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18 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa

Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 18:

Conversion of the “supporter of the orphans and destitute” (Anāthapiṇḍika).

1. Then there was an important elder, called Anāthapiṇḍada. He was enormously wealthy and his riches were countless, but he freely gave donations, saving the poor.

2. He came from far to the north, from the country of Kośala, and was staying in the home of a good friend. His host was called Śūla.

3. When he heard that the Buddha had appeared in the world and was staying nearby in the Veṇuvana, he went to the grove that very night, having received his name and full esteem for his virtues.

4. The Tathāgata knew that his faculties were mature and that his pure faith had arisen. As fitting, he called him by his real name and expounded the Law to him.

5. “You find happiness in the Right Law, but your pure faith has been thirsting in vain. You have given up your sleep to come and salute me.

6. “Today I will fully perform my initial duty of hospitality to you. The basis of the virtue you have planted in the past makes my pure expectations firm. Your joy upon hearing the Buddha’s name makes you fit to be a vessel for the Right Law.

7. “When one widely practices kindness in an impartial manner and provides for the poor all around, one’s famous virtue becomes widely renowned. The completion of fruition comes from a previous cause. I shall now practice the gift of the Law, giving earnestly and sincerely.

8. “Then I will give the gift of quietude. Fully keep pure morality! Morality is an ornament. It can change the woeful destinations and it allows one to ascend to heaven, bringing the reward of the celestial five happinesses.

9. “Any aspiration means great suffering, and desire accumulates all wrongs. Develop the virtue of renunciation and the happiness of quietude, free from desire!

10. “Know that the suffering of old age, illness, and death is the greatest calamity in the world! Through right contemplation of the world one leaves birth, old age, illness, and death.

11. “You have seen that humans have the suffering of old age, illness, and death. The same applies to rebirth in heaven. There is no one who permanently stays.

12. “The impermanent means suffering, and the painful is without a self. What is painful in impermanence is not a self. How could there be an ‘I’ or ‘mine’?

13. “Know that the painful is nothing but suffering! When it is accumulated, it is a cause. The extinction of suffering means quietude, and the path is the place of tranquillity.

14. “Beings keep cycling [in birth and death] by nature. Know that this is the basis of suffering! Disgusted with the end and trying to block its origin, one may not wish for any existence or non-existence!

15. “The great fires of birth, old age, and death are burning all around in the world. Seeing that birth and death is unsteady, one should develop freedom from its notion. Samādhi completely achieves the quiet place of immortality.

16. “Empty and without ‘I’ or ‘mine,’ the whole world is like an illusion. Observe this body as a multitude of great elements and a mass of formations!”

17. When the elder [Anāthapiṇḍada] heard the exposition of the Law, he immediately obtained the first fruition. The sea of birth and death was eliminated. There was just one drop left.

18. “One may practice renunciation in seclusion or be free from the body in the highest existence. It is better to be truly delivered by seeing the truths now as a common person.

19. “If one is not free from the suffering of the formations and from the net of all kinds of strange views, one does not see the meaning of the truth, even though one may reach the highest existence. Wrong notions are attached to celestial merit, since the bond of desire for existence becomes increasingly stronger.”

20. When the elder [Anāthapiṇḍada] heard the exposition of the Law, the darkness of obscuration opened up in a bright way. He consequently obtained the right view and all wrong views were forever removed, just as a strong autumn wind scatters heavy clouds.

21. “He did not consider Īśvara as the cause for the production of the world, nor was it the case that it was produced by a wrong cause, neither was it uncaused.

22. “If [the world] were produced by Īśvara, there would be no old or young, first or last. There would be no wheel of the five destinations. The born would not be extinguished.

23. “And there would be no calamities. Doing evil would not be wrong. Pure or impure actions would come from the god Īśvara.

24. “If the world were produced by the god Īśvara, he would not be doubted, just as the son is produced by the father. Who would not be conscious of his honoured one?

25. “When one met with suffering, one would not on the other hand resent the god. All would honour Īśvara, and would serve no other spirit.

26. “If Īśvara were the maker, he would not be called “Sovereign.” But as a maker he would constantly have to produce. If he were constantly producing, he would himself toil. Why then call him “Sovereign”?

27. “He would either produce unwittingly, as the action of an infant, or produce intentionally. If he had the intention [to produce] he would not be sovereign.

28. “If suffering or happiness came from beings, then these are not made by Īśvara. If Īśvara produces suffering or happiness, he would have love or hate. Because he would have love or hate, he should not be called “Sovereign.”

29. “If, furthermore, a sovereign were active, beings would be silent. Confiding in his sovereign power, what would be the use of practicing good? One just might practice good or evil but would not have the retribution of the action.

