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Multi-life Stories in the *Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra This document was created by Dr. Naomi Appleton in 2010 as part of a project funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship.
This document is provided freely to scholars and other interested parties for personal and research use only. Please do not reproduce, circulate or cite without first obtaining permission from the author.
All comments and questions can be sent to AppletonN1@cardiff.ac.uk. Birth stories summarised from Samuel Beal (trans.)
The Romantic Legend of Śākya Buddha (London: Trübner & Co., 1875), which is a translation of the Chinese text. Unfortunately this translation is abridged and rather outdated, but the material is too interesting to be ignored.
The chapter divisions are in Beal’s translation and in his Chinese source, though they appear to be related more to size or donor rather than narrative unit.
I have altered the names to their normal Sanskrit spelling.
Interactions between buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past, including (Śākyamuni) Bodhisattva’s vow at the feet of Dīpaṅkara and other buddhas.
A story is told to explain that Yaśodharā was upset at receiving insufficient gifts in the past too:
A prince (the Bodhisattva) and his wife (Yaśodharā) were banished to the forest.
On one occasion the prince ate the whole of a lizard he had cooked, and pretended to his wife on her return that it got up and wandered off.
Later he was crowned and offered her every gift conceivable, but she could not forget the episode of the lizard.
Another story illustrates that the Buddha gained Yaśodharā in the past too:
A nobleman (the Bodhisattva) wished to marry the beautiful daughter of a metalworker.
Being told that her father would only allow her to marry another metalworker, the Bodhisattva trained in the craft and produced needles so fine that they won him his bride.
Another story illustrates how the Buddha’s second wife Gotamī chose him in the past too:
A tigress chose for a husband the lion (the Bodhisattva) over all the other beasts (the other Śākya princes).
The horse Kanthaka dies and is reborn as a deva, and later as a human again, in time to meet the awakened Buddha and become an arhat.
The Buddha demonstrates his great vigour in the past also:
The Bodhisattva fetched a precious gem but dropped it in the ocean, so he tried to empty the ocean with a ladle.
A sea goddess helped him retrieve it. He also overcame Māra in the past:
(1) The Bodhisattva was a parrot who was caught by a falcon (Māra) but persisted in attacking his underbelly until he let him go.
(2) The Bodhisattva was a tortoise who was caught by a flower merchant (Māra) but swam off after asking to be washed in the river.
(3) The Bodhisattva was a monkey who was caught by a crocodile (Māra) who wished to get his heart for his wife to eat. The monkey escaped by claiming his heart was hanging in the tree and offering to fetch it.
(4) The Bodhisattva was a quail who was too smart to be caught by the fowler (Māra).
The newly awakened Buddha considers teaching his former teachers but sees that they have died and been reborn elsewhere.
Udraka Rāmaputra has gone to the formless realm, but will later be reborn as a fox with wings, and afterwards in hell. Alāra Kalāma has also gone to the formless realm, but will later be reborn as a human king, then in hell.
The Buddha explains why Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya was the first to understand the dharma: in the past he looked after a pratyekabuddha and vowed to be the first to understand the teachings of the next buddha.
A tree is believed to grant wishes, and though a man knows this is not true he is persuaded to ask the tree for a son. He does so, but also threatens to destroy the tree if it doesn’t grant his wish.
The deity of the tree is upset, and so a deva decides to descend to become the son of this man.
He is Yasada, and he eventually becomes a Buddhist monk.
In the past Yasada was a man who sheltered a pratyekabuddha from the sun and took care of his needs, and later worshipped his relics.
In a later birth he also honoured Kāśyapa Buddha’s relics, and after many lives was able to become Yasada.
The nāga Elāputra recalls his past birth as a disciple of Kāśyapa Buddha, when he destroyed the Elāputra tree.
In the past, Narada saw Kāśyapa Buddha and resolved to attend on a future buddha.
Sobhiya’s mother, who has died and become a deva, returns to her former son to inform him of the presence of the Buddha in the world.
In the past the three Kāśyapas were merchant leaders who gave money to restore a stūpa to Kāśyapa Buddha.
Another time there were three ministers to a heretic king (Uravilva-kāśyapa), and one of these persuaded the king to consult religious teachers.
Eventually a seer (the Bodhisattva) persuaded the king to change his views.
The Buddha is offered a chariot by King Bimbisāra.
It is not the first time that he has been offered a chariot: in the past he was a king taken to heaven by Śakra’s charioteer Mātali.
The Buddha explains why Mahā Kāśyapa was lucky enough to meet him: In the past he was a poor man who gave food to a pratyekabuddha.
The Buddha explains the history of Bhadrakā:
In the past she was a slave girl who gave her meal to a pratyekabuddha.
On another occasion Mahā Kāśyapa and Bhadrakā were a poor man and wife.
The wife fed a pratyekabuddha, but getting the wrong idea her husband beat the stranger.
He later repented and they both decided to renounce.
In the past there was a brother and sister called Supriya and Supriyā. The former became a pratyekabuddha and the latter payed him honour and resolved to one day meet a buddha. She was Śāriputra in a previous birth. On another occasion, a merchant similarly honoured a pratyekabuddha, and was later reborn as Mahā Maudgalyāyana.
In the past, the Bodhisattva was a magical horse that saved some merchants (led by Śāriputra) from an island of demonesses.
In the past, the Bodhisattva was a merchant called Maitri who struck his mother after she objected to him going on a voyage. His trip led him to hell where he was punished for this deed.
Yaśodharā shared in the Bodhisattva’s sufferings during his period of ascetic practice.
She shared his sufferings in the past too:
The Bodhisattva, as a deer, became stuck in a trap, and his wife (Yaśodharā) refused to leave him, eventually persuading the hunter to let them go.
In the past a parrot king (the Bodhisattva) had a wife who wished to eat food from the palace of King Brahmadatta (Śuddhodana) and so a minister (Udāyi) was sent to retrieve some.
He was caught but the king was impressed by his loyalty and so released him again.
This is why Udāyi is suited to speak with the Bodhisattva’s father.
Long ago, two poor men fed a pratyekabuddha and were therefore reborn in a better human birth.
After a long series of events, one of them (the Bodhisattva) decided to renounce, and was followed by the king’s barber (Upali).
The king (Śuddhodana) and his courtiers paid them homage.
Another time, Upali was a barber’s son who shaved the head of a pratyekabuddha and was reborn as a deva, and later as a human in the time of Kāśyapa Buddha, where he became a monk and was a contemporary of Prabhāpāla (the Bodhisattva).
The Buddha explains why Yaśodharā was pregnant with Rāhula for six years:
(1) In the past the Bodhisattva broke a vow he had made not to take water, and asked the king his brother (Rāhula) to punish him. The latter made him stay in a park for six days.
(2) In the past Yaśodharā was a girl who made her mother carry her milk pail for six krosas.
Mahāprajāpatī became blind through grief after the Bodhisattva left home but was cured when he returned as Buddha. In the past she was an elephant attended to by her son (the Bodhisattva).
Having been captured, he was absent for a while and she became blind, but was cured upon his return.
In the past Nanda was a brahmin who constructed a bath house for the monks of Vipasyi Buddha.
In the past the Bodhisattva and Devadatta were a two-headed bird.
The former ate pleasant things to give them both pleasure; the latter ate poison to cause his companion to die.
In the past, Bhadraka gave to a pratyekabuddha and was consequently reborn as a Śākya prince.
Aniruddha narrates how in the past he made offerings to a pratyekabuddha and was rewarded with gold.
Some past births of Ānanda are also related here, but Beal omits the passage.