The Great Events by Famous Historians/Volume 1/The Foundation of Buddhism

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

THE FOUNDATION OF BUDDHISM

B.C. 623

THOMAS WILLIAM RHYS-DAVIDS

Not so many years ago, at the time when Buddhism first became known in Europe through philosophic writings of about six centuries after Buddha, then newly translated, it caused amazement that a religion which had brought three hundred millions of people under its sway should acknowledge no god. But the religion of Buddha, during a thousand years of practice by the Hindus, is entirely different from the representations given us in these translations. As shown by the bas-reliefs covering the ancient monuments of India, this religion, changed by modern scientists into a belief in atheism, is, in fact, of all religions the most polytheistic.
In the first Buddhist monuments, dating back eighteen to twenty centuries, the reformer simply figures as an emblem. The imprint of his feet, the figure of the "Bo tree" under which he entered the state of supreme wisdom, are worshipped; and though he disdained all gods, and only sought to teach a new code of morals, we shortly see Buddha himself depicted as a god. In the early stages he is generally represented as alone, but gradually appears in the company of the Brahman gods. He is finally lost in a crowd of gods, and becomes nothing more than an incarnation of one of the Brahman deities. From that time Buddhism has been practically extinct in India.
This transformation took a thousand years to bring about. During part of this great interval Buddha was being worshipped as an all-powerful god. Legends are told of his appearance to his disciples, and of favors he granted them.
It has been said that Buddha tried to set aside the laws of caste. This is an error. Neither did he attempt to break the Brahmanic Pantheon.
Buddhism, which to-day is the religion of three hundred million people, about one-fifth of the world's inhabitants, toward the seventh or eighth century of our era almost entirely disappeared from its birthplace, India, whence it had spread over the rest of Asia, China, Russian Tartary, Burmah, etc. Only the two extreme frontiers of India, Nepal, in the north, and Ceylon, in the south, now practise the Buddhist cult.

Gautama Buddha left behind him no written works. The Buddhists believe that he composed works which his immediate disciples learned by heart, and which were committed to writing long afterward. This is not impossible, as the Vedas[1] were handed down in this manner for many hundreds of years.

There was certainly an historical basis for the Buddhist legend. In fact, the legends group themselves round a number of very distinct occurrences.

At the end of the sixth century B.C. those Aryan tribes sprung from the same stem as our own ancestors, who have preserved for us in their Vedic songs so precious a relic of ancient thought and life, had pushed on beyond the five rivers of the Punjab, and were settled far down into the valley of the Ganges. They had given up their nomadic habits, dwelling in villages and towns, their wealth being in land, produce, and cattle.

From democratic beginnings the whole nation had gradually become bound by an iron system of caste. The country was split up into little sections, each governed by some petty despot, and harassed by internecine feuds. Religion had become a debasing ritualism, with charms and incantations, fear of the influence of the stars, and belief in dreams and omens. The idea of the existence of a soul was supplemented by the doctrine of transmigration.

The priests were well-meaning, ignorant, and possessed of a sincere belief in their own divinity. The religious use of the Vedas and the right to sacrifice were strictly confined to the Brahmans. There were travelling logicians, anchorites, ascetics, and solitary hermits. Although the ranks of the priesthood were closed against intruders, still a man of lower caste might become a religious teacher and reformer. Such were the conditions which welcomed Gautama Buddha.

One hundred miles northeast of Benares, at Kapilavastu, on the banks of the river Rohini, the modern Kohana, there lived about five hundred years before Christ a tribe called Sakyas. The peaks of the mighty Himalayas could be seen in the distance. The Sakyas frequently quarrelled with the Koliyans, a neighboring tribe, over their water supplies from the river. Just now the two clans were at peace, and two daughters of the rajah of the Koliyans were wives of Suddhodana, the rajah of the Sakyas. Both were childless. This was deemed a very great misfortune among the Aryans, who thought that the star of a man's existence after death depended upon ceremonies to be performed by his heir. There was great rejoicing, therefore, when, in about the forty-fifth year of her age, the elder sister promised her husband a son. In due time she started with the intention of being confined at her parents' house, but it was on the way, under the shade of some lofty satin trees in a pleasant grove called Lumbini, that her son, the future Buddha, was unexpectedly born. The mother and child were carried back to Suddhodana's house, and there, seven days afterward, the mother died; but the boy found a careful nurse in his mother's sister, his father's other wife.

Many marvellous stories have been told about the miraculous birth and precocious wisdom and power of Gautama. The name Siddhartha is said to have been given him as a child, Gautama being the family name. Numerous were his later titles, such as Sakyasinha, the lion of the tribe of Sakya; Sakya-muni, the Sakya sage; Sugata, the happy one; Sattha, the teacher; Jina, the conqueror; Bhagava, the blessed one, and many others.

