23 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa


Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 23:

Fixing His (Term Of) Years by Spiritual Power

1. The Licchavi elders of Vaiśālī then heard that the World-honoured One had entered their country and was staying in the Āmra Garden.

2. Some rode white chariots, with white parasols, and were dressed in white. Blue, red, yellow, or green—each had a different appearance in their multitude. Their attendants led in front and [followed] behind. Competing for the road, they advanced while jostling [with one another] for the way.

3. Their celestial crowns, ornamental garments, adorned with precious ornamentation, the great brilliance of their majestic appearance—all increased the brightness in that grove.

4. They removed their fivefold majestic apparel, dismounted, and advanced on foot. Having put a stop to pride, their demeanour was reverential and they bowed at the Buddha’s feet.

5. The great multitude surrounded the Buddha, just as the sun casts a circle of light all around. The Licchavi called Simha was chief of the Licchavis.

6. His virtuous appearance was like a lion’s, and he held the position of a lion minister. Having dispelled his lion-like pride, he was instructed by the lion of the Śākyas:

7. “You have great majesty, a famous family, and a beautiful appearance, yet you have done away with worldly pride. Through acceptance of the Law, you have increased your brightness.

8. “The adornment of morality is better than the ornamentations of riches and beauty, and of fragrant flowers. Your land’s abundance and happiness are due only to your splendour.

9. “Bringing splendour to one’s person and happiness to one’s people resides in a controlled mind. When increased with a feeling of happiness with the Law, it makes one’s virtue steadily loftier.

10. “While one does not despise any creature in the land and can assemble all the worthy, one must daily renew one’s virtues and foster all people!

11. “Lead the multitude wisely and correctly, just like an ox king crossing a ford. If one can be mindful in the present world and in a later world, one should indeed develop right morality, and one’s welfare will be firm in both worlds.

12. “One will be revered by all, and one’s fame will spread widely. Kind [people] will be happy to be your friends and the spread of your virtue will be eternal and limitless.

13. “Precious jade and stones in a mountain forest all come into existence relying on the earth. The virtue of morality is just like the earth from which all that is good comes.

14. “Without wings one may wish to rise into the sky, and one may try to cross a river without a good boat. If one does not have the virtue of morality as a human, escape from suffering is really difficult.

15. “Just as a tree is hard to climb when its beautiful flowers and fruits sting, the same applies to the one who, though learned and having the power of beauty, destroys morality.

16. “Sitting upright in an excellent pavilion, one may be adorned with a king’s mind, but when in possession of the quality of pure morality one may follow the great seer and be converted.

17. “Even if one has dyed one’s garment, wears fur or feathers, or a spiral headdress, or has shaven one’s head, if one does not develop the virtue of morality then it is difficult to cross over all suffering.

18. “One may bathe three times night and day, make offerings to fire, and practice asceticism; one may leave one’s body for the filthy animals in the wilds, one may rush toward water or fire, or throw oneself from a cliff;

19. “one may live on fruits, eat herbs and roots, inhale the wind, and drink from the water of the Ganges; one may swallow air and thereby cease ailments—if one practices these paths of birds and animals far removed from right morality, one is not a vessel of the Right Law.

20. “By ruining morality, one incurs slander, and one is not held dear by kind [people]. One constantly feels fear in one’s heart and is followed by an evil reputation, just like a shadow. In the present world there is no benefit. How could one obtain happiness in a later world?

21. “That is why a wise person should develop pure morality. In the wilderness of birth and death, morality is the best guide.

22. “Keeping the precepts comes from one’s own effort. This is not difficult. Pure morality is a stairway that lets one ascend to heaven.

23. “The establishment of pure morality comes from the weakness of affliction. One’s faults ruin the mind and one loses one’s fine qualities.

24. “First forsake any [‘I’ or] ‘mine.’ Any [‘I’ or] ‘mine’ covers all that is wholesome, just as ashes conceal a fire. Only when one steps on it does one notice the burning.

25. “Pride covers over the mind, just as the sun is concealed by a heavy cloud. Insolence extinguishes shame, and grief weakens strong determination.

26. “Old age and illness ruin youthful appearance. Arrogance extinguishes all that is wholesome. The envy of the gods and of asuras raises contention. The loss of any merit comes from a feeling of arrogance.

27. “‘I am the most excellent among the excellent. My virtue is the same as that of the most excellent, but I may be somewhat weaker than the most excellent one.’ [One who thinks] thus is a fool!

28. “Beauty and family are all impermanent. They are unsteady and unfirm over time. In the end they go to ruin. What is the use of pride?

29. “Desire is a huge calamity. It pretends to be your friend but is a secret foe. The fiercest fires come from within. This also applies to the fire of desire.

