The Tigress

“Furthermore, O noble goddess, a bodhisattva gives away even their body and life to help others. How is that so?

“Accompanied by one thousand bhikshus, the Tathagata – projecting bright rays of hundreds of pure and vast virtues to heaven and earth, possessing power to eclipse challengers with unobstructed wisdom, sight and power – was passing through the regions of the Panchalas when they came to a certain forest. There he saw an area lush with dark green soft grass and embellished with assorted fragrant meadow flowers. Seeing this, the Tathagata said to the Venerable Ananda: ‘This site is beautiful, Ananda. It has the mark of being the place of a Dharma teaching. Lay a seat for the Tathagata.’

As instructed by the Tathagata, a seat was set up. Having set up the seat, Ananda said to the Tathagata:

The seat is laid, O Transcendent Lord, chief and supreme among bipeds; freeing beings from bondage, you bestow supreme benefit upon humans. Be seated and may the nectar of sublime discourse for the benefit of humans kindly be given.

“Then the Tathagata sat on that seat and addressed the bhikshus in this way: ‘Would you like to see the remains of a bodhisattva who performed tasks that are difficult to perform?’
“When addressed in this way, those bhikshus replied to the Tathagata:

O Sublime Sage, the time is right for us to see the remains of one, the best of supreme beings, in whom rested inconceivable virtues of immense patience, fortitude and wisdom, delight in calm, humility and the mind of recollection. Tell us well.

“Then the Tathagata struck the surface of the earth with his hand, whose palm was soft as the newly bloomed lotus and marked with a thousand-spoked wheel. As soon as he struck it, the earth shook in six ways and there arose a stupa made of silver, gold and jewels. Then the Tathagata said to the Venerable Ananda: ‘Ananda, open this stupa.’ Heeding these instructions, the Venerable Ananda opened the stupa. Inside he saw an urn covered with gold and inlaid with jewels and pearls. Having seen this, he said to the Tathagata, ‘O Transcendent Lord, there is an urn made of gold.’ The Tathagata said, ‘Open these seven urns.’ Accordingly, he opened them. He saw relics whose colors were like snow and white lily. Seeing this, the Venerable Ananda said to the Tathagata, ‘O Transcendent Lord, there are relics.’ Then the Tathagata said, ‘Ananda, bring here the relics of the great being.’ Then the Venerable Ananda took those relics and brought them to the Tathagata. Taking the relics to the thousand bhikshus and holding them in his hand, the Tathagata addressed them in this way:

Here are the bones of one endowed with excellent virtue and supreme intellect, humility, meditation, delight through patience and sublime fame; one who continually strove for the wisdom of his enlightenment; intelligent and possessing steadfast joyous perseverance, he always delighted in giving.

“Then the Tathagata said this to the thousand bhikshus: ‘O bhikshus, offer homage to the bodhisattva’s relics fully charged with ethics and virtue, which are a field of merit and extremely rare to see.’ Then, their hearts filled with aspiration, those bhikshus paid homage to the relics with hands folded in reverence.

‘Then, with hands folded, the Venerable Ananda addressed the Tathagata in this way: ‘The Tathagata Transcendent Victor has risen above all the world and is venerated by all beings. How is it that the Tathagata venerates these remains?’

“Then the Tathagata replied in this way to the Venerable Ananda: ‘Ananda, it is because of these relics that I quickly awoke to peerless and supreme enlightenment. Ananda, formerly in a time long past, there was a king called Maharatha who possessed chariots, wielded great power and defeated opponents through unobstructed might and strength. He had three sons who were like sons of the gods: Maha-pranada, Mahadeva and Mahasattva.

“‘One day the king went to a park for sport. Drawn by the enchanting qualities of the park and wishing to find flowers, the princes ran about and entered the great Dvadasha-vana-gulma forest. As the princes ran about, their attendants were dismissed and went their own way. The princes entered the thick twelve forests of that fully protected forest reserve. Then Maha-pranada spoke to his brothers: “My heart is overwhelmed by fear. We might be killed by wild beasts. Stay close.” Mahadeva said: “As for me, I have no fear, but I am anxious I might be separated from my loved ones.” Mahasattva said:

Here in the forest solitude acclaimed by seers, I am not anxious nor have I fear. This heart of mine is greatly overjoyed in hope of finding opportunity for vast and great benefit.

