Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Numerical Discourses

Chapter 43: The God [Rohitassa]

7. The Fruits of the Ascetics

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was at the city of Rājagṛha in Jīvaka’s Park with 1,250 disciples. They were all arhats who had ended the contaminants and clearly penetrated the six knowledges. The only exception was the monk Ānanda.

A Clear and Bright Full Moon Night

2. It was the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the year, and that night the stars were clear and bright. King Ajātaśatru said to his wife Kaumudī, “Now, it’s the fifteenth day and the moon is full, so clear and bright! What should we do?”

His wife replied, “The fifteenth day is the day the precepts are recited. We should sing, play music, and entertain ourselves with the five desires.”

3. When he heard this, the king didn’t feel the same way. Again, the king asked Prince Udāyin, “This night is so clear and bright! What should we do?”

Prince Udāyin said to the king, “Since tonight is so clear and bright, we should assembly the fourfold army. Our foreign adversaries in other countries aren’t all subjugated. We should go and attack them!”

4. When he heard this, King Ajātaśatru didn’t feel the same way. Again, he asked the [former] king’s son Abhaya, “Since this night is so clear and bright, what should we do?”

The king’s son Abhaya replied, “Now, Pūraṇa Kāśyapa is bright with calculations, and he knows the scriptures of heaven and the principles of earth. He is esteemed by many people. You could go and ask him about this. That man will give you an honorable discourse on subtle principles. He never gets blocked by anything.”

5. After he heard this, the king still was unconvinced. Again, he asked the great minister [Sunirmala], “Since this night is so clear and bright, what should we do?”

[Sunirmala] said to the king, “Tonight is indeed very clear and bright. Ajita Keśakambala is nearby; he’s not far away. He clarifies many things. May the great king go and ask him what would be fitting.”

6. After he heard this, the king was still unconvinced. Again, he asked the priest [Vassa], “Since tonight is so clear and bright, what should we do?”

The priest replied, “Since this fifteenth day is so clear and bright, there’s Gośālīputra nearby; he’s not far away. May the great king go and ask him about its significance.”

7. After he heard this, the king still was unconvinced. Again, he asked the ascetic [Madha], “Since tonight is so clear and bright, what should we do?”

The ascetic replied, “Great king, you should know that Kakuda Katyāyana is nearby; he’s not far away. May the great king go and ask him what he thinks.”

8. After he heard this, the king was still unconvinced. Again, he asked his military advisor [Soma], “Since tonight is so clear and bright, what should we do?”

[Soma] replied, “Saṃjayin Vairaṭīputra is nearby; he’s not far away. He’s bright in calculations. You could go and ask him about its significance.”

9. After he heard this, the king was still unconvinced. Again, he asked the great minister [Supreme], “Since this fifteenth day is so clear and bright, what service should we perform?”

[Supreme] said to the king, “Now, there’s Nirgrantha Jñātiputra who has a broad grasp of the scriptures. He’s the best of teachers. May the great king go and ask him about its significance.”

10. After he heard this, the king was unconvinced. Again, he thought, “These people are foolish and can’t tell what’s true from what’s false. They have no skill.”

Ajātaśatru’s Repentance

11. It was then that the king’s son Jīvaka was there on the king’s left. The king looked at him and said to Jīvaka, “Since tonight is so clear and bright, what should we do?”

Jīvaka then knelt before him and said to the king, “Now, the Tathāgata is staying nearby; he’s not far away. He traveled to a park leading 1,250 disciples. May the great king go and ask him about its significance. Indeed, that Tathāgata is bright and radiant, and he isn’t blocked by anything. He knows the events of the past, future, and present; there’s nothing he doesn’t comprehend. The king should go personally and discuss this matter with him. He’ll instantly enlighten the king regarding this doubt he has.”

12. After he heard this said, King Ajātaśatru then rejoiced and celebrated. A good thought arose in him, and so he commended Jīvaka, “Good! Good, [former] king’s son! Your words are delightful. Why is that? Now, my body and mind are so invigorated. Moreover, there was no reason to take the [former] king’s life. For a long time, I’ve always thought, ‘Who can awaken this mind of mine?’ Now, what’s been said by Jīvaka has correctly entered my mind. Extraordinary and amazing it is to hear the Tathāgata’s voice and be enlightened in an instant!”

