Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of the brahmin called veranja or agnidatta” 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 3 - The story of the Brahmin called Verañja or Agnidatta

In the twelfth year of his ministry, the Buddha was visited by a brahmin called Verañja in the Pāli sources, or more often Agnidatta in the Chinese sources. He wanted to know why the Buddha did not bow to the aged monks and, having asked a series of questions, he invited the Buddha and his monks to spend the rainy season at Verañja (cf. Vinaya, III, p. 1–6; Aṅguttara, IV, p. 173–179; Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 157), k. 40, p. 679b–680b). When the Buddha, accompanied by 500 monks, went to Verañja, the brahmin who was at the same time the king of that region, did not receive him in his palace. He was too busy with his pleasures and, according to some sources, Māra had disturbed his mind. As there was a famine occurring at that time, the monks returned with empty bowls from their alms round. Some horse dealers (aśvavaṇij-) gave them some oats (ma me), according to the Chinese expression, “dry grain measured in patthas” (patthapatthamūlaka) according to the Pāli sources. For three months the monks were satisfied with this coarse food, but when the Buddha ate it, the gods gave flavor (ojā) to each mouthful that he took. At the end of three months, the Buddha gave notice of his departure to Verañja or Agnidatta. The latter excused himself for his lack of hospitality, offered the monks a grand feast and gave a gift to each of them. – According to the Upadāna, the Buddha was condemned to eating the oats for three months because in the course of one of his previous existences, at the time of the Buddha Phussa, he forbade monks to eat rice and had advised them to eat oats.

This story occurs in many texts but with notable differences. – Pāli sources: Vinaya, II, 1–11 (tr. Horner, I, p. 1–1); Dhammapadaṭṭha, II, p. 153–157 (tr. Burlingame, Legends, II, p. 193–194); Cullasukajātaka (Jātaka 430, III, p. 494–495; Apadāna, I, p. 300, v. 25–26; Milinda, p. 231; Samantapāsādikā, I, p. 176 sq.; Suttanipāta Comm., I, p. 154; Udāna Comm., p. 265. – Chinese sources: In the Vinayas, Che song liu, T 1435, k. 26, p. 187b–189a; Wou fen liu, T 1421, k. 1, p. 1–2; Sseu fen liu. T 1328, k. 1, p. 568c–569c; Ken pen chouo… yao che, T 1448, k. 18, p. 96a13–14. See also Ta fang pien fo pao ngen king, T 156, k. 3, p. 137a6–7; Tchong pen k’i king, T 196 (no. 15), k. 2, P. 162c–163c; Hing k’i hing king, T 197 (no. 9), k. 2, p. 172a–c; Ratnakūta in Ta pao tsi king, T 310, k. 28, p.154c20–21; P’ou sa tch’ou t’ai king, T 384, k. 7, p. 1056a; Ta tche tou louen, T 1509, k. 9, p. 121c; k. 27, p. 261a; k. 38, p. 341b; King liu yi siang, T 2121, k. 5, p. 20a–c.

The same brahmin appears again in another anecdote which we will meet later (Mppś, k. 22, p. 225a–b). For two days in a row, a brahmin filled the Buddha’s bowl; the third day, he lost patience. The Buddha in several stanzas praised the continuity of generosity; the brahmin filled his bowl again once, but the Buddha refuses food given to him as a result of a sermon. As nobody else could eat it, the brahmin threw it into the river which began to boil immediately. Struck by this miracle, he became a believer. The Mppś, which places this second story in Śrāvastī in the house of the brahmin P’o lo touo che or Bhāradvāja (the name of a famous brahmin clan; cf. Malalasekara, II, p. 373), seems to take its information from the partial translation of the Saṃyuktāgama, T 100 (no. 80), k. 4, p. 401b–c, where the brahmin is also called P’o lo t’ou chö (Bhāradvāja). – On the other hand, in the complete translation of the Saṃyuktāgama, T 99 (no. 1157), k. 42, p. 308a–b, the hero of the story is the brahmin Houo yu (86; 134 and 8) from Rājgṛha. Now Houo yu is the literal translation of Agnidatta, the name of the brahmin from Verañjā. – Finally, in the corresponding passage in the Pāli Saṃyutta, I, p. 174–174, the same brahmin is called Udaya. The result of all this is that Bhāradvāja, Agnidatta-Verañjā and Udaya are all one; Buddhaghosa has already noticed this, and he notes in his Samantapasādikā, I, p. 111, that the real name of the brahmin was Udaya but that he was called Verañjā because he was born and lived in Verañjā.

In short, the brahmin who, at Verañjā, forced the Buddha to eat oats and who, at Śrāvastī or at Rājagṛha, ended up by filling his bowl three times, had, as his personal name Udaya, as the name of his clan, Bhāradvāja, as his surname, Verañjā (because he was born and lived in Verañjā), and was called Agnidatta (because as brahmin, he worshipped fire).

Finally, we note that the Mahāvastu (III, p. 108, l. 17–109, l. 4) puts into the mouth of Udayīn the stanzas addressed to Udaya in the Saṃyutta, I, p. 174, which is probably an error.