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[New Series, Volume XII]

[London, Trübner and Company]


{Scanned and edited by Christopher M. Weimer, March 2002}
{circumflexes represent macrons in this file}

ART. X.--The Megha-Sûtra. By CECIL BENDALL, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

   THE following article was originally suggested by a notice in Beal's[1] "Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese." The sûtra is there selected as a type of the latest phase of Buddhist literature, not only on account of its own peculiarities, but owing to its religious importance among the Chinese, which caused the imperial rescript for its translation and general promulgation, of which an English version is there given. The two parts of which this sûtra is composed are mentioned as Nos. 15 and 16 of vol. 14 of the Tibetan "Gyut," by Csoma Körösi in As. Res. xx. p. 529; the names of the translators fix its date as earlier than the ninth century. Finding that the Sanskrit original existed in the great, and hitherto unworked, mine of Northern Buddhist literature, the Wright Collection of Nepalese Sanskrit MSS. in the University Library of Cambridge, it was suggested to me by Prof. Cowell, to whose assistance I have been throughout deeply indebted, that it might prove generally interesting if an edition of the sûtra were prepared. A perusal, however, of the work showed such a preponderance of the objectionable peculiarities of this branch of Tantric literature, endless repetitions of words and thought, huge and meaningless congestions of epithets and titles, vast catalogues[2] of names, and in fact such an entire absence of literary merit of any kind, that the project of preparing a complete edition was abandoned, and the following annotated abridgment drawn

[1. See also Fergusson, "Tree and Snake Worship," p. 55 {p. 51 of the 1st ed.}, where some further account of the Chinese version is given, and one of its illustrations reproduced; the observations as to the date may be corrected, however, by a reference to Csoma (as presently quoted).

2. e.g. the list of 177 snakes at the beginning.]

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up. The text of these extracts is based on the Cambridge MS., of which I have made a nearly complete transcript, and which I call A, and the MS. in the Hodgson Collection of the Royal Asiatic Society (B), which I have collated for this article.

   A few preliminary remarks on these MSS. may be not superfluous.

   A, is a palm-leaf, 16 inches by 2 inches, 5 lines on each page, dated N.S. 494 = A.D. 1374. It is written in the peculiar and often very difficult handwriting of the Nepalese of the period; and abounds in errors such as the confusion of {Sanskrit: .sa{?}} and {Sanskrit: sa} and of {Sanskrit: .na} and {Sanskrit: na}, which seem to show the scribe's knowledge of Sanskrit to have been very small indeed.

   B, on the other hand, though a modern[1] paper transcript, is a fairly careful copy of a good original, and clearly has independent authority. Conjectural emendations of my own of the readings of A have been in very many cases confirmed. I am also indebted to the courtesy of Prof. Beal for help derived from a comparison of the Chinese transliterations of the mystic names of charms on page 297.

   The following extracts, then, contain all the significant parts of the sûtra, the nature of the omitted portions being everywhere indicated.[2] The text is founded on a comparison of the MSS., obvious blunders and vernacular barbarisms in either being passed by unnoticed, and the genuine differences of reading only being noted. Only the flagrant errors of Sandhi, so common in Buddhist MSS., have been, as a rule, corrected.

   (References to the Divyâvadâna in the notes are to the pages of the edition by Prof. Cowell and Mr. Neil, now in the press.)

[1. It bears date on the cover, N.S. 888 = A.D. 1768.

2. In the case of repeated epithets, etc., e.g. p. 292, ll. 8, 17; p. 294, 3 ( = p. 293, ll. 10, 27; 295, 4) the first words only are printed again. Cf. also pp. 306, 307.]

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   Worship to the inconceivable oceans, to the all-enlightened.

   Thus was it heard by me; on one occasion the Venerable one dwelt in the palace of the Snake-Kings Nanda and Upananda, in the summer pavilion of the circle of mighty clouds filled with precious gems and jewels accompanied by a mighty assemblage of bhikshus, and by a mighty assemblage of bodhisatvas, and a mighty host of kings, to wit, Nanda the Snake King, and Upananda . . . . etc. . . . . . . . . . attended, I say, by 84 hundreds of thousands of millions of krores of snakes assembled and seated together.