13. The king then spoke these verses to Jīvaka,

14. Jīvaka then responded to the king with verse,

15. The king again responded with verse,

16. Jīvaka again answered the king with verse,

17. King Ajātaśatru then told the [former] king’s son Jīvaka, “Go quickly, now, and prepare a team of five hundred tusker elephants and five hundred female elephants with five hundred lamps.”

18. Jīvaka replied, “Yes, great king!” The [former] king’s son Jīvaka then prepared a team of a thousand elephants and lit five hundred lamps. He then went before the king and said, “I have completed the task. King, know that it’s time.”

19. At that point, King Ajātaśatru led his followers as they went to visit the park. On the road, he felt fearful, and he got goosebumps under his clothes. He looked back at the [former] king’s son Jīvaka and said, “Did I make a mistake on your behalf? Did I not remain with an enemy household?”

Jīvaka said to the king, “There really was no reason. May the great king make this small step forward. Beyond this point, the Tathāgata is not far away.”

20. King Ajātaśatru’s mind was still apprehensive, and he told Jīvaka gravely, “I have been led astray by you. I’ve heard that the Tathāgata leads 1,250 disciples, but I don’t hear any of their voices now.”

21. Jīvaka replied, “The Tathāgata’s disciples are always in concentration and don’t have any distracted thoughts. May the great king please continue and take this small step forward.”

22. King Ajātaśatru then got down from his chariot and walked to the entrance in front of the discussion hall. He stood silently, examining the noble assembly. He then looked back at Jīvaka and said, “Where is the Tathāgata now?”

23. At that point, the entire noble assembly had entered a concentration of radiance that illuminated the discussion hall. There was nowhere it didn’t reach.

24. Jīvaka then immediately knelt with his hands together and his fingers crossed, pointing to the Tathāgata. “This is the Tathāgata at the center, shining like the sun when the clouds part!”

25. King Ajātaśatru said to Jīvaka, “Extraordinary and amazing is the mental concentration of this noble assembly, but what’s the reason for this radiance?”

Jīvaka said to the king, “It’s just the power of their concentration that emits the light.”

26. The king again told him, “As I examine this noble assembly today, they are very peaceful. If my Prince Udāyin were also this peaceful, there’d be no trouble.” King Ajātaśatru then praised him personally with his palms together, saying, “May the Bhagavān look upon us.”

27. The Bhagavān told him, “Welcome, great king.” When the king heard the Tathāgata’s voice, he felt such joy that the Tathāgata had looked and addressed his as “king.”

28. King Ajātaśatru then went to the Buddha and prostrated himself with both hands on the Tathāgata’s feet. He then addressed him, “May the Bhagavān look down on me with sympathy and accept my repentance. My father was an innocent king, and I took his life. Please accept my repentance. Afterward, I won’t do any more transgressions. I’ll reform and cultivate myself in the future.”

29. The Bhagavān told him, “Now is the right time, a fitting time, for repentance. There’s no cause for missing it. Someone who lives life, makes mistakes, and reforms themselves is called a superior person. In my teaching the fitting time for repentance is quite broad.” After he had bowed at the Tathāgata’s feet, the king stood and sat down at one side.

Ajātaśatru’s Question

30. The king then said to the Buddha, “Please, I wish to ask about something. Should the Tathāgata listen, I would just put a question to him.”

The Buddha told the king, “If you have a problem, it’s a fitting time to ask about it.”

31. The king said to the Buddha, “When merits are created in the present life, are there rewards received in the present?”

The Buddha asked the king, “Have you asked others about this subject before now?”

32. The king said to the Buddha, “In the past, I asked another man, Pūraṇa Kāśyapa, about this subject: ‘How is it, Pūraṇa Kāśyapa? When merits are made in the present life, are there rewards received in the present?’

33. “Pūraṇa Kāśyapa replied to me, ‘There’s no merit, no generosity, and no good or bad rewards in the present life or an afterlife. There are no arhats in the world who accomplish anything.’

34. “I had asked if he had received any fruitful rewards, and he replied, ‘No.’ There were other people I had asked about this subject who responded along the same lines. Now, this Kāśyapa was likewise.

