The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena
Degé Kangyur, vol. 76 (mdo sde, ah), folios 31.b–50.a.
Translated by the Lokākṣi Translator Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
In this discourse, the Buddha Śākyamuni describes his past life as King Śrīsena of Ariṣṭa, a bodhisattva renowned for his unstinting generosity and spiritual resolve. In that life, a sage orders his disciple to ask King Śrīsena for his beautiful wife, Jayaprabhā. Out of compassion, King Śrīsena gives his wife to the disciple. Śakra, lord of the gods, then claims that King Śrīsena is also able to give away his own body. The other gods have doubts about this, so to prove his point, Śakra disguises himself as an old brahmin whose lower body has been eaten by a tiger, and then asks King Śrīsena to gift him his own lower body. With altruistic motivation, King Śrīsena agrees to the request and orders carpenters to saw him in half. He offers the bottom half to the brahmin, whose body is magically made whole again. King Śrīsena claims he has felt no regrets and by the power of his words, his own body is restored. During this ordeal, Śakra has kept the king alive and carefully monitored his reactions. Observing nothing but pure altruism, Śakra then confirms that the king is a true bodhisattva who is capable of the highest acts of generosity. With this past life story, the Buddha illustrates the kinds of personal sacrifice a bodhisattva will make to attain awakening, even when these go against the protestations of those closest to him.
This translation was produced by the Lokākṣi Translator Group: Tenzin Ringpapontsang, Ruth Gamble, John Powers, and Harmony DenRonden.
This translation has been completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena belongs to one of the most beloved narrative genres in Buddhism, the past life story (avadāna). It deals with one of the most powerful and pervasive themes in this genre, the bodhisattva’s bodily sacrifice for the benefit of living beings.1 In this avadāna, the act of bodily sacrifice performed by the Buddha’s previous incarnation, the bodhisattva king Śrīsena, forms the centerpiece of an elaborate morality tale extolling the virtues and far-reaching benefits of selfless generosity.
Most past-life stories of the Buddha are found within two genres of Buddhist literature: avadāna and jātaka. The term avadāna, broadly meaning “narrative” or “tale,” denotes a type of exemplary story that is common to most Indian religious traditions. In the Buddhist context, avadāna is traditionally specified as the tenth of the twelvefold subdivision of Buddhist scripture (pravacana), classified according to content, thematic structure, and literary style. Although this class of works is as varied as it is voluminous, the stories typically illustrate the results of good and bad karma, indicating how past deeds have shaped present circumstances. In this vein, many avadānas, the present one included, set out to show how the exemplary lives of the Buddha, or, more often, his followers, have resulted from their meritorious deeds in past lives. Avadānas may also, in certain cases, include prophecies of future spiritual attainments.
Avadānas recounting past deeds, such as the one translated here, typically follow a three-part narrative structure: a story from the present life of the Buddha or another protagonist, a story of an exemplary past deed, and a connecting conclusion that shows how the past protagonist and his circle were prior incarnations of the present protagonist and his circle. In this regard, avadānas bear a close relationship to jātakas (“birth stories” of the Buddha). One notable difference, however, is that the protagonist of an avadāna is often not the Buddha himself, as it is in most jātaka stories, but one of his followers or prospective followers.2 Another difference is that avadānas generally concern past human lives of realized beings, not those of animals or nonhumans, as is the case in many jātaka tales. Finally, while jātaka stories had wide popular appeal, with plots, characters, and motifs drawn from pan-Indian folklore, the avadānas seem to have originally been intended primarily for monastics, as suggested by their frequent references to attendant monks, their moral tone, and their specific prescriptions for Buddhist practice that are interspersed throughout the narratives. Yet, in the course of their historical diffusion, these edifying tales of spiritual and moral accomplishment eventually gained wide popularity and came to inspire and educate Buddhist monastics and lay followers alike.
To our knowledge, there is no extant Sanskrit version of the Śrīsenāvadāna. Colophons of the Tibetan canonical translations of this text indicate that it was translated from Sanskrit by the Indian preceptor Dharmaśrībhadra, a chief editor called Sherab Lekpa, and the famous translator Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055 ᴄᴇ), who is said to have learned Sanskrit in Kashmir after traveling there in 975 to study Buddhism. It is interesting to note that the only compilation of Buddhist birth stories in any other language to include The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena was also produced in Kashmir and at roughly the same time as Rinchen Zangpo’s sojourn. This collection was the Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā,3 a literary retelling of many Buddhist avadānas that was composed in Sanskrit by the famous Kashmiri poet Kṣemendra (ca. 990–ca. 1070 ᴄᴇ).4
In the version of the Śrīsenā narrative translated here, the deeds of its protagonist are related by the Buddha Śākyamuni. At the beginning of the text, the Buddha explains to his disciples that King Śrīsena was a bodhisattva who ruled from the city of Ariṣṭa. He was aided in his royal duties by his devoted queen Jayaprabhā and chief minister Mahāmati. He is renowned for his generosity and the prosperity he has brought to his kingdom. After he performs the exceedingly generous act of giving away his queen, his fame reaches the god realms. At this point, Śakra, lord of the gods, decides to test the authenticity of Śrīsena’s generosity by disguising himself as the victim of a tiger attack who is missing the lower half of his body, and who has been brought to the king to beg for the monarch’s lower body as a replacement. As Śrīsena sets out to fulfil the man’s request, his loyal subjects rise in protest and none will agree to help. It is only after Śakra enchants two of the king’s carpenters that they agree to perform the grisly task.
The bodhisattva king passes Śakra’s test by not only suffering the pain of having his body cut in half, but by undertaking, enduring, and recalling the ordeal with nothing but joy, love, and equanimity. He is able to do this, the account explains, because he is motivated by the mind of awakening—the wish to attain awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings. At the end of the story, the Buddha reveals that he was King Śrīsena in a past life, his wife Yaśodharā was Queen Jayaprabhā, his ordained disciple Śāriputra was his minister Mahāmati, his lay disciple King Bimbisāra was the god Śakra, and his duplicitous cousin Devadatta was one of the carpenters.
Like most of the past life tales of the Buddha, both avadāna and jātaka, The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena is a morality tale that explains and illustrates the relationship between karma and its results. It demonstrates how the performance of good deeds causes beings to experience happiness and, conversely, the performance of harmful deeds causes them to suffer. It also highlights variations in the efficacy of good and bad deeds—good and bad deeds can be big and small, powerful and trifling. Even small deeds, however, can significantly impact an individual’s future behavior and experiences, whether positively or negatively.
As the narrative demonstrates, much of a deed’s power comes not from the action itself, but from the intention behind it. The two carpenters did not reap the severe karmic consequence that would typically result from sawing a bodhisattva in half because they were enchanted while they performed the deed and had no control over what they did. Nevertheless, their inability to withstand the enchantment did not bode well for them, and we are told that they will continue to act out of ignorance in future lives. The bodhisattva’s actions, by contrast, were deemed to be both powerful and virtuous because they were inspired by the mind of awakening. From the Buddhist perspective, this intention infuses ordinary positive actions with tremendous power and makes extraordinary actions universally significant.
All the various traditions of Buddhism agree that the Buddha awakened by perfecting these practices over eons, and many past life stories exemplifying this process can be found throughout Buddhist literature. Many of these stories exist in multiple versions, which vary according to the guiding aims and presuppositions of the traditions that have preserved them. Within these traditions, there are dissimilar lists of the behaviors that need to be perfected; some lists include ten behaviors that need to be perfected, others suggest only six. These six perfections appear in all the lists: generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, concentration, and insight.
The perfection of generosity heads these lists, and it is a central theme in many past life stories, and certainly the main focus of The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena. Within this narrative, the Buddha demonstrates how important it is not just to perform an act of generosity, but to do so with altruistic motivation and to dedicate any merit that results. King Śrīsena’s altruistic motivation is noted no fewer than thirteen times in the course of the text, and he repeatedly dedicates the benefit accruing from his acts of compassion to the welfare of others.