In his twentieth year he was married to his cousin, Yasodhara, daughter of the rajah of Koli. Devoting himself to home pleasures, he was accused by his relations of neglecting those manly exercises necessary for one who might at any time have to lead his people in war. Gautama heard of this, and appointed a day for a general tournament, at which he distinguished himself by being easily the first at all the trials of skill and prowess, thus winning the good opinions of all the clansmen. This is the solitary record of his youth.

Nothing more is heard of him until, in his twenty-ninth year, Gautama suddenly abandoned his home to devote himself entirely to the study of religion and philosophy. It is said that an angel appeared to him in four visions: a man broken down by age, a sick man, a decaying corpse, and lastly, a dignified hermit. Each time Channa, his charioteer, told him that decay and death were the fate of all living beings. The charioteer also explained to him the character and aims of the ascetics, exemplified by the hermit.

Thoughts of the calm life of the hermit strongly stirred him. One day, the occasion of the last vision, as he was entering his chariot to return home, news was brought to him that his wife Yasodhara had given birth to a son, his only child, who was called Rahula. This was about ten years after his marriage. The idea that this new tie might become too strong for him to break seems to have been the immediate cause of his flight. He returned home thoughtful and sad.

But the people of Kapilavastu were greatly delighted at the birth of the young heir, their rajah's only grandson. Gautama's return became an ovation, and he entered the town amid a general celebration of the happy event. Amid the singers was a young girl, his cousin, whose song contained the words, "Happy the father, happy the mother, happy the wife of such a son and husband." In the word "Happy" there was a double meaning: it meant also "freed" from the chains of sin and of existence, saved. In gratitude to one who at such a time reminded him of his higher duties, Gautama took off his necklace of pearls and sent it to her. She imagined that she had won the love of young Siddhartha, but he took no further notice of her.

That night the dancing girls came, but he paid them no attention, and gradually fell into an uneasy slumber. At midnight he awoke, and sent Channa for his horse. While waiting for the steed Gautama gently opened the door of the room where Yasodhara was sleeping, surrounded by flowers, with one hand on the head of her child. After one loving, fond glance he tore himself away. Accompanied only by Channa he left his home and wealth and power, his wife and only child behind him, to become a penniless wanderer. This was the Great Renunciation.

There follows a story of a vision. Mara, the great tempter, the spirit of evil, appears in the sky, urging Gautama to stop. He promises him a universal kingdom over the four great continents if he will but give up his enterprise. The tempter does not prevail, but from that time he followed Gautama as a shadow, hoping to seduce him from that right way.

All night Gautama rode, and at the dawn, when beyond the confines of his father's domain, dismounts. He cuts off his long hair with his sword, and sends back all his ornaments and his horse by the faithful charioteer.

Seven days he spends alone beneath the shade of a mango grove, and then fares onward to Rajogriha, the capital of Magadha. This town was the seat of Bimbasara, one of the most powerful princes in the eastern valley of the Ganges. In the hillside caves near at hand were several hermits. To one of these Brahman teachers, Alara, Gautama attached himself, and later to another named Udraka. From these he learned all that Hindu philosophy could teach.

Still unsatisfied, Gautama next retired to the jungle of Uruvela, on the most northerly spur of the Viadhya range of mountains, near the present temple of Buddha Gaya. Here for six years he gave himself up to the severest penance until he was wasted away to a shadow by fasting and self-mortification. Such self-control spread his fame "like the sound of a great bell hung in the skies." But the more he fasted and denied himself, the more he felt himself a prey to a mental torture worse than any bodily suffering.

At last one day when walking slowly up and down, lost in thought, through extreme weakness he staggered and fell to the ground. His disciples thought he was dead, but he recovered. Despairing of further profit from such rigorous penance, he began to take regular food and gave up his self-mortification. At this his disciples forsook him and went away to Benares. In their opinion mental conquest lay only through bodily suppression.

There now ensued a second crisis in Gautama's career which culminated in his withstanding the renewed attacks of the tempter after violent struggles.

Soon after, if not on the very day when his disciples had left him, he wandered out toward the banks of the Nairaujara, receiving his morning meal from the hands of Sujuta, the daughter of a neighboring villager, and sat down to eat it under the shade of a large tree (ficus religiosa), called from that day the sacred "Bo tree," or tree of wisdom. He remained there all day long, pondering what next to do. All the attractions of the luxurious home he had abandoned rose up before him most alluringly. But as the day ended his lofty spirit had won the victory. All doubts had lifted as mists before the morning sun. He had become Buddha, that is, enlightened. He had grasped the solution of the great mystery of sorrow. He thought, having solved its causes and its cure, he had gained the haven of peace, and believed that in the power over the human heart of inward culture and of love to others he had discovered a foundation which could never be shaken.