“‘Then, as the princes strolled through the Dvadasha-vana-gulma forest, they came upon a tigress who had given birth the previous week, surrounded by her offspring, hungry and thirsty, famished, her body extremely feeble. Seeing her, Maha-pranada said: “Alas! It would be six or seven days since this wretch gave birth. She has not found food. Either she will die of starvation or devour her own cubs.”

“‘To this, Mahasattva said, “What is the food of this wretch?”

“‘Maha-pranada said, “Here, they say fresh meat and warm blood is food suitable for tigers, bears, hyenas and lions.”

“‘Mahadeva said: “This wretch, her body tortured by hunger and thirst, has little life left. She is extremely feeble and cannot look for food. Who would sacrifice their life to save hers?”

“‘Maha-pranada said: “O good fellows, giving one’s body is a daunting task.”

“‘Mahasattva said: “For people like us, feeble minded and greatly attached to the body, such an act is difficult indeed. However, great beings embark on giving their bodies completely and dauntlessly strive for others’ welfare.

Moreover, born of affectionate love and compassion, arya beings who consider their bodies as just obtained in heaven or on this earth, their joyous minds most agreeable to saving others’ lives, remaining steadfast, would have hundred-fold compassion in this case.

“‘Feeling very sad, the young prince looked at the tigress for a length of time without blinking, then went on his way. Then Mahasattva had this thought: “Now the time has come for me to give this body away. Why?

Although I have long guarded this putrid body, subject to death and decay, providing it with food and drink, clothing, vehicles and luxurious beds, ultimately it is doomed to crumble and end in woe. This body has no purpose save to abandon its unknown nature.

“Furthermore, since it is wholly impure, it will not endure. Now I should use it for a noble end. Thus it shall be for me like a boat crossing the ocean of death and rebirth.

Moreover, giving this body possessed of hundreds of abscess-like existences, filled with feces and urine, without core, like foam, bearing hundreds of worms, laying waste to what has been done, I shall attain the dharmakaya’s timeless state, free of the afflicted aggregates, sorrowless and endowed with samadhi, replete with hundreds of stainless virtues.

“‘His heart brimming with supreme compassion and resolve, he asked his brothers to leave him: “You two can go off. I am returning to the Dvadasha-vana-gulma for a personal thing.” Then Prince Mahasattva left that part of the forest and returned to where the tigress was. He hung his clothes on a forest creeper and prayed:

To benefit transmigrating beings, may I attain the peace of peerless enlightenment; my mind compassionate and steadfast, I give this body which others find hard to give up; may I achieve the flawless, priceless enlightenment that bodhisattvas so keenly seek. I shall free beings in the triple worlds from the intense fear of the ocean of existence.

“‘Then Mahasattva lay in front of the tigress, but the tigress did nothing to the compassionate Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva thought: “Alas! She is too weak and incapable!” He rose up in search of a sharp weapon and did not find one. Taking hold of a strong branch of bamboo stick, one hundred years old, he cut his throat and fell down before the tigress. When the Bodhisattva fell down, the earth shook in six ways, like a boat pounded by winds amidst the sea. The sun, as if caught by Rahu, did not shine with its rays. Flowers mingled with divine perfumes and powders fell. Then a certain goddess, her mind overwhelmed with astonishment, praised the Bodhisattva:

O noble-minded one, holding all beings in your compassion, here, as you joyfully give your body, hero among men, before long and without trouble you will find pristine peace, that tranquil supreme state devoid of birth and death’s pain.

“‘Then, licking the bloodstained body of the Bodhisattva, the tigress reduced his body to bones without flesh and blood.

“‘Feeling the earthquake, Maha-pranada said to Mahadeva:

The way the earth with its seas greatly shook as far as the oceans in all ten directions, the way the sun lost its rays and a rain of flowers has fallen, my mind is troubled; my brother has now given his body.

“‘Mahadeva said:

Considering the words of compassion he spoke and the way he keenly observed the tigress – tortured by suffering and weak, nearly eating her cubs – I too am troubled.