This account not only describes an act of perfect generosity, but also highlights the moral and spiritual implications of this deed. Throughout the sūtra, there is a recurring discussion about the purpose of giving away one’s body. King Śrīsena is presented with many reasons from loved ones why he should not perform this act, such as the grief it will cause his family, the detriments it will inflict on his subjects, and the pointlessness of giving up such a rare and precious life. King Śrīsena responds to all these objections by patiently explaining that although he is fortunate to have met with such a valuable opportunity, he will not have fulfilled his life’s potential if he does not perform the deeds of a bodhisattva. When his relatives and friends beg him not to leave them, he reminds them that saṃsāra’s impermanent nature means that sooner or later all those who are close to each other must part. If, however, he awakens to buddhahood, he will have the ability to lead all sentient beings out of this cycle of meeting and parting. Time and again, he responds to those in his circle who beg him to forego his own suffering with a plea to think about the greater cycles of suffering that he and others will all endure if they do not attain liberation from saṃsāra.
The conversations that King Śrīsena has about generosity, and the narrative details concerning his sacrificial deed, are reminiscent of other past life stories featuring bodily sacrifice. Reiko Ohnuma calls these “gift-of-the-body stories” and describes how they are found throughout all Buddhist canons, most commonly in avadāna and jātaka works but elsewhere as well.5 A few of these bodily sacrifice stories were well known across Buddhist traditions. Indeed, as Śrīsena argues with Mahāmati about the merits of his impending deed, he cites several previous gift-of-the-body stories to make his case. These include the stories of a king of Śibi who gives his eyes to a brahmin, another king of Śibi who gives his flesh to a hawk in order to save a pigeon, and King Candraprabha who gives his head to a brahmin.6
The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena not only alludes to these other, more famous gift-of-the-body stories, but also follows their literary conventions closely. There are some obvious thematic similarities. Like the bodhisattvas in the other perfection of giving stories, for example, King Śrīsena is overjoyed at having the opportunity to perform such an enormous act of generosity. It is not every day that a person comes and asks a bodhisattva for his or her body. From the bodhisattva’s perspective, the opportunity to give away one’s body presents an opportunity to perfect generosity in a very direct way. It is also seen as an opportunity to shorten the time it will take the aspirant to become a buddha. As in related works, the bodhisattva in this story exercises equanimity in offering his body; indeed, it is a stranger that asks for his body, while his close relatives and friends plead with him not to perform the act.
These bodhisattva bodily sacrifice narratives also share many symbols and tropes. Tigers, for example, and other flesh-eating animals, like hawks, are often involved. Limbs and eyes are the most commonly offered body parts, and, perhaps by necessity, swords, saws, and other types of knives also make regular appearances in these stories, as well as sharp teeth.
Along with the content of these texts—their symbols, language, and narratives—the form of gift-of-the-body stories is also similar. Most of them follow the standard avadāna narrative structure, beginning with the Buddha teaching monks and concluding with the Buddha explaining who the people in the story famously became, typically the Buddha himself and his closest disciples. By way of this framing narrative, the Buddha emphasizes the importance of giving wisely—giving, that is, because the bodhisattva sees saṃsāra for what it is: unsatisfactory, impermanent, and empty of selves. The Buddha-as-narrator then reappears throughout the tale to remind his audience of monks of the importance of the altruistic deed that is about to be performed, thus repeatedly reinforcing the moral of the story.
In producing this translation, we have based our work on the Degé xylograph while consulting the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma), as well as the Stok Palace manuscript.
Homage to the Three Jewels!
When they were at Śrāvastī, the Blessed One said to the monks, “Monks, I know the fruits of generosity. I also know how the fruits of generosity ripen. What if, like me, sentient beings too knew the fruits of generosity? What if, like me, they knew how the fruits of generosity ripen? Were this so and were someone to ask them for their last mouthful, the last remaining mouthful of their food, they would not eat it so long as they had not offered it or shared it. The growth of miserliness would not continue to completely entangle their minds. I know the fruits of generosity. I also know how the fruits of generosity ripen. But unlike me, sentient beings do not know the fruits of generosity. Unlike me, they do not know how the fruits of generosity ripen. This ignorance is why their minds grasp at everything, why they are not generous, and why they eat without generosity. The growth of miserliness continues to completely entangle their minds.” [F.32.a]
This is what the Blessed One said. After the Well-Gone One had said this, the Teacher7 also said:
When the Blessed One delivered this discourse, the earth shook in six different ways and light rays shone from the Blessed One’s body. When the monks saw the Blessed One’s inconceivable and marvelous miracles, they were amazed and inquired of the Buddha, the Blessed One, “Honorable One, the thus-gone, worthy, perfect Buddha would not display such marvelous miracles without causes or conditions. That being so, Honorable One, what are the causes and conditions of such marvelous miracles?”
“Monks, would you like to hear what caused a miracle like this?” asked the Blessed One. The monks requested just this. Then the Blessed One replied, “Monks, if this is so, listen carefully, remember my words, and I will tell you.
“Monks, at one time there was a royal estate called Ariṣṭa.8 It was wealthy, vast, joyous, with good harvests, and full of people. It was twelve leagues long and seven leagues wide.9 It was partitioned into quadrants. Parasols, victory banners, and flags were erected over its archways.
“At this royal estate lived a king named Śrīsena, [F.32.b] who was a universal monarch who ruled through force. He had a lovely physique, and was beautiful, pleasing to the eye, and had a good complexion. He possessed the best attributes in abundance. He could remember his past lives naturally, and he was righteous. He was a Dharma king who ruled Jambudvīpa through righteousness.
“King Śrīsena’s power caused the plants to blossom and bear fruit continuously, the gods to make the rains fall at the right times, and the harvests to be exceedingly abundant. The beings there were free from illness and they all maintained a loving attitude toward each other.
“The king’s noble queen was called Jayaprabhā. She had a lovely figure and was beautiful and pleasing to the eye. She had all her major and minor body parts. She was the perfect daughter of that land, and King Śrīsena loved, adored, and cherished her.
“Monks, King Śrīsena levied no taxes on any of Jambudvīpa’s people; he collected neither road tolls nor boat fares. The harvests made all the people wealthy, and they were peaceful. Families10 filled the lands, cities, towns, countryside, and the king’s estate.
“Monks, King Śrīsena was a bodhisattva, so he gave away everything. He let go of everything completely—indeed, he let go of everything completely and without attachment. Absorbed in great giving, he even gave away his own flesh. There was nothing that he would not give away or let go.
“Monks, at the eastern edge of the city, at Ariṣṭa Estate, King Śrīsena created a site for gift offerings from which he distributed gifts and performed meritorious deeds. He distributed gifts and performed meritorious deeds at the city’s southern, western, and northern gates as well, and he distributed gifts and performed meritorious deeds at its intersections. He would, for example, give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. He distributed gifts and performed meritorious deeds by giving food, drink, lamps, flower garlands, [F.33.a] scents, perfumes, clothes, blankets, mattresses, back supports, shelters, images, horse-carts, elephants, horses, ornaments, golden containers filled with silver dust, silver containers filled with gold dust, oxen with golden horns and silver hoofs, bronze milking containers that were twice covered with cloth, and maidens who were adorned with various ornaments.
“Monks, King Śrīsena gave gifts until everyone in Jambudvīpa was affluent, prosperous, and deeply contented. At that time, 960 million people lived in the city where the king’s royal estate, Ariṣṭa, was located. King Śrīsena was loved and adored by all. What was more, when men and women saw him, they experienced insatiable delight.
“Monks, King Śrīsena had twelve thousand ministers. The supreme one among them was called Mahāmati. He was learned, bright, wise, his charisma affected all, and he took great care11 of the king. King Śrīsena loved, adored, and esteemed him. Mahāmati would never tire of gazing upon the king’s form, his complexion, his features, or his shape. He could not be separated from the king for even a moment.