From this time Gautama claimed no merit for penances. A feeling of great loneliness possessed him as he arrived at his psychological and ethical conclusions. He almost despaired of winning his fellow-men to his system of salvation, salvation merely by self-control and love, without any of the rites, ceremonies, charms, or incantations of the Hindu religion.

The thought of mankind, otherwise, as he imagined, utterly doomed and lost, made Gautama resolve, at whatever hazard, to proclaim his doctrine to the world. It is certain that he had a most intense belief in himself and his mission.

He had intended first to proclaim his new doctrine to his old teachers, Alara and Udraka, but finding that they were dead, he proceeded to the deer forest near Benares where his former disciples were then living. In the cool of the evening he enters the deer-park near the city, but his former disciples resolve not to recognize him as a master. He tells them that they are still in the way of death, whereas he has found the way of salvation and can lead them to it, having become a Buddha. And as they reply with objections to his claims, he explains the fundamental truths of his system and principles of his new gospel, which the aged Kondanya was the first to accept from his master's lips. This exposition is preserved in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Sutra of the Foundations of the Kingdom of Righteousness.

Gautama Buddha taught that everything corporeal is material and therefore impermanent. Man in his bodily existence is liable to sorrow, decay, and death. The reign of unholy desires in his heart produces unsatisfactory longings, useless weariness, and care. Attempted purification by oppressing the body is only wasted effort. It is the moral evil of the heart which keeps a man chained down in the degraded state of bodily life, which binds him in a union with the material world. Virtue and goodness will only insure him for a time, and, in another birth, a higher form of material life. From the chains of existence only the complete eradication of all evil will set him free.

But these ideas must not be confused with Christian beliefs, for Buddhism teaches nothing of any immaterial existence. The foundations of its creed have been summed up in the Four Great Truths, which are as follows:

1. That misery always accompanies existence;

2. That all modes of existence of men or animals, in death or heaven, result from passion or desire (tanha);

3. That there is no escape from existence except by destruction of desire;

4. That this may be accomplished by following the fourfold way to Nirvana.

The four stages are called the Paths, the first being an awakening of the heart. The first enemy which the believer has to fight against is sensuality and the last is unkindliness. Above everything is universal charity. Till he has gained that the believer is still bound, his mind is still dark. True enlightenment, true freedom, are complete only in love. The last great reward is "Nirvana," eternal rest or extinction.

For forty-five years Gautama taught in the valley of the Ganges. In the twentieth year his cousin Ananda became a mendicant and attended on Gautama. Another cousin, however, stirred up some persecution of the great teacher, and the oppositions of the Brahmans had to be faced.

There are clear accounts of the last few days of Gautama's life. On a journey toward Kusi-nagara he had rested in a grove at Pawa, presented to the society by a goldsmith of that place named Chunda. After a midday meal of rice and pork, prepared by Chunda, the Master started for Kusi-nagara, but stopped to rest at the river Kukusta. Feeling that he was dying, he left a message for Chunda, promising him a great reward in some future existence. He died at the river Kukusta, near Kusi-nagara, teaching to the last.

Gautama's power arose from his practical philanthropy. His philosophy and ethics attracted the masses. He did not seek to found a new religion, but thought that all men would accept his form of the ancient creed. It was his society, the Sangha, or Buddhist order, rather than his doctrine, which gave to his religion its practical vitality.

The following lines, filled with the poetic beauty of the Orient, are taken from the last spoken words of the great founder of Buddhism and the Book of the Great Decease. They give a clew to the cult of that religion and breathe the spirit of Nirvana in every scintillating sentence. As nearly as may be the translation is a literal one, done by Rhys-Davids, the world's greatest living authority on this subject:

Now the Blessed One addressed the venerable Ananda, and said: "It may be, Ananda, that in some of you the thought may arise, 'The word of the Master is ended, we have no teacher more!' But it is not thus, Ananda, that you should regard it. The truths and the rules of the order which I have set forth and laid down for you all, let them, after I am gone, be the Teacher to you.

"Ananda! when I am gone address not one another in the way in which the brethren have heretofore addressed each other—with the epithet, that is, of 'Avuso' (Friend). A younger brother may be addressed by an elder with his name, or his family name, or the title 'Friend,' But an elder should be addressed by a younger brother as 'Lord' or as 'Venerable Sir.'

"When I am gone, Ananda, let the order, if it should so wish, abolish all the lesser and minor precepts.

"When I am gone, Ananda, let the higher penalty be imposed on brother Khanna."

"But what, Lord, is the higher penalty?"

"Let Khanna say whatever he may like, Ananda; the brethren should neither speak to him, nor exhort him, nor admonish him."

