Notes on the Buddhavamsa


I – The Jewel Walk


1-5: it appears as though the Buddha has recently attained his full enlightenment. The Brahma Sahampati has requested him to teach, which happened not all that long after the enlightenment. Since the Buddha has just become enlightened, and there has not been a Buddha in this world-system for many aeons, it stands to reason that other beings will not know what the power and majesty of a sammasambuddha truly is. Thus the Buddha will show them.


6-15: the Jewel Walk reminds me of Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a symbol of the connection of the mundane world with the realm of the transcendental, the means by which we can journey on the Path to enlightenment. The Walk (Path) “illumined…the earth together with the worlds of the devas and the numberous baseless spaces between the worlds.” Altogether, it rather sounds like a fanciful description of the Milky Way, although I think it means a great deal more than that. Beautiful image.


16-36: similar to the ending of the Dhammacakkapavatanasutta; all of the heavenly beings rejoice at the wonder, at the marvel, of the appearance of the Path. A fully-enlightened Buddha has been born into our world-system, into our world and time. We have the Way, the Path.


37-42: devotional homage to the Buddha. Note that he is stated as being unique in the Three Trainings of Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom. But he isn’t limited to that. He is the one “who is furnished thus with all the special qualities, endowed with all (their) factors.” There is a fine passage here letting us know why the Buddha should be worshipped: “Of those who should be reverenced in the world, of those who are worthy of reverence, you are the best of all, great hero, none like you exists.”


43-63: this seems as though the creation of the Jewel Walk spans time as well as space. For here Sariputta sees the Buddha (although in terms of pure history, if the Buddha had just recently attained enlightenment, Sariputta would not know him as of yet) and in having seen him, brings some of the other Elders—Kassapa, Moggallana, Anuruddha, Upali, Punna. (Interesting that Ananda isn’t in the group.) It is to these great Elders that the Buddha will actually address his chronicle of the Buddhas.


64-65: what cannot be known: the aggregation of beings, and space, and the infinite world-spheres, and the immeasurable knowledge of a Buddha. This reminds me of the Buddha’s speaking to the monks in the Pali Canon at times when he lifts up a few leaves and asks which is greater—the leaves in his hand or all the leaves in all the forests of the world? Of course the latter is the greater. The Buddha then says that what he knows is all the leaves in all the forests in the world, and what he has taught is that handful of leaves. However, he has taught them what they need to know.


66-70: the Buddha refers to the Dhammacakkapavatanasutta here by saying: “When I, clearly conscious, issued forth from my mother’s womb the ten-thousand (world-system) shook, sending forth its approval.


71-79: this contains some fascinating glimpses into the “Mahayana” aspect of the Buddhavamsa. Sariputta is “attained to the perfection of wisdom”, for example. The Buddha is fully accomplished in the Ten Paramitas—these are generally thought of as more Mahayana as well, although they aren’t unheard of in Theravada.


80-81: a bit of teaching here: “Respectfully fare along the Way which crushes pride, drives away sorrow, delivers completely from samsara, (and) destroys all anguish.”


II – Account of Sumedha


1-6: introduction to Sumedha, who was a rich Brahman in the city of Amaravati in the time of the dispensation of the Buddha Dipankara.


7-27: Sumedha forms the intention to be rid of the defilements, to be rid of suffering. He sees the body in particular as a vehicle for suffering: “And even as a man, having discarded a loathsome ordure tied to his neck, would go on at ease, independent, his own master, so, casting aside this putrid body, a conglomeration of various ordures, I would go on indifferent, unconcerned.” Another way it is put is the way we just go on after depositing our feces, without worrying unduly about them.


28-34: Sumedha therefore leaves his wealth behind, gives it away, and becomes a matted-hair ascetic, living in the mountain named Dhammaka.


35-60: Sumedha hears of the Buddha Dipankara and goes to a town in the border country to see him. He lays down in the mud, inviting Dipankara to tread upon him: “Let the Buddha go treading on me with his disciples. Do not lead him tread in the mire—it will be for my welfare.” At this point Sumedha is still thinking of release in terms of himself, and not in terms of others. But fairly quickly, he begins to think otherwise: “What is the use of my crossing over alone, being a man aware of my strength? Having reached omniscience, I will cause the world together with the devas to cross over. By this act of merit of mine towards the supreme among men I will reach omniscience, I will cause many people to cross over.”


