Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “origin of the name ananda” 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 8 - Origin of the name Ānanda

Question. – What is the origin of the venerable Ānanda’s name? Is it of ancient origin (purāṇa)? Is it a name given to him by his parents? Does it rest on [good] reasons?

Answer. – This name is of ancient origin; it was also given to him by his parents and it rests on good reasons.

1. Why is this name of ancient origin?

a. In one of his earlier lives, the [present] Buddha Che kia wen (Śākyamuni) was a potter (kumbhakāra) called Ta kouang ming (Prabhāsa). At that time, there was a Buddha called Śākyamuni; his disciples were called Chö li fou (Śāriputra), Mou k’ien lien (Maudgalyāyana) and A nan (Ānanda).[1] The Buddha and his disciples went to the house of the potter to spend the night. On that occasion, the potter gave three things: a seat made of straw (tṛṇāsana), a lamp (dīpa) and honey syrup (madhumaireya) and he made a gift of them to the Buddha and the community of monks (bhikṣusaṃgha).[2] Then he made the following vow (praṇidhi): “Later, after five unfortunate generations of old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa), I will be Buddha. I will be called Śākyamuni like the present Buddha and my disciples will bear the names of the present disciples of the Buddha.” By virtue of this vow of the Buddha, [our hero] is named Ānanda.

b. Furthermore, from birth to birth, Ānanda had made the following vow: “Among the disciples of the Buddha, I will be the foremost of those who have heard much (bahuśrutānām agraḥ), by the name Ānanda.”

c. Finally, from birth to birth, by the virtue of patience (kṣāntipātamitā), Ānanda had expelled all hatred (dveṣa); this is why he was always reborn very beautiful (sundara). Because of this beauty which made all who saw him rejoice, his parents named him Ānanda which, in the language of the Ts’in, means ‘Joy’.

This was his name according to the old traditions.

2. Why did his parents give him the name Ānanda?

Once there was a king of the solar clan (āditagotra) named Che tseu kia (Siṃhahanu). This king had four sons: 1) Tsing fan (Śuddhodana), 2) Po fan (Śuklodana), 3) Hou fan (Droṇodana), 4) Kan lou wei (Amṛtārasa).[3]

King Śuddodana had two sons: 1) Fo, the Buddha, 2) Nant’o (Nanda).[4]

[83c] King Śuklodana had two sons: 1) Po t’i (Bhadrika), 2) Y’i cha (Tiṣya).

King Droṇodana had two sons: 1) T’i p’o ta to (Devadatta), 2) A nan (Ānanda).

King Amṛtadana had two sons: 1) Mo ho nan (Mahānāman), 2) A ni lou t’eou (Anirudda).

As for his daughter, Amṛtārasa, she had a son called Che p’o lo (Dānapāla).[5]

Then the bodhisattva Si ta t’o (Siddhārtha) grew up; renouncing the state of cakrvartin king, he went forth from home (pravrajita) in the middle of the night and went to the country of Ngeou leou pi lo (Uruvilvā) on the banks of the river Ni lien chan (Nairañjana) where he practiced asceticism (duṣkaracarya) for six years. But king Śuddhodana, who loved his son, regularly sent messengers to ask about him and bring back news of him: “Has my son attained the path? Is he sick? Is he dead?”[6] The messenger came back to tell the king: “The bodhisattva is nothing but skin, bones and sinews to hold it all together. He is very weak. Today or tomorrow will be the end of him.” The king experienced great sadness at these words; he plunged into the ocean of grief: “My son has renounced becoming a cakravartin king and now he will not succeed in becoming buddha. Is he then going to die without attaining anything?” The king grieved greatly.

But the bodhisattva, renouncing asceticism, partook of the milk soup (pāyasa) of a hundred flavors,[7] and his body recovered its strength. Having bathed in the waters of the Nairañjanā river, he went to the Bodhi tree, sat down on the diamond seat (vajrāsana) and proclaimed the following oath: “I will remain seated with crossed legs until I realize omniscience; until I have attained omniscience, I will not rise from this seat.”[8]

Then king Māra, at the head of a troop of eighteen koṭis of warriors, came to the Bodhisattva and tried to bring about his ruin. But by the power of his wisdom (prajñābala), the Bodhisattva destroyed Māra’s army. Māra retired, vanquished, and said to himself: “Since the Bodhisattva is invincible, I will torment his father.” He went to king Śuddhodana and said to him slyly: “Your son died today in the second part of the night (paścime yāme).”[9] At these words, the king was stunned and collapsed on his bed like a fish on hot sand.[10] Weeping miserably, he uttered this stanza:

Ajita lied [in his predictions],
The good omens are no longer verified.
My son had the propitious name Siddhartha
But none of these goals has been realized.