“Monks, King Śrīsena acquainted all of Jambudvīpa’s people with the path of the ten virtuous actions. He said to them, ‘People of Jambudvīpa, you must follow the path of the ten virtuous actions. You must adopt the path of the ten virtuous actions correctly.’ Monks, this is how King Śrīsena instructed his subjects. Thus, during the reign of this universal monarch, when people in Jambudvīpa would die and their bodies would perish, [F.33.b] they were reborn in one of the six god realms. Most were born in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, and the divine city Darśanīya was filled with crowds of gods from the Heaven of the Thirty-Three. When it became too crowded and there was not enough space in the divine city, the gods dwelled on the outskirts of Darśanīya at the Pārijāta and in groves such as Caitraratha, Nandanavana, and so forth. Following this influx, the gods who had been born earlier in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three viewed the perfect accomplishments of the newcomers and were overjoyed. They spoke to Śakra, lord of the gods, saying, ‘Kauśika, how is it that Mount Sumeru is filled with gods, and the divine assembly has increased, while the demigods’ assembly has decreased? We are beholding something marvelous.’
“After hearing about this from the gods, Śakra, lord of the gods, inspected Mount Sumeru, and as soon as he did, he too saw that Mount Sumeru was teeming with multitudes of gods. Seeing this, he thought, ‘What causes and conditions led this many sentient beings to be born here?’ With this in mind, he began to inspect all of Jambudvīpa, and as soon as he did, he saw that it was a result of King Śrīsena’s influence. Then, with great joy, Śakra, lord of the gods, said to the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three:
“When the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three heard these words, their minds were overjoyed, and they celebrated. With such joy in their minds, they exclaimed, ‘This king aspires to fulfill his wish to give away his major and minor body parts—this is marvelous! Yet it is difficult to give away one’s major and minor body parts. Since there is no one as dear as oneself, he will not be able to give away his major and minor body parts without concern for his own suffering. This act of giving is not something that one can simply infer.’12
“ ‘Friends,’ replied Śakra, ‘do not say these things! This king is powerful. He has magical powers and intense compassion. This is why he can give away even his own flesh. There is nothing that he cannot relinquish.’
“Shortly thereafter, on another occasion, Śrīsena’s queen, Jayaprabhā, went to sleep on her large mattress, and just before dawn she dreamt four dreams. First, she dreamt that Śrīsena carried her down off the mattress and then lifted her back onto it. Then he gouged out his own eyes, but they were later restored. He chopped off his right arm, which fell to the ground, but it was also restored. Finally, she dreamt of a nonhuman that resembled a stone grinder, made from silver. It suddenly pulled off King Śrīsena’s left arm. After it was thus stolen, however, that too was restored. Then she woke up. Filled with fear, she gasped and the hairs on her body stood on end. She thought, ‘Either the lord or I [F.34.b] will experience nothing but suffering.’ She told King Śrīsena of her dreams. He had been trained to interpret dreams, so he thought, ‘As she has seen in her dream, someone will soon come to ask for my wife.’ But he comforted her and said, ‘Do not be afraid—what is the point of thinking about illusion-like dreams? Do you not see Śrīsena sitting on his mattress? My eyes are as they were, and my right and left arms are intact.’ The queen sat silently.
“The second night after this, the supreme one among the ministers, the one named Mahāmati, dreamt a dream in which King Śrīsena’s mansion, which was built of various precious stones, collapsed. The precious stones were then taken away by fearful-looking demons. Later, however, he dreamt that the mansion was rebuilt. He awoke terrified and distressed, with the hairs on his body standing on end. He thought, ‘Could someone come to ask for Lord Śrīsena’s body? Could they ask for the body of he who pleases and is affectionate toward all sentient beings, the lord who offers everything, who gives everything completely, he who gives without attachment? There is nothing that he would not give to lesser, blind, hungry, suffering, and deprived beings. I will not speak of my dream to King Śrīsena. He would be too delighted about it!’
“He then called a soothsayer and commanded him, ‘Wise one, you must foretell the significance of the dream that I had.’ The soothsayer said, ‘According to the dream, someone will come soon to ask for the lord’s body.’ When he heard the significance of the dream, the great minister Mahāmati was struck by deep sorrow. His eyes filled with tears, he rested his hand on his cheek, and [F.35.a] he sat depressed, pondering how the force of impermanence had arrived too soon for the loving and compassionate King Śrīsena, he who had been so affectionate toward all sentient beings and possessed so many great qualities.
“Then, on the third night, twelve thousand ministers dreamt five dreams. They dreamt that ten thousand beings robbed King Śrīsena of his parasol and crown, but they were then handed back to him; that everyone’s heads were chopped off, but then restored; that the eyes of every human in Jambudvīpa were gouged out, but then restored; that the hands and feet of every human in Jambudvīpa were chopped off, but then restored; and that King Śrīsena attempted to ascend the lion throne again after he had descended from it. The terrified, distressed, and despairing ministers thought, ‘Will the force of impermanence come for King Śrīsena? Will it be the end of this protector of a vast land, he who is so loving and compassionate, he who brings joy and rouses affection in all sentient beings? Will we live without the king? Will we be separated? Will we be parted? Will we be alone? Will Jambudvīpa lose its protector and defender?’
“The ministers then called for soothsayers to ask about the dreams’ significance. After a while, the soothsayers foretold that things would be just as they had dreamt.
“After hearing about the dreams, the populace of Ariṣṭa city was wretched and started to weep aloud. Word spread from person to person, and soon everyone in Jambudvīpa wailed because of their suffering and intense grief. King Śrīsena heard of this and thought, ‘How pleasing and delightful that someone would ask for my body!’ Thus, he made an announcement: ‘Wise ones, people of Jambudvīpa, engage in virtue with joy and calmness. What is the point of thinking about illusion-like dreams?’ [F.35.b] When the people of the world heard King Śrīsena’s announcement, they were relieved.
“In those days, five hundred sages lived on a mountain about two miles13 north of the royal estate of Ariṣṭa. A short time after the dreams, one of the sages came to the king’s estate to do the sages’ bidding. At that time, King Śrīsena and Queen Jayaprabhā were strolling in the garden. The sage exclaimed, ‘May the king be victorious and live for a long time!’ The sage also saw Queen Jayaprabhā adorned with ornaments. In a past life the queen had been his wife. The influence of this previous desire and their previous relationship caused him to have inappropriate thoughts. Thinking these inappropriate thoughts, he walked along the path, completed his chores in Ariṣṭa city, and went back to his dwelling.
“A little while later, on another occasion, a student of this same sage, a brahmin boy, completed his recitation of the Vedas, touched his preceptor’s feet, and asked in gratitude, ‘Preceptor, what wealth can I offer you?’
“When this was said, the brahmin boy was overwhelmed by great sorrow and acute despair; he was like a deer whose vital organ has been pierced. He thought, ‘This situation will only come about with difficulty, and it will be no easy task to acquire her. How could a troubled brahmin like me ask the king to give him Queen Jayaprabhā? Why am I being asked to get something that is unattainable? [F.36.a] The preceptor clearly wants to place a curse on me.’
“The change in the boy’s facial expression allowed the sage to realize his thoughts, and the sage said, ‘Son, do not be afraid. Why are you so depressed? The king is a great being. He gives away everything. He lets go of everything. He lets go of everything completely and without attachment. He would even give away his own flesh. There is nothing that he would not relinquish in this way. Therefore, son, do not despair; the king will give you his supreme queen.’
“Then the boy thought, ‘If I do not go, I will be cursed.’ And out of fear of this curse, he said to the sage, ‘Preceptor, if that is so, I will go.’ After touching the sage’s feet, he traveled to the king’s estate, Ariṣṭa.
