other minds arises. After observing the teachings internally, the knowledge of other teachings arises. This is how the Tathāgata skillfully discerns and teaches the four abodes of mindfulness.

The Seven Requisites of Samādhi

35. “‘“Furthermore, gods: All of you, listen well! I will speak further for you. The Tathāgata skillfully discerns and teaches seven requisites for samādhi. What are the seven? Right view, right intent, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right method, and right mindfulness. These are the seven requisites of samādhi that the Tathāgata skillfully discerns and teaches.

The Four Bases of Miraculous Power

36. “‘“Furthermore, gods, the Tathāgata skillfully discerns and teaches four bases of miraculous power. What are the four? 1. The miraculous basis developed by accomplishing the samādhi of desire and cessation. 2. The miraculous basis developed by accomplishing the samādhi of effort and cessation. 3. The miraculous basis developed by accomplishing the samādhi of mind and cessation. 4. The miraculous basis developed by accomplishing the samādhi of contemplation and cessation.”

37. “‘He also told the gods, “Ascetics and priests in the past used countless methods and displayed measureless miraculous abilities that arose from these four bases of miraculous power. Even future ascetics and priests will use countless methods and display measureless miraculous abilities that will also arise from these four bases of miraculous power. They’re like ascetics and priests of the present who use countless methods and display measureless spiritual abilities that also arise from these four bases of miraculous power.”

38. “‘Brahmā Kumāra then transformed his shape into thirty-three bodies, which sat with each of the Trāyastriṃśa gods,[10] and each said, “Now, do you see my powers of transformation?”

“‘The gods answered, “Yes, we see them.”

39. “‘Brahmā Kumāra said, “I’m capable of such countless transformations because I’ve cultivated these four bases of miraculous power, too.”

40. “‘The Trāyastriṃśa gods each thought, “Now, Brahmā Kumāra is only sitting with and saying this to me, yet as this single conjured body of Brahmā Kumāra speaks, the other conjured bodies speak, too. When this one body is silent, the other conjured bodies are also silent.”

The Three Pathways

41. “‘That Brahmā Kumāra withdrew his miraculous ability and moved to where Lord Śakra was sitting. He told the Trāyastriṃśa gods, “Now, I will speak. All of you, listen well! The Tathāgata, the Arhat, opens three pathways with his own power, which brought about his own right awakening.

42. “‘“What are the three? Sometimes, there are sentient beings that are friends of greed and perform unskillful practices. Later, those people are close to good friends, hear the words of the teachings, and accomplish each teaching. Thereupon, they part with desire for those unskillful practices and abandon them. They attain a joyous heart, peacefulness, and happiness. In that happiness, they again feel great joy.

43. “‘“They are like someone who abandons crude food for food with a hundred flavors. They’re satisfied after eating it, but they again seek something greater. The practitioner is like this who parts with unskillful teachings. They attain a joyous heart and happiness. In that happiness, they again feel great joy. This is the first pathway opened by the Tathāgata with his own power, which achieved the supreme and correct awakening.

44. “‘“There are also sentient beings with much anger. They don’t abandon evil deeds of body, mouth, and mind. Later, those people meet good friends, hear the words of the teachings, and accomplish each teaching. They part with evil physical actions and evil verbal and mental actions. They attain a joyous heart, peacefulness, and happiness. In that happiness, they again feel great joy.

45. “‘“They are like someone who abandons crude food for food with a hundred flavors. They’re satisfied after eating it, but they again seek something greater. The practitioner is like this who parts with unskillful teachings. They attain a joyous heart and happiness. In that happiness, they again feel great joy. This is the second pathway opened by the Tathāgata.

46. “‘“There are also sentient beings that are foolish, benighted, and uneducated. They don’t recognize good and evil and aren’t able to truly know suffering, its formation, its cessation, and the path. Later, those people meet good friends, hear the words of the teachings, and accomplish each teaching. They recognize what’s good and not good, can truly know suffering, its formation, its cessation, and the path, and they abandon unskillful practices. They attain a joyous heart, peacefulness, and happiness. In that happiness, they again feel great joy.

47. “‘“They are like someone who abandons crude food for food with a hundred flavors. They’re satisfied after eating it, but they again seek something greater. The practitioner is like this who parts with unskillful teachings. They attain a joyous heart and happiness. In that happiness, they again feel great joy. This is the third pathway opened by the Tathāgata.”’”

48. Brahmā Kumāra then went up to the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven to teach this correct Dharma. The god king Vaiśravaṇa and his followers also taught this correct Dharma. The spirit Janavṛṣabha also taught this correct Dharma before the Buddha. The Bhagavān also taught this correct Dharma for Ānanda. Ānanda also taught this correct Dharma for the monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.

