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27 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa

Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 27:

Praising Nirvāna.

1. There was then a celestial son who had ascended to his palace with a thousand white geese. High in the sky he observed the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa, and for the multitude of gods all around he widely proclaimed gāthās about impermanence:

2. “All is by nature impermanent. It is quickly born and quickly extinguished. When born, it is accompanied by suffering. Only tranquillity means happiness.

3. “While the fuel of actions is amassed, the fire of [the Buddha’s] wisdom has been ablaze. When the smoke of his fame rises to the heavens, a timely rain falls and brings extinction, just as when the fire of the eon arises it is extinguished by a flood.”

4. There was also a god, a Brāhman seer, a seer of the highest meaning, as it were, who dwelled in the exquisite happiness of the gods but who was not attached to his celestial reward. He praised the Tathāgata’s tranquillity. With his mind concentrated, he spoke:

5. “When I observe the factors of the three worlds, throughout there is none that is not destroyed. With his thorough insight into the highest meaning [the Buddha] is unequalled in the world. His wisdom is the highest of any understanding. A saviour of the world!

6. “All are destroyed by impermanence. Who can remain long? Alas! Beings in the whole world fall into wrong paths.”

7. Aniruddha would not be ruddha (kept back) in the world then. After his extinction, he would not be ruddha (kept back). His birth and death would be niruddha (stopped).

8. He praised the Tathāgata’s tranquillity:

“Beings are all blind. The mass of formations is impermanent, just like light clouds floating. They quickly arise and are quickly extinguished. A wise one does not protect them.

9. “The adamantine bolt of impermanence has destroyed the muni, the seer king. How base is the world’s fickleness! It will be destroyed and is not firm. The fierce lion of impermanence has harmed the dragon-elephant, the great seer.

10. “When even the adamantine banner of the Tathāgata is destroyed by impermanence, how much more so would one who has not renounced desire be fearful!

11. “Six seeds and one shoot, rained on by all waters. Deep roots of four stretches. Two boughs and five kinds of fruits.

12. “Consisting of three divisions but one and the same trunk. The tree of afflictions has been uprooted by the muni, the greatest elephant, but [even] he was not spared from impermanence.

13. “He was like the crested bird that enjoys the water and swallows poisonous snakes. Suddenly meeting a great drought, he lost the water and died.

14. “A swift horse is valiant in battle, but when the battle is over it returns, well proven. A fierce fire burns because of firewood, but when the fuel is all used up, [the fire] is extinguished by itself. The same applies to the Tathāgata. When his task was over, he turned to nirvana.

15. “When, for instance, bright moonlight removes the darkness all around for the world and when all beings receive its light, it is concealed again by Śumeru.

16. “The same applies to the Tathāgata. The light of his wisdom has been shining in the darkness. It removed the darkness for beings, but it is concealed by the mountain of nirvana.

17. “The excellent light of his fame has shined all over the world. It has dispelled all darkness, unstopped like a swift current.

18. “While he skilfully drives his seven swift horses, his army and his attendants travel on. But the celestial son who is the sun in all its brightness still enters Yanzi Mountain. “When the sun and moon are blocked five times, beings lose their light.

19. “After offerings to fire and sacrifices to the gods [are made] there remains only burning black smoke. After the Tathāgata hid his brightness, the world likewise lost its splendour.

20. “He has stopped all lust or expectations, in response to the expectations of beings all around. When the expectations of beings are fulfilled, after the completion of his task, he stopped any expectation.

21. “He abandoned his personal bonds of affliction and obtained the path of truth. He left his mass of troubles and entered the place of quietude.

22. “Through his divine power he ascended in the sky and wanders. His vessel of suffering has therefore been abandoned. The light of his knowledge has dispelled the heavy darkness of delusion.

23. “The dust of affliction was washed away by the water of his knowledge, so that he was purified. He will not return time and again. He has for- ever gone to the place of quietude.

24. “He has extinguished all birth and death and is respected by all. He has made all happy with the Law and has imbued all with his wisdom.

25. “He has completely comforted all and all his qualities have widely spread. His fame shines again and again all over for all up to this day.

26. “For those who emulated his qualities he had merciful thoughts. He was not made happy by the four benefits and was not grieved by the four losses.

27. “He controlled his feelings well and all his faculties were thoroughly clear. He impartially observed with a pure mind and was not attached to the six objects.

28. “What he has obtained is wonderful. He has obtained what others have not obtained. While they thirsted in vain, he has fully satisfied them with the waters essential for salvation.

29. “He donated what others had not donated, and did not expect any recompense. He has quieted his body with fine marks, and completely knows all thoughts.

30. “He was moved neither by pleasant nor foul, and his strength has overcome all enemies. The fine medicine for any illness is yet destroyed by impermanence.

31. “All kinds of beings have a different end when they are pleased with the Law, but he has widely responded to their aspirations. He has completely fulfilled their wishes.

