Today’s morsel comes from Divine Stories: The Divyavadana Part 1 by Andy Rotman, part of our Classics of Indian Buddhism series.
The Divyavadana is an enormous compendium of Indian Buddhist narratives written in Sanskrit from the early centuries of the Common Era, whose stories have since spread throughout Asia, as both narrative and narrative art, leaving an indelible mark on Buddhist thought and practice. The stories in the collection were frequently used in the education of both monastics and laity in premodern Asia, exerting a powerful influence as moral exempla and legal precedent, and they were considered by many to be the word of the Buddha himself. These stories were likewise canonical in their influence on Buddhist art.
This selection comes from The Miracle Sūtra (Prātihārya-sūtra).
A Summary of The Miracle Sūtra
Prompted by the evil Māra, six heretics challenge the Buddha to a competition of miracles in the city of Śrāvastī. The Buddha accepts the challenge and agrees to meet after seven days. Meanwhile, King Prasenajit’s brother Kāla is falsely accused of consorting with one of the king’s wives, and his hands and feet are cut off. Ānanda restores them by the power of his words. On the seventh day, the Buddha displays a miracle at Śrāvastī that defeats the heretics. After the heretics flee, the Buddha offers teachings to those who have assembled before him.
The Blessed One exercised his power so that the entire world, even young children, could see the multitude of buddhas, without any obstructions, all the way up to the abode of the Akaniṣṭa gods. Such is the Buddha’s innate power and the divine power of deities.
At that moment the Blessed One addressed the monks: “Monks, contemplate the appearance of this array of buddhas, standing in order, one on top of another, for in an instant it will disappear.” And then, in an instant, it disappeared. The Blessed One then withdrew those magical powers that he had activated and sat down in the seat that had been specially prepared for him. At that time, after sitting down, the Blessed One uttered these verses:
The glowworm shines
as long as the sun doesn’t rise,
but as soon as the sun comes up,
he is distressed by the sun’s prowess
and won’t shine on his own.
Likewise the sophists shined
as long as the Tathāgata didn’t arise,
but when the Perfectly Awakened One shined in the world,
the sophists no longer shined,
nor did their disciples.