“Having applied dust to his body, wearing tree-bark cloth, and holding a staff and a little vase in his hands, the boy went to the site where King Śrīsena was and exclaimed, ‘May the king be victorious and may his life be long!’ Then he thought, ‘Should I ask? Or will he give her to me without my having to ask? Or will he not give her to me? Will my wishes be fulfilled or not?’ And he stood in front of the king with an unsettled look on his face, castigating himself, not speaking.
“Thinking that the brahmin boy had come to beg something from him, King Śrīsena asked him, ‘Brahmin, what is it that you want? Today, I will fulfill your wishes completely.’
When the king said this, the brahmin boy gained confidence and replied to the bodhisattva, ‘This is good. Lord, on a certain mountain my preceptor lives with his companions; they are five hundred sages who recite the Vedas. I have completed my Vedic studies with him. Great King, through your compassion give me Queen Jayaprabhā, and I will offer her to my preceptor as a gift, [F.36.b] an homage to my guru.’
“When these words were spoken, King Śrīsena was distraught. He loved the queen. ‘If Queen Jayaprabhā were separated from me,’ he thought, ‘will we survive?’ For a while, all the members of the king’s and queen’s retinues were as quiet as the oceans’ depths. Then it was as if a great pain were piercing their vital organs. ‘What is this?’ they cried out. ‘What is this?’
“The bodhisattva remained silent, in thought. ‘Unsurpassed and perfect awakening cannot be attained without giving up sons, wife, and so forth,’ he pondered. ‘Therefore, I must happily give my wife to this brahmin.’ This thought lifted him out of his sadness at losing a loved one. He descended from the lion throne immediately, and keeping in mind the aspirational mind of awakening, he took the goddess-like, intensely beautiful Queen Jayaprabhā with his left hand and held a golden vase in his right. The queen felt great pain at the prospect of being separated from her husband and sighed heavily. Her eyes filled with tears and her face dropped. She suffered as if she had fallen into a deep, dark abyss.
“ ‘Come here, come here great brahmin,’ the king said to the brahmin boy:
“Then, maintaining the mind of awakening, he poured water onto the brahmin’s palm.
“Monks, at the very instant that King Śrīsena poured the water, the earth shook in six different ways. Having witnessed how a bodhisattva gives, a great act of giving, an extremely difficult act of giving, the brahmin boy was utterly seized with wonder. The act even caused hundreds of thousands of sky-dwelling gods to murmur in amazement. Instantly, meteors fell, blazing in all directions, and the celestial gods beat their drums. [F.37.a]
“Fearing that the king might change his mind, the brahmin boy praised the bodhisattva, uttered some prayers for his prosperity, and left quickly for home, taking Queen Jayaprabhā with him. He then gave the queen to his teacher. For Queen Jayaprabhā, being separated from her beloved was like being a fish taken out of water. She was wretched, but she knew that thinking about or following the bodhisattva would be in vain, like wandering from shadows into pitch darkness. Therefore, she merely lamented, ‘Alas, Great King. Alas, Great King.’ Her sadness even caused her to refuse food.
“As the queen suffered, the shaking caused by King Śrīsena’s deed rattled even Śakra’s abode. The gods spontaneously know what happens below them but not what happens above them. Śakra, lord of the gods, therefore wondered:
“He began to search all over Jambudvīpa. After a while, he discovered that the shaking was a result of the bodhisattva’s extremely difficult act. When he understood this, he was awed. To the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, he said, ‘Consider the incredible, amazing act King Śrīsena has performed. Who can give away such a loving, beautiful, and dear wife without any hesitation, as if they were giving away straw? Friends, through this act we know the great being will give away even his major and minor body parts, without hesitation.’
“Śakra, lord of the gods, responded, ‘Friends, leave it be, leave it be. Do not measure the ocean against a drop of water so small it rests on the tip of a hair strand. [F.37.b] Do not measure space with your arms. Do not compare the light of a firefly to the sun. Do not compare the size of a seed to Mount Sumeru. I will produce evidence for you all.’
“At dawn, Śakra, lord of the gods, spoke again to the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three. ‘Look, friends! Now you shall understand!’ That morning, he and four other gods from the Heaven of the Thirty-Three descended to earth, alighting in a forest near Ariṣṭa city. Śakra transformed himself into an old brahmin whose body had been hacked away below the navel, as if by a saw. Blood gushed from all sides of the wound. The other four gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three emanated as this old brahmin’s sons. They lifted him onto a stretcher while wailing wretchedly at the agony of losing their father. They left the forest at sunrise, traveling toward the city, intending to claim that the old brahmin’s lower body had been eaten by a tiger. They arrived at the city gate quickly. Hawks, gulls, and vultures hovered in the sky above them, drawn by the smell of the old brahmin’s blood. Dogs and foxes trailed behind them on the ground.
“The old brahmin looked pitiful. His plight moved the men and women who saw him. Some asked each other, ‘Friends, how is the old brahmin still alive when he has no lower body? How are his organs intact?’ Others speculated, ‘He must be a nonhuman demon who has come to devour us. How else would someone survive without his lower body?’ When the fainthearted heard this, they ran away out of fear. But one brave man thought, ‘He must be a demon. If he isn’t a demon, how could he appear to have his faculties despite his imperiled state? [F.38.a] I will ask him if he is a nonhuman or a demon. It will be difficult for him to speak, but if he does, that would be astonishing.’ A while later, one of the others who saw the spectacle asked, ‘Brahmin! Are you a human or a demon? Who cut off the lower half of your body and left you in this state? Where did you come from?’
“In this manner, the old brahmin kept wailing pitifully, uttering weak and disheartened words as he made his way along the path toward the gate of King Śrīsena’s royal estate. Hundreds and thousands of astonished beings followed after him. As they proceeded, crowds of gods, nāgas, yakṣas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, and mahoragas, [F.38.b] those who understood the physical damage and bodily pain King Śrīsena was about to endure, were tormented by sadness and began to lament. ‘Alas,’ they cried, ‘it is painful to learn that the loving, compassionate King Śrīsena, who is peaceful and affectionate toward all sentient beings, is about to suffer and will be overpowered by impermanence.’
“Hearing this, the throngs of people began to lament, too. At this time, the whole of Jambudvīpa descended into turmoil and chaos spread everywhere. Smoke darkened the land, meteors fell blazing in all directions, and the celestial gods beat their drums.
“While all this was happening, the brahmin who lived in the mountains, who had been offered Queen Jayaprabhā, noticed her distress at being separated from her husband. He noticed that she sighed heavily, refused to eat, and gave no thought to him. His heart trembled with compassion for her, and he thought, ‘I should give her back to King Śrīsena.’ Queen Jayaprabhā was greatly relieved when he assured her that he would do this.
“He also saw that the whole of Jambudvīpa had descended into great turmoil, and chaos had spread everywhere. Seeing this, he said to his disciple, the brahmin boy, ‘Brahmin boy, Jambudvīpa is dark with smoke in every direction; it has descended into great turmoil, and chaos has spread everywhere. Not even the sun and moon are shining, bright and steady. Surely, in a short time Jambudvīpa’s great being will cease to exist.’ Then the brahmin recited the following verses:
“ ‘Alas, brahmin boys,’ the sage continued, ‘just as these trees are being blown in the direction of the Ariṣṭa royal estate, so it is certain, brahmin boys, that there will long be tremendous fear of harm and destruction in Ariṣṭa.’
“At the same time, in Ariṣṭa, the bodhisattva was seated on the top floor of his mansion. Hearing a large crowd of people lamenting below, he came down from his mansion made of precious stones and sat on his large lion throne. Urgently he asked, ‘Wise ones, what is it? What is happening?’
“The four gods carried Śakra, lord of the gods, into the king’s court on his stretcher, and then placed the stretcher on the floor. Blood dripped from his bisected body, but he still extended his right hand and in a pitiable voice called out salutations of victory and long life to the bodhisattva. As his eyes filled with tears, he displayed his bisected body to the bodhisattva, and implored him, [F.39.b] ‘You are this world’s compassionate one. You suffer the pains of others. Lord, protect me. Give me half your body.’
