Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “why the arhats surround the buddha” 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 6 - Why the arhats surround the Buddha

Question. – The arhats who have done what is needed to be done (kṛtakṛtya) should have no need to look for company. Why then are they always near the Buddha and not elsewhere, so that they save beings?

Answer. – 1. If all beings of the ten directions without exception should honor the Buddha, the arhats, from gratitude for the benefits they have received, should [82c] honor him doubly. How is that? These arhats have received immense qualities (apramāṇaguṇa) from the Buddha: knowledge (jñāna), destruction of the fetters (saṃyojanacheda), increase in the mind of faith (śraddhācittabahulīkāra). This is why these very virtuous arhats stay close to the Buddha, to taste the blissful taste of the qualities (guṇasukharasa), to venerate him (pūjayati), serve him (satkaroti) and recognize his benefits. Because they surround the Buddha, their buddha-qualities increase. – The Brahmakāyikadevas surround Brahmā devarāja, the Trāyastriṃśadevas surround Śakra devendra, the asuras surround their god Vaiśramaṇa, the minor kings surround the noble cakravartin king, the sick and the convalescents surround the great physician (mahāvaidya); in the same way, the arhats keep close to the Buddha and, because they surround him and venerate him, their buddha-qualities increase.

Question. – The arhats who have done what needed to be done (kṛtakṛtya) and assured their personal interest (anuprāptasvakārtha) have no need to listen to the Dharma. Then why is the Buddha accompanied by five thousand arhats when he preaches the Prajñāpāramitā?

Answer. – Although the arhats have done what needed to be done, the Buddha wants to put them to the proof with the doctrine of profound wisdom (gambhīraprajñā). Thus: “The Buddha said to Śāriputra:[1]

– In the Po lo yen king (Pārāyaṇa), in the question of A k’i t’o (Ajitapañhe), it is said (Suttanipāta, v. 1038):

There are all kinds of aspirants (śaikṣa)
And people who have experienced the truth (saṃkhyātadharma).
The doctrine practiced by these people,
I would like that you to tell it to me precisely.

First, what is an aspirant (śaikṣa) and what is a person who has experienced the truth (saṃkhyātadharma)?

But Śāriputra remained silent. Three times the Buddha asked him the same question, three times Śāriputra remained silent. Then, to prompt him to the right answer, the Buddha said to Śāriputra:

– That which arises (bhūtam idam)…

Śāriputra continued:

Bhagavat, that which arises… that which arises must also perish (yad bhūtaṃ tad nirodhadharman iti). He who practices the teaching of the arising [and the destruction] of the conditioned (saṃskṛta) is called śaikṣa. But the one who has found the teaching of the non-production of things (anutpādadharma) by means of wisdom is called Saṃkhyātadharma.

This sūtra has been cited at length here.

2. Furthermore, the arhats stay close to the Buddha and listen to his doctrine because those who have not yet attained the impure or pure dhyānas (sāsravānāsravasamādhi) wish to attain them, and those who have already attained them wish to deepen them.

3. Furthermore, [the arhats surround the Buddha] to enjoy the bliss of his presence (abhimukhatāsukha). Thus, in the Nan t’o kia king (Nandakasūtra),[2] it is said: “Just now I am listening to the Dharma.”

4. Furthermore, the arhats who stay close to the Buddha can never get their fill of listening to the Dharma. Thus in the P’i lou t’i kia king (Pilotikasūtra), Śāriputra says [83a] to Pilotika:[3] “In my Dharma, one never gets enough of listening to the doctrine.”

5. Furthermore, if the Buddha, the great teacher (mahāśāstṛ) himself listens attentively to the Dharma preached by his disciples, it is not necessary to ask why the arhats, quite perfect (kṛtkṛtya) though they may be, in turn listen to the Dharma [preached by the Buddha]. If a satiated person starts to eat again when he finds exquisite food, how could a famished man not eat it? This is why the arhats, although they have done what needed to be done (kṛtakṛtya), always stay close to the Buddha to hear the Dharma.

6. Finally, the Buddha as well as the arhats dwell (viharati) in the state of deliverance (vimuktidharma). Endowed with these dharmas of dwelling (vihāradharmasaṃprayukta), they are surrounded (parivṛṇvanti) and mutually adorned (alaṃkurvanti). Thus it is said in the Tchan t’an p’i yu king (Candanopamasūtra):[4]

“When there is a forest of candana (sandalwood), the eraṇḍas (Ricin) surround it; When there is a forest of eraṇḍas, the candanas surround it. If there are candanas, the candanas are considered to be the forest; if there are eraṇḍas, they serve as the entourage (parivāra).”[5] It is the same for the Buddha and the arhats. The Buddha abides (vihārati) in the good dharmas (kuśaladharma) and in deliverance (vimukti) and so do the arhats. Endowed with the dharmas of abiding (vihāradharmasamanvāgata), they surround and adorn one another mutually. The Buddha surrounds the great assembly (mahāsaṃgha) like Sumeru, king of the mountains, is surrounded by ten precious mountains, like the white king of the elephants in rut (pāṇḍaragandhahastin) is surrounded by white elephants in rut, like the king of the lions (siṃha) is surrounded by lions. In the same way the Buddha, a field of merit (lokānuttara), is surrounded and accompanied by his disciples.

Footnotes and references:


Extract from the Bhūtasutta of the Saṃyutta, II, p. 47 sq. (tr. Rh. D., Kindred Sayings, II, p. 36; tr. Geiger, II, p. 69 sq.); Chinese translation in Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 345), k. 14, p. 95b–c:

Ekaṃ samayaṃ Bhagavā Sāvatthiyaṃ vihārati… ayasmā Sāriputto tuṇhī ahosi.

The stanza from the Pārāyana explained in the sūtra is taken from the Suttanipāta, v. 1038. It is also cited in the Nettipakaraṇa, p. 17 and the Jātakas, IV, p. 266.


Probably this is the Nandakasutta of the Saṃyutta, V, p. 398–390; Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 833), k. 30, p. 213c–214a: Nandaka, a minister of the Licchavis, was listening to a sermon of the Buddha in the Kūtāgāraśālāpartisnat Vaiśālī when it was announced that his bath was ready. He answered: “Enough of outer baths! I will be content with this inner bath which is the goodness of the Blessed One” (alaṃ dāni etenaidaṃ Bhagavati pasādo).


The parivrājaka Pilotika was a declared supporter of the Buddha. He appears in the Cullahatthipadopamasutta: Majjhima, I, p. 175; Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 146), k. 36, p. 656a.


There is a Tchan t’an chou king (Candanasūtra), T 805, vol. XVII, p. 750, translated by an anonymous author during the eastern Han dynasty (25–220 AD) but the phrase cited here does not occur there.


An obscure comparison the intention of which is to show how the Buddha and the arhats, without distinction of rank, are gathered in the forest. Cf. Sūtrālaṃkāra, tr. Huber, p. 26: “In the thick forest, there are campakas and eraṇḍas growing; although as trees are of unequal height, they are equal as members of the forest. In the same way, among the monks, old or young, distinctions should not be made.”

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