Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “actions producing the thirty-two marks (dvatrimshallakshana)” 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.

2. Actions producing the thirty-two marks (dvātriṃśallakṣaṇa)

They also say that he is called bodhisattva starting from the moment when he has accomplished the actions producing the thirty-two marks (dvātriṃśallakṣaṇakarman).[1]

Question. – When does he accomplish the actions producing the thirty-two marks?

Answer. – After the three incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa).[2]

Question. – How long is an asaṃkhyeya?

Answer. – An asaṃkhyeya is a number so great that divine or human calculators cannot comprehend it.[3]


        1 + 1                       = 2
        2 x 2                       = 4
        3 x 3                       = 9
        10 x 10                   = 100
        10 x 100 = 1,000
        10 x 1,000              = 10,000
        1,000 x 10,000       = 10,000,000 or one koṭi
10 million koṭis = one nayuta
10 million nayutas = one bimbara
10 million bimbaras = one gata

Beyond the gata is the asaṃkhyeya.

This is how the asaṃkhyeya is calculated. When one has passed over the first asaṃkhyeya, one passes through the second; when one has passed through the second, one passes through the third. According to the rules of arithmetic (gaṇanā), one counts from one to a hundred and when the hundred is finished, one returns to one. In the same way, after one asaṃkhyeya, the bodhisattva returns to one.

During the first asaṃkhyeya, the bodhisattva does not know if he will become a Buddha or not. – During the second asaṃkhyeya, he knows that he will be Buddha but does not dare to proclaim: “I shall be Buddha.” – During the third asaṃkhyeya, he knows confidently that he will be Buddha and he dares to proclaim fearlessly (bhaya): “Later I shall be Buddha.”[4]

For Buddha Śākyamuni, the first asaṃkhyeya goes from the ancient Buddha Śākyamuni to the Buddha La na che k’i (Ratnaśikhin).[5] From that time on, the Bodhisattva was free of all female births. – The second asaṃkhyeya goes from the Buddha Ratnaśikhin to the Buddha Jan tang (Dīpaṃkara). That was when the Bodhisattva offered seven blue lotus blossoms (nīlotpala) to the Buddha Dīpaṃkara, laid out his garment of antelope skin (ajinavāsa) and spread out his hair (keśa) to cover the mud (kardama). On that occasion, the Buddha Dīpaṃkara made the prediction: “Later you will be Buddha under the name Śākyamuni.” (see Appendix 2) – The third asaṃkhyeya goes from the Buddha Dīpaṃkara to the Buddha P’i p’o che (Vipaśyin). – After these three asaṃkhyeyakalpas, the Bodhisattva accomplishes the actions producing the thirty-two marks.[6]

Question. – In what place are the actions producing the thirty-two marks accomplished?

Answer. – In the realm of desire (kāmadhātu) and not in the form realm (rūpadhātu) or in the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu). Of the five destinies (gati) of the desire realm, they are accomplished in the human destiny (manuṣyagati). Of the four continents (caturdvīpaka), they are accomplished in Jambudvīpa. The Bodhisattva accomplished them as a male (pumān) and not as a female. He accomplished them in the epoch in which the Buddhas appear, not in an epoch when there are no Buddhas. He accomplished them with the view of Buddhahood and not with any other goal.[7]

Question. – Are the actions producing the thirty-two marks bodily actions (kāyakarman), vocal actions (vākkarman) or mental actions (manaskarman)?

Answer. – They are mental actions and not bodily or vocal actions. Why? Because mental action alone is profitable.[8]

Question. – Mental action (manaskarman) concerns the six consciousnesses (vijñāna). Are the actions producing the thirty-two marks accomplished by the mental consciousness (manovijñāna) or by the other five consciousnesses?

Answer. – They are accomplished by the mental consciousness and not by the other five consciousnesses. Why? Because the five consciousnesses are incapable of discernment (vikalpa). This is why they are accomplished by the mental consciousness.[9]

Question. – Which mark is set in place first?

