Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “brahmanical trimurti (shiva, vishnu and brahma)” 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 4 - The brahmanical trimūrti (Śiva, Viṣṇu and Brahmā)

Maheśvara, Viṣṇu and Kumāra, that is, Śiva, Viṣṇu and Brahmā are the gods of the brahmanical trimūrti.

1) Maheśvara or Śiva.

Jou ta tch’eng louen, T 1634, k. 2, p. 46b: When one has purified the tenth level, one acquires immense and infinite dhāraṇis and upāyas, one realizes all the pratisaṃvids and all the vaśitas, one becomes Maheśvaradevaputra, one is also the support of all the universes.

Question. – Is this Mahesvara of whom you speak the same as or different from the Maheśvara [known] in the world? Answer. – This Iśvara of the pure abodes (śuddhāvāsa) is not the Iśvara [known] in the world. He has the same name as your Iśvara but he is not the same individual. There is a Maheśvara of the pure abodes and there is also a demon Maheśvara (piśacamaheśvara).

– Maheśvara and Viṣṇu are often mentioned together, e.g., in the Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamakaśāstra, T 1564, k. 1, p. 1b; Āryadeva’s Śataśāstra, T 1569, k. 1, p. 168a (tr. Tucci, Pre-Diṅṅāga, p. 1; the Kośavyākhyā, p. 7.

– In his Comm. on the Kośa, T 1821, K. 7, p. 140a, P’ou Kouang, in speaking of Rudra, says: Rudra means violent. This is a synonym for Maheśvara. The god Maheśvara has, as a whole, a thousand names, but here below in the phenomenal world, he has sixty and Rudra is one of them. The heretics T’ou houei (Pāṃśupata, Paśupata?) say that Iśvara transcends the three worlds (trailokyātikrānta) and that he has three bodies: (i) a body of the law (dharmakāya) which fills the dharmadhātu; (ii) a body of enjoyment (saṃbhogakāya) that abides at the summit of the form realm (rūpadhātu) in the palace of the Īśvaradevas. In the Buddhist texts, it is said that the god Maheśvara has three eyes and eight arms and that his body is 6000 yojanas in height; (iii) an apparitional body (nirmāṇakāya) that adapts its form [to beings] of the six destinies (gati), teaches them and converts beings in every way.

– In his Treatise on the nirvāṇa of the heretics, T 1640, p.157c (tr. Tucci, T’oung Pao, 1925–26,p. 25 sq.), Āryadeva says: The fruit is a result of Maheśvara; Brahmā is the cause; Maheśvara is but one nature of three parts: Brahmā, Nārāyaṇa (= Viṣṇu) and Maheśvara. The earth (pṛthivi) is his support. The god Maheśvara is the master of the earth. All animate and inanimate beings in the three worlds have come from the god Maheśvara. Maheśvara’s body has space (ākāśa) as its head, the waters (āpaḥ) as urine, the mountains (parvata) as excrement; all beings are the worms in his belly; the wind (vāyu) is his vital [breath]; fire (tejaḥ) is his warmth; sins and merits (āpattipuṇya) are his actions. These eight things comprise the body of Maheśvara. The god Maheśvara is the cause of production and destruction. Everything comes from the god Maheśvara and is destroyed by him: he is called nirvāṇa. This is why teachers of the school of Maheśvara say that the god Īśvara produces all things and is the cause of nirvāṇa.

– Ki tsang (549–623), of Parthian origin, in his commentary on the Śataśāstra, T 1827, k. 1, p. 244a, adopts these teachings: The beings of the six destinies, gods and terrestrial substances, are the body of the god Īśvara. This is why the god Īśvara manifests in all three bodies: body of Īśvara, body of Nārāyana and body of Brahmādeva. The body of the god Èśvara has eight parts: the ether is his head, the sun and moon are his eyes, etc. [as above].

– The Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, translated by Dharmarakṣema (385–433) which lasted a long time in Central Asia and Kaśmir, has a text important for the origins of Śaivism, T 374, k. 19, p. 476b: Actually, there is a great teacher called Kia lo kieou t’o kia tchen yen (Krakudha-Kātyāyana). He knows everything (sarvajñā), sees everything (savadṛś) and knows the three worlds. In one instant he could see innumerable infinite universes and so could his disciples (śrāvaka). He causes beings to eliminate their faults. Just as the Ganges purifies all sins whatever they may be, inner or outer, so this great kind teacher can efface the inner and outer sins of all beings. He teaches these disciples the following doctrine: If a person kills all beings and experiences no remorse (hrī), he will not fall into the evil [destinies]: he is like space (ākāśa) impermeable to dust and water. But those who experience remorse will enter into hell (naraka): they are like the great oceans that flood the earth. All beings are creatures of the god Èśvara. The god Èśvara is the joy and happiness of beings. He is angry with the sufferings of beings. Sins (āpatti) and merits (puṇya) of all beings are controlled by this Īśvara. How could one say that men are responsible for sin or merit? When a craftsman constructs a wooden robot, this robot walks, sits and lies down, alone it cannot speak. It is the same for beings: the god Īśvara is like the craftsman, beings are like the wooden robot.