   Now at that time all these snake-kings with their retinue, rising from their seats, placing their upper robes on one shoulder, putting their right knees on the ground, bending their clasped hands towards the Venerable One, with immeasurable and innumerable, and with infinitely various and resplendent flowers, incense, odours, garlands, unguents, sandal, monks' robes, shades, banners, canopies, silks, wreaths, instruments, motions to the beat of drums; symphonies; jewel-flowers, jewel-strings, pearl-chains, snake-flowers, and pearl-nets, rustling, murmuring, emitting a mighty blast, sounding a mighty sound, and sounding delightful sounds of the Law, overshadowing the Venerable One with a great marvellous store of aloes and saffron, made the

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   After this salutation they stood on one side; standing on one side they made supplications.

   "Let us worship, let us reverence, esteem, honour the samudras[1] of Bodhisatvas with [their] samudras of bodies equal [in number] to the dust of the infinitesimal atoms of the elements of the universe, in the samudras of the assemblies of Bodhisatvas, in the samudras of the extension of elements of the universe, in the atoms of all earth, water, fire, wind, and in the atoms of the manifestations of all forms, as well as in each several atom, riding upon the sea-clouds, immeasurable and innumerable, with samudras of cloud-bodies exceeding the samudras of all computation, and exceeding the innumerable, the immeasurable, the inconceivable, the unequalled, and the unmeted, the unknowable, yet (each) in their own several body, [coming] from the direction of the streams of every quarter, and from every portion of each atom, with samudras of bodies which are the adoration of all, and which spread through the shores of all quarters in unbroken stream.

   To wit, occupying the expanse of firmament which is covered with infinite, innumerable, inconceivable, unequalled, immeasurable, unterminable, incomprehensible, and undivided sea-clouds, taking their origin from full religious purity successively,[6] with sea-clouds which are the shapes of Bodhisatvas, likewise with sea-clouds in circles of shapes of every sun and moon compacted of the rays of the colour of every gem; with sea-clouds of pavilions filled with the radiance of every gem, with sea-clouds of the buds of every sandal-tree, with sea-clouds having the appearance of all forms and all odours and fragrance, with sea-clouds of instruments resounding with all noises, with sea-clouds of all trees of fragrance, mounting the expanse of heaven (thus) overshadowed

[1. Samudra seems to be employed in this and similar passages with reference to its meaning of "an infinite number."

6. Cf. Manu, 3, 76.]

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with samudras of clouds of all worship, of which the chief are such (as described), immeasurable, innumerable, inconceivable, unequalled, unmeted, incommensurable, unknowable, moreover in unbroken series, [with all these], let us worship, reverence, esteem and honour all the Buddhas and Bodhisatvas."

   Thus having made supplication, the Snake-Kings again thrice made the to the Venerable One and did salutation to his feet; then at the command of the Venerable sat down on their own several seats: moreover, on that occasion the great supreme King of Snakes, with three thousand mighty thousands, whose kingly shade was the circle of glory of a mass of clouds and endless retinue, rising from bis seat, and putting his upper robe on one shoulder, placed his right knee on the ground, and bending the a"njali of homage towards the Venerable, addressed him as follows:--

   "I would ask the Venerable, the Tathâgata, the fully enlightened Arhat somewhat, as a question for decision, if the Venerable One has leisure, being asked, for the explanation of my question."

   At these words, the Venerable One thus addressed the snake-sovereign whose form was most regal through the pavilion of the circle of radiance of the mass of clouds, his boundless ocean of followers, "Ask, Snake-monarch, whatsoever thing thou desirest, by the solution of thy question concerning even that will I appease thy mind." At these words the Serpent-King, with three thousand . . . . . thus bespake the Venerable One, "How, O Venerable One, may all the troubles of all the snakes subside; (and how) may p. 295 they (thus) gladdened and blessed, send forth rain-torrents here, seasonably for Jambudvîpa; make all grasses, bushes, herbs, forest-trees to grow; produce all corn; give rise to all juices, whereby the men of Jambudvîpa may become blessed?"

   At these words the Venerable One thus addressed the Snake-monarch, with three thousand . . . etc.: "Excellent! excellent! O Serpent-monarch, in that thou, acting for the good pleasure of all creatures, dost think fit to inquire of the Venerable with such an object.