“Hearing this request, Mahāmati, supreme among ministers, said, ‘Lord, this person is not human. He must be a demon or someone possessed by demons. A human would not survive being sliced in half at the waist. It is impossible and unheard of.’
“To this, Śakra, lord of the gods, responded, ‘People of Śibi, you need not be afraid. I am not a demon. On the contrary, I am a brahmin. I left my wife and children because we were poor and, intent on creating wealth, I traveled in King Śrīsena’s direction. I came to the royal estate slowly, and by the time I arrived the sun had set, and the city’s gates were closed. I stayed at a manor not far from the city. While I was there, I was overcome by the weariness of traveling and fell into a deep sleep. Because of my previous negative deeds, during the night a tiger came along and used its sharp, saw-like teeth to cut my body in half and steal away the lower half. When I awoke, I experienced an extreme sensation. The tiger may have used its saw-like teeth to cut my body in half, but because I recognized this was caused by my previous actions, I did not die. Still, my suffering was incomparable. It was incomparably violent. It was incomparably harsh. It was incomparably intense. It was an incomparably overwhelming pain, and how I screamed in my misery!
“ ‘Having said this, the goddess disappeared. As I heard these words from the goddess, my hope of survival grew, and the pain subsided. Then I became dejected again as I realized I could not get up, let alone walk, with only half of my body. Coincidentally, at dawn, my four kin arrived. They started to cry when they saw my desperate state and thought I would die. To console them, I told them in detail about the goddess’s words. They placed me on this stretcher and carried me here.’
“Upon hearing these words, the bodhisattva’s past habits of virtue and his stores of positive predispositions infused his mind, causing him to shake with compassion. [F.40.b] ‘Great brahmin,’ he consoled him, ‘do not be afraid. Your body will soon be whole. Your wishes will be fulfilled. With an unwavering mind, I offer you half my body.’ His heart filled with joy, the bodhisattva then spoke the following verses:
“The bodhisattva had heard Śakra’s words, which he had spoken in the form of a brahmin. Therefore, with an entirely satisfied mind and his eyes open, he said, ‘Brahmin, I will give you half my body. Take it without any qualms.’
“Looking around, he saw his attendants and said to one of them, ‘O, you, go quickly and bring me an exceedingly sharp saw.’
“Promptly, the bodhisattva said to his ministers, ‘Quickly cut off my lower body and give it to the brahmin, before the Lord of Death takes him to the other world. I offer it to the brahmin.’
“The sound of the bodhisattva’s utterly horrifying words created panic in the city as if they were lightning strikes.15 ‘Oh, the sorrow, the sorrow!’ the people cried in secret and from on high. Then Mahāmati, the great minister, was wretched with intense pain, as if a vital organ had been pierced, and his face was as wet from crying as from the rain. He feared the bodhisattva would give away his body without any attachment to it, [F.41.a] and seeking to change his mind, he bowed down at his feet and said, ‘Lord, this is not possible. If your body is cut by a saw, you will certainly die. If you die, you will become a useless corpse. A useless corpse is no good to this brahmin. Giving your life to him is pointless. Cutting one person’s limb off and attaching it to another does not work. Your divine efforts will be in vain. Please, be patient. Do not kill yourself in vain. Do not give up your life.’
“Consoling the great minister Mahāmati, the bodhisattva replied, ‘Mahāmati, leave it be, leave it be. At some point, I hope to attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening and liberate saṃsāra’s beings. Do not hinder my awakening. It is the nature of our existence that we must all separate, even from those who have been very dear to us for a long time, like our children.’ Having said this, he glanced once again at the saw and said, ‘This saw is an incomparable object that will direct my merit toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening.’ This is how he thought of it, and again he said to his minister, ‘Cut off the lower half of my body as soon as you can, before the brahmin dies. Otherwise, my intent will be fruitless.’
“Mahāmati, the great minister, knew then that the bodhisattva was determined to give away his body. He held the bodhisattva’s feet in both his hands and kissed them. As tears flowed down his face like rain, he despaired and, overwhelmed with compassion, said to the bodhisattva, ‘Alas, the force of impermanence will strike the lord today. The lord takes care of all of Jambudvīpa, he is the compassionate one, he has innumerable qualities, and he pleases and is affectionate to all sentient beings. [F.41.b] But, alas, impermanence is powerful! Whoever has seen the lord was fortunate.’
“Having spoken, he stared at the bodhisattva’s face for a long time without blinking. Then, as he contemplated how he could not bear to witness the bodhisattva’s death, his eyes closed and he fell to the ground unconscious. The bodhisattva then spoke to two carpenters who happened to be present: ‘Good people,16 will you help me complete the perfection of generosity? Will you take this saw and quickly cut off the lower half of my body? Let us fulfill the brahmin’s wish. Let us fulfill my wish to attain awakening.’
“Tears of immense sadness covered the two carpenters’ faces like stormy weather. They touched the bodhisattva’s feet and said, ‘Lord, your words are inappropriate. If someone else were to challenge you, we could oppose them. But how are we to use a weapon against you? You are compassionate, loving, pleasing, and affectionate toward all sentient beings. You take care of all of Jambudvīpa. If we were to use this saw to cut through your body, our actions would cause us to fall instantly into hell.’
“ ‘Sons,’ responded the bodhisattva, ‘do not block the final outpouring of the immortal elixir of a bodhisattva’s patience. Come here, help me to awaken. Cut off the lower half of my body while the brahmin is still alive.’
“Śakra, lord of the gods, used his power to compel the two carpenters to begin the process. A little while later, hundreds of thousands of people had gathered in the royal estate and hundreds of thousands of gods had [F.42.a] gathered in the sky. They had flocked to see the bodhisattva perform this extremely difficult task, a task so difficult it made their body hairs stand on end. The bodhisattva stepped down instantly from his lion throne. His intention to give away his body gave him extreme joy, and he was overwhelmed by his love for the brahmin who asked for it.
“Monks, at the very instant the bodhisattva Śrīsena stepped down from his lion throne, all of Jambudvīpa’s parasols, banners, and flags bent toward Ariṣṭa Estate. Meteors fell toward it from the four directions. But those who dwelled in the city wailed with the pain of separation. ‘This evil brahmin is going to kill King Śrīsena!’ they shouted. ‘Throw him out of here!’
“Śakra, lord of the gods, prevented the people from hearing what was happening. They were stupefied. The yakṣas, those who dwell in space and on the ground, came to know that the bodhisattva was unconcerned with his body and wailed in the torment of their immense sorrow. ‘Alas,’ they cried, ‘King Śrīsena! He who takes care of everyone in Jambudvīpa, he who is compassionate toward all sentient beings, he will give up his entire body!’ A deity who lived on the royal estate also came to know that he would give up his entire body, and lamented aloud, ‘King Śrīsena, he who is endowed with so many qualities, is not going to survive because of this beggar!’
“After this, the bodhisattva looked around in the four directions. ‘Gods, nāgas, yakṣas, and kinnaras, all you who dwell in this city, listen! Make pure prayers for me! I am making this gift today. [F.42.b] I am making the greatest of gifts, the gift of one’s body. I am not making this gift for myself, the king, nor to attain rebirth in a higher realm. I am not making it for Śakra or for Brahmā. I am not making it to become a universal monarch. I make this gift to attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening. I make it to liberate sentient beings who are not yet liberated. I make it to console those who need consoling, to unbind those who are bound. By the truth of my words, may it be accomplished. May some small sign of my awakening appear!’
“To the brahmin, he said, ‘By this action, may you attain all you have imagined. May all your wishes be fulfilled. And may I realize unsurpassed awakening completely.’
