Division of the Sariras

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

Thus those Mallas offered religious reverence to the relics, and used the most costly flowers and scents for their supreme act of worship. Then the kings of the seven countries, having heard that Buddha was dead, sent messengers to the Mallas asking to share the sacred relics of Buddha. Then the Mallas reverencing the body of Tathâgata, trusting to their martial renown, conceived a haughty mind: “They would rather part with life itself,” they said, “than with the relics of the Buddha”—so those messengers returned from the futile embassage. Then the seven kings, highly indignant, with an army numerous as the rain-clouds, advanced on Kusinagara; the people who went from the city filled with terror soon returned and told the Mallas all: that the soldiers and the cavalry of the neighboring countries were coming, with elephants and chariots, to surround the Kusinagara city. The gardens, lying without the town, the fountains, lakes, flower and fruit-trees were now destroyed by the advancing host, and all the pleasant resting-places lay in ruins.

The Mallas, mounting on the city towers, beheld the great supports of life destroyed; they then prepared their warlike engines to crush the foe without: balistas and catapults and “flying torches,” to hurl against the advancing host. Then the seven kings entrenched themselves around the city, each army host filled with increasing courage; their wings of battle shining in array as the sun’s seven beams of glory shine; the heavy drums rolling as the thunder, the warlike breath rising as the full cloud mist. The Mallas, greatly incensed, opening the gates command the fray to begin; the aged men and women whose hearts had trust in Buddha’s law, with deep concern breathed forth their vow, “Oh! may the victory be a bloodless one!” Those who had friends used mutual exhortations not to encourage in themselves a desire for strife.

And now the warriors, clad in armor, grasping their spears and brandishing their swords ‘midst the confused noise and heavy drums advanced. But ere the contest had begun, there was a certain Brahman whose name was Drona, celebrated for penetration, honored for modesty and lowliness, whose loving heart took pleasure in religion. This one addressed those kings and said: “Regarding the unequalled strength of yonder city, one man alone would be enough for its defence; how much less when with determined heart they are united, can you subdue it! In the beginning mutual strife produced destruction, how now can it result in glory or renown? The clash of swords and bloody onset done, ‘tis certain one must perish! and therefore whilst you aim to vanquish those, both sides will suffer in the fray. Then there are many chances, too, of battle: ‘tis hard to measure strength by appearances; the strong, indeed, may overcome the weak, the weak may also overcome the strong; the powerful champion may despise the snake, but how will he escape a wounded body? there are men whose natures bland and soft, seem suited for the company of women or of children, but when enlisted in the ranks, make perfect soldiers. As fire when it is fed with oil, though reckoned weak, is not extinguished easily, so when you say that they are weak, beware of leaning overmuch on strength of body; nought can compare with strength of right religion. There was in ancient times a Gina king, whose name was Kârandhama, his graceful upright presence caused such love in others that he could overcome all animosity; but though he ruled the world and was high renowned, and rich and prosperous, yet in the end he went back and all was lost! So when the ox has drunk enough, he too returns. Use then the principles of righteousness, use the expedients of good will and love. Conquer your foe by force, you increase his enmity; conquer by love, and you will reap no after-sorrow. The present strife is but a thirst for blood, this thing cannot be endured! If you desire to honor Buddha, follow the example of his patience and long-suffering!” Thus this Brahman with confidence declared the truth; imbued with highest principles of peace, he spake with boldness and unflinchingly.

