Contemplation Sutra


Illustrations from the Taima Mandala

Shakyamuni on the Vulture Peak

Devadatta's display of supernatural power and winning favor of Ajatashatru, who imprisoned King Bimbisara.

Queen Vaidehi brought food and drink to the king and the Buddha's disciples were sent to him through the air; Ajatashatru visited the prison and found the king still alive.

Enraged, Ajatashatru threatened to kill Vaidehi, but was stopped by the ministers. At Vaidehi,'s request, the Buddha's disciples appeared and then the Buddha himself. She prostrated herself before him.

[1] Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying on the Vulture Peak in Rajagriha [341a] with a large assembly of twelve hundred and fifty monks. He was also accompanied by thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas led by Manjushri, the Dharma Prince.

King Bimbisara imprisoned by his son Ajatashatru

[2] At that time, in the great city of Rajagriha, there was a prince named Ajatashatru. Instigated by his wicked friend, Devadatta, he seized his father, King Bimbisara, confined him in a room with seven-fold walls, and forbade all the court officials to visit the king.
Vaidehi, the king's consort, was devoted to him. After having bathed and cleansed herself, she spread over her body ghee and honey mixed to a paste with wheat flour, filled her ornaments with grape juice and secretly offered this food and drink to the king. He ate the flour paste and drank the juice and then asked for water. Having rinsed his mouth, he joined his palms in reverence and, facing the Vulture Peak, worshipped the World-Honored One from afar, said, "Mahamaudgalyayana is my close friend. I beseech you to have pity on me and send him here to give me the eight precepts."
Then Mahamaudgalyayana flew as swift as a hawk to the king. Day after day he came like this to give him the eight precepts. The World-Honored One also sent the Venerable Purna likewise to the palace to expound the Dharma to the king. Three weeks passed in this way. Because he had eaten the flour-paste and heard the Dharma, he appeared peaceful and contented.

Queen Vaidehi's imprisonment

[3] Then Ajatashatru asked the guard, "Is my father still alive?"
The guard replied, "Great king, his consort spreads flour paste over her body and fills her ornaments with grape juice and offers these to the king. The monks Mahamaudgalyayana and Purna come here through the air to expound the Dharma to him. It is impossible to stop them."
Hearing this, Ajatashatru became furious with his mother and said, "Because you are an accomplice to that enemy, mother, you too are an enemy. Those monks are evil, for with their delusive magic they have kept this wicked king alive for many days." So saying, he drew his sharp sword, intending to kill her.
At that time the king had a minister named Candraprabha who was intelligent and wise. Together with Jivaka he made obeisances to the king and said, "Great King, according to a certain Vedic scripture, since the beginning of this cosmic period, there have been eighteen thousand wicked kings who have killed their fathers out of their desire to usurp the throne, but we have never heard of anyone who has committed the outrage of killing his mother. Your Majesty, if you commit such an outrage, you will bring disgrace upon the ksatriya class. As your ministers, we cannot bear to hear what people will say. As this would be the act of an outcaste, we could no longer remain here."
Having spoken these words, the two ministers grasped their swords and stepped back. Agitated and frightened, Ajatashatru said to Jivaka, "Are you not on my side?"
Jivaka replied, "Your Majesty, please restrain yourself and do not kill your mother."
Hearing this, the king repented and begged their forgiveness. [341b] Having thrown away his sword, he stopped short of killing his mother and, instead, ordered the court officials to lock her in an inner chamber and not to allow her to leave.

Shakyamuni's visit to Vaidehi

[4] Vaidehi, thus confined, grew emaciated with grief and despair. Facing the Vulture Peak, she worshipped the Buddha from afar and said, "O Tathagata, World-Honored One, you used to send Ananda to comfort me. Now I am in deep sorrow and distress. Since there is no way of my coming to look upon your august countenance, World-Honored One, I pray you send the Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana and the Venerable Ananda here to see me."
When she had said these words, tears of sorrow streamed down her cheeks like rain. Then she bowed towards the Buddha in the distance. Even before she raised her head, the World-Honored One, who was then staying on the Vulture Peak, knew Vaidehi's thoughts and immediately ordered Mahamaudgalyayana and Ananda to go to her through the air; he himself disappeared from the mountain and reappeared in the inner chamber of the royal palace.
After worshipping him, Vaidehi raised her head and saw Shakyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One. He was the color of purple gold and was seated upon a lotus-flower of a hundred jewels. He was attended by Mahamaudgalyayana on his left and Ananda on his right. Shakra, Brahma, the guardian gods of the world and other devas were in the air about him. Scattering heavenly blossoms like rain, they paid homage to the Buddha.
When she saw the World-Honored One, Vaidehi tore off her ornaments and prostrated herself on the ground. Weeping bitterly, she said to the Buddha, "O World-Honored One, what bad karma did I commit in former lives that I have borne such an evil son? I wonder, World-Honored One, what karmic relations could have made you a relative of Devadatta?

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