“The bodhisattva asked his relatives and the city’s inhabitants for patience. He consoled the poor and stricken, before speaking to the two carpenters. ‘Good people, come here. Before the brahmin’s time runs out, saw at my navel. May I protect all beings who suffer!’ In this way, with love suffusing all, and with the help of a man who supported him, he promptly lay down on his back and stretched out his legs.
“Monks, as the bodhisattva was lowered onto the ground, the great earth shook in six different ways. The ladies of the court were deeply tormented when they heard the news and rushed to the bodhisattva’s side. Tears poured down their faces like rain. They let their hair fall and beat their chests in mourning. ‘Alas,’ they cried, ‘the pain!’ They were no longer attractive like goddesses. [F.43.a] They touched the bodhisattva’s feet briefly and wailed, ‘Please have mercy!’ ‘Alas,’ they cried, ‘it pains us that the power of impermanence is now at hand and today will separate, isolate, detach, and remove us from our relationships with this lord. He is the lord who protects all of Jambudvīpa, who pleases and is affectionate toward all sentient beings, who has immense compassion, and who has innumerable good qualities.’
“ ‘Lord,’ they persisted, ‘please have patience with us! Please don’t leave all of the communities of people living in Jambudvīpa without a protector by taking your own life. Lord, please look at the ladies of the court and your vast treasuries and storehouses filled with myriad precious gems. Look at Jambudvīpa’s people, who are always experiencing many types of happiness. Look at the city of Ariṣṭa, which resembles a divine park complete with an abundance of fine features, where so many joyful people live.
“After hearing their pitiable lament, the bodhisattva’s heart was heavy with compassion. ‘Your lament is understandable,’ he said to console them, [F.43.b] ‘but it is the way of the world that we must separate even from those we have known for a long time. For this reason, you should always be mindful of virtuous deeds.’ Then he turned to the two carpenters again and said, ‘Good people, come here. Without taking too much time, cut my body.’
“Because Śakra had enchanted them, the two carpenters immediately began sawing the bodhisattva’s body at his navel. Mahāmati, revived and imagining the unbearably intense pain the bodhisattva was experiencing, rebuked the two carpenters. ‘Alas,’ he cried, ‘alas! What are the two of you doing! How can you kill the compassionate one? How can you kill the one who is pleasing and affectionate to everyone, he who has numerous good qualities, he who takes care of all of Jambudvīpa, he who is faultless and harms none? How can you ignorant people take joy in killing a Dharma king? How does this great land’s goddess allow you to live? Why haven’t you been pierced by the single-pointed vajra? The weapon-wheel? The great arrow? The single-pointed weapons of the gods, nāgas, yakṣas, asuras, gandharvas, garuḍas, kinnaras, and mahoragas? You have committed such an ignoble act. How is it that your bodies have not exploded into a thousand pieces? Why haven’t you fallen instantly into hell, in this very body? Didn’t this great being also treat you as his sons? You ignorant beings!’
“He said these things and many others besides. ‘Alas, lord!’ he cried, and getting up from his seat, Mahāmati, the great minister, [F.44.a] grabbed the saw with his own two hands, and as his tears wet the bodhisattva’s body, he pushed the two carpenters away. To console the discouraged Mahāmati, the bodhisattva said, ‘Son, leave it be, leave it be. Do not lament. It is certain that we will be separated from those dear to us, those we love, those who draw near to us, and those of whom we are extremely fond. We will be isolated, divided, and separated. Moreover, son:
“ ‘Therefore, do not stop those who ask for my body. Mahāmati, in the past, another person tried to ask for my body but goddesses stopped them. Not only did those goddesses prevent me from achieving unsurpassed awakening, they also created much nonvirtue. If the goddesses had not prevented that person asking for my body, I would have attained unsurpassed and perfect awakening by now.
“ ‘What is more, son, in this very place I met a tigress whose hunger pains were so intense that she wanted to eat her own cubs. Out of supreme compassion, I gave myself to her immediately so that she might be saved. By so doing, I surpassed18 the deeds of the bodhisattva Maitreya, who had set out for buddhahood forty eons before that.19
“ ‘Another time, Mahāmati, when I was king of the Śibi people, an old brahmin came seeking the gift of sight. Moved by compassion, I immediately extracted my unimpaired eyes and gave them to him, while they were still stained with blood. My eyes had been as unstained as an utpala flower, a blue lotus. They were extremely beautiful and captured the hearts and attention of all people—indeed, all beings.
“ ‘Yet another time, Mahāmati, when I was a king named Candraprabha, [F.44.b] a brahmin rudely asked me for not only my eyes but also my head. Groups of nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, mahoragas, siddhas, vidyādharas, and hundreds of thousands of gods tried to stop me from making this gift. Despite all this opposition, I saw that sentient beings had no protector, and with the loving intention to liberate them from saṃsāra’s wilderness, I aspired to attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening. My sword was the blue color of an utpala flower. It was decorated with precious gems, gold, silver, beryl, diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds. I picked it up and chopped off my head as if it were a blade of grass, and then I gave it to the brahmin.
“ ‘Another time, Mahāmati, when I was again king of the Śibi people, I saw an unprotected, terrified pigeon, ducking and diving as it was chased by a hawk. As I watched the unprotected pigeon seek refuge, I shook with supreme compassion. To protect the pigeon from the hawk and to deceive the hawk, I cut off a piece of my own flesh and gave it to the hawk.
“ ‘In the past, in this very land, I have given thousands of legs, hands, sons, and wives for the sake of unsurpassed and perfect awakening, and no one stopped me. You should understand this, Mahāmati. And you should not stop the brahmin seeking my body.’
“Following this, the great minister Mahāmati understood that the bodhisattva had given rise to great miraculous powers, and he developed profound faith in him. This great minister remained silent while waves of tears flowed down his face continually. He thought, ‘Alas, these beings are unfortunate. They will soon lose their Dharma king. Alas, the Dharma’s victory banner is about to fall.
“After this speech, the two carpenters whom Śakra, lord of the gods, had enchanted recovered enough from their grief to reapply the saw to the bodhisattva’s body. The bodhisattva encouraged them. ‘Well done, good people! Cut off the lower half of my body more quickly! Won’t my travail be fruitless if the brahmin dies?’
“There was a great crowd of people wailing, mourning, and attempting to stop the two carpenters from following the bodhisattva’s instructions and cutting his body, but Śakra had stupefied them. The bodhisattva kept silent, aspiring for awakening and joyously intending to fulfill the gift seeker’s wishes. After a while, a great deal of blood gushed from the bodhisattva’s middle where the saw was cutting. Seeing this, the great minister Mahāmati [F.45.b] became despondent and fell unconscious, thinking, ‘It is too painful to see the lord killed.’
“Wracked by intense grief, masses of sky-dwelling gods, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, and mahoragas started to cry. As their tears flowed, the crowds of people below wondered what was happening and looked up at the sky. There they saw hundreds of thousands of weeping gods, which made them fall further into grief. They saw the bodhisattva in great pain and, becoming utterly confused, they thought, ‘Alas! It is so very painful to see the lord killed!’
“A few moments later, Śakra, lord of the gods, gazed with intense compassion and concern upon the hundreds of thousands of beings who were stricken by the bodhisattva’s tragedy. Then compassionate thoughts suddenly arose in him. ‘It is not right to cause intense pain to this great being who is so kind and affectionate toward all sentient beings and who gives away everything out of compassion. I will do the opposite. I will make him immortal.’
“As the two carpenters cut his body with the sharp saw, the bodhisattva suffered intense pain. But he had the power to keep his mind stable and generate a loving attitude toward the gift seeker. ‘If I have understood the nature of saṃsāra’s faults and thereby gained firm and lasting perseverance but am nonetheless suffering this much pain as my body is cut in half, what can be said of the excruciating painful sensations suffered by the majority of sentient beings when they previously took rebirth in hell!’ Thinking thus, the bodhisattva established a loving mind [F.46.a] that encompassed all sentient beings, and with a lion’s roar, he declared, ‘By attaining unsurpassed and perfect awakening, I must free sentient beings from such suffering!’