And now the kings addressed the Brahman thus: “You have chosen a fitting time for giving increase to the seed of wisdom: the essence of true friendship is the utterance of truth. The greatest force of reason lies in righteous judgment. But now in turn hear what we say: The rules of kings are framed to avoid the use of force when hatred has arisen from low desires, or else to avoid the sudden use of violence in trifling questions where some trifling matter is at stake. But we for the sake of law are about to fight. What wonder is it! Swollen pride is a principle to be opposed, for it leads to the overthrow of society; no wonder then that Buddha preached against it, teaching men to practise lowliness and humility. Then why should we be forbidden to pay our reverence to his body-relics? In ancient days a lord of the great earth, Pih-shih-tsung and Nanda, for the sake of a beautiful woman fought and destroyed each other; how much more now, for the sake of religious reverence to our master, freed from passion, gone to Nirvâna, without regard to self, or careful of our lives, should we contend and assert our rights! A former king, Kaurava, fought with a Pândava king, and the more they increased in strength the more they struggled, all for some temporary gain; how much more for our not-coveting master should we contend, coveting to get his living relics? The son of Râma, too, the Rishi, angry with King Dasa-ratha, destroyed his country, slew the people, because of the rage he felt; how much less for our master, freed from anger, should we be niggard of our lives! Râma, for Sita’s sake, killed all the demon-spirits; how much more for our lord, heaven-received, should we not sacrifice our lives! The two demons A-lai and Po-ku were ever drawn into contention; in the first place, because of their folly and ignorance, causing wide ruin among men; how much less for our all-wise master should we begrudge our lives! Wherefore if from these examples we find others ready to die for no real principle, how shall we for our teacher of gods (Devas) and men, reverenced by the universe, spare our bodies or begrudge our lives, and not be earnest in desire to make our offerings! Now then, if you desire to stay the strife, go and for us demand within the city that they open wide the relics, and so cause our prayer to be fulfilled. But because your words are right ones, we hold our anger for a while; even as the great, angry snake, by the power of charms is quieted.”

And now the Brahman, having received the kings’ instruction, entering the city, went to the Mallas, and saluting them, spoke these true words: “Without the city those who are kings among men grasp with their hands their martial weapons, and with their bodies clad in weighty armor wait eagerly to fight; glorious as the sun’s rays, bristling with rage as the roused lion. These united are, to overthrow this city. But whilst they wage this religious war, they fear lest they may act irreligiously, and so they have sent me here to say what they require: ‘We have come, not for the sake of territory, much less for money’s sake, nor on account of any insolent feeling, nor yet from any thought of hatred; but because we venerate the great Rishi, we have come on this account. You, noble sirs! know well our mind! Why should there be such sorrowful contention! You honor what we honor, both alike, then we are brothers as concerns religion. We both with equal heart revere the bequeathed spiritual relics of the lord. To be miserly in hoarding wealth, this is an unreasonable fault; how much more to grudge religion, of which there is so little knowledge in the world! The exclusive and the selfishly inclined, should practise laws of hospitality; but if ye have not rules of honor such as these, then shut your gates and guard yourselves.’ This is the tenor of the words, be they good or bad, spoken by them. But now for myself and my own feelings, let me add these true and sincere words:—Let there be no contention either way; reason ought to minister for peace, the lord when dwelling in the world ever employed the force of patience. Not to obey his holy teaching, and yet to offer gifts to him, is contradiction. Men of the world, for some indulgence, some wealth or land, contend and fight, but those who believe the righteous law should obediently conform their lives to it; to believe and yet to harbor enmity, this is to oppose ‘religious principle’ to ‘conduct.’ Buddha himself at rest, and full of love, desired to bestow the rest he enjoyed on all. To adore with worship the great merciful, and yet to gender wide destruction, how is this possible? Divide the relics, then, that all may worship them alike; obeying thus the law, the fame thereof widespread, then righteous principles will be diffused; but if others walk not righteously, we ought by righteous dealing to appease them, in this way showing the advantage of religion, we cause religion everywhere to take deep hold and abide. Buddha has told us that of all charity ‘religious charity’ is the highest; men easily bestow their wealth in charity, but hard is the charity that works for righteousness.”

The Mallas hearing the Brahman’s words with inward shame gazed at one another; and answered the Brahmakârin thus: “We thank you much for purposing to come to us, and for your friendly and religious counsel—speaking so well, and reasonably. Yours are words which a Brahman ought to use, in keeping with his holy character; words full of reconciliation, pointing out the proper road; like one recovering a wandering horse brings him back by the path which he had lost. We then ought to adopt the plan of reconciliation such as you have shown us; to hear the truth and not obey it brings afterwards regretful sorrow.”

