Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why is the buddha called shasta devamanushyanam” 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 10 - Why is the Buddha called Śāstā Devamanuṣyāṇām

He is also called Chö to t’i p’o ma neou chö nan (śāstā devamanuṣyāṇām). Śāstā means teacher, deva means gods and manuṣyāṇām means men (in the genitive case). The expression thus means “Teacher of gods and men”. Why is he called teacher of gods and men? The Buddha shows [gods and men] what should be done and what should not be done, what is good (kuśala) and what is bad (akuśala). Those who follow his instructions do not abandon the doctrine of the Path and acquire liberation from their passions (kleśavimokṣa) as reward (vipāka). Thus he is called Teacher of gods and men.

Question. – The Buddha [does not save only gods and men]. He can save also the beings who have fallen into other destinies (gati) such as the nāgas, the asuras, etc.[1] Why is it said only that he is the teacher of gods and men?

Answer. – 1. The Buddha rarely saves beings belonging to the other destinies, whereas he frequently saves those who are reborn among gods and men. [This is why it is said that he only saves gods and men.] Just as when a man is white in color, even if he has black stains on his face, he is not described as a negro, because the black is insignificant.

2. Furthermore, the fetters (saṃyojana) among men (manuṣya) are light and detachment (nirvedacitta) is easy to attain (sulabha). Wisdom (prajñā) is sharp (tīkṣṇa) among the gods. This is why the Path is easily found in these two states. This is not the case in the other destinies (gati).

3. Furthermore, by saying ‘gods’, all the heavenly (svarga) beings are included; by saying ‘men’, all the beings on the earth (pṛthivī) are included. Why? Because in the heavens, the gods are the principal (adhimātra) beings, and on earth, men are the principal beings. Therefore by saying “gods” all the beings in the heavens are included, and by saying ‘men’ all the beings on the earth are included.

4. Furthermore, among men, moral discipline (śīlasaṃvara), the path of seeing the truths (satyadarśanamārga), the path of meditation (bhāvanāmārga), and the fruits of the path (mārgaphala) are found. In the other destinies, these benefits cannot be found according to some or very rare according to others. On the other hand, they are easy to obtain and very frequent among gods and men. This is why the Buddha is the teacher of gods and men.

5. Finally, among men, the causes of happiness (sukhahetu) are frequently cultivated; among gods, the fortunate reward (sukhavipāka) is common. The causes [73a] of happiness are all the good dharmas (kuśaladharma); happiness (sukha) is the reward (vipāka) of these good dharmas. In destinies [other than those of gods and men], the causes of happiness and fortunate reward are rare. This is why the Buddha is the teacher of gods and men.

Definition of Śāstā Devamanuṣyāṇām according to the Visuddhimagga:

Cf. Visuddhimagga, p. 208: Diṭṭhadhammikasamparāvikaparamatthehi… c’etaṃ vuttaṃ.

Footnotes and references:


See above the examples of conversions among animals and amanuśyas. Visuddhimagga, p. 208–209, tells the story of the frog Maṇḍaka which, at Campā, was listening to Buddha preaching, when a cowherder, leaning on his stick, crushed his head; it was reborn among the Trāyastriṃṣa gods (cf. Vimānavatthu, V, 1; Vimāna Comm., p. 216 sq.; Milinda, p. 350; Samantapāsādikā, I, p. 121).