Records of the lives of the High Masters

Buddhabhadra “Enlightened Worthy”

--Written by the Venerable Master Hua
--Translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin

Buddhabhadra, “Enlightened Worthy”1

The Venerable Buddhabhadra, "Enlightened Worthy"2 was a descendent of the Sweet Dew Rice King3 and thus of the same family as Sakyamuni Buddha. His grandfather's name was Dharma Heaven4 and his father's name was Dharma Sun.  He was born in Sravasti where there was an abundance of the wealth of the five desires and where the citizenry had the virtue of much learning and liberation.

Despite his noble ancestry, Buddhabhadra's luck was poor. When he was three years old, his father died, and when he was five, his mother died as well. A remarkably intelligent child, he didn't cry when his parents died.  "Life among men," he said, "is truly bitter." When his maternal grandfather heard that his grandson was an orphan, but that he understood the nature of human existence so well, he adopted him.

"You have no parents," he said one day, "perhaps you should leave home and become a sramanera."

As a novice Bhiksu, young Buddhabhadra excelled. He was young in years, but possessed of such great wisdom that he even caused his teacher to remark, "You are truly inconceivable. You can master in one day what takes others at least a month. If this isn't intelligence, what is?" When Buddhabhadra was seventeen he studied several hundreds of sutras, cultivating diligently with his Dharma brother Sanghadatta, who held him in great respect. They had cultivated together for more than a year and yet Sanghadatta still had no inkling of the level of his partner's cultivation. One day, however, when Sanghadatta had locked himself in his room to meditate, Buddhabhadra suddenly appeared before him.

1 Adapted from the Kao Seng Chuan,"Records of Eminent Monks," T. 2059, p.334b:26.
2 Buddhabhadra, 359-430, (Chin. -chiao hsien) was born in central India and arrived in China at Ch'ang An in 408. His translations include the Avatamsaka Sutra, T.278, several smaller Sutras and three Vinaya works.
3 Amrtodana, Sakyamuni Buddha's paternal uncle.
4 Dharmadeva.
5 Dharmasurya (?).

"I thought I locked the door," said Sanghadatta. "How did you get in here?"

"I've just returned from the Tusita heaven where I visited with Maitreya Bodhisattva," Buddhabhadra replied. So saying, he vanished without a trace.

"He's a sage," thought Sanghadatta. "My Dhyana brother has certainly certified to the fruit." After that, he watched all of Buddhabhadra's spiritual transformations, which went unnoticed by those less observant. Later, because he had asked in a most respectful manner, Buddhabhadra informed him that he had indeed certified to the third fruit of Arhatship, that of an anagamin, a "never-returner," and that his greatest desire was to travel to all countries in order to spread the Buddhadharma and teach and transform living beings.

The two of them were then in Kashmir, when Dharma Master Chih Yen1 came from China to visit and praised them saying, "The conduct of these two Dharma Masters is extremely impressive and their cultivation is correct and pure and very much in accord with the Dharma. If only the monks in China could be like this! But there are no Good Knowing Advisors in China at present and so no one has an opportunity to become enlightened." He resolved to return to China with a Good Knowing Advisor and so he addressed the assembly saying, "Which one of you will be compassionate and cultivate the Bodhisattva way by returning with me to the land of Yao Ch'in (China) to convert living beings?"

There were many high masters in Kashmir at the time, but they all yielded to Buddhabhadra. "This Indian Dharma Master," they said, "was born and raised in a great noble family. He left home at an early age and studied unfathomably deep Dharmas under his Good Knowing Advisor Fo Ta Hsien?2 He's the one to go to China."

Fo Ta Hsien himself said, "If you truly wish to propagate the Law and to instruct members of the Sangha, take Buddhabhadra with you." But when Chih Yen asked Buddhabhadra to go, he refused. Chih Yen then knelt for two days without rising until Buddhabhadra compassionately agreed. At that time, of course, there were no buses, trains, or planes, and while Buddhabhadra, as a certified sage, could have 'flown' to China without a plane, he knew it would have frightened people too much and so he shouldered his pack and the two of them walked to China. They walked for more than three years passing through six countries and the kings of all the countries, hearing that he was going to China to spread the Dharma, were all delighted and made offerings to him with great enthusiasm. They walked as far as Chiao Chih, the present day Vietnam, and then took a boat for China.

They sailed peacefully until one day as they passed a certain mountain, Buddhabhadra said to the captain, "We should stop here."

"We can't stop now," said the captain. "We've got favorable winds and are making good time." They sailed another two hundred miles and ran into a gale which blew the ship, strangely enough, right back to the mountain.  Seeing his spiritual powers, the people on board all took refuge with him and made offerings. When the wind stopped a few days later, he again cautioned the people to wait, but some didn't listen, and their boat capsized shortly after they set sail.

Those who had heeded his instructions, of course, didn't drown, but when he told them one night, "We should leave right away," not a single person listened. "All right," he said, "stay if you like, but I'm leaving," and he threw the lines off the deck and left. An hour later, when those who had stayed behind were raided by thieves, they finally understood that Buddhabhadra was special.

When Buddhabhadra arrived in China at Ch'ing Chou, Tung Lai Prefecture, he was informed that Kumarajiva was in Ch'ang An, the Western Capital, and went to visit him. When Kumarajiva saw him he was extremely happy. "So you've come!" he exclaimed. "You must help me." The two of them translated Sutras, and whenever Kumarajiva had a question, he would ask Buddhabhadra. One day Buddhabhadra said, "Your translations are really quite ordinary. There's nothing particularly special about them. Why are they so famous and so well-received?"

"Probably because I am so old," said Kumarajiva.

(To be continued)


-A report of this year’s Buddha’s Birthday celebration with a full description of events, and text of speeches by leading members of the Sangha, lay community, and by Buddhist Scholars.