Monday, August 15, 2011

Maha Buddhavamsa - The Story of Setaketu Deva


Maha Buddhavamsa
The Great Chronicle of The Buddhas
by Tipitakadhara Mingun Sayadaw

Edited and Translated by
U Ko Lay and U Tin Lwin

In this way, our Future Gotama had adorned himself with the flower of prophecy, "This man will certainly become a Buddha amongst three kinds of beings (men, Devas and Brahmas)", uttered by the twenty-four Buddhas, ranging from Dipankara to Kassapa, out of the twenty seven Buddhas who appeared in the period of time lasting four asankhyeyya and one hundred thousand aeons. Throughout that period of four asankhyeyya and one hundred thousand aeons, the Bodhisatta had endeavoured to fulfil the Perfections (Parami), sacrifices (caga) and virtues through practices (cariya) by the aforesaid four means of development (bhavana) and reached the pinnacle of the fulfillment of all these requisites conducive to the attainment of Buddhahood. This being so, in the last existence as a Future Buddha when he was reborn as Prince Vessantara, he brought to termination the entire period of Parami-accumulation by performing all the final acts of merit which surpassed everything, which was beyond comparison and which was to be crowned with success of enlightenment. This commanded the awe and veneration even of the inanimate great earth (mahapathavi) that quaked and trembled seven times. And having ended his life-span in the human abode, the Future Buddha was reborn as a Deva by the name of Setaketu in the abode of Tusita. He was endowed with the ten attributes in which he was superior to other Devas, namely, (1) long life; (2) physical beauty; (3) great happiness; (4) immense wealth and retinue; (5) authority and power, (6) sense of sight; (7) sense of hearing; (8) sense of smell, (9) sense of taste; (10) sense of touch.

(When it is said that "the great ocean, starting from the Cakkavala range of mountains, gets deeper and deeper till it reaches the foot of Mount Meru, and its depth becomes eighty-four thousand yojanas," it goes without saying that counting all droplets of water in the ocean is impossible. In the same way, when virtuous people learned briefly from hearing or from reading that the Future Buddha, in four asankhyeyya and one hundred thousand aeons, untiringly and continuously fulfilled the Parami, cagas and cariyas by the four means of development, one can reflect profoundly with devotional faith on how the Bodhisatta had developed the Perfections, etc. in the course of existences that were more numerous than the countless droplets of water in the great ocean.)

The uproar announcing appearance of a Buddha
(Buddha kolahala)

Deva Setaketu, the Future Buddha, enjoyed the supreme divine bliss in the abode of Tusita for four thousand years according to Deva reckoning, which is equivalent to five hundred and seventy-six million years in the human world. Then one thousand years by human calculations before the end of his life-span an Tusita, Suddhavasa Brahmas proclaimed:

"Friends, in a thousand years from today, there will appear in the human abode an Omniscient Buddha!"

Because of this proclamation from the vault of heaven, the uproar announcing the appearance of a Buddha (Buddha kolahala), "An Omniscient Buddha will be appearing! An Omniscient Buddha will be appearing!" reverberated across the entire human world one thousand years ahead of the event.

(With reference to the name of the Bodhisatta Deva, it is mentioned in the Chapter on Ratanasankama, Buddhavamsa Pali, as follows: Yada'ham tusite kaye santusito nama'ham tada. This shows that the Deva had the name of Santusita. Also in the Buddhavamsa Commentary and Jinalankara Tika the same name is mentioned. But in the exposition of the Pubbenivasa-katha, Veranja-kanda of the Parajika Commentary, and in the exposition of the Bhayabherava Sutta of the Mulapanasa Commentary, the Deva's name is given as Setaketu. Moreover, successive authors of Myanmar Buddhavamsas such as the Tathagata-Udana Dipani, Malalankara Vatthu, Jinatthapakasani etc., give Setaketu as the name of the Deva. Therefore, it has been explained by various teachers that Santusita was a common name derived from Tusita, the name of the celestial abode, whereas Setaketu was the proper name that specifically refers to the Deva who would become Buddha Gotama.)