   Therefore, snake-king, hearken, and ponder it well and carefully in thy mind; I will tell thee. By the One Law, O snake-king, may all the troubles of the snakes subside, and they may become endowed with bliss.

   By which 'One-Law'? Even by charity; therein devas and men, snake-king, living in charity, are not burned by fire, nor hurt by weapons, nor carried away by water, nor slain by poison, nor overcome by a neighbour's host; they shall slumber sweetly, and sweetly they awake and are guarded by their own holiness, being glorified by the glory of great holiness, and are indestructible by this world with the world of devas, and gracious, and fair of countenance, and everywhere unhindered in their goings, with all griefs subsided, gladdened and endowed with all bliss.

   And hereafter, after the dissolution of the body, pervaded by human attributes, they are born in the Brahma-world, through the exercise of charity, O king. These, O king, are the praises of devas and men who live in charity. Now therefore, snake-king, ye must live with benevolent action of body, speech and mind. Again, further, snake-king, a dhâ called 'Sarvasukhandadâ' must be put in action. That is destined to put to rest all serpents' woes, and to give all blessings: because here in Jambudvîpa in p. 297 season and for a season it produces clouds; and causes to arise all grass, shrubs, herbage, forest-trees, and corn. Now, O snake, which is that Dhâ called Sukhandadâ? It is as follows:--Dhâ, Dhâ Uttâ, Sampratish.thitâ, Vijaya, Var.nasatya, Pratijñâ, Sâhâjnânavati, Utpâdani, Vinâçani,, Abhivyâhâraçubhâvati, Ajâmatâmahi, Kumbalanivâhâ, 'Take away troubles!' 'Shake off sin!' 'Cleanse the paths!' Rîhakâ, Dharmatâsu;--such are the words.

   Again, snake-king, the names are to be repeated of the Tathâgatas, whose families and races are sprung from the one hair-tip of Vairochana, speedy producers of happiness [consisting of] a circle here of clouds, which are the banner of their illumining knowledge, having their production and origin from the splendour of the mass which is the site of the source of cloud-gatherings.

   These put to rest all the woes of all the snakes, of all the families of snakes, the races of snakes, births and productions of snakes, of all snake-kings, of all snake-descended cloud-illumined virgins of all snake-retinues; they bring together all supplies of blessings. Herein, O King, what are p. 299 those names of Tathâgatas? I name them by saying[1], 'Homage to the Tathâgata Vairochanagarbhamahâmegha . . .'

   By the utterance of these names of Tathâgatas, O snake-king, all woes of all snakes are set at rest, and [though] fraught with ills they create here in Jambudvîpa showers in season and for a season, and make all grass, shrubs, herbs, forest-trees, and corn, to grow." Then the snake-king with endless . . . . . thus entreated the Venerable One, "Let the Venerable One speak such words of charms that through their utterance here in Jambudvîpa, in the latter season and time, in drought, mighty showers may give rains in time of calamity, in time of difficulty, in times of turmoil in the iron age of a lawless people, in time of accident and misfortune, of disease and death, of the conjunction of adverse planets, let Him work the assuagement of all calamities, accidents and pains. Let the Venerable One, of his supreme pitifulness and mercy toward all beings, speak words of spells so formed as to invoke all snakes, destroy all Maras, shield off all injuries of all beings and their pains and affections and fears, and cause peace and salvation, and mitigate the effects of adverse stars; moreover, let them stop all the hindrances to rain that have been foretold by the Venerable One, and fully create showers here in Jambudvîpa. I supplicate the Venerable Tathâgata."

   On this being said, the Venerable thus bespake the snake-king with endless . . . . . "Excellent! excellent! serpent-king, that thou shouldst supplicate the Tathâgata for the wealth, goodliness, and bliss of all creatures. Therefore, snake-king, hearken well, and fully ponder in thine heart, I will declare unto thee.

   The Dhâra.nî is called Mahâkaru.nodbhava, etc., spoken, appointed, and approved by all the Buddhas for the weal

[1. literally . . . "to wit," as often in the Divyâvadâna and Lalita-vistara.]

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and bliss of all beings; which causes rain in time of drought, and checks excessive rain, alleviates death and pain, invokes all the snakes, gladdens all devas, destroys all Mâras, and makes all beings endowed with all bliss; to wit: "O thou who shinest with mighty knowledge, the mass of whose thunderbolts have their might firm through the beauty and glory of Çrî, radiant as the Sun, with the banner of holiness, and supremely bright and spotless, with thy slender and pure form. . . . . .