30. “If sovereignty were produced by actions, all would be actions in common [with human beings]. If they were actions in common, all would be called sovereigns.

31. “If Īśvara were uncaused, all would be non-existent too. If he would rely on another sovereign, then the number of sovereigns would be without end.

32. “That is why beings all have no maker. Know that the meaningfulness of a sovereign is destroyed in this discussion! All meanings are mutually contradicted. If there is no explanation, there is an error.

33. “If furthermore a specific nature were to produce, the error would be the same. Those who understand the theories of causality have never given such explanation.

34. “One could have things that are made without any basis or cause, but they all come from a cause, as if relying on a seed. Therefore, know that nothing is produced by a specific nature!

35. “All that is made is not just produced by one cause. But because one specific nature is mentioned, it is not the cause.

36. “Or [suppose] one says that the specific nature completely fills all places. If it were to completely fill all, there would be no maker or that which is made. And if there is no maker or that which is made, it is not a cause.

37. “If it were in all places and all would have a maker, it would be the case then that at all times, constantly, there is something being made.

38. “If one mentions a constant maker, there would be no waiting for the right time to produce an object. Therefore, know that it is not the case that a specific nature is the cause!

39. “When they further explain that this specific nature is free from any attributes, all things that are made should be free from attributes too.

40. “But all the worldly is seen to possess attributes. Therefore, know that the specific nature again is no cause!

41. “If one explains that the specific nature is different from an attribute, its nature should not be different, since one would consider something permanent as cause.

42. “Because beings are different from their attributes, the specific nature is no cause. If the specific nature were permanent, things would not be destroyed.

43. “Considering the specific nature to be a cause, cause and effect would in principle be the same. Because the worldly is destroyed, know that it has another cause!

44. “If it were caused by a specific nature, one would not seek deliverance. As it would have a specific nature, it would allow its birth and extinction. Even if one had obtained deliverance, the specific nature would yet produce bonds.

45. “If the specific nature was invisible but was the cause for visible factors, it would not yet be a cause, because cause and effect would in principle be different. For all visible things in the world both cause and effect are visible.

46. “If a specific nature were unwitting, it would not be the cause of something with an intention. Just as upon seeing smoke one knows of the fire, cause and effect are mutually dependent.

47. “It is not the case that the cause is invisible but that it would produce something visible. When, for instance, gold is made into vessels and robes, throughout they are not separate from gold. If the specific nature were a cause for something, why would it be different throughout?

48. “If time were a maker, one should not seek for deliverance. Because time is permanent, one should let time be.

49. “The world would be endless, and the same would apply to time. And so, a practitioner should not apply himself to it and strive.

50. “Entities and attributes—the world discusses them as being the same or different. Even though there are several kinds of theories, know that they are not one cause.

51. “If one says that a self is active, it should produce according to one’s wishes, yet it now does not follow one’s wishes. Why would one say a self is active?

52. “What one does not want is still obtained; and what one wants, on the other hand, is still disregarded. As suffering and happiness are not sovereign, why say that a self is active?

53. “If a self were active, one would be without any action for a woeful destination. Because several kinds of results of an action are produced, one knows that it is not the case that a self is active.

54. “One might say that a self is active complying with the occasion, but in response to an occasion it would do only what is good. Because good and evil are caused by conditions, one knows that it is not the case that a self is active!

55. “If absence of a cause were active, one should not develop application. As all would be spontaneously fixed, why would one develop any cause?

56. “With several kinds of actions in the world, one obtains several kinds of results. Therefore, know that all is not made as uncaused!

57. “With or without any intention, all arises from causes and conditions. No factor in the world is produced uncaused.”

58. [Hearing this,] the elder Anāthapiṇḍada’s mind opened up and he had thorough insight into the exquisite meaning. Knowledge of the unique reality arose, and he decidedly understood the truth. He bowed at the World- honoured One’s feet, held his palms together, and stated his request:

59. “I live in Śrāvastī. The land is rich and happy. Its great king Prasenajit is a descendant of the family of Haryaśva. His meritorious virtue and fame are renowned. He is honoured near and far.

60. “I do wish to establish a pure abode. I do wish you would mercifully accept it! I know that in your mind, O Buddha, [all] is equal. You do not seek comfort where you dwell, but may you not disregard my invitation, out of sympathy for beings?”

61. The Buddha knew the elder’s intention. A great donation would now be made. Untainted and unattached, he skilfully guarded the intention of beings.

62. “You have seen the truth. In your actual intention you wish to practice generosity. Money is no permanent treasure. One should quickly donate it.

