Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “stanza of opening the door of the immortal” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Appendix 1 - The stanza of opening the door of the immortal

Now I open the gate to the immortal.
The faithful shall obtain joy.  
I preach the wonderful doctrine to men,
I do not preach in order to harm anyone.
     (also see the Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra chapter II, part 1)

This stanza has always taxed the skill of translators, old and modern. It shows important differences in the Sanskrit and the Pāli texts.

A. Vinaya, I, p. 7; Dīgha, II, p. 39; Majjhima, I, p. 169; Saṃyutta, I, p. 138: apārutā tesaṃ amatassa… manujesu Brahme Pamuñcantu saddhaṃ may mean either ‘that they may reject faith’ or ‘that they may have faith’; vihiṃsasaññi is unclear, it may be translated as ‘fearing injury’, without knowing whether the Buddha feared lest he be the doer or the victim of this injury.

H. Oldenberg, in 1881, in his Vinaya Texts, I, p. 88, has translated: “Wide opened is the door of the Immortal to all who have ears to hear; let them send forth faith to meet it. The Dhamma sweet and good I spake not, Brahmā, despairing of the weary task, to men.” He remains faithful to this translation in his Reden des Buddha, München, 1922, p. 41: “Der Ewigkeit Tor, es sei jedem aufgetan der Ohren hat. Mag sich dann Glaube regen! Vergebliche Mühe zu meiden hab’ich das edle Wort moch nicht der Welt verkündet.” – R.O. Franke, Die Suttanipāta-Gāthās, ZDMH, LXIII, 1909, p. 7, comparing this stanza of the Itivuttaka, v. 84, also translates pamuñcantu saddhaṃ as “mögen zum Glauben gelangen.”

Buddhaghosa, in his commentaries on the Nikāyas (Sumaṅgala, II, p. 471; Papañca, II, p. 181; Sārattha, I, p. 203) interprets the stanza differently: Apāruta ti, vivatā… nesaṃ saṅkappan ti. –

All recent translators side with Buddhaghosa’s interpretation: T.W. Rhys-Davids, Dīgha tr., II, p. 33: “Open for them the portals to the Undying. Let those that hear renounce their empty faith! Ware of the fret, I uttered not, O Brahmā, Religion good and excellent ‘mong men.” C. Rhys-Davids, Kindred Sayings, I, p. 174: “Open for them the doors stand to Ambrosia. Let those that hear renounce the faith they hold. Foreseeing hurt I have not preached, Brahmā, the Norm sublime and excellent for men.” W. Geiger, Saṃyutta, I, p. 216–217: “Aufgeschlossen sind die Tore der Unsterblichkeit für die, die da hören. Aufgegeben sollen sie ihren Glauben, Verletzung vermutend habe ich nicht ausgesprochen die mir vertraute Wahrheit unter den Menschen, o Brahman.” The interpretation of Buddhaghosa followed by the modern translators may be based on the version of the Mahāśāsaka Mahāvastu and Vinaya. Mahāvastu, III, p. 319, gives somewhat the commentary of the Pāli stanza: apāvṛtaṃ me amṛtasya… magadeṣu pūrvam.

By correcting praguṇo to apraguṇo (‘praguṇo) in the fourth pada, my [Lamotte] translation is: “I have opened the door of the immortal, O Brahmā! Those who wish to hear the Bhagavat reject their pernicious belief. At one time among the Magadhans there was a pernicious, inferior, impure doctrine.”

The idea is the same in the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya, T 1421, k. 15, p. 104a: “Previously, fearing useless fatigue (cf. the Pāli vihiṃsasaññī), I did not preach the profound meaning. Now I shall open [the gates] of the immortal. All should listen.”

If these texts are compared, the meaning of the stanza becomes clear: Previously the Buddha did not preach the doctrine for fear of useless fatigue, but yielding to Brahmā’s invitation, he is going to open the gates of the immortal, and all his listeners should renounce their old beliefs, impure beliefs current in Magadha.

B. But apart from this tradition, which I [Lamotte] would readily call the Pāli tradition, there exists another tradition which gives a completely different meaning to the stanza: the Buddha announces that he is going to open the gates of the immortal; the faithful (śraddhāvataḥ and not śrotravantaḥ) will profit from his teaching; this teaching will avoid doing harm to others (different interpretation of the Pāli vihiṃsasaññī). This tradition is represented by a whole series of Chinese texts, among which is the Mppś:

Ekottarāgama, T 125, k. 10, p. 593b: “The god Brahmā came to encourage the Tathāgata to open the gates of the immortal. The listeners having sincere faith will understand the profound Dharma. As at the summit of a high mountain, all kinds of beings are found. I, who possess this Dharma, will climb up to the temple (?. sic) and will manifest the Dharma-eye.” – Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, T 1428, k. 32, p. 787b: “Brahmā, I say unto you: I am going to open the gates of the immortal. The listeners will receive it with faith. It is not to molest [beings] that I preach, O Brahmā, the marvelous doctrine obtained by the Muni.” – Mūlasārvastivādin Vinaya, T 1450, k. 6, p. 126c: “To those who listen to the Dharma with joy, I will open the gates of the immortal. If it were in order to blame and look down on men, O Brahmā, I would never preach.”

C. Of somewhat confused origin, the Lalitavistara, p. 400, seems to be a contamination of the two traditions: apāvṛtās teṣām amṛtasya… dharmaṃ magadheṣu sattvāḥ. “The gates of the immortal, O Brahmā, are open for those who always have ears; they enter, those believers who do not think of harm; they listen to the Dharma, the beings of Magadha.