“‘Then, overcome by extreme grief, their eyes filling with tears, the two young princes went back along the path to where the tigress was. They saw his clothes hanging on bamboo shoots, his bloody bones scattered about, his hair spread in every direction. Upon seeing this, they fainted and fell down upon the remains. Reviving after some time, they raised their arms and issued a wretched cry:

Alas, our beloved brother! The king and our mother too were most devoted to their son. Our mother will surely ask, ‘Where did you leave the third one of you, he whose eyes are long as lotus petals?’ Alas! For the two of us in this part of the forest land, living is not as good as meeting death. Having lost Mahasattva, how will our parents care for us?

“‘Then, lamenting in many ways, the two young princes went on their way. Their servants, running in all directions in search of the princes, saw them and asked: “Princes, what happened? What happened?”

“‘At that moment, the queen was lying on her bed. She dreamed a dream showing separation from a loved one: her two breasts were cut off and her teeth were wrenched out. Finding three young frightened doves, one was snatched by a hawk. Terrified by the earthquake, the queen awoke suddenly and thought:

Why did this sustainer of beings, clothed in oceans, so violently shake? The sun was robbed of its rays, pointing to the sorrow in my heart. In my dream, my body was weak, my eyes quivered, my breasts were cut off. I wonder if my sons gone to the forest to play sport are well.

“‘As the queen sustained these thoughts, a maidservant entered. Distressed, she spoke to the queen: “Mother, the princes’ attendants search for the prince. It is heard that your beloved son has perished!” When she heard these words, with trembling heart and eyes filled with tears, the queen approached the king: “Lord, I have heard that my darling son has perished.” The king too was distraught. With trembling heart, he said, “I have lost my beloved son.”

“‘To give solace to the queen, the king said: “Good queen, do not grieve. I will immediately search for our prince.” As he set off, he saw a gathering of people crowding about. Then the king saw the two princes approaching from afar. Upon seeing them, the king cried: “The princes are coming, but not all three. Alas! It is agony to see oneself bereaved of a son.

The joy of gaining a son for a man does not equal the pain of losing a son for another; are those men not happy who have no sons in the world, or those who have met death with their children still living?

“‘Overcome with grief, the queen, like a she-camel struck in the vital part, issued a most wretched cry:

If my three sons with their assembly of servants entered the forest clearing overgrown with blossoms, my youngest darling son has not returned. Where is the last son, who is like my heart?

“‘When the two princes came near, the king asked, “Where is the youngest of you?”

“‘Grief stricken, their eyes filled with tears. Their mouths dry, they said nothing. The queen asked: “Where is my youngest son? My heart is about to burst. My body is in unbearable pain. My mind is failing. Speak at once.”

“‘Then the two sons told what had occurred. Upon hearing it, the king and queen became senseless. When they regained their sanity, they wept pitifully and went to that place. Seeing the bones without flesh, blood or muscle, and the hair scattered about, the king and queen fell to the ground like trees blown down by the wind. The priest and ministers witnessed these events, then refreshed and revived the bodies of the king and queen with salve of Malaya-sandal. Upon reviving, the king arose and cried this lamentation:

Alas! Beloved son, affectionate and jovial, why have you gone so quickly to death’s domain? Why has death not come to me instead? Never have I felt suffering greater than this.

“‘With bedraggled hair, beating her chest, the queen too wailed pitifully. She writhed on the ground as does a fish thrown onto dry land, a female buffalo deprived of her young, a she-camel whose offspring has perished:

Alas! Who has crushed and scattered on the ground my darling son, this lotus, most loving? Which enemy of mine on this earth today has slain my son of charming eyes and moon-like face.

Alas! When seeing the best of sons slain upon the ground why does this body not collapse? This heart of mine is clearly made of iron; it does not crack in the face of tragic pain. Today in my dream, my breasts were cut with a sword, my teeth were wrenched from my mouth; and today my darling son is suddenly no more. Just as one of three doves I held was snatched by a hawk, today, surrounded by three sons, death has seized one. Alas! The fruit of my evil dream has come to pass!

“‘Then the king and the queen lamented in many ways. Surrounded by a large crowd, they bared themselves of ornaments, paid homage to the remains of their son and laid his remains in this place.

