Category Archives: Asia

(c. 1052-c. 1135)

from Songs of Milarepa


Milarepa was a major figure in Tibetan Buddhism and one of Tibet’s most famous yogis and poets. His writings, often referred to as the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, are canonical Mahayana Buddhist texts. Milarepa was born Mila Thöpaga to a prosperous family, but when his father died and his uncle and aunt took the family’s wealth, Milarepa left home to study sorcery; he engaged in a series of revenge actions against his thieving relatives. Repenting of his violent deeds, he sought guidance under the Lama Marpa. Milarepa is said to have been the first man to achieve Vajradhara (complete enlightenment) within one lifetime.

This brief selection, spoken in the voice of Milarepa (then still known as Thöpaga), refers to his misdeeds and his suicidal regret for them, as well as Marpa’s angry discipline. It captures the assertion by another Lama present at the time, Ngogpa, of the basis for Buddhism’s rejection of suicide.


W. Y. Evans-Wentz, ed., Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa. A Biography from the TibetanPart II, Ch. 5. London: Oxford University Press, 1928, pp. 126-128.


‘One day during a feast given to some of his disciples from the most distant parts and to the members of his own family, Lāma Marpa sat, with a long staff by his side, looking with fierce eyes at Lāma Ngogpa, who was one of those present.  After a time, pointing at him with his finger, he said, “Ngogdun Chudor, what explanation hast thou to give in the matter of thy having conferred Initiation and the Truths upon this wicked person, Thöpaga?%E

(c. 1052-c. 1135)

from Songs of Milarepa

Filed under Asia, Buddhism, Middle Ages, Milarepa, Jetsun, Selections

(c. 595-c. 655)

from Harsha-Carita, The Death of the    Great King: On Sati
from Kadambari


Bana, also known as Banabhatta, a Sanskrit author and poet, was born in the latter part of the 6th century in Brahmanadhivasa, or Pritikuta, northern India, into a Brahmin family. Bana’s mother died when he was a child, and his father died when Bana was 14; afterward, he led a nomadic life for many years. He maintained his ancestral fortune, but traveled because of an innate curiosity and desire to explore; according to his own account, he became a figure of derision among his people because of his unorthodox wanderings. When he returned to his native Pritikuta, he was summoned by the emperor Harsha to appear at the royal court. “Emperor Harsha’s ears have been poisoned against you by some wicked people,” warned a message conveyed to him on his return. In spite of his fears about the hostile reception that might be awaiting him, Bana found favor with the emperor and was asked to write a history of Harsha’s life—which, according to his own account, he began the next morning.

The resulting work, the Harsha-Carita (Deeds of Harsha), written in the lofty kavya style of Sanskrit, chronicles the history of this emperor, the famous Harshavardhana (c. 590–647). Harsha gained territory in a brilliant career of conquest and eventually ruled the whole of northern India; his reign lasted from about 606 to 647. Harsha was the last Hindu emperor of northern India; a Chinese Buddhist traveler, Hiuen Tsang, who resided at Harsha’s court from about 630 to 644, says that toward the end of his career, Harsha became a devout Buddhist and held a great assembly every five years in which he emptied his treasury to give all away in charity. Bana’s commissioned portrayal of Harsha is best described as a historical romance, in which he takes his own sovereign as his hero and weaves the story out of the events of Harsha’s reign. Bana’s other works include lyric poetry, prose, drama, romances, and a poetic novel that is the history of his own family, the unfinished Kadambari, later completed by his son. The second selection here is from this latter work. Bana’s works earned him a reputation as one of the most talented Sanskrit poets in Indian history.

The selection from the Harsha-Carita is a complex portrayal of the Hindu practice of sati (literally, “virtuous woman”), or anumarana (from the Sanskrit verb anu-mri, “to follow in death”). In sati, or widow-burning, a wife who has just been widowed immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre as he is being cremated. The custom of concremation had been described in northern India before the Gupta Empire; it may have developed from funeral practices involving the voluntary deaths of retainers and others loyal to the deceased, or evolved from Vedic and sutra-period expectations that the widow lead an ascetic life and marry her dead husband’s younger brother or other kinsman. Sati developed particularly in the higher castes in northern India from the 5th through the 10th centuries, and became the subject of considerable controversy in the 19th century in Bengal [q.v., under Rammohun Roy and under Hindu Widow]. Although often infrequent and, it is claimed, for the most part (though not always) voluntary, sati was practiced throughout India until it was banned by the Bengal Presidency in 1828 and the ban upheld by the British Privy Council in 1832.

By the time of Bana, in the 7th century A.D., sati had come to be regarded as an act of the greatest spiritual merit: The woman who died on her husband’s funeral pyre was known as a sati, a “virtuous woman,” a term also applied to the act itself. In Bana’s account in the Harsha-Carita, a queen explains to her son why she is resolved to follow the custom of sati—atypically, even though her husband, the emperor, is not yet dead, and even though her son begs her not to kill herself. It also describes the suicides of other queens and the emperor’s retainers, once he has died. The passage is important for the insight it gives into Hinduism’s conceptualization of sati and related practices, and the sense in which these practices, though socially expected, were also understood as both voluntary and caused by overwhelming grief. Bana himself, however, was perhaps the first opponent of the practice of sati and an extremely strong one. The second very brief selection, from his novel Kadambari, gives his reasons for his opposition. He denounces the practice as “stumbling through stupidity.”

The Harsa-Carita of Bana, ch. V, trs. E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas [1897], Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1961, pp. 151-155.  Quotations in introductory passage, p. xi, xlviii. Available online from the Project South Asia; Bana, Kadambari, ed. Kashinath Pandurang Parab, Nirnaysagar Press, 1890, purva-bhag, pp. 339.


Thus:–first the earth, heaving in all her circle of great hills, moved as though she would go with her lord. Next the oceans, as though remembering Dhanvantari, rolled with waves noisily plashing upon each other. High in the heavenly spaces, apprehensive of the king’s removal, appeared comets like braided locks with awful curls of far-extended flame. Beneath a sky thus lowering with comets the world seemed grey, as with the smoke of a Long Life sacrifice commenced by the sky regents. In the sun’s circle, now shorn of its radiance and lurid as a bowl of heated iron, some power, studious of the king’s life, had presented a human offering in the guise of a horrid headless trunk.  The lord of white effulgence, gleaming ‘mid the round rim of his flaming

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(c. 595-c. 655)

from Harsha-Carita, The Death of the    Great King: On Sati
from Kadambari

Filed under Asia, Bana, Hinduism, Middle Ages, Selections

(3rd century)

from The Way to Eternal Brahman


The Bhagavad-Gita, perhaps the best-loved of the Hindu religious texts, was probably composed in the 3rd century A.D. and later inserted into the great work of the Hindu epic period, the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata, a poem of some 100,000 verses composed between about 300 B.C. and 300 A.D., is an account of the origins, conduct, and consequences of a great war—said to have taken place in 900 B.C.—between two royal families, the Pandavas (the five sons of Pandu, of whom the third son Arjuna is the central figure) and the Kauravas (their cousins, the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra). Within this long epic, the portion known as the Bhagavad-Gita, or Song of God, opens just before the battle begins, as Arjuna, repulsed by the thought of the carnage the war would involve, decides to lay down his arms. Krishna, his friend and confidant, the god Vishnu in human form, who is serving as his charioteer, is disappointed, and thus begins a debate between the two over whether Arjuna should fight.

The Bhagavad-Gita stands as one of the most prominent and authoritative works in Hindu religious literature, and together with the Upanishads [q.v.] and the Brahma-Sutra is regarded as part of the basic trio of essential texts. Despite its primary significance in Indian thought, however, the Gita, like the entire Mahabharata, is not classified as shruti, or divine truth revealed by deity, but is instead considered to be smriti, or inspired teachings that explain or clarify divine truth. Regardless of its classification, the epic has profoundly influenced Hindu political, intellectual, and philosophical life throughout the centuries since its composition.

The majority of the Bhagavad-Gita consists of the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna occurring just before the great battle on the plain of Kurukshetra. In the Gita dialogue, Shri Krishna (“Shri” refers to his venerated status) embodies Brahman, or the ultimate reality, and at times, he speaks as God. In the selection presented here, Arjuna inquires about the nature of Brahman, and asks how it is revealed at death to a mortal who unites in consciousness with God. Krishna describes a technique to be used by a yogi at death that allows the person to unite with Brahman and thus to escape the cycle of death and rebirth to which all living things are otherwise subject. This escape, referred to as “the path of no return,” is called Deva Yana in the Upanishads, “the path of the bright ones,” as distinct from Pitri Yana, “the path of the fathers,” which does lead to rebirth. (It should be noted that the “realm of Brahma,” which is also subject to death and rebirth, is not the same as Brahman (the universal, changeless reality), but instead refers to the highest of the worlds of Hindu mythology, in which “Brahma” designates one of the Hindu trinity, with Vishnu and Shiva.) According to yoga technique referred to in this passage, the yogi must employ a special method of leaving his body at death: first, the vital force is drawn up the sushumna, the central spinal passage, and gathered in the brain “between the eyebrows”; the yogi then leaves his body through an aperture in the center of the brain called the sahasrara. The technique Krishna describes thus portrays the yogi as taking a voluntary, deliberate, and partly causal role in his own death.


The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita, VIII: “The Way To Eternal Brahman,” trs. Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, New York: New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1954, pp. 74–78. Also used for quotations in bibliographic note.



ARJUNA: Tell me, Krishna, what Brahman is. What is the Atman, and what is the creative energy of Brahman? Explain the nature of this relative world, and of the individual man.

Who is God who presides over action in this body, and how does He dwell here? How are you revealed at the hour of death to those whose consciousness is united with you? 

SRI KRISHNA: Brahman is that which is immutable, and independent of any cause but Itself. When we consider Brahman as lodged within the individual being, we call Him the Atman. The creative energy of Brahman is that which causes all existences to come into being.

The nature of the relative world is mutability. The nature of the individual man is his consciousness of ego. I alone am God who presides over action, here in this body.

At the hour of death, when a man leaves his body, he must depart with his consciousness absorbed in me. Then he will be united with me. Be certain of that. Whatever a man remembers at the last, when he is leaving the body, will be realized by him in the hereafter; because that will be what his mind has most constantly dwelt on, during this life.

Therefore you must remember me at all times, and do your duty. If your mind and heart are set upon me constantly, you will come to me. Never doubt this.

Make a habit of practicing meditation, and do not let your mind be distracted. In this way you will come finally to the Lord, who is the light-giver, the highest of the high.

He is all-knowing God, lord of the emperors,
Ageless, subtler far than mind’s inmost subtlety,
Universal sustainer,
Shining sunlike, self luminous.
What fashion His form has, who shall conceive of it?
He dwells beyond delusion, the dark of Maya.
On Him let man meditate
Always, for then at the last hour
Of going hence from his body he will be strong
In the strength of this yoga, faithfully followed:
The mind is firm, and the heart
So full, it hardly holds its love.
Thus he will take his leave: and now, with the life-force
Indrawn utterly, held fast between the eyebrows,
He goes forth to find his Lord,
That light-giver, who is greatest.

Now I will tell you briefly about the nature of Him who is called the deathless by those seers who truly understand the Vedas. Devotees enter into Him when the bonds of their desire are broken. To reach this goal, they practice control of the passions.

When a man leaves his body and departs, he must close all the doors of the senses. Let him hold the mind firmly within the shrine of the heart, and fix the life-force between the eyebrows. Then let him take refuge in steady concentration, uttering the sacred syllable OM and meditating upon me. Such a man reaches the highest goal. When a yogi has meditated upon me unceasingly for many years, with an undistracted mind, I am easy of access to him, because he is always absorbed in me.

Great souls who find me have found the highest perfection. They are no longer reborn into this condition of transience and pain.

All the worlds, and even the heavenly realm of Brahma, are subject to the laws of rebirth. But for the man who comes to me, there is no returning.

There is day, also, and night in the universe:
The wise know this, declaring the day of Brahma
A thousand ages in span
And the night a thousand ages.

Day dawns, and all those lives that lay hidden asleep
Come forth and show themselves, mortally manifest:
Night falls, and all are dissolved
Into the sleeping germ of life.

Thus they are seen, O Prince, and appear unceasingly,
Dissolving with the dark, and with day returning
Back to the new birth, new death:
All helpless. They do what they must.

But behind the manifest and the unmanifest, there is another Existence, which is eternal and changeless. This is not dissolved in the general cosmic dissolution. It has been called the unmanifest, the imperishable. To reach it is said to be the greatest of all achievements. It is my highest state of being. Those who reach It are not reborn. That highest state of being can only be achieved through devotion to Him in whom all creatures exist, and by whom this universe is pervaded.

I show you two paths.
Let a yogi choose either
When he leaves this body:
The Path that leads back to birth,
The path of no return.
There is the path of light,
Of fire and day,
The path of the moon’s bright fortnight
And the six months’ journey
Of the sun to the north:
The knower of Brahman
Who takes this path
Goes to Brahman:

He does not return.
There is the path of night and smoke,
The path of the moon’s dark fortnight
And the six months’ journey
Of the sun to the south:
The yogi who takes this path
Will reach the lunar light:
This path leads back
To human birth, at last.

These two paths, the bright and the dark, may be said to have existed in this world of change from a time without any beginning. By the one, a man goes to the place of no return. By the other, he comes back to human birth. No yogi who knows these two paths is ever misled. Therefore, Arjuna, you must be steadfast in yoga, always.

The scriptures declare that merit can be acquired by studying the Vedas, performing ritualistic sacrifices, practicing austerities and giving alms. But the yogi who has understood this teaching of mine will gain more than any who do these things. He will reach that universal source, which is the uttermost abode of God.

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Filed under Ancient History, Asia, Bhagavad-Gita, Hinduism, Selections

(c. 50 A.D.-c. 200 A.D.)

from Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King


The Lotus Sutra, or Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, is one of the earliest Mahayana Buddhist texts and is considered to be the principal Mahayana sutra. Developing somewhat after Hinayana, the more ancient form of Buddhism that later evolved into modern Theravada, Mahayana is the second, though larger, of the two main branches of Buddhist thought. Mahayana Buddhism developed in India between the 2nd century B.C. and the 1st century A.D., and by the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries A.D. had begun to spread into China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, and Central Asia, where further schools such as Pure Land Buddhism and Zen appeared. Mahayana Buddhism is more liberal in its interpretations of the teachings of the historical Buddha than Theravada, with a more mythologized interpretation of the nature of the Buddha; it also incorporates a wider variety of practices. Its monastic communities, or sangha, can include both lay believers and monks, both of whom can seek to become bodhisattva, aspirants to bodhi who seek to reach or enlightenment, who will also help all beings achieve nirvana. Although Buddhism remains widespread in much of Asia, by the 13th century A.D., it had largely disappeared from India.

Little is known about the origin of the Lotus Sutra, also called the Lotus of the True Law, although most scholars place its composition sometime in the 1st century a.d., with its final form being reached around 200 A.D.. The earliest translation of the Lotus Sutra into Chinese was made by Dharmaraksha in 286 A.D., and it has become the most popular Buddhist text in China and Japan. It is the sole canonical text for Japanese Buddhists of the Nichiren sect.

In its fairly simple, accessible literary style, illustrated with parables and poetic images, the Lotus Sutra propounds all the major doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism and focuses on the doctrine of the “one true vehicle [or way],” Ekayana, which includes both the “greater vehicle,” Mahayana, and the “lesser vehicle,” Theravada. In a parable, the Buddha explains the nature of revelation and the way in which it is adapted to the limited faculties of not-yet-enlightened human beings, until they are ready for full revelation.

The dramatic narrative of the Lotus Sutra contains a succession of dialogues that serve to make an impression on the reader of the great wisdom, power, and eminence of the Buddha. The selection presented here centers on a discourse given by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived from c. 563–483 B.C., to a congregation of followers at a famed place called Vulture’s Peak. He is represented as an almost eternal being, omnipotent, nearly free from the cycle of birth and rebirth, though from time to time, he descends to earth and is reborn among humans, as is the case in the discourse at Vulture’s Peak. The discourse stresses the proper use of wisdom, the need for compassion, and the importance of moral living.

The section of the text presented here is a Buddhist version of the myth of the phoenix. In it, a monk, the bodhisattva Mahasattva Sarvasattvapriyadarshana, or the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, feeds himself for 12 years on the substances usually used in sacrificial rituals and then, by self-immolation, sacrifices his perfumed and anointed body to the Buddha. The Bodhisattva’s body burns for 1,200 years before he is reborn, having achieved a “heroic feat.” This is one step on his way to final extinction, having achieved Nirvana.


Lotus Sutra, ch. 23. “Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King,” tr. Burton Watson, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, pp, 280-289. Footnotes interpolated.


Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King

At that time bodhisattva Constellation King Flower spoke to the Buddha, Saying: “World-Honored One, how does the bodhisattva Medicine King come and go in the saha world?  World-Honored One, this bodhisattva Medicine King has carried out some hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of difficult practices, arduous practices.  Very well, World-Honored One, could I ask you to explain a little?  The heavenly beings, dragons, gods, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, human and nonhuman beings, and the bodhisattvas who have come from other lands and the multitude of voice-hearers, will all be delighted to hear you.”

At that time the Buddha addressed the bodhisattva Constellation King Flower, saying: “Many kalpas in the past, immeasurable as Ganges sands, there was a Buddha named Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue Thus Come One, worthy of offerings, of right and universal knowledge, perfect clarity and conduct, well gone, understanding the world, unexcelled worthy, trainer of people, teacher of heavenly and human beings, Buddha, World-Honored One. This Buddha had eighty million great bodhisattvas and mahasattvas and a multitude of great voice-hearers equal to the sands of seventy-two Ganges. This Buddha’s life span was forty-two thousand kalpas, and the life span of the bodhisattvas was the same. In his land there were no women, hell dwellers, hungry spirits, beasts of asuras, and no kinds of tribulation. The ground was as level as the palm of a hand, made of lapis lazuli and adorned with jeweled trees.  Jeweled curtains covered it over, banners of jeweled flowers hung down, and jeweled urns and incense burners filled the land everywhere.  There were daises made of the seven treasures, with a tree by each dais, the tree situated an arrow-shot length from the dais.  These jeweled trees all had bodhisattvas and voice-hearers sitting under them, and each of the jeweled daises had hundreds of millions of heavenly beings playing on heavenly instruments and singing the praises of the Buddha as an offering.

