16 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa

Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 16:

Bimbisāra Rāja becomes a disciple.

1. When the five Bhikṣus, Aśvajit and the others, had heard the voice that knows the Law, they felt sadness and pain. They held their palms together and increased their respect, and looked up at his worthy countenance.

2. The Tathāgata then very skilfully caused them to enter the Right Law. The first and last of the five Bhikṣus obtained the path, having subdued their faculties. They were like the five stars in the sky, attending the bright moon.

3. Then Yaśas, the son of an elder from Kuśinagara, woke up suddenly from his sleep at night and looked at his retinue, men and women lying around naked, and immediately felt disgusted at heart.

4. He thought this was the basis of affliction, deceiving fools. Wearing his ornaments, girdle, and necklaces, he left his house and went to the mountain forest.

5. While seeking his way, he called out, “Troubled! I am troubled! Confused!” The Tathāgata was walking up and down in the night, and heard the voice calling out, “Troubled!”

6. He immediately said, “Welcome! Here is a tranquil place. Nirvana is utterly cool. In its tranquillity one is free from any trouble.”

7. When Yaśas heard the Buddha’s words, he was very joyful in his heart. Because of his previous revulsion, noble wisdom opened up in a cool way.

8. As if having entered a cool pond, [Yaśas] reverently arrived where the Buddha was. His person still had its common appearance but his mind had obtained the end of impurities. Through the power of his previously planted wholesome roots, he swiftly accomplished the fruition of Arahatship.

9. His pure knowledge was going over both the hidden and the clear, and after he had heard the Law, he immediately obtained insight, just as easy as it is to apply colour to a fresh white fabric. He had come to the realization that he had done what he had to do.

10. When he looked at his body, which was still adorned, he felt shame in his heart. The Tathāgata knew what was on his mind, and expounded the verses:

11. “You are adorned with necklaces but your mind has subdued your faculties. You impartially observe beings, and in your practice of the Law you do not consider their appearance.

12. “When on his body one wears the garment of someone who has gone forth but his mental bonds are not yet forgotten, when he dwells in the forest yet covets worldly splendour, [that person] is then a common person.

13. “Even though he may apparently have a commoner’s deportment, if his mind is fixed on the most eminent object and he lives at home in the same way as in a mountain forest, he is free from any [“I” or] “mine.” The undoing of the bonds exists in his mind. How could his appearance give any certainty?

14. “Wearing armour, clothed in a heavy gown, one is thought to be able to control a strong enemy. A change in appearance, wearing a dyed garment, is to subdue the enemy of affliction.”

15. [The Buddha] then said, “Come, Bhikṣu,” and at these words his common appearance changed. He was endowed with the deportment of some- one who had gone forth, and entirely became a Śramaṇa.

16. Previously he had common companions, fifty-four in number. Looking for their good friend, they left home and subsequently entered the Right Law.

17. Because of their previous wholesome actions, the fine fruition was now accomplished. When something has been imbued with potash for a long while, it quickly becomes bright on contact with water.

18. Hearers of superior behaviour, sixty Arhats, were all following the Law of the Arhat. He courteously instructed them:

19. “You have now crossed over to the other shore of the river of birth and death. What you had to do is finished. You are fit to receive any worship!

20. Each of you should travel to different countries and save those who are not yet saved. The suffering of beings burns, and for a long time they have not had anyone come to their rescue. You should each travel alone, be merciful and receive them!

21. “I shall go alone now too, and return to Gaja Mountain. There are great seers there, royal seers and Brāhman seers. They are all staying there, honoured by the whole world.

22. “The Kāśyapa seers who practice asceticism, the people of the land all serve them. Those who receive their training are very numerous. I shall go now and save them.”

23. The sixty Bhikṣus then accepted his instruction and widely propagated the Law. In agreement with their previous causality, they each went at will in different directions.

24. The World-honoured One walked all alone to Gaja Mountain. He entered the quiet forest of the Law and went to the seer Kāśyapa.

25. There was a cave where he made offerings to fire, and an evil dragon dwelled there. The mountain forest was utterly clear and nowhere would he be ill at ease, but in order to convert [Kāśyapa] the World-honoured One spoke to him and asked for lodging.

26. Kāśyapa informed Buddha, “There is no place to stay. There just is a cave to make offerings to fire. The very pure may dwell there but an evil dragon lives there. He can certainly hurt people!”

27. The Buddha said, “Allow me, and I will stay one night.” Kāśyapa made all kinds of excuses, but the World-honoured One kept asking.

28. Kāśyapa further said to Buddha, “In my heart I do not want to permit you [to stay there], but you may think I am being ungenerous. There- fore, do as you wish!”

29. The Buddha immediately entered the [cave] dwelling for fire [worship]. Sitting upright, he practiced right consideration. Then, when the evil dragon saw the Buddha, it became angry and let loose a poisonous fire.