The request made to the Bodhisatta Deva

On hearing the uproar announcing the advent of a Buddha, all Deva kings belonging to the ten thousand world-systems, such as Catu Maharajas, Sakka, Suyama, Santusita, Sunimmita, Vasavatti and all Maha-Brahmas congregated in a certain universe to hold a discussion on the Future Buddha whose divine life-span remained only seven days by human reckoning, and whose approaching end of life had become manifest through five predicting signs (pubbanimittas) (pubbanimittas: See the Anudipani in this book for details. ) Then they all approached Setaketu Deva with their hands joined in adoration and requested him as follows:

"O Bodhisatta Deva, you had completely fulfilled the ten Perfections, not with the desire to gain the bliss of Sakka, of Mara, of Brahma, or of a Universal Monarch. You had fulfilled these Perfections, aspiring only after Omniscient Buddhahood in order to acquire for yourself freedom from the three worlds as well as to liberate the multitudes of humans, Devas and Brahmas. O Bodhisatta Deva, this is the most propitious time for you to become an Omniscient Buddha! This is truly the right moment to become an Omniscient Buddha! Therefore, may you take conception in the womb of your mother of the human abode. After attaining Supreme Enlightenment, may you liberate humans, Devas and Brahmas from samsara by teaching the Dhamma on Deathlessness, Nibbana."

The Bodhisatta made the five great investigations

The Bodhisatta Deva Setaketu did not hastily give his consent to the supplication of the Devas and Brahmas who had come together from the ten thousand world-systems; in consonance with the tradition of previous Bodhisattas, he made the five great investigations as follows:

(1) appropriate time for the appearance of a Buddha,

(2) appropriate island-continent for the appearance of a Buddha,

(3) appropriate country for the appearance of a Buddha,

(4) the family into which the Bodhisatta (in his last existence) is reborn, and

(5) the span of life of the Bodhisatta's mother.

(1) Of these five great investigations, the Bodhisatta considered first: "Is the time right or not for the appearance of a Buddha in the human world?" The time is not proper for the advent of a Buddha when the life-span of human beings is on the increase from one hundred thousand years. Owing to such longevity, suffering caused by birth, suffering caused by disease, suffering caused by old age and suffering caused by death are not manifest. Veiled by their lengthy life-span, human beings tend to be oblivious of all suffering. The Dhamma sermons to be delivered by Buddhas invariably centre around the characteristics of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and non-self (anatta). If Buddhas who appear when the life-span is more than one hundred thousand years give sermons on the nature of anicca, dukkha and anatta the people of that period will be perplexed, wondering what the Buddhas are teaching; they will neither listen to nor believe the sermons. Without listening or believing, human beings will surely wonder what the Buddhas' preaching is. They will never realize the Four Noble Truths and never achieve Nibbana. It will be fruitless to teach the non-believers the discourse on the three characteristics which would liberate them from samsara. Therefore, the period when the life span extends more than one thousand years is not the proper time for Buddhas to appear.

The period when the life-span of human beings falls below one hundred years is also not proper for a Buddha's appearance because beings belonging to such a period abound in the defilements of sensual pleasures. The Dhamma sermons given to such people will not endure; in fact, they will fade away instantly just as the scribbling with a stick on the surface of the water will disappear, leaving no mark whatsoever. Therefore the short period of the declining life-span below one hundred years is also not the proper time for the Buddhas to appear.

Only the periods ranging from one hundred thousand years life-span to one hundred years' life-span are right for the coming of a Buddha. These are the periods in which birth, old age and death manifest themselves easily, in which the teaching on the three characteristics and the teaching as to how beings can be liberated from samsara as understood easily and in which beings are not so overwhelmed by the defilements of sensual pleasures. Hence the appropriateness of the period for the most opportune arrival of a Buddha. Therefore, only the period below the one hundred thousand years' life span and the period above the one hundred years' life-span by human reckoning is the most propitious time for a Bodhisatta to attain Buddhahood. (Incidentally, when the Devas and Brahmas made their entreaty to Setaketu, the life span of human beings was in the one-hundred-year range.) Thus Bodhisatta Setaketu Deva came to see the right time clearly and decided, "This is the most propitious time for me to become a Buddha."