[87b] Answer. – According to some, it is the mark that consists of having the feet well set (supratiṣṭhitapāda), because first it is necessary to be well established in order that the other marks be fixed. According to others, the mark fixed first is that which consists of having deeply set black eyes (abhinīlanetra), for it is with an eye of this kind that the One with great loving-kindness (mahāmaitra) looks upon beings. These two opinions, whatever may be said about them, are incorrect: When the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) of the marks are gathered, there is a first realization [for all the marks together]; so how could the feet well planted be the first?

Question. – Are the actions accomplished by one volition (cetanā) or by several volitions?

Answer. – Thirty-two different volitions accomplish the thirty-two marks by reason of one volition for each mark. But each mark taken separately, is adorned (alaṃkṛta) with a hundred merits (puṇya).[10]

Question. – What is the extent of each of these merits?[11]

Answer. – According to some, each merit is equivalent to that which assures the cakravartin king power over the four continents (caturdvīpaka). A hundred merits of this kind would realize one single mark.

According to others, each merit is equivalent to that which gives Che t’i houan yin (Śakradevendra) mastery (vaśitā) over two classes of gods.[12]

According to others, each merit is equivalent to that which gives the king of the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods the power over the world of desire (kāmadhātu).[13]

According to others, each merit is equivalent to the merit that has as its fruit the enjoyment of all beings with the exception of the bodhisattva close to bodhi (saṃnikṛṣṭabodhisattva).

According to others, each merit is equivalent to the collective merit of all the beings of earth and heaven at the end of a kalpa, merit which has as its retribution the formation of a trichiliomegachiliocosm (trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu).

According to others, this merit is immeasurable (aprameya), incomparable (anupama) and unknowable (ajñeya). It is equivalent to that which one person would gain by caring for and healing all the beings of a trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu in the case where these would all be blind (andha) and without eyes; or where they had all been poisoned and he took care of them and cured them; or where they were about to die and he was able to save them and deliver them; or where they had all lost their discipline (śīla) and he was able to teach them and bring them back to pure discipline (viṣuddhiśīla) and right view. All of that would be equivalent to only one single merit [producing the marks].

According to yet others, this merit is immeasurable (aprameya) and incomparable (anupama). When the Bodhisattva has entered the third asaṃkhyeya, his mind (citta) and his volition (cetanā) have a great activity; he accomplishes the actions producing the thirty-two marks. This is why his merits are immense and only the Buddha can know them.

Question. – During how long a time does the Bodhisattva accomplish the [actions producing] the thirty-two marks?

Answer. – During a hundred kalpas if he goes slowly, during ninety-one kalpas if he goes quickly. The Bodhisattva Śākyamuni realized the thirty-two marks in ninety-one kalpas.

[The Bodhisattva Śākyamuni and the Buddha Puṣya]

Question. – The Bodhisattva Śākyamuni, intelligent (medhāvin) and well-learned, was capable of composing all sorts of marvelous stanzas. Why then does he praise the Buddha with one single stanza for seven days and seven nights?

Answer. – The Bodhisattva Śākyamuni valued his mental intentions and valued the fact of not chattering. If he had praised the Buddha with still more stanzas, his mind would now and then have been distracted (vikṣiptacitta). This is why he praised the Buddha with the same stanza for seven days and seven nights,

Question. – Why was the Bodhisattva Śākyamuni’s mind impure whereas that of his disciples was pure? Why was the mind of the Bodhisattva Maitreya impure whereas that of his disciples was pure?

Answer. – The Bodhisattva Śākyamuni was totally preoccupied with the good of beings (sattvahita) and but little with himself, whereas the Bodhisattva Maitreya preoccupied himself much with his own person and little with other beings.

During the ninety-one kalpas from the Buddha P’i p’o che (Vipaṣyin) to the Buddha Kia chö (Kāśyapa), the Bodhisattva [Śākyamuni] accomplished the actions producing the thirty-two marks and, when he had accumulated (upacita) them, his six virtues (pāramitā) were perfected (paripūrṇa).