49. When Ānanda heard what the Buddha taught, he rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. The direct parallel for this sutra is DN 18. It also shares passages with both DĀ 2, DN 16, and other versions of the Parinirvāṇa Sutra. [back]
  2. Giñjaka’s Residence. Ch. 揵稚住處. I’ve not found a Skt. attestation of this place name, so I’ve opted for the Pali, which the Chinese seems to match. [back]
  3. Kakkhaṭa. Ch. 伽伽羅. MCh. “g’ia-g’ia-la.” The parallel Pali name is Kakudha, and a Skt. Parinirvāṇa Sūtra reads Kakarṭaka. The Ch. transliteration strongly suggests BHS Kakkhaḷa (which means “harsh, cruel”), so I have chosen the Skt. equivalent: Kakkhaṭa. Suffice it to say, this name’s pronunciation varies from one text to another. [back]
  4. Kaḍaṅgara. Ch. 迦陵伽, MCh. “ka-lieng-g’ia.” This matches P. Kaliṅga closely. The Skt. equivalent is Kaḍaṅgara.
    Vikaṭa. Ch. 毘伽陀, MCh. “b’ji-g’ia-d’a.” Both P. and Skt. have Nikaṭa, but the Ch. suggests Vikaṭa instead.
    Kātyarṣabha. Ch. 伽利輸, MCh. “g’ia-lji-shiu.” P. Kāṭissabha, Skt. Kātyarṣabha. The Ch. suggests Karṣa- (or Kariṣa-), missing the syllable -tya-. I’ve adopted the Skt. name.
    Cāru. Ch. 遮樓, MCh. “tshia-leu.” P. Sāḷha, Skt. Cāru. The Ch. matches the Skt.
    Upacāru. Ch. 婆耶樓, MCh. “b’ua-ia-leu.” Skt. Upacāru. Ch. matches the end (ru) but not the beginning of Skt. Lacking clues, I’ve adopted the Skt.
    Bhadra. Ch. 婆頭樓, MCh. “b’ua-d’eu-leu.” Appears to match P. Bhadda, Skt. Bhadra.
    Subhadra. Ch. 藪婆頭, MCh. “seu-b’ua-d’eu.” P. Subhadda, Skt. Subhadra. Ch. lacks the ending “ra” of Skt. but matches this name.
    Triśaṅku. Ch. 他梨舍㝹, MCh. “t’a-lji-shia-neu.” P. Tuṭṭha. Ch. suggests something like Skt. Triśaṅ(-ku).
    Sutriśaṅku. Ch. 藪達梨舍㝹, MCh. “seu-d’at-lji-shia-neu. P. Santuṭṭha. Ch. appears to be Skt. Sutriśaṅ(-ku).
    Yaśas. Ch. 耶輸, MCh. “ia-shiu.” This well-known transliteration is equal to Skt. Yaśas, which agrees with Skt. Parinirvāṇa Sūtra.
    Yaśottara. Ch. 耶輸多樓, MCh. “ia-shiu-ta-leu.” This appears to match Skt. Yaśottara found in Parinirvāṇa Sūtra.[back]
  5. Aśvaka. Ch. 頗漯波 or 阿濕波. The name is obscure, not matching P. or Skt. country names. It appears to transliterate Vatapa (or Aśvapa if we adopt a later variant reading).
    Maccha. Ch. 婆蹉, MCh. “buat-tsa.” The Chinese appears to repeat the name Vatsa with different characters. I’ve inserted the traditional country that’s otherwise missing from the list to make up for the apparent corruption for the time being. [back]
  6. yakṣa spirit. Ch. 鬼神. The standard Chinese translation is “demon spirit,” but not all yakṣa spirits were demonic. [back]
  7. Janavṛṣabha. Ch. 闍尼沙, MCh. Zia-nji-sha, P. Janavasabha. The Ch. transliteration approximates the Pali without the final -bha syllable but with the -ṣa- sound in Skt.[back]
  8. A note is inserted explaining the spirit’s name: “Janavṛṣabha in Chinese means ‘Victor over the Bonds.’” [back]
  9. Child. Ch. 童子, Skt. P. Kumāra. This can also mean “prince” in the Indic languages, but the Chinese translates it as “child” or “boy.” This description becomes this Great Brahmā’s name, and I transliterate accordingly. [back]
  10. Trāyastriṃśa literally means “thirty-three” because there are thirty-three gods who reside in that heaven. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 2 April 2021