Then the deity of the Bodhi tree (bodhivṛkṣadevatā), Ta houan hi (Ānanda?) (also see notes on The deity of the Bodhi tree) by name, came to king Śuddhodana holding a celestial flower, and said the following stanza to him:

[84a] Your son has attained the Path,
He has scattered the army of Māra.
His brilliance is like the rising sun
He lights up the ten directions.

The king replied: “First a god came to tell me that my son was dead, and now you come to tell me that he has conquered Māra and attained the Path. These two pieces of news are contradictory; whom should I believe?”

The deity of the tree answered: “This is the truth (satya), it is not a lie (mṛṣāvāda). The god who previously came to tell you the lie that you son was dead was Māra; full of jealousy (īrṣyā), he came to make you grieve. Today all the devas and nāgas offer [your son] flowers (puṣpa) and perfumes (gandha); they are hanging silk cloths from the sky (ākāśa). Your son’s body emits a brilliant light that fills heaven and earth.”

At these words, the king was freed from all his sadness and said: “Although my son may have renounced becoming a cakravartin king, today he has become the king who will turn the wheel of the Dharma (dharmacakrapravartaka). He has surely attained great benefit and lost nothing.” The king’s mind experienced great joy (ānanda). At that moment a messenger arrived from the palace of king Droṇodana to say to king Śuddhodana: “Your noble brother has had a son.” The king’s mind felt great joy. He said: “This day is highly propitious; it is a day of joy”, Addressing the messenger, he said: “This child should be called Ānanda.”

That is why his parents called him Ānanda.

3. How does this name rest on good reasons?

Ānanda was handsome (abhirūpa) and graceful (rāsmadika) like a clear mirror (ādarśa). His body was pure. When women saw him, their passions (kāmacitta) were aroused;[11] this is why the Buddha ordered Ānanda to wear a covering over his shoulders (aṃsavastra).[12] As he gladdened the mind (citta) and the eyes (cakṣus) of all who saw him, he was called Ānanda, ‘Great Joy’.

On this subject, the Tsao louen tchö tsan (Śāstrakṛtstuti) says:

His face is like the full moon,
His eye like a blue lotus flower.
The water of the ocean of the Buddha’s Dharma
Flows in the mind of Ānanda.

He brings forth great joy
In the minds and to the eyes of those who see him.
Those who come to see the Buddha
He introduces without any flaw in ceremonial.[13]

Thus although Ānanda could have attained the state of arhat, he did not destroy the impurities in order [to continue] to serve and honor the Buddha. Because of these great qualities (guṇa) and although he himself was not aśaikṣa, he dwelt among the aśaikṣas; although he had not eliminated desire, he resided among those who had eliminated it (vītarāga). Also, since among the five thousand members of the assembly, he was not really an arhat, the text says that [all were arhats] except for Ānanda.

Footnotes and references:


According to the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 177, p. 892a, and the Kośa, IV, p. 228, the ancient Śākyamuni was the first Buddha whom the present Śākyamuni venerated. – At that time, the latter was a potter named Prabhāsa, cf. Kośavyākhyā, p. 432: Prabhāsanāmnā … pranidhānaṃ kṛtam. – The Mahāvastu, I, p. 47, also is aware of a buddha Śākyamuni who lived an infinite number of numberless kalpas ago, also from Kapilavastu, and who received the generosity of the present Śākyamuni, then a merchant (śreṣṭhin).


For more details, see k. 12, p. 150b: “The buddha Śākyamuni, then in his first production of the mind of enlightenment (prathamacittotpāda), was the king named Kouang ming (Prabhāsa); he was seeking buddhahood and practiced generosity. When he was reborn, he was the potter who gave some bath utensils and honey syrup to the buddha Śākyamuni and his disciples. Then, when he was reborn, he was the wife of a great śreṣṭhin who offered a lamp to the buddha Kiao tch’en jo (Kauṇḍinya). All of these are what is called the lesser gifts of the bodhisattva.”


