Thirty Things that Invariably Happen with the Buddhas

Editor’s Note: The following translation is from the commentary of the Lineage of the Buddhas (Buddhavaṁsa), one of the late books in the Pāḷi Canon, which is traditionally attributed to Ven. Buddhadatta, a younger contemporary of Ven. Buddhaghosa.

It comes near the end of the commentary, in a section describing miscellaneous matters, and gives a list of the thirty things that invariably happen with all the Buddhas, which serves to elevate the events in the life of our Gotama Buddha to mythic status.

In fact though, the whole text of the Buddhavaṁsa, which gives details of various matters in the lives of twenty-seven previous Buddhas, all of which are based on Gotama’s life, but with variations in names, places, times, etc. is aimed at that very same project.

For those who wish to see the Pāḷi, the text together with the translation can be found in the Reference section of the Ancient Buddhist Texts website, where it is also available in pdf format.


The thirty things that invariably happen with all Buddhas, are as follows:

  1. At the moment of descent into his mother’s womb the Buddha-to-be has full awareness that this is his final rebirth [1]
  2. After sitting cross legged in his Mother’s womb, looking towards the front [2]
  3. The delivery of the Buddha-to-be’s Mother while standing [3]
  4. Exiting his Mother’s womb only in a forest wilderness [4]
  5. With his feet placed on golden cloth, while facing the north, after taking seven strides,
    and looking to the four directions, the roaring of a lion’s roar [1] [5]
  6. After seeing the four signs, [2] and as soon as a son is born, [3] the great renunciation of the Great Brings [6]
  7. After going forth wearing the flag of the Worthy Ones [4] and so forth, with the cutting off of all low (states), striving for seven days (at least) [5] [7]
  8. The eating of milk-rice meal on the day he attains Complete Awakening [6] [8]
  9. Reaching omniscience [7] after sitting on a spread of grass, [9]
  10. The preparation of his meditation using the subject of in-breathing and out-breathing [10]
  11. The crushing of Māra’s army [8] [11]
  12. After gaining the three knowledges and so on while sitting cross-legged at the Bodhi (Tree), acquiring the virtue of the knowledges not shared (with others) [9] and so on [12]
  13. Spending seven times seven days in the vicinity of the Bodhi Tree [10] [13]
  14. The request for him to preach the Dhamma being made by Mahā Brahmā [11] [14]
  15. The Rolling of the Dhamma-Wheel in the Deer Park at Isipatana [12] [15]
  16. The recitation of the (Ovāda) Pātimokkha to the assembly endowed with four qualities [13] on the full moon day of Māgha [14] [16]
  17. Regularly residing in Jeta’s Wood [15] [17]
  18. The performance of the twin miracle [16] at the gate of the city of Sāvatthi [17] [18]
  19. The preaching of the Abhidhamma in the Realm of the Thirty-Three [18] [19]
  20. The descent from the world of the gods [19] to the gate of city of Saṅkassa [20] [20]
  21. The entering into fruition-attainment [21] regularly [21]
  22. The looking for the people who are capable of being led (to Awakening) on two occasions [22] [22]
  23. The declaration of the precepts only when an occasion arises [23] [23]
  24. The narration of the Birth-Stories when an occasion for relating their meaning has arisen [24]
  25. The narration of the Lineage of the Buddhas in an assembly of his relatives [24] [25]
  26. The giving of a kind reception to incoming monks [26]
  27. Not departing at the end of the Rains Retreat without asking those who invited him [27]
  28. Day by day performing his duties before the meal, after the meal, and in the first, middle and last watch of the night [28]
  29. The eating of a meal consisting of flesh on the day he attains Final Emancipation [29]
  30. After attaining the twenty-four hundred thousand thousand million (2,400,000,000,000,000) attainments, the attainment of Final Emancipation [30]

Altogether these are the thirty things that invariably happen with all Buddhas.

