Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why is the buddha called bhagavat” 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.

Part 1 - Why is the Buddha called Bhagavat

Note: Compare the explanations of the Mahāniddesa, p. 142; Cullaniddesa, p. 466; Sumaṅgala, I, p. 33–34; Visuddhimagga, I, p. 210–212; Hôbôgirin, Bagabu, p. 46.

Why is he called P’o k’ie p’o (bhagavat)?

1. In the word bhagavat, bhāga means quality (guṇa) and vat indicates its possession: “the one who possesses qualities.”[1]

2. Furthermore, bhāga means to analyze (vibhāga) and vat indicates skill (kuśala). Skillful in analyzing the general and specific characteristics (svasāmānyalakṣaṇa) of the dharmas, he is called Bhagavat.[2]

3. Furthermore, bhāga means glory (yaśas-) and vat indicates its possession. Thus this word means “the one who possesses glory”. No-one else has as much glory as the Buddha. The noble cakravartin kings, Indra, Brahmā, the lokapālas, are inferior to the Buddha. What then could be said of ordinary men (pṛthagjana)? Why? The noble cakravartin kings are fettered by bonds (bandhanasaṃyukta): the Buddha has broken the bonds. – The noble cakravartin kings are sunk in the mire of birth (jāti), old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa); the Buddha has transcended them. – The noble cakravartin kings are enslaved (dāsa) by their passions (anunaya); the Buddha has eliminated them. – The noble cakravartin kings dwell in the womb of the calamities of the human jungle (lokakāntāra); the Buddha has escaped from it. – The noble cakravartin kings dwell in the shadows of ignorance (avidyāndhakāra); the Buddha lives in the supreme light. – The noble cakravartin kings often reign over the four continents (caturdvīpaka)[3] ; the Buddha reigns over countless universes (apramāṇalokadhātu). – The cakravartin kings have mastery over wealth (pariṣkāravaśitā); the Buddha has mastery over mind (cetovāśita). – The noble cakravartin kings covet heavenly bliss (devasukha); the Buddha covets nothing, having reached the well-being of the summit of existence (bhavāgrasukha). The cakravartin kings seek their happiness from others; the Buddha rejoices in his own heart. This is why the Buddha surpasses (abhibhavati) the noble cakravartin kings. He also surpasses all the other beings, Indra, Brahmā, the lokapālas who are [70c] even inferior to the noble cakravartin kings.

4. Furthermore, bhāga means to crush (bhaṅga) and vat indicates the ability. The person who can crush desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa) and stupidity (moha) is called Bhagavat.[4]

Question. – The arhats and pratyekabuddhas are also able to destroy attachment, hatred and stupidity; in what do they differ from the Buddha?

Answer. – Although the arhats and pratyekabuddhas have destroyed this threefold poison (triviṣa), they have not entirely eliminated the latent predispositions (vāsanā) of poison.[5] It is like perfume (gandha) in a vase (bhājana); when the perfume is removed, a trace of the odor remains. Or it is like kindling (indhana): the fire burns, the smoke (dhūma) disappears, but the ash (bhasman) remains, for the strength of the fire is decreased. On the other hand, in the Buddha, the threefold poison (triviṣa) is eliminated without residue. It is like at the end of a kalpa when the fire burns Mount Meru and the entire earth; these disappear completely without leaving smoke or charcoal.[6][See], for example, the traces of hatred (dveṣavāsanā) in Śāriputra, the traces of attachment (rāgavāsanā) in Nan t’o (Nanda) and the traces of pride (māna) in Pi ting k’ia p’o ts’o (Pilindavatsa). (see notes on the story of Nanda ) They are like a man in fetters who, as soon as he is released, begins to walk unceasingly.

(for the following story, see notes on the complaint of Rāhula)

At that time, the Buddha, having come out of samādhi, set out to walk followed by Lo heou lo (Rāhula). The Buddha asked Rāhula: “Why are you so thin (kṛśa)?” Rāhula replied with this stanza:

Whoever eats oil (taila) gains strength;
Whoever eats butter (ghṛta) gains good color;
Whoever eats bad vegetables has neither color nor strength.
The venerable Buddha should know that.

The Buddha asked Rāhula: “Who is the Elder (sthavira) in this community?” Rāhula replied: “It is the upādhyāya Śāriputra.”[7] The Buddha said: “Śāriputra eats impure food (aviśuddāhāra).” Then Śāriputra who had returned and had heard these words, immediately spit up his food and made the following oath: “Starting from today. [71a] I will no longer accept any invitations (adhyeśanā).” Then king Po sseu ni (Prasenajit) and the āyuṣmat Siu ta to (Sudatta)[8] went to Śāriputra and said: “The Buddha does not accept invitations without reason. Venerable Śāriputra also does not accept invitations. How will we lay people (avadātavasana) acquire the great purity of faith (śraddhāviṣuddhi)?” Śāriputra answered: “My great teacher, the Buddha, has said that I eat impure food. Henceforth I will accept no further invitations.” Then Prasenajit approached the Buddha and said to him: “The Buddha never accepts any invitations and neither does Śāriputra. How will our minds gain great faith (śraddhā)? We would like the Buddha to order Śāriputra to accept invitations again.” The Buddha replied: “Decisions are firm with Śāriputra. It is not possible to change them.” Then, [to explain Śāriputra’s stubbornness], the Buddha cited this episode from one of his previous lives (jātakanidāna):

