Praising Nirvâna

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

At this time there was a Devaputra, riding on his thousand white-swan palace in the midst of space, who beheld the Parinirvâna of Buddha. This one, for the universal benefit of the Deva assembly, sounded forth at large these verses on impermanence:—

“Impermanency is the nature of all things, quickly born, they quickly die. With birth there comes the rush of sorrows, only in Nirvâna is there joy. The accumulated fuel heaped up by the power of karman, this the fire of wisdom alone can consume. Though the fame of our deeds reach up to heaven as smoke, yet in time the rains which descend will extinguish all, as the fire that rages at the kalpa’s end is put out by the judgment of water.”

Again there was a Brahma-Rishi-deva, like a most exalted Rishi, dwelling in heaven, possessed of superior happiness, with no taint in his bliss, who thus sighed forth his praises of Tathâgata’s Nirvâna, with his mind fixed in abstraction as he spoke:

“Looking through all the conditions of life, from first to last nought is free from destruction. But the incomparable seer dwelling in the world, thoroughly acquainted with the highest truth, whose wisdom grasps that which is beyond the world’s ken, he it is who can save the worldly-dwellers. He it is who can provide lasting escape from the destructive power of impermanence. But, alas! through the wide world, all that lives is sunk in unbelief.”

At this time Anuruddha, “not stopped” by the world, “not stopped” from being delivered, the stream of birth and death forever “stopped,” sighed forth the praises of Tathâgata’s Nirvâna:—

“All living things completely blind and dark! the mass of deeds all perishing, even as the fleeting cloud-pile! Quickly arising and as quickly perishing! the wise man holds not to such a refuge, for the diamond mace of inconstancy can overturn the mountain of the Rishi hermit. How despicable and how weak the world! doomed to destruction, without strength! Impermanence, like the fierce lion, can even spoil the Nâga-elephant-great-Rishi. Only the diamond curtain of Tathâgata can overwhelm inconstancy! How much more should those not yet delivered from desire, fear and dread its power? From the six seeds there grows one sprout, one kind of water from the rain, the origin of the four points is far removed: five kinds of fruit from the two ‘Koo’—the three periods, past, present, future, are but one in substance; the Muni-great-elephant plucks up the great tree of sorrow, and yet he cannot avoid the power of impermanence. For like the crested bird delights within the pool to seize the poisonous snake, but when from sudden drought he is left in the dry pool, he dies; or as the prancing steed advances fearlessly to battle, but when the fight has passed goes back subdued and quiet; or as the raging fire burns with the fuel, but when the fuel is done, expires; so is it with Tathâgata, his task accomplished he returns to find his refuge in Nirvâna: just as the shining of the radiant moon sheds everywhere its light and drives away the gloom, all creatures grateful for its light, it disappears concealed by Sumeru; such is the case with Tathâgata, the brightness of his wisdom lit up the gloomy darkness, and for the good of all that lives drove it away, when suddenly it disappears behind the mountain of Nirvâna. The splendor of his fame throughout the world diffused, had banished all obscurity, but like the stream that ever flows, it rests not with us; the illustrious charioteer with his seven prancing steeds flies through the host and disappears.

“The bright-rayed Sûrya-deva, entering the Yen-tsz’ cave, was, with the moon, surrounded with fivefold barriers; ‘all things that live,’ deprived of light, present their offerings to heaven; but from their sacrifice nought but the blackened smoke ascends; thus it is with Tathâgata, his glory hidden, the world has lost its light. Rare was the expectancy of grateful love that filled the heart of all that lives; that love, reached its full limit, then was left to perish! The cords of sorrow all removed, we found the true and only way; but now he leaves the tangled mesh of life, and enters on the quiet place! His spirit mounting through space, he leaves the sorrow-bearing vessel of his body! the gloom of doubt and the great darkness all dispelled, by the bright rays of wisdom! The earthy soil of sorrow’s dust his wisdom’s water purifies! no more, no more, returns he here! forever gone to the place of rest!

“The power of birth and death destroyed, the world instructed in the highest doctrine! he bids the world rejoice in knowledge of his law, and gives to all the benefit of wisdom! Giving complete rest to the world, the virtuous streams flow forth! his fame known throughout the world, shines still with increased splendor! How great his pity and his love to those who opposed his claims, neither rejoicing in their defeat nor exulting in his own success. Illustriously controlling his feelings, all his senses completely enlightened, his heart impartially observing events, unpolluted by the six objects of sense! Reaching to that unreached before! obtaining that which man had not obtained! with the water which he provided filling every thirsty soul! Bestowing that which never yet was given, and providing a reward not hoped for! his peaceful, well-marked person, perfectly knowing the thoughts of all.