“At that time, for the sake of the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings and the other numerous bodhisattvas and multitude of voice-hearers, the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra.  This bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings delighted in carrying out arduous practices.  In the midst of the Law preached by the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue he applied himself diligently and traveled about here and there, single-mindedly seeking Buddhahood for a period of fully twelve thousand years.  After that he was able to gain the Samadhi in which one can manifest all physical forms.  Having gained this Samadhi, his heart was filled with great joy and he thought to himself: My gaining the Samadhi in which I can manifest all physical forms is due entirely to the fact that I heard the Lotus Sutra.  I must now make an offering to the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue and to the Lotus Sutra!

“Immediately he entered the Samadhi and in the midst of the sky rained down mandarava flowers, great mandarava flowers, and finely ground, hard black particles of sandalwood; they filled the whole sky like clouds as they came raining down.  He also rained down the incense of the sandalwood that grows by the southern seashore.  Six taels of this incense is worth as mush as the saha world.  All these he used as an offering to the Buddha.

“When he had finished making this offering, he rose from his Samadhi and thought to himself: Though I have employed my supernatural powers to make this offering to the Buddha, it is not as good as making an offering of my own body.

“Thereupon he swallowed various perfumes, sandalwood, kunduruka, turushka, prikka, aloes, and liquidambar gum, and he also drank the fragrant oil of champaka and other kinds of flowers, doing this for a period of fully twelve hundred years. Anointing his body with fragrant oil, he appeared before the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue, wrapped his body in heavenly jeweled robes, poured fragrant oil over his head and, calling on his transcendental powers, set fire to his body. The glow shone forth, illuminating worlds equal in number to the sands of eighty million Ganges. The Buddhas in these worlds simultaneously spoke out in praise, saying: ‘Excellent, excellent, good man! This is true diligence. This is what is called a true Dharma offering to the Thus Come One. Though one may use flowers, incense, necklaces, incense for burning, powdered incense, paste incense, heavenly silken banners and canopies, along with the incense of the sandalwood that grows by the southern seashore, presenting offerings of all such things as these, he can never match this!  Though one may make donations of his realm and cities, his wife and children, he is no match for this!  Good man, this is called the foremost donation of all.  Among all donations, this is the most highly prized, for one is offering the Dharma to the Thus Come ones!’

“After they had spoken these words, they each one fell silent.  The body of the bodhisattva burned for twelve hundred years, and when that period of time had passed, it at last burned itself out.

“After the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings had made this Dharma offering and his life had come to an end, he was reborn in the land of the Buddha Sun Moon Pres Bright Virtue, in the household of the king Pure Virtue.  Sitting in cross-legged position, he was suddenly born by transformation, and at once for the benefit of his father he spoke in verse form, saying:

Great king, you should now understand this.
Having walked about in a certain place,
I immediately gained the Samadhi
that allows me to manifest all physical forms.
I have carried out my endeavors with great diligence
and cast aside the body that I loved.

“When he had recited this verse, he said to his father: ‘The Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue is still present at this time.  Previously I made an offering to this Buddha and gained a dharani that allows me to understand the words of all living brings.  Moreover I have heard this Lotus Sutra with its eight hundred, thousand, ten thousand, millions of nayutas, kankaras, vivaras, akshobhyas of verses.[1] Great king, I must now once more make an offering to this Buddha.’

“Having said this, he seated himself on a dais made of the seven treasures, rose up into the air to the height of seven tala trees and, proceeding to the place where the Buddha was, bowed his head to the ground in obeisance to the Buddha’s feet, put the nails of his ten fingers together and spoke this verse in praise of the Buddha:

A countenance so rare and wonderful,
Its bright beams illuminating the ten directions!
At a previous time I made an offering,
And now once more I draw near.

“At that time, after the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings had spoken this verse, he said to the Buddha: ‘World-Honored One, is the World-Honored One still present in the world?’

“At that time the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue said to the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings: ‘Good man, the time has come for my nirvana.  The time has come for extinction.  You may provide me with a comfortable couch, for tonight will be my parinirvana.’

“He also commanded the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, saying: ‘Good man, I take this Law of the Buddha and entrust it to you. In addition, the bodhisattvas and great disciples, along with the Law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and the thousand-millionfold seven-jeweled world, with its jeweled trees and jeweled daises and heavenly beings who wait on and attend them—all these I hand over to you. I also entrust to you the relics of my body that remain after I have passed into extinction.  You must distribute them abroad and arrange for offerings to them far and wide.  You should erect many thousands of towers [to house them].’

“The Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue, having given these commands to the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, that night, in the last watch of the night, entered nirvana.

“At that time the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, seeing the Buddha pass into extinction, was deeply grieved and distressed.  Out of his great love and longing for the Buddha he at once prepared a pyre made of sandalwood from the seashore, and with this as an offering to the Buddha’s body, he cremated the body.  After the fire had burned out, he gathered up the relics, fashioned eighty-four thousand jeweled urns, and built eighty-four thousand towers, high as the three worlds, adorned with central poles, draped with banners and canopies and hung with a multitude of jeweled bells.

“At that time the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings once more thought to himself: Though I have made these offerings, my mind is not yet satisfied.  I must make some further offering to the relics.

“Then he spoke to the other bodhisattvas and great disciples, and to the heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, and all the members of the great assembly, saying, ‘You must give your undivided attention. I will now make an offering to the relics of the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue.’

“Having spoken these words, immediately in the presence of the eighty-four thousand towers he burned his arms, which were adorned with a hundred blessings, for a period of seventy-two thousand years as his offering.  This caused the numberless multitudes who were seeking to become voice-hearers, along with an immeasurable asamkhya of persons, to conceive a desire for anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and all of them were able to dwell in the Samadhi where one can manifest all physical forms.

“At that time the bodhisattvas, heavenly and human beings, asuras and others, seeing that the bodhisattva had destroyed his arms, were alarmed and saddened and they said: ‘This bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living beings is our teacher, instructing and converting us.  Now he has burned his arms and his body is no longer whole!’

“At that time, in the midst of the great assembly, the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings made this vow, saying: ‘I have cast away both my arms.  I am certain to attain the golden body of a Buddha.  If this is true and not false, then may my two arms become as they were before!’

“When he had finished pronouncing this vow, his arms reappeared of themselves as they had been before.  This came about because the merits and wisdom of this bodhisattva were manifold and profound.  At that time the thousand-millionfold world shook and trembled in six different ways, heaven rained down jeweled flowers, and all the heavenly and human beings gained what they had never had before.”

The Buddha said to the bodhisattva Constellation King Flower: “What do you think?  Is this bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings someone unknown to you? He is in fact none other than the present bodhisattva Medicine King!  He cast aside his body as an offering in this fashion immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of times.

“Constellation King Flower, if there are those who have made up their minds and wish to gain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, they would do well to burn a finger or one toe of their foot as an offering to the Buddha towers.  It is better than offering one’s realm and cities, wife and children, or the mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes in the ‘lands of the thousand-millionfold world, of all their precious treasures.  Even if a person were to fill the whole thousand-million world with the seven treasures as an offering to the Buddha and the great bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas and arhats, the benefits gained by such a person cannot match those gained by accepting and upholding this Lotus Sutra, even just one four-line verse of it!  The latter brings the most numerous blessings of all.

“Constellation King Flower, among all the rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, for example, the ocean is foremost. And this Lotus Sutra is likewise, being the most profound and greatest of the sutras preached by the Thus Come Ones. Again, just as among the Dirt Mountains, Black Mountains, Small Iron Encircling Mountains, Great Iron Encircling Mountains, Ten Treasure Mountains and all the other mountains, Mount Sumeru is foremost, so this Lotus Sutra is likewise.  Among all the stars and their like, the moon, a god’s son, is foremost, so this Lotus Sutra is likewise.  For among all the thousands, ten thousands, millions of types of sutra teachings, it shines the brightest. And just as the sun, a god’s son, can banish all darkness, so too this sutra is capable of destroying the darkness of all that is not good.

“As among the petty kings the wheel-turning sage king is foremost, so this sutra is the most honored among all the many sutras. As the lord Shakra is king among the thirty-three heavenly beings, so this sutra likewise is king among all the sutras. And as the heavenly king, great Brahma, is the father if all living beings, so this sutra likewise is father of all sages, worthies, those still learning, those who have completed their learning, and those who set their minds on becoming bodhisattvas. And as among all ordinary mortals, the srotaapanna, sakridagamin, anagamin, arhats and pratyekabuddhas are foremost, so this sutra likewise is foremost among all the sutra teachings preached by all the Thus Come Ones preached by all the bodhisattvas, or preached by all the voice-hearers.  A person who can accept and uphold this sutra is likewise foremost among all living beings.  Bodhisattvas are foremost among all voice-hearers and pratyekabuddhas, and in the same way this sutra is foremost among all the sutra teachings.  As the Buddha is king of the doctrines, so likewise this sutra is king of the sutras.

“Constellation King Flower, this sutra can save all living beings. This sutra can cause all living beings to free themselves from suffering and aguish. This sutra can bring great benefits to all living beings and fulfill their desires, as a clear cool pond can satisfy all those who are thirsty. It is like a fire to one who is cold, a robe to one who is naked, like a band of merchants finding a leader, a child finding its mother, someone finding a ship in which to cross the water, a sick man finding a doctor, someone in darkness finding a lamp, the poor finding riches, the people finding a ruler, a traveling merchant finding his way to the sea.  It is like a torch that banishes darkness. Such is this Lotus Sutra. It can cause living beings to cast off all distress, all sickness and pain.  It can unloose all the bonds of birth and death.

“If a person is able to hear this Lotus Sutra, if he copies it himself or causes others to copy it, the benefits he gains thereby will be such that even the Buddha wisdom could never finish calculating their extent.  If one copies these sutra rolls and uses flowers, incense, necklaces, incense for burning, powdered incense, paste incense, banners, canopies, robes, various kinds of lamps such as lamps of butter oil, oil lamps, lamps with various fragrant oils, lamps of champaka oil, lamps of sumana oil, Lamps of patala oil, lamps of varshika oil, or lamps of navamalika oil to make offerings to them, the benefits that he acquires will likewise be immeasurable.

“Constellation King Flower, if there is a person who hears this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, he too will gain immeasurable and boundless benefits.  If there is a woman who hears this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King and is able to accept and uphold it, that will be her last appearance in a woman’s body and she will never be born in that form again.

“If in the last five hundred year period after the Thus Come One has entered extinction there is a woman who hears this sutra and carries out its practices as the sutra directs, when her life here on earth comes to an end she will immediately go to the world of Peace and Delight where the Buddha Amitayus dwells surrounded by the assembly of great bodhisattvas and there will be born seated on a jeweled seat in the center of a lotus blossom. He [2] will no longer know the torments of greed, desire, anger, rage, stupidity of ignorance, or the torments brought about by arrogance, envy or other defilements. He will gain the bodhisattva’s transcendental powers and the truth of the birthlessness of all phenomena.  Having gained this truth, his faculty of sight will be clear and pure, and with this clear pure faculty of sight he will see Buddhas and Thus Come Ones equal in number to the sands of seven hundred twelve thousand million nayutas of Ganges.

“At that time Buddhas will join in praising him from afar, saying: ‘Excellent, excellent, good man!  In the midst of the Law of Shakyamuni Buddha you have been able to accept, uphold, read, recite and ponder this sutra and to preach it for others.  The good fortune you gain thereby is immeasurable and boundless.  It cannot be burned by fire or washed away by water.  Your benefits are such that a thousand Buddhas speaking all together could never finish describing them.  Now you have been able to destroy all devils and thieves, to annihilate the army of birth and death, and all others who bore you enmity of malice have likewise been wiped out.

“’Good man, a hundred, a thousand Buddhas will employ their transcendental powers to join in guarding and protection you. Among the heavenly and human beings of all the worlds, there will be no one like you. With the sole exception of the Thus Come One, there will be none among the voice-hearers, pratyekabuddhas of bodhisattvas whose wisdom and ability in meditation can equal yours!’

“Constellation King Flower, such will be the benefits and the power of wisdom successfully acquired by this bodhisattva.

“If there is a person who, hearing this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, is able to welcome it with joy and praise its excellence, then in this present existence this person’s mouth will constantly emit the fragrance of the blue lotus flower, and the pores of his body will constantly emit the fragrance of ox-head sandalwood.  His benefits will be such as have been described above.

“For this reason, Constellation King Flower, I entrust this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King to you.  After I have passed into extinction, in the last five hundred year period you must spread it abroad widely throughout Jambudvipa and never allow it to be cut off, nor must you allow evil devils, the devils’ people, heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas of kumbhanda demons to seize the advantage!

“Constellation King Flower, you must use your transcendental powers to guard and protect this sutra.  Why?  Because this sutra provides good medicine for the ills of the people of Jambudvipa.  If a person who has an illness is able to hear this sutra, then his illness will be wiped out and he will know neither old age or death.

“Constellation King Flower, if you see someone who accepts and upholds this sutra, you must take blue lotus blossoms, heap them with powdered incense, and scatter them over him as an offering.  And when you have scattered them, you should think to yourself: Before long this person will pick grasses, spread them as a seat in the place of practice, and conquer the armies of the devil.  Then he will sound the conch of the Law, beat the drum of the great Law, and free all living beings from the sea of old age, sickness, and death!

“For this reason when those who seek the Buddha way see someone who accepts and upholds this sutra, they should approach him with this kind of respect and reverence.”

When [the Buddha] preached this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, eighty-four thousand bodhisattvas gained the dharani that allows them to understand the words of all living beings.  Many Treasures Thus Come One in the midst of his treasure tower praised the bodhisattva Constellation King Flower, Saying: “Excellent, excellent, Constellation King Flower.  You succeeded in acquiring inconceivable benefits and thus were able to question Shakyamuni Buddha about this matter, profiting immeasurable numbers of living beings.”

  1. Kaṅkara, vivara, and aksobhya are all extremely large numerical units.
  2. As the text makes clear later on, the woman has been reborn in male form.

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(c. 50 A.D.-c. 200 A.D.)

from Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King

Filed under Ancient History, Asia, Buddhism, Lotus Sutra, Selections

(c. 100 B.C.)

On Suicide


The Milindapañha, or The Questions of King Milinda, sometimes assigned to one of the “three baskets” of the Pali canon of early Buddhist texts by the Burmese edition, is usually understood as a paracanonical text of Theravada Buddhism, the earlier, more conservative of the two principal branches of Buddhism. Theravada, closer to the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama  (c. 563–483 B.C.), emphasizes the ideal of the arhat, the enlightened individual in his progress towards nirvana. Mahayana in contrast stresses the ideal of the boddhisattva, dedicated to helping others achieve enlightenment.

The Questions of King Milinda consist of a dialogue between the Indo-Greek king Menander I, who reigned about 155–130 B.C. and was one of the Bactrian kings to invade farthest into India, and the Buddhist monk Mahathera Nagasena, believed to have been a historical figure who was sent to the kingdoms of Bactria as a Buddhist missionary at the time of Menander’s rule. Menander (known as Milinda in Buddhist traditions), who was arrogant and impatient because he could not find an intellect sufficiently keen to explain the teachings of Buddhism, found his match in Nagasena. The dating of the text is difficult, but it could not have originated earlier than the reign of Menander in the 2nd century B.C., and it is known that the book was translated into Chinese sometime between 317 and 420 A.D.. Most scholars place the composition of the Questions around 100 B.C. or a century later, possibly as late as the end of the 2nd century A.D.. According to legend, the Questions were compiled by the same monk who speaks in the dialogue, Nagasena.

The Questions of King Milinda is a significant and valuable work for many reasons. It records one of the earliest meetings between Buddhist and Hellenistic cultures; it gives a historical view of the 2nd-century Bactrian milieu; and it provides a nearly comprehensive understanding of Theravada Buddhist thought. Some of the important topics raised in the dialogue are the nature of truth, the problem of evil, why philosophical inquiry is unavailing in these issues, and how the process of rebirth occurs. In one portion of the text, King Menander asks how the Buddha can teach the need to overcome “old age, disease, and death” while proscribing suicide as a means to avoid these evils; he points out an apparent contradiction in Buddhist teaching, since it both prohibits suicide but also encourages the putting of an end to life in its doctrine of escape from suffering and rebirth. Nagasena then explains why the Buddha forbade self-killing, citing the reason that a person who is truly good, who is “full of benefit to all beings” should not “be done away with.” According to The Questions and to Buddhist legend, although not historically confirmed, Menander abdicated his throne as a result of his encounter with Nagasena and joined the Buddhist sangha.


Milindapañha. The Questions of King Milinda, Part I, sections 13-15, tr. T. W. Rhys Davids, in The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 35, ed. F. Max Müller, Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1890. Dover reprint, 1963, pp. 273-278, available online at, from the Internet Sacred Texts Archive.



‘Venerable Nâgasena, it has been said by the Blessed One: “A brother is not, O Bhikkhus, to commit suicide. Whosoever does so shall be dealt with according to the law.” And on the other hand you (members of the Order) say: “On whatsoever subject the Blessed One was addressing the disciples, he always, and with various similes, preached to them in order to bring about the destruction of birth, of old age, of disease, and of death. And whosoever overcame birth, old age, disease, and death, him did he honour with the highest praise.” Now if the Blessed One forbade suicide that saying of yours must be wrong, but if not then the prohibition of suicide must be wrong. This too is a double-edged problem now put to you, and you have to solve it.’

‘The regulation you quote, O king, was laid down by the Blessed One, and yet is our saying you refer to true. And there is a reason for this, a reason for which the Blessed One both prohibited (the destruction of life), and also (in another sense) instigated us to it.’

‘What, Nâgasena, may that reason be?’

