Conversion of the Five Hundred Bandits 五百强盗成佛

This article is a direct translation of the Chinese text from the Dunhuang Academy website with permission from the Dunhuang Academy. To read the article in Chinese, please click here. Images Courtesy of Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 此文章为敦煌研究院授权其网站原文翻译。阅读原文中文版请点击这里。图像均由敦煌研究院授权发表。

Conversion of the Five Hundred Bandits, mural painting, Mogao Cave 285.

There were five hundred bandits in the ancient Kingdom of Kosala, located in south India. They robbed grain warehouses and rebelled against the government. The local government failed to capture them after multiple attempts. The king sent armies, after hearing the news, to suppress the bandits.

The armies were so well equipped with weapons, even the horses had armors. In contrast, the bandits had no real weapons, nor any war horses. After a fierce battle, the five hundred bandits were outnumbered and captured.

To punish them, the government took off their clothes and dug out their eyes. The mural painting (of Cave 285) showed the five hundred bandits being sent to the execution half naked with their hairs loosened, body covered with wounds, and kneeling on the execution stage. The executioners were fierce looking and holding sharp execution tools. Blood started splattering and bandits wailing. After a while, the five hundred bandits became five hundred blind men. However, the punishment did not stop there. After the execution, they were sent to deep forests far away from the towns. Wild animals and exotic plants cover these forests. They were left with no food or shelter. The five hundred bandits started running around howling.

Buddha heard their calls. He used his power and blew magical powders into their eyes. All of a sudden, the bandits recovered their eyesight. They were appalled to see the Buddha walking toward them. They knelt in front of Buddha with gratefulness and listened to his preaching. Buddha said calmly: “By living in this world, one has to experience many sufferings, but as long as one avoids bad deeds and practices good deeds, one would leave the sea of bitterness and enter the pure land. Good or bad deeds have their karmas. You experienced pain because you were violent and this is returning to you. If you could change from now, convert to Buddhism, you could still make amends for your previous evils, reach enlightenment and endless life cycles of extreme happiness.”

After hearing Buddha’s teachings, the bandits started repenting and converting to Buddhism. Buddha shaved and preached for them. From then on, the five hundred bandits followed Buddha practicing in the mountains. After many years of austerity, they became the five hundred Arhats.