30. “The blaze of desire is worse than any fire in the world. A fire may be great but water can extinguish it. Desire is hard to extinguish.

31. “When a fierce fire is set in the wilderness, the grass is destroyed but it will grow back. When the fire of desire burns the mind, it is hard for the Right Law to come into existence.

32. “Desire seeks worldly happiness, and [worldly] happiness increases impure actions. Through evil actions one falls into a woeful destination. Among one’s enemies, none surpasses desire.

33. “Desire produces love, and through love one indulges in what one may want. By indulging in what one may want, one incurs all suffering. Among faults, none surpasses desire.

34. “Desire is a great illness. The medicine of knowledge is ended by a fool. Wrong insight and considerations can make desire increase.

35. “‘It is impermanent, painful, impure, without self, and without any [“I” or] “mine.”‘ A truthful observation with wisdom can extinguish that wrong desire.

36. “That is why one should develop truthful observation of the object. When a truthful observation has arisen, desire is undone.

37. “Seeing qualities, one produces desire; and seeing faults, one gives rise to anger. When both qualities and faults become non-existent, desire and hatred are removed.

38. “Anger changes one’s ordinary appearance. It can ruin fine beauty. Anger is a screen for the brightest eyes. It harms the meaning of the Law when one wishes for learning.

39. “It ceases the meaningfulness of affection, as one is held in con- tempt by the world. That is why one should reject hatred. Do not comply with angry thoughts!

40. “He who can control his rage is called a skilful charioteer. The world may praise one who controls his chariot well, but he is [only] a passenger holding the reins.

41. “When one gives in to hatred and does not stop it from burning, the fire of mournfulness subsequently flares up. If someone gives rise to anger, he first burns his own mind. Afterward, when [the fire] is increased by a breeze, it may also burn [others].

42. “The suffering of birth, old age, illness, and death oppresses beings, but one may further add the harm of hatred. Having many enemies, one further increases enmity.

43. “Seeing that the world is oppressed by all suffering, one should give rise to compassionate thoughts! When beings produce afflictions, they are strong or weak, with countless differences.”

44. The Tathāgata, being skilful in means, gave a brief explanation according to [the Licchavis’] illness, just as a good doctor in the world pre- scribes medicine according to the illness.

45. When the Licchavis had heard Buddha’s exposition of the Law, they immediately rose and made obeisance at the Buddha’s feet, and joyfully accepted [the dust] on their heads.

46. They invited the Buddha and his great multitude to an offering [meal] to be arranged for the next day, but the Buddha told the Licchavis that Āmrapālī had already invited him.

47. The Licchavis felt embarrassed. “Why does she take away our benefit?” But knowing that the Buddha’s mind was impartial, they again rejoiced.

48. The Tathāgata was skilful in comforting [them], as was fitting, and caused them to be joyful at heart. Humbly converted, [the Licchavis] returned, well proven, just like a snake after a stern incantation.

49. When the night had passed and the signs of dawn had arisen, the Buddha and his great multitude went to the house of Āmrapālī and accepted her offering.

50. [The Buddha] went to Veṇugrāma and stayed there for the summer retreat. When the three-month retreat was over, he returned to Vaiśālī.

51. He was staying on the shore of Markaṭa Pond, sitting in a grove. He emitted a great light all around. Moved [by this light], Māra Pāpīyas came to where the Buddha was, held his palms together, and entreated him, saying:

52. “In the past, on the shore of the Nairañjanā [River], you made a truthful pledge: ‘When the thing I have to do is completed, I will enter nirvana.’ What you had to do is now done. You must comply with your former intention!”

53. The Buddha then said to Pāpīyas, “The moment of my extinction is not far off. Later, after three full months, I will enter nirvana.”

54. Māra knew then that the time for the Tathāgata ’s extinction had been set. His earnest wish was fulfilled, and he joyfully returned to his celestial palace.

55. While he was sitting underneath a tree, the Tathāgata rightly experienced samādhi. He abandoned his life of karmic retribution and remained alive through his divine power.

56. As the Tathāgata abandoned his life, the great earth quaked all around. In the ten directions and in the sky, all around a great fire blazed.

57. The top of Śumeru crumbled and stones rained from the sky. A violent gale arose in the four directions. The trees were all broken apart. Celestial music brought a mournful sound. Gods and humans forgot to be joyful in their hearts.

58. The Buddha rose from his samādhi and said to the beings all around, “I have abandoned my life now. Yet through the power of my samādhi I maintain myself.

59. “My body is like a dilapidated chariot, without any further cause to come or go. I am freed from the three existences, like a bird born after it has shattered its egg.”