“In order to uplift his own mind that was wracked by such intense pain, the bodhisattva also said the following:
And again he said:
“These were the ways the bodhisattva truly settled his mind and established a compassionate attitude toward all sentient beings. He thought to himself, ‘Alas! The suffering of beings who are stuck in saṃsāra is unbearable. For the sake of these beings in saṃsāra, by rejoicing in patiently enduring all saṃsāra’s suffering, may no sentient being have the misfortune of suffering!’
“Monks, the very instant the bodhisattva generated this mind of awakening, the pain produced by his body being sawed abruptly ceased. The bodhisattva wondered, ‘Why did the pain of my body being sawed in two cease? Did they stop sawing?’ He checked, but he could still see the saw. Having seen it, he felt extremely distressed and started to shake.
“ ‘Brahmin,’ responded the bodhisattva, ‘this is not why my body shakes. I have no regrets [F.46.b] whatsoever. I am shaking at this thought: “The saw has penetrated deep into my body, but so far my lower body has not been severed. What if I am unable to make this gift? What if I am not able to fulfill the gift seeker’s wish?” I would be happy if they were to saw my body with more force.’ Hearing this, Śakra, lord of the gods, was completely in awe of the bodhisattva and fell silent.
“In the meantime, the two carpenters whom Śakra had enchanted finished cutting the bodhisattva’s body in half. They placed the lower half of his body on the ground and it began to twitch. Without thinking of his own suffering—the suffering of having his body cut in half—the bodhisattva addressed the two men: ‘Good people, join my lower half to the brahmin’s body without delay.’ They did as he instructed. At the moment the two body halves were joined, Śakra, lord of the gods, imbued the body with a blessing that made its wounds heal, the joints join together well, and the two bodies’ skin tones match. He showed everyone the body, and to please the bodhisattva, he, Śakra, lord of the gods, stood up from his stretcher, walked around, stood still, and then sat down.
“Seeing that his labors had borne fruit, that the gift seeker had a complete body and his wishes had been fulfilled, the bodhisattva’s mind overflowed with joy. ‘I have saved this brahmin’s life,’ he thought to himself, ‘and staved off his fear of death by giving him my body. May the seed of this virtue cause me to attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening. Then may I be able to rescue [F.47.a] this brahmin from the suffering of saṃsāra and establish him in nirvāṇa where he will experience the ultimate happiness.’
“As he thought this, the bodhisattva was overwhelmed. Even as he aspired to awaken, he slipped into unconsciousness, and his eyes began to close. Śakra, lord of the gods, revived him immediately. He used medicines and care to treat and heal him.
“Monks, in the instant King Śrīsena’s body was cut in half, the trichiliocosm shook in three different ways: it shook, shook a lot, and shook extremely much. It also rocked, rocked a lot, and rocked extremely much. This great earth was unable to support the bodhisattva’s great act of generosity. It was a marvelous gift of everything and thus it resounded—it resounded as if all the world’s cauldrons had been beaten at once. Mountains, ravines, rivers, and oceans all emitted horrifying noises. Terrifying smoke appeared from the four directions. Meteors fell from all sides. Falling stars blazed in every direction. The gods beat drums in the sky.
“The trichiliocosm first darkened and then turned pitch black. Even the gods traversing the center of the sky chattered about a bodhisattva tormented with sorrow. They arranged utpala flowers above the bodhisattva and showered him with pink and white lotus flowers. They also sprinkled agaru, tagara, cinnamon-leaf, and sandalwood incense on him, and the flowers of the gods’ tree, the mandārava.20 They even draped their clothes on him, danced, and played divine music loudly. All of Jambudvīpa’s people were deeply puzzled by these noises. [F.47.b]
“When the city’s inhabitants, hundreds and thousands of people, saw the bodhisattva’s body cut, they were tormented by intense grief. With a single voice they cried out in their grief, ‘Alas, seeing the lord killed is painful!’
“Some rolled on the ground, others flailed their arms and wailed. The voices of some became hoarse from passionate sobbing. They were unable to clearly voice their words, yet still they screamed and beat their chests. Others remained silent, their minds mournful and unsettled, thinking, ‘Impermanence is powerful indeed!’
“Śakra, lord of the gods, was convinced that the bodhisattva’s resolve to attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening was as immovable as Mount Sumeru. He marveled at how the bodhisattva had given so completely. The hairs on his body stood on end. He was filled with joy and witnessed something outstanding. Marveling at this, he opened his eyes, and together with the other four gods, he dissolved his brahmin semblance, and he and the four gods appeared in their own forms. Śakra then spoke to the bodhisattva: ‘Great King! I am no brahmin, I am Śakra, lord of the gods. Well done, Great King, well done! How amazing, your diligence! How amazing, your uncontrived resolve! How amazing that you gave your body so completely, without clinging! How amazing, your compassion toward sentient beings and love for them! Your joy in giving! Well done, well done! Great King, even though you were overwhelmed by intense suffering, you did not change your mind about giving away your body. Great King, I have a question for you: what was the reason you underwent such hardship and such a prolonged trial?’
“ ‘Kauśika, I had no regrets,’ replied the bodhisattva.
“ ‘Kauśika,’ said the bodhisattva, ‘to prove it, I will allow you to place the lower half of my body wherever you like.’
“Śakra, lord of the gods, then put the lower half of the bodhisattva’s body in a place of his liking. The bodhisattva established a loving attitude toward all sentient beings, and invoking truth at that time, he spoke the following verses:
“Monks, as soon as he spoke these verses, the bodhisattva’s body was restored. The sky-dwelling gods, nāgas, yakṣas, garuḍas, kinnaras, and mahoragas who witnessed this were wide-eyed in amazement and started babbling and laughing. The crowds of people gathered there were also awed and amazed. Both gods and humans were overjoyed at this magical display. When they saw that the bodhisattva’s body was completely restored, they developed wonder as if they had found their own lives after having lost them. They said, ‘How amazing! Let us gaze upon this marvel of your resurrection! The beings of this world, those on the land and in the forest, are fortunate indeed!’
“When Śakra, lord of the gods, saw that the bodhisattva’s body had been restored to its original state, he was overwhelmed. To please the bodhisattva, he said, ‘Great King, your mind is [F.48.b] heroic. Your aspiration is steadfast, and you engage with sentient beings out of great compassion. Well done, well done! You are not afraid of anyone who attempts to frighten you. Due to your efforts, you will, therefore, attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening in a short while.’ Śakra, lord of the gods, then recited the following verses:
“As he said these words, Śakra, lord of the gods, shed tears like rain, and in a hoarse voice he sought forgiveness from the bodhisattva. ‘O Great King,’ he said, ‘thinking that you might meet with failure, I coerced you to suffer excruciating pain. Please forgive me.21 And please think of me when you attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening.’
“ ‘Kauśika,’ replied the bodhisattva, ‘I am patient. I will do as you ask and remember you.’ In that instant, due to the bodhisattva’s power, a variety of divine, enchanting, precious gems rained down upon all of Jambudvīpa. All of Jambudvīpa was ornamented by myriad precious stones, and it became even brighter than the realms of the gods.
“The sage who lived in the mountains had witnessed all these marvels, and he was overwhelmed. ‘What are these marvels?’ he thought. ‘Have such marvels ever been seen before? Whose power occasions this?’
“A god who lived in the same place as he told him the story in detail. As he listened to the story of the bodhisattva’s extraordinary, awe-inspiring austerities, [F.49.a] the sage came to genuinely admire him. ‘This great being is worthy of veneration,’ he thought. After that, he hastily led his five-hundred-strong retinue and Queen Jayaprabhā to the bodhisattva. There they uttered salutations of victory and long life to the king. In unison with Śakra, the sage said, ‘Lord, you have protected these fine, goddess-like, beautiful women. Now please enjoy life with this virtuous woman. I offer you back the beautiful queen. She has not been unhappy with her husband. Please do not give her away again to anyone else who asks for her.’
