01: The Visit of The Thatagatha

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha 563 BCE to 483 BCE visiting Sri Lanka

HAVING made obeisance to the Sambuddha the pure, sprung of a pure race, I will recite the Mahavamsa, of varied content and lacking nothing. That (Mahavamsa) which was compiled by the ancient (sages) was here too long drawn out and there too closely knit; and contained many repetitions. Attend ye now to this (Mahavamsa) that is free from such faults, easy to understand and remember, arousing serene joy and emotion and handed down (to us) by tradition, (attend ye to it) while that ye call up serene joy and emotion (in you)1 at passages that awaken serene joy and emotion.siddhartha buddha

On seeing the Sambuddha Dipamkara, in olden times, our Conqueror resolved to become a Buddha, that he might release the world from evil. When he had offered homage to that Sambuddha and likewise to Kondanna (Kondañña) and to the sage Mangala, to Sumana, to the Buddha Revata and likewise to the great sage Sobhita, to the Sambuddha Anomadassi, to Paduma and to the Conqueror Narada, to the Sambuddha Padumuttara and to the Tathagata Sumedha, and to Sujata, to Piyadassi and to the Master Atthadassi, to Dhammadassi and Siddhattha, to Tissa and the Conqueror Phussa, to Vipassi and the Sambuddha Sikhi, and the Sambuddha Vessabhu, the mighty one, to the Sambuddha.

Kakusaudha (Kakusandha), and likewise to Konagamana, as also to the blessed Kassapa, having offered homage to these twenty-four Sambuddhas and having received from them the prophecy of his (future) buddhahood he, the great hero, when he had fulfilled all perfections2 and reached the highest enlightenment, the sublime Buddha Gotama, delivered the world from suffering.
At Uruvela3, in the Magadha country, the great sage, sitting at the foot of the Bodhi-tree, reached the supreme enlightenment on the full-moon day of the month Vesakha4. Seven weeks he tarried there, mastering his senses5, while that be himself, knew the high bliss of deliverance and let (others) behold its felicity6. Then he went to Baranasi and set rolling the wheel of the law; and while he dwelt there through the rain-months, he brought sixty (hearers) to arahantship7. When he had sent forth these bhikkhus to preach the doctrine, and when he had converted the thirty companions of the company of Bhadda8 then did the Master dwell at Uruvela the winter through, for the sake of converting the thousand jatilas9 led by Kassapa, making them ripe (for deliverance).

Bodhgaya c.1810

Bodhgaya is one of the holiest sites related to the life of the Buddha as it is the place where he attained enlightenment. The present temple on the spot, the Mahabodhi temple, dates from the 7th Century with later additions, and was built on the site of a previous temple erected by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. The temple is built in front of the Bodhi Tree, the tree under which the Buddha obtained enlightenment, which is surrounded by a quadrangular stone railing that dates to the 2nd century BC. The tree can be seen in this drawing, with a small Hindu temple and several figures out front. By an anonymous artist, c.1810. British Library

Now since a great sacrifice by Kassapa of Uruvela was near at hand, and since he saw that this latter would fain have him away10, he, the victorious over enemies, went to seek alms among the Northern Kurus11; and when he had eaten his meal at evening time near the lake Anotatta12, the Conqueror, in the ninth month of his buddhahood, at the full moon of Phussa13, himself set forth for the isle of Lanka, to win Lanka for the faith14. For Lanka was known to the Conqueror as a place where his doctrine should (thereafter) shine in glory; and (he knew that) from Lañkä, filled with the yakkhas, the yakkhas must (first) be driven forth15.