(2) Then he investigated the island-continent which serves as the place for the appearance of Buddhas. There are four large island-continents, each surrounded by five hundred smaller islands. Of these, one, which is called Jambudipa as it is distinguished by a Jambu (rose apple or Eugenia) tree growing on it, was discerned clearly by the Bodhisatta as the only island-continent on which previous Buddhas had appeared.

(3) Then he went on investigating thus: "This Jambudipa is extremely vast measuring ten thousand yujanas. Where did former Buddhas appear in this vast expanse of land?" Then he saw Majjhimadesa, the Middle Country, in Jambudipa as the place for the appearance of ancient Buddhas.

(Majjhimadesa, the Middle Country, is demarcated on the east by the great sala tree east of the market-town of Gajangala; on the south-east by the river Sallavati; on the south by the market town of Setakannika; on the west by the Brahmin village of Thuna; on the north by Usiraddhaja mountain. The Middle country having the said five demarcations is three hundred yojanas in length and two hundred and fifty yojanas in breadth with the circumference of nine hundred yojanas. Regions outside this boundary are called border areas (paccanta). Only in Majjhimadesa do Omniscient Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas, Chief Disciples, eighty Great Disciples, Universal Monarchs and powerful, wealthy Khattiya, Brahmana and Gahapati clans live and prosper.)

In the Middle Country was situated Kapilavatthu, the royal city of the kingdom of the Sakyas. Bodhisatta Deva Setaketu decided that he should be reborn in that royal city.

(4) Investigating the family in which the Bodhisatta in his last existence should be reborn, he clearly perceived: "The former Bodhisattas in their respective last existences belonged neither to the merchant class nor to the poor class. They were born only in a royal or a brahmin family, whichever is considered superior by the people of the period. At the time when people show the highest honour to the ruling families, the Bodhisatta is born in their class. At the time when people do so to the brahmins, he is born in one of their families. The present time witnesses the aristocrats being honoured by the people; I should be reborn in one of these families. Among them King Suddhodana of Kapilavatthu is a direct descendent of Mahasammata, the first elected primeval king, through an uninterrupted Khattiya lineage of pure Sakya clan. This King Suddhodana of pure, noble birth shall be my father."

(5) Finally, he investigated as to who should be his mother in his last human existence. He clearly perceived: "The royal mother of a Buddha is a paragon of modesty and chastity; she never indulges in liquor or intoxicants; she has accumulated merit and fulfilled perfections throughout one hundred thousand aeons to become the mother of a Buddha. From the moment she is born as the future mother of a Buddha, she continuously observes and upholds the five precepts without any breach. Siri Mahamaya Devi, the Chief Consort of King Suddhodana, is fully endowed with all these qualities. Thus this Chief Queen Siri Mahamaya Devi shall be my mother." Then investigating further the remaining life-span of Siri Mahamaya Devi, he perceived clearly that she had only ten months and seven days more to live.

The consent given to the Devas and Brahmas

In this way, after making the five great investigations, the Bodhisatta Deva Setaketu resolved, "I will descend to the human abode and become a Buddha." Having so resolved, to the Devas and Brahmas from the ten thousand world-systems who had assembled to request him, the Bodhisatta gave his consent thus: "O Devas and Brahmas, now is the time for me to become a Buddha as requested by you. You may now take leave as you please; I will go down to the human abode to attain Buddhahood."

After delivering his pledge and bidding farewell to all Devas and Brahmas, Bodhisatta Deva Setaktu, entered Nandavana Celestial Garden accompanied by Tusita Devas.


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