61-70: Dipankara, hearing Sumedha’s thoughts, proclaims that Sumedha will indeed become a Buddha, and he predicts (correctly) details of the future Buddha’s life—his mother and father, his chief disciples, and so forth.


71-81: The devas and inhabitants of the world-systems rejoice with these words. They know that there will be yet another Buddha, and so there will be teachings in the future as well as in the present under Dipankara. “…all of us, if we miss (the words of) this Conqueror, in the distant future will be face to face with this one.”


82-108: The devas and inhabitants of the world-systems reassure Sumedha that he will become a Buddha, with a listing of all of the portents of a future Buddha. This is a lovely passage in which “Great winds did not blow, streams did not flow” and “Treasures of the sky and of the earth were shining then; all these treasures are shining too today.” Phrase follows phrase in a rich soup of image.


1090-115: Sumedha reflects on the assurance that he will become a Buddha. The imagery here is lovely; simile and metaphor, one after another. The general idea is that the Buddha Dipankara could never tell a falsehood or be incorrect about anything, and given his prediction that Sumedha will be a Buddha, then that’s precisely what will happen.


116-166: Sumedha reflects on the Ten Paramitas. Each of these he lists and gives one metaphor for each:


Generosity: a full jar overturned discharges the water completely and does not retain it there.


Morality: a yak protects its tail, even if caught and to release itself would involve harming the tail.


Renunciation: a person in prison longs only for release.


Wisdom: a monk looking for alms isn’t picky about from whom; we seek wisdom from all people.


Energy: lions are always energetic, no matter what their posture.


Patience: the earth tolerates all that is thrown upon it, no matter whether fair or foul, and shows neither approval nor repugnance.


Truth: stars shine on good and bad man alike; so alike is truth.


Resolute Determination: a mountain is stable and does not tremble in rough winds.


Lovingkindness: water cleanses evil and good people alike, without bias.


Equanimity: the earth tolerates all that is thrown upon it, no matter whether fair or foul.


167-177: A great earthquake begins, and people are worried about it. Dipankara reassures them that this is normal for what is happening, as the Buddha-to-be ponders the future. (Earthquakes portend a lot of important moments in the history of a Buddha.)


178-188: Sumedha is praised and blessed by devas and men alike.


IIb The First Chronicle: That of the Lord Dipankara


The Bodhisatta was a long-haired ascetic named Sumedha at that time.


212: interesting line in here: “he crushed the sectarians.” Seems that the age-old bad blood between the Buddhists and Jains is rather longer than one might have thought.


219: Even though Dipankara’s life lasted 100,000 years, he eventually achieved parinibbana. “And that psychic potency and that great retinue and those treasures of the Wheel on his feet have all disappeared. Are not all constructions void?” Even the life of a Buddha is impermanent.


III The Second Chronicle: That of the Lord Kondańńa


The Bodhisatta was Vijitavin, a great warrior-noble. He supported the sangha. Kondanna saw his great practice and proclaimed his future Buddhahood; he gave his great kingdom to Kondanna and went forth in his presence.


Kondanna lived for 100,000 years—but “…that Conqueror’s psychic potency which was not to be gauged, and the concentration fostered through knowledge have all disappeared. Are not all constructions void?”


IV The Third Chronicle: That of the Lord Mangala


The Bodhisatta was a brahman named Suruci, an expert in the three Vedas and the mantras. He gave his wordly wealth to Mangala and went forth in his presence.


V The Fourth Chronicle: That of the Lord Sumana


The Bodhisatta was a naga-king of great psychic potency named Atula. He gave Sumana the great music of the nagas, and gifts of food, robes, and drink.


33: And that unrivalled knowledge and those unrivalled treasures have all disappeared. Are not all constructions void?


VI: The Fifth Chronicle: That of the Lord Revata


The Bodhisatta was a brahman named Arideva; he gave Revata his outer cloak and Revata proclaimed his Buddhahood-to-be.


28: And that gem-like body and that unique Dhamma have all disappeared. Are not all constructions void?