Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “description of rishipatana or rishivadana (at benares)” 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 6 - Description of Ṛṣipatana or Ṛṣivadana (at Benares)

Ṛṣipatana or Ṛṣivadana, on the outskirts of Benares where the Deer Park (Mṛgadāva or Mṛgadāya) is located. It is there that all the Buddhas must give their first sermon (Sumaṅgala, II, p. 424) and the Buddha preached the Dharmacakrapravartanasūtra to the five monks (Vinaya, p. 8); it is one of the four great pilgrimage places, determined by the Buddha (Dīgha, II, p. 140).

In the texts there are various explanations of the terms Ṛṣipatana, ‘Fall of the Sages’.

i. According to Buddhaghosa (Manoratha, II, p. 180; Papañca, II, p. 188; Sārattha, III, p. 296), it is due to the fact that the ṛṣis (i.e., the Buddhas and Pratyekabuddhas) come down there (patana) to proclaim their Dharma and celebrate the uposatha (buddhapaccekabuddhasaṃkhātānaṃ isīnaṃ… ti attho).

ii. A legend has been invented to explain the term: Mahāvastu, I, p. 357:

“In a big forest half a yojana from Benares, there lived 500 pratyekabuddhas. They entered into parinirvāṇa after having each pronounced a stanza of the Khaggavisāṇasutta (Suttanipāta, v. 35–75). Rising up into the air, they changed into fire (tejodhātuṃ samāpadyitvā) and entered into full parinirvāṇa, In their own fire, their flesh and blood were consumed and their bodies fell to the ground.”

– Lalitavistara, p. 18–219:

“Near Benares, in the Mṛgadāva at Ṛṣiptana, five hundred pratyekabuddhas who lived there, having heard the voice [announcing the conception of the Bodhisattva], rose up into the sky to the height of seven tāl trees and, having attained the region of ‘fire like extinguished torches’, entered into full nirvāṇa. Whatever bile, phlegm, sinews, nerves, bones, flesh and blood they had disappeared, completely consumed by the fire; the pure relics (śarīrāṇi) alone fell to the ground. And because the ṛṣis fell there in this way, from that time on this place was given the name of Ṛṣipatana” (tr. Foucaux, p. 20).

The Lalitavistara precedes this legend with an identical story applied, not to 500 pratyekabuddhas, but to one single one, the pratyekabuddha Mātaṅga; Fa hien (tr. Legge, p. 94) reproduces the latter version of the legend which he locates, not at the moment of the Buddha’s conception, but seven days after his enlightenment.

– Finally, the parinirvāṇa of the 500 pratyekabuddhas and the fall of their bodies are also told in the Fo pen hing tsi king, T 190, k. 6, p. 677a (tr. Beal, Romantic Legend, p. 25–26). – Luders, Bhārhut u. d. buddh. Literatur, p. 41–44, has identified this story on a relief at Bhārhut (Cunningham, Bhārhut, pl. XLII, 5). But apart from the reading Ṛṣipatana, there is often the reading Ṛṣivadana, ‘Face of the Ṛṣi’, for which no explanation, even legendary, has yet been found. See Mahāvastu, I, p. 43, 161, etc.; Divyāvadāna, p. 393, 464.

In the Ṛṣipatana there was the Mṛgadāva ‘Deer Park’ or Mṛgadāya ‘Gift of the deer’, which Hiuan tsang described minutely in Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 7, p. 905b (tr. Beal, II, p. 45; Watters, II, p. 48); the precision of his information has been brought to light by the series Excavations at Sārnath published by Marshall and Konow in AR Arch. Surv, 1904–1905.

There is a legend explaining the name Mṛgadāva:

“Two deer-kings led a herd of 500 deer. One of these kings was the Bodhisattva. The king of the country wanted to go hunting, so the two deer-kings begged him on bended knees to be content with two deer daily which they would send him for his kitchen. The agreement was made, and it was the turn of a pregnant hind to go to her death. Filled with compassion for her, the Bodhisattva, in the form of one of the deer-kings, presented himself in her place at the palace. The king of the country, ashamed to be less generous than a deer, forbade hunting in his kingdom and gave this forest to the deer under the name ‘Deer Park’ ” (Chavannes).

This legend occurs with some variants in detail in Pāli Jātaka, I, p.145 sq.; Mahāvastu, I, p. 359–366; Lieou tou tsi king, T 152 (no. 18), k. 3, p. 12b13a (cf. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 68–71); Ta tchouang yen louen king, Y 201 (no. 69), k. 14, p. 338a–339a (tr. Huber, Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 411–416); Tsa p’i yu king, T 207 (no. 20), p. 527a (tr. Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 35–37); Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 7, p. 906a–b (tr. Beal, II, p. 50–51; Watters, II, p. 54–55).