O-wei-san-pou-ti (Abhisambodhi)

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

Bodhisattva having subdued Mâra, his firmly fixed mind at rest, thoroughly exhausting the first principle of truth, he entered into deep and subtle contemplation. Every kind of Sâmadhi in order passed before his eyes. During the first watch he entered on “right perception” and in recollection all former births passed before his eyes. Born in such a place, of such a name, and downwards to his present birth, so through hundreds, thousands, myriads, all his births and deaths he knew. Countless in number were they, of every kind and sort; then knowing, too, his family relationships, great pity rose within his heart.

This sense of deep compassion passed, he once again considered “all that lives,” and how they moved within the six portions of life’s revolution, no final term to birth and death; hollow all, and false and transient as the plantain tree, or as a dream, or phantasy. Then in the middle watch of night, he reached to knowledge of the pure Devas, and beheld before him every creature, as one sees images upon a mirror; all creatures born and born again to die, noble and mean, the poor and rich, reaping the fruit of right or evil doing, and sharing happiness or misery in consequence. First he considered and distinguished evil-doers’ works, that such must ever reap an evil birth. Then he considered those who practise righteous deeds, that these must gain a place with men or gods; but those again born in the nether hells, he saw participating in every kind of misery; swallowing molten brass, the iron skewers piercing their bodies, confined within the boiling caldron, driven and made to enter the fiery oven dwelling, food for hungry, long-toothed dogs, or preyed upon by brain-devouring birds; dismayed by fire, then they wander through thick woods, with leaves like razors gashing their limbs, while knives divide their writhing bodies, or hatchets lop their members, bit by bit; drinking the bitterest poisons, their fate yet holds them back from death. Thus those who found their joy in evil deeds, he saw receiving now their direst sorrow; a momentary taste of pleasure here, a dreary length of suffering there. A laugh or joke because of others’ pain, a crying out and weeping now at punishment received. Surely if living creatures saw the consequence of all their evil deeds, self-visited, with hatred would they turn and leave them, fearing the ruin following—the blood and death. He saw, moreover, all the fruits of birth as beasts, each deed entailing its own return; and when death ensues born in some other form (beast shape), different in kind according to the deeds. Some doomed to die for the sake of skin or flesh, some for their horns or hair or bones or wings; others torn or killed in mutual conflict, friend or relative before, contending thus; some burdened with loads or dragging heavy weights, others pierced and urged on by pricking goads. Blood flowing down their tortured forms, parched and hungry—no relief afforded; then, turning round, he saw one with the other struggling, possessed of no independent strength. Flying through air or sunk in deep water, yet no place as a refuge left from death. He saw, moreover, those, misers and covetous, born now as hungry ghosts; vast bodies like the towering mountain, with mouths as small as any needle-tube, hungry and thirsty, nought but fire and poisoned flame to enwrap their burning forms within. Covetous, they would not give to those who sought, or duped the man who gave in charity, now born among the famished ghosts, they seek for food, but cannot find withal. The refuse of the unclean man they fain would eat, but this is changed and lost before it can be eaten. Oh! if a man believes that covetousness is thus repaid, as in their case, would he not give his very flesh in charity even as Sivi râga did! Then, once more he saw, those reborn as men, with bodies like some foul sewer, ever moving ‘midst the direst sufferings, born from the womb to fear and trembling, with body tender, touching anything its feelings painful, as if cut with knives. Whilst born in this condition, no moment free from chance of death, labor, and sorrow, yet seeking birth again, and being born again, enduring pain. Then he saw those who by a higher merit were enjoying heaven; a thirst for love ever consuming them, their merit ended with the end of life, the five signs warning them of death. Just as the blossom that decays, withering away, is robbed of all its shining tints; not all their associates, living still, though grieving, can avail to save the rest. The palaces and joyous precincts empty now, the Devis all alone and desolate, sitting or asleep upon the dusty earth, weep bitterly in recollection of their loves. Those who are born, sad in decay; those who are dead, belovéd, cause of grief; thus ever struggling on, preparing future pain, covetous they seek the joys of heaven, obtaining