And he knew also that in the midst of Lanka, on the fair river bank, in the delightful Mahanaga garden, three yojanas long and a yojana wide, the (customary) meeting-place for the yakkhas, there was a great gathering of (all) the yakkhas dwelling in the island. To this great gathering of that yakkhas went the Blessed One, and there, in the midst of that assembly, hovering in the air over their heads, at the place of the (future) Mahiyangana-thupa16, he struck terror to their hearts by rain, storm, darkness and so forth17. The yakkhas, overwhelmed by fear, besought the fearless Van quisher to release them from terrors, and the Vanquisher, destroyer of fear18, spoke thus to the terrified yakkhas: ‘I will banish this your fear and your distress, O yakkhas, give ye here to me with one accord a place where I may sit down.’The yakkhas thus answered the Blessed One: ‘We all, O Lord, give you even the whole of our island. Give us release from our fear.’ Then, when he had destroyed their terror, cold and darkness, and had spread his rug of skin19 on the ground that they bestowed on him, the Conqueror, sitting there, made the rug to spread wide, while burning flame surrounded it. Daunted by the burning heat thereof and terrified, they stood around on the border. Then did the Saviour cause the pleasant Giridipa20 to come here near to them, and when they had settled there, he made it return to its former place. Then did the Saviour fold his rug of skin; the devas assembled, and in their assembly the Master preached them the doctrine. The conversion of many kotis of living beings took place21, and countless were those who came unto the (three) refuges and the precepts of duty.22

The prince of devas, Mahasumana of the Sumanakuta mountain23 who had attained to the fruit of entering into the path of salvation24, craved of him who should be worshipped, something to worship. The Conqueror, the (giver of) good to living beings, he who had pure and blue-black locks, passing his hand over his (own) head, bestowed on him a handful of hairs. And he, receiving this in a splendid golden urn, when he had laid the hairs upon a heap of many-coloured gems, seven cubits round, piled up at the place where the Master had sat, covered them over with a thupa of sapphire and worshipped them.

They take their refuge (sarana) in the Buddha, his doctrine and his community, and undertake to keep certain binding commandments.When the Sambuddha had died, the thera named Sarabhu, disciple of the thera Sariputta, by his miraculous power received, even from the funeral pyre, the collar-bone of the Conqueror and brought it hither (to Lanka), and, with the bhikkhus all around him, he there laid it in that same cetiya, covered it over with golden-coloured stones25, and (then he), the worker of miracles, having made the thupa twelve cubits high, departed again from thence. The son of king Devanampiyatissa’s brother, named Uddhaculabhaya saw the wondrous cetiya and (again) covered it over and made it thirty cubits high. The king Dutthaga mani dwelling there while he made war upon the Damilas, built a mantle cetiya over it eighty cubits high. Thus was the Mahiyangana-thupa completed. When he had thus made our island a fit dwelling-place for men, the mighty ruler, valiant as are great heroes, departed for Uruvela.

Here ends the Visit to Mahiyangana.

Now the most compassionate Teacher, the Conqueror, rejoicing in the salvation of the whole world, when dwelling at Jetavana26 in the fifth year of his buddhahood, saw that a war, caused by a gem-set throne, was like to come to pass between the nagas Mahodara and Culodara, uncle and nephew, and their followers; and he, the Sambuddha, on the uposathaday of the dark half of the month Citta, in the early morning, took his sacred alms-bowl and his robes, and, from compassion for the nagas, sought the Nagadipa27.

That same naga Mahodara was then a king, gifted with miraculous power, in a naga-kingdom in the ocean, that covered half a thousand yojanas. His younger sister had been given (in marriage) to the naga-king on the Kannavaddhamana mountain; her son was Culodara. His mother’s father had given to his mother a splendid throne of jewels, then the naga had died and therefore this war of nephew with uncle was threatening; and also the nagas of the mountains were armed with miraculous power.

The deva named Samiddhisumana took a rajayatana-tree standing in Jetavana, his own fair habitation, and, holding it like a parasol over the Conqueror, he, with the Teacher’s leave, attended him to that spot where he had formerly dwelt28. That very deva had been, in his latest birth, a man in Nagadipa. On the spot where thereafter the rajayatana-tree stood, he saw paceekabuddhas taking their meal. And at the sight his heart was glad and he offered branches to cleanse the almsbowl. Therefore he was reborn in that tree in the pleasant Jetavana-garden, and it (the tree) stood afterwards outside at the side of the gate-rampart29. The God of all gods saw (in this) an advantage for that deva, and, for the sake of the good which should spring (therefrom) for our land, he brought him hithcr (to Lafika) together with his tree.
Hovering there in mid-air above the battlefield the Master, who drives away (spiritual) darkness, called forth dread darkness over the ntigas. Then comforting those who were distressed by terror he once again spread light abroad. When they saw the Blessed One they joyfully did reverence to the Master’s feet. Then preadied the Vanquisher to them the doctrine that begets concord, and both [nagas] gladly gave up the throne to the Sage30. When the Master, having alighted on the earth, had taken his place on a seat there, and had been refreshed with celestial food and drink by the naga-kings, he, the Lord, established in the (three) refuges31 and in the moral precepts32 eighty kotis of snake-spirits, dwellers in the ocean and on the mainland.