32. “Once the great generous giver of noble wisdom has gone, he will not return, just as a fierce fire in the world will burn no more when the fuel is consumed.

33. “Not tainted by the eight factors, he subdued the group of five that is hard to subdue. With the three he has seen the three, and free from the three he has accomplished the three. Retaining the one, he has obtained the one. Having surpassed the seven, he will sleep for a long time.

34. “He has completely achieved the path of tranquillity, honoured by the noble. He has ended the impediments of affliction and saved those who have respectfully served it. Those who have hungered in vain and who have been weary with thirst, he let them drink the nectar of immortality.

35. “Wearing the heavy armour of forbearance, he has subdued any anger. With the subtle meaningfulness of his excellent Law, he has caused rejoicing in the minds of his multitude.

36. “In those who developed goodness in the world, he planted the seed of nobility. Those who developed what is right or what is not right, he equally received them and did not abandon them.

37. “He turned the wheel of the unsurpassed Law and the world all around accepted it with joy. If they had previously planted a cause to find happiness in the Law, they were all delivered.

38. “Wandering among the people, he saved all those who had not yet been saved. Those who had not yet seen the truth were all made to see the truth.

39. “To those who practiced a heretical path, he gave them his profound Law. He expounded that birth and death are impermanent, without any ruler and without happiness in any existence.

40. “He erected the great banner of his fame and destroyed the armies of Māra. He had no delight or grief about advance or retreat and, making light of life, he praised tranquillity.

41. “He caused those who were not yet saved to be saved. He caused those who were not yet freed to be freed. He caused those who were not yet quiet to become quiet. He caused those who were not yet awakened to awaken. The muni received beings with his path of quietude.

42. “While beings disregard the noble path and indulge in wrong actions, as if at the end of a great eon, the one who knows the Law is in the long sleep.

43. “While dense clouds roll and crash and bring destruction to the forest, they let the rain of immortality fall down. A young elephant may destroy a thorny forest, but when his consciousness is trained he can benefit others. The [feeling of sorrow] when the clouds have parted and when the elephant has grown old—all this is unbearable.

44. “The destruction of one view can accomplish another view, bringing salvation by saving the world. Having destroyed wrong argumentation, he obtained the path of sovereignty. He has now entered the great tranquillity and the world is without salvation.

45. “When the forces of the great army of King Māra shook heaven and earth, [Māra] wanted to harm the worthy muni, but he could not make [the Buddha] move. Why is he unexpectedly at once destroyed by the māra of impermanence?

46. “Gods and humans are gathered in great numbers all around, they fill the sky. Afraid of birth and death without end, they feel great fear in their hearts.

47. “Whether far or near in the world, his celestial eye clearly sees all. He truly understands the retribution of actions, as if observing an image in a mirror.

48. “His celestial ear excels in intelligence. There is no far-distant thing it does not hear. Ascending in the sky, he instructs the gods, and as he walks he converts the regions of humans.

49. “He may divide himself and unite his parts. When he crosses over water, he is not immersed. He remembers his past lives, not forgetting any part of an entire eon.

50. “When the [sense] faculties roam their objective fields, they each have different memories, but with his supernatural knowledge that knows the thoughts of others, [the Buddha] is omniscient. With the pure fine knowledge of his supernatural power he impartially observes all.

51. “He has completely ended all impurities, and completed all his tasks. His knowledge has abandoned his remaining elements of existence. Having appeased his knowledge, he is in the long sleep.

52. “The hard minds of beings become soft upon seeing him. When beings with dull faculties meet him, their intelligence becomes sharp. As countless evildoers pass him by, they each gain the road to insight upon meeting him.

53. “Suddenly and unexpectedly, he is in the long sleep. Who will further show these qualities? The world is without salvation. Hope has ended and life’s breath has stopped. Who will sprinkle cool water over it, so that it will breathe again?

54. “His own task that he had to do is completed. His great compassion has stopped for a long time. Who will rend the net of the world’s foolishness?

55. “Facing the swift current of birth and death, who will explain it and make it turn back? Who will expound the path of quietude for the deluded minds of beings?

56. “Who will show the place of tranquillity and who will show the true meaningfulness? While beings experience great suffering, who will bring salvation as a kind father?

57. “Even if, for instance, one may have recited much, all is forgotten. When a horse changes its territory, it loses its majesty. When the ruler dies, he loses his country. The same applies to a world without the Buddha.

58. “The learned are without eloquence. Being a doctor, one is without wisdom. Human kings have lost their bright appearance. When the Buddha is extinguished, the common lose their splendour.

59. “When a fine chariot loses its skilful charioteer and when the boat one is on loses its boat-master, when the three armies lose their brave general, and when merchants lose their guide,

60. “when the sick lose their good physician, and when a noble king loses his seven precious things, when the stars lose the bright moon, and when one loves a long life but loses his life, when the Buddha is extinguished the world likewise loses its great teacher.”

