Earthly Experience of a Chinese Goddess

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Statue of Buddha in Sanarth Museum

Buddhist Writings

The thousandth celestial wife of the Garland God slipped and fell to earth, where she took mortal form and served as an attendant in a temple. Death finally released her and she went back to heaven to tell her lord of the ways of men.

Vol. 45 pp. 693-701 of The Harvard Classics


The Devoted Wife
Translated from the Dhammapada, and from Buddhaghosa’s comment

        
While eagerly man culls life’s flowers,
With all his faculties intent,
Of pleasure still insatiate—
Death comes and overpowereth him.

“WHILE eagerly man culls life’s flowers.” This doctrinal instruction was given by The Teacher while dwelling at Svatthi, and it was concerning a woman called Husband-honorer. The affair began in the Heaven of the Suite of the Thirty-three.


  They say that a god of that heaven named Garland-wearer went to his pleasure-grounds in company with a thousand celestial nymphs. Five hundred of these goddesses ascended trees and threw down flowers, while five hundred picked up the flowers that were thrown down and decked the god therewith. One of these goddesses, while on the bough of a tree, fell from that existence, her body vanishing like the flame of a lamp.

  Then she was conceived in a high-caste family of Svatthi, and was born with a reminiscence of her previous existences. And saying to herself, “I am the wife of the god Garland-wearer,” she made offerings of perfumes, garlands, and the like, with the prayer that in her next rebirth she might again be with her husband. And when at the age of sixteen years she married into another family, with ticket-food, and fornightly food, she continued to give alms, saying, “May this prove efficacious in bringing about my rebirth with my husband.”

  Thereupon the priests gave her the name of Husband-honorer, for they said: “She works early and late, and her only desire is for her husband.”

  Husband-honorer continually took care of the hall where the priests sat. She brought forward the drinking water, and spread out the mats to sit on. And when other people were desirous of giving ticket-food and other alms, they would bring it to her, and say, “Dear lady, prepare this for the congregation of the priests.” And by going to and fro in this manner, she acquired the fifty-six salutary qualities, all at one time.

  Then she conceived, and at the end of ten lunar months she brought forth a son; and when he was old enough to walk, another, until she had four sons.

  One day, after she had given alms and offerings, and had listened to the Doctrine, and kept the precepts, she died toward night-fall from a sudden disease, and was reborn into the presence of her husband.

  The other goddesses had continued to deck the god throughout the whole interval.

  “We have not seen you since morning,” said the god. “Where have you been?”

  “I fell from this existence, my lord.”

  “Are you in earnest?”

  “It was precisely so, my lord.”

  “Where were you born?”

  “At Svatthi, in a family of high caste.”

  “How long were you there?”

  “My lord, at the end of ten months I issued from my mother’s womb, and at the age of sixteen years I married into another family; and having borne four sons, and having given gifts and done other meritorious deeds with the prayer that I might again be with you, I have been born into your presence.”

  “How long is the life of men?”

  “Only a hundred years.”

  “Is that all?”

  “Yes, my lord.”

  “If that is the length of life to which men are born, pray, now, do they pass the time asleep and reckless, or do they give gifts and do other meritorious deeds?”

  “Nothing of the kind, my lord. Men are always reckless, as if they were born to a life of an incalculable number of years, and were never to grow old and die.”

  At this the god Garland-wearer became exceedingly agitated.

  “Men, it appears, are born to a life of only one hundred years, yet they recklessly lie down and sleep away their time. When will they ever get free from misery?”

  A hundred of our years make one day and night of the Gods of the Suite of the Thirty-three; thirty such days and nights their month; and twelve such months their year. And the length of their lives is a thousand such celestial years, or in human notation thirtysix million years. Thus for that god not one day has passed; but like a moment had the interval seemed to him. And thus he thought, “Recklessness for short-lived men is extremely unsuitable.”

  On the next day, when the priests entered the village, they found the hall had not been looked after; the mats had not been spread, and the drinking water had not been placed. Then they inquired,

  “Where is Husband-honorer?”

  “Reverend sirs, how could you expect to see her? Yesterday, after your worships had eaten and departed, she died at even-tide.”

  When the priests heard this, the unconverted among them, calling to mind her benefactions, were unable to restrain their tears, while those in whom depravity had come to an end had their elements of being agitated.