‘The good man, O king, perfect in uprightness, is like a medicine to men 1 in being an antidote to the poison of evil, he is like water to men in laying the dust and the impurities of evil dispositions, he is like a jewel treasure to men in bestowing upon them all attainments in righteousness, he is like a boat to men inasmuch as he conveys them to the further shore of the four flooded streams (of lust, individuality, delusion, and ignorance) 2, he is like a caravan owner to men in that he brings them beyond the sandy desert of rebirths, he is like a mighty rain cloud to men in that he fills their hearts with satisfaction, he is like a teacher to men in that he trains them in all good, he is like a good guide to men in that he points out to them the path of peace. It was in order that so good a man as that, one whose good qualities are so many, so various, so immeasurable, in order that so great a treasure mine of good things, so full of benefit to all beings, might not be done away with, that the Blessed One, O king, out of his mercy towards all beings, laid down that injunction, when he said: “A brother is not, O Bhikkhus, to commit suicide. Whosoever does so shall be dealt with according to the law.” This is the reason for which the Blessed One prohibited (self-slaughter). And it was said, O king, by the Elder Kumâra Kassapa, the eloquent, when he was describing to Pâyâsi the Râganya the other world: “So long as Samanas and Brahmans of uprightness of life, and beauty of character, continue to exist–however long that time may be–just so long do they conduct themselves to the advantage and happiness of the great masses of the people, to the good and the gain and the weal of gods and men!”‘

‘And what is the reason for which the Blessed One instigated us (to put an end to life)? Birth, O king, is full of pain, and so is old age, and disease, and death. Sorrow is painful, and so is lamentation, and pain, and grief, and despair. Association with the unpleasant is painful, and separation from the pleasant.  The death of a mother is painful, or of a father, or a brother, or a sister, or a son, or a wife, or of any relative. Painful is the ruin of one’s family, and the suffering of disease, and the loss of wealth, and decline in goodness, and the loss of insight. Painful is the fear produced by despots, or by robbers, or by enemies, or by famine, or by fire, or by flood, or by the tidal wave, or by earthquake, or by crocodiles or alligators. Painful is the fear of possible blame attaching to oneself, or to others, the fear of punishment, the fear of misfortune. Painful is the fear arising from shyness in the presence of assemblies of one’s fellows, painful is anxiety as to one’s means of livelihood, painful the foreboding of death.  Painful are (the punishments inflicted on criminals), such as being flogged with whips, or with sticks, or with split rods, having one’s hands cut off, or one’s feet, or one’s hands and feet, or one’s ears, or one’s nose, or one’s ears and nose. Painful are (the tortures inflicted on traitors)–being subjected to the Gruel Pot (that is, having boiling gruel poured into one’s head from the top of which the skull bone has been removed)–or to the Chank Crown  (that is, having the scalp rubbed with gravel till it becomes smooth like a polished shell)–or to the Râhu’s Mouth (that is, having one’s mouth held open by iron pins, and oil put in it, and a wick lighted therein)–or to the Fire Garland  or to the Hand Torch, (that is, being made a living torch, the whole body, or the arms only, being wrapped up in oily cloths, and set on fire)–or to the Snake Strips  (that is, being skinned in strips from the neck to the hips, so that the skin falls in strips round the legs)or to the Bark Dress  (that is, being skinned alive from the neck downwards, and having each strip of skin as soon as removed tied to the hair, so that these strips form a veil around one)–or to the Spotted Antelope (that is, having one’s knees and elbows tied together, and being made to squat on a plate of iron under which a fire is lit)–or to the Flesh-hooks  (that is, being hung up on a row of iron hooks)–or to the Pennies  (that is, having bits cut out of the flesh, all over the body, of the size of pennies)–or to the Brine Slits  (that is, having cuts made all over one’s body by means of knives or sharp points, and then having salt and caustic liquids poured over the wounds)–or to the Bar Turn  (that is, being transfixed to the ground by a bar of iron passing through the root of the ear, and then being dragged round and round by the leg)–or to the Straw Seat  (that is, being so beaten with clubs that the bones are broken, and the body becomes like a heap of straw)–or to be anointed with boiling oil, or to be eaten by dogs, or to be impaled alive, or to be beheaded. Such and such, O king, are the manifold and various pains which a being caught in the whirlpool of births and rebirths has to endure. just, O king, as the water rained down upon the Himâlaya mountain flows, in its course along the Ganges, through and over rocks and pebbles and gravel, whirlpools and eddies and rapids, and the stumps and branches of trees which obstruct and oppose its passage,–just so has each being caught in the succession of births and rebirths to endure such and such manifold and various pains. Full of pain, then, is the continual succession of rebirths, a joy is it when that succession ends. And it was in pointing out the advantage of that end, the disaster involved in that succession, that the Blessed One, great king, instigated us to get beyond birth, and old age, and disease, and death by the realisation of the final end of that succession of rebirths. This is the sense, O king, which led the Blessed One to instigate us (to put an end to life).’

‘Very good, Nâgasena! Well solved is the puzzle (I put), well set forth are the reasons (you alleged). That is so, and I accept it as you say.’

[Here ends the problem as to suicide.]

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Filed under Afterlife, Ancient History, Asia, Buddhism, Milinda, King, Selections

(c. 145/135-86 B.C.)

Records of the Grand Historian
   The Basic Annals of Xiang Yu
   The Assassin and his Sister
Letter in Reply to Ren Shaoqing


Sima Qian (Ssu-ma Ch’ien), whose father had been Grand Historian of China and who in 107 B.C. himself assumed that role, spent most of his life at the court of the Emperor Wu, the strong-willed emperor who brought the golden age of the Han dynasty to the peak of its power. Sima Qian’s father, Sima Tan, in transforming the role of Grand Historian from duties largely involving astrology and divination to that of a true chronicler of the past, planned to write a work of history and had begun to collect material for it; it was in accord with his dying father’s wish that Sima Qian assumed and expanded this task.

Sima Qian’s writings, especially in their terseness and reliance upon dramatic episodes in which the historian makes his characters speak aloud, have remained the model for many of the major historical works in later ages in China, Korea, and Japan. His principal work, the Shi Ji, or Records of the Grand Historian, in 130 chapters, is a collection of biographies that provides a history of the Chinese people and foreign peoples known to China from the earliest times to his own. It provides a comprehensive history of every society then known over a period of time reaching back over 2,000 years. Sima Qian was a meticulous researcher who traveled widely throughout China in search of historical information. He explains that his purpose is to “examine the deeds and events of the past and investigate the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay.” Yet although Sima Qian chronicles the rise and fall of multitudinous societies in a pattern typically beginning with the virtuous, wise ruler of a new house to its ultimate decline with an evil or inept ruler, the one thing he sees as approaching permanence in the midst of change is the lasting power of goodness: as Burton Watson describes Sima Qian’s view, “Evil destroys the doer, but good endures, through the sons of the father, the subjects of the ruler, the disciple of the teacher. It is the function of the historian to prolong the memory of goodness by preserving its record for all ages to see.”

The first selection presented here is a portion of the lengthy biography Sima Qian gives in the Records of the Grand Historian of the great Xiang Yu (Hsiang Yü), the powerful military leader of Chu who, seeking to become emperor, fought the Han for control of various states of China in a struggle called the Chu-Han Contention (206–202 B.C.) following the collapse of the Qin (Ch’in) Dynasty. Huge—Xiang Yu was over six feet tall—cunning, and ruthless, he was famed for his bravery and capacity for treachery. His main rival was Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty as Emperor Gaozu. Although he had defeated Liu Bang and the Han armies in battle on many occasions, Xiang Yu made a series of unwise military decisions that finally resulted in Liu’s troops surrounding him. The selection given here portrays Xiang Yu’s military decline: it opens as Xiang Yu, surrounded, hears the singing of Chu songs and thus knows that most of his own people have deserted him. Sima Qian closes the account of Xiang Yu’s suicide with his own commentary on both the greatness of Xiang Yu’s triumphs and the character flaws that led to his downfall.

The second selection, an account given both in the Zhan Guo Ce (Strategies of the Warring States), a near-contemporary historical work of unknown authorship, and in the Records of the Grand Historian, contrasts two suicides: that of the assassin Nie Zheng (Nieh Cheng, c. 375 B.C.), employed as a dog butcher, who in his excessive concern for loyalty to his patron Yan Zhongzi (Yan Sui) mutilates himself in his act of suicide so that he cannot be recognized after killing Yan Zhongzi’s enemy, the grand minister of Han, Xia Lei (Hsia Lei), so that through him his employer might not also be identified and the cycle of revenge might end. He is followed in death by his older sister Rong (Jung)—to whom Sima Qian gives a name even though she is a woman, because she, unlike her brother, chooses the right time to die: after she has revealed the identity of Nie Zheng’s corpse and thus assured the preservation of his name. Her suicide is an act of self-sacrifice to grant fame to another. (In fact, Rong says that her brother mutilated himself to protect her—presumably from potential vengeful harm to her for what he did or the infamy of being the sister of an assassin—not a self-centered act  at all.)

The third selection provided here is Sima Qian’s famous letter to Ren Shaoqing (Jen Shao-ch’ing), in which he tries to justify his own failure to commit suicide, even though the circumstances were such as to invite or even require it. Sima Qian had been condemned to imprisonment and castration by Emperor Wu for speaking out in defense of Li Ling, a general who had finally surrendered to the enemy when only a fraction of his army remained; the emperor had expected Li Ling to die with his men—as, indeed, such heroes as Xiang Yu had done. Sima Qian’s letter, written after the punishment of castration had been imposed, gives his reasons for not killing himself, even though it was customary under such circumstances for men of honor to commit suicide and even though he sees himself as “a mutilated being who dwells in degradation” (the letter uses the word “shame” 19 times). Many of the heroes Sima Qian had described so vividly in his Records of the Grand Historian had committed suicide in dramatic ways—not only Xiang Yu, but Li Guang and General Fan, who like Xiang Yu slit their own throats for reasons of honor and service to the state. But Sima Qian himself does not do so; he chooses instead to bear his disgrace in order to complete his manuscript and justify himself in the eyes of posterity.

After the castration, and after Emperor Wu had realized his own role in Li Ling’s defeat by failing to send him reinforcements, Sima Qian became Palace Secretary and enjoyed considerable honor and favor. Sima Qian’s letter itself was preserved in The Book of Han, a history written and compiled by Ban Biao, Ban Gu, and finally finished by Ban Zhao in 111 A.D..

“The Basic Annals of Xiang Yu” in Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty I, Han Dynasty II,  trans. Burton Watson. Hong Kong and New York: Columbia University Press, rev. ed. 1993, Vol. 1, pp. 17-18, 43-48, quoted and paraphrased  in biographical note from introductions to both volumes; story of the assassin and his sister from Szuma Chien, Selections from Records of the Grand Historian,  tr. Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1979; “Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s Letter in Reply to Jen Shao-ch’ing” in Burton Watson, Ssu-ma Ch’ien. Grand Historian of ChinaNew York: Columbia University Press, 1958, pp. 57-67. See also Stephen W. Durrant, The Cloudy Mirror: Tension and Conflict in the Writings of Sima Qian, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995, pp. 9,  105-109.




Xiang Ji, whose polite name was Yu, was a native of XiaXiang.  He was twenty-four when he first took up arms.  His father’s youngest brother was Xiang Liang.  Xiang Liang’s father, Xiang Yan, was a general ofChu who was driven to suicide by Qin general Wang Qian.  The Xiang family for generations were generals of Chu and were enfeoffed in Xiang; hence they took the family name Xiang.

When Xiang Yu was a boy he studied the art of writing.  Failing to master this, he abandoned it and took up swordsmanship.  When he failed at this also, his uncle, Xiang Liang, grew angry with him, but Xiang Yu declared, “Writing is good only for keeping records of people’s names.  Swordsmanship is useful only for attacking a single enemy and is likewise not worth studying.  What I want to learn is the art of attacking 10,000 enemies!”  With this, Xiang Liang began to teach his nephew the art of warfare, which pleased Yu greatly.  On the whole Yu understood the essentials of the art, but here again he was unwilling to pursue the study in detail.

Xiang Yu was over eight feet tall and so strong that with his two hands he could lift a bronze cauldron.  In ability and spirit he far surpassed others, so that all the young men of the region of Wu were afraid of him.

In the first year of the Second Emperor of Qin [209 BC], during the seventh month, Chen She and his band began their uprising ins the region of Daze.  In the ninth month Tong, the governor of Kuaiji, announced to Xiang Liang, “All the region west of the Yangtze is in revolt.  The time has come when Heaven will destroy the house of Qin.  I have heard it said that he who takes the lead may rule others, but he who lags behind will be ruled by other.  I would like to dispatch an army with you and Huan Chu at the head.”  (Huan Chu was at this time in hiding in the swamps.)

Xiang Liang replied, “Huan Chu is in hiding and no one knows where he is.  Only Xiang Yu knows the place,” Xiang Liang left the room and went to give instructions to Xiang Yu, telling him to hold his sword in readiness and wait outside.  Then he returned and sat down again with the governor.  “I beg leave to call in my nephew Yu, so that he may receive your order to summon Huan Chu,” said Xiang Liang.  The governor consented, and Xiang Liang sent for Xiang Yu to come in.  After some time, Xiang  Liang winked at his nephew and said.  “You may proceed!”  With this, Xiang Yu drew his sword and cut off the governor’s head.  Xiang Liang picked up the governor’s head and hung the seals of office from his own belt.  The governor’s office was thrown into utter panic and confusion.  After Xiang Yu had attacked and killed several dozen attendants the entire staff submitted in terror, not a man daring to offer resistance.

…[the text narrates Xiang Yu’s [Xsiang Yu’s] rise to power, including his military exploits, his cunning and ruthless use of execution, and his treachery towards Song Yi, the supreme general of the Chu army, to whom Xsiang Yu was at that time second in command]…

For a long timeChuand Han held their respective positions without making a decisive move, while their fighting men suffered the hardships of camp life and their old men and boys wore themselves out transporting provisions by land and water.  Xiang Yu sent word to the king of Han, saying, “The world has been in strife and confusion for several years now, solely because the two of us.  I would like to invite the king of Han to a personal combat to decide who is the better man.  Let us bring no more needless suffering to the fathers and sons of the rest of the world.”  The king of Han scorned the offer with a laugh, saying, “Since I am no match for you in strength, I prefer to fight you with brains!”

Xiang Yu then sent out one of his bravest men to challenge Han to combat.  In the Han army there was a man who was very skilful at shooting from horseback, a so-called loufan.  Chu three times sent out men to challenge Han to combat, and each time this man shot and killed them on the spot.  Xiang Yu, enraged, buckles on his armour, took up a lance, and went himself to deliver the challenge.  The loufan was about to shoot when Xiang Yu shouted and glared so fiercely at him that the man had not the courage to raise his eyes or lift a hand, but finally fled back within the walls and did not dare venture forth again.  The king of Han secretly sent someone to find out who the new challenger was, and when he learned that it was Xiang Yu himself he was greatly astonished.  Xiang Yu approached the place where the king of Han was standing, and the two of them talked back and forth across the ravine of Guangwu.  The king berated Xiang Yu for his crimes, while Xiang Yu angrily demanded a single combat.  When the king of Han refused to agree, Xiang Yu shot him with a crossbow which he had concealed, and the king, wounded, fled into the city ofChenggao.

Xiang Yu, receiving word that Han Xin had already conquered the area north of theYellow River, defeating Qi and Zhao, and was about to attack Chu, sent Long Ju to attack him.  Han Xin, joined by the cavalry general Guan Ying, met his attack and defeated the Chuarmy, killing Long Ju.  Han Xin then proceeded to set himself up as king of Qi.  When Xiang Yu heard that Long Hu’s army had been defeated, he was fearful and sent Wu She, a man of Xuyi, to attempt to bargain with HanXin, but Han Xin refused to listen.

At this time Peng Yue had once more raised a revolt in the region of Liang, conquered it, and cut off Chu’s sources of supply.  Xiang Yu summoned the marquis of Haichun, the grand marshal Cao Jiu, and others and said to them, “Hold fast to the city of Chenggao.  Even if the king of Han challenges you to a battle, take care and do not fight with him!  In fifteen days I can surely do away with Peng Yue and bring the region of Liang under control once again.  Then I will return and join you.”

Xiang Yu marched east and attacked Chenliu and Waihuang.  Waihuang held out for several days before it finally surrendered.  Enraged, Xiang Yu ordered all the men over the age of fifteen to brought to a place east of the city, where he planned to butcher them.  One of the retainers of the head of the district, a lad of thirteen, went and spoke to Xiang Yu.  “Waihung, oppressed by the might of Peng Yue, was fearful and surrendered to him, hopeful that Your Majesty would come to the rescue,” he said.  “But now that you have arrived, if you butcher all the men, how can you hope to win the hearts of the common people?  East of here there are still a dozen cities of Liang, but all will be filled with terror and will not dare to surrender.”

Xiang Yu, acknowledging the reason of his words, pardoned all the men of Waihuang who were marked for execution and proceeded east to Suiyang.  Hearing what had happened , the other cities made all haste to submit to him.

The king of Han meanwhile several time challenged the Chu army to a battle, but the Chu generals refused to send out their forces.  Then he sent men to taunt and insult them for five or six days, until at last the grand marshal Cao Yiu, in a rage, led his soldiers across the Si River.  When the troops were halfway across the river, the Han force fell upon them and inflicted a severe defeat on the Chu army, seizing all the wealth of the country of Chu.  Grand marshal Cao Jiu, the chief secretary Dong Yi, and Sima Xin, the king of Sai, all cut their throats on the banks of the Si.  (Cao Jiu, former prison warden of Qi, and Sima Xin, former prison warden of Yueyang, had both done favours for Xiang Liang, and so had been trusted and employed by Xiang Yu.)

Xiang Yu was at this time in Suiyang but, hearing of the defeat of the grand marshal’s army, he led his troops back.  The Han army had at the moment surrounded Zhongli Moat Xingyang, but when Xiang Yu arrived, the Han forces, fearful of Chu, all fled to positions of safety in the mountains.  At this time the Han troops were strong and had plenty of food, but Xiang Yu’s men were worn out and their provisions were exhausted.

The king of Han dispatched Lu Jia to bargain with Xiang Yu for the return of his father, but Xiang Yu refused to listen.  The king then sent Lord Hou to bargain.  This time Xiang Yu agreed to make an alliance with Han to divide the empire between them, Han to have all the land west of the Hong Canal and Chu all the land to east.  In addition, upon Xiang Yu’s consent, the king of Han’s father, mother, and wife were returned to him amid cheers of “Long life!” from the Han army.  The king of Han enfeoffed Lord Hou as “Lord Who Pacifies the Nation”.  (Lord Hou retired and was unwilling to show himself again.  Someone remarked, “This man is the most eloquent pleader in the world.  Wherever he goes he turns the whole nation on its head.  Perhaps that is why he has been given the title ‘Lord Who Pacifies the Nation’.”)

After concluding the alliance, Xiang Yu led his troops away to the east and the king of Han prepared to return west, but Zhang Liang and Chen Ping advised him, saying, “Han now possesses over half the empire, and all the feudal lords are on our side, while the soldiers of Chu are weary and out of food.  The time has come when Heaven will destroy Chu.  It would be best to take advantage of Xiang Yu’s lack of food and seize him once and for all.  If we were to let him get away now without attacking him, it would be like nursing a tiger that will return to vex us later!”

The king of Han, approving their advice, in the fifth year of Han (202BC) pursued Xiang Yu as far as the south of Yangxia, where he halted and made camp.  There he set a date for Han Xin and Peng Yue to meet him and join in attacking the Chu army.  But when he reached Guling, the troops of Han Xin and Peng Yue failed to appear for the rendezvous, and Xiang Yu attacked him and inflicted a severe defeat.  The king of Han withdrew behind his walls, deepened his moats, and guarded his position.

“The other leaders have not kept their promise.  What shall I do?” he asked Zhang Liang.

