In this city there was a young brahmin named Sumedha [a wandering ascetic who was to become the Bodhisat or Bodhisattva and eventually Gautama Buddha]. He was from a rich family, so he did not need to work.
Instead, like other privileged brahmins, he only had to study the ancient "Books of Knowledge" (the Vedas handed down from the heavens or "advanced shining worlds in space" referred to in Buddhism as the akasha deva loka).
He gave an accounting of the family assets to be inherited by Sumedha and announced, “These are all yours!”
Sumedha then considered, “My grandfather collected much, but when he passed away, he could not take even a single item with him.” He therefore decided to donate all of his possessions [which had come to him by the power of merit, the profitable karma accrued in the past] to orphans and the poor. He then left the city by himself.
He built a hermitage on a mountain in the Himmapan Forest and lived in his primitive abode as a hermit. He engaged in practices [developing samadhi and abhinnas/siddhis] and finally attained some success.
He enjoyed the highest happiness so much that he could hardly hear the quaking of the world-elements [elemental particles] being caused by the enlightenment ions [photons, neutrinos, quarks, subatomic particles, known in Buddhist physics as kalapas] of Dipankara Buddha, the supremely enlightened teacher on Earth prior to our most recent historical Buddha [Shakyamuni].
One day, Dipankara Buddha was staying in the Ramma City. Hearing that, a large number of citizens brought food, clothes, incenses, flowers, and other acceptable requisites to offer. Some citizens decorated the roads with beautiful sand, some sprinkled popped rice and corolla.
At that time, as Sumedha was flying over the city [levitating by the power of meditative jhana or in some advanced technology craft provided to brahmins by akasha devas or "shining ones from space"] he noticed the joyous citizens.
Out of curiosity he came down and asked one, “Noble man, tell me, for whom do you decorate this road?”
Thet citizen replied, “Don’t you know that our Dipankara Buddha, who has attained supreme enlightenment and made known the precious Dharma, is staying here? We have invited him, so we are decorating the road to greet him.”
Full of gladness, the ascetic Sumedha asked, “Could I help decorate the road, too?”
“Yes,” the citizen replied.
Knowing that the hermit possessed magical powers [as a result of meditation or advanced technology that was considered magical], the citizen assigned Sumedha to bring soil to fill a large muddy area.
Sumedha reflected. If he were to use his magical powers, he would have less to be proud of than if he accomplished his volunteering by manual strength. So he decided to carry soil by hand.
Unfortunately, as a result of working by hand, Dipankara Buddha arrived before Sumedha could finish. Seeing him coming, Sumedha laid down in the mud to bridge the mud thereby allowing Dipankara Buddha to cross over.
While Sumedha was on the ground, he considered in the following way:
It would be useless if I, able bodied and in possession of strength and resolve, were to attain nirvana [liberation from all suffering] alone. Instead, seeing the majesty of Dipankara Buddha, he resolved to help other people in the same way.
He formed the strong intention and determined to become a supremely enlightened teacher (samma-sam-buddha) able to bring humans and devas against the stream across the flood of passions.
Dipankara Buddha noticed Sumedha and, sensing his strong intention, used his Tathagata-powers to look into the [probable] future to see if Sumedha could succeed. After a while, Dipankara Buddha knew that after four incalculable-aeons and one hundred thousand interim-aeons, Sumedha would be ready to become a supremely enlightened teaching buddha named Gautama.
- HOW LONG ARE AEONS? Thank you to reader Andy for pointing out the staggering time span suggested by this Jataka. How long are aeons in non-Sanskrit years?
- We go to LordBuddhasWords.org (and the Abhidharma) for answers: Buddhist texts speak of three kinds of "aeon" -- an interim aeon (kalpa), an incalculable aeon (asankheyya-kalpa) aeon, and a great aeon (maha-kalpa).
- An interim aeon is the period of time required for the life-span of human beings to increase from a minimum average of ten years to a maximum of many tens of thousands of years then fall back to ten years. [This period varies rather than being fixed.]
- Twenty such interim aeons equal one "incalculable aeon."
- And four incalculable aeons constitute one "great aeon."
- How long is a great aeon? It is hard to conceive, hard to reckon, hard to say in terms of so many years, millenia, epochs, or ages. The Buddha answered instead with a simile:
- Imagine a mountain of solid granite one yojana (~7 miles) high and the same distance wide. Then imagine that a bird whet its beak on it once every hundred years using a fine silk cloth. That mountain would be worn down to nothing, and yet one great aeon would not have elapsed.
Dipankara Buddha announced his prophecy to the citizens. They were glad, rejoicing that they had a seedling buddha. So if they missed the opportunity to gain liberation from the interminable cycle of rebirth (samsara) and suffering in this life, they might have a chance to again hear the liberating Dharma in future lives [perhaps spending the ages between now and then in exalted, incredibly long-lived space worlds as devas].
After Dipankara Buddha received their offerings and departed, the citizens made an offering to Sumedha, joyfully lavishing the Bodhisat (now a "being bent on supreme enlightenment," the Buddha-to-be) with incense and flowers.
When the citizens departed, Sumedha sat on his haunches and deliberated. How was he to succeed in line with his determination to become a teaching buddha. At last he realized that would need to cultivate and perfect ten virtues, the height of:
- renunciation (detachment)
- energy (persistence)
- patience (tolerance)
- determination (faithfulness)
- loving-kindness (mercy)
- equanimity (non-bias).
Dipankara Buddha allayed their fears: “Be at peace. The one I foretold would become the next buddha was just now giving himself over to introspection to determine the virtues (paramis or paramitas, "perfections") required to reach his goal. By the power of dharma [the order of phenomena or dhamma-niyama], the world elements were shaking.”
Hearing that, the citizens rejoiced and cheerfully they took more incense and flowers and offered them to Sumedha.
When he stood up the devas blessed him wishing him success in his long quest to become the a supreme buddha in a distant future life.