Entering the Bodhisattva’s way: instructing the intractable asuras

In document Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal (Will Douglas) (Page 30-36)

again asks Śrīghana when he might finally see Avalokiteśvara. In reply, Śrīghana tells the story of Avalokiteśvara going to liberate the asuras living in a realm called Kāñcanamayī. For these asuras, Avalokiteśvara sends forth light-rays of compassion which surround the asuras and make them happy. While they are wondering about the origin of these rays, he appears to these asuras as well in the guise of Śukrācārya. They ask about the light-rays, and he promises to explain if they agree to abide by his teachings. He then tells them about Avalokiteśvara, the lord and his work in saving all sentient beings. The light-rays are an emanation of his compassion, and anyone who worships him is bound to be reborn in Sukhāvatī and attain liberation. He explains the right way to worship Avalokiteśvara, including (again) a detailed account of the vrata. As before, when these asuras

Introduction 15

take up the prescribed practices their teacher reveals himself to them as none other than Avalokiteśvara.

Śrīghana assures that this is how he heard the story when Śikhin was teaching

VI Rescuing the topsy-turvy asuras

In response to inevitable question, Śrīghana this time tells of another past Buddha, Viśvabhū, whose interlocutor was Gaganagañja.23 At that time, Śrīghana himself was an ascetic hermit.

Viśvabhū tells Gaganagañja the story of another occasion on which Avalokiteśvara went to liberate the asuras of Kāñcanamayī, asuras known as adhomukha, perhaps meaning ‘upside down’.24 Again preceded by soothing lightrays generated through his great compassion, he appears to them as a and they ask him to tell their fortunes (daivam ākhyātum arhati N2 43r.2, VI.27) and explain what evils they might have done to attain such a rebirth. In a familiar pattern, he asks them to abide by whatever he should teach them, and then teaches them the basic practices of the Buddhist Path, including recollection of the triple jewel and practice of the vrata. They respond by addressing him with a hymn asking for teachings (N2 43v.1, VI.38–51), although they do not yet realize he is Avalokiteśvara. He then tells them about the

devotion to which will win them human rebirth, after which they will be able to progress on the Path. When they do indeed act as he has taught them, the disappears in a flash of light.

VII Rescuing the fourfold beings of the Golden Land

Śrīghana now relates to another story of Avalokiteśvara’s mass of merit which Viśvabhū taught to Gaganagañja. This chapter, although short, is crucial. In it, Avalokiteśvara goes to preach to human beings in the land of gold. He takes the form of a god and offers to teach them about the Triple Jewel. After an explanation of the Buddha, Dharma and they sing him a eulogy and beg him to stay. He explains that he cannot, but instead teaches them the best of the Mahāyāna sūtras. When they are firmly established on the Path, he vanishes in a puff of fire. This chapter, especially when compared to chapter IX, appears to explain the origin of the KV in human history.

Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal 16

VIII Entering the Bodhisattva path: the awakening of Bali

Bali, king of the asuras, who was banished to for his arrogance by the dwarf incarnation of is the subject of this long chapter. Avalokiteśvara goes next to his realm, and following a pattern familiar from previous chapters Bali is at first suspicious, then delighted when he recognizes Avalokiteśvara. He pours forth a poem expressing the joy he feels now that he has met Avalokiteśvara and fulfilled the purpose of his life.25 He implores Avalokiteśvara to act as a protector and saviour for the confused;

Avalokiteśvara responds by teaching him to venerate and recollect the Triple Jewel, placing special emphasis on the virtue of making donations (dāna) to the There follow a number of comparisons with extraordinarily large numbers, showing the uncountability of the mass of merit accumulated through donation to the

Bali then proceeds to lament his evil ways and pitiable state, all due to his unwise adoption of non-Buddhist teachings (tīrihikaśāsanam). He retells the story of being trampled by the dwarf-incarnation of and complains at length of his and his retinue’s sorry state. Bali begs Avalokiteśvara to teach them the Dharma, which he proceeds to do. Avalokiteśvara first tells Bali to give up his evil ways and stop associating with the wrong sort of people, then instructs him at rather more length on worshipping the Triple Jewel, continuing to emphasize the importance of charity.

