#88. Mahāprātihārya

Cave No. 1

Identification: Foucher (1921, narrative no. 57). The legend is from the life of the Buddha.—There were six ascetics, who misled the followers of the Buddha when he preached about the path to salvation. They wanted to challenge the Buddha’s spiritual power in a contest. They sought King Bimbisāra’s endorsement, which was not given. But King Prasenajit thought otherwise and requested the Buddha to participate in this event. Initially, the Buddha stated that he had not taught superhuman feats to his disciples, but simply instructed them to fight against evil. But finally, he agreed to participate. He performed the Great Miracle of Śrāvastī, since performance of a miracle was a precondition to achieving the state of nirvāṇa (beatitude attained by extinction of individuality and desires, with release from effects of karma). King Prasenajit arranged the event in a place between the city of Śrāvastī and the Jetavana monastery. The king, his advisers, the ascetics, their disciples, and many spectators assembled at the site.

The king ordered Uttara to request the Buddha to come. Uttara returned, in flight mode (thanks to the Buddha’s magical powers), and announced the Buddha’s arrival. The Buddha conjured rays of light that burst into the hall, illuminating it; he produced golden light which brightened up the whole world. The monastery’s gardener, Gaṇḍaka, placed a Karṇikāra tree in front of the hall. A second gardener, Ratnaka, placed an Aśoka tree behind the hall. On the Buddha’s arrival, the earth started shaking, the sun and the moon became brighter, instruments spontaneously sounded holy music, and gods showered flowers upon the Buddha.

After the Buddha took his seat the monk Maudgalyāyaṇa asked for the Buddha’s permission to demonstrate a few superhuman skills that he had picked up from his master. But the ascetics had challenged the Buddha, not his disciples. Therefore, on the king’s request, the Buddha had to demonstrate his superhuman powers by going into a deep meditative state, disappearing from his seat, reappearing in air above the seat, moving eastwards, and assuming four postures, namely, perambulation, standing, sitting and lying. When he entered into a fire, his body glowed in six colours. He performed various miracles in all four directions and then returned back from the spiritual state.

However, all these acts could be learnt and performed by any of the Buddha’s disciples, so was felt by the erudite gathered in the hall. So, the king requested the Buddha to perform Mahāprātihārya (Great Miracle). Then, on the Buddha’s call, Gods Brahmā and Indra appeared from heaven and sat on the Buddha’s right and left, respectively. The nāga (serpent) kings, Nanda and Upananda, offered him a lotus decorated with pure gold. The Buddha sat cross-legged in the lotus, set his body, focused his mind and made another Buddha appear above the lotus and all four sides. This multiplicity of images rose to the visible heavens. These Buddha forms appeared in different positions and some even entered fires and produced miraculous manifestations with sentences of the doctrine. He made all the appearances required by the monks, and only then, took his seat. Finally, it was the turn of the ascetics, but no one had the courage to rise to the occasion. The ascetics’ pavilions were hit by a thunderstorm fashioned by the commander of the army of yakṣas (a class of semi-divine beings whose master is Kubera, the God of Wealth). The most important ascetic, Purāṇa, drowned himself in a pond. The episode ended with the Buddha preaching a sermon, directing his people towards salvation.

—Source: Singh 2019, 31-33; Schlingloff 2013, I, 488-490

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