“Not greatly moved either by loving or disliking! overcoming all enemies by the force of his love! the welcome physician for all diseases, the one destroyer of impermanency! All living things rejoicing in religion, fully satisfied! obtaining all they need, their every wish fulfilled! The great master of holy wisdom once gone returns no more! even as the fire gone out for want of fuel! Declaring the eight rules without taint; overcoming the five senses, difficult to compose! with the three powers of sight seeing the three precious ones; removing the three robbers (i.e. lust, anger, ignorance); perfecting the three grades of a holy life, concealing the one (himself) and obtaining the one saintship—leaping over the seven ‘bodhyangas’ and obtaining the long sleep; the end of all, the quiet, peaceful way; the highest prize of sages and of saints!

“Having himself severed the barriers of sorrow, now he is able to save his followers, and to provide the draught of immortality for all who are parched with thirst! Armed with the heavy cuirass of patience, he has overcome all enemies! by the subtle principles of his excellent law to satisfy every heart. Planting a sacred seed in the hearts of those practising virtue; impartially directing and not casting off those who are right or not right in their views! Turning the wheel of the superlative law! received with gladness through the world by those who have in former conditions implanted in themselves a love for religion, these all saved by his preaching! Going forth among men converting those not yet converted; those who had not seen the truth, causing them to see the truth! All those practising a false method of religion, delivering to them deep principles of his religion! preaching the doctrines of birth and death and impermanency; declaring that without a master teacher there can be no happiness! Erecting the standard of his great renown, overcoming and destroying the armies of Mâra! advancing to the point of indifference to pleasure or pain, caring not for life, desiring only rest! Causing those not yet converted to obtain conversion! those not yet saved to be saved! those not yet at rest to find rest! those not yet enlightened to be enlightened!

“Thus the Muni taught the way of rest for the direction of all living things! alas! that any transgressing the way of holiness should practise impure works. Even as at the end of the great kalpa, those holding the law who die, when the rolling sound of the mysterious thunder-cloud severs the forests, upon these there shall fall the rain of immortality. The little elephant breaks down the prickly forest, and by cherishing it we know that it can profit men; but the cloud that removes the sorrow of the elephant old-age, this none can bear. He by destroying systems of religion has perfected his system, in saving the world and yet saving! he has destroyed the teaching of heresy, in order to reach his independent mode of doctrine.

“And now he enters the great quiet place! no longer has the world a protector or saviour! the great army host of Mâra-râga, rousing their warrior, shaking the great earth, desired to injure the honored Muni: but they could not move him, whom in a moment now the Mâra ‘inconstancy’ destroys. The heavenly occupants everywhere assemble as a cloud! they fill the space of heaven, fearing the endless birth and death! their hearts are full of grief and dread! His Deva eyes clearly behold, without the limitations of near or distant, the fruits of works discerned throughout, as an image perceived in a mirror! His Deva ears perfect and discriminating throughout, hear all, though far away, mounting through space he teaches all the Devas, surpassing his method of converting men! He divides his body still one in substance, crosses the water as if it were not weak (to bear)! remembers all his former births, through countless kalpas none forgotten! His senses wandering through the fields of sense, all these distinctly remembered; knowing the wisdom learned in every state of mind, all this perfectly understood! By spiritual discernment and pure mysterious wisdom equally surveying all things! every vestige of imperfection removed! thus he has accomplished all he had to do. By wisdom rejecting other spheres of life, his wisdom now completely perfected, lo! he dies! let the world, hard and unyielding, still, beholding it, relent!

“All living things though blunt in sense, beholding him, receive the enlightenment of wisdom! their endless evil deeds long past, as they behold, are cancelled and completely cleansed! In a moment gone! who shall again exhibit qualities like his? no saviour now in all the world—our hope cut off, our very breath is stopped and gone! Who now shall give us life again with the cool water of his doctrine? his own great work accomplished, his great compassion now has ceased to work for long: has long ceased or stopped! The world ensnared in the toils of folly, who shall destroy the net? who shall, by his teaching, cause the stream of birth and death to turn again? Who shall declare the way of rest to instruct the heart of all that lives, deceived by ignorance? Who will point out the quiet place, or who make known the one true doctrine?

“All flesh suffering great sorrow, who shall deliver, like a loving father? Like the horse changing his master loses all gracefulness, as he forgets his many words of guidance! as a king without a kingdom, such is the world without a Buddha! as a disciple with no power of dialectic left, or like a physician without wisdom, as men whose king has lost the marks of royalty, so, Buddha dead, the world has lost its glory! the gentle horses left without a charioteer, the boat without a pilot left! The three divisions of an army left without a general! the merchantman without a guide! the suffering and diseased without a physician! a holy king without his seven insignia. The stars without the moon! the loving years without the power of life! such is the world now that Buddha, the great teacher, dies!”