which, these sorrows come apace; despicable joys! oh, who would covet them! using such mighty efforts to obtain, and yet unable thence to banish pain. Alas, alas! these Devas, too, alike deceived—no difference is there! through lapse of ages bearing suffering, striving to crush desire and lust, now certainly expecting long reprieve, and yet once more destined to fall! in hell enduring every kind of pain, as beasts tearing and killing one the other, as Pretas parched with direst thirst, as men worn out, seeking enjoyment; although, they say, when born in heaven, “then we shall escape these greater ills.” Deceived, alas! no single place exempt, in every birth incessant pain! Alas! the sea of birth and death revolving thus—an ever-whirling wheel—all flesh immersed within its waves cast here and there without reliance! thus with his pure Deva eyes he thoughtfully considered the five domains of life. He saw that all was empty and vain alike! with no dependence! like the plantain or the bubble. Then, on the third eventful watch, he entered on the deep, true apprehension; he meditated on the entire world of creatures, whirling in life’s tangle, born to sorrow; the crowds who live, grow old, and die, innumerable for multitude. Covetous, lustful, ignorant, darkly-fettered, with no way known for final rescue. Rightly considering, inwardly he reflected from what source birth and death proceed. He was assured that age and death must come from birth as from a source. For since a man has born with him a body, that body must inherit pain. Then looking further whence comes birth, he saw it came from life-deeds done elsewhere; then with his Deva-eyes scanning these deeds, he saw they were not framed by Isvara. They were not self-caused, they were not personal existences, nor were they either uncaused; then, as one who breaks the first bamboo joint finds all the rest easy to separate, having discerned the cause of birth and death, he gradually came to see the truth; deeds come from upâdâna, like as fire which catches hold of grass; upâdâna comes from trishnâ, just as a little fire inflames the mountains; trishnâ comes from vedanâ, the perception of pain and pleasure, the desire for rest; as the starving or the thirsty man seeks food and drink, so “sensation” brings “desire” for life; then contact is the cause of all sensation, producing the three kinds of pain or pleasure, even as by art of man the rubbing wood produces fire for any use or purpose; contact is born from the six entrances.1 The six entrances are caused by name and thing, just as the germ grows to the stem and leaf; name and thing are born from knowledge, as the seed which germinates and brings forth leaves. Knowledge, in turn, proceeds from name and thing, the two are intervolved leaving no remnant; by some concurrent cause knowledge engenders name and thing, whilst by some other cause concurrent, name and thing engender knowledge. Just as a man and ship advance together, the water and the land mutually involved; thus knowledge brings forth name and thing; name and thing produce the roots. The roots engender contact; contact again brings forth sensation; sensation brings forth longing desire; longing desire produces upâdâna. Upâdâna is the cause of deeds; and these again engender birth; birth again produces age and death; so does this one incessant round cause the existence of all living things. Rightly illumined, thoroughly perceiving this, firmly established, thus was he enlightened; destroy birth, old age and death will cease; destroy bhava then will birth cease; destroy “cleaving” then will bhava end; destroy desire then will cleaving end; destroy sensation then will trishnâ end. Destroy contact then will end sensation; destroy the six entrances, then will contact cease; the six entrances all destroyed, from this, moreover, names and things will cease. Knowledge destroyed, names and things will cease; names and things destroyed, then knowledge perishes; ignorance destroyed, then the constituents of individual life will die; the great Rishi was thus perfected in wisdom. Thus perfected, Buddha then devised for the world’s benefit the eightfold path, right sight, and so on, the only true path for the world to tread. Thus did he complete the end of “self,” as fire goes out for want of grass; thus he had done what he would have men do; he first had found the way of perfect knowledge. He finished thus the first great lesson; entering the great Rishi’s house (dreamless sleep), the darkness disappeared; light coming on, perfectly silent, all at rest, he reached at last the exhaustless source of truth; lustrous with all wisdom the great Rishi sat, perfect in gifts, whilst one convulsive throe shook the wide earth. And now the world was calm again and bright, when Devas, Nâgas, spirits, all assembled, amidst the void raise heavenly music, and make their offerings as the law directs. A gentle cooling breeze sprang up around, and from the sky a fragrant