“The Chu army is on the point of being destroyed,” Zhang Liang replied, “but Han Xin and Peng Yue have not yet been granted any territory.  It is not surprising that they do not come when summoned.  If you will consent to share a part of the empire with them, they will surely come without a moment’s hesitation.  If this is impossible, I do not know what will happen.  If you could assign to Han Xin all the land from Chen east to the sea, and to Peng Yue the land from Suiyang north to Gucheng, so that each would feel he was actually fighting for his own good, then a Chu could easily be defeated.”

The king of Han, approving this suggestion, sent envoys to Han Xin and Peng Yue, saying, “Let us join our forces in attacking Chu.  When Chu has been defeated, I will give the land from Chen east to the sea to the king of Qi, and that from Suiyang north to Gucheng to the Prime Minister Peng.”  When the envoys arrived and reported this to Han Xin and Peng Yue, both replied, “We beg leave to proceed with our troops.”  Han Xin then marched out of Qi.  Liu Jia led his army from Shouchun to join in attacking and massacring the men of Chengfu; from there he proceeded to Gaixia.  The grand marshal Zhou Yin revolted againstChu, using the men of Shu to massacre the inhabitants of Liu, gained control of the army of Jiujiang, and followed after Liu Jia and Peng Yue.  All met at the Gaixia and made their way toward Xiang Yu.

Xiang Yu’s army had built a walled camp at Gaixia, but his soldiers were few and his supplies exhausted.  The Han army, joined by the forces of the other leaders, surrounded them with several lines of troops.  In the night Xiang Yu heard the Han armies all about him singing the songs of Chu.  “Has Han already conqueredChu?” he exclaimed in astonishment.  “How many men ofChuthey have with them!”  Then he rose in the night and drank within the curtains of his tent.  With him were the beautiful Lady Yu, who enjoyed his favour and followed wherever he went, and his famous steed Dapple, which he always rode.  Xiang Yu filled with passionate sorrow, began to sing sadly, composing this song:

My strength plucked up the hills,
My might shadowed the world;
But the times were against me,
And Dapple runs no more,
When Dapple runs no more,
What then can I do?
Ah, Yu, my Yu,
What will your fate be?

He sang the song several times through, and Lady Yu joined her voice with his.  Tears streamed down his face, while all those about him wept and were unable to lift their eyes from the ground.  Then he mounted his horse and, with some 800 brave horsemen under his banner, rode into the night, burst through the encirclement to the south, and galloped away.

Next morning, when the king of Han became aware of what had happened, he ordered his calvary general Guan Ying to lead a force of 5,000 horsemen in pursuit.  Xiang Yu crossed the Huai River, though by now he had only 100 or so horsemen still with him.  Reaching Yinling, he lost his way, and stopped to ask an old farmer for directions.  But the farmer deceived him, saying, “Go left!”, and when he rode to the left he stumbled into a great swamp, so that the Han troops were able to pursue and overtake him.

Xiang Yu once more led his men east until they reached Dongcheng.  By this time he had only twenty-eight horsemen, while the Han cavalry pursuing him numbered several thousand.

Xiang Yu, realizing that he could not escape, addressed his horsemen, saying, “It has been eight years since I first led my army forth.  In that time I have fought over seventy battles.  Every enemy I faced was destroyed, everyone I attacked submitted.  Never once did I suffer defeat, until at last I became dictator of the world.  But now suddenly I am driven to this desperate position!  It is because Heaven would destroy me, not because I have committed any fault in battle.  I have resolved to die today.  But before I die, I beg to fight bravely and win for you three victories.  For your sake shall I break through the enemy’s encirclements, cut down their leaders, and sever their banners, that you may know it is Heaven which has destroyed me and no fault of mine in arms!” Then he divided his horsemen into four bands and faced them in four directions.

When the Han army had surrounded them several layers deep, Xiang Yu said to his horsemen, “I will get one of those generals for you!”  He ordered his men to gallop in all four directions down the hill on which they were standing, with instructions to meet again on the east side of the hill and divide into three groups.  He himself gave a great shout and galloped down the hill.  The Han troops scattered before him and he succeeded in cutting down one of their generals.  At this time Yang Xi was leader of the cavalry pursuing Xiang Yu, but Xiang Yu roared and glared so fiercely at him that all his men and horses fled in terror some distance to the rear.

Xiang Yu rejoined his men, who had formed into three groups.  The Han army, uncertain which group Xiang Yu was with, likewise divided into three groups and again surrounded them.  Xiang Yu once more galloped forth and cut down a Han colonel, killing some fifty to 100 men.  When he had gathered his horsemen together a second time, he found that he had lost only two of them.  “Did I tell you the truth?” he asked.  His men all bowed and replied, “You have done all you said.”

Xiang Yu, who by the time has reached Wujiang, was considering whether to cross over to the east side of the Yangtze.  The village head of Wujiang, who was waiting with a boat on the bank of the river, said to him, “Although the area east of the Yangtze is small, it is some thousand miles in breadth and has a population of 300,000 or 400,000.  It would still be worth ruling.  I beg you to make haste and cross over.  I am the only one who has a boat, so that when the Han army arrives they will have no way to get across!”

Xiang Yu laughed and replied, “It is Heaven that is destroying me.  What good would it do me to cross the river?  Once, with 8,000 sons from the land east of the river, I crossed over and marched west, but today not a single man of them returns.  Although their fathers and brothers east of the river should take pity on me and make me their king, how could I bear to face them again?  Though they said nothing of it, could I help but feel shame in my heart?”  Then he added, “I can see that you are a worthy man.  For five years I have ridden this horse, and I have never seen his equal.  Again and again he has borne me hundreds of miles in a single day.  Since I cannot bear to kill him, I give him to you.”

Xiang Yu then ordered all his men to dismount and proceed on foot, and with their swords to close in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy.  Xiang Yu alone killed several hundred of the Han men, until he had suffered a dozen wounds.  Looking about him, he spied the Han cavalry marshal Lu Matong.  “We are old friends, are we not?” he asked, Lu Matong eyed him carefully and then, pointing him out to Wang Yi, said, “This is Xiang Yu!”

“I have heard that Han has offered a reward of 1,000 catties of gold and a fief of 10,000 households for my head,” said Xiang Yu.  “I will do you the favour!”  And with this he cut his own throat and died.

Wang Yi seized his head, while the other horsemen trampled over each other in a struggle to get at Xiang Yu’s body, so that twenty or thirty of them were killed.  In the end the cavalry attendant Yang Xi, the cavalry marshal Lu Matong and the attendants Lu Sheng and Yang Wu each succeeded in seizing a limb.  When the five of them fitted together the limbs and head, it was found that they were indeed those of Xiang Yu.  Therefore the fief was divided five ways, Lu Matong being enfeoffed as marquis of Zhongshui, Wang Yi as marquis of Duyan, Yang Xi as marquis of Chiquan, Yang Wu as marquis of Wufang, and Lu Sheng as marquis of Nieyang.

With the death of Xiang Yu, the entire region of Chu surrendered to Han, only Lu refusing to submit.  The king of Han set out with the troops of the empire and was about to massacre the inhabitants of Lu.  But because Lu had so strictly obeyed the code of honour and had shown its willingness to fight to the death for its acknowledged sovereign, he bore with him the head of Xiang Yu and, when he showed it to the men of Lu, they forthwith surrendered.

King Huai of Chu had first enfeoffed Xiang Yu as duke of Lu, and Lu was the last place to surrender.  Therefore, the king of Han buried Xiang Yu at Gucheng with the ceremony appropriate to a duke of Lu.  The king proclaimed a period of mourning for him, wept, and departed.  All the various branches of the Xiang family he spared from execution, and he enfeoffed Xiang Bo as marquis of Sheyang.  The marquises of Tao, Pinggao, and Xuanwu were all members of Xiang family who were granted imperial surname Liu.

The Grand Historian remarks: I have heard Master Zhou say that Emperor Shun had eyes with double pupils.  I have also heard that Xiang Yu, too, had eyes with double pupils.  Could it be that Xiang Yu was a descendant of Emperor Shun?  How sudden was his rise to power!  When the rule of Qin floundered and Chen She led his revolt, local heroes and leaders arose like bees, struggling with each other for power in numbers too great to be counted.  Xiang Yu did not have so much as an inch of territory to begin with, but by taking advantage of the times he raised himself in the space of three years from a commoner in the fields to the position of commander of five armies of feudal lords.  He overthrew Qin, divided up the empire, and parceled it out in fiefs to the various kings and marquises; but all power of government proceeded from Xiang Yu and he was hailed as a dictator king.  Though he was not able to hold this position to death, yet from ancient times to the present there has never before been such a thing!

But when he went so far as to turn his back on the Pass and return to his native Chu, banishing the Righteous Emperor and setting himself up in his place, it was hardly surprising that the feudal lords revolted against him.  He boasted and made a show of his own achievements.  He was obstinate in his own opinions and did not abide by established ways.  He thought to make himself a dictator, hoping to attack and rule the empire by force.  Yet within five years he was dead and his kingdom lost.  He met death at Dongcheng, but even at that time he did not wake to or accept responsibility for his errors.  “It is Heaven,” he declared, “which had destroyed me, and no fault of mine in the use of arms!”  Was he not indeed deluded?



Nieh Cheng was a native o fShengching Village in the district of Chih.  Having killed a man, he escaped with his mother and elder sister to Chi where he set up as a butcher.  Later Yen Sui of Puyang, who owed allegiance to Marquis Ai of Hann, offended the chief minister Hsia Lui and fled to escape punishment, searching everywhere for a man who would kill Hsia Lui for him.  When he reached Chi, he heard Nieh Cheng was a brave man who was living as a butcher to avoid vengeance.  Yen Sui called him several times, then he prepared a feast in honour of Nieh Cheng’s mother at which he presented her with a hundred pieces of gold.  Amazed by such munificence, Nish Cheng declined the gift.  When Yen Sui insisted he said, “I am blessed with an aged mother.  Though I am but a poor stranger in these parts, I am able to supply her daily food and clothing by selling dog meat.  Since I can provide for her, I dare not accept your gift.”

Yen Sui sent the others away and told Nieh Cheng, “I have and enemy.  Reaching Chi after travelling through many states, I heard that you, Sir were a man with a high sense of honour.

So I am offering you a hundred gold pieces to supply food and clothing for your mother and to win your friendship.  I want no other return.”

Nieh Cheng replied, “I have lowered my ambitions and humbled myself to sell meat in the market solely for my mother’s sake.  While she lives, I cannot promise my services to anyone.”  He could not be prevailed upon to accept, whereupon Yen Sui took a courteous leave of him.

In due time Nieh Cheng’s mother died.  After she was buried and the mourning over Nieh Cheng said, “I am a poor stall-keeper wielding a butcher’s cleaver, while Yen Sui is a state minister; yet he came a thousand li in his carriage to seek my friendship.  I did very little for him, performed no great services to deserve hid favour, yet he offered my mother a hundred pieces of gold; and though I did not accept, this shows how well he appreciated me.  His longing for revenge made this worthy gentleman place his faith in one so humble and obscure.  How, then, can I remain silent?  Previously I ignored his overture for my mother’s sake.  Now that my mother has died of old age, I must serve this man who appreciates me.”

So he went west to Puyang to see Yen Sui and told him, “I refused you before because my mother was still alive, but now she has died of old age.  Who is the man on whom you want to take vengeance?  I am at your service.”

Then Yen Sui told him the whole story, saying, “My enemy is Hsia Lui, chief minister of Hann and uncle of the marquis of Hann.  He has many clansmen and his residence is closely guarded.  All my attempts to assassinate him have failed.  Since you are good enough to help me, I can supply you with chariots, cavalry and men.”

“Hann is not far from Uei, and we are going to kill the chief minister who is also the ruler’s uncle,” said Nieh Cheng.  “In these circumstances, too many men would make for trouble and word might get out.  Then the whole of Hann would become your enemy and that would be disastrous.”

So refusing all assistance, he bid farewell and carrying his sword went alone to the capital of Hann.  Hsia Lui, seated in his office, was surrounded by a host of guards and armed attendants; but Nieh Cheng marching straight in and up the steps stabbed the minister to death.  The attendants, in utter confusion, were set upon with loud cries by Nieh Cheng, till several dozen of them were laid low.  Then he gashed his face, gouged out his eyes and stabbed himself so that his guts spilled out and he died.

Nieh Cheng’s corpse was exposed in the market-place in Hann and inquiries were made but no one knew who he was.  A reward of thousand gold pieces was offered for identifying the assassin, but time passed without any news.  Then Nieh Cheng’s sister Jung heard of Hsia Lui’s assassination and the large reward offered for the identification of  his unknown assassin, whose corpse had been exposed.  “Can this be my brother?” she sobbed.  “Ah, how well Yen Sui understood him!”

She went to the market-place in Hann and found that it was indeed he.  Falling on the corpse she wept bitterly and cried, “This is Nieh Cheng from Shenching Village in Chih!”

The people in the market warned her, “This man savagely murdered our chief minister and our chief minister and the king – has offered a thousand gold pieces for his name.  Did you not know this?  Why do you come to identify him?”

“I knew this,” she replied.  “But he humbled himself to live as a tradesman in the market because our mother died and I had no husband.  After our mother died and I was married, Yen Sui raised him from his squalor to be his friend.  How else could he repay Yen Sui’s great kindness?  A man should die for a friend who knows his worth.  Because I was still alive, he mutilated himself to hide his identity.  But how can I, for fear of death, let my noble brother perish unknown?”

This greatly astounded the people in the market.  Having called aloud on heaven three times, she wailed in anguish and died beside her brother.

Word of this reached Tsin,Chu, Chi and Wei, and everyone commented, “Not only was Nieh Cheng able, but his sister was a remarkable woman too.”  Nieh Cheng might never have given his life for Yen Sui had he know that his sister, with her strong resolution, would not balk at his corpse exposed ine the market-place and take the long difficult journey to make his name known and perish by his side.  Yen Sui certainly was a good judge of character able to find loyal helpers!



Shao-ch’ing, honored sir:

In the past I had the honor of receiving a letter from you in which you advised me to be careful in my dealings with people and instructing me in my duty to recommend men and work for the advancement of worthy gentlemen. Your concern is indeed kind and heartfelt.  Perhaps you are angry that I have not marked your words and think that I am following the counsels of worthless men.  I assure you I would not dare to do such a thing.  Worthless old creature that I am, I have yet heard something of the teachings handed down from the great men of old.  But I remember that I am no more than a mutilated being who dwells in degradation.  Anything I might try to do would only meet with censure; should I try to help others I should only succeed in doing them injury.  Therefore I am “in sadness and despair with no one to speak to.”

There is an old saying, “Whom will you do it for, and whom will you get to listen to you?”  After Chung Tzu-ch’i died, Po Ya never again played upon the lute.  Why?  “It is for a friend who understands him that a man will act, and for a lover who delights in her that a woman will make herself beautiful.”

But one like myself, whose very substance is marred and mutilated though I might possess the worth of the jewels of Sui and Ho, though my conduct might be as pure as that of Yu and I, in the end I could never achieve glory, but on the contrary would only succeed in arousing laughter and bringing shame upon myself.

I should have answered your letter, but at the time I had to accompany the Emperor on a trip to the east and was pressed by many petty affairs of my own.  The time we had together was indeed short, and I was so busy that I could not seem to find a moment of leisure to tell you all that I really feel.  Now, Shao-ch’ing , you are accused of this terrible crime.  The days and months have gone by and it is drawing close to the end of winter.  I am forced to go in attendance upon the Emperor to Yung.  If you should suddenly meet with that which cannot be disguised by euphemism, it would mean that I would have no opportunity to unburden to you my bitterness and anguish.  Then in the long journey hereafter your spirit would forever bear me personal resentment.  So I beg you to allow me to explain in brief my rude and unworthy feelings, and I pray you will not blame me too severely for having been so long in answering.

I have heard it said that to devote oneself to moral training is the storehouse of wisdom; to delight in giving to others is the beginning of humanity; that proper giving and taking are the mark of a man’s sense of duty; while times of shame and disgrace determine his courage; and that making a name for himself is the aim of all action.  Only when a man has shown that he possesses these five qualities may he take a place in the world and rank among the host of superior men.  No more severe misfortune can come to a man than to be driven by covetous desires, no sadness is so painful as the grief of the heart.  No deed is more hideous than bringing shame to one’s ancestors, and no disgrace greater than the palace punishment [castration].  That a man who has undergone such punishment is fit no longer to be associated with is the opinion not of one age alone but has been held since ancient times.  When Duke Ling of Wei rode in the same carriage with Yung Ch’ü, Confucius departed for Ch’en.  Because Shang Yang obtained audience with the King through the offices of Ching Chien, Chao Liang’s heart turned cold.  When Chao T’an rode in the Emperor’s carriage, Yüan Ssu was fired with anger.  So from old times men have been ashamed to associate with eunuchs.  If even ordinary men are loath to have dealings with eunuchs, how much more so in the case of gentlemen of virtue and feeling?  Although our court today may be in need of good men, what business would I, a mere “remnant of the knife and saw,” have in trying to help and recommend the finest and most worthy men of the world?

Because of the undertakings of my father which have passed on to me, I have been allowed for some twenty years to serve beneath the hub of the royal carriage, always awaiting my punishment.  I realize full well that first of all, in serving our enlightened Emperor, I have not been able to pay due fidelity or inspire real confidence, nor have I gained a name for cleverness in planning or superiority of ability.  Second, I have been able to perform no service in repairing deficiencies or supplying what was lacking in the imperial rule or in promoting and advancing men of virtue and talent, nor have I brought to light any gentlemen who were living in retirement.  In foreign affairs I have commanded no ranks of men, captured no castles and fought on no field; no glories of generals slain or enemy pennants seized are mine.  At the least I have not, by piling up the days and sticking to my labors, achieved any high position or large salary, or brought glory and favor to my family and friends.  I have not succeeded in a single one of these four endeavors.  From this it is obvious that I am a worthless person who by mere chance has been tolerated at court.

Once in former times I too took my place among the lower officers and participated in the lesser deliberations in the outer court.  If I could not at that time introduce any great precepts or present any of my ideas, now when I am no more than a slave who sweeps the paths, mutilated and ranked among the low worthless—now should I try to lift up my head and look lordly and discourse upon right and wrong, would I not show contempt for the court and bring shame to the gentlemen of my time?  Alas, alas!  A man like myself—what can he say now?  What can he say now?

It is not easy to know the beginning and end of things.  When I was young I had a spirit that would not be bridled, and as I grew older I won no fine praises in my village and district.  But because of my father, our Ruler graciously allowed me to offer my poor talents and to come and go in the inner parts of the Palace.  Therefore I cut off my acquaintanceship with friends and visitors and neglected the business of our family.

I considered then that a man who has a bowl over his head cannot hope to see the sky.  Day and night I thought only how to use to the fullest my poor talents and strength.  I went about the duties of my office with a single mind, seeking only the favor and love of our Ruler.  But, quite contrary to my hopes, things came to a terrible misunderstanding.

Li Ling and I both held office at the same time.  Basically we were never very close.  Our likes and dislikes lay in different directions; we never so much as drank a cup of wine together or shared the joys of intimate friendship.  But I observed that he was clearly a man superior ability.  He was filial to his parents and trustworthy with his associates, honest in matters of money and just in all his giving and taking.  In questions of precedence he would always yield; he was respectful and modest and gave way to others.  His constant care was to sacrifice himself for his country, hastening in time without thought for his own safety.  This was always in his mind, and I believed him to be truly one or the finest men of the nation.  A subject who will go forth to face ten thousand deaths, giving not the slightest thought for his own life but hurrying only to the rescue of his lord—such a man is rare indeed!  Now he has committed one act that was not right, and the officials who think only to save themselves and protect their own wives and children vie with each other in magnifying his shortcomings.  Truly it makes me sick at heart!

The infantry that Li Ling commanded did not come up to five thousand.  They marched deep into barbarian territory, strode up to the ruler’s court and dangled the bait, as it were, right before the tiger’s jaws.  In fearless ranks they shouted a challenge to the powerful barbarians, gazing up at their numberless hosts.  For over ten days they continued on combat with the Shan-yü.  The enemy fell in disproportionate numbers; those who tried to rescue their dead and wounded could not even save themselves.  The barbarian lords in their robes of felt trembled with fear.  They summoned their Wise Kings of the Left and Right and called out all the men who could use a bow.  The whole nation descended together upon our men and surrounded them.  They fought their way along for a thousand miles until their arrows were all gone and the road was blocked.  The relief forces did not come, and our dead and injured lay heaped up.  But Li Ling with one cry gave courage to his army, so that every man raised himself up and wept.  Washed in blood and choked with tears, they stretched out their empty bows and warded off the bare blades of the foe.  North again they turned and fought to the death with the enemy.

Before Li Ling fell into the hands of the enemy, a messenger came with the report [of his attack] and the lords and ministers of the Han all raised their cups in joyous toast to the Emperor.  But after a few days came word of his defeat, and because of it the Emperor could find no favor in his food and no delight in the deliberations of the court.  The great officials were in anxiety and fear and did not know what to do.  Observing His Majesty’s grief and distress, I dared to forget my mean and lowly position, sincerely desiring to do what I could in my fervent ignorance.  I considered that Li Ling has always shared with his officers and men their hardships and want, and could command the loyalty of his troops in the face of death.  In this he was unsurpassed even by the famous generals of old.  And although he had fallen into captivity, I perceived that his intention was to try to seek some future opportunity to repay his debt to the Han.  Though in the end he found himself in an impossible situation, yet the merit he had achieved in defeating and destroying so many of the enemy was still worthy to be proclaimed throughout the world.  This is what I had in my mind to say, but I could find no opportunity to express it.  Then it happened that I was summoned into council, and I took the chance to speak of Li Ling’s merits in this way, hoping to broaden His Majesty’s view and put a stop to the angry words of the other officials.

But I could not make myself fully understood.  Our enlightened Ruler did not wholly perceive my meaning, But supposed that I was trying to disparage the Erh-shih General and plead a special case for Li Ling.  So I was put into prison, and I was never able to make clear my fervent loyalty.  Because it was believed that I had tried to defame the Emperor, I was finally forced to submit to the judgment of the law officials.  My family was poor and lacked sufficient funds to buy commutation of the sentence.  Of my friends and associates, not one would save me; among those near the Emperor no one said so much as a word for me.  My body is not made of wood or stone, yet alone I had to face the officials of the law.  Hidden in the depths of prison, to whom could I plead my case?  This, Shao-ch’ing, is something you must truly have seen for yourself.  Was this not way I always acted?  Li Ling had already surrendered alive and destroyed the fine reputation of his family.  And then I was thrown into the “silkworm chamber” [where castrations were performed].  Together we became a sight for all the world to laugh at in scorn.  Alas, alas!  Matters such as these it is not easy to explain in detail to ordinary people.

My father had no great deeds that entitled him to receive the split tallies or the red charter.  He dealt with affairs of astronomy and the calendar, which are close to divination and worship of the spirits.  He was kept for the sport and amusement of the Emperor, treated the same as the musicians and jesters, and made light of by the vulgar men of his day.  If I fell before the law and were executed, it would make no more difference to most people than one hair off nine oxen, for I was nothing but a mere ant to them.  The world would not rank me among those men who were able to die for their ideals, but would believe simply that my wisdom was exhausted and my crime great, that I had been unable to escape penalty and in the end had gone to my death.  Why?  Because all my past actions had brought this on me, they would say.

A man has only one death.  That death may be as weighty as Mount T’ai, or it may be as light as a goose feather.  It all depends upon the way he uses it.  Above all, a man must bring no shame to his forbears.  Next he must not shame his person, nor be shameful in his countenance, nor in his words.  Below such a one is he who suffers the shame of being bound, and next he who bears, and next he who bears the shame of marked clothing.  Next is the man bound and fettered who knows the shame of rod and thorn, and the man who bears the shame of the shaved head and the binding manacle.  Below again is the shame of mutilated flesh and severed limbs.  Lowest of all is the extreme penalty, the “punishment of rottenness!”

The Commentary says: “Punishments shall not extend to the high officials.”  This means that a gentleman must be ever careful of proper conduct.

When the fierce tiger dwells in the deep hills, all the other beasts tremble with fear.  But when he is in the trap or the cage, he wags his tail and begs for food, for he has been gradually overawed and broken.  Therefore there are cases when, even though one were to draw a circle on the ground and call it a prison, a gentleman would not enter, or though one carved a wooden image and set it up as a judge, a gentleman would not contend with it, but would settle the affair for himself in accordance with what is right.  But when a man has been bound hand and foot with stocks and ropes, has been stripped to the skin and flogged with rods, and plunged into the depths of encircling walls, at that time when he sees the judge he strikes his head upon the ground and when he looks at the jailers his heart gasps with fear.  Why?  Because he has been gradually overawed and broken by force.  A man must be thick-skinned indeed if he come to this and yet say, “I am not ashamed!”  What respect could people have for such a man?

Hsi-po was an earl, and yet he was imprisoned at Yu-li.  Li Ssu was prime minister, yet he suffered all the five punishments.  Huaiyin was a king, but he was put into fetters at Ch’en.  P’eng Yüeh and Chang Ao faced south and called themselves independent, but they were both dragged to prison and punished.  The Marquis of Chiang overthrew and punished all the Lu family; his power exceeded that of the Five Protectors of old, yet he was imprisoned in the Inquiry Room.  The Marquis of Wei-ch’i was a great general, yet he wore the red clothing and was bound with three fetters.  Chi Pu was a manacled slave for Chu Chia, and Kuan Fu suffered shame in the prison of Chü-shih.  All these men achieved the positions of feudal lords, generals, or ministers, and their fame reached to neighboring lands.  But when they were accused of crimes and sentence was passed upon them, there was not one who could settle the matter with his hands by committing suicide.  In the dust and filth of bondage, it has ever been the same, past and present.  How in such circumstances can a man avoid shame?

From this you can see that “bravery and cowardice are only a matter of circumstance; strength and weakness are only a matter of the conditions.”  This is certain.  Is there any reason to wonder at it?  Furthermore, if a man does not quickly make his decision to settle things for himself outside the law, but waits until he has sunk lower and lower, till he lies beneath the whip and lash, and then decides to save his honor by suicide, is it not too late?  This is probably the reason why the ancients hesitated to administer punishments to officials.

It is the nature of every man to love life and hate death, to think of his relatives and look after his wife and children.  Only when a man is moved by higher principles is this not so.  Then there are things which he must do.  Now I have been most unfortunate, for I lost my parents very early.  With no brothers or sisters or close relations, I have been left alone an orphan.  And you yourself, Shao-ch’ing, have seen me with my wife and child, and know how things are.  Yet the brave man does not necessarily die for honor, while even the coward may fulfill his duty.  Each takes a different way to exert himself. Though I might be weak and cowardly and seek shamelessly to prolong my life, yet I know full well the difference between what ought to be followed and what rejected.  How could I bring myself to sink into the shame of ropes and bonds?  If even the lowest slave and scullion maid can bear to commit suicide, why should not one like myself be able to do what has to be done?  But the reason I have not refused to bear these ills and have continued to live, dwelling in vileness and disgrace without taking my leave, is that I grieve that I have things in my heart which I have not been able to express fully, and I am shamed to think that after I am gone my writings will not be known to posterity.  Too numerous to record are the men of ancient times who were rich and noble and whose names have yet vanished away.  It is only those who were masterful and sure, the truly extraordinary men, who are still remembered.  When the Earl of the West was imprisoned at Yu-li, he expanded the Changes; Confucius was in distress and he made the Spring and Autumn; Ch’ü Yüan was banished and he composed his poem “Encountering Sorrow”; after Tso Ch’iu lost his sight, he composed the Narratives from the States; when Sun Tzu had had his feet amputated, he set forth the Art of War; Lü Pu- wei was banished to Shu but his Lü-lan has been handed down through the ages; while Han Fei Tzu was held prisoner in Ch’in, he wrote “The Difficulties of Disputation” and “The Sorrow of Standing Alone”; most of the three hundred poems of the Book of Odes were written when the sages poured forth their anger and dissatisfaction.  All these men had a rankling in their hearts, for they were not able to accomplish what they wished.  Therefore they wrote about past affairs in order to pass on their thoughts to future generations.  Those like Tso Ch’iu, who was blind, or Sun Tzu, who had no feet, could never hold office, so they retired to compose books in order to set forth their thoughts and indignation, handing down their theoretical writings in order to show to posterity who they were.  I too have ventured not to be modest but have entrusted myself to my useless writings.  I have gathered up and brought together the old traditions of the world which were scattered and lost.  I have examined the deeds and events of the past and investigated the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay, in one hundred and thirty chapters.  I wished to examine into all that concerns heaven and man, to penetrate the changes of the past and present, completing all as the work of one family.  But before I had finished my rough manuscript, I met with this calamity.  It is because I regretted that it had not been completed that I submitted to the extreme penalty without rancor.  When I have truly completed this work, I shall deposit it in theFamousMountain.  If it may be handed down to men who will appreciate it, and penetrate to the villages and great cities, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret should I have?  Such matters as these may be discussed with a wise man, but it is difficult to explain them to ordinary people.

It is not easy to dwell in poverty and lowliness while base men multiply their slanderous counsels.  I met this misfortune because of the words I spoke.  I have brought upon myself the scorn and mockery even of my native village and I have soiled and shamed my father’s name.  With what face can I again ascend and stand before the grave mound of my father and mother?  Though a hundred generations pass, my defilement will only become greater.  This is the thought that wrenches my bowels nine times each day.  Sitting at home, I am befuddled as though I had lost something.  I go out, and then realize that I do not know where I am going.  Each time I think of this shame, the sweat pours from my back and soaks my robe.  I am now no more than a servant in the harem.  How could I leave of my own accord and hide away in some mountain cave?  Therefore I follow along with the vulgar, floating and sinking, bobbing up and down with the times, sharing their delusions and madness.

Now you, Shao-ch’ing, have advised me to recommend worthy men and promote scholars.  But would not such a course be at odds with my own intent?  Now although I should try to add glory and fame to myself, or with fine words seek to excuse my error, it would have no effect upon the vulgar.  I would not be believed, but would only take upon myself further shame.  Only after the day of death shall right and wrong at last be determined.

I cannot convey in writing my full meaning, but I have ventured to set forth brief my unworthy opinion.


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(c. 340-278 B.C.)

Embracing Sand


Qu Yuan (Ch’ü Yüan, also known as Ch’ü P’ing), is traditionally recognized as the chief author of the poetry from the Chu Ci anthology (The Songs of the South). This anthology is a collection of Chu poetry edited by Wang Yi, a librarian in service of the emperor Han Shundi in the 2nd century A.D. Chu poetry is defined by certain characteristic elements of style and form that were originally used by poets of the Chu kingdom, a political power in what is now southern China that reached the height of its influence in the 4th century b.c.

According to a biography by Sima Qian [q.v.] dating from early in the 1st century B.C., Qu Yuan belonged to the royal house of Chu and was a foreign ambassador and valued servant to King Huai (ruled 328–299 B.C.) during the Warring States period (variously dated 475 or 403 to 221 B.C.), when expanding states were engaged in bloody mutual aggression as the old feudal system was giving way to political centralization. In Sima Qian’s account, a high-ranking administrator of the court who was envious of Qu Yuan’s favor with the king attempted to take credit for some of Qu Yuan’s writings. When Qu Yuan refused to comply, the official made allegations to the king that Qu Yuan was boastful and proud, and Qu Yuan thus fell into disfavor with King Huai. The king’s eldest son inherited the throne, but he, like his father, was also subject to the influence of deceitful advisors. Qu Yuan criticized the new king’s poor judgment and was banished to a remote part of the kingdom. In protest, he drowned himself in the  Miluo River.

Qu Yuan’s best known work is “Li sao” (“On Encountering Trouble”), a long poem in autobiographical form in which the poet describes himself as a nobleman descended from an ancient legendary ruler and depicts the growing disillusionment of an idealistic young man who has come to see that the world is filled with corrupt people and institutions. He plans to abandon the world and join the holy dead, symbolized by Peng Xian, who according to the original compiler of The Songs of the South, Wang Yi, was an upright minister at the court of one of the Shang kings, who drowned himself when his good advice was not taken. Qu Yuan’s poem “Li Sao” concludes with the following lines:

      Enough! There are no true men in the state: no one understands me.
      Why should I cleave to the city of my birth?
      Since none is worthy to work with in making good government,
      I shall go and join Peng Xian in the place where he abides.

“Embracing Sand,” presented here, is sometimes understood as an expansion of these final  four lines of the earlier poem. “Embracing Sand” was Qu Yuan’s suicide note: he is said to  have written the poem and then clasped a large stone to his bosom to drown himself in the  Miluo River. Thus the title “Embracing Sand” is presumed to refer to the practice of filling the bosom of one’s robe with sand in order to drown oneself, much as Japanese suicides are said to have filled their sleeves with sand or gravel. Qu Yuan clearly represents his impending suicide as an example of resolve and personal restraint, as well as an escape from sorrow and grief, though a background of wounded dignity and angry pride is also evident, based in the disillusionment and isolation of an idealist much like that he had earlier expressed in “On Encountering Trouble.”

Qu Yuan is still commemorated in China, as well as in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Malaysia, with dragon-boat races on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the day he is believed to have drowned himself. A special variety of sticky-rice dumpling, wrapped in leaves and steamed, is thrown into the river to feed, according to different accounts, Qu Yuan in his afterlife or as a distraction for the fish and dragons that would otherwise eat Qu Yuan’s body.


Qu Yuan, quotation from “Li sao” (“On Encountering Trouble”) and text from “Jiu zhang” (“Nine Pieces”), V, “Huai sha” (“Embracing Sand”), from The Songs of the South. An Ancient Chinese Anthology of Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets, tr. David Hawkes, London: Penguin Books, 1985, pp. 78, 170-172; see also Li Sao and Other Poems of Chu Yuan, tr. Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, trs., Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1955, p. x.



In the teeming late summer
When flowers and trees burgeon,
My heart with endless sorrow laden,
Forth I went to the southern land.

Eyes strain unseeing into the hazy gloom
Where a great quiet and stillness reign.
Disquieted and tormented,
I have met sorrow and long been afflicted.

I soothed my feelings, sought my purposes,
Bowed to my wrongs and still restrained myself.
Let others trim square to fit the round:
I shall not cast the true measure away.

To change his first intent and alter his course
Is a thing the noble man disdains.
I made my marking clear; I set my mind on the ink-line;
My former path I did not change.

Inwardly sound and of honest substance,
In this the great man excels so richly.
But when Chui the Cunning is not carving,
Who can tell how true a line he cuts?

When dark brocade is placed in the dark,
The dim-eyed will say that it has no pattern.
And when Li Lou peers to discern minutest things,
The purblind think that he must be sightless.

White is changed to black;
The high cast down and the low made high;
The phoenix languishes in a cage,
While hens and ducks can gambol free.

Jewels and stones are mixed together,
And in the same measure meted.
The courtier crowd are low and vulgar fellows;
They cannot understand the things I prize.

Great was the weight I carried, heavy the burdens I bore;
But I sank and stuck fast in the mire and could not get across.
A jewel I wore in my bosom, a gem I clasped in my hand;
But, helpless, I knew no way whereby I could make them seen.

The dogs of the village bark in chorus;
They bark when they do not comprehend.
Genius they condemn and talent they suspect –
Stupid and boorish that their manner is!

Art and nature perfected lay within me hidden;
But the crowd did not know of the rare gifts that were mine.
Unused materials I had in rich store;
Yet no one knew the things that I possessed.

I multiplied kindness, redoubled righteousness;
Care and probity I had in plenty.
But it was not my lot to meet such as Chong Hua;
So who could understand my behaviour?

It has always been so – this failure of happy meeting;
Though I do not know what can be the reason.
Tang and Yu lived a great while ago –
Too remote for me to long for!

I must curb my rebelling pride and check my anger,
Restrain my heart, and force myself to bow.
I have met sorrow, but still will be unswerving;
I wish my resolution to be an example.

Along my road I will go, and in the north halt my journey.
But the day is dusky and turns towards the evening.
I will unlock my sorrow and ease my grief,
And end it all in the Great End.


The mighty waters of the Yuan and Xiang with surging swell go
rolling on their way;
The road is long, through places dark and drear, a way far and forlorn.
The nature I cherish in my bosom, the feelings I embrace, there are none to judge.
For when Bo Le is dead and gone, how can the wonder-horse go coursing?
The lives of all men on the earth have each their ordained lot.
Let my heart be calm and my mind at ease: why should I be afraid?
Yet still, in mounting sorrow and anguish, long I lament and sigh.
For the world is muddy-witted; none can know me; the heart of man cannot be told.
I know that death cannot be avoided, therefore I will not grudge its coming.
To noble men I here plainly declare that I will be numbered with such as you.

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(c. 372-c. 289 B.C.)

from The Mencius


Meng Ke, the Chinese Confucian philosopher whose honorific name Mengzi (Meng-tzu) is Latinized as “Mencius,” was, like Confucius [q.v.], born in what is now Shandong province. Also like Confucius, Mencius’ profession was primarily teaching; he is said to have studied under a pupil of the grandson of Confucius, Zisi (according to tradition, he studied under Zisi himself). Mencius lived during the Warring States period, a time of considerable political corruption and dictatorial rule, and traveled for about 40 years from one state to another attempting to persuade rulers of the need for reform and how to accomplish it. He also served as a scholar and official at the Jixia Academy in the state of Qi, but took a three-year absence for mourning after the death of his mother, and was revered for this expression of filial piety.

Respected as one of its principal interpreters, Mencius developed an intuitionist form of Confucianism. Mencius expands Confucius’s humanism by maintaining that human nature is originally and intrinsically good, though it may be corrupted by negative societal influences. The Mencius, said to be a record of his conversations with kings during his years of itinerant travel, was probably compiled by Mencius’ pupils after his death. Together with the Analects of Confucius and two other classic texts, Mencius’ work served as the basis of the imperial civil service examinations.

Although Mencius does not explore the issue of suicide explicitly, the famous passage traditionally translated “I like fish and I also like bear’s paw” shows that there are occasions on which one may not—indeed should not—attempt to preserve one’s own life, but should sacrifice it for a greater good, righteousness. The bear’s paw, or bear’s palm, passage is often compared with Confucius’ Analects, 15.9 and exhibits some of the same tensions over obligations to sacrifice one’s life yet also preserve one’s body.


The Book of Mencius, Book VI, Part A, 10, tr. Eirik Lang Harris. Some interpretive material concerning the traditional “bear’s paw” phrase is found in Wing-Tsit Chan, tr. and ed., A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963, 6A10, 6A14-6A15, pp. 57–59. Interpretive material also from Eirik Lang Harris.


Mencius said: “Fish is something I desire. Bear paw is also something I desire. But if I cannot have them both, I would give up the fish and choose the bear paw. Life is something I desire. Righteousness is also something I desire. But if I cannot have them both, I would give up life and choose righteousness. Life is something that I desire, but there is something that I desire more than life, and so I will not be unscrupulous in pursuing life. Death is something that I hate, but there is something that I hate more than death, and so there are perils that I will not avoid. If it were such that there was nothing that one desired more than life, then, if there were some means that would help one continue living, what would one not use? If it were such that there was nothing that one hated more than death, then if there were some means that would help one avoid peril, what would one not do? From this, then, we see that there are means of staying alive that will not be employed and also that there are means for avoiding peril that will not be used. Therefore, there are desires that are greater than the desire for life and hatreds greater than the hatred of death. It is not merely the sage who has this heart; people all have it, it is just that the sage never loses it.

“Consider the case where, if one gets a [single] basket of food and a bowl of stew, one will live, if one does not get them, one will die. However, if they are insultingly provided, even travelers on the road would not accept them. If they are trampled upon and then provided, even a beggar would disdain them. Yet when it comes to a salary of ten thousand measures of grain, one accepts it without regard to ritual and righteousness. What does this salary add to one? Should one accept for the sake of a beautiful estate? For the respect of a wife and concubines? For the indebtedness of impoverished and needy relatives? Previously, when it was a case of life or death, one would not accept what was offered, but now when it is a matter of a beautiful estate one does. Previously, when it was a case of life or death, one would not accept what was offered, but now for the sake of the respect of a wife and concubines, one does. Previously, when it was a case of life or death, one would not accept what was offered, but now for the sake of the indebtedness of impoverished and needy relatives, one does. Is there no way of stopping this? This is called losing one’s fundamental heart.”

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(551-479 B.C.)

from The Analects
from The Book of Filial Piety


Confucius (Kongzi), often regarded as the greatest of the Chinese sages and as the most profound influence on Chinese civilization in general, was born in 551 B.C. in the state of Lu, in modern Shandong, where his descendants still live. The name Confucius is a Latinized form of the Chinese Kongfuzi, meaning “Master Kong,” drawn from his family name Kong. Much of what is believed about his life is legendary. Confucius is said to have been the youngest of 11 children in a family that was noble but fairly poor; his father died when he was about three. Confucius devoted himself to the study of ancient Chinese literature known as the Five Classics, including the Shu Jing, or Book of Documents, the Shi Jing, or Book of Odes, also called the Book of Songs, and the Yi Jing, or Book of Changes, a divination manual. According to traditional sources, he occupied various minor posts and was made minister of justice at about the age of 51 until his resignation c. 495 B.C. Confucius wandered from state to state for the next 13 years, teaching the Five Classics and attempting to persuade the state rulers he met of the need for social, political, and moral reforms. He spoke in favor of making education available to all, and promoted a view of education as dedicated to the advancement of character rather than vocational training. He was the first to advocate in any sustained way the notion of moral education through the rituals of the ancient dynasties and to insist that moral reform through such education could restore peace and harmony to society. His teachings are rooted in a deeply humanistic worldview, emphasizing the concept of ren, variously translated as “goodness,” “benevolence,” or “humaneness,” which he saw as the highest virtue. The man of ren who is capable of genuinely empathetic understanding that combines conscientiousness and altruism is the morally ideal person.

The work most directly associated with Confucius is The Analects, a collection of sayings attributed to Confucius and accounts of his deeds, together with his reflections on the Chinese classics. The Analects was probably put together by his pupils and their pupils, and finally consolidated by Han scholars some five or six centuries after Confucius’s death. The material is not systematic and is in some places historically inaccurate; it also includes some material that is clearly of much later date, as well as some that is alien or hostile. Nevertheless, The Analects is recognized as the most reliable source of Confucius’s thought. The Xiao Jing, or Book of Filial Piety, a collection circulating in part before Confucius but, by tradition, attributed to him, depicts conversations between Confucius and his disciple Zengzi, one of Confucius’s followers particularly renowned for the virtue of filial piety. The Book of Filial Piety was probably compiled by members of Master Zeng’s school and consolidated in later centuries. Both texts identify the duty of filial piety as a central ethical obligation: the obligation to love and care for one’s parents. The implications of this duty for the question of suicide are evident in both texts: one must not harm or destroy one’s body.

Analects 8.3 depicts Master Zeng, the disciple who is Confucius’s interlocutor in the Book of Filial Piety, as he is dying. Zengzi is asking his students to look at his hands and feet to ensure that he is still whole, and expresses satisfaction that he has preserved his body intact throughout his life—a duty central to filial piety. Thus Zengzi can expose his hands and feet, often at risk in early China, where amputation was a common punishment.

To injure or destroy one’s own body, or to allow it to be injured or destroyed, would be to violate one’s obligation to one’s parents; this obligation presumably precludes suicide. Consonant with this, the selection from the Book of Filial Piety, framed in the voice of Confucius, also describes the obligation to care for and preserve oneself, including one’s own body, as central to the obligation of filial piety.

Analects 8.13 and 14.12 both address willingness to give up one’s life, in 8.13 for the Dao or “Way,” and in 14.12 in times of danger as a characteristic of the “complete” or fully virtuous and cultured gentleman; it may also include a willingness to voluntarily sacrifice one’s life, not just risk the loss of it. The first three exemplary individuals mentioned in 14.12 are respected state officials; Ran Qiu was one of Confucius’s disciples.

Analects 14.16 and 14.17 refer to events that took place during the reign of Duke Huan, the official hegemon from 681–643 B.C. Duke Huan and his brother Prince Jiu were both exiles from their home state of Qi, which was ruled by their eldest brother. While in exile, Prince Jiu was served by his retainers Shao Hu and Guan Zhong. Upon their eldest brother’s death, Duke Huan, the youngest brother, returned to Qi to usurp power and ordered the death of his elder brother Prince Jiu and the return of his retainers Shao Hu and Guan Zhong. The expectation of the time was that retainers would commit suicide rather than serve another lord, and this is what Shao Hu did. However, Guan Zhong, on the other hand, willingly returned to serve Duke Huan and became his Prime Minister. It is not clear whether Confucius approves or disapproves of this serious breach of propriety; Confucius questions Guan Zhong’s ren, “benevolence” or “goodness,” the highest virtue for Confucius. Guan Zhong subsequently became a very famous political figure, and one of the most important political texts of the time, the Guanzi, was attributed to (and named after) him.

Analects 15.9 acknowledges that in some cases, morally ideal people will knowingly bring about their own destruction for virtuous ends. Although this passage is often translated as claiming that morally ideal people will sometimes “sacrifice” their lives in order to achieve goodness or ren, the Confucian text translated literally reads “kill themselves.” However, the focus seems to be on doing what is necessary to accord with ren, not on suicide per se. The extent to which Confucius distinguishes “suicide” from other forms of self-caused death is not entirely clear.

Over his lifetime, many gentleman-scholars and literati gathered around Confucius. Sima Qian’s [q.v.] Records of the Historian claims that by the time Confucius died, he had some 3,000 followers. Although, when at the age of 72 he was dying, Confucius is said to have felt that his life had not been a success, he has had incalculable effect on Chinese ethical and political thought. For centuries, as Edward Slingerland points out, in order to pass China’s civil service examinations, every educated Chinese person was required to memorize the Analects until the last nationwide exams in the early 20th century.


Confucius, The Analects, 8:3, 8:13, 14.12, 14:16, 14:17, 15:9, tr. Eirik Lang Harris. Some interpretive material from Confucius, The Analects, tr. Edward Slingerland, Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003; also from Eirik Lang Harris and Eric L. Hutton; Confucius, The Book of Filial Piety, tr. Eirik Lang Harris. Some interpretive material from The Sacred Books of the East: The Texts of Confucianism, Vol. III, Part I: The Shu King. The Religious Portions of the Shih King. The Hsiao King. tr. James Legge, Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1899, and from Eirik Lang Harris.




 Zengzi was dying and summoned his students, “Uncover my feet!  Uncover my hands! The Book of Odes says,

‘Trembling and cautious;
As if overlooking a deep abyss;
As if treading upon thin ice.’

But now, whatever may come, I know that I have escaped [mutilation], my young ones.”


The Master [Confucius] said, “Be earnestly trustworthy and love learning, and defend unto death the excellent Way. Do not enter an imperiled state; do not dwell within a disordered state.  If the empire possesses the Way, then allow yourself to be seen.  If it lacks the Way, then remain hidden.  If a state possesses the Way, then if one is poor and humble, this is shameful.  If a state lacks the Way, then if one is rich and honored, this is shameful.”


Zilu asked what was meant by a ‘complete person.’

The Master said, “One who is as wise as Zang Wuzhong, who is like Gongchuo in not being covetous, who is as brave as Zhangzi of Bian, who is as artistically talented as Ran Qiu, and who refines these traits by means of ritual and music, such a person could be called a ‘complete person.’”

He continued, “But in the present time, is it necessary that a ‘complete person’ have all of these attributes?   If, when one sees a chance for profit, one thinks about what is right, when one sees danger one is prepared to give up one’s life, when h e does not forget for his entire life a promise made long ago, then one may be called a ‘complete person.’”


Zilu said, “When Duke Huan killed [his brother] Prince Jiu, Prince Jiu’s advisor, Shao Hu, died for Prince Jiu, but his other advisor, Guan Zhong did not.”

He continued, “Is Guan Zhong not lacking in ren [goodness]?”

The Master replied, “The reason why Duke Huan was able on numerous occasions to unite the feudal lords without resorting to war chariots was because of Guan Zhong’s strength.  But in regards to his ren, in regards to his ren…”


Zigong said, “Guan Zhong was not ren, was he? When When Duke Huan killed [his brother] Prince Jiu, Guan Zhong was not able to die for Prince Jiu, and moreover served as Duke Huan’s Prime Minister.”

The Master said, “When Guan Zhong served as Duke Huan’s Prime Minister, the Duke made him hegemon over the feudal lords and united the empire.  Even today, people are still benefiting from this.  Were it not for Guan Zhong, we might all be wearing our hair loose and fastening the fronts of our garments on the left [as barbarians do].  How can we expect of him the petty sincerity of a common husband or wife, to hang himself in some ravine or ditch, with no one knowing of it?”


The Master said, “Among those who have [good] purpose and those who are ren, none will seek life at the expense of harming ren, and there are those who will cause death for their person in order to accomplish what is [or accords with] ren.”


Once, when Confucius was resting at home, Zengzi was attending him. The Master said, “The Former Kings used the ultimate virtue and the crucial method in order to cause the empire to submit [to their authority]. Because of this the people were harmonious and peaceful, and that there was no resentment between superiors and subordinates. Do you know what it was?”

Zengzi rose from his mat respectfully and replied, “I am not perceptive; how could I be capable of knowing this?”

The Master said, “It was filial piety – the root of virtue and that from which all teaching stems.   Sit down again and I shall explain it to you. Our body, limbs, hair, and skin are received from our parents, and so we do not dare to injure or harm them. This is the beginning of filial piety. When we establish ourselves and practice the Way so as to make our name known to future generations and thereby bring glory to our parents, this is the consummation o f filial piety. Filial piety begins in service to our parents, continues in service to our lord, and is consummated in establishing our place in the world [ and therefore our parents’ reputations].

The ‘Daya’ section of the Book of Odes says,

‘Never forget your ancestors;
Cultivate your virtue.’”

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Filed under Ancient History, Asia, Confucianism, Confucius, Selections

(599-527 B.C. to 5th century A.D.)

Acaranga Sutra: The Seventh Lecture,    called Liberation
Upasaka-Dashah: Ten Chapters on Lay    Attenders: The Story of Ananda
Tattvartha Sutra: Passionless End is    Not Suicide


Although the origins of the Jain tradition are unknown, some have speculated that, like Buddhism, it developed within Hinduism. Mahavira, the figure recognized by the Jain tradition as the last of a chain of twenty-four omniscient teachers or Jinas, was roughly contemporaneous with the Buddha some two and a half millennia ago. According to traditional dates, Mahavira lived from 599 to 527 B.C.; however, scholars who accept a later date for the Buddha would adjust Mahavira’s dates accordingly, approximately 100 years after the earliest traditional dating. Mahavira and the Buddha lived and taught in the same region, though there is no record that they ever met. In their central departure from the brahmanical tradition, Mahavira and the Buddha did not accept the Vedas, primarily because they rejected the sorts of sacrifices associated with the Vedas but which violated the key principle of ahimsa or nonviolence.

The ethics of suicide are seen rather differently in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions, even though these traditions spring from some of the same roots and although the difference may be as much a matter of emphasis as of normative view. The Hindus, especially the Brahman lawgivers, generally held that suicide was not permitted, except as a penalty for a great crime, or when an ascetic chooses to end his life, or when a figure of great spirituality walks toward the Himalayas in “the Great Departure,” the journey that ends in death. Buddhists permitted suicide only in exceptional cases, usually cases of self-sacrifice to relieve the suffering of another; in self-respecting cases, it held, rather, that a person should wait and bear suffering without seeking to escape. But Jains ­permitted—indeed, revered—sallekhana as the culmination of one’s present life and the transition of the soul into the next.

Sallekhana, also called santhara or santharo in the Shvetambara branch of Jain tradition, sometimes called “spiritual death through fasting,” is the central austerity that forms the ideal conclusion of a life of progressive stages of asceticism and withdrawal from the necessities of ordinary life. Jains are adamant that sallekhana is not suicide, and although it is the believer who knowingly and voluntarily takes the steps that lead to his or her death, this is not considered self-destruction. Rather, death in this way provides a measure of control of the transition from one life to the next, recognizing, as do all Indian religions, that the last moments of a person’s life are of utmost importance in determining the condition of one’s subsequent incarnation. It is “scratching out body to save soul.”

In Jain belief, there are certain conditions in which sallekhana can be performed, essentially those in which the purposes of life have been served and circumstances are such that one’s religious vows would be compromised. Most commonly, Jains ask for permission to undertake sallekhana in the case of terminal illness, when death is imminent. Other circumstances have been permissible for monks and nuns, namely in order to head off a catastrophe that would cause them to compromise their vows of total renunciation, such as blindness or the inability to walk and collect alms, or in the case of an unavoidable calamity, such as severe drought. It is said that Mahavira’s parents, who were followers of the 23rd Jina, named Parshvanatha, undertook sallekhana at the end of their lives.

Sallekhana is not to be conflated with suicide in any usual sense, and it is to be done without striving, without passion, and without emotional arousal or turmoil of any form. It must observe the central ethical principles in Jainism, nonviolence and the avoidance of spiritual contamination. Sallekhana is seen as a wise or holy death for which one should prepare for one’s entire life. In contrast, suicide, which in the Jain view arises from ignorance, despair, inadequacy, anger, agony, and the like, and which does violence to the body with methods like poisons or weapons, or hanging oneself or jumping from a cliff, is a “fool’s death.”

In Jain thought, an “impure” death by suicide involves an increase in the passions; a “pure” death, as in sallekhana, does not. This is an important distinction for Jain theology; passions are seen as a direct cause of the influx of karma impurities to the soul and they thus result in rebirth at a lower level, while a passionless state of mind leads to both the cessation of the accumulation of karma and the destruction of existing karma that is already attached to one’s soul. Thus, in Jain belief, by liberating oneself from the passions, one liberates the soul. Further, sallekhana is to be seen as the ultimate expression of the Jain doctrine of ahimsa or nonviolence, since by ceasing to eat, one stops both the intentional and unintentional destruction of all living beings.

In sallekhana, one gradually reduces one’s intake of food and liquids so that the body is “scoured out” (sallikita) of its negative elements; thus the mind can focus exclusively upon spiritual matters, without disrupting the inner peace within. Sallekhana is to be performed with a sacred formula on one’s lips, and only with the approval of one’s immediate (Jain) spiritual advisor. It must involve “pure means.” It is a peaceful, voluntary, planned religious death, to be undertaken with full joy and calmness of mind. A person may have taken a vow to perform sallekhana well in advance, not knowing when the appropriate time would arrive, but when it does arrive, one seeks leave to do so from one’s teacher or mentor, engages in confession, self-censure, and the ritual of forgiving and asking forgiveness, and enters upon a course of fasting and renunciation that will end in death. Sallekhana may be seen as the logical conclusion to a life dedicated to nonviolence and restraint. Death is not to be sought or wished for, nor may it be tainted by any overt desires concerning rebirth, but it is the expected and accepted outcome of these austerities. A request for leave to undertake sallekhana is not granted lightly; part of the teacher’s role is to determine whether a given individual has in fact attained the degree of spiritual development and discipline required for this sustained practice. Death is to occur while fully conscious, in a state of complete awareness, while in meditation. This is in accord with the “universal prayer” of the Jains:

      Cessation of sorrow,
      Cessation of karmas,
      Death while in meditation,
      The attainment of enlightenment;
      O holy Jina! Friend of the entire universe,
      Let these be mine,
      For I have taken refuge at your feet.

Although originally sallekhana may have been a practice of ascetics, it gradually extended to the laity, and hundreds of inscriptions all over India record and glorify the sallekhana of both male and female Jains, including husband-wife couples. The practice seems to have ceased to play even an ideal role  in lay spirituality by about the 12th century. However, modern Jain communities still sometimes see sallekhana deaths, like that of the great Digambara Jain teacher Shantisagara, who performed the ritual fasting until death in 1955. Somewhat in common with Western medical practices involving voluntary cessation of eating and drinking as a passive alternative to physician-assisted suicide or active euthanasia, sallekhana, also called santhara, is also practiced by some contemporary Jains in extreme old age or terminal illness. Recent legal challenges in contemporary India have raised the issue of whether “fasting to death” is constitutionally protected as a religious practice or is unconstitutional, a “social evil” analogous to the outlawed Hindu practice of sati [q.v. under Bana, Hindu widow, and elsewhere]. Opponents of santhara call it “cold-blooded murder”; proponents say that the Jains who do so “do it consciously to attain enlightenment” and that it is a “religious achievement”; they are emphatic that it not be spoken of as “suicide.” Several hundred Jains, especially in the state of Rajasthan, perform the ritual of sallekhana each year.

The Acaranga Sutra (c. 3rd–2nd centuries B.C.), the earliest known writing on the rules of conduct for mendicant monks and nuns in the Shvetambara tradition, is the first text, or limb, in the Shvetambara canon, which was transmitted orally for centuries. Tradition relates that the knowledge contained in these texts was transmitted by Mahavira directly to his chief mendicant disciples, who then systematized his teachings into the 12 Angas, and that a final redaction was made at the Council of Valabhi in the 5th century A.D. The first and third lessons are about the importance of non-harm (ahimsa) to all living beings and of adhering to vows that one has taken. They provide a context for understanding the lessons regarding how life may end. The third lesson refers literally to cold; in the fourth lesson, the reference to cold is interpreted in the authoritative tradition as reference to potential seduction by a woman. The fourth lesson appears to permit suicide by poison or other means for the mendicant who cannot keep his vows including “the influence of cold,” understood by the authoritative commentaries as being unwillingly seduced by a woman; however, such suicide only puts off the last struggle for nirvana, though it is better than breaking the vow. Ending one’s life by means such as this, however, was permissible for mendicants if they found themselves in circumstances where their vows of chastity would likely be compromised or if their mendicant community would be defamed. Under these conditions, these were not “fool’s deaths” and it would not preclude attaining an auspicious rebirth. A religious death, sallekhana or itvara (the latter consisting in starving oneself while keeping within a limited space), is usually permitted only to those who have undergone preparatory penance, chiefly protracted periods of fasting, over a period of 12 years.

The Upasaka-Dashah (“Ten Lectures on the Religious Profession of a Layman”) is the seventh text in the Shvetambara canon. One of the stories is about Ananda, a rich man who was a lay disciple of Mahavira. Ananda gradually withdraws from his wealth and, following precepts dictated to him by Mahavira, dies the religious death of sallekhana.

The Tattvartha Sutra, attributed to Umasvati/Umasvami (c. 2nd–5th centuries A.D.), insists that the passionless end that the householder seeks in sallekhana is not suicide. The opening line, “The householder courts voluntary death at the end of his life,” is the sutra itself; the remainder is commentary by the Digambara monk Pujyapada (6th century A.D.).


Acaranga Sutra, “Seventh Lecture, called Liberation,”  in Gaina Sutras, tr. Hermann Jacobi, in Sacred Books of the East, ed. F. Max Müller, Oxford University Press, 1884, Vol. 22, pp. 62-78, reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 1989. (Traditionally this Seventh Lecture was considered lost, the lecture called “Liberation” is usually numbered Eight, but Jacobi did not follow this convention.) “Ten Chapters on Lay Attenders:  The Story of Ananda,” as “The Story of Ananda, a Lay Disciple of Mahavira”:  from Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of PurificationDelhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers,  1979, 1988, pp. 233-240, text and translation Hoernle, 1888. Tattvartha Sutra 7:22, from Reality: English Translation of Srimat Pujyapadacarya’s Sarvarthasiddhi, tr. S. A. Jain, Madras: Jwalamalini Trust, 1992, pp. 205-206. Material in introduction from E. Washburn Hopkins, Ethics of India, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1924, pp. 120-121; Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of PurificationDelhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers,  1979, 1988,  pp.  1, 226-229, 231-232;  Paul Dundas, The Jains, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices, eds. John Hinnells and Ninian Smart, London and New York: Routledge, 1992, pp. 155-156, 161, 206-207, 227; S. Settar, Pursuing Death: Philosophy and Practice of Voluntary Termination of LifeDharwad: Institute of Indian Art History, Karnatak University, 1990, pp. 256-257, Kristi L. Wiley, Historical Dictionary of Jainism, Lanham, MD, Toronto, Oxford, UK: The Scarecrow Press, 2004, pp. 181-182, and personal communications from Kristi L. Wiley and Kim Skoog. Material on court cases from Ammu Kannampilly, “Indian ‘fasting to death’ custom faces court test, AFP (Agence France-Presse), reported March 27, 2011.




First Lesson

I say: To friendly or hostile (heretics) one should not give food, drink, dainties and spices, clothes, alms-bowls, and brooms; nor exhort these persons to give (such things), nor do them service, always showing the highest respect.  Thus I say [1].  (i)

(A heretic may say): Know this for certain: having or not having received food, &c.  (down to) brooms, having or not having eaten (come to our house), even turning from your way or passing (other houses; we shall supply your wants). Confessing an individual creed, coming and going, he may give, or exhort to give, or do service (but one should not accept anything from him), showing not the slightest respect.  Thus I say.  (2)

Some here are not well instructed as regards the subject of conduct; for desirous of acts, they say: ‘Kill creatures;’ they themselves kill or consent to the killing of others; or they take what has not been given; or they pronounce opinions, e.g. the world exists, the world does not exist, the world is unchangeable, the world is ever changing; the world has a beginning, the world has no beginning; the world has an end, the world has no end; (or with regard to the self and actions): this is well done, this is badly done; this is merit, this is demerit; he is a good man, he is not a good man; there is beatitude, there is no beatitude; there is a hell, there is no hell.  When they thus differ (in their opinions) and profess their individual persuasion, know (that this is all) without reason [2].  Thus they are not well taught, not well instructed in the religion such as it has been declared by the Revered One, who knows and sees with quick discernment.  (One should either instruct the opponent in the true faith) or observe abstinence as regards speech. Thus I say.  (3)

Everywhere [3] sins are admitted; but to avoid them is called my distinction.  For ye who live in a village or in the forest, or not in a village and not in the forest, know the law as it has been declared.  ‘By the Brahman, the wise (Mahâvîra), three [4] vows have been enjoined.’  Noble and tranquil men who are enlightened and exert themselves in these (precepts), are called free from sinful acts.  (4)

Knowing (and renouncing) severally and singly the actions against living beings, in the regions above, below, and on the surface, everywhere and in all ways—a wise man neither gives pain to these bodies, nor orders others to do so, nor assents to their doing so.  Nay, we abhor those who give pain to these bodies.  Knowing this, a wise man should not cause this or any other pain (to any creatures).  Thus I say.  (5)

Second Lesson

A Mendicant may exert himself, or stand or sit or lie in a burying-place or in an empty house or in a mountain cave or in a potter’s workshop.  A householder may approach a mendicant who stays in any of these places, and say unto him: O long-lived Sramana!  I shall give you what I have bought or stolen or taken, though it was not to be taken, nor given, but was taken by force, viz. food, drink, dainties and spices, clothes, an alms-bowl, a plaid, a broom—by acting sinfully against all sorts of living beings; or I shall prepare you snug lodgings; eat (the offered food), dwell (in the prepared house [5]).  (i)

O long-lived Sramana!  A mendicant should thus refuse a householder of good sense and ripe age: O long-lived householder!  I do not approve of thy words, I do not accept thy words, that, for my sake, thou givest unto me what thou hast bought or stolen or taken, though it was not to be taken, nor given, but was taken by force, viz. food, drink, dainties and spices, clothes, an alms-bowl, a plaid, a broom—by acting sinfully against all sorts of living beings; or that thou preparest pleasant lodgings for me.  O long-lived householder!  I have given up this, because it is not to be done.(2) A mendicant may exert himself, &c.  (first sentence of § i): A householder, without betraying his intention, may approach him who stays in some one of the above-mentioned places, and give unto him what has been taken, &c.  (all as above, down to) or prepare  pleasant lodgings, and accommodate the mendicant with food (and lodging).  A mendicant should know it by his own innate intelligence, or through the instruction of the highest (i.e. the Tîrthakaras), forsooth, for my sake injures all sorts of living beings, to give me food, &c., clothes, &c., or to prepare pleasant lodgings.  A mendicant should well observe and understand this, that he may order (the house-holder) not to show such obsequiousness. Thus I say.  (3)

Those who having, with or without the mendicant’s knowledge, brought together fetters [6], become angry (on the monk’s refusal) and will strike him, saying: Beat, kill, cut, burn, roast, tear, rob, despatch, torture him!  But the hero, come to such a lot, will bravely bear it, or tell him the code of conduct, considering that he is of a different habit; or by guarding his speech he should in due order examine the subject, guarding himself.

This has been declared by the awakened ones: The faithful should not give to dissenters food, &c., clothes, &c., nor should they exhort them (to give), nor do them service, always showing the highest respect.  Thus I say.  (4)

Know the law declared by the wise Brâhmana: one should give to one of the same faith food, &c., clothes, &c.,. and one should exhort him (to give) or do him service, always showing the highest respect.  Thus I say.  (5)

Third Lesson

Some are awakened as middle-aged men and exert themselves well, having, as clever men, heard and received the word of the learned [7].  The noble ones have impartially preached the law.  Those who are awakened, should not wish for pleasure, nor do harm, nor desire (any forbidden things).  A person who is without desires and does no harm unto any living beings in the whole world, is called by me ‘unfettered.’  (1)

One free from passions understands perfectly the bright one [8], knowing birth in the upper and nether regions.

‘Bodies increase through nourishment, they are frail in hardships.’  See some whose organs are failing (give way to weakness).

A person who has no desires, cherishes pity.  He who understands the doctrine of sin, is a mendicant who knows the time, the strength, the measure, the occasion, the conduct, the religious precept; he disowns all things not requisite for religious purposes, in time exerts himself, is under no obligations; he proceeds securely (on the road to final liberation) after having cut off both (love and hate) [9].  (2)

A householder approaching a mendicant whose limbs tremble for cold may say:

O long-lived Sramana!  Are you not subject to the influences of your senses?

O long-lived householder!  I am not subject to the influences of my senses.  But I cannot sustain the feeling of cold. Yet it does not become me to kindle or light a fire [10], that I may warm or heat myself; nor (to procure that comfort) through the order of others.

Perhaps after the mendicant has spoken thus, the other kindles or lights a fire that he may warm or heat himself.  But the mendicant should well observe and understand this, that he may order him to show no such obsequiousness. Thus I say.  (3)

Fourth Lesson

A mendicant who is fitted out with three robes [11], and a bowl as fourth (article), will not think: I shall beg for a fourth robe.  He should beg for (clothes) which he wants, and which are permitted by the religious code [12]; he should wear the clothes in the same state in which they are given him; he should neither wash nor dye them, nor should he wear washed or dyed clothes, nor (should he) hide (his garments when passing) through other villages, being careless of dress.  This is the whole duty [13] of one who wears clothes. But know further, that, after winter is gone and the hot season has come, one should leave off the used-up (garment of the three), being clad with an upper and under garment, or with the undermost garment, or with one gown, or with no clothes—aspiring to freedom from bonds [14] Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

When it occurs to a blessed [15] mendicant that he suffers pain, and cannot bear the influence of cold, he should not try to obviate these trials, but stand fast in his own self which is endowed with all knowledge [16].  ‘For it is better for an ascetic that he should take poison.’  Even thus he will in due time put an end to existence.  This (way to escape trials) has been adopted by many who were free from delusion; it is good, wholesome, proper, beatifying, meritorious. Thus I say.  (2)

Fifth Lesson

A mendicant who is fitted out with two robes, and a bowl as third (article), will not think: I shall beg for a third robe.  He should beg for robes which are allowed to be begged for; he should wear the clothes, &c. &c. [17]  This is the whole outfit of one who wears clothes.  But know further, that after the winter is gone and the hot season has come, one should leave off the used-up garments; having left off the used-up garments, (one should) be clad with the undermost garment, with a gown [18], or with no clothes at all—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

When the thought occurs to a mendicant that through illness he is too weak, and not able to beg from house to house—and on his thus complaining a householder brings food, &c., obtained (without injuring life [19]), and gives it him—then he should, after deliberation, say [20]: O long-lived householder!  It does not become me to eat or drink this food, &c., or (accept) anything else of the same kind.  (2)

A mendicant who has resolved, that he will, when sick, accept the assistance of fellow-ascetics [21] in good health, when they offer (assistance) without being asked, and that vice versa he, when in health, will give assistance to sick fellow-ascetics, offering it without being asked—(he should not deviate from his resolution though he die for want of help).  (3)

Taking the vow to beg (food, &c.) for another (who is sick), and to eat (when sick) what is brought by another; taking the vow to beg, &c., and not to eat what is brought; taking the vow not to beg, &c., but to eat what is brought; taking the vow neither to beg, &c., not to eat what is brought—(one should adhere to that vow).  Practising thus the law as it has been declared, one becomes tranquil, averted from sin, guarded against the allurements of the senses.  Even thus (though sick) he will in due time put an end to existence [22].  This (method) has been adopted by many who were free from delusion; it is good, wholesome, proper, beatifying, meritorious.  Thus I say.  (4)

Sixth Lesson

A mendicant who is fitted out with one robe, and a bowl as second (article), will not think: I shall beg for a second robe.  He should beg for such a robe only as is allowed to be begged for, and he should wear it in the same state as he receives it.  This is, &c. (see lesson 4, § 1).

But when the hot season has come, one should leave off the used-up clothes; one should be clad with one or no garment—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Knowing what the Revered One, &c. (see lesson 5, § 1).

When the thought occurs to a mendicant; ‘I am myself, alone; I have nobody belonging to me, nor do I belong to anybody,’ then he should thoroughly know himself as standing alone—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

A male or female mendicant eating food &c. should not shift (the morsel) from the left jaw to the right jaw, nor from the right jaw to the left jaw, to get a fuller taste of it, not caring for the taste (of it)—aspiring to freedom from bonds. Penance suits him. Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (2)

If this thought occurs to a monk: ‘I am sick and not able, at this time, to regularly mortify the flesh,’ that monk should regularly reduce his food; regularly reducing his food, and diminishing his sins, ‘he should take proper care of his body, being immovable like a beam; exerting himself he dissolves his body [23].’  (3)

Entering a village, or a scot-free town, or a town with an earth-wall, or a town with a small wall, or an isolated town, or a large town, or a sea-town, or a mine, or a hermitage, or the halting-places of processions, or caravans, or a capital [24]—a monk should beg for straw; having begged for straw he should retire with it to a secluded spot.  After having repeatedly examined and cleaned the ground, where there are no eggs, nor living beings, nor seeds, nor sprouts, nor dew, nor water, nor ants, nor mildew, nor waterdrops, nor mud, nor cobwebs—he should spread the straw on it.  Then he should there and then effect (the religious death called) itvara [25].  (4)

This is the truth: speaking truth, free from passion, crossing (the samsâra), abating irresoluteness, knowing all truth and not being known, leaving this frail body, overcoming all sorts of pains and troubles through trust in this (religion), he accomplishes this fearful (religious death).  Even thus he will in due time put an end to existence.  This has been adopted by many who were free from delusion; it is good, wholesome, proper, beatifying, meritorious.  Thus I say.  (5)

Seventh Lesson

To a naked [26] monk the thought occurs: I can bear the pricking of grass, the influence of cold and heat, the stinging of flies and mosquitos; these and other various painful feelings I can sustain, but I cannot leave off the covering of the privities.  Then he may cover his privities with a piece of cloth [27].

A naked monk who perseveres in this conduct, sustains repeatedly these and other various painful feelings: the grass pricks him, heat and cold attack him, flies and mosquitos sting him.  A naked monk (should be) aspiring to freedom from bonds. Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

A monk who has come to any of the following resolutions,—having collected food, &c., I shall give of it to other monks, and I shall eat (what they have) brought; (or) having collected food, &c., I shall give of it to other monks, but I shall not eat (what they have) brought; (or) having collected food, &c., I shall not give of it to other monks, but I shall eat (what they have) brought; (or) having collected food, &c., I shall not give of it to other monks, nor eat (what they have) brought; (2) (or) I shall assist a fellow-ascetic with the remnants of my dinner, which is acceptable [28] and remained in the same state in which it was received [29], and I shall accept the assistance of fellow-ascetics as regards the remnants of their dinner, which is acceptable and remained in the same state in which it was received;—(that monk should keep these vows even if he should run the risk of his life) (3)—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly conform to it.  (4)

Thus I say.  (5)

Eighth Lesson

The wise ones who attain in due order [30] to one of the unerring states (in which suicide is prescribed), those who are rich in control and endowed with knowledge, knowing the incomparable (religious death, should continue their contemplation).  (1) Knowing the twofold (obstacles, i.e. bodily and mental), the wise ones, having thoroughly learned the law, perceiving in due order (that the time for their death has come), get rid of karman.  (2)

Subduing the passions and living on little food [31], he should endure (hardships).  If a mendicant falls sick, let him again take food.  (3)

He should not long for life, nor wish for death; he should yearn after neither, life or death.  (4)

He who is indifferent and wishes for the destruction of karman, should continue his contemplation.  Becoming unattached internally and externally, he should strive after absolute purity.  (5)

Whatever means one knows for calming one’s own life [32], that a wise man should learn (i.e. practise) in order to gain time (for continuing penance).  (6)

In a village or in a forest, examining the ground and recognising it as free from living beings, the sage should spread the straw [33].  (7)

Without food he should lie down and bear the pains which attack him.  He should not for too long time give way to worldly feelings which overcome him.  (8)

When crawling animals or such as live on high or below, feed on his flesh and blood, he should neither kill them nor rub (the wound).  (9)

Though these animals destroy the body, he should not stir from his position.  After the âsravas have ceased, he should bear (pains) as it he rejoiced in them.  (10)

When the bonds fall off, then he has accomplished his life.

(We shall now describe) a more exalted (method [34]) for a well-controlled and instructed monk.  (11)

This other law has been proclaimed by Gñâtriputra:

He should give up all motions except his own in the thrice-threefold way[35].  (12) He should not lie on sprouts of grass, but inspecting the bare ground he should lie on it.