“Ananda, if you think the young prince called Mahasattva at that time, at that moment, was another, do not see it like that. Why? At that time, at that moment, I was the young prince called Mahasattva. Ananda, even before I was wholly free of ignorance, hatred and desire, I saved beings from the suffering of the hells. Now that I am free of all weakness and arrived at enlightenment’s perfection, how much more would I wish to free all beings? In this way, for the sake of just one being I have happily remained in the hell realms for eons. I have freed beings completely from the cycle of birth. With the most excellent of hearts, I have helped all beings and performed numerous different daunting tasks.”

“Then the Tathagata at that time pronounced these verses:

While seeking supreme enlightenment, I gave my body for many eons. Just as I became king or prince, so I completely gave my body.

As I recall my past rebirths, once there was a king called Maha-ratha who had a greatly generous son called Mahasattva, the sublime.

And Mahasattva had two brothers, Maha-pranada and Mahadeva by name. These brothers ventured into a thick forest and saw there a tigress tortured by hunger.

Agonizing was Mahasattva’s compassion for this being: ‘So famished is this tigress with hunger and thirst, she will surely eat her own cubs. Thus, I shall offer my body to her.’

Mahasattva, the son of Maha-ratha, saw the famished tigress and her cubs; with compassionate thought to save them he fell down the mountain slope.

The earth with its mountains shook – scattering various flocks of birds and terrifying herds of deer – and this world remained shrouded in darkness.

Maha-pranada and Mahadeva, his two brothers, looked for him in that great forest. Failing to find Mahasattva, they mindlessly ran about.

Overcome by grief, their hearts filled with pain, they wandered about the forest; tears streamed down their faces as they searched for their brother.

Maha-pranada and Mahadeva, the two young princes came close to the spot where the weak tigress lay. They saw the tigress and her cubs, their tiger mouths covered with blood.

On the ground were a few drops of his blood; some bones and some hair were scattered about. When they beheld the earth stained with blood, the minds of the princes were ruined, without thought. The two princes swooned and fell to the ground, their bodies covered with dust and with dirt.

Their entourage of attendants too cried lamentations and were overcome with grief. Swiftly sprinkling water upon them, with arms upraised, they wept.

The beloved queen, the mother who bore him, sat in ease in the palace, accompanied by five hundred women.

The moment he fell, milk streamed from her breasts and immediately turned to blood. Her body and limbs were racked by sharp pain as if they were pierced by pins. Deeply distressed, she was pierced by the arrows of sorrow. Her heart flooded with grief, she approached the king. Wretched, weeping before the king, she said this to King Maharatha:

‘Listen to me, King, lord of humans: my body burns with the fire of grief; milk flowing from the tips of my breasts immediately oozed as blood.

My body stings as if pierced by needles; my heart is next to bursting. Such are the signs I shall not see my sons again. Such is the fate of my children.

Be compassionate; give me my life. Today, in my dream, I saw three young doves; one dove, my young son – sweet and kind – was snatched by a hawk in that place.

The sorrow of such dreams has entered my heart; my mind is scorched by distress. Such is the fate of my sons; before long I shall succumb to grief; O Compassionate One, give me my life.’

Having spoken, the chief queen fainted and fell to the ground. Her mind was senseless, deprived of memory, and her thoughts failed.

Upon seeing the sublime queen fainted and fallen on the ground, the whole crowd in that palace too wept and wailed in pitiful voices. At once, the lord king was overcome by the loss of his son; his ministers and attendants too set out to search for the princes. People all over that city came out of their various homes. Crying and with tears flowing, they asked after Mahasattva:

‘Is he alive or dead? Where has Mahasattva gone? Today will we glimpse that one who is beloved and pleasing to see?’

Suddenly the silent wind of grief fierce and without noise, blew throughout that region; yet due to limitless magic, there was a sharp sound.

Then King Maharatha rose up, oppressed with grief and crying. He sprinkled water upon his sublime queen, who had fainted and fallen on the ground. Regaining her senses, the queen arose; her mind forlorn, she asked, ‘Are my sons dead or do they live?’

Then King Maha-ratha said to the chief queen:

‘The ministers and the attendants too have gone to search for the princes. Do not be downcast in mind. Do not be sorrowful in heart.’

