Span of the Tathagata’s Life

Furthermore, at that time, during that period, in the great city of Raja-griha, there dwelt the bodhisattva, the great being Ruchira-ketu, who had venerated previous buddhas, cultivated roots of virtue and rendered service to many hundreds of thousands of millions of buddhas. He thought to himself, “What cause and what condition will cause the Lord Shakyamuni to live for only eighty years? That is such a short life.” Furthermore, he thought, “The Lord has himself declared: ‘There are two causes and two conditions which prolong life. What are the two? They are namely renouncing killing and giving food wholly.’ As for the Lord Shakyamuni, he renounced killing for many incalculable hundreds of thousands of millions of eons. He perfectly adhered to the path of the ten virtuous actions. He gave away food and external and internal objects completely. Not only that, he satisfied hungry living beings with the flesh, blood, bones and marrow of his own body.”

Then, while this sublime being entertained such thoughts with regard to the Tathagata, his house transformed into a vast and expansive palace made of lapis lazuli, embellished with numerous divine jewels, its color transformed by the Tathagata and filled with perfumes surpassing those of gods. In the four directions emerged four thrones made of divine jewels. These thrones came to be covered with mats of divine jewels and fine cotton raiment, and on those thrones appeared divine lotuses adorned with numerous jewels, their color transformed by the Tathagata. From those lotuses arose four Transcendent Victor Buddhas. In the east appeared the Tathagata Akshobhya; in the south appeared the Tathagata Ratnaketu; in the west appeared the Tathagata Amitayus; and in the north appeared the Tathagata Dundubhi-ishvara. When those tathagatas appeared on those lion thrones, the great city of Rajagriha was filled with bright light. That light pervaded all the triple thousand, great thousand world systems, world systems in the ten directions and world systems as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges river. In addition, divine flowers rained down and divine music resounded. Through the power of the Buddha, all sentient beings in the triple thousand, great thousand worlds too became possessed of the joy of the gods. Beings whose senses were incomplete became possessed of complete senses; beings blind from birth saw forms with the eyes; deaf beings heard sounds with the ears; insane beings regained their sanity; distracted beings became focused; naked beings became clothed in garments; hungry beings became full-bellied; thirsty beings were quenched; beings afflicted with illness became free of disease; beings whose bodily organs were defective became possessed of complete organs. Many astounding events took place in the world.

Upon seeing those buddhas, the bodhisattva Ruchira-ketu was greatly astounded. He was satiated, pleased, joyful and delighted. Feeling happy and ecstatic, with hands folded in the direction of the tathagatas, he bowed in homage, remembering those tathagatas. Then, reflecting on the qualities of the Tathagata Shakyamuni Buddha, he was vexed with misgiving about the lifespan of the Tathagata Shakyamuni Buddha. He wondered, “How is it that the Lord Shakyamuni will live a brief life of only eighty years?”

Those tathagatas, while knowing and realizing his thoughts, spoke to him thus: “O child of noble family, do not think, ‘The Lord Shakyamuni will have such a short lifespan.’ Why? Because, O child of noble family, except for the perfectly and fully enlightened conqueror tathagatas, we do not see among the worlds of gods, maras or brahmas, among ascetics and brahmins, gods, humans or asuras, anyone who could perceive the furthest future reaches of the lifespan of the Tathagata, Lord Shakyamuni.”

As soon as those tathagatas expressed this observation on the lifespan of the Tathagata Shakyamuni Buddha, then by the power of the Tathagata, the gods residing in the desire and form realms, including nagas, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras and mahoragas, as well as numerous hundreds of thousands of millions of bodhisattvas, gathered and went to the house of the bodhisattva Ruchira-ketu. Then those tathagatas proclaimed in verse this explanation of the lifespan of Tathagata Shakyamuni to the entire gathering:

The drops of water in all the oceans can be measured, but no one can measure the lifespan of Shakyamuni.

To the finest particle, the atoms of Mount Sumeru can be gauged, but no one can gauge the lifespan of Shakyamuni.

The number of finest particles existing on this earth can be measured, but not the span of the Conqueror’s life.

Although through some device one may wish to measure space, no one can measure the lifespan of Shakyamuni.

The number cannot be found that explains: ‘The fully enlightened Buddha lives this long, this many eons, in eon terms, such as one hundred million eons.’ There are two causes and two conditions for this: Renouncing deadly violence and repeatedly giving plentiful food.

The finite count of the lifespan of this great being that explains: ‘He will live these many eons’ cannot be found. The eons are indeed uncountable. Hence, have no doubt, not even the slightest doubt; the finite limit of the Conqueror’s life is not observed anywhere.

Then, at that time, in that assembly, the brahmin teacher and expounder called Kaundinya, along with numerous thousands of brahmins, venerated the Tathagata. On hearing the voice of those great tathagatas, completely gone beyond sorrow, they gathered in that place at once. Bowing at the feet of the Tathagata, the brahmin teacher and expounder Kaundinya said to the Tathagata: “If the Lord Transcendent Victor is merciful to all living beings, compassionate, desirous of serving, a parent to all, equal to the unequalled, illuminating like the moon, wisdom and knowledge glowing like the sun, if you look upon all beings as upon your son Rahula, then please give me some guidance.”