63. “When, for instance, one’s treasury burns down, what has been taken out is precious. A bright person knows about impermanence, and by donating his riches he extensively practices kindness.

64. “The stingy are parsimonious. They do not enjoy [their wealth] for fear of its extinction, and they are not afraid of impermanence. Simple loss increases their mournfulness.

65. “When donating at the right time and to a proper recipient, one is like a vigorous man facing an enemy. Able in generosity and able in battle, he is a valiant and wise person.

66. “One who donates is loved by all. He is well praised and widely renowned. The virtuous are happy to be his friend, and when his life ends his thoughts are always joyful.

67. “Free from regret and fear, he is not reborn in the destination of hungry ghosts. Here he is recompensed with flowers, but his fruition is hard to conceive.

68. “While revolving in the six destinations, no finer companion surpasses generosity. If one is reborn among gods or humans, one is served by all. Reborn in the animal destination, generosity is recompensed and one will accordingly experience happiness.

69. “Even though one may obtain the path of immortality when one’s wisdom has developed quiet concentration, and when one is without support and without counting on anything, it is completed through the donation of resources.

70. “Because of one’s generosity, one develops the eight mindfulnesses of a great person. Following the mindfulnesses, one has joyful thoughts and certainly gains samādhi.

71. “As samādhi increases wisdom, one can correctly contemplate birth and extinction. Having correctly contemplated birth and extinction, one in due order obtains deliverance.

72. “If one is generous, giving up one’s riches, one does away with attachment. If one is compassionate and gives reverentially, one completely removes jealousy and pride. One clearly sees the result of generosity, but without generosity one is deluded and insight is done away with.

73. “The extinction of all fetters and afflictions—this comes from generosity. Know that generosity is a cause for deliverance!

74. “Just as someone grows plants or flowers and fruits for their shade, the same applies to generosity. The happiness of its reward is great nirvana. When riches, which are not solid, are donated, the reward one obtains is a solid fruition.

75. “When donating food, yes, one gains strength; and when donating clothing, one obtains beauty. When one establishes a pure abode, all fruitions are fully accomplished.

76. “Some donate seeking the five desires, and some wish for greater riches. Some donate for fame. There are those who seek the happiness of rebirth in heaven. Some want to avoid poverty. Only you donate without any [such] intention.

77. “The highest among generosities is not obtained without benefit. If you want to be magnanimous, let it be quickly accomplished! You came deluded and with desire in your heart, but you will return after the eye of purity has opened up.”

78. The elder [Anāthapiṇḍada] accepted the Buddha’s instruction, and his generous mind became increasingly clear. He invited Upatiṣya, his worthy friend, to return with him.

79. When he had gone back to Kośala, he went all around to choose a fine site. He saw the garden of Crown Prince Jeta, the grove and the streams utterly clear and quiet.

80. He went to the crown prince and asked for permission to buy the grounds. The crown prince greatly valued the place and at first did not have any intention to sell.

81. “If you were to cover it entirely with gold, still the land would not be given!” The elder, with joy in his heart, immediately spread out gold all around.

82. Jeta said, “I will not allow it. Why do you spread out all this gold?” The elder [Anāthapiṇḍada] said, “If you will not permit it, why did you say to cover [the land] with gold?”

83. As both men contended thus, they went to the magistrate to decide the matter. All sighed, thinking that it was amazing, and Jeta too knew that [Anāthapiṇḍada] was sincere.

84. Having made extensive inquiries about his reasons, it was said that “He will establish a pure abode, and offer it to the Tathāgata and the order of Bhikṣus.”

85. When the crown prince heard the Buddha’s name, his mind immediately understood. He accepted only half the gold, and peacefully negotiating, they established [the place] together.

86. “Let us together bring offerings to the Buddha—you the land and I the grove!” The elder [Anāthapiṇḍada] handed over the land to Śāriputra, and Jeta [donated] the grove.

87. [Śāriputra] planned and began construction of a pure abode. Night and day they worked and it was quickly completed. [The place] was prominent and excellently adorned, like the palace of the four celestial kings.

88. They followed the rules and complied with the propriety of the path in accord with what was fitting for a Tathāgata. A wonder in the world, [the place] increased the brilliance of the city of Śrāvastī.

89. As the Tathāgata showed his divine shelter, all noble ones gathered for the summer retreat. The one without attendants mercifully descended, and, having attendants, the [noble ones] contributed to the propriety of the path.

90. Because of this merit, the elder [Anāthapiṇḍada] ascended to heaven when his life ended. His sons and grandsons continued his inheritance, planting the field of merit for generations.