Except for the eight arms, the description of Śiva given here by the Mppś corresponds to the epithets tryakṣa, trinetra, ṣaḍardhanayana “three-eyed god” [Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 219–220), Vṛṣavāhana ‘Seated on a bull’ [Bhavagiriśa, 1, 197, 21). On the other hand, it is rather far from the traditional iconographical type: The ascetic generally has four arms; the two upper hands hold a drum (ḍhakkā) and a deer (mṛga), the two lower arms make the gesture of generosity (varadahasta) and absence of fear (abhayahasta). As well as his two human eyes, he has a third eye in the forehead. As clothing, he wears only a tiger skin, and as a necklace, a live snake. On his high brahmanical head-dress he wears the crescent moon, a skull – the fifth head of Brahmā – and the siren of the Ganges (R. Grousset, Civilizations de l’Orient, II, L’Inde, Paris, 1930, p. 171–172; see also Mythologie asiatique illustré, Paris, 1928, p. 93–98).

– This traditional type of Śiva is decribed precisely in an anonymous undated text, the Che eul t’ien kong yi kouei (Dvādaśadevpūjākalpa?), T 1298, p. 386a: In the north-west, the god Īśana, also called Maheśvaradeva. He is seated on a yellowish bull (?) His right hand holds a kie po pei (kapāla, i.e., a skull) full of blood; his left and holds a san ki tch’ouang (triśula, or trident). The color of his body is light blue. His three eyes are blood-shot. He has two fangs sticking upward, and skulls as necklace (keyūra), on his head-dress, the crescent moon.

2) Viṣṇu.

See below, k. 8, p. 116a; k. 10, p. 128a and Hôbôgirin, Bichu, p. 76–68.

– His main hands hold the wheel (iron wheel with a thousand spokes, symbol of the sun); they give him the epithet Śaṅkhacakradhara (Mahābhārata, 3, 189, 40). For his physical aspect in the epic, Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 204–207; for his mount, the garuḍa, ibid., p. 108, 203. Illustrations, Mythologie asiatique illustré, p.103 sq.

3) Kumāra or Brahmā.

According to Ki tsang, in his commentary on the Madhyamakaśāstra, T 1824, k. 1, p. 14c, Kumāra means ‘young man’; this is none other than king Brahmā of the first dhyāna (cf. Kośa, III, p. 2–3), called thus because he has the aspect of a young man. He is also called Nārāyana, that is, the origin of beings.

– According to the Pi tsang ki cited in the Bukkyo daijiten, p. 310b, the god Kumāra has the form of a young man with six faces, yellow in color, holding a sword and seated on a peacock.

– In Brahmanism, this is the god Skanda (cf. Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 227–231). God of war, he is Sanatkumāra, ‘Ever youthful’, one of Brahmā’s sons (Mahābhārata, 12, 37, 12). In the eulogy to Śiva (ibid., 13, 14, v. 378), he appears beside Umā, seated on a peacock and holding a bell and a spear. His birth is told in the Mahābhārata, 9, 43–46. Nursed by the Kṛttikās (Pleiades), he developed six mouths in order to suckle them, hence his epithet of the six-faced god (ṣaḍānana, ṣaṇmukha).

We may ask why Nāgārjuna talks about three gods here, Maheśvara, Viṣṇu and Kumāra, whereas in the Madhyamakaśāstra (T 1564, k. 1, p. 1b) he mentions only the first two. The question has been asked by Li tsang in his commentaries on the Madhyamakaśāstra (T 1824, k. 1, p.14c) and Āryadeva’s Śataśāstra (T 1827, k. 1, p. 243c–244a). He answers in the following way: (i) The three gods of the heretics take the place for them of the three kāyas: Īśvara is the root, like the dharmakāya; Viṣṇu is the enjoyment, like the saṃbhogakāya; Brahmā is produced by emanation in Viṣṇu’s navel, and he is comparable to the nirmāṇakāya. But the Mahāprajñāparamitāśāstra teaches three bodies; this is why it mentions three gods. [This is a mistake; the Mppś teaches only two bodies; see Hôbôgirin, Busshin, p. 181]. The Madhyamaka and the Śataśāstra teach only two bodies, that of the law and that of enjoyment; this is why they mention only two gods. (ii) Brahmā is found in Viśṇu’s navel; there is no need to mention him separately.

The trinitarian notions implied by the Brahmanical trimūrti doctrine and the Buddhist theory of the trikāya mark the end of a long evolution. In both systems it appears that dualism probably preceded trinitarianism. The epics formulate the trimūrti only late in time and in a single passage: Mahābhārata, 3, 272, 47. The late epic poems present Viṣṇu and Śiva as two aspects of the same god; they do not try to establish a trinitarian theology (Cf. Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 231). Similarly in Buddhism, the Hīnayāna scriptures and many important Mahāyāna texts recognize only two bodies for the Buddha, the fleshly body born from father and mother, and the body of the law. The theories of the trikāya mark the end of a long evolution.

– Besides, the Brahmanical trimūrti is well known to the Buddhist masters; allusion is made to it, e.g., T 1640, p. 157c; T 1003, k, 2, p, 611; T 1796, k. 2, p. 595b.