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25 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa

Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 25:

Parinirvāṇa

1. While Buddha was approaching his place of nirvana, Vaiśālī was empty, as if the stars and the moon had lost their light in the darkness of the clouds at night.

2. The land had been happy before, but now it suddenly languished, like an orphaned daughter who has lost her kind father and is always lonely and sad.

3. Like someone who is beautiful but has no learning, who is intelligent but has little virtue, who is eloquent at heart but stammers in speech, who has bright wisdom but lacks talent,

4. who has divine power but lacks dignified demeanour, who is compassionate but false at heart, eminent but without any power, with dignified demeanour but without any Law,

5. the same applied to Vaiśālī. Once flourishing, it was now in decline, just like plants in an autumn field. Lacking water, they wither away.

6. [The people] either stopped making cooking fires, all smoke extinguished, or, needing nourishment, forgot to eat. They all abandoned their public and private activities, and did not engage in the common lot [of human beings].

7. Mindful of the Buddha, they were deeply moved by their love. Each was silent, not saying a word. The Licchavi Simha was then forced to bear his grief. He let his tears fall and made sounds of grief to show his affection.

8. “He has destroyed any wrong path and has shown the Right Law. He has subdued the heretics. He will finally go away, never to return.

9. “The world will cease when he has left the ways of the world. Impermanence is a grave illness. When the World-honoured One has entered great tranquillity, [the people] will be without any support and without salvation.

10. “The Worthy One, superior in expediency, will hide his light in the final place, and we will lose our strong determination, just like fire without firewood.

11. “When the World-honoured One gives up his protection of the world, beings are very pitiable. When he has lost his divine power as a human, the whole world will all grieve for him.

12. “To escape the heat, one jumps into a cool pond; if one meets with cold, one relies on fire [for warmth]. When all will soon be desolate, what then can beings resort to?

13. “With his thorough insight into the excellent Law, he is a master craftsman in the world, but the world is losing its ruler. When a person loses his path, he is destroyed.

14. “[The Buddha] has been sovereign over old age, illness, and death, but when his path is lost, a wrong path will be taken. How could the world have two [people] who are able to destroy the mechanism of great suffering!

15. “Extreme fires may burn with fierce heat, but the rain of a great cloud will extinguish them. When the fire of desire burns, who will be able to extinguish it?

16. “When the one who can be compared with what is most firm146 has given up the heavy burden of the world, who with the power of wisdom could then be its uninvited friend?

17. “Just as a prisoner facing punishment may become drunk with wine but [will nonetheless be] executed, beings with misled consciousness are born only to die. With a sharp saw, one cuts wood, and impermanence cleaves the worldly.

18. “Delusion is deep water, and desire is a huge wave. Afflictions are floating froth, and wrong views are a Makara fish. Only with the boat of wisdom one can cross over this great ocean.

19. “Illnesses are the blossoms of a tree, and old age is a delicate twig. Death is the deep root of the tree, and the actions of existence are its shoots. The sharp sword of wisdom can cut down the trees of the three existences.

20. “Ignorance is a rubbing-stick and desire is the flame. The objects of the five desires are fuel. One may extinguish [the fire] with the water of knowledge.

21. “Endowed with the excellent Law, [the Buddha] has destroyed delusion. Having seen the right road of tranquillity, he has ended afflictions.

22. His compassion has converted beings. Friend or foe are no different [to him]. His omniscience has thorough insight, but now all will be abandoned.

23. “A soft and pure voice, a right body, and delicate long arms. When the greatest seer has an end, who could be immortal?

24. “One must understand that time changes quickly! One should diligently seek the Right Law, just as when, on a dangerous journey, one comes across water, one should drink quickly and advance along the road!

25. “Impermanence is very adverse, bringing destruction all around, whether to the noble or the low. When right contemplation exists in the mind, one is constantly awake even while asleep.”

26. The Licchavi Simha was then constantly mindful of the Buddha’s wisdom. Feeling revulsion for birth and death, he admired the lion among humans.

27. He abandoned his worldly love and had profound respect for the quality of renunciation. He subdued his fickle mind and fixed his thoughts on the state of quietude.

28. He diligently practiced generosity and was free from pride. He found happiness in solitary practice, resided in solitude, and reflected on the True Law.

29. The Omniscient One turned around and looked back, like a lion. He saw Vaiśālī and pronounced a gāthā for his long-lasting farewell.

30. “This has been my last excursion to this Vaiśālī. Staying in the land where the Mallas live, I will enter nirvana!”

31. Gradually and in due course, [the Buddha] travelled on and reached Bhoganagara. He stayed in the śāla grove and instructed his Bhikṣus:

32. “I will now enter nirvana in the middle of the night. You must rely on the Law! That is your most excellent abode.

33. “If [a teaching] is not recorded in the sutras and does not comply with the discipline, if it goes against the true meaning, then it should not be accepted!

34. “What is not the Law and what is not the discipline, and furthermore when [a teaching] is not what I have proclaimed, then it is the teaching of darkness. You should quickly reject it!

35. “Hold fast to my clear expositions! They are not wrong. They are my expositions, agreeing with the Law and with the teaching of the discipline.

36. “What is accepted as agreeing with my Law and discipline—that may be believed! If someone says that my Law and discipline are wrong, that must not be believed!

37. “When someone does not understand the subtle meaning and is mistaken about the wording, that person is a fool. He falsely proclaims what is wrong.

38. “He does not distinguish true from false. He sees nothing and experiences darkness. Suppose, for instance, brass and gold are displayed together—[in the same way] one deceives the world.

39. “A fool indulges in shallow knowledge. He does not understand the true meaning. He accepts a similar law and assumes that the True Law has been accepted.