Here the Mppś adopts the genealogy of the Mahāvastu I, p. 351.13, 355.19: Rājño Siṃhahanusya Śakyarājño catvāri putrā dārikā cā Śuddhodana Śuklodano Dhautodano Amṛtodano Amitā ca dārikā. – The Fo pen hing tsi king, T 190, k. 3, p. 676a gives the same information. – On the other hand, the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya (Ken pen chouo … p’. seng che, T 1450, k. 2, p. 195a; Rockhill, Life, p. 13, attributes four sons and four daughters to Siṃhahana: Śuddhodana, Śuklodana, Droṇodana, Amṛtodana, Śuddhā, Śuklā, Droṇā, Amṛtā. – According to the Singhalese chronicles (Dīpavaṃsa, III, 45, p. 29; Mahāvaṃsa, II, 20, p. 14), Sīhahanu had five sons and two daughters: Suddhodana, Dhotodana, Sakkodana, Sukkodana, Amitodana, Amitā, Pamitā. – The genealogy proposed by the Che eul yeou king, T 195, p. 146c requires the greatest stretch of the imagination.


Śuddhodana had two main wives: Māyā who gave birth to the Buddha and Mahāprajāpati who bore Nanda.


This genealogy is to be compared with that of the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya, T 1450, k. 2, p. 105a:
Śuddhodana had two sons: the Bhagavat and Nanda.
Śuklodana had two sons: Tiṣya and Bhadrika.
Droṇodana had two sons: Mahānāman and Aniruddha
Amṛtodana had two sons: Ānanda and Devadatta
Śuddha had one son: Suprabuddha
Śuklā had one son: Mallika
Droṇā had one son: Cheng li
Amṛtā had one son: Mahābala


From the Mahāvastu II, p. 207–209 and the Dulwa (Rockhill, Life, p.28–29, we know that Śuddodana sent messengers to his son every day to gather news about him.


This was offered to him by one or several maidens of the village of Senāpati or Senāni. Some texts mention only one maiden, Sujātā (Nidānakathā, p. 68; Dhammpadaṭṭha, I, p. 80; Mahāvastu, II, p. 203–206), or Nandabalā (Buddhacarita, XII, v. 109; T 189, k. 8, p. 639). – In other sources, the offering was made by two maidens, Nandā and Nandabalā (T 184, k. 2, p. 469c–470a; T 190, k. 25, p. 770c; Ken pen chou … p’o seng che, T 1450, k. 5, p. 121c; Rockhill, Life, p. 30; Divyāvadāna, p. 392). – In the Lalitavistara, p. 267 sq., Sujātā is accompanied by nine friends.


The words of this oath are given in many sources: Nidānakathā, p. 71: Kāmaṃ taco ca nahāru ca aṭṭhi … pallaṃkaṃ bhindissāmi. – Buddhacarita, XII, v. 120: Bhinadmi tāvas naitad… yāvat kṭrtakṛtatām. – Lalitavistara, p. 289: Ihāsane suṣyatu me śarīraṃ…. naivāsanāt kāyam ataś caliṣyate. – The oath is not mentioned in the Ariyapariyesanasutta, (Majjhima, I, p. 160–175) where Śākyamuni himself relates the efforts he made to attain enlightenment; on the other hand, we find them in the corresponding sūtra of the Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 204), k. 56, p. 777a12.


In the Mahāvastu, II, p. 207–209 and the Nidānakathā, p. 67. it is said that the messengers (or the gods) seeing the Bodhisattva deep in āsphānaka meditation and not breathing, thought that he was dead and announced his death to Śuddhodana. But the king refused to believe them. – The Mppś represents a different tradition here.


The same comparison in the Sanskrit Udānavarga p. 10, which compares the unfortunates to fish cooked in hot water (matsyā ivātīva vipacyamānāḥ).


When the palace women were invited by Prasenajit to choose a preacher amongst the eighty disciples of the Buddha, they unanimously chose Ānanda (Jātaka, I, p. 382).


We know that the Buddhist monks had their right shoulder uncovered. Cf. Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, II, p. 270, who takes as proof the Sūtrālaṃkāra, tr. Huber, p. 65–66.


Ānanda managed interviews with the Buddha and when necessary, sent away undesirable visitors. Cf. Malalasekera, I, p. 252.