In this way, having comforted the queen, King Maha-ratha came out of that royal palace. Surrounded by a host of ministers he was crying, weak in mind, feeble in body and overcome by grief.

Many hundreds of beings too cried with tears falling. They ran out of that excellent city to search for the young princes.

Seeing the king emerge from the palace, thus, they followed after him. The moment the king left that city to look for his beloved sons he gazed with staring eyes in every direction.

He saw a man coming his way, his head shaven, his limbs smeared with blood; his clothes covered with dust and dirt, his face was sodden with tears.

A fierce grief took hold of King Maha-ratha’s heart. His face covered with tears, he wept. Standing with arms upraised, he lamented.

Then a certain minister came quickly and swiftly from afar. Coming close to King Maha-ratha, the lord of men, he spoke:

‘O lord of men, do not be sad. Your charming sons are alive! Before long in your presence you will see your beloved sons.’

The king continued upon his way and then a second minister came to him; clad in dusty and sweat-sodden clothes, in a tearful voice, he said to the king:

‘O great king, two of your sons are alive, scorched by the fire of grief. O king, your third son is missing. Mahasattva is captured by impermanence.

He saw a starving tigress who had given birth shortly before and was near to eating her cubs. For them young Mahasattva, his heart filled with compassion, proclaimed enlightenment’s great resolve: “All beings I shall set free; in future times, may I realize the great enlightenment I so keenly seek.”

Then Mahasattva jumped down that steep slope; the famished tigress stood up. Quickly making his body without flesh, she left the prince with just a few bones.’

Upon hearing these dreadful words, his mind was shattered. King Maha-ratha fainted and fell to the ground. The fire of his grief blazed without relent. The ministers and the attendants too wept wretchedly, overcome by sorrow. They sprinkled water upon him and lamented with arms upraised.

Then the third minister said this to the king: ‘Today I have seen both princes in the great forest, laying on the ground. They had fainted; their minds were broken.

We profusely sprinkled water upon them until they revived and rose up once more. Ablaze, they looked in the four directions; standing briefly, they fell again to the ground. They lamented wretchedly in pitiful voices; with arms uplifted, they sang their brother’s praise.’

The king’s mind ebbed extremely low and was distraught at having lost his son. In unbearable grief, he cried lamentations. Then this thought entered the mind of the king:

‘My son Mahasattva, beloved and charming, has been captured by impermanence. The life of my other two sons could now be lost to the fire of grief. Therefore, I should quickly proceed there to see those sons who are pleasing to behold.

On swift mounts, to the royal court of the royal palace I will quickly bring my sons. If not, the heart of the mother who bore them is like to burst from the scorching fire of grief. Upon seeing her two sons she will find peace, and therefore, her life will not be lost.’

The king, escorted by a host of ministers, mounting his elephant went to see his two sons. Crying in wretched pitiful voices, the two princes came their way, calling out their brother’s name.

The king wept in anguish. He took his two sons and returned home. Quickly, like one in great haste, he presented her sons to the queen.

I, the Tathagata Shakyamuni was formerly Mahasattva, Son of King Maha-ratha who made the tigress well.

Shuddho-dana, the great king was the king called Maha-ratha, and Queen Maya was the sublime queen. Maha-pranada became Maitreya. Likewise, Prince Mahadeva was the youthful Manjushri. The tigress was Maha-prajapati; the five bhikshus were her five cubs.

“‘Then the great king Maha-ratha and the great queen wretchedly cried many lamentations. They bared themselves of all ornaments, and together with a great crowd, made homage to the remains of the prince. Placing the remains of Mahasattva at this very place, they built this stupa of seven jewels. When Mahasattva gave the tigress his body, he made this altruistic wish: “By the merit of completely giving my body, may I, in future times for eons utterly beyond thought, perform the deeds of buddhas for sentient beings.”

“When this exposition was being given, inconceivable uncountable numbers of beings, including gods and humans, generated the altruistic intention for supreme and perfect enlightenment. And this is the reason and this is the cause for revealing this stupa here.

“Then, through the power of the Tathagata’s blessing, that stupa entered the ground on that very spot.”

This ends the eighteenth chapter, the Chapter on the Tigress, from the King of Glorious Sutras, the Sublime Golden Light.