40. “Therefore, carefully observe the True Law and discipline, just as a goldsmith ascertains the genuine [metal] by heating and pounding it!

41. “Ignorance about the scriptural texts is not wisdom. What is not fitting is explained as fitting, and what one should do is seen as not fitting.

42. “Perform an equal acceptance when the meaning of a verse is practiced as it is expounded! If one does not skilfully grasp a sword, one will instead hurt one’s hand.

43. “When the words are not ingenious the meaning is hard to under- stand, just as when one searches for a house while walking at night. If the house is remote, one does not know where it is.

44. “If one loses the meaning, one forgets the Law. If one forgets the Law, thoughts rush on in disarray. That is why a wise person does not contradict the true meaning.”

45. Having expounded these instructions, [the Buddha] arrived in the city of Pāpā, and the multitude of Mallas arranged for all kinds of offerings.

46. There was then an elder’s son, called Cunda. He invited the Buddha to come to his house and served him his last meal.

47. When the meal was over, [the Buddha] expounded the Law. He then went to Kuśinagara. [On the way] he crossed two rivers, the Kukustā River and the Hiraṇyavatī River.

48. There was a śāla grove, a tranquil and secluded place. [The Buddha] entered and bathed in the Hiraṇyavatī River, and his body resembled a mountain of real gold.

49. He instructed Ānanda, “Sweep clean the space between two trees there and put up a charpoy. I will now enter nirvana in the middle of the night.”

50. As Ānanda heard the Buddha’s instructions, his breathing became difficult and he felt sad at heart. He let his tears flow and followed the instructions. After he had made the arrangements, he came back to inform [the Buddha].

51. The Tathāgata went to the charpoy and lay down on his right side, his head turned north. He used his hand as a pillow and rested one foot upon the other, just like a lion king.

52. Once he lay down his last body, whose suffering had ended, he would never rise. The group of his disciples surrounded him and cried out in grief, “The eye of the world is extinguished!”

53. The wind stopped and the streams in the grove went quiet. Birds and animals were silent and did not make a sound. The sap of the trees flowed like tears. Flowers and leaves fell down out of season.

54. Humans and gods who had not yet renounced desire were all very fearful, just like those who are traveling through a vast marsh. The road is dangerous and they have not yet reached a village. Afraid they will not make it, their minds are distressed as they plod along.

55. When the Tathāgata had finally laid himself down, he said to Ānanda, “Go and tell the Mallas! The moment of my nirvana has arrived. If they have not seen me, they will always be regretful and feel great suffering.”

56. Ānanda accepted the Buddha’s instructions. Sadly weeping, he went on his way, and told the Mallas about the World-honoured One’s final end.

57. When the Mallas heard this, they became utterly fearful. Men and women left in a hurry, and in tears arrived where the Buddha was.

58. With torn clothes and dishevelled hair, their sweating bodies coated in dust, they went to that grove wailing, just like gods whose merit had ended. They let their tears fall and made obeisance at the Buddha’s feet, pale with grief.

59. The Tathāgata spoke in a comforting way, “Do not be mournful! Now is a moment to rejoice. You should not feel distress!

60. “What has been planned for eons, not until now do I obtain it, a pure state without end, saved from the objects of the [sense] faculties.

61. “Free from earth, water, fire, and wind, I am in quietude and will not be reborn or extinguished. I have forever done away with sorrow. Why feel sorrow for me?

62. “In the past, on Gaja Mountain, I wanted to give up this body, but because of my former causality I remained in the world until now.

63. “Holding on to this brittle body is like dwelling with a poisonous snake. I will now enter great tranquillity. All my painful causality has ended.

64. “I shall not experience a body again, and future suffering will be appeased for a long time. Do not be afraid for me anymore!”

65. When the Mallas heard the Buddha explain that he would enter great quietude, their thoughts were confused and their eyes became bleary, as if gazing into a great darkness.

66. They held their palms together and said to the Buddha, “You, O Buddha, are free from the suffering of birth and death. You will forever go to the happiness of tranquillity. We are really pleased.

67. “When, for instance, a house is on fire and one’s loved ones escape from it, even the gods rejoice. How much more would the people in the world!

68. “But after your extinction, O Tathāgata, beings will have no one to observe. Because we will forever be far from any salvation, we feel grief.

69. “Suppose, for instance, a group of traveling merchants is crossing a remote wilderness with just one guide, and [the guide] suddenly dies halfway. Since the group now has no one to rely on, how could they not feel grief!

70. “One may have realized some understanding in the present world, but when one has observed the Omniscient One but has not yet gained his excellent benefit, one would be ridiculed by the whole world, just as when a fool passes by a mountain full of precious things yet remains in poverty.”

71. Thus the Mallas lamented to the Buddha, just as an only child laments to his kind father.

72. The Buddha showed them the highest meaning with skilfully enticing words. He said to the multitude of Mallas, “It really is as you say.

73. “One needs rigor in one’s search for the path. Yet one does not obtain it just by meeting me. If you practice according to what I have expounded, you will be free from the net of all suffering.

74. “The practice of the path exists in the mind. It does not necessarily come from meeting me. When, for instance, a sick person relies on a remedy and takes a good medicine, all illness is naturally removed. He does not wait to see a doctor.

75. “If one does not practice according to what I have expounded, one meets me in vain, without any gain. Even if one is far away from me, practicing the Law, one is near me. If one dwells with me but does not follow the Law, know that he is far away from me!

76. “Do not be negligent in controlling your mind! Strenuously develop right action! When one is born in the world, one is for a long time oppressed by all suffering. One is disturbed and not at ease, like a lamp in the wind.”

77. When the crowd of Mallas heard the Buddha’s compassionate instructions, they were inwardly moved and wiped away their tears. They force- fully restrained themselves and returned [home].