26 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa


Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 26:

The Great Parinirvāṇa

1. There was then a Brāhman called Subhadra. He was completely endowed with worthy qualities, and with pure morality he protected living beings.

2. In his youth he had received wrong views, and had gone forth to follow a heretical path. He wanted to come and meet the World-honoured One, and said to Ānanda:

3. “I have heard about the Tathāgata’s path, that its meaning is very difficult to fathom. With his unsurpassed insight in the world he is the highest teacher to give training.

4. “He is about to enter parinirvāṇa now, and it will be even more difficult to meet him again. While it is difficult to meet him, encountering those who have met him is most difficult, just like [grasping] the moon in a mirror.

5. “I now want to meet the unsurpassed skilful guide. In my search to cease all suffering, he will let me cross over to the other shore of birth and death. The Buddha’s sun is about to hide its light. Please, let me meet him for a while!”

6. Ānanda felt sad and thought that [Subhadra] was going to disparage [the Buddha], or that he was pleased with the extinction of the World-honoured One. “I must not let him meet the Buddha!”

7. But the Buddha knew about [Subhadra’s] wish, and that he was fit to be a vessel for the Right Law, and said to Ānanda, “Allow the heretic to approach! I will save him from human life. Do not make any difficulties!”

8. When Subhadra heard this, he felt great joy in his heart. His feeling of happiness with the Law became more and more profound. Increasing his reverence, he came before the Buddha.

9. At this occasion, courteously speaking with soft words, he made polite inquiries. He held his palms together with a serene countenance and made his request, “I would now like to ask you a question.

10. “In the world there are those who know a law, like myself and many others. Yes, we have heard about what you, O Buddha, have obtained, a different and essential path to deliverance.

11. “Please, briefly explain it to me. I am imbued only with the feeling of longing and do not [wish to] debate, and I am without any thought of winning or losing!”

12. The Buddha briefly explained the eightfold right path to the Brāhman. Upon hearing it, [Subhadra] immediately accepted it with an open mind, as if he had been lost and had found the right road.

13. He knew that what he had previously applied himself to was not the final path. He immediately obtained what he had never obtained. He gave up the wrong path and turned his back on the darkness of delusion. He reflected on what he had previously practiced.

14. Both anger and delusion nourish unwholesome actions. When desire is equally practiced with anger and delusion, it can give rise to wholesome actions. Learning, wisdom, and zeal are yet produced by desire for existence.

15. When anger and delusion are stopped, then one is free from their actions. When their actions have been done away with, one is said to be delivered from their actions. But by being delivered from their actions one is not associated with the meaningful.

16. All the worldly is explained as having a specific nature. If desire for existence, anger, and delusion have a specific nature, they should permanently exist. How could one be delivered?

17. Yes, if anger and delusion are extinguished, desire for existence returns one to birth. By comparison: As its specific nature, water is cold, but it becomes hot [when heated over a] fire. When the heat has diminished, [the water again] turns cold, because its specific nature is permanent.

18. One always experiences the nature of desire for existence. Learning, wisdom, and zeal do not increase it. They do not increase it and they do not diminish it. How could one be delivered?

19. [The Brāhman] had previously thought that birth and death were actually produced by nature, but now, contemplating that meaning, no one could be delivered!

20. If a nature namely permanently remains, how could one have a final end? When, for instance, one lights a bright lamp, how could one make it lose its light?

21. The Buddha’s path is really meaningful. Because of craving, one produces the world. When craving is extinguished, one knows tranquillity. Because of its extinction, its result is non-existent.

22. He had once thought that the self was different from the body, unseen and uncaused. Now he had heard the Buddha’s right teaching, that the world is without any self.

23. All factors are produced by causes and conditions, because nothing is sovereign. Because [they are] produced by causes and conditions, [factors] are painful. The same applies to the extinction of causes and conditions.

24. Observing that the world is produced by causes and conditions, [the Brāhman Subhadra] extinguished his view of annihilation. When, free from any causality, the world is extinguished, one is free from the view of permanence.

25 [Subhadra] completely gave up his former views and had profound insight in the Buddha’s Right Law. Having planted wholesome causes in his previous lives, he immediately gained insight upon hearing the Law.

26. He had obtained fine tranquillity, the pure state without end. His mind opened up and his faith was very extensive as he respectfully gazed at the Tathāgata lying there.

27. “It is unbearable to watch the Tathāgata give up the world and enter parinirvāṇa. Before the Buddha’s final end I should be extinguished first!”