  After breakfast they returned to the monastery, and made inquiry of The Teacher:

  “Reverend Sir, Husband-honorer worked early and late doing many kinds of meritorious deeds, and prayed only for her husband. Now she is dead. Where, pray, has she been reborn?”

  “With her husband, O priests.”

  “But, Reverend Sir, she is not with her husband.”

  “O priests, it was not this husband she was praying for. She had a husband named Garland-wearer, a God of the Suite of the Thirtythree, and fell from that existence while he was decorating himself with flowers. Now she has returned and been born again at his side.”

  “Reverend Sir, is it really so?”

  “Assuredly, O priests.”

  “Alas, Reverend Sir, how very short is the life of all creatures! In the morning she waited on us, and in the evening a disease attacked her, and she died.”

  “Assuredly, O priests,” said The Teacher, “the life of creatures is indeed short. And thus it is that death gets creatures into his power, and drags them away howling and weeping, and still unsated in their senses and lusts.”

  So saying, he pronounced the following stanza:
        
“While eagerly man culls life’s flowers,
With all his faculties intent,
Of pleasure still insatiate—
Death comes and overpowereth him.”


The Hare-mark in the Moon
Translated from the Jtaka (iii. 5110), and constituting Birth-Story 316


“SOME red-fish have I, seven in all.” This was related by The Teacher while dwelling in Jetavana monastery; and it was concerning a donation of all the requisites to the congregation of the priests.

  It seems that a householder of Svatthi prepared a donation of all the requisites for The Buddha and for the Order. At the door of his house he had a pavilion built and gotten ready, and having invited The Buddha and the congregation of the priests, he made them sit down on costly seats which had been spread for them in the pavilion, and gave them an excellent repast of savory dishes. Then he invited them again for the next day, and again for the next, until he had invited them seven times. And on the seventh day he made the donation of all the requisites to The Buddha and to five hundred priests.

  At the end of the breakfast The Teacher returned thanks and said,

  “Layman, it is fitting that you thus manifest a hearty zeal; for this alms-giving was also the custom of the wise of old time. For the wise of old time surrendered their own lives to chance suppliants, and gave their own flesh to be eaten.”

  Then, at the request of the householder, he related the by-gone occurrence:—

  Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was ruling at Benares, the Future Buddha was born as a hare, and dwelt in a wood. Now on one side of this wood was a mountain, on another a river, and on another a border village. And there were three other animals that were his comrades—a monkey, a jackal, and an otter. These four wise creatures dwelt together, catching their prey each in his own hunting ground, and at night resorting together. And the wise hare would exhort the other three, and teach them the Doctrine, saying, “Give alms, keep the precepts, and observe fast-days.” Then the three would approve of his admonition, and go each to his own lair in the thicket, and spend the night.

  Time was going by in this manner, when one day the Future Buddha looked up into the sky and saw the moon, and perceived that the next day would be fast-day. Then said he to the others,

  “To-morrow is fast-day. Do you three keep the precepts and observe the day; and as alms given while keeping the precepts bring great reward, if any suppliants present themselves, give them to eat of your own food.”

  “Very well,” said they, and passed the night in their lairs.

  On the next day the otter started out early, and went to the banks of the Ganges to hunt for prey. Now a fisherman had caught seven red-fish and strung them on a vine, and buried them in the sand on the banks of the Ganges, and had then gone on downstream catching fish as he went. The otter smelt the fishy odor, and scraping away the sand, perceived the fish and drew them out. Then he called out three times, “Does any one own these?” and when he saw no owner, he bit hold of the vine with his teeth, and drew them to his lair in the thicket. There he lay down, remembering that he was keeping the precepts, and thinking, “I will eat these at the proper time.”

  And the jackal also went out to hunt for prey, and found in the hut of a field-watcher two spits of meat, and one iguana, and a jar of sour cream. Then he called out three times, “Does any one own these?” and when he saw no owner, he placed the cord that served as a handle for the jar of sour cream about his neck, took hold of the spits of meat and of the iguana with his teeth, and brought them home, and placed them in his lair in the thicket. Then he lay down, remembering that he was keeping the precepts, and thinking, “I will eat these at the proper time.”

  And the monkey also, entering the forest, fetched home a bunch of mangoes, and placed them in his lair in the thicket. Then he lay down, remembering that he was keeping the precepts, and thinking, “I will eat these at the proper time.”