Then the Blessed One addressed the brethren, and said: "It may be, brethren, that there may be doubt or misgiving in the mind of some brother as to the Buddha, or the truth, or the path, or the way. Inquire, brethren, freely. Do not have to reproach yourselves afterward with the thought, 'Our teacher was face to face with us, and we could not bring ourselves to inquire of the Blessed One when we were face to face with him.'"

And when he had thus spoken the brethren were silent.

And again the second and the third time the Blessed One addressed the brethren, and said: "It may be, brethren, that there may be doubt or misgiving in the mind of some brother as to the Buddha, or the truth, or the path, or the way. Inquire, brethren, freely. Do not have to reproach yourselves afterward with the thought, 'Our teacher was face to face with us, and we could not bring ourselves to inquire of the Blessed One when we were face to face with him.'"

And even the third time the brethren were silent.

Then the Blessed One addressed the brethren, and said: "It may be, brethren, that you put no questions out of reverence for the teacher. Let one friend communicate to another."

And when he had thus spoken the brethren were silent.

And the venerable Ananda said to the Blessed One: "How wonderful a thing is it, Lord, and how marvellous! Verily, I believe that in this whole assembly of the brethren there is not one brother who has any doubt or misgiving as to the Buddha, or the truth, or the path, or the way!"

"It is out of the fulness of faith that thou hast spoken, Ananda! But, Ananda, the Tathagata knows for certain that in this whole assembly of the brethren there is not one brother who has any doubt or misgiving as to the Buddha, or the truth, or the path, or the way! For even the most backward, Ananda, of all these five hundred brethren has become converted, and is no longer liable to be born in a state of suffering, and is assured of final salvation."

Then the Blessed One addressed the brethren, and said: "Behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying, 'Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!'"

This was the last word of the Tathagata!

Then the Blessed One entered into the first stage of deep meditation. And rising out of the first stage he passed into the second. And rising out of the second he passed into the third. And rising out of the third stage he passed into the fourth. And rising out of the fourth stage of deep meditation he entered into the state of mind to which the infinity of space is alone present. And passing out of the mere consciousness of the infinity of space he entered into the state of mind to which nothing at all was specially present. And passing out of the consciousness of no special object he fell into a state between consciousness and unconsciousness. And passing out of the state between consciousness and unconsciousness he fell into a state in which the consciousness both of sensations and of ideas had wholly passed away.

Then the venerable Ananda said to the venerable Anuruddha: "O my Lord, O Anuruddha, the Blessed One is dead!"

"Nay! brother Ananda, the Blessed One is not dead. He has entered into that state in which both sensations and ideas have ceased to be!"

Then the Blessed One passing out of the state in which both sensations and ideas have ceased to be, entered into the state between consciousness and unconsciousness. And passing out of the state between consciousness and unconsciousness he entered into the state of mind to which nothing at all is specially present. And passing out of the consciousness of no special object he entered into the state of mind to which the infinity of thought is alone present. And passing out of the mere consciousness of the infinity of thought he entered into the state of mind to which the infinity of space is alone present. And passing out of the mere consciousness of the infinity of space he entered into the fourth stage of deep meditation. And passing out of the fourth stage he entered into the third. And passing out of the third stage he entered into the second. And passing out of the second he entered into the first. And passing out of the first stage of deep meditation he entered the second. And passing out of the second stage he entered into the third. And passing out of the third stage he entered into the fourth stage of deep meditation. And passing out of the last stage of deep meditation he immediately expired.

When the Blessed One died there arose, at the moment of his passing out of existence, a mighty earthquake, terrible and awe-inspiring: and the thunders of heaven burst forth.

When the Blessed One died, Brahma Sahampati, at the moment of his passing away from existence, uttered this stanza:

    "They all, all beings that have life, shall lay
    Aside their complex form—that aggregation
    Of mental and material qualities,
    That gives them, or in heaven or on earth,

    Their fleeting individuality!
    E'en as the teacher—being such a one,
    Unequalled among all the men that are,
    Successor of the prophets of old time,
    Mighty by wisdom, and in insight clear—
            Hath died!"

When the Blessed One died, Sakka, the king of the gods, at the moment of his passing away from existence, uttered this stanza:

    "They're transient all, each being's parts and powers,
    Growth is their nature, and decay.
    They are produced, they are dissolved again,
    And then is best, when they have sunk to rest!"

When the Blessed One died, the venerable Anuruddha, at the moment of his passing away from existence, uttered these stanzas:

    "When he who from all craving want was free,
    Who to Nirvana's tranquil state had reached,
    When the great sage finished his span of life,
    No gasping struggle vexed that steadfast heart!
    All resolute, and with unshaken mind.
    He calmly triumphed o'er the pain of death.
    E'en as a bright flame dies away, so was
    His last deliverance from the bonds of life!"