Then they opened out the master’s relics and in eight parts equally divided them. Themselves paid reverence to one part, the other seven they handed to the Brahman; the seven kings having accepted these, rejoiced and placed them on their heads; and thus with them returned to their own country, and erected Dâgobas for worship over them. The Brahmakârin then besought the Mallas to bestow on him the relic-pitcher as his portion, and from the seven kings he requested a fragment of their relics, as an eighth share. Taking this, he returned and raised a Kaitya, which still is named “the Golden Pitcher Dâgoba.” Then the men of Kusinagara collecting all the ashes of the burning, raised over them a Kaitya, and called it “the Ashes Dâgoba.” The eight Stûpas of the eight kings, “the Golden Pitcher” and “the Ashes Stûpa.”

Thus throughout Gambudvipa there first were raised ten Dâgobas. Then all the lords and ladies of the country holding gem-embroidered canopies, paid their offerings at the various shrines, adorning them as any golden mountain. And so with music and with dancing through the day and night they made merry, and sang. And now the Arhats numbering five hundred, having forever lost their master’s presence, reflecting there was now no ground of certainty, returned to Gridhrakûta mount; assembling in King Sakra’s cavern, they collected there the Sûtra Pitaka; all the assembly agreeing that the venerable Ânanda should say, for the sake of the congregation, the sermons of Tathâgata from first to last: “Great and small, whatever you have heard from the mouth of the deceased Muni.”

Then Ânanda in the great assembly ascending the lion throne, declared in order what the lord had preached, uttering the words “Thus have I heard.”

The whole assembly, bathed in tears, were deeply moved as he pronounced the words “I heard”; and so he announced the law as to the time, as to the place, as to the person; as he spoke, so was it written down from first to last, the complete Sûtra Pitaka. By diligent attention in the use of means, practising wisdom, all these Arhats obtained Nirvâna; those now able so to do, or hereafter able, shall attain Nirvâna in the same way. King Asoka born in the world when strong, caused much sorrow; when feeble, then he banished sorrow; as the Asoka-flower tree, ruling over Gambudvipa, his heart forever put an end to sorrow, when brought to entire faith in the true law; therefore he was called “the King who frees from sorrow.” A descendant of the Mayûra family, receiving from heaven a righteous disposition, he ruled equally over the world; he raised everywhere towers and shrines, his private name the “violent Asoka,” now called the “righteous Asoka.”

Opening the Dâgobas raised by those seven kings to take the Sarîras thence, he spread them everywhere, and raised in one day eighty-four thousand towers; only with regard to the eighth pagoda in Râmagrama, which the Nâga spirit protected, the king was unable to obtain those relics; but though he obtained them not, knowing they were spiritually bequeathed relics of Buddha which the Nâga worshipped and adored, his faith was increased and his reverent disposition. Although the king was ruler of the world, yet was he able to obtain the first holy fruit; and thus induced the entire empire to honor and revere the shrines of Tathâgata.

In the past and present, thus there has been deliverance for all. Tathâgata, when in the world; and now his relics—after his Nirvana; those who worship and revere these, gain equal merit; so also those who raise themselves by wisdom, and reverence the virtues of the Tathâgata, cherishing religion, fostering a spirit of almsgiving, they gain great merit also. The noble and superlative law of Buddha ought to receive the adoration of the world. Gone to that undying place, those who believe his law shall follow him there; therefore let all the Devas and men, without exception, worship and adore the one great loving and compassionate, who mastered thoroughly the highest truth, in order to deliver all that lives. Who that hears of him, but yearns with love! The pains of birth, old age, disease and death, the endless sorrows of the world, the countless miseries of “hereafter,” dreaded by all the Devas, he has removed all these accumulated sorrows; say, who would not revere him? to escape the joys of after life, this is the world’s chief joy! To add the pain of other births, this is the world’s worst sorrow! Buddha, escaped from pain of birth, shall have no joy of the “hereafter”!

And having shown the way to all the world, who would not reverence and adore him? To sing the praises of the lordly monk, and declare his acts from first to last, without self-seeking or self-honor, without desire for personal renown, but following what the scriptures say, to benefit the world, has been my aim.

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