  The Future Buddha, however, remained in his thicket, thinking, “At the proper time I will go out and eat dabba 1-grass.” Then he thought,

  “If any suppliants come, they will not want to eat grass, and I have no sesamum, rice, or other such food. If any suppliant comes, I will give him of my own flesh.”

  Such fieriness of zeal in keeping the precepts caused the marble throne of Sakka to grow hot. Then, looking carefully, Sakka discovered the cause, and proposed to himself to try the hare. And disguised as a Brahman, he went first to the lair of the otter.

  “Brahman, why stand you there?” said the otter.

  Said he, “Pandit, if I could but get something to eat, I would keep fast-day vows, and perform the duties of a monk.”

  “Very well,” said the otter; “I will give you food.” And he addressed him with the first stanza:
        
“Some red-fish have I, seven in all,
Found stranded on the river bank.
All these, O Brahman, are my own;
Come eat, and dwell within this wood.”

  “I will return a little later,” said the Brahman; “let the matter rest until to-morrow.”

  Then he went to the jackal. And the latter also asking, “Why stand you there?” the Brahman answered the same as before.

  “Very well,” said the jackal; “I will give you some food.” And he addressed him with the second stanza:
        
“A watchman guards the field close by,
His supper have I ta’en away;
Two spits of meat, iguana one,
One dish of butter clarified.
All these, O Brahman, are my own;
Come eat, and dwell within this wood.”

  “I will return a little later,” said the Brahman; “let the matter rest until to-morrow.”

  Then he went to the monkey. And the latter also asking, “Why stand you there?” the Brahman answered the same as before.

  “Very well,” said the monkey; “I will give you some food.” And he addressed him with the third stanza:
        
“Ripe mangoes, water clear and cold,
And cool and pleasant woodland shade—
All these, O Brahman, are my own;
Come eat, and dwell within this wood.”

  “I will return a little later,” said the Brahman; “let the matter rest until to-morrow.”

  Then he went to the wise here. And he also asking, “Why stand you there?” the Brahman answered the same as before.

  The Future Buddha was delighted. “Brahman,” said he, “you have done well in coming to me for food. To-day I will give alms such as I never gave before; and you will not have broken the precepts by destroying life. Go, my friend, and gather wood, and when you have made a bed of coals, come and tell me. I will sacrifice my life by jumping into the bed of live coals. And as soon as my body is cooked, do you eat of my flesh, and perform the duties of a monk.” And he addressed him with the fourth stanza:
        
“The hare no seed of sesamum
Doth own, nor beans, nor winnowed rice.
But soon my flesh this fire shall roast;
Then eat, and dwell within this wood.”

  When Sakka heard this speech, he made a heap of live coals by his superhuman power, and came and told the Future Buddha. The latter rose from his couch of dabba-grass, and went to the spot. And saying, “If there are any insects in my fur, I must not let them die,” he shook himself three times. Then throwing his whole body into the jaws of his liberality, he jumped into the bed of coals, as delighted in mind as a royal flamingo when he alights in a cluster of lotuses. The fire, however, was unable to make hot so much as a hair-pore of the Future Buddha’s body. He felt as if he had entered the abode of cold above the clouds.

  Then, addressing Sakka, he said,

  “Brahman, the fire you have made is exceeding cold, and is not able to make hot so much as a hair-pore of my body. What does it mean?”

  “Pandit, I am no Brahman; I am Sakka, come to try you.”

  “Sakka, your efforts are useless; for if all beings who dwell in the world were to try me in respect of my liberality, they would not discover in me any unwillingness to give.” Thus the Future Buddha thundered.

  “Wise hare,” said then Sakka, “let your virtue be proclaimed to the end of this world-cycle.” And taking a mountain, he squeezed it, and with the juice drew the outline of a hare in the disk of the moon. Then in that wood, and in that thicket, he placed the Future Buddha on some tender dabba-grass, and taking leave of him, departed to his own celestial abode.

  And these four wise creatures lived happily and harmoniously, and kept the precepts, and observed fast-days, and passed away according to their deeds.


  When The Teacher had given this instruction, he expounded the truth, and identified the characters of the Birth-Story: [At the close of the exposition of the truths, the householder who had given all the requisites became established in the fruit of conversion.]

  “In that existence the other was Ananda, the jackal was Moggallna, the monkey was Sriputta, while the wise hare was I myself.”

The Hare Birth-Story.


Note 1. Name of various kinds of grasses used for sacrificial purposes.



 

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