The constant emphasis on charity in this chapter is a reflection of the primary concern of the parallel chapter in the KV, which also includes long excursuses and comparisons designed to show the incalculably great effects of making donations to the

The GKV diverges and expands, however, and Avalokiteśvara now describes a set of practices exemplifying each of the six perfections. Bali thanks him for this instruction and promises to abide by it. Suddenly, he utters forth a string of verses from the earlier chapters of the BCA, beginning with the verses for the confession of sins,26 and the remainder of the chapter consists of borrowed and adapted verse material.

IX Entering the true Dharma: awakening the and of the Blinding Darkness Land

In response to question, Śrīghana tells how, as

Avalokiteśvara emanates his wonderful rays, a magical lotus, wishing-trees and so forth manifested in the Jeta garden where Viśvabhū was teaching. Gaganagañja asks Viśvabhū about this, and he explains that it is the sign of Avalokiteśvara going to the Blinding Darkness27 Land. Why, asks Gaganagañja, would Avalokiteśvara want to go someplace where the sun and moon are unknown? (N2 73r.7, IX.28) Because, answers that Buddha, there are and there who need rescuing.

Introduction 17

Avalokiteśvara arrives, shining like the moon, and proceeds to teach the inhabitants to memorize, venerate, and copy out the KV. He describes the merit that accrues to those who treat it properly. The and are delighted, and demand that he stay.

They will build him a golden stūpa and organize a chariot festival.28 tatas te sarve bhūyas

natvā prārthayanty evam ādarāt bhagavan anubodhe samupadiśan viharasva sadātraiva kva cid anyatra mā vraja

dāsyāmahea ’tra te

ca jagatprabho sadā te sthitvā pītvā mudā (N2 75v.2, IX.81c–84)

Then they were all delighted, and once again bowing with folded hands to the Master of the Three Threads, they respectfully asked:

Lord, enlighten us. Teach us the True Dharma. Stay here forever! You musn’t go elsewhere. We’ll build a stūpa with the Three Jewels in gold and give it to you here. We’ll set up a chariot procession for you, Lord of the world, and take refuge with you forever and happily drink in the nectar of the Dharma!

a dāsyāmahe] dāsatamahe J N2

b T: following the Newari

He demurs, pointing out that he has to go other places, such as the realm of Śuddhavāsī, to save other beings, but they will be able to take refuge in his teachings. They return to their homes and practise as he has taught them.

X Rescuing the devaputra

Without referring to the enclosing narrative, the dialogue between Gaganagañja and Viśvabhū continues—and now it is Gaganagañja who longs for Avalokiteśvara to make an appearance. Viśvabhū tells him of Avalokiteśvara’s visit to the miserable devaputra The bodhisattva adopts the form of a brahmin and waits outside

door, hoping for alms. has nothing, however, and apologizes.

The brahmin begs again, saying that without charity he will certainly die.

Depressed, retreats to have a last look at his larder and is astonished to find it full of every kind of wealth. Understanding thus that the brahmin at his door must be his true guru, he rushes back and bows to Avalokiteśvara, ushers him into the house, places him on the best seat and honours him with all the luxuries he has found in his own house.

Avalokiteśvara then blesses him, and asks him if he would like to come along to the wonderful garden of Viśvabhū, who teaches refuge in the three jewels and is worshipped by every class of being. astonished, asks this brahmin what he actually is—a god? a man? an asura?—to which Avalokiteśvara responds, “I am a bodhisattva,

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upholding the welfare of every sentient being.” Avalokiteśvara repeats his invitation to go join the in the Jeta garden, and agrees to follow Avalokiteśvara there.

XI Rescuing the of Śrī by teaching them

The narrative frame remains with Viśvabhū and Gaganagañja for this chapter, which is apparently a reflex of the older and more famous story told in chapter XV. Here Avalokiteśvara goes to the island of flesh-eating seductresses and converts them to Buddhism.29

XII Rescuing the bugs and worms of

Avalokiteśvara rescues the worms living in the sewage system of He takes the form of a happy bee who flies overhead humming ‘Namo buddhāya dharmāya

’ and when the worms recollect his tune, they enter the Path and are reborn in Sukhāvatī after only two rebirths.30

XIII Rescuing the beings of Magadha by teaching them

Avalokiteśvara goes to Magadha, where there has been such a severe drought that the inhabitants are reduced to cannibalism. He causes rain to fall and restores them to the Path.