 

Two Buddhas at Po Win Daung, Myanmar
Two Buddhas at Po Win Daung, Myanmar

 

 




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Notes:

  1. The lion’s roar are the verses he spoke just after birth: I am the greatest in the world, I am the elder in the world, I am the best in the world. This is my last birth, there is no more rebirth for me (DN 14).
  2. That is, the sign of sickness, old-age, death and a renunciant at peace. They are sometimes referred to as the devadūta, the messenger’s from the gods, as they were made by the gods so that the Awakening Being would make his renunciation.
  3. Gotama Buddha renounced the world the day his son Rāhula was born.
  4. This means the yellow robe, traditionally worn by ascetics, in their quest for Awakening.
  5. Siddhattha practiced for six years, but that is because of an unwholesome deed he did in the past (see Why the Buddha Suffered elsewhere on this website). The minimum time an Awakening Being must practice, as stated here, is seven days.
  6. The meal was given to Siddhattha by Sujāta, traditionally held to be the Mother of Yasa. She later became one of his first lay women disciples (upāsikā), and along with Yasa’s former wife, her daughter-in-law, she was one of the first women to attain Stream-Entry.
  7. That is, attained Awakening; the grass was given to Siddhattha by Sotthiya.
  8. At the foot of the Bodhi Tree, following which he develops his concentration and insight.
  9. This goes further than simply attaining Awakening, and implies the six special knowledges available only to a Sammāsambuddha: knowledge of others’ faculties, underlying tendencies, the double-miracle, the great compassion, omniscience and unobstructed knowledge (see Paṭisambhidāmagga 68 ff).
  10. Immediately after the Awakening. The Buddha spent seven days looking gratefully at the Bodhi Tree (this is known as the unblinking worship, animisapūjā), and seven weeks in the broad vicinity of the Bodhi Tree, before walking to Isipatana, near Bārāṇasī.
  11. At the end of the seventh week.
  12. Taught to the five ascetics, and a large assembly of gods. This is the preaching of the Dhammacakkapavattanasuttaṁ, the Discourse which set the Dhamma-Wheel Rolling, seventeen versions of which still survive.
  13. This was in the first year of the Awakening. The qualities are: they all had the same preceptor, the Buddha himself; they were all Worthy Ones (Arahanta); they arrived spontaneously at the gathering; and the Buddha gave the Ovādapātimokkha: Not doing any bad deeds, undertaking wholesome deeds, and purifying one’s mind – this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
  14. Normally falling in January.
  15. The Buddha eventually made Sāvatthi, and particularly Jeta’s Wood his base.
  16. Performed to confute the heretics, it consisted of emitting fire and water from his body.
  17. Which was the capital of Kosala.
  18. Traditionally said to have been in the seventh Rains Retreat. Tāvatiṁsa is held to be two worlds above our own.
  19. This means at the end of the Rains Retreat teaching the Abhidhamma.
  20. One of the more westerly cities in the Middle Country.
  21. This is the ability to produce the supermundane consciousness that arises when attaining awakening.
  22. In the PTS edition this reads: Dvīsu jhānesu, in two absorptions; if that reading is correct I do not understand the reference at all; if the adopted reading is correct, then it possibly means, the occasion after Mahā Brahmā had requested him to teach, when he looked for someone to give the first teaching to; and in the mornings, when he would look around the world to see who could be brought to Awakening that day.
  23. That is, he doesn’t produce a disciplinary code in the abstract, like a constitution, but through precedent, as in English common law.
  24. The book that this is a commentary on. This was directly after performing the double-miracle, and at the urging of Ven. Sāriputta, at the head of five-hundred Worthy Ones.

2 comments to Thirty Things that Invariably Happen with the Buddhas

  • Kip McKay

    I’ve heard two Theravadan versions of Buddha’s birth and attainments. One that says Buddha was born and lived as “a human just like us” who discovered the path to enlightenment (though helped by the tremendous merit and imprints of a bodhisattva). And then this one. Since this one is a later contribution, could it have been influenced by the Mahayana which has a similar version? Which do you think reflects the Theravadan mainstream?

  • Anandajoti

    Dear Kip, sorry for the late reply. It appears that a lot of the main elements of the Buddha biography as we now receive it were known to the early tradition, as we find them not only in the much later Mahāyāna texts, but also in the early texts.

    As I noted in the introduction what we see in this text and the one it comments on is a mythic quality, whereby what happened to ‘our’ Buddha becomes the template for what MUST happen to all Buddhas.

    As for the Theravāda mainstream, I am unsure what that is. Most people whom we identify as Theravāda have believed these stories, probably quite literally, for most of the time there has been such a thing.

    There is a revised Theravāda that emerged during colonial times which emphasises the human nature of the Buddha, and underplays the mythic elements. I think this is a genuine reading of the texts, but is hardly what most people in Theravāda countries hold to even to this day.

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