When the Blessed One died, the venerable Ananda, at the moment of his passing away from existence, uttered this stanza:

    "Then was there terror!
    Then stood the hair on end!
    When he endowed with every grace—
    The supreme Buddha—died!"

When the Blessed One died, of those of the brethren who were not free from the passions, some stretched out their arms and wept, and some fell headlong to the ground, rolling to and fro in anguish at the thought: "Too soon has the Blessed One died! Too soon has the Happy One passed away from existence! Too soon has the Light gone out in the world!" But those of the brethren who were free from the passions (the Arahats) bore their grief collected and composed at the thought: "Impermanent are all component things! How is it possible that [they should not be dissolved]?"

Then the venerable Anuruddha exhorted the brethren, and said: "Enough, my brethren! Weep not, neither lament! Has not the Blessed One formerly declared this to us, that it is in the very nature of all things near and dear unto us, that we must divide ourselves from them, leave them, sever ourselves from them? How, then, brethren, can this be possible—that whereas anything whatever born, brought into being, and organized, contains within itself the inherent necessity of dissolution—how then can this be possible that such a being should not be dissolved? No such condition can exist! Even the spirits, brethren, will reproach us."

"But of what kind of spirits is the Lord, the venerable Anuruddha, thinking?"

"There are spirits, brother Ananda, in the sky, but of worldly mind, who dishevel their hair and weep, and stretch forth their arms and weep, fall prostrate on the ground, and roll to and fro in anguish at the thought: 'Too soon has the Blessed One died! Too soon has the Happy One passed away! Too soon has the Light gone out in the world!'

"There are spirits, too, Ananda, on the earth, and of worldly mind, who tear their hair and weep, and stretch forth their arms and weep, fall prostrate on the ground, and roll to and fro in anguish at the thought: 'Too soon has the Blessed One died! Too soon has the Happy One passed away! Too soon has the Light gone out in the world!'

"But the spirits who are free from passion hear it, calm and self-possessed, mindful of the saying which begins, 'Impermanent indeed are all component things. How then is it possible [that such a being should not be dissolved]?'"

Now the venerable Anuruddha and the venerable Ananda spent the rest of that night in religious discourse. Then the venerable Anuruddha said to the venerable Ananda: "Go now, brother Ananda, into Kusinara and inform the Mallas of Kusinara, saying, 'The Blessed One, O Vasetthas, is dead: do, then, whatever seemeth to you fit!'"

"Even so, Lord!" said the venerable Ananda, in assent to the venerable Anuruddha. And having robed himself early in the morning, he took his bowl, and went into Kusinara with one of the brethren as an attendant.

Now at that time the Mallas of Kusinara were assembled in the council hall concerning that very matter.

And the venerable Ananda went to the council hall of the Mallas of Kusinara; and when he had arrived there, he informed them, saying, "The Blessed One, O Vasetthas, is dead; do, then, whatever seemeth to you fit!"

And when they had heard this saying of the venerable Ananda, the Mallas, with their young men and their maidens and their wives, were grieved, and sad, and afflicted at heart. And some of them wept, dishevelling their hair, and some stretched forth their arms and wept, and some fell prostrate on the ground, and some reeled to and fro in anguish at the thought: "Too soon has the Blessed One died! Too soon has the Happy One passed away! Too soon has the Light gone out in the world!"

Then the Mallas of Kusinara gave orders to their attendants, saying, "Gather together perfumes and garlands, and all the music in Kusinara!"

And the Mallas of Kusinara took the perfumes and garlands, and all the musical instruments, and five hundred suits of apparel, and went to the Upavattana, to the Sala Grove of the Mallas, where the body of the Blessed One lay. There they passed the day in paying honor, reverence, respect, and homage to the remains of the Blessed One with dancing, and hymns, and music, and with garlands and perfumes; and in making canopies of their garments, and preparing decoration wreaths to hang thereon.

Then the Mallas of Kusinara thought: "It is much too late to burn the body of the Blessed One to-day. Let us now perform the cremation to-morrow." And in paying honor, reverence, respect, and homage to the remains of the Blessed One with dancing, and hymns, and music, and with garlands and perfumes; and in making canopies of their garments, and preparing decoration wreaths to hang thereon, they passed the second day too, and then the third day, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth day also.

Then on the seventh day the Mallas of Kusinara thought:

"Let us carry the body of the Blessed One, by the south and outside, to a spot on the south, and outside of the city,—paying it honor, and reverence, and respect, and homage, with dance and song and music, with garlands and perfumes,—and there, to the south of the city, let us perform the cremation ceremony!"