rain distilled; exquisite flowers, not seasonable, bloomed; sweet fruits before their time were ripened. Great Mandâras, and every sort of heavenly precious flower, from space in rich confusion fell, as tribute to the illustrious monk. Creatures of every different kind were moved one towards the other lovingly; fear and terror altogether put away, none entertained a hateful thought, and all things living in the world with faultless men consorted freely; the Devas giving up their heavenly joys, sought rather to alleviate the sinner’s sufferings. Pain and distress grew less and less, the moon of wisdom waxed apace; whilst all the Rishis of the Ikshvâku clan who had received a heavenly birth, beholding Buddha thus benefitting men, were filled with joy and satisfaction; and whilst throughout the heavenly mansions religious offerings fell as raining flowers, the Devas and the Nâga spirits, with one voice, praised the Buddha’s virtues; men seeing the religious offerings, hearing, too, the joyous hymn of praise, were all rejoiced in turn; they leapt for unrestrained joy; Mâra, the Devarâga, only, felt in his heart great anguish. Buddha for those seven days, in contemplation lost, his heart at peace, beheld and pondered on the Bodhi tree, with gaze unmoved and never wearying:—“Now resting here, in this condition, I have obtained,” he said, “my ever-shifting heart’s desire, and now at rest I stand, escaped from self.” The eyes of Buddha then considered “all that lives,” and forthwith rose there in him deep compassion; much he desired to bring about their welfare, but how to gain for them that most excellent deliverance, from covetous desire, hatred, ignorance, and false teaching, this was the question; how to suppress this sinful heart by right direction; not by anxious use of outward means, but by resting quietly in thoughtful silence. Now looking back and thinking of his mighty vow, there rose once more within his mind a wish to preach the law; and looking carefully throughout the world, he saw how pain and sorrow ripened and increased everywhere. Then Brahma-deva knowing his thoughts, and considering it right to request him to advance religion for the wider spread of the Brahma-glory, in the deliverance of all flesh from sorrow, coming, beheld upon the person of the reverend monk all the distinguishing marks of a great preacher, visible in an excellent degree; fixed and unmoved he sat in the possession of truth and wisdom, free from all evil impediments, with a heart cleansed from all insincerity or falsehood. Then with reverent and a joyful heart, great Brahma stood and with hands joined, thus made known his request:—“What happiness in all the world so great as when a loving master meets the unwise; the world with all its occupants, filled with impurity and dire confusion, with heavy grief oppressed, or, in some cases, lighter sorrows, waits deliverance; the lord of men, having escaped by crossing the wide and mournful sea of birth and death, we now entreat to rescue others—those struggling creatures all engulfed therein; as the just worldly man, when he gets profit, gives some rebate withal. So the lord of men enjoying such religious gain, should also give somewhat to living things. The world indeed is bent on large personal gain, and hard it is to share one’s own with others. O! let your loving heart be moved with pity towards the world burdened with vexing cares.” Thus having spoken by way of exhortation, with reverent mien he turned back to the Brahma heaven. Buddha, regarding the invitation of Brahma-deva, rejoiced at heart, and his design was strengthened; greatly was his heart of pity nourished, and purposed was his mind to preach. Thinking he ought to beg some food, each of the four kings offered him a Pâtra; Tathâgata, in fealty to religion, received the four and joined them all in one. And now some merchant men were passing by, to whom “a virtuous friend,” a heavenly spirit, said: “The great Rishi, the venerable monk, is dwelling in this mountain-grove, affording in the world a noble field for merit; go then and offer him a sacrifice!” Hearing the summons, joyfully they went, and offered the first meal religiously. Having partaken of it, then he deeply pondered, who first should hear the law; he thought at once of Ârâda Kâlâma and Udraka Râmaputra, as being fit to accept the righteous law; but now they both were dead. Then next he thought of the five men, that they were fit to hear the first sermon. Bent then on this design to preach Nirvâna, as the sun’s glory bursts through the darkness, so went he on towards Benares, the place where dwelt the ancient Rishis. With eyes as gentle as the ox king’s, his pace as firm and even as the lion’s, because he would convert the world he went on towards the Kâsi city. Step by step, like the king of beasts, did he advance watchfully through the grove of wisdom.

  1. The six organs of sense.

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