   [Here follow several pages of gibberish and mysticism, . . . .]

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      

   [After this, commences a long series of invocations to the nâgas for rain by aid of various personages, thus:--]

   O mighty snakes, bring rain here by the appointment of the truth of all Devas, hail! By the appointment of the truth of Brahma, rain here in Jambudvîpa, hail!

   By that of Çakra,[3] . . . By that of the four mahârâjas,[4] . . . of the eight good qualities, . . . of the Çrotâpanna,[6] . . . the Sak.ridâgâmi,[6] . . . the Anâgâmi,[6] . . . the Arhat,[6] ...the Pratyekabuddha.[7]

   [After returning to devas, and Tathâgatas in general, we find similar invocations to mythical beings, borrowed from Brahmanism, viz. the Yakshas, Gandharvas, Asuras, Garu.das, Kinnaras. To this succeed pages more of mysticism, with gibberish everywhere interspersed; then many of the Nâgarâjas are invoked or re-invoked by name, and the charm ends with the words--]

[3. Indra as a Buddhist archangel.

4. The four Lokapâlas at the four cardinal points, guarding the lowest devalokas.

6. These are the four classes of âryas corresponding to the four paths.

7. One who has attained Buddha-ship, but does not preach: opposed to the 'Samyaksambuddha.']

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   Homage to all the Buddhas: may the words of the spell be successful: hail! (Thus ends) the 64th parivarta, called Varshâgamanama.n.dali of the hundred-thousand-fold Mahâmegha mahâyâna sûtra.

   He who desires a mighty rain must perform this rite 'the great-cloud-circle' in an open space, overspread by a blue canopy, shaded by a blue banner, on a clear spot of earth; (being) a prophet of the Law, seated on a blue seat, fasting according to the ash.tânga, with well-washed limbs, clad in pure raiment, anointed with fragrant odour, wearing the three white stripes, he must recite it for a day and night continuously facing the east; he must place four full vessels, filled with pure blue water, after prayers to the Tathâgatas also, according to his power, an oblation, and flowers and odours; then the prophet of the Law, after having painted towards the four quarters with liquid cow-dung on a reed, in the eastern quarter three hastas[6] high must depict the snake-king called Triçîrshaka, with cow-dung: in the southern quarter hill called Pa"nchaçîrshaka five hastas high; in the western, seven hastas high. Saptaçîrshaka; in the northern, Navaçîrshaka, nine hastas high.

   And the prophet of the Law, with his own safety secured, and living in goodwill, shall behave towards all beings with compassion, (and) after prayers to all the Buddhas and Bodhisatvas shall perform this rite to the snakes with the motive of his own prosperity. Afterward, at a season of drought, he shall recite this chapter 'The great-cloud-circle,' for one day or for two, until it needs shall rain seven nights. Even the sea may overflow its shore, but his auspicious word "Rain" fails not; nay, he must sustain himself on the three sweets, ghee, honey and sugar, and by

[6. A hasta = about 18 inches.]

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rice, sugar, milk, etc., joined with all virtues of character, and repeat this; so it must needs be effectual, according to the word of the Lord of Speakers. Worship to the immovable Tathâgata; worship to Çâkyamuni, the Tathâgata.

   Thus did I hear; once on a time the Venerable One was dwelling in the great sea, in a pavilion of gem and jewel crests with a mighty host of snakes, a full thousand of serpents; all possessed of all the supernatural powers of the snakes, with a mighty snake-retinue: to wit, with Nanda, etc., . . .

   And all these snake-kings, with these and other thousands of mighty snake-kings, with mighty snake-power and mighty magic pomp, with hissings in the air, sending forth a mighty wind and rain, approached to do obeisance to the Venerable One, and to hear the Law. Now at that time the Venerable One gave applause to the great snakes: "Bravo! bravo! O serpents!

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      

   In crowds whose ornament is the magic pomp of mighty clouds, with great sea-clouds with pendants of pearls, glittering strings, cloth of gold and all jewel-crests, with clouds, etc., . . . let them overshadow the sky, let them approach the snake-kings of all snakes in this round world, let them shine, let them rain, rain down, roar, give forth a mighty show of lightning, striving, striving together, rumbling, rustling, setting in motion great sounds of snakes, delightful noises, giving voice together to a mighty voice.