And thereupon eight chieftains among the Mallas bathed their heads, and clad themselves in new garments with the intention of bearing the body of the Blessed One. But, behold, they could not lift it up!

Then the Mallas of Kusinara said to the venerable Anuruddha: "What, Lord, can be the reason, what can be the cause that eight chieftains of the Mallas who have bathed their heads, and clad themselves in new garments with the intention of bearing the body of the Blessed One, are unable to lift it up?"

"It is because you, O Vasetthas, have one purpose and the spirits have another purpose."

"But what, Lord, is the purpose of the spirits?"

"Your purpose, O Vasetthas, is this: 'Let us carry the body of the Blessed One, by the south and outside, to a spot on the south, and outside of the city,—paying it honor, and reverence, and respect, and homage, with dance and song and music, with garlands and perfumes,—and there, to the south of the city, let us perform the cremation ceremony.' But the purpose of the spirits, Vasetthas, is this: 'Let us carry the body of the Blessed One by the north to the north of the city, and entering the city by the north gate, let us bring it through the midst of the city into the midst thereof. And going out again by the eastern gate,—paying honor, and reverence, and respect, and homage to the body of the Blessed One, with heavenly dance, and song, and music, and garlands, and perfumes,—let us carry it to the shrine of the Mallas called Makuta-bandhana, to the east of the city, and there let us perform the cremation ceremony.'"

"Even according to the purpose of the spirits, so, Lord, let it be!"

Then immediately all Kusinara down even to the dust-bins and rubbish heaps became strewn knee-deep with Mandarava flowers from heaven! and while both the spirits from the skies, and the Mallas of Kusinara upon earth, paid honor, and reverence, and respect, and homage to the body of the Blessed One, with dance and song and music, with garlands and with perfumes, they carried the body by the north to the north of the city; and entering the city by the north gate they carried it through the midst of the city into the midst thereof; and going out again by the eastern gate they carried it to the shrine of the Mallas, called Makuta-bandhana; and there, to the east of the city, they laid down the body of the Blessed One.

Then the Mallas of Kusinara said to the venerable Ananda: "What should be done, Lord, with the remains of the Tathagata?"

"As men treat the remains of a king of kings, so, Vasetthas, should they treat the remains of a Tathagata."

"And how, Lord, do they treat the remains of a king of kings?"

"They wrap the body of a king of kings, Vasetthas, in a new cloth. When that is done they wrap it in cotton wool. When that is done they wrap it in a new cloth,—and so on till they have wrapped the body in five hundred successive layers of both kinds. Then they place the body in an oil vessel of iron, and cover that close up with another oil vessel of iron. They then build a funeral pile of all kinds of perfumes, and burn the body of the king of kings. And then at the four cross roads they erect a dagaba to the king of kings. This, Vasetthas, is the way in which they treat the remains of a king of kings. And as they treat the remains of a king of kings, so, Vasetthas, should they treat the remains of the Tathagata. At the four cross roads a dagaba should be erected to the Tathagata. And whosoever shall there place garlands or perfumes or paint, or make salutation there, or become in its presence calm in heart—that shall long be to them for a profit and a joy."

Therefore the Mallas gave orders to their attendants, saying, "Gather together all the carded cotton wool of the Mallas!"

Then the Mallas of Kusinara wrapped the body of the Blessed One in a new cloth. And when that was done they wrapped it in cotton wool. And when that was done, they wrapped it in a new cloth,—and so on till they had wrapped the body of the Blessed One in five hundred layers of both kinds. And then they placed the body in an oil vessel of iron, and covered that close up with another vessel of iron. And then they built a funeral pile of all kinds of perfumes, and upon it they placed the body of the Blessed One.

Now at that time the venerable Maha Kassapa was journeying along the high road from Pava to Kusinara with a great company of the brethren, with about five hundred of the brethren. And the venerable Maha Kassapa left the high road, and sat himself down at the foot of a certain tree.

Just at that time a certain naked ascetic who had picked up a Mandarava flower in Kusinara was coming along the high road to Pava. And the venerable Maha Kassapa saw the naked ascetic coming in the distance; and when he had seen him he said to the naked ascetic: "O friend! surely thou knowest our Master?"

"Yea, friend! I know him. This day the Samana Gautama has been dead a week! That is how I obtained this Mandarava flower."

And immediately of those of the brethren who were not yet free from the passions, some stretched out their arms and wept, and some fell headlong on the ground, and some reeled to and fro in anguish at the thought: "Too soon has the Blessed One died! Too soon has the Happy One passed away from existence! Too soon has the Light gone out in the world!"

But those of the brethren who were free from the passions (the Arahats) bore their grief collected and composed at the thought: "Impermanent are all component things! How is it possible that they should not be dissolved?"