35. “I then thought, ‘This ascetic hasn’t understood this subject. Someone of a noble family and a royal dynasty asked him about it, and this man answered me by bringing up another topic.’ Bhagavān, I wanted to cut off his head. I didn’t accept his statement, so I went in search of another.

36. “I also went to Ajita Keśakambala and asked about this subject. Ajita replied to me, ‘Suppose on the left side of a river someone killed and injured sentient beings. They would create measureless misdeeds, but there’s nothing that’s blameworthy about it, and there would be no bad rewards as a result.’

37. “Then, Bhagavān, I again had the thought, ‘Now, I asked about receiving rewards in the present life, and this man then takes up killing and injuring to answer me. It’s like someone asking about a pear and getting an answer about a mango!’ So, I gave up on him and left.

38. “I also went to Gośālīputra and asked him about this subject. That man replied to me, ‘Suppose someone created merits on the right side of a river that are indescribable. There still would be no reward for it.’

“I then thought, ‘Now, I asked about this subject, but he doesn’t even reply with the same line of thought.’ Again, I gave up on him and left.

39. “I also went to Kakuda Katyāyana and asked him about this subject. That man replied, ‘There’s only one person who appears in the world, one person who dies, and one person who returns to experience those pains and pleasures.’

“I then thought, ‘Now, I asked him about rewards in the present life, but his answer is about birth and death in the future.’ Again, I gave up on him and left.

40. “I went and asked Saṃjayin Vairaṭīputra about this subject. That man replied to me, ‘The past has ceased and will not again arise. The future has yet to arrive and also doesn’t exist. The present doesn’t remain, for what remains changes.’

“I then thought, ‘Now, I asked about rewards in the present life, but this reply takes up the three periods of time. That doesn’t make any sense!’ Again, I gave up and left.

41. “I went to Nirgrantha Jñātiputra and asked him about this subject: ‘How is it, Nirgrantha? Are there rewards received in the present life for merits that are made in the present?’

“That man replied to me, ‘Sentient beings are in bondage without cause or condition, and there isn’t any cause or condition for the attachment of sentient beings to bondage, either. There’s no cause and no condition for the purification of sentient beings.’

42. “Again, I thought, ‘These ascetics are fools who can’t tell what’s true from what’s false. Like blind people without eyes, their answers don’t match the subject I ask about. They seem like play-things to someone [like me] from a noble wheel-turning king’s lineage!’ Again, I quickly gave up and left.

43. “So, now, Bhagavān, I ask you about this subject. Are there rewards received in the present life for merits made in the present? Please, Bhagavān, give a discourse on this subject!”

The Buddha’s Answer

44. The Bhagavān then told him, “Great king, now I will ask you something. Answer me as you like. Great king, are there ritual wines, animal sacrifices, and valuable things for the servants to your left and right?”

The king said to the Buddha, “Yes, of course, there are.”

45. “Suppose those servants are made to toil for a long time. Again, should they be compensated for that or not?”

The king said to the Buddha, “If it accords with the merits of their work, it wouldn’t make me resentful.”

46. The Buddha told the king, “In this way, we know that rewards are received in the present life for merits made in the present. How is it, great king? You live in a high station, and people anxiously bow to you. Again, should they be compensated for that or not?”

The king said to the Buddha, “Of course, Bhagavān. I share the same meals with them willingly, and they do my bidding without anger.”

47. The Buddha told the king, “In this way, you should know that in former days [my] native land was quite poor. It gradually accumulated merits, and the king was equally happy. It’s because of him that they received rewards in the present life for merits made in the present.”

48. The Buddha told the king, “[Suppose] those laborers after many years come to the king and say, ‘We have become mendicants. Being known as friends to the king, we would like to ask for something from him.’ King, would you give it to them?”

The king said to the Buddha, “I wouldn’t refuse them what they wanted.”

49. The Buddha told the king, “[Suppose] those laborers want the king to accept their resignations, [so they can] shave their hair and beard, put on the three Dharma robes, leave home to train on the path, and cultivate the pure practice. King, would you permit it or not?”

The king said to the Buddha, “Yes, I would permit it.”