Thus spake the Arhat, all done that should be done, all imperfections quite removed, knowing the meed of gratitude, he was grateful therefore. Thus thinking of his master’s love he spake! setting forth the world’s great sorrow; whilst those, not yet freed from the power of passion, wept with many tears, unable to control themselves. Yet even those who had put away all faults, sighed as they thought of the pain of birth and death. And now the Malla host hearing that Buddha had attained Nirvâna, with cries confused, wept piteously, greatly moved, as when a flight of herons meet a hawk. In a body now they reach the twin trees, and as they gaze upon Tathâgata dead, entered on his long sleep, those features never again to awake to consciousness, they smote their breasts and sighed to heaven; as when a lion seizing on a calf, the whole herd rushes on with mingled sounds.

In the midst there was one Malla, his mind enamoured of the righteous law, who gazed with steadfastness upon the holy law-king, now entered on the mighty calm, and said: “The world was everywhere asleep, when Buddha setting forth his law caused it to awake; but now he has entered on the mighty calm, and all is finished in an unending sleep. For man’s sake he had raised the standard of his law, and now, in a moment, it has fallen; the sun of Tathâgata’s wisdom spreading abroad the lustre of its ‘great awakening,’ increasing ever more and more in glory, spreading abroad the thousand rays of highest knowledge, scattering and destroying all the gloom of earth, why has the darkness great come back again? His unequalled wisdom lightening the three worlds, giving eyes that all the world might see, now suddenly the world is blind again, bewildered, ignorant of the way; in a moment fallen the bridge of truth that spanned the rolling stream of birth and death, the swelling flood of lust and rage and doubt, and all flesh overwhelmed therein, forever lost.”

Thus all that Malla host wept piteously and lamented; whilst some concealed their grief nor spoke a word; others sank prostrate on the earth; others stood silent, lost in meditation; others, with sorrowful heart, groaned deeply. Then on a gold and silver gem-decked couch richly adorned with flowers and scents, they placed the body of Tathâgata; a jewelled canopy they raised above, and round it flags and streamers and embroidered banners; then using every kind of dance and music, the lords and ladies of the Mallas followed along the road presenting offerings, whilst all the Devas scattered scents and flowers, and raised the sound of drums and music in the heavens. Thus men and Devas shared one common sorrow, their cries united as they grieved together. Entering the city, there the men and women, old and young, completed their religious offerings. Leaving the city, then, and passing through the Lung-tsiang gate, and crossing over the Hiranyavati river, they repaired to where the former Buddhas, having died, had Kaityas raised to them. There collecting ox-head sandal-wood and every famous scented wood, they placed the whole above the Buddha’s body, pouring various scented oils upon the pyre; then placing fire beneath to kindle it, three times they walked around; but yet it burned not. At this time the great Kâsyapa had taken his abode at Râgagriha, and knowing Buddha was about to die was coming thence with all his followers; his pure mind, deeply moved, desired to see the body of the lord; and so, because of that his sincere wish, the fire went out and would not kindle. Then Kâsyapa and his followers coming, with piteous sighs looked on the sight and reverenced at the master’s feet; and then, forthwith, the fire burst out. Quenched the fire of grief within; without, the fire has little power to burn. Or though it burn the outside skin and flesh, the diamond true-bone still remains. The scented oil consumed, the fire declines, the bones they place within a golden pitcher; for as the mystic world is not destroyed, neither can these, the bones of Buddha, perish; the consequence of diamond wisdom, difficult to move as Sumeru. The relics which the mighty golden-pinioned bird cannot remove or change, they place within the precious vase, to remain until the world shall pass away; and wonderful! the power of men can thus fulfil Nirvâna’s laws, the illustrious name of one far spread, is sounded thus throughout the universe; and as the ages roll, the long Nirvâna, by these, the sacred relics, sheds through the world its glorious light, and brightens up the abodes of life. He perished in a moment! but these relics, placed within the vase, the imperishable signs of wisdom, can overturn the mount of sorrow; the body of accumulated griefs this imperishable mind can cause to rest, and banish once forever all the miseries of life. Thus the diamond substance was dealt with at the place of burning. And now those valiant Mallas, unrivalled in the world for strength, subduing all private animosities, sought escape from sorrow in the true refuge. Finding sweet comfort in united love, they resolved to banish every complaining thought. Beholding thus the death of Tathâgata, they controlled their grieving hearts, and with full strength of manly virtue dismissing every listless thought, they submitted to the course of nature. Oppressed by thoughts of grievous sorrow, they entered the city as a deserted wild: holding the relics thus they entered, whilst from every street were offered gifts. They placed the relics then upon a tower for men and Devas to adore.

Subscribe to The Empty Robot

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox

Spread the word: