SE Quadrant, Upper Register, Reliefs 1-4
Adapted from the 19th century translation by J. S Speyer
“Om! Adoration to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas!
Grand and glorious, of inexhaustible praise and charm,
comprising excellent virtues and thereby auspicious,
are the wonderful exploits that the Muni performed in his previous births.
His praiseworthy deeds teach the way leading to to Buddhahood;
they are the landmarks along the road for softening even the hardest of hearts.
No one bent on self-interest can ever imitate His beautiful practice of virtues for the sake of all other beings;
His blaze of glory reveals his true name: The All-knowing One.”
During the time prior to his becoming Lord Buddha, the Bodhisattva was born into a most eminent and mighty family of Brahmans. Achieving purity through the religious sacraments, and owing to the innate quickness of his understanding, he eventually obtained mastery over the eighteen branches of science as well as all arts that were compatible with the customs of his family.
The Brahmans regarded him to be the Holy Word, while those of royal blood venerated him like a king. To the masses he appeared as the embodiment of the thousand-eyed Lord of the Devas; to those who thirsted for knowledge he was a helpful father.
In consequence of prosperous destiny and as a result of merit earned during previous births, he had inherited a storehouse full of wealth, distinction and fame. However, the Bodhisattva took no delight in such things.
With a clear mind he perceived the many kinds of sin which can come from indulging in worldly pleasures. Shaking off the worldly life as if it were a sickness, he retired to a plateau from where his wisdom-brightened tranquillity and friendliness radiated outward. It penetrated the hearts of ferocious animals, thereby causing them to cease all injurious activities and live like ascetics in the forest.
Having abandoned all desire for gain, glory and pleasure and therefore wanting little, the Bodhisattva knew not the art of hypocrisy. For this reason even the Devas were worshipful.
Upon hearing of the Bodhisattva’s new life as an ascetic, those whose affections he had previously gained left their families and, embracing the Bodhisattva as the embodiment of salvation, became his disciples. He taught them all as best as he could, through his good conduct, chastity, purification of the sense organs, constant attentiveness, and detachment from the world. By means of mind concentration, meditation on friendliness and the rest, the holy road to salvation was revealed so that the disciples could attain perfection.
One day the Great-Minded One (mahatman) went rambling alongside the shrub strewn caverns of the mountain in the company of his disciple Agita. Well adapted to the practices of yoga, the Bodhisattva enjoyed the existing order of things at his ease.
Then the Bodhisattva spied a young tigress in one of the mountain caverns below him. Having given birth earlier to a litter of cubs, she was thoroughly exhausted by her labors. Hungry for food to fill her in her emaciated belly, she began to regard her own offspring as food through sunken eyes. Thirsting for the milk of her udders, her offspring began to drawn near, fearless and full of trust for their mother. But the tigress responded to their approach by unleashing prolonged harsh roars as if the approaching cubs were strangers.
Upon seeing the starving tigress, the Bodhisattva, though composed in mind, was shaken with compassion by the suffering of this fellow creature. It was as if Meru, the Lord of the Mountains, had been shaken by an earthquake.
It is a wonder how the compassionate, their constancy ever so evident in the midst of the greatest of their own sufferings, can be touched by the grief, however small, of another!
“My dear, my dear,” exclaimed the Bodhisattva to his pupil. “Behold the worthlessness of Samsara! This animal seeks to feed on her very own young ones. Hunger causes her to transgress love’s law. Alas!
“Fie upon the ferocity of self-love, that makes a mother wish to make a meal of the bodies of her own offspring! Who would foster the foe whose name is self-love, by whom one may be compelled to an action like this? Go quickly and look about for some means of appeasing her hunger so that she may not injure her young ones and herself. I too shall endeavor to avert her from committing such a rash act.”
Promising to do so, the pupil Agita went off in search of food. However, the request was merely a diversion for turning his disciple away while the Bodhisattva considered thus:
“Why should I seek out the meat of another’s body, while the whole of my own body is available? Not only is the finding of meat in itself a matter of chance, but I should also lose the opportunity of doing my duty. Further, this body being brute, frail, pithless, ungrateful, always impure, and a source of suffering, what wise man would not rejoice at its being spent for the benefit of another?