50. The Buddha told the king, “Suppose the king watches them shave off their hair and beards, leave home to train on the path, and they take their places to my left and right. King, what would you want to do?”

The king said to the Buddha, “I’d serve and provide support for them, and I’d honor them at the appropriate times.”

51. The Buddha told the king, “In this way, we know that rewards are received in the present life for merits made in the present. Suppose those laborers observe the precepts fully without any violations. What would the king want to do?”

The king said to the Buddha, “I would support them to the end of their lives with clothing, food, seats, beds, and medicine to treat illnesses and ensure they don’t have any shortages.”

52. The Buddha told the king, “In this way, we know that rewards are received in the present life for merits made in the present. Suppose that after those people become ascetics, they end their contaminants. Achieving the lack of contaminants, their minds are liberated, and their wisdom is liberated. They personally realize and teach others as they wander: ‘Birth-and-death has been ended, the religious practice has been established, and the task has been accomplished. I’m no longer subject to existence and truly know it.’ King, what would you do?”

The king told the Buddha, “I would support them to the end of their lives with clothing, food, seats, beds, and medicine to treat illnesses so that they don’t have any want.”

53. The Buddha told the king, “In this way, you should know that rewards are received in the present life for merits made in the present. Suppose, again, that those people come to the end of their lives and enter parinirvāṇa, that realm of nirvāṇa without remainder? King, what would you want to do?”

The king said to the Buddha, “I would erect a great temple in front of a crossroads. I’d provide it with offerings of incense and flowers, serving and honoring it with banners, flags, and parasols. Why is that? They then would be in the bodies of gods, not human bodies.”

54. The Buddha told the king, “In this way, you should know that rewards are received in the present life for merits made in the present.”

Ajātaśatru Takes Refuge

55. The king said to the Buddha, “Now, I’ve come to an understanding by way of these analogies. Today, the Bhagavān has given a serious explanation of this subject. After this, I believe and accept his teaching. Please, may the Bhagavān accept me as a disciple! I take refuge in the Buddha, the teaching, and the community of monks.

56. “Again, I now repent of my foolishness and delusion. My father, the king, was innocent, and I took his life. Now, I take refuge with this body and life. Please, may the Bhagavān rid me of that bad deed and explain his sublime teaching. For a long time, I won’t be trouble, knowing for myself that committing misdeeds has its consequences. I have no roots of goodness.”

57. The Buddha told the king, “The world has two kinds of people who are blameless at the end of their lives. In the time it takes to flex an arm, they attain birth up in the heavens. What are the two? One is someone who doesn’t create the root of blame and cultivates the good. The second is someone who was blameworthy but reformed himself. These are the two people who obtain birth up in the heavens at the end of their lives without anything to stop them.”

58. At that point, the Bhagavān spoke this verse:

59. “Therefore, great king, you should govern with this teaching, not by what’s not this teaching. If you govern with this teaching, then you’ll be born in a good place up in the heavens at the end of your life. After your life ends, your renown will spread far and be widely heard in the four directions. Later generations will approve: ‘In former days, there was a king who governed with the right teaching, and none were crooked.’ People will commend that tradition, and the people born there will have longer lives, increase in number, and none will die prematurely. Therefore, great king, you should go forth and rejoice, honoring the Buddhas, teachings, and noble assemblies of the past, future, and present. Thus, great king, should you train.”

60. At that point, King Ajātaśatru rose from his seat, bowed his head at the Buddha’s feet, and withdrew and departed. The king wasn’t far away when the Buddha told the monks, “Now, this king Ajātaśatru will not be harmed regarding his father, the king. Today, he would have attained realization of the first fruit of the ascetic and taken his place among the four pairs and eight ranks [of noble disciples]. However, he’ll still attain the noble eightfold path, eliminate the eight cravings, and transcend the eight difficulties. Although that’s the case, he’ll still win a great fortune and attain faith without the root of [goodness]. Therefore, monks, a blameworthy person should seek the method to achieving faith without the root of [goodness]. Ajātaśatru is among my laymen who attain faith without the root of [goodness].”

61. Then, the monks who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. Parallels include DN 56.11 and DA 27. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 7 July 2021