Now at that time a brother named Subhadda, who had been received into the order in his old age, was seated there in their company. And Subhadda the old addressed the brethren and said: "Enough, brethren! Weep not, neither lament! We are well rid of the great Samana. We used to be annoyed by being told, 'This beseems you, this beseems you not.' But now we shall be able to do whatever we like; and what we do not like that we shall not have to do!"

But the venerable Maha Kassapa addressed the brethren, and said: "Enough, my brethren! Weep not, neither lament! Has not the Blessed One formerly declared this to us, that it is in the very nature of all things near and dear unto us that we must divide ourselves from them, leave them, sever ourselves from them? How then, brethren, can this be possible—that whereas anything whatever born, brought into being, and organized contains within itself the inherent necessity of dissolution—how then can this be possible that such a being should not be dissolved? No such condition can exist!"

Now just at that time four chieftains of the Mallas had bathed their heads and clad themselves in new garments with the intention of setting on fire the funeral pile of the Blessed One. But, behold, they were unable to set it alight! Then the Mallas of Kusinara said to the venerable Anuruddha: "What, Lord, can be the reason, and what the cause, that four chieftains of the Mallas who have bathed their heads, and clad themselves in new garments, with the intention of setting on fire the funeral pile of the Blessed One, are unable to set it on fire?"

"It is because you, O Vasetthas, have one purpose, and the spirits have another purpose."

"But what, Lord, is the purpose of the spirits?"

"The purpose of the spirits, O Vasetthas, is this: 'That venerable brother Maha Kassapa is now journeying along the high road from Pava to Kusinara with a great company of the brethren, with five hundred of the brethren. The funeral pile of the Blessed One shall not catch fire, until the venerable Maha Kassapa shall have been able reverently to salute the sacred feet of the Blessed One.'"

"Even according to the purpose of the spirits, so, Lord, let it be!"

Then the venerable Maha Kassapa went on to Makuta-bandhana of Kusinara, to the shrine of the Mallas, to the place where the funeral pile of the Blessed One was. And when he had come up to it, he arranged his robe on one shoulder; and bowing down with clasped hands he thrice walked reverently round the pile; and then, uncovering the feet, he bowed down in reverence at the feet of the Blessed One. And those five hundred brethren arranged their robes on one shoulder; and bowing down with clasped hands, they thrice walked reverently round the pile, and then bowed down in reverence at the feet of the Blessed One.

And when the homage of the venerable Maha Kassapa and of those five hundred brethren was ended, the funeral pile of the Blessed One caught fire of itself. Now as the body of the Blessed One burned itself away, from the skin and the integument, and the flesh, and the nerves, and the fluid of the joints, neither soot nor ash was seen: and only the bones remained behind.

Just as one sees no soot nor ash when glue or oil is burned, so, as the body of the Blessed One burned itself away, from the skin and the integument, and the flesh, and the nerves, and the fluid of the joints, neither soot nor ash was seen: and only the bones remained behind. And of those five hundred pieces of raiment the very innermost and outermost were both consumed. And when the body of the Blessed One had been burned up, there came down streams of water from the sky and extinguished the funeral pile of the Blessed One; and there burst forth streams of water from the storehouse of the waters (beneath the earth), and extinguished the funeral pile of the Blessed One. The Mallas of Kusinara also brought water scented with all kinds of perfumes, and extinguished the funeral pile of the Blessed One.

Then the Mallas of Kusinara surrounded the bones of the Blessed One in their council hall with a lattice work of spears, and with a rampart of bows; and there for seven days they paid honor and reverence and respect and homage to them with dance and song and music, and with garlands and perfumes.

Now the king of Magadha, Agatasattu, the son of the queen of the Videha clan, heard the news that the Blessed One had died at Kusinara. Then the king of Magadha, Agatasattu, the son of the queen of the Videha clan, sent a messenger to the Mallas, saying, "The Blessed One belonged to the soldier caste, and I too am of the soldier caste. I am worthy to receive a portion of the relics of the Blessed One. Over the remains of the Blessed One will I put up a sacred cairn, and in honor thereof will I celebrate a feast!"

And the Likkhavis of Vesali heard the news that the Blessed One had died at Kusinara. And the Likkhavis of Vesali sent a messenger to the Mallas, saying, "The Blessed One belonged to the soldier caste, and we too are of the soldier caste. We are worthy to receive a portion of the relics of the Blessed One. Over the remains of the Blessed One will we put up a sacred cairn, and in honor thereof will we celebrate a feast!"

And the Sakiyas of Kapila-vatthu heard the news that the Blessed One had died at Kusinara. And the Sakiyas of Kapila-vatthu sent a messenger to the Mallas, saying "The Blessed One was the pride of our race. We are worthy to receive a portion of the relics of the Blessed One. Over the remains of the Blessed One will we put up a sacred cairn, and in honor thereof will we celebrate a feast!"