30. The whole cave dwelling was ablaze, but it did not touch the Buddha’s body. When it had been completely released the fire was extinguished by itself, and the World-honoured One still sat at ease.

31. When the fire of the eon arises and when the cave palace of Brahma- deva is ablaze, King Brahma in the same way sits on this exact place, unafraid and fearless.

32. When the evil dragon saw that the World-honoured One’s bright countenance did not change, [the dragon’s] poison stopped and wholesome thoughts arose. He bowed and took refuge.

33. When Kāśyapa saw the light in the night, he sighed, “Alas! Astonishing! Such a moral person but he is burned by the dragon’s fire.”

34. Kāśyapa and his retinue all came to have a look in the morning. The Buddha had subdued the evil dragon and had placed him in his bowl.

35. [Kāśyapa] understood the Buddha’s qualities and thought it was amazing. Because he had been indulging in pride for a long time, he said, “My path is most worthy.”

36. The Buddha showed all kinds of supernatural transformations as were suited to the occasion. As [Kāśyapa] observed what was on his mind, he transformed in response, so that his mind became gentle and he was fit to be a vessel of the Right Law.

37. He became fully conscious that his path was shallow, inferior to the World-honoured One’s. He decided to be humble of mind and courteously accepted the Right Law.

38. The five hundred disciples of Uruvela Kāśyapa [also] accepted the Right Law in due order, as their teacher had been completely subdued.

39. After Kāśyapa and his multitude of followers had all accepted the right changes, the seer threw into the water all the [ritual] objects he had relied on and all implements to make fire offerings. They were tossed about and carried away with the current.

40. His two younger brothers, Nadī and Gaja, dwelled downstream. When they saw the clothes and other items tumbling in disorder in the river’s current, they thought [Kāśyapa] had met with an awful fate. They were fearful and ill at ease.

41. Their two groups of five hundred people searched the river and looked for the elder brother. When they saw that the elder brother had gone forth along with his disciples, they knew he had obtained a wonderful Law and were amazed.

42. “Our elder brother has now submitted to the path. We too must follow him!” The World-honoured One expounded the Law to the three brothers and to their retinue of disciples, and then presented a comparison to making a fire offering.

43. “As the black smoke of foolishness rises and confused thoughts are brought about rubbing a stick, the fires of desire and anger burn beings. The fire of such afflictions burns ceaselessly.

44. “One is engulfed in birth and death but the fire of suffering is constantly ablaze. One can see the two kinds of fire but while one is burning, one is without any support. Why would a person with high aspirations not bring forth disgust?

45. “Disgust removes desire. When greed has ended one obtains deliverance. If one has obtained deliverance, understanding from deliverance arises.

46. “Observing the flow of birth and death, I have begun my pure con- duct. When all that one must do is done, one will no longer experience a later existence!”

47. When those thousand Bhikṣus heard the World-honoured One’s exposition of the Law, no impurity arose and their minds were all delivered.

48. When Buddha had expounded the Law to the Kāśyapas and their thousand Bhikṣus, what they had to do was done and they were well adorned with pure wisdom. The entire meritorious retinue purified their actions with generosity and morality.

49. As the reverend seers followed their way, the forest of asceticism lost its splendour, just as someone who has lost the virtue of morality is merely living in futility.

50. The World-honoured One and his great retinue went to the city of Rājagṛha. He remembered the king of Magadha and the solemn oath he had previously made.

51. After the World-honoured One arrived, he stayed in the Yaṣṭivana. When King Bimbisāra heard this, he went together with his great retinue to where the World-honoured One was, followed by men and women from the whole country.

52. From afar he saw the Tathāgata sitting with a subdued mind and subdued faculties. He had done away with any common expression. [King Bimbisāra] descended from his chariot and advanced on foot, just as Śukra, ruler of the gods, approached King Brahmadeva.

53. He advanced and bowed deep at the Buddha’s feet. He respectfully asked after the Buddha’s well-being. When the Buddha had in turn reassured him, he ordered him to sit down at one side.

54. The king then silently thought in his heart, “The Śākya has an awesome power. The Kāśyapas with their excellent qualities are all his disciples now.”

55. The Buddha knew other’s thoughts, and asked Kāśyapa, “What meritorious gain did you see when you abandoned the practice of making offerings to fire?”

56. When Kāśyapa heard the Buddha’s request, he was startled and rose in front of the great multitude. He knelt on his right knee, held his palms together, and informed the Buddha in a clear voice:

57. “When one develops merit making offerings to the spirit of fire, the fruition in any case means that the wheel keeps turning. In births and deaths afflictions increase. That is why I have abandoned it.

58. “When one strenuously makes offerings to fire to seek for the objects of the five desires, the desires one experiences increase without end. That is why I have abandoned it.