28. [Subhadra] held his palms together and made obeisance to [the Buddha’s] noble countenance, sitting in his proper place to one side. He abandoned life and entered nirvana, just as rain extinguishes a small fire.

29. The Buddha said to the Bhikṣus, “My last disciple has entered nirvana now. Worship him!”

30. As the first watch passed, the moon was bright and the stars were all clear [in the sky]. The lonely grove was quiet, without a sound. The Buddha gave rise to thoughts of great compassion.

31. He bequeathed his instructions to his disciples, “After my parinirvāṇa you must respect the prātimokṣa. It is your great preceptor, the bright lamp in the vast darkness.

32. “As the greatest treasure of poor people, you should regard my instructions! Follow them just as you would serve me, no different!

33. “Purify your actions of body and speech and abandon all efforts at livelihood! Raising living beings in a field or dwelling, accumulating riches and collecting the five grains—keep away from all that, just as one avoids a great fiery pit!

34. “Cutting plants and trees to open up new soil, treating and curing any illness, consulting the calendar [to discern] one’s fate, casting horoscopes for portents of one’s destiny, observing signs for any profit or loss— all this should not be done!

35. “Restrain oneself and eat at the proper time. Do not accept or cause [heterodox] arts to be practiced. Do not concoct herbal potions. Keep away from any crookedness.

36. “The provisions one depends on in compliance with the Law, one should accept these in moderation! One may accept [provisions] but must not amass them. This is a brief explanation of the precepts.

37. “[The prātimokṣa] is the basis of all precepts and the basis for deliverance. Relying on this Law, one can produce all right experiencing. All true knowledge obtains final certitude because of this.

38. “That is why you must keep [the prātimokṣa]! Do not let it be bro- ken! When pure morality is not broken, one has all good qualities. Without it, one does not have any [good qualities], as they are established only by morality.

39. “If, dwelling in pure morality, one controls one’s faculties well, he is like someone who tends his herd well and does not let [the animals] run loose.

40. “If one does not control the horses of the [sense] faculties and if one allows the six [sense] objects, one brings about calamities in the present world and will fall into a woeful destination.

41. “If, for instance, one does not train a horse, it will cause one to fall into a pit. Therefore, a wise one should not set his [sense] faculties loose!

42. “The [sense] faculties are very evil. They are one’s worst enemy. Though beings may like their [sense] faculties, they are hurt by them yet.

43. “A sworn enemy, an extremely poisonous snake, a dangerous tiger, or a fierce fire—a wise one does not fear the world’s great evils.

44. He fears only that a fickle mind will lead him to a woeful destination, as it is made happy by something small and sweet and does not observe the deep precipice.

45. “A fickle mind is like a maddened elephant that has lost his sharp goad, like a monkey who has taken over the grove. A wise one should control [his mind]!

46. “If one sets the mind loose so that it is sovereign, one will never obtain tranquillity. Therefore one should control the mind and quickly go to a state of tranquillity!

47. “Know moderation in food. Regard it as a way of taking medicine. Do not have any covetous or angry thoughts over food. Food stops hunger and thirst, just as grease is [used] for a dilapidated cart.

48. “Just as a bee chooses flowers and does not ruin their colour or fragrance, a Bhikṣu should go begging for alms. Do no harm to others’ faith!

49. “If [a donor] is generous with an open mind, one should assess what he can bear [to give]. If one does not calculate the strength of the ox, [too] heavy a load will hurt it.

50. “Develop right actions in due course at the three times: morning, midday, and afternoon. During the two parts of the night, the first and the last watch, do not be attached to sleep either!

51. “Lie down [to rest] in the middle of the night with upright thoughts. Remain in concentrated mindfulness until the first sign of light. Do not sleep too much, letting your physical life pass by in vain!

52. “As the fire of time constantly consumes one’s body, why sleep long? The enemies of the afflictions will harm you due to your idleness. If the mind is numb from sleep, who will notice when death arrives?

53. “If a poisonous snake hides in your dwelling, a skilful incantation can make it leave. But if a black venomous snake is in your mind, it is done away with by the skilful incantation of clear perception.

54. “One who just sleeps a lot is a shameless person. Shame is an ornament. Shame is the goad that controls the elephant.

55. “Shame lets the mind be concentrated. Shamelessness ruins any wholesome root. Those with shame are praised as worthy in the world. The shameless are equal to birds and animals.

56. “Even if someone were to cleave your body joint by joint with a sharp knife, you should not harbour resentment, nor should you speak evil words. Evil thoughts and evil words hurt oneself. They do not harm another.

