Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why ananda is not an arhat” 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 7 - Why Ānanda is not an arhat

Sūtra: Except for Ānanda who, being on the level of the śaikṣas, was [just] a stream-enterer (ekapudgalaṃ sthāpayitvā yad utāyuṣmananta Ānandaṃ śaikṣaṃ srotaāpannam).

Śāstra: Question. – Why does it say ‘except for Ānanda’?

Answer. – Because Ānanda is not among the arhats whom we have just praised above. Why? He is of the rank of śaikṣa and has not yet eliminated desire (vītarāga).

Question. – The venerable Ānanda is the third patriarch (ācārya), head of the great assembly;[1] for numberless kalpas he planted the seeds of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇa bīja); he always stays near the Buddha; he is the keeper of the baskets of the Dharma (dharmapiṭakadhara). How is it that this venerable one, who ha with sharp faculties (tīksṇendriya), has been able to come so far without having eliminated desire and is not yet a śaikṣa?

Answer. – 1. The venerable Ānanda, from the beginning, had made the following vow: “I wish to be the foremost (agra) of those who have heard much (bahuśruta).”[2] [On the other hand], because of their buddha-dharmas, the arhats who have done what needed to be done (kṛtakṛtya) can no longer serve or venerate anyone. Having accomplished the ‘grand business’ in the Buddha- dharma, [namely] the destruction of the afflictions (kleśaprahāṇa), they remain seated with the Buddha on the palanquin of deliverance (vimuktikhatvā).

2. Furthermore, the sthavira Ānanda, who has listened, retained and meditated on all kinds of sūtras,[3] has vast wisdom (prajñā), whereas his concentration of mind (cittasaṃgraha) is average. Yet both of these qualities are necessary to obtain the state [of arhat which consists of] destruction of the impurities. This is why the sthavira Ānanda is [still] just a stream-enterer.

3. Furthermore, out of love for the Buddha’s service, Ānanda was his servant (upasthāyaka),[4] and he said to himself: “If I should attain the state that involves the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya) too soon, I would distance myself from the Buddha and I could no longer be his servant.” This is why Ānanda, [83b] who could have been an arhat, had decided not to take up this state.

4. Furthermore, [the conditions] of place, time and individuals not having come together, where and how could he have compiled the Dharma? The thousand arhats [who must constitute the Council] were not on the Gṛdhrakūtaparvata, the place fixed [for the Council]; the time of the Bhagavat’s death had not yet come, the sthavira P’o k’i tseu (Vṛjiputra) was not present. This is why the sthavira Ānanda does not destroy his impurities. In order that Ānanda be able to destroy them and [thus participate in the Council], three conditions were necessary: the Bhagavat must die, the assembly that is to be entrusted with compiling the Dharma must be assembled, and Vṛjiputra must address [to Ānanda] the official exhortations (dharmāvāda).[5]

5. Finally, the venerable Ānanda is in no way comparable to other men in his disgust (saṃvega) for the things of the world (lokadharma). From birth to birth, Ānanda is of royal lineage (rājamaṃśa);[6] his beauty (saundarya) is incomparable (anupama) and his merits (puṇya) are immense (apramāṇa). A close relative of the Bhagavat, he always accompanied the Buddha as servant (upasthāyaka). Inevitably he said to himself: “I am the Buddha’s servant, I know the precious baskets of Dharma (dharmapiṭaka). I am not afraid to let to let go of the destruction of the impurities (āsaravakṣaya) [when the time comes].” With this motivation, he was not in a hurry [to become an arhat].

Footnotes and references:


Before his death, Śākyamuni entrusted Kāśyapa to watch over his doctrine; later, Kāśyapa transmitted the Dharma to Ānanda. For these patriarchs, see Przyluski, Aśoka, chap. II, p. 44–53.


According to the Aṅguttara, I, p. 24, and the stories of the first Council (Przyluski, Concile, p. 39, 210, 225, 229). Ānanda became the foremost of those who have heard much.


The depository of the holy words, Ānanda received and retains the totality of the sūtras (cf. Przyluski, Concile, p. 39–40); according to the Theragathā, v. 1024, p.92, he had learned 82,000 dhammas from the Buddha and 2,000 from his colleagues.


We have seen above how Ānanda became the upasthāyaka of the Buddha.


It was because of these exhortations of Vṛjiputra (Vajjiputta) that, after the Buddha’s nirvāṇa, Ānanda made the efforts necessary to become arhat. See Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 54, p. 967a; Ken pen chouo… tsa che, T 1451, k. 39, p. 406a (cf. T. Rockhill, Life, p. 155); Kia chö kie king, T 2027, p. 6b; Legend of Aśoka in T 2042, k. 4, p. 113a; T 2043, k. 6, p. 151a. The stanza of exhortation addressed to Ānanda by Vṛjiputra is told in all these sources with some variations. The Pāli translation is known to us by stanza 119 of the Theragathā, p. 17 (tr. Rh. D., Brethren, p. 106):

Rukkhamūlagahanaṃ pasakkiya … kiṃ te biḷibiḷikā karissatīti. This stanza is also found in Saṃyutta, I, p. 199, where it is addressed to Ānanda by a forest deity. See also the Chinese versions of the Saṃyukta, T 99 (no. 1341), k. 50, p. 369c; T 100 (no. 361), k. 16, p. 491b.


According to the Apadāna, p. 53, in the course of his lifetimes, Ānanda was a king fifty-eight times: Aṭṭhapaññāsakkhatuñ ca cakkavatti… mahiyā kārayissati.

He actually appears as a king in a series pf Jātakas, the list of which may be found in Malalasekara, I, p. 267.