59. “Making offerings to fire and practicing the method of incantations, one experiences rebirth but no deliverance. Experiencing rebirth is the basis of suffering. That is why I have given it up, further seeking contentment.

60. “I once thought that asceticism, offering sacrifices, and arranging for a great gathering were foremost and of the highest excellence, but these still go against the right path. That is why I have abandoned [these practices] now, further seeking excellent tranquillity.

61.”Freedom from birth, old age, illness, and death is a cool place with- out end. Because I know this is meaningful I have abandoned the practice of making offerings to fire.”

62. The World-honoured One heard Kāśyapa’s explanation about the facts he understood, and, wanting to make the whole world all around give rise to thoughts of pure faith, he said to Kāśyapa, “Welcome, great person!

63. “Having distinguished all kinds of paths, you follow the most excel- lent path. In front of the great multitude, show your excellent qualities now,

64. just like an elder with huge riches shows his precious treasures! Let the poor suffering beings increase their thoughts of disgust!”

65. “Very well! I will follow your instruction!” In front of the great multitude [Kāśyapa] immediately controlled himself and entered right mindful- ness. He swiftly rose into the sky.

66. He walked up and down, stayed, sat or lay down, or his whole body was like a cave. Left and right he emitted fire and water but was not burned, nor did he become wet. From his body came clouds and rain, and thunder and lightning moved heaven and earth.

67. The whole world all looked up at him, and indulging their eyes they watched tirelessly. With different mouths but with the same sound they extolled the wonder.

68. Only then did he control his divine power, and respectfully did obeisance at the World-honoured One’s feet. “You, Buddha, are my great teacher, and I am your disciple. Following your instructions I have made this behaviour known. What I had to do is finished.”

69. As the whole world all-around had seen this, and knowing that Kāśyapa was [the Buddha’s] disciple, they were certain and knew that the World-honoured One was truly omniscient.

70. The Buddha knew that the whole gathering was a fit vessel to receive the Law. He said to King Bimbisāra, “Listen very carefully now!

71. “The mind and the faculties, all these have the law of birth and extinction. The understanding that birth and extinction are wrong is a universal observation.

72. “Such a universal observation means that one understands the body. Understanding that the body has the law of birth and extinction, one is with- out grasping and without experiencing.

73. “Know the body and its faculties as a mental conception, without any ‘I’ or ‘mine,’ simply a mass of suffering, born as suffering and extinguished as suffering!

74. “Having understood that corporal characteristics are without any ‘I’ or ‘mine,’ one goes to the highest, pure place without end.

75. “The afflictions, view of a self, and so on, bind every world. After one has seen the absence of any ‘I’ or ‘mine,’ all bonds are undone.

76. “One is bound by the view of untruth, but viewing the truth one is delivered. If the world is in the grasp of precepts, it is in the grasp of what is wrong.

77. “If one had a self, it would be either permanent or impermanent. The view of the two extremes in birth and death, that error is the greatest and even worse.

78. “If it were impermanent, one’s practice would be fruitless; and as one would not experience a later existence, one would be delivered without any effort.

79. “If it were permanent, without death, rebirth or an in-between [state], it would be the same as space, without birth and without extinction.

80. “If there were a self, it would be the same for all; and as all would have a self, without any action its fruition might be naturally accomplished.

81. “If there were the activity of a self, one should not earnestly practice. If one had a sovereign ruler, what would be the need to perform actions?

82. “If a self were permanent, in principle it would not allow any change. Seeing that one is characterized by suffering and happiness, how could one say it is permanent?

83. “By understanding that one comes into existence, one is delivered and becomes free from any impurity. If all were permanent, what would be the use of being delivered from it?

84. “Absence of a self is not just a word. The principle is true that it has no true nature. Not seeing that the self causes anything, how could one explain that a self is active?

85. “Because the self does not cause anything and one is without a causing self—because one is without these two things—in reality there is no self.

86. “Without one who causes or one who experiences and without a ruler, one constantly returns. Birth and death keep flowing like night and day. Listen to my explanation now!

87. “Through the causality of the six [sense] faculties and their six objects, six consciousnesses arise. The three things in combination produce contact. Awareness, volition, and action subsequently proceed.

88. “When dried herbs are placed under a convex gem, fire is then produced by the sun. As for the faculties, their objects, and the consciousnesses, a personality is produced in the same way.

89. “A shoot grows because of a seed, but the seed is not the shoot. Not exactly like that, yet not different, beings come into existence in the same way.”

90. When the World-honoured One had explained the truth, the universal and highest meaning, King Bimbisāra was joyful. Free from impurity, his eye of the Law arose.

91. When the king’s retinue, the population, and the numerous spirits had heard the explanation of the law of immortality, they too were subsequently free from any impurity.