Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why is the buddha called purushadamyasarathi (purusha-damya-sarathi)” 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 9 - Why is the Buddha called Puruṣadamyasārathi (puruṣa-damya-sārathi)

He is also called Fou leou cha t’an miao so lo t’i (puruṣadamyasārathi). Puruṣa means man, damya means to be converted and sārathi means the leader of a caravan. The expression thus means ‘Leader of the caravan of men to be converted’.

1. With his great loving kindness (mahāmaitri), his great compassion (mahākaruṇā) and his great wisdom (mahājñāna) he uses a voice that is sometimes sweet (śakṣṇa), sometimes harsh (paruṣa), sometimes lukewarm (śakṣṇaparuṣa) so that the caravan (sārtha) does not lose its way.[1] Some stanzas say:

The doctrine of the Buddha is a chariot, the disciples are the horses,
The true dharmas are the merchandise, the Buddha is the leader.
When the horses stray from the path and wander from the way,
The Buddha corrects them and controls them.

If they do not spurn his orders,
He carefully sets them back onto the narrow path.
But if they are incorrigible, he abandons them.
This is why he is a peerless leader.

2. Furthermore, there are five kinds of leaders (sārathi): (i) the law of one’s parents, brothers and sisters and the family, (ii) the law of the village head, (iii) the law of the mandarin. These three laws govern the present life. (iv) King Yen lo (Yama) governs the future life, (v) the Buddha ensures the well-being (hita) [of beings] by present happiness (ihatrasukha), future happiness (paratrasukha) and the happiness of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasukha). This is why he is the supreme leader. People do away with the [first] four laws soon enough; they are unable always to observe them. The Buddha governs (tche) men by means of the threefold Path (mārgatraya). He never abandons them along the way. Just as the self-nature (svalakṣaṇa) of fire (tejas-) accompanies fire until it is extinguished (nirodha), so the Buddha, who procures good dharmas (kuśaladharma) for men, follows them up to their death and does not abandon them. This is why the Buddha is called Puruṣadamyasārathi.

Question. – The Buddha converts (vinayati) women (strī) also and makes them fond of the Path. Why is it a question of men only [in the name puruṣadamyasārathi]?

Answer. – 1. Because men are noble whereas women are lowly, because the woman follows the man and because the man [alone] is master of his actions.

2. Furthermore, women encounter five hindrances (āvaraṇa): they cannot become cakravartin king, or Śakradevarāja, or Māradevarāja, or Brahmādevarāja.[2] This is why the Buddha does not say it [here].

3. Finally, if one said that the Buddha is the leader of the caravan of women (strīsārathi), this would be disrespectful. By saying that he is [the leader of the [72c] caravan] of men, all classes of [human beings] are included. When [one says] “The king is coming”, one knows that he is not coming alone but is accompanied by his retinue (parivāra);[3] in the same way, when one speaks of men (puruṣa), [mentally] one includes hermaphrodites (ubhayavyañjanaka), asexual beings (avyañjanaka) and women (strī). This is why [only] men are spoken of [here]. For these reasons the Buddha is called Puruṣadamyasārathi.

Definition of Puruṣadamyasārathi according to the Visuddhimagga:

Visuddhimagga, p. 207: Purisadamme sāreti ti … pi amanussapurisā pi. According to this explanation, the puruṣas that the Buddha converts are male beings, whether they are animals (tiracchāna), human (manussa) or amanuṣyas. The Visudhimagga gives as example some conversions of animals: Apalāla (Divyāvadana, p. 348, 385; Samanatapāsādikā, IV, p. 742; Mahāvamsa, XXX, v. 84; Hiuan-tsang, tr. Beal, I, p. 122; Fa hien, tr. Legge, p. 29). Cūlodara and Mahodara (Mahāvamsa, I, v. 45 seq; Samanatapāsādikā, I, p. 120); Aggisikha and Dhūmasikha (Samanatapāsādikā, I, p. 120); Āravāla (Mahāvamsa, XII, v. 9–20; Samantapāsādikā, I, p. 65); Dhanapālaka (this is the well-known elephant (Nālāgiri). – Conversions of amanuṣyas, e.g., Ālavaka (Sarattha, I, p. 317; Suttanipāta Comm. I, p. 217–240); Sūciloma and Kharaloma (Saṃyutta, I, p. 207 seq; Suttanipāta, II, 5). Sakka (Dīgha, II, p. 263 sq.).

We will see below that the Mppś gives a broader extension to the word puruṣa; it sees in it not only ‘males’ but any human being whatsoever, male, female or hermaphrodite.

Footnotes and references:


Allusion to Kesisutta of the Aṅguttara, II, p. 112 (cf. Tsa a han, T 99, no. 923, k. 33, p. 234b–c): Ahaṃ kho Kesi… pi vinemi.


The source is Majjhima, III, p. 65–66 (missing in Tchong a han, T 26, k. 47, p. 723; Aṅguttara, I, p. 28; Vibhaṅga, p. 336; Nettipakaraṇa, P. 93: “It is impossible that in the present and the future a woman should become a perfectly enlightened arhat (= the Buddha), a cakravartin king, Śakra, Māra or Brahmā. That does not happen.” (aṭṭhānam etaṃ anavakāso… n’etaṃ thānaṃ vijjati). Thus there are five impossibilities for a woman: she cannot be Buddha or cakravartin or Śakra (Indra) or Māra or Brahmā.

The Saddharmapuṇḍarikā, p. 264, retains this rule, but modifies its formulation slightly: Pañca sthānāni stry adyāpi… pañcamam avaivartikabodhisattvasthānam. There are exceptions to the rule: thus it is known, p. 263, that the daughter of Sāgara, king of the nāgas “is capable of reaching the state of fully accomplished Buddhahood” (sā samyaksaṃbodhim abhisaṃbodhiṃ samarthā).

The Mppś, which is familiar with the case of Sāgara’s daughter to which it will allude below, (k. 4, p. 92b) sees here the impossibility of maintaining the canonical formula in its integral text. As a good exegetist, it resorts to a compromise that consists of retaining the textual plan while completely emptying it of its content: it recognizes that a woman encounters five impossibilities, but it enumerates only four of them: women cannot be cakravartin, Śakra, Māra or Brahmā.

This omission is deliberate and is not to be explained by a mere omission for, later on (k. 9, p. 125a6), it will say that a woman cannot become a cakravartin king or Śakradevendra or Māradevarāja or Brahmādevarāja, but it carefully omits saying that she cannot be Buddha.


The same comparison in Atthasālini, p. 67: Yathā rājā āgato… yeva āgato ti paññāyati.