“The bodhisattva compassionately accepted the request of the sage and Śakra, lord of the gods, by remaining silent. Śakra, lord of the gods, then summoned Viśvakarma, the architect of the gods. ‘Viśvakarma,’ he said, ‘please set up a divine lion throne quickly. I would like to honor King Śrīsena myself.’
“ ‘That is excellent, Kauśika,’ Viśvakarma responded. ‘I will do as you instruct.’
Indeed, at the very moment he was listening to Śakra, lord of the gods, Viśvakarma, the architect of the gods, magically created a lion throne. It was decorated with a variety of precious gems, and it was garlanded with pearls on all sides. Śakra, lord of the gods, took the bodhisattva with both his hands and escorted him onto the divine lion throne. Hundreds of thousands of gods played and sang melodious music for him. Having shown great respect in this way, they crowned him.
“During the coronation, the bodhisattva’s power caused the earth to shake in six different ways. Out of joy and satisfaction, the gods showered flowers and precious gems on Jambudvīpa. So many fell that the flowers and gems were piled up to the peoples’ knees. In sheer amazement at seeing this amount of wealth, the gods and humans exclaimed, [F.49.b] ‘Amazing! How powerful is King Śrīsena’s merit! Amazing! It is wondrous!’
“After thoroughly pleasing the bodhisattva, Śakra, lord of the gods, along with hundreds of thousands of other gods, returned to his abode. The sage and his retinue of five hundred also returned home, after openly praising the bodhisattva.
“After these events, the much-venerated bodhisattva ruled as a Dharma king for a long time. He satiated Jambudvīpa’s poor, blind, hungry, and destitute by granting them wealth, and he led everyone along the path of the ten virtuous actions. He thoroughly satisfied all six classes of gods in the desire realm. At another time, he caused them, along with hundreds of thousands of others, to be reborn in Tuṣita heaven.”
After telling this tale, the Blessed One said, “Monks, do not have any doubts or confusion that King Śrīsena was someone other than me. At that time, I was the king and I gave away my body. Monks, the one who was King Śrīsena’s wife back then, Queen Jayaprabhā, is none other than Yaśodharā. The supreme one among the ministers, Mahāmati, is none other than the monk Śāriputra. Śakra, lord of the gods, is none other than King Bimbisāra. Those who were the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three at that time are none other than the eighty thousand gods who realized the truth simultaneously with King Bimbisāra. The masses of people in the city of Ariṣṭa are none other than [F.50.a] the brahmins and householders of Magadha who come to me along with King Bimbisāra. Monks, the sage who lived in the mountains is none other than the monk Maudgalyāyana. The young brahmin boy who came to me to beg for Queen Jayaprabhā is none other than the Śākya lady Gopā. Monks, the two who were carpenters at that time are Devadatta and Kokālika.
“It is due to the power of his prayers that such miracles of the Thus-Gone One manifested. Monks, therefore, you too must train in this way. You must train by telling yourselves, ‘I will practice generosity and perform meritorious acts.’ ”
When the Blessed One had said these words, the monks rejoiced and praised the Blessed One’s words.
This completes “The Account of the Noble Deeds of King Śrīsena.”
This was translated by the Indian preceptor Dharmaśrībhadra and the chief editor-translator Sherab Lekpa. It was then revised and finalized by the translator Rinchen Zangpo.
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- ’dod khams
One of the three realms of saṃsāra, it is comprised of the traditional six realms of saṃsāra, from the hell realm to the realm of the gods, including the human realm. Rebirth in this realm is characterized by intense cravings via the five senses and their objects.
- lhas byin
The Buddha’s disloyal cousin.
- brtson ’grus
Fourth of the six perfections and one of the seven limbs of awakening, the five abilities, the four bases of magical power, and the five powers.
- sbyin pa
The act of giving motivated by the wish to attain awakening for all sentient beings. It is the first of the six or ten perfections, often explained as the essential starting point and training for the practice of the others perfections. Also translated here as “giving.”
A being in the paradises from the base of Mount Meru upward. It can also refer to a deity in the human world and is sometimes (as in the present work) used as a term of endearment for a ruler or leader (translated as “lord”).
- sa ’tsho ma
One of the wives of Prince Siddhārtha, prior to his leaving his kingdom and attaining awakening as the Buddha.
- rjes su dpag pa
In Buddhism, inference is one of the two sources of valid knowledge (pramāṇa), the other being direct perception (pratyakṣa).
- ’dzam bu’i gling
The continent (dvīpa) on which we live, shaped like a rose-apple (jambū) according to ancient South Asian cosmology.
- ma ga d+hA
A kingdom on the banks of the Ganges (in the southern part of the modern day Indian state of Bihar), whose capital was at Pāṭaliputra (modern day Patna). During the life of the Buddha Śākyamuni, it was the dominant kingdom in north central India and is home to many of the most important Buddhist sites, including Bodh Gayā, Nālandā, and its capital Rājagṛha.
- byams pa
The bodhisattva and future buddha, Maitreya.
- maud gal gyi bu chen po
One of the Buddha’s two principal monastic disciples.
- yongs ’du
In Indian mythology, a tree in Indra’s heaven that is said to fulfill all desires.
- mkhan po
- bag chags
Latent propensity to certain behaviors.
- yi dags
One of the five or six classes of sentient beings, considered to be the karmic fruition of past miserliness. In Sanskrit, literally “the departed”; they are analogous to the ancestral spirits of Vedic tradition, the pitṛs, who starve without the offerings of descendants. They live in the realm of Yama, the Lord of Death. They are particularly known to suffer from great hunger and thirst and the inability to acquire sustenance.
- pho brang
- brgya byin
The lord of the gods. More commonly known in the West as Indra, the deity that is called “lord of the devas” dwells on the summit of Mount Sumeru and wields the thunderbolt. The Tibetan translation brgya byin (meaning “one hundred sacrifices”) is based on an etymology that śakra is an abbreviation of śata-kratu, one who has performed a hundred sacrifices. Each world with a central Sumeru has a Śakra. He is also called “Kauśika.”
- shA ri’i bu
One of the Buddha’s two principal monastic disciples.
- shi bi
(1) A name sometimes used for King Śrīsena’s country. (2) The name of a country he once ruled in previous lifetimes.
- dpal gyi sde
A king, who was a past life of the Buddha. He was a bodhisattva renowned for his unstinting generosity and spiritual resolve.
Universal monarch who rules through force
- stobs kyi ’khor los sgyur
In Buddhist mythology, a universal monarch who rules the four continents and is willing to use force (Skt. bala; Tib. stobs) if necessary.
Unsurpassed and perfect awakening
- bla na med pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i byang chub
The awakening of the buddhas, so-named to distinguish it from the limited realizations of lesser beings such as arhats, solitary buddhas, and the like.
- rdo rje
The term stands for indestructibility and perfect stability. According to Indian mythology, the vajra is the all-powerful god Indra’s weapon, likened to a thunderbolt, which made him invincible. It also relates to the diamond which is the hardest physical material.
- rig byed
Name of the ancient sacred scriptures of Hinduism, the most famous of which is the Ṛg Veda.
- las sna tshogs pa
Literally “maker of sundry things,” Viśvakarma is the architect of the gods. He was an important deity in the Vedic tradition. In the Ṛg Veda, he is regarded as the personification of ultimate reality, the abstract creative power inherent in deities, living, and nonliving being in this universe.
- dgra bcom pa
A person who has accomplished the final fruition of the path of the hearers and is liberated from saṃsāra.
- grags ’dzin ma
The principal wife of Prince Siddhartha, prior to his leaving his kingdom and attaining awakening as the Buddha.