57. “When one restrains the body and practices austerities, nothing surpasses the excellence of forbearance. There must only be the practice of forbearance, the most firm strength, difficult to vanquish! Therefore, do not harbour resentment or say evil words to others!

58. “Anger destroys the Right Law, and it destroys beauty. It ruins one’s good reputation. The fire of anger burns one’s own mind. Anger is the enemy of virtue. If you love virtue, do not harbour resentment!

59. “As a householder, to come to anger is not surprising, because of the many troubles [of household life]. But if having gone forth one harbours anger, that deviates from the right principle, as if a large fire were lit in cold water.

60. “If pride arises in your heart, pat yourself on the head with your hand! You have taken the tonsure and wear a robe. You hold an alms bowl in your hand, and you have decided on this life as your last birth. Why be proud?

61. “When an ordinary person is proud on the basis of his fine family, he may yet consider it an error. How much more so should someone who has gone forth! Having proud thoughts in one’s earnest search for the path of deliverance—this is absolutely not done!

62. “Crooked and straight are mutually opposed by nature. They are not found together, just as frost and a blaze [do not occur together]. One who has gone forth develops the straight path. Crookedness is not what he may apply himself to! Falsehood is an unreal pretence. Yes, the Law does not deceive.

63. “Seeking much means suffering, but little desire means happiness. If one has little desire because of one’s happiness, all the more so when searching for true deliverance!

64. “The stingy are afraid to seek for more, for fear of losing their wealth. He who likes to be generous is afraid too, ashamed of his riches, of which he may not provide enough [to others].

65. “Therefore, one should have little desire and be generous to others, without any fear! From having little desire, one obtains the path of deliverance.

66. “If one seeks deliverance, one should develop satisfaction too! The heart is always joyful when satisfied. Joy is nothing but the Law.

67. “Even if the provisions one depends upon are lowly, one is always content and satisfied. Even if someone who is unable to feel satisfied obtains the happiness of rebirth in heaven, the fire of suffering permanently burns his mind, because he is not satisfied.

68. “If [you are] wealthy but not satisfied, this too is poverty. When [you are] satisfied even though poor, this is the highest wealth.

69. “If one is not satisfied, the objects of the five desires become even larger. One seeks even more and tirelessly hurries toward suffering for a long time. In his effort he feels anxiety and, on the other hand, he is pitied by those who are satisfied.

70. “If one does not often accept one’s retinue, one’s mind is always tranquil. Because of tranquillity and quietude, all humans and gods serve him. That is why one should give up both of the two retinues of close and distant loved ones.

71. “For instance, suppose many birds and monkeys live on a lone tree in a vast marsh. The same applies to a large retinue one may care for. For a long time one experiences much suffering. A large crowd means many entanglements, like an old elephant that is sunk in the mud.

72. “If one applies oneself with zeal, there is no benefit one will not obtain. One should therefore be strenuous night and day, not lazy!

73. “As the small streams in the valley continuously flow, they hollow out a rock. If one is not strenuous when trying to make a fire with a stick, one toils in vain and does not obtain it. Therefore, always be vigorous, like someone in his prime making a fire!

74. “A good friend may be fine but he is inferior to right mindfulness. If right mindfulness exists in one’s thoughts, no evil will enter them.

75. “That is why a practitioner should always be mindful of his body! If he loses mindfulness of his body, all wholesome [things] may be forgotten.

76. “When, for instance, a brave leader wears armour, he can withstand a strong enemy. With right mindfulness as one’s heavy armour, one can restrain the thieves of the six [sense] objects.

77. “Right concentration regulates an insightful mind, and it contemplates birth and extinction in the world. That is why a practitioner should practice samādhi. In samādhi one is quiet, able to extinguish all suffering.

78 “When wisdom can shine brightly, one is far from any grasping. It equally contemplates one’s inner considerations. By following [wisdom], one advances toward the Right Law. The householder and the one who has gone forth, both should follow this path!

79. “On the great ocean of birth, old age, and death, wisdom is a light boat. In the great darkness of ignorance, wisdom is a bright lamp.

80. “For the impure illnesses of the fetters, wisdom is the finest medicine. In the thorny forest of afflictions, wisdom is a sharp axe.

81. “Being deluded, one loves the swift current. Wisdom is a bridge. That is why one should diligently practice wisdom produced from learning, from reflection, and from cultivation!

82. “If one accomplishes the three kinds of wisdom, his eye of wisdom is open, even though he may be blind. When without wisdom one’s thoughts are false, one is not someone who has gone forth.

83. “Therefore, know and leave any false factor, and reach subtle happiness, the quiet and tranquil state!