“Once there was a king who was bitten by a poisonous snake (sarpa). As the king was going to die, doctors were called to cure the poison. The physicians said: “The snake itself must swallow the very last drop [of poison that it has injected].” Then, with the help of magical formulas (mantra), the doctors brought to the king the snake that had bitten him and, gathering kindling, they started a fire and ordered the snake to swallow its poison or else to enter into the fire. The snake said to itself: “How could I swallow the poison that previously I spit out? I prefer death!” Thinking this, it persisted in its decision and entered into the fire. This snake was none other than Śāriputra: from age to age, his decisions have been firm (dhruva) and unchangeable (acala).”

In his turn, the āyuṣmat Pi ling k’ia p’o ts’o (Pilindavatsa) always suffered from eye disease. To beg his food, he usually crossed the Ganges river (gaṅgā). Having come to the edge of the river, he snapped his fingers and said to [the Ganges]: “Vatsala (little slave)! Stop flowing!” Then he crossed the river between two walls [of water] and went to beg his food. The goddess of the Ganges went to the Buddha and said: “The disciple of the Buddha, Pilindavatsa, always insults me by saying: ‘Vatsala, stop flowing.’ The Buddha said to Pilindavatsa: “Apologize for your fault (deśana kāraṇiyā) to the goddess of the Ganges.” Then Pilindavatsa, joining his palms, said to the goddess of the Ganges: “Vatsala, little slave, don’t be angry. I confess my fault.” Then the great assembly made fun of him: “Why do you still insult her [by calling her Vatsala] when you are confessing your fault?” The Buddha said to the goddess of the Ganges: “Do you see this Pilindavatsa who, with his palms joined, confesses his fault to you? He apologizes and it is not out of malice (avamāna) that he calls you this. Know that it is not his fault. For five hundred years, this man has always taken birth in a brahmin family; always haughty, he has reviled other men. He has retained the language he formerly used, but his heart is free of scorn.”[9]

Thus, although they have destroyed the fetters (saṃyojana), the arhats still keep the traces (vāsanā). But the Buddha Bhagavats, whether their arms are slashed with a knife or whether they are anointed with sandalwood oil (candana), do not blink an eye and their heart is as free of hatred (dveṣa) as it is of love (anunaya), for they [71b] have definitively effaced all traces of [the passions].

The brahmani Tchan tchö (Ciñcā) with her wooden disc slandered the Buddha and in the midst of the great assembly (mahāsaṃgha) said to him: “You have made me pregnant. Why do you pitilessly refuse me clothing (vastra) and food (āhāra)?” She did this shamelessly (lajjā) to deceive the others. The five hundred brahmin masters at once raised their hands and shouted: “That is true, we know this affair.” The Buddha did not change color at this event and did not redden with shame. When this trick was discovered, the earth trembled and the devas honored the Buddha by overwhelming him with praise and with flowers. But when the devas glorified the Buddha’s qualities, he did not take on the appearance of joy.[10]

When the Buddha ate oats (yavā), he expressed no anger, (see notes on Verañja or Agnidatta) but when the king of the gods (devarāja) offered him food of one hundred flavors (āhāra śatarasasaṃpanna) [as compensation], he felt no joy.[11]

[The Buddha] is single-minded (ekacitta), without duality (advaya). In all things, whatever they may be, food and drink (āhāra), robes and clothing (paṭavasana), beds and seats (śayāsana), praise and blame (varṇanavijṛmbhā), mistrust and respect (vitaṇḍanagaurava), the Buddha’s mind remains indifferent. It is like pure gold which, even when burned, melted, beaten or polished, shows no increase or decrease. [On the contrary], the arhats, although they have broken the bonds (bandhana) and have found the Path, still retain the traces (vāsana) [of the passions]; this is why they cannot be called Bhagavat.

Question. – Bhagavat is one name, but the Buddha has other epithets.

Answer. – Since the qualities (guṇa) of the Buddha are innumerable (apramāṇa), his epithets also are innumerable. These epithets include all his glory, for people understand it in many ways. The Buddha possesses still other names: he is called Tathāgata, etc

Footnotes and references:


Visuddhimagga, p. 210: yasmā lokiyalokuttarasukhābhinibbatthakaṃ… Bhagavā ti vuccati.


Visuddhimagga, p. 211: yasmā kusalādīhi bhedehi… ti vattabe Bhagavā ti vuccati.