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   Come, come, mighty serpents; hail! I summon the snake-king Pau.n.dra by the truth of Buddha to Jambudvîpa.

   I summon the snake-king Çrîteja by the truth of the Law to Jambudvîpa; Ananta, etc., . . . by the truth of the priesthood . . .

Vâsuki . . . by that of Indra . . .
Takshaka. . . by that of Brahma. . .
Çrîka.n.tha . . . . . of Indra . . .
Erâ . . . . . . . . . .
Mâlina . . . . . the Rudras . .
Manaswin . . . . the .Rishis . . .
Vidrâ . . . all the snake-kings .
Praspho.ta . . . . the Yakshas
Anavatapta . . . . . . Râkshasas
All the snakes . by the ever higher truth (?)

   Tarry not, come, O mighty snake-kings, I summon all hearts of snakes.

   I murmur (?) sara hara dhapa . . .

   Fill all the fields, rain on all the corn, let loose great winds.


   By the ordinance of all the Buddhas, by the ordinance of all the Bodhisatvas, by the truth of the snakes, I summon the hearts of all snakes; come quickly, by the grace of the Triple Gem.[4]

[4. Ratna-traya [or triratna . . .] is the Personification of the Buddha, the Law, and the Church (sa"ngha) . . . .]

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   Worship to the Triple Gem, worship to him who hath a hot bolt in hand, lord of the mighty host of Yakshas, wearing the form of Kâla in its various junctures; in the end of one's robe a knot must be tied with seven prayers by the prophet of the Law after he has previously made provision for his safety. This "Whirlwind"-Chapter, (also) called "The heart of all Serpents," must be recited. For thrice seven days uninterruptedly, with cow-dung, in the eastern quarter the snake-king called Triple-crest,[4] with his retinue, must be painted; in the western, the snake king called Avabhâsanasikhin is to be painted, seven-crested, with a retinue of serpents; in the north, the snake-king called Meghasa"nchodana, nine-crested, is to be depicted; a blue canopy and blue dress, blue banner and all the offering is to be made blue; but the sweet offering to the snakes, and the triple-sweet,[8] must be offered,--an oblation of all; with (this) "Heart of the snakes;" the cloud-monarchs too must be depicted, emitting a shower, and rubbing against one another; at the end masses of rain-birds and lightning are to be painted; and parched rice canopied by the swastika,[11] also fish and flesh, and honey-food without curds,[12] and a sumptuous offering must be made there. Then the prophet of the Law, pure and clad in pure raiment, must recite this "Whirlwind" chapter, "The Heart of Snakes." Then the snakes beginning on the first day, make a rustling sound and utter sounds of delight.

[4. For the whole passage, cf. p. 303 supra.

8. Sugar, honey, and ghee.

11. This swastika may either be the well-known four-pointed figure, or the (three-pointed) figure of rice, cited by M. W. s.v. swastika as used in the rites of Durgâ.

12. The Mandhu-parka (v. Manu and Âçwalâyana) consisted of honey with curds.]

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   And in this chapter there is no disappointment; or there is the precept, "If the sea should exceed its bounding shore, (only) then would this rain exceed (its due time of coming)."

   Glory to the fully enlightened Arhat, the Tathâgata Çrîgarbhaku.tavinarditarâja . . .

   Worship to the Venerable One, health be to me, goodwill to all creatures! May all beings have security! May the distress of all beasts be assuaged! Homage to the remover of all the besetting sins! May this rite of the Tathâgatas be successful, the rite watched over by all the Buddhas whose words are "Expand, expand . . . all hail!" Whoso hath the head purified, be they Bhikshu or Bhikshu.nî, Upâsaka or Upâsikâ, let him, clothed in pure raiment with charity at heart, write these names of Tathâgatas, and put them on a seat, and then throw into the air a spoonful of seven odours. Let him repeat the names of Tathâgatas five times severally. He must do great service, and continue in case of drought for seven days; (then) the deva will rain.

   Here endeth the 65th chapter.--"The Whirlwind"--the "Great Cloud"--a "Great Vehicle Sutra."

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