And the Bulis of Allakappa heard the news that the Blessed One had died at Kusinara. And the Bulis of Allakappa sent a messenger to the Mallas, saying, "The Blessed One belonged to the soldier caste, and we too are of the soldier caste. We are worthy to receive a portion of the relics of the Blessed One. Over the remains of the Blessed One will we put up a sacred cairn, and in honor thereof will we celebrate a feast!"

And the Brahman of Vethadipa heard the news that the Blessed One had died at Kusinara. And the Brahman of Vethadipa sent a messenger to the Mallas, saying, "The Blessed One belonged to the soldier caste, and I am a Brahman. I am worthy to receive a portion of the relics of the Blessed One. Over the remains of the Blessed One will I put up a sacred cairn, and in honor thereof will I celebrate a feast!"

And the Mallas of Pava heard the news that the Blessed One had died at Kusinara. Then the Mallas of Pava sent a messenger to the Mallas, saying, "The Blessed One belonged to the soldier caste, and we too are of the soldier caste. We are worthy to receive a portion of the relics of the Blessed One. Over the remains of the Blessed One will we put up a sacred cairn, and in honor thereof will we celebrate a feast!"

When they heard these things the Mallas of Kusinara spoke to the assembled brethren, saying, "The Blessed One died in our village domain, We will not give away any part of the remains of the Blessed One!" When they had thus spoken, Dona the Brahman addressed the assembled brethren, and said:

    "Hear, reverend sir, one single word from me.
    Forbearance was our Buddha wont to teach.
    Unseemly is it that over the division
    Of the remains of him who was the best of beings
    Strife should arise, and wounds, and war!
    Let us all, sirs, with one accord unite
    In friendly harmony to make eight portions.
    Wide spread let Thupas rise in every land
    That in the Enlightened One mankind may trust!"

"Do thou then, O Brahman, thyself divide the remains of the Blessed One equally into eight parts with fair division."

"Be it so, sir!" said Dona, in assent, to the assembled brethren. And he divided the remains of the Blessed One equally into eight parts, with fair division. And he said to them: "Give me, sirs, this vessel, and I will set up over it a sacred cairn, and in its honor will I establish a feast." And they gave the vessel to Dona the Brahman.

And the Moriyas of Pipphalivana heard the news that the Blessed One had died at Kusinara. Then the Moriyas of Pipphalivana sent a messenger to the Mallas, saying, "The Blessed One belonged to the soldier caste, and we too are of the soldier caste. We are worthy to receive a portion of the relics of the Blessed One. Over the remains of the Blessed One will we put up a sacred cairn, and in honor thereof will we celebrate a feast!" And when they heard the answer, saying, "There is no portion of the remains of the Blessed One left over. The remains of the Blessed One are all distributed," then they took away the embers.

Then the king of Magadha, Agatasattu, the son of the queen of the Videha clan, made a mound in Ragagaha over the remains of the Blessed One, and held a feast. And the Likkhavis of Vesali made a mound in Vesali over the remains of the Blessed One, and held a feast. And the Bulis of Allakappa made a mound in Allakappa over the remains of the Blessed One, and held a feast. And the Koliyas of Ramagama made a mound in Ramagama over the remains of the Blessed One, and held a feast. And Vethadipaka the Brahman made a mound in Vethadipa over the remains of the Blessed One, and held a feast. And the Mallas of Pava made a mound in Pava over the remains of the Blessed One, and held a feast. And the Mallas of Kusinara made a mound in Kusinara over the remains of the Blessed One, and held a feast. And Dona the Brahman made a mound over the vessel in which the body had been burned, and held a feast. And the Moriyas of Pipphalivana made a mound over the embers, and held a feast.

Thus were there eight mounds [Thupas] for the remains, and one for the vessel, and one for the embers. This was how it used to be. Eight measures of relics there were of him of the far-seeing eye, of the best of the best of men. In India seven are worshipped, and one measure in Ramagama, by the kings of the serpent race. One tooth, too, is honored in heaven, and one in Gandhara's city, one in the Kalinga realm, and one more by the Naga race. Through their glory the bountiful earth is made bright with offerings painless, for with such are the Great Teacher's relics best honored by those who are honored, by gods and by Nagas and kings, yea, thus by the noblest of monarchs—bow down with clasped hands! Hard, hard is a Buddha to meet with through hundreds of ages!

End of the Book of the Great Decease


Footnotes[edit]

  1. Vedas: The sacred books of the Hindus, in Sanscrit; probably written about six or seven centuries before Christ. Veda means knowledge. The books comprise hymns, prayers, and liturgical forms.