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Asita

1. Asita.– Often called the Buddhist Simeon, though the comparison is not quite correct. He was a sage and the chaplain of Sīhahanu, father of Suddhodana. He was the teacher of the Suddhodana, and later his chaplain. He came morning and evening to see the king, Suddhodana, who showed him as great respect as he had while yet his pupil; this, we are told, is a characteristic of Sākyan kings.

With the king’s leave, Asita renounced the world and lived in the king’s pleasance. In due course he developed various psychic powers. Thenceforward he would often spend the day in the deva worlds. Once, while in Tāvatiṃsa, he saw the whole city decked with splendour and the gods engaged in great rejoicing. On inquiry he learnt that Siddhattha Gotama, destined to become the Buddha, had been born. Immediately he went to Suddhodana’s home and asked to see the babe. From the auspicious marks on its body he knew that it would become the Enlightened One and was greatly overjoyed, but realising that he himself would, by then, be born in a formless (arūpa) world and would not therefore be able to hear the Buddha teach, he wept and was sad. Having reassured the king regarding the babe’s future, Asita sought his sister’s son, Nālaka, and ordained him that he might be ready to benefit by the Buddha’s teaching when the time came. Later Asita was born in the Arūpa world (Sn., pp.131‑36; SnA.ii.483 ff; J.i.54 f).

According to Buddhaghosa (SnA.ii.483), Asita was so-called because of his dark complexion. He also had a second name, Kanha Devala (SnA.ii.487). Other names for him were Kanha Siri (Sn.v.689), Siri Kaṇha (SnA.487) and Kāla Devala (J.i.54).

He is evidently to be distinguished from Asita Devala, also called Kāḷa Devala.

The Lalita Vistara has two versions of Asita’s prophecy, one in prose and one in verse, which, in their chief details, differ but slightly from the Pāḷi version. In the former his nephew is called Naradatta, and Asita himself is represented as being a great sage dwelling in the Himavā but unknown to Suddhodana.

Here is evidently a confusion of his story with that of Asita Devala. In the Mahāvastu version (ii.30 f) he is spoken of as the son of a brahmin of Ujjeni, and he lives in a hermitage in the Vindhyā mountains. It is noteworthy that in the Jātaka version he is called, not a sage (isi), but an ascetic (tāpasa) practising austerities. And there we are told that when the king brought the boy, the future Buddha, and prepared to make him do reverence to the ascetic, the babe’s feet turned up and placed themselves on the ascetic’s head. For there is no one fit to be reverenced by a Bodhisatta, and had they put the babe’s head at the feet of the ascetic, the ascetic’s head would have split into seven pieces.

The ascetic could see forty world-cycles into the past and forty world-cycles into the future. J.i.54‑5. See Thomas, op.cit., pp.38 ff., on the growth of the Asita legend.

2. Asita.– A Pacceka Buddha, mentioned in a list of Pacceka Buddhas (M.iii.70; ApA.i.107).

3. Asita.– A garland-maker in the time of Sikhī Buddha. While taking a garland to the palace, he saw the Buddha and offered it to him. As a result, twenty-five world-cycles ago he became a king named Dvebhāra. In the present age he was known as Sukatāveliya Thera (Ap.i.217).

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