84. “Honour heedfulness! Negligence is a skilful enemy. If one is not negligent, one will obtain rebirth in the place of Lord Śakra. If one is remiss and negligent, one will fall among the asuras.

85. “I have completed the comforting and compassionate actions I had to do. Be vigorous and skilfully develop your own actions!

86. “Increase your quiet thinking in a secluded place in a mountain forest! Diligently exert yourselves, so that you will not feel remorse later!

87. “For instance, a fine doctor in the world offers a prescription that is fitting for the illness. If one is ill but does not take [the medicine], this is not the fault of the fine doctor.

88. “I have expounded the truth and I have shown the level road. If one hears [this teaching] but does not accept it, the one who has expounded it is not to blame.

89. “If there is anything you do not understand about the meaning of the four truths, you should all ask me now! Do not conceal your feelings anymore!”

90. As the World-honoured One taught in his merciful way, the whole gathering remained silent. Then Aniruddha saw that the great multitude was silent, free from any doubt. He held his palms together and said to the Buddha:

91. “That the moon is warm and the sunshine cold, the wind quiet and the earth unstable by nature—such four kinds of delusion have not existed at all in the world.

92. “The truths of suffering, of its cause, of its extinction, and of the path are true, never contradicted. They are as you have expounded, World- honoured One! The whole assembly is completely free from any doubt.

93. “We are all saddened indeed by your nirvana, World-honoured One. We do not have the idea that your explanation, O World-honoured One, does not mean final certitude.

94. “Yes, if someone has recently gone forth and has no profound under- standing of the situation yet, as he has heard your courteous instructions now, his doubts have all been done away with.

95. “Having crossed over the sea of birth and death, one is free from desire and without any aspiration. Yet all feel sad longing now. ‘How soon is the Buddha’s extinction!’ we sigh.”

96. The Buddha appeased Aniruddha’s several kinds of mournful words further with his compassionate mind, and said:

97. “Yes, even if one would stay for an eon, one would finally turn to separation. One may be united with a different person, but in principle one will not permanently be together.

98. “Having benefited myself and others, my remaining would be in vain. What would I have to do? Those of the gods and humans who were to be saved have all obtained deliverance.

99. “You, my disciples, spread and maintain the Right Law! Know that existence will certainly be ruined! Do not feel grief anymore!

100. “Diligently apply yourself to arrive at the place without separation! I have lit the lamp of knowledge. It is shining and removes the darkness in the world.

101. “When you know that the world is not secure, you should rejoice, just as when a friend who has met with a serious illness is cured and freed from his suffering!

102. “I have given up my vessel of suffering, going against the current of the sea of birth and death. I have forever left all suffering. You should rejoice about this!

103. “Guard yourselves well! Do not be negligent! All that exists has turned to extinction. I am now entering nirvana. From now on my words will end. This then is my final teaching.”

104. [The Buddha] entered the samādhi of the first trance and the nine concentrations in due order. He followed the concentrations in reverse order, and again entered the first trance.

105. He again rose from the first trance and he entered the fourth trance. As he left concentration and his thoughts had nowhere to resort to, [the Buddha] immediately entered nirvana.

106. Because of Buddha’s nirvana the great earth quaked all around. From the sky firebrands rained all around. The blaze was without any fuel.

107. Furthermore, [fire] rose from the earth and the eight directions were all ablaze. Even the celestial palaces were ablaze in the same way.

108. Thunder moved heaven and earth. The sound of the thunder shook the mountains and rivers, like the sounds of battle between gods and asuras.

109. A violent gale arose in all four directions. Mountains crumbled and ashes and dust rained down. The sun and moon lost their brightness. All clear streams boiled. The śāla grove withered and the blossoms and leaves fell down out of season.

110. Flying dragons ascended in the black clouds. Their five heads hung down and their tears flowed. The four kings and their retinues generated worship in their sadness.

111. The gods of the pure abodes descended and waited upon [the Buddha] in the sky. As they observed the development of impermanence, they were neither sorrowful nor glad. They sighed that the world was separated from its celestial teacher. “How quick is his destruction!”

112. The celestial spirits of the eight classes thronged in the sky. Scattering flowers to bring worship, they felt anxious and were not joyful at heart. Only King Māra was glad. He played music to amuse himself.

113. Jambudvīpa had lost its splendour, as if a mountain had collapsed and its peak had crumbled, as if the white tusks of a great elephant had snapped, and as if both horns of an ox king were broken.

114. In the sky there was no sun or moon, and the lotuses met with severe frost. The world was downcast like this by the Tathāgata’s parinirvāṇa.