Actually, only the cakravartin of the golden wheel reigns over four continents (cāturdvīpeśvara), his life-span being 80,000 years (cf. Kośa, III, p. 197)


Visuddhimagga, p. 210–211: yasmā pana lobhasosasamoha – … Bhagavā tena viddati ti.


Although they have destroyed their dominant affliction (kṣīṇakleśa), the saints still keep agitation (auddhatya) and the other habitual patterns resulting from the persistence of the latencies of the defilements (kleśavāsanā). On the other hand, the Buddha possesses vāsanāsamudghāta, complete elimination of the latencies. He does not retain any trace of the passions over which he has triumphed. Cf. Āloka, p. 915; Bodhisattvabhūmi, p. 375; Tsi louen, T 1605, k. 7, p. 691c; Tsa tsi louen, T 1606, k. 14, p. 761b15; Sūtrālaṃkāra, XXI, v. 54; Saṃgraha, p. 299–300.


Cf. Kośa, III, p. 182–185.


Indeed it was Śāriputra who had ordained Rāhula (Vinaya, I, p. 82) and had initiated him into the ascetic practices (Mahārāhulovādasutta in Majjhima, I, p. 421 sq. and Tseng ti a han, T 123, k. 7, p. 581c).


Elsewhere called Anāthapiṇḍada.


Probable source: Mo ho seng k’i liu, T 1425, k. 30, p. 467c. – In the Pāli sources, it is the monks, his colleagues, whom Pilindavatsa addresses as slaves (vasala). Cf. Udāna, III, 6, p. 28–29 (tr. Seidenstücker, p. 43); Dhammapadaṭṭha, IV, p. 181–182 (tr. Burlingame, Legends, III, p. 300–301); Manoratha, I, p. 276–278. Here is the story in the Udāna: evam me suraṃ. ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā Rājagahe… brāhmaṇo so samaṇo bhikkhū ‘ti.


According to the Dhammapadaṭṭha, wishing to damage the Buddha’s reputation, the heretical scholars went to a young nun of their sect, Ciñca, who pretended to go and spend the nights at the monastery of the Buddha and declare to anyone who wanted to listen that she had shared Gautama’s room. She went so far as to fake pregnancy by wrapping her belly in linens (pilotika), and then attaching a wooden plate (dārumaṇḍalika) to her belly. She entered the assembly where the Buddha was in the process of preaching the Dharma and bitterly reproached him for abandoning her and having no interest in the baby that was about to be born. The Buddha remained calm: “Whether what you say is true or false, sister, you and I are the only ones who know.” At the same moment, Indra appeared accompanied by four devaputras. The latter transformed themselves into four mice (mūsika) and gnawed the cords that held up the wooden disc. The dropping down of the disc uncovered Ciñcā’s trick who fled in shame, pursued by the crowd. The earth opened up under her steps, fire enveloped her completely and she fell into the depths of hell. – The other versions of this story show considerable differences. Ciñcā maṇavikā, also called Chaṇḍamanā, the proud, or the Woman with many tongues, is sometimes a heretic nun, disciple of Keśakambala, sometimes a delinquent Buddhist nun. In some sources, she suffers no punishment, in others she falls into hell; in one story, she is condemned to be burned, but the Buddha intercedes for her and she is simply banished. Cf. Dhammapadaṭṭha, III, p. 178–183 (Burlingame, Legends, III, p. 19–23; Kern, Histoire, I, p. 161–164; Jātaka, III, p. 298; IV, p. 187–189; Apadāna, I, p. 299; Itivuttaka Comm. I, p. 69; Udāna Comm., p. 263 sq.; Cheng king, T 154 (no. 9), k.1, p. 76a–b; Hing k’i hing king, T 197 (no. 8), k. 2, p. 170c; Pen k’i king, T 199, p. 201c19; Ta pao tsi king, T 310, k. 28, p. 154c18; P’ou sa tch’ou t’ai king, T 384, k. 7, p. 1055c; Ken pen chouo… yao che, T 1448, k. 18, p. 95b; Fa hien tchouan, T 2085 (tr. Legge, p. 60); Hiuan-tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 6, p. 900a (tr. Beal, II, p. 9; tr. Watters, Travels, I, p. 392).

According to some theories opposed by the Mppś, the slander of Ciñcā was one of the punishments of the nine sins of the Buddha, cf. below, k. 9, p. 121c.

See L. Feer, Ciñcā-māṇavikā Sundarī, JA, Mar.-April, 1897, p. 288–317.


The gods often augmented the nutritive value (ojā) of the Buddha’s food, cf. Milinda, p. 231: sabbakālaṃ, bhante Nāgasena,… patte ākianti. And the Milinda remembers that they maintained Buddha’s health in this way at Verañjā. See also Majjhima, I, p. 245; Lalitavistara, p. 264, where the gods suggest to the Bodhisattva that they introduce strength through his pores: te romakūpair ojaḥ prakṣepsyāmaḥ.