This chapter is taken by Amoghavajra Vajrācārya (NS 1066 (1946 CE: 143ff.) to be the basis for the story of as rain god. In fact, this brief chapter cannot actually be the basis for the long and elaborate story of who is brought to Nepāl after many trials by Bandhudatta Ācārya together with King Narendra and a farmer in order to break a twelve-year drought imposed by Gorakhnāth. That story is indeed retold in the eighth chapter of the longer recension of the SvP, but its origins remain obscure.31

XIV Arriving at Sukhāvatī to see Viśvabhū in the Jeta Garden śrījetārāmaviśvabhūdarśanasukhāvatīpratyudgama

We finally return to the surrounding dialogue between Śrīghana and

Śrīghana now recollects the time when he was a student in Viśvabhū's teaching assembly and Avalokiteśvara actually came to the Jeta Grove.

Viśvabhū identifies him to his assembly, and asks how many beings he has enlightened or placed on the Path. Avalokiteśvara gives a summary of all his journeys through hells

Introduction 19

and other realms rescuing beings—in effect, a plot summary of the work so far—and then lists all the classes of beings he has rescued. By the end of this list, Viśvabhū is laughing and Gaganagañja, awestruck, asks him to stay and teach. Avalokiteśvara reminds him of his vow to save all beings and says he cannot possibly stay. They exchange blessings, and Viśvabhū, still laughing, gives a concise teaching on the entire path, enumerating each of the six perfections. When he has finished, Avalokiteśvara disappears and Śrīghana closes his story by recapitulating the benefits of the Path.

XV Rescuing the trader

This chapter is the only portion of the GKV to have received significant scholarly attention, largely through Siegfried Lienhard’s careful studies. This story is old and widespread, and has not only a prior but a subsequent life as it is transformed in subsequent Newari versions into the story of a merchant lost in Tibet. It also accounts for a large number of the illustrations in any illustrated manuscript of either the KV or the GKV.

It begins with asking Śrīghana how Avalokiteśvara

rescues all sentient beings. Śrīghana explains that Avalokiteśvara has countless methods and samādhis which he can utilize, vidyās, and so on. Indeed, says Śrīghana,

“He once protected me from great danger—listen and I will tell you what once happened to me.” (aham api puro tena mahābhayāt yan mama tat puro

’dhunā || N2 91r.6)

Once upon a time, a merchant (who would eventually become Śrīghana) together with a retinue of five hundred is blown off course at sea and washed up on the island of Sri Lanka, where they are greeted by gorgeous and lonesome women. The men all settle into life on the island with great joy, but one night the merchant captain is alerted by Avalokiteśvara, who appears to him in the wick of his candle, that in fact the women are all preparing to eat them. They have one chance for escape: the miraculous horse Balāha, who alights on the island once a year, will carry them to safety if they grab onto him firmly and never look back. Many of the men do, of course, look back and fall to a horrible doom.

XVI The teaching and prediction of the full enlightenment of Śiva and Umā, their establishment on the path, and the rescuing of all beings

This single chapter makes up most of the second half of the KV. While proportionally it is not so long in the GKV, it still contains the crux of the plot and the resolution of wrenching desire to encounter Avalokiteśvara, and indeed this has remarkably little to do with the topic as announced in the chapter title. We might better call it ‘The Vision Quest of Śrīghana in search of the ’.

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again asks when Avalokiteśvara will arrive. Śrīghana reiterates that he will arrive eventually. then asks how many dharmas Avalokiteśvara has, to which Śrīghana replies that Avalokiteśvara in fact constitutes everything. He begins to describe the unimaginable inclusive totality of Avalokiteśvara by describing in detail the worlds contained in each of the pores of his skin.

Figure 1.1: The magical horse Balāha rescues Śrī Sārthavāha. From a

manuscript of the GKV sold at auction

In document Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal (Will Douglas) (Page 30-36)