Without any comfort and food, he should there bear pain.  (13)

When the sage becomes weak in his limbs, he should strive after calmness [36].

For he is blameless, who is well fixed and immovable (in his intention to die).  (14)

He should move to and fro (on his ground), contract and stretch (his limbs) for the benefit of the whole body; or (he should remain quiet as if he were) lifeless.  (15)

He should walk about, when tired of (lying), or stand with passive limbs; when tired of standing, he should sit down.  (16)

Intent on such an uncommon death, he should regulate the motions of his organs. Having attained a place swarming with insects, he should search for a clean spot.  (17)

He should not remain there whence sin would rise.  He should raise himself above (sinfulness), and bear all pains.  (18)

And this is a still more difficult method [37], when one lives according to it: not to stir from one’s place, while checking all motions of the body.  (19)

This is the highest law, exalted above the preceding method:

Having examined a spot of bare ground he should remain there; stay O Brâhmana!  (20)

Having attained a place free from living beings, he should there fix himself.

He should thoroughly mortify his flesh, thinking: There are no obstacles in my body.  (21)

Knowing as long as he lives the dangers and troubles, the wise and restrained (ascetic) should bear them as being instrumental to the dissolution of the body.  (22)

He should not be attached to the transitory pleasures, nor to the greater ones; he should not nourish desire and greed, looking only for eternal praise.  (23)

He should be enlightened with eternal objects [38], and not trust in the delusive power of the gods; A Brâhmana should know of this and cast off all inferiority.  (24)

Not devoted to any of the external objects he reaches the end of his life; thinking that patience is the highest good, he (should choose) one of (the described three) good methods of entering Nirvâna.  (25) Thus I say.

End of the Seventh Lecture, called Liberation.

  1. This and the following paragraph are extremely difficult to translate.  I have translated the words according to the scholiast, and supplied what he supplies; but his interpretation can scarcely be reconciled with the text.
  2. The Gaines do not espouse one of the alternative solutions of the metaphysical and ethical questions; but they are enabled by the syâdvâda to believe in the co-existence of contrary qualities in one and the same thing.
  3. In all other religious sects.
  4. Gâma = yâma.  These are, (I) to kill no living being, (2) to speak no untruth, (3) to abstain from forbidden things (theft and sexual pleasures).  Or the three ages of man are intended by gâma, which we have rendered vows.
  5. Later on in the commentary (beginning of the sixth lesson) this is called udgamotpâdanishanâ.
  6. The above-detailed benefactions.
  7. The scholiast says that there are three classes of the awakened: the Svayambuddha, the Pratyekabuddha, and the Buddhabodhita.  The last only is treated of in the text.
  8.  i.e. self control.
  9. The latter part of this paragraph is nearly identical with lecture 2, lesson 5, § 3, to which we refer the reader for the explanation of the dark phrases.
  10. The original has fire-body, which the faithful are enjoined not to injure; see lecture 2, lesson 4.
  11. The three robes allowed to a Gaina monk are two linen under garments (kshaumikakalpa) and one woolen upper garment (aurnikakalpa).  Besides these (kalpatraya), the monk possesses, 2. an alms-bowl (pâtra) with six things belonging to it, 3. a broom (ragoharana), 4. a veil for the mouth (mukhavastrikâ). The alms-bowl and the articles belonging to it are specialised in the following gâthâ: pattam pattâbamdho pâyatthavanamka pâyakesariyâ I padalâi rayattânamka gokkhao pâyaniggogo II
  12. Things, &c.: this is the meaning of the technical term ahesanigga yathaishanîya, allowed objects of begging.
  13. Literally, outfit.  Cf. II, 5, 2, § I.
  14. i.e. freedom from worldly cares and interest.
  15. Vasumam: rich (in control).
  16. But he should not in order to escape these trials, commit such suicide as is only permitted to ascetics who have reached the highest degree of perfection, when they are ripe for Nirvâna.  Suicide only puts off the last struggle for Nirvâna; but it is better than breaking the vow.
  17. See lesson 4, § I.
  18. The MSS.  Are at variance with each other in adapting the words of the former lesson to the present case.  As the commentaries are no check, and do not explain our passage, I have selected what seemed to me to be the most likely reading.
  19. Abhihada=abhyâhrita: it is a typical attribute of objectionable things.  The commentator explains it here by gîvopamardanivritta.
  20. The original has only âloeggâ, he should examine whether the food &c. is acceptable or not.  This is called the grahanaishanâ.
  21. Sâhammiya=sâdharmika, one who follows the same rule in cases where different rules are left to the option of the mendicants.  The word abhikamkha=abhikâṅkshya is not translated, the commentator makes it out to mean, wishing for freedom from sinful acts.
  22. As in the preceding lesson a man who cannot conquer his sensuality, is permitted to commit suicide (by hanging himself, &c.), in order to put an end to his trials and temptations, so in this lesson a man whose sickness prevents him from persevering in a life of austerities, is permitted to commit suicide by rejecting food and drink.  This is called bhaktapânapratyâkhyânamukti.  It seems therefore to have been regarded as leading to final liberation (mukti).
  23. There is no finite verb in this sentence, nor any word which could supply its place. The old Gaina authors were so accustomed to surround their meaning with exclusions and exceptions, and to fortify it with a maze of parentheses, that they sometimes apparently forgot to express the verb, especially when they made use of fragments of old verses, as in the present case.
  24. This is one of the most frequent gamas or identical passages which form a rather questionable ornament of the Sûtra style. The gamas are usually abbreviated, e.g. villages, &c., all down to capital, or eggs, &c., all down to cobwebs, which we shall presently meet with.
  25. Itvara or iṅgitamarana consists in starving oneself, while keeping within a limited space. A religious death is usually permitted only to those who have during twelve years undergone preparatory penance, consisting chiefly in protracted periods of fasting. The scholiast says that in our case the itvara is not enjoined for sick persons who can mo longer sustain austerities; but they should act as if they were to commit the itvara suicide, hoping that in five or six days the sickness would leave them in which case they are to return to their former life. But if they should not get better but die, it is all for the best.
  26. Akela.
  27. This is the katibandhana or kolapattaka; it should be four fingers broad and one hasta long.
  28. Ahesanigga: it had those qualities which are required of a thing the mendicant may accept.
  29. Ahâpariggahiya=ahâparigrihîta.
  30. The preceding lessons treated of suicide conceded to sick persons as a means of entering Nirvâna.  The eighth lesson, which is written in slokas, describes the different kinds of religious deaths which form the end of a twelve-years’ mortification of the flesh (samlekhanâ).  But the ascetic must ask and get the permission of his Guru, before he commits suicide.
  31. Compare lecture 7, lesson 6, § 3.
  32. i.e. for preserving the life, when too severe penance brings on sickness and the probability of instant death.
  33. Here commences the description of the bhaktapratyâkhyâ–namarana, suicide by rejecting food.
  34. Viz. the ingitamarana, which differs from the preceding one by the restriction of the motions of the candidate for suicide to a limited space.
  35. i.e. of body, speech, and mind; doing, or causing, or allowing to be done.
  36. He should not give way to melancholy thoughts.
  37. It is called pâovagamana, translated by the commentators pâdapopagamana, remaining motionless like a felled tree.  This etymology, which is generally adopted by the Gainas, is evidently wrong; for the Sanskrit prototype is the Brahmanical Prâyopagamana.
  38. This is the scholiast’s interpretation of nimamteggâ nimantrayet.




The Story of Ānanda

During the time of Mahāvīra, in a city called Vāņijagrāma, capital of the Licchavi nation, there lived a householder called Ānanda.  He was a very prosperous man, with wealth unequalled by any person in that city.  He possessed forty million measures of gold buried in a safe place, another forty million put out at interest, a well-stocked estate of equivalent value, and forty thousand cattle divided into four herds.  Ānanda was consulted by numerous kings and merchants with regard to every sort of business.  He was the pillar of his family, ministering to them and guiding them in all matters.  His wife was called Śivānandā—a woman dear to her husband, devoted, attached, and loving.  The two of them lived together very happily as house holders.  Their respective families too, being large and well-established, lived in pleasure and contentment.

At that time the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra visited Vāņijagrāma and took up residence in a park outside the city. Large numbers of people, together with their king, went to pay their respects and listen to his sermons. The householder Ānanda, having heard this news, reflected thus: “Truly the venerable one is staying here on a visit.  This is a most auspicious event.  Let me go to pay my respects.”

Having made this decision he bathed, adorned himself with his finest clothing, and went out on foot, surrounded by a great retinue and protected by an umbrella held over his head.  Walking all the way through the city, he arrived at the park; there, Mahāvīra was residing in a caitya (temple) called Dvipalāsa. Approaching this spot, Ānanda circumambulated the sage three times and, having thus expressed his veneration, sat down to listen to the sermon. Then the venerable Mahāvīra expounded the law to the householder Ānanda, and to the large company of people present on that occasion.  When the congregation had departed, Ānanda, pleased and elated, spoke thus:

Venerable sir, I believe in the doctrine of the Niganthas; I am convinced of the Nigantha doctrine; I am delighted with it. It is so, sir, it is exactly so. It is true. It is what I accept. Indeed, sir, it is  really so, just as you have declared it. Venerable sir, although many  nobles, bankers, and merchants have, upon hearing your sermon, renounced the household life and entered the monastic state, I, sir, cannot do the same. But I will, in your presence, take upon myself the twelve-fold restraint of a householder, consisting of  the five anuvratas, three guņavratas, and the four śikşāvratas.  May it so please you, venerable sir, not to deny me this honor.

Then the householder Ānanda, in the presence of venerable ascetic Mahāvīra, renounced all gross forms of injury to living beings, saying: “As long as I live… [see Chapter VI, n. 35] I will not do it, nor cause it to be done, either in thought, word, or deed.”

Next he renounced all grossly lying speech and all gross taking of things not given; he also limited himself to contentment with his wife and restricted his possessions by pledging not to accumulate further wealth in any form. Similarly, he renounced the various kinds of activities dealt with by the other vratas. At this point the venerable Mahāvīra addressed Ānanda, saying: “Truly, Ānanda, you have now become a disciple of the ascetic [śramaņopāsaka]; you must now be aware of the transgressions pertaining to all twelve vratas, and must avoid them.”

Then the household Ānanda, having formally taken the vows administered to him, praised and worshiped the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra and solemnly spoke to him thus:

Truly, venerable sir, it does not befit me, from this day forward, to praise or worship any     man of a heterodox community, or any of the objects of reverence of a heterodox community.  Neither should I address nor converse with one of their teachers unless he first addresses me, nor give food or drink to such teachers, except if it be required by the king, or by the elders, or by the exigencies of life.  On the other hand, it behooves me, venerable sir, to devote myself to providing the ascetics of the Nigaņţha faith with pure and acceptable food and other provisions permitted to them: clothes, blankets, alms bowls, medicines, and the like.

Having thus promised and having engaged in religious discourse with his teacher, Ānanda respectfully took leave of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra and returned from the park to his home.  Calling his wife to him, he said:

Truly, beloved of the gods, I have listened to the law in the presence of the venerable  ascetic Mahāvīra, and that dharma is what I desire, what I accept, what I am pleased by. So now, beloved of the gods, go and praise the venerable ascetic and listen to his sermon, and take upon thyself in his presence the twelve-fold restraint of the householder.

Then Śivānandā did as he said, receiving the same vratas in a similar manner as had her husband. After some time, the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra went away to a different part of the country.  Ānanda and Śivānandā, having become his disciples, devoted themselves to mindfully keeping their vows and honoring the Nigaņţha mendicants with due charity. Fourteen years passed thus, during which time the śramaņopāsaka Ānanda trained himself with constant exercise in the moral restraints imposed by his vows, as well as in those called for under the various seasonal abstentions. Then, during one night in the fifteenth year of his discipline, as he reflected upon his progress, it occurred to him:

Truly I am the support of numerous families in this city; I have many responsibilities. But because of this situation I have been hindered from living in complete conformity with the teachings and restraints received in the presence of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra.  It is better, indeed, that after sunrise tomorrow I should place my eldest son in charge of my household; then I may repair to the fasting hall of my community and live there, leading a life in which I fully observe the vratas of a householder.

Accordingly, on the next morning he invited all his friends and relatives to his home and fed them abundantly.  The meal completed, he appointed his son the head of the family, and addressed them all, saying: “Do not thou, my beloved son, nor you, my dear friends, any of you, from this day onwards, ask me or consult me regarding any of the manifold affairs with which I was hitherto connected.  Nor should you cook or prepare any food for my sake.”  Then Ānanda took leave of his friends and kinsmen, went out of the house, and walked to a suburb of the city in which was located the fasting hall belonging to his own community.  He swept the grounds of hall, spread a bed of grass, and placed himself upon it.  He continued to live there, in accord with the rules, taking one after another of the eleven pratimās for a full period of five-and-a-half years; he persevered in the performance of ascetic practices (mainly fasting), and became extremely thin.  Then Ānanda reflected as follows:

Truly, though these ascetic exercises, I have become reduced to a skeleton.  While there  is still within me the vigor and energy of faith, therefore, I should, after sunrise tomorrow, devote myself to a determined sallekhanā that ends in death, renouncing all   food and drink and patiently awaiting my end.

Then the śramaņopāsaka Ānanda, by reason of his splendid transformation and the purity of his extraordinary resolution, gained a supernatural vision which enabled him to see, from where he sat, and area of five-hundred yojanas (a yojana is eight or nine miles) across the earth, as well as upwards to the first heaven and downwards to the first hell.

Now it happened that at that very time the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra again arrived in Vāņijagrāma for a visit, accompanied by his gaņadhara, the venerable Indrabhūti Gautama.  This Gautama was given to the habit of taking food only once every six days.  On one such day he went around the city with his begging bowl, moving from house to house collecting alms.  There he heard from various people of the great austerities of the householder Ānanda and about his vow of sallekhanā.  The venerable Gautama decided to go and see him, and so proceeded to the place where Ānanda was residing in seclusion.  When Ānanda saw the venerable Gautama approaching, his heart was filled with happiness and he spoke to him thus:

Truly, venerable sir, I have now become, through my vratas, reduced to a skeleton.  I am therefore unable to come forward into your presence in order to salute you and bow my head to your feet.  So please, venerable sir, graciously take the trouble to come near me so that I may do so.

And when the venerable Gautama had approached, Ānanda respectfully saluted him and asked: “is it so, venerable sir, that a householder, one who has not become a monk, can indeed win the power of supernatural sight?”

And Gautama answered, “Yes, it is so.”

Then Ānanda continued: “if that is so, venerable sir, I would like to inform you that I can see an area of five hundred yojanas across the earth, and upwards to the first heaven, and downwards to the first hell.”

Then the venerable Gautama said to Ānanda, the disciple of the ascetic: “I do maintain, Ānanda, that a householder can indeed possess supernatural sight, but not to such and extent as you claim. Therefore, Ānanda, it is only fitting that you should acknowledge your infraction in this matter [exaggeration, a violation of the satya-vrata] and perform a penance in expiation.”  Then the householder Ānanda answered: “Is it required by the law of Jina, sir, that one should take upon oneself a penance for speaking of things which are real and actual?”

Gautama replied, “No, it is not so required.”

And Ānanda said: “If, sir, what you have said is true, then you, venerable one, should indeed yourself acknowledge an infraction in this matter and undertake a penance in expiation thereof.”

Then the venerable Gautama, having been spoken to thus by Ānanda the householder, was unsettled and filled with doubt.  He departed from that place and returned to the Dvipalāsa caitya, where the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra was residing. Having reported the entire incident, he asked: “Venerable sir, tell me, is it for Ānanda, your lay disciple, to acknowledge his transgression in this matter and to take a penance upon himself, or is it for me to do so?”

Then the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra, turning to Gautama, said without hesitation: “Indeed Gautama, it is you who should acknowledge transgression in this matter and take a penance upon yourself. And you should forgive his rudeness in contradicting you.” The venerable Gautama, saying “so be it,” humbly accepted the decision of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra.  Having done so, he acknowledged his transgression, took an expiation upon himself, and forgave Ānanda.

Mahāvīra and his gaņadharas then went away to live in another place. At that time the śramaņopāsaka Ānanda, having persevered for twenty years as a lay servant of the ascetic and having conscientiously observed the twelve vratas and eleven pratimās of a layman, undertook the course of sallekhanā, which ends in death, for a period of one month.  During this period he consumed only water. At the end of the month, having confessed his transgressions and begged forgiveness of all beings, he sank into deep meditation and thus attained his mortal end. He was reborn as a celestial being in the first heaven.

When the venerable Gautama came to know of this, he inquired of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra: “Venerable sir, Ānanda the heavenly being, upon making his descent from the world of the gods, after the termination of his life in heaven, will be reborn in what realm?”

And Mahāvīra replied: “Gautama, he will take human form in the great Videha country, and there he will attain to arhatship.”




The householder courts voluntary death at the end of his life.

The loss of the senses and the vitalities at the end of one’s duration of life acquired by one’s own dispositions is death. The end refers to the particular state of existence. That which has death as the end is maraņāntah. That which has death as its object is māraņāntikῑ. To make the body and the passions thin is salelkhanā.

Sallekhanā is making the physical body and the internal passions emaciated by abandoning their sources gradually at the approach of death. The householder observes sallekhanā at the end of his life. ‘Joşitā’ means observing it with pleasure. Hence sevitā, though clear in meaning, is not used. If there be no willingness, sallekhanā cannot be forced on one.  If there is liking for it one does it oneself.

It is argued that it is suicide, since there is voluntary severance of life etc. No, it is not suicide, as there is no passion.  njury consists in the destruction of life actuated by passion. Without attachment etc. there is no passion in this undertaking. A person, who kills himself by means of poison, weapons, etc., swayed by attachment, aversion or infatuation, commits suicide. But he who practises holy death is free from desire, anger and delusion.  Hence it is not suicide. “It has been taught by Lord Jina that the absence of attachment and the other passions is non-injury and that the rise of feelings of attachment and the other passions is injury.” For instance, a merchant collects commodities for sale and stores them. He does not welcome the destruction of his storehouse. The destruction of the storehouse is against his wishes. And, when some danger threatens the storehouse, he tries to safeguard it. But if he cannot avert the danger, he tries to save the commodities at least from ruin. Similarly, a householder is engaged in acquiring the commodity of vows and supplementary vows. And he does not desire the ruin of the receptacle of these virtues, namely the body. But when serious danger threatens the body, he tries to avert it in a righteous manner without violating his vows. In case it is not possible to avert danger to the body, he tries to safeguard his vows at least. How can such a procedure be called suicide?

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