The Abhiniṣkramaṇa

One of my many projects that is sitting on a hard disk unfinished was a translation of a Chinese text that’s similar to the Mahavastu, which Samuel Beal considered a translation of the Dharmaguptaka’s Abhiniṣkramaṇa (“The Going Forth”). I’m not sure if it actually is because the Chinese title is different, but it’s very much like the Mahavastu, a very large collection of stories and jatakas that uses the Buddha’s story as a basic plot.

Samuel Beal’s translation from the late 19th c. exists in the public domain, which was an abridged version of the Chinese if my memory serves me. It doesn’t look like this text has been added to SuttaCentral yet and I don’t see any discussion about it.

I propose we add this text as well, at least the Beal translation for starters. The Chinese sourcetext is Taisho 190.


Charles, happy to do so, so long as the text contains significant parallels.

Of the later Buddha biographies, the more “messy” and less literary ones such as Mahavastu typically contain significant sutta passages more or less verbatim. But more “processed” and literary texts such as the Buddhacarita typically retell the sutta stories, rather than quoting them. We have to draw a line somewhere, which is why we have the Mahavastu but not the Buddhacarita.

So my question is: does the text have parallels?

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This is likely a parallel to the Mahavastu, just scanning the contents of both texts. I get your point, of course, the EBTs are the core mission. I’ll keep my eye out for them. This text follows the story vaguely up to the Buddha’s awakening, then segues into histories about the disciples like the Mahavastu does.


The first thing would be to check if it has a version of the Dhammacakka. In this kind of text, it’s almost a certainty that there will be some Dhammapada parallels, too.


I found the Dhammacakka. It’s embedded into a larger story about the Buddha converting the first five disciples and teaching them, so it took a bit of skimming. The material in the traditional sutra begins at 811a14 with the description of the two extremes, then the eightfold path, etc. It looks like this text doesn’t have Agamas copied into it wholesale with “Thus I have heard” and all, but the same basic milestones are present.

It also seems less overwrought than the Mahavastu. For example, it begins with Maudgalyayana going up to the Suddhavasa, not the hells and such first. It doesn’t have the ten bodhisattva stages either that I can see (which despite what Jones says is pretty late material IMO).

Also: I’m creating a very basic html version of Beal’s English translation, copying the OCR text from the pdf at and correcting it. The only tags I’m adding are headings, paras, em for italics, uls for the verses, and putting the footnotes at the end of chapters with ols. Is there anything I can do to make the files more SuttaCentral friendly?


The Problems and Limitations of Beal’s translation of Taisho 190

Samuel Beal’s book The Romantic Legend of Sakya Buddha is the only translation available in English of the Chinese version of what we might call a Mahavastu parallel. Beal opined that it may be a translation of the Abhiniskramana by the Dharmaguptakas, and my understanding is that a Tibetan translation exists of that text, but I’m not able to access it or read Tibetan. For now I’ll continue referring to the text as Abhiniskramana.

After examining the first few chapters of Beal’s translation against the Chinese and the Jones translation of the Mahavastu, I can see a number of problems that readers should understand.

1. He Abridged His Translation

Beal’s interest was in the story of the Buddha, so he skips over material that isn’t related to that story or that he felt was too tedious or difficult to translate. He may have also been trying to keep it to a single volume. Taisho 190 is a large text about the size of the Madhyama Agama.

This being the case, the English reader shouldn’t assume because material doesn’t appear in Beal’s translation that it isn’t in the original. For example, the elaborate history of Dipankara Buddha we find in the Mahavastu is also in Taisho 190, but Beal reduces it to a couple paragraphs about the Buddha making a bridge for Dipankara to walk over and receiving his prediction of future Buddhahood.

On the other hand, Taisho 190 is missing large bits that are in the Mahavastu, like the material about the bodhisattva career and the ten bhumis. So, we can’t compared the Chinese against the Mahavastu using Beal’s translation.

I’m comparing his translation to the Chinese and noting where significant omissions take place.

2. Beal Confuses Fascicles with Chapters

Beal conflates fascicles with actual chapters in his translation, which will confuse anyone who isn’t familiar with Chinese Buddhist texts. The Chinese divided large texts into individual scrolls or volumes that are fairly brief by modern standards. Beal starts a new “Chapter” for each fascicle but also includes the actual chapter headings of the Indic text. To make matters more confusing, Taisho 190 has the same number of fascicles as it does chapters (60), but the chapters often span multiple fascicles.

One of the things I’ll be doing with the html version is to create a table of contents and divide the text into appropriate chapters with my own headings.

3. Beal’s understanding of Buddhist Chinese isn’t the best

This last point is not really a criticism. Beal was a pioneer in translating Buddhist Chinese texts and it’s exceptionally arcane work to do without the benefit of modern scholarship. Beal gets some terms wrong, and he doesn’t understand the grammar at times. However, you certainly get the gist of the text from his translation.

At some point in the future, I’ll be taking up a long-dormant project from about 7 years ago to translate this text. That’s about all that can be done to correct some of the errors. With the Agama project already slated for next year, though, it’ll just be sporadic work when I need a break from other projects.


Loppön Malcolm, over at DharmaWheel, has said that the Tibetan redaction of this text has the Buddha with 60,000 wives before his going forth, as opposed to the Lalitavistara tradition which puts his number of wives at the more traditionally sacred Buddhist number of 84,000. It would be interesting to find out if this detail is in the Chinese too.


I think so. There’s a passage that says he had three palaces where he took turns visiting each of his three main wives. There was a harem of 20,000 at each palace, with a total of 60,000 wives. It’s at T190.715b23-c2:


[0715b29] 「第二宮中,摩奴陀羅([9]隋言意持)而為上首。

[0715b29] 「(諸師復言:『此意持妃,唯聞其名,不見現在及往緣事。』)

[0715c02] 「第三宮內,即瞿多彌而為上首。如是次第,侍御太子,諸婇女等,合有六萬

There’s also a mention of 60,000 wives in Chapter 23, when Chandhaka returns and everyone is upset that he had left (at 739a22):


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Hi Charles ,

Mind shares a bit , when has all the 婇女 became wives ? And Yasodhra was the main consort , others are imperial maids .

婇女 is imperial maid
妃 is consort

We weren’t being literal with the use of the word “wife.” I’m guessing these are harem women that are meant by 婇女.