“There are but two things that make one disregard the grief of another: attachment to one’s own pleasure and the absence of the power of helping. I am unable to have pleasure while another grieves, and I also have the power to help. Why should I be indifferent? And if able to succor I were to be indifferent even to an evildoer immersed in grief, my mind I suppose, would feel the remorse for an evil deed, burning like shrubs caught by a great fire. Therefore I will kill my own miserable body by casting it down into the precipice. My own corpse will serve as the food for preventing those young ones from being ripped to death by the teeth of their own mother.
“By so doing I shall set an example for those who long for the good of the world. I shall encourage the feeble and cause rejoice in the hearts of those who understand the true meaning of charity. I shall stimulate gladness in the hearts of those who love the Buddha-virtues. I shall confound those who are absorbed in selfishness and subdued by egotism and lusts, causing disappointment to the great hosts of the deceiver Mara.
“I shall give a token of faith to the adherents of the most excellent of vehicles, and well as astonish those who sneer at charitable deeds. I shall clear the highway to Heaven in a manner pleasing to the charitible have I ever had such an the opportunity to benefit others with the offering of my own limbs? I shall accomplish it now, and so acquire Complete Wisdom before long.
“This determination does not proceed from ambition, nor from thirst for glory, nor is it a means of gaining Heaven or royal dignity. I care not for obtaining supreme and everlasting bliss for myself, but rather for securing the benefit of others may I gain power over the world’s sorrow and the world’s happiness, just as the sun dispels darkness and imparts light unto the world! Whether or not I shall be remembered whenever virtue is practiced or made conspicuous when the tale of my exploit is told, in every way may I constantly benefit the world and promote its happiness.”
After making up his mind and delighting in the thought that he was about to destroy even his life for the benefit of other beings, the Bodhisattva gave up his body to the amazement even of the calm minds of the Devas.
The sound of his body falling down the cliff stirred the curiosity and the anger of the tigress. She desisted from the contemplation of the slaughter of their whelps, and cast her sunken eyes all around. As soon as she perceive the Bodhisattva’s lifeless body, she sprang to its side and began to devour it.
Unable to find any meat, the Bodhisattva’s disciple, returned to the side of the cliff and looked around in vain for his teacher. When Agita failed to see the Master, he gazed downward and spied the young tigress feeding on the Bodhisattva’s lifeless body. Driving back his own sorrow and pain, the disciple admired the extraordinary greatness of the performance.
“Oh how ever merciful the Great-Minded One was to people afflicted by distress, how indifferent to his own welfare. He has brought to perfection the virtuous conduct of the pious, and dashed to pieces the splendid glory of their adversaries. He has displayed, clinging to virtues, his heroism, fearless, and immense love. His body, which was already precious in its virtues, has now forcibly been turned into a vessel of the highest veneration. And although by his innate kindness he was as patient as the Earth, how intolerant he was of the suffering of others. The roughness of my own mind is hereby revealed in contrast to this splendid act of heroism. Verily one need not commiserate with the creatures now, for they have that illustrious Great Being (Mahasattva), of exuberant compassion, of boundless goodness, as their Protector and their refuge. The Lord of all sensual desires is now without doubt sighing away, disturbed and in dread of defeat.”
The disciple Agita related the Bodhisattva’s exploit to his fellow-disciples and thereafter to his own disciples as well as the Gandharvas, the Yakshas, the snakes, and the even chiefs of the Devas, whose shining countenance expressed their admiration for the good deed, and who covered the ground where the treasure of his bones laid with a profusion of wreaths, clothes, jewel ornaments and sandal power.
So then, even in former births the Lord identified himself with all creatures toward whom he revealed his innate and immense love. For this reason we ought to have the utmost faith in the Lord. “And having obtained this faith in Buddha we ought to strive for feeling the highest gladness. In this manner our faith will attain its sanctuary.” Likewise we must listen with attention to the preaching of the Dharma since it has been brought to us by means of hundreds of difficult hardships. And in sermons on the subject of compassion, thus is to be said: “In this manner compassion, moving us to act for the benefit of others, is productive of an exceedingly excellent nature.”