The naga-king Maniakkhika of Kalyani33, mother’s brother to the naga Mahodara, who had come thither to take part in the battle, and who, aforetime, at the Buddha’s first coming, having heard the true doctrine preached, had become established in the refuges and in the moral duties, prayed now to the Tathagata: `Great is the compassion that thou hast shown us here, O Master! Hadst thou not appeared we had all been consumed to ashes. May thy compassion yet light also especially on me, O thou who art rich in loving-kindness, in that thou shalt come yet again hither to my dwelling-country, O thou peerless one.’ When the Lord had consented by his silence to come thither, he planted the rajayatana-tree on that very spot as a sacred memorial, and the Lord of the Worlds gave over the rajayatana-tree and the precious throne-seat to the naga-kings to do homage thereto. `In remembrance that I have used these do homage to them34, ye naga-kings!
This, well beloved, will bring to pass blessing and happiness for you.’ When the Blessed One had uttered this and other exhortation to the nägas, he, the compassionate saviour of all the world, returned to Jetavana.

Here ends the Visit to Nagadipa.

In the third year after this, the naga-king Maniakkhika sought out the Sambuddha and invited him, together with the brotherhood. In the eighth year after he had attained to buddhahood, when the Vanquisher was dwelling in Jetavana, the Master, set forth surrounded by five hundred bhikkhus, on the second day of the beautiful month of Vesakha, at the fullmoon, and when the hour of the meal was announced the Vanquisher, prince of the wise, forthwith putting on his robe and taking his alms-bowl went to the Kalyani country, the habitation of Maniakkhika. Under a canopy decked with gems, raised upon the spot where (afterwards) the Kalyani (Kelaniya) cetiya was built, he took his place, together with the brotherhood of bhikkhus, upon a precious throne-seat. And, greatly rejoicing, the naga-king with his following served celestial food, both hard and soft, to the king of truth, the Conqueror, with his followers.

When the Teacher, compassionate to the whole world, had preached the doctrine there, he rose, the Master, and left the traces of his footsteps plain to sight on Sumanakuta And after he had spent the day as it pleased him at the foot of this mountain, with the brotherhood, be set forth for Dighavapi35. And there the Master seated himself with the brotherhood at the place where the cetiya (thereafter) stood, and gave himself up to meditation, to consecrate the spot Then arose the Great Sage from that place, and knowing well which places were fit and which unfit he went to the place of the (later) Mahamegha vanarama36. After he had seated himself with his disciples at the place, where the sacred Bodhi-tree came afterwards to be, the Master gave himself up to meditation; and likewise there where the Great Thupa37 stood (in later days) and there also where (afterwards) the thupa in the Thuparama38 stood. Then when he rose up from meditation he went to the place of the (later) Silacetiya39, and after the Leader of the assembly (of bhikkhus) had uttered exhortation to the assembly of devas, he, the Enlightened, who has trodden all the paths of enlightenment, returned thence to Jetavana.
Thus the Master of boundless wisdom, looking to the salvation of Lanka in time to come, and knowing in that time the highest good for the hosts of asuras and nagas and so forth in Lanka visited this fair island three times, be, the compassionate Enlightener of the world ; therefore this isle, radiant with the light of truth, came to high honour among faithful believers.

Here ends the Visit to Kalyani (Kelaniya)

Here ends the first chapter, called ‘The Visit of the Tathagata’, in the Mahavamsa, compiled for the serene joy and emotion of the pious.

THE MAHAVAMSA The Visit of The Thatagatha

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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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