61. In this way the Arhat, who had completed all he had to do and whose impurities had all ended, spoke to show his gratitude, conscious of the [Buddha’s] kindness and bound by sad longing. He praised [the Buddha’s] qualities and related the suffering of the world.

62. Those who had not yet renounced desire were overcome by sorrowful tears. Those whose impurities had ended just sighed at the suffering of birth and extinction.

63. Then, when the multitude of the Mallas heard that the Buddha was in nirvana, they mourned with confused cries and wept sadly, just like a flock of snow geese when encountering a hawk.

64. They all came to the twin [śāla] trees and saw that the Tathāgata was in the long sleep, and it did not appear that he would wake up again. They beat their breasts and cried out to heaven, just as all the cows cry out in confusion when a lion has seized a calf.

65. Among them was one Malla whose mind had found happiness in the Right Law. He truly observed that the noble righteous king had entered the great tranquillity.

66. He said, “Beings were asleep when the Buddha opened up their minds, so that they woke up. He has entered the great tranquillity now. He finally is in the long sleep. He erected the banner of the Law for all, but now it has suddenly collapsed.

67. “The sun of the Tathāgata’s wisdom, his great awakening, has shined brightly. His zeal has been a sweltering heat, and his wisdom has dazzled with a thousand rays. He has dispelled all darkness. Why [will there be] a long darkness again?

68. “His unique wisdom has been shining in the three worlds for the eyes of beings all around. But now they are suddenly blind. No one in the whole world knows the way.

69. “As the great river of birth and death flows, greed, anger, and delusion are giant waves. The bridge of the Law has suddenly collapsed and beings will drown for a long time.”

70. Some in that crowd of Mallas wept sadly and wailed bitterly. Some felt moved in secret, without making a sound. Some threw themselves down to the ground. Some meditated in silence and some moaned deeply with disappointment.

71. They prepared a precious bier with gold and silver, fully adorned with fragrant flowers, and placed the Tathāgata’s body on it. A precious curtain covered it over.

72. They prepared hanging streamers and a flower parasol, and [offered] all kinds of music. The men and women of the Mallas led the way and brought offerings.

73. The gods scattered fragrant flowers and in the sky there was the celestial music of drums. Humans and gods sighed sadly in unison. Their cries combined as they shared a common grief.

74. They entered the city and after [the Buddha’s body was] worshiped by young and old, men and women, [the funeral party] left through the Dragon-Elephant Gate and crossed the Hiraṇyavatī River.

75. They arrived at the place of the Chaitya for the extinction of the Buddhas of the past. They accumulated oxhead sandalwood and famous aromatic wood.

76. They placed the Buddha’s body on [the bier] and poured many fragrant oils over it. Then they tried to light the fire underneath. Three times they tried to set it afire but it did not light up.

77. At that time, the great Kāśyapa had been staying in the city of Rājagṛha, but when he knew that the Buddha was about to go to his nirvana, he came along with his retinue.

78. With a pure heart [Kāśyapa] made a fine wish, wishing to see the body of the World-honoured One. Because of that sincere wish, the fire was extinguished and [the bier] did not catch fire.

79. When Kāśyapa and his retinue had arrived, they sighed sadly as they all gazed at his appearance. Only after they had saluted him at his feet did the fire light up.

80. Inwardly [the Buddha] had stopped the fire of affliction, and an external fire could not burn him. Even though it burned his external skin and flesh, his adamantine actual bones were preserved.

81. After the fragrant oil was all burned up, they kept the bones in golden pitchers. Just as the realm of the real was not destroyed, in the same way his bones were not destroyed.

82. [The Mallas] chanted, “As the result of his adamantine wisdom he was as difficult to move as Śumeru. The very powerful Garuḍa could not move him, but in the precious pitchers he has shifted with the world.

 83. “Wondrous is the power of the world! [The Buddha] could turn [the wheel of] the Law of tranquillity, and the fame of his qualities has spread widely, completely filling the ten directions. Complying with the world, he is in the long-lasting tranquillity. Just the remaining bones are preserved.

84. “His great light has dazzled the world and shined on all beings, but suddenly he hid his brightness and left his relics in pitchers.

85. “His adamantine sharp wisdom destroyed the painful mountain of affliction. All suffering was assembled in his person, but his adamantine determination put it at ease.

86. “For beings who experience great suffering, he removed it all. Such an adamantine person is now consumed by fire.”

87. The multitude of Mallas was valiant, peerless in the world. They repressed the suffering that is the enemy, and could escape from suffering by taking refuge. When their loved ones met with hardship, their determination was strong and they could free them from sorrow.

88. Now they had seen the Tathāgata’s extinction and all felt grief in their hearts. They were strong-bodied and their vigour was strong, but their pride was idle as they walked like gods. Grief heavy on their minds, they entered the city as if it were a vast marsh.

89. Carrying the relics they entered the city. In the alleys and streets everywhere people brought offerings. They placed them high on a pavilion and the humans and gods all made offerings.