The Tathagata remained silent.

Then through the power of the Tathagata, in that assembly a confidence grew in a Licchavi youth called Sarva-loka-priya-darshana, and he spoke thus to the brahmin teacher and expounder Kaundinya: “Why do you seek guidance, great brahmin, from the Buddha? I will give you the guidance you seek.”

The brahmin said, “For the sake of honoring the Buddha, Licchavi youth, and for the sake of receiving a share of relic powder, I wish to have a relic of the Buddha the size of a mustard seed. It is said that if one honors a relic the size of a mustard seed, one attains lordship over the gods of the Thirty-Three. Listen, O Licchavi youth, to the King of Glorious Sutras, the Sublime Golden Light, which has features and qualities such as being difficult for all shravakas and pratyekabuddhas to know and to comprehend. O Licchavi youth, the Sutra of Sublime Golden Light is in this way difficult to know and difficult to comprehend. Hence, we brahmins of remote areas wish to have a relic the size of a mustard seed, which when held, either placed in a bowl or kept on the body, causes living beings to attain lordship over the gods of the Thirty-Three. Why wouldn’t you, O Licchavi youth, wish to receive a relic the size of a mustard seed from the Tathagata and keep it in an urn so that living beings may attain lordship over the gods of the Thirty-Three? O Licchavi youth, I seek such a boon.”

Then Sarva-loka-priya-darshana, the Licchavi youth, replied in verse to the brahmin teacher and expounder Kaundinya:

When white lilies grow in the Ganges’ swift currents, when crows become red and cuckoos turn the color of conch, when palm fruit grows on the rose-apple tree and on the date tree mangos form, at that time a relic the size of a mustard seed will appear.

When from tortoise hair cloth shielding winter’s bite can be woven well, then there will be a relic.

When from the legs of gnats multi-storied towers can be well built, solidly firm and never shaking, then there will be a relic.

When all leeches grow white teeth, sharp and big, then there will be a relic.

When from the horns of rabbits ladders can be built well in order to climb high, then there will be a relic.

Climbing this ladder, should a mouse eat the moon and harm Rahu as well, then there will be a relic.

When bees that buzz in towns drink a pitcher of wine and make dwelling in a house, then there will be a relic.

When donkeys become happy, well versed in singing and dancing, their lips ruddy like the bimba fruit, then there will be a relic.

When owls and crows flock to solitude, frolic together and become friendly, then there will be a relic.

When the leaves of the palasha tree become an umbrella made of three jewels that keeps off the rain, then there will be a relic.

When large ocean vessels fitted with turning devices and sails float and set sail on land, then there will be a relic.

When owls move freely, lifting the Gandha-madana mountain in their beaks, then there will be a relic.

After hearing these verses, the brahmin teacher and expounder Kaundinya replied to Sarvalokapriyadarshana, the Licchavi youth:

Excellent, excellent, supreme youth! The son of Buddha, great orator, Heroic and skillful in means, you have received the sublime prophecy.

Listen to me, O youth, concerning the inconceivable greatness of the Tathagata, the protector and savior of the world.

The realm of the buddhas is inconceivable and the tathagatas are peerless. All buddhas are ever serene. All buddhas are perfectly emerged. All buddhas are of the same hue. This is the suchness of buddhas.

The Lord Transcendent Victor is uncontrived. The Tathagata is unborn. His body, hard as a vajra, manifests emanated forms. Thus, no relic small as a mustard seed of the great sage is to be found.

Since his body is without bone and blood, how can there be a relic? Yet to benefit living beings, skillfully, relics are formed.

Dharmakaya – the complete Buddha; Dharmadhatu – the Tathagata akin to the deed of teaching the Dharma, these are the body of the Lord.

Because I heard and knew this I sought this sublime gift. To make this truth plain and clear, thus I initiated this discourse.

Then, having heard such profound explanations of the Tathagata’s span of life, all thirty- two thousand sons of gods generated altruistic resolve for the peerless and perfect enlightenment. Their minds filled with intense joy, they spoke these verses in a single voice:

The Buddha does not enter complete nirvana; neither does the Dharma cease to be; yet for the ripening of beings, Tathagatas manifest passing beyond suffering.

The Transcendent Victor Buddha is inconceivable; though the Tathagata’s body is permanent, it pervades a multitude of forms for the welfare of sentient beings.

Having heard these discourses explaining the lifespan of the Tathagata Shakyamuni Buddha from these tathagatas and the two great beings, the bodhisattva Ruchira-ketu was thoroughly satiated, pleased, extremely delighted and filled with joy. He was overwhelmed with great bliss of mind. While this discourse on the Tathagata’s span of life was being given, inconceivable countless sentient beings generated altruistic resolve for peerless and perfect enlightenment. Then those tathagatas vanished in that very spot.

This ends the second chapter, the Chapter on the Span of the Tathagata’s Life, from the King of Glorious Sutras, the Sublime Golden Light.