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Kośa, IV,, p. 220: Bodhisattvo kuto? – Yāvat lakṣaṇakarmakṛd yathaḥ.


The career of the bodhisattva in all these sources is three asaṃkhyeyakalpas plus one hundred supplementary kalpas. – The Pāli sources generally count four asaṃkhyeyas and a hundred thousand kalpas: Cariyāpiṭaka, I, v. 1; Jātaka, I, p. 2; Visuddhimagga, I, p. 302. – The Mahāyāna hesitates between three, seven and thirty-three asaṃkhyeyas, which it connects with the progress of the bodhisattva before and during his stay in the bhūmis: Madh. vṛtti, p. 431; Saṃgraha, p. 209–211; Siddhi, p. 731–733; Āloka, p. 988.


For the method or methods of calculating the asaṃkhyeya, see the plentiful but confused notes of de La Vallée Poussin in Kośa, III, p. 188; IV, p. 224. Four ways of calculating are explained in the Mahāvyutpatti; the first two (chap. 246 and 247) are taken from the Buddhāvataṃsaka, T 278. k. 29, p. 586; T 279, k. 45, p. 237; and in Sanskrit in the edition of the Gaṇdavyūha of D. T. Suzuki, Kyoto, 1934, I, p. 133. – The third computation (Mahāvyut., chap. 248) is taken from Lalitavistara (ed. Lefmann, p. 147–148). – The fourth (chap. 149) is taken from the Kośa, III, p. 190; it also occurs in Bu ston, I, p. 120–121.

The numbers used in southern Buddhism have been studied by W. Kiefel, Kosmographie des Inder, p. 336.

Below at k. 5, p. 94b–c, the Mppś will give an extract from the Acintyasūtra ( = Gaṇdavyūha) containing a long list of numbers increasing each time by one zero starting from ten.


Passage taken from the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 176, p. 886c.


During the first asaṃkhyeya, Śākyamuni venerated 75,000 Buddhas; during the second, 76,000, during the third, 77,000. The Buddhas venerated at the end of these three asaṃkyeyas were, respectively, Ratnaśikhin, Dīpaṃkara and Vipaśyin. Cf. Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 178, p. 892c; Kośa, IV, p. 227; Saṃghabhadra, T 1562, k. 44, p. 391b.


The Bodhisattva accomplishes these actions in the course of the hundred cosmic ages that follow the three asaṃkhyeyas: Kośa, IV, p. 224; Saṃghabhdra, T 1562, k. 44, p. 590c. But these hundred kalpas are often neglected and then it is said that the state of Buddhahood is attained at the end of three asaṃkhyeyas.


Same details in the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 177, p. 887c; Kośa, IV, p.223–224; Saṃghabhadra, T 1562, k. 44, p. 590c.


Cf. Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 177, p. 887b: What is the nature (svabhāva) of the actions producing the marks? Are they actions of body, speech or mind? – They have the nature of these three actions, but mental action is the main one (adhipati). Some say that they are only mental actions and not bodily or vocal. Why? Because mental action is sharp (tīkṣṇa), whereas bodily and vocal actions are dull (mṛdu). Do the actions that produce the marks belong to the sphere of the manas or to the five consciousnesses (vijñāna)? – They belong to the sphere of the manas and not to the five consciousnesses. Why? Because mental action is endowed with concept (vikalpa) and functions after examination (nirūpaṇā); on the contrary, the five consciousnesses are without concept and arise as a consequence of the manas-element (manodhātu).


Of the six consciousnesses, the mental consciousness alone is endowed with the two special vikalpas called examination (nirūpaṇā) and memory (anusmaraṇa); the other five consciousnesses (the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile consciousnesses) lack them. In other words, the visual consciousness knows blue, but it does not know “It is blue”. Only the mental consciousness is capable of this operation. Cf. Kośa, I, p. 60; Saṃgraha, p. 19.


The Kośavyākhyā (cited in Kośa, IV, p. 226) and Saṃghabhadra, T 1562, k. 44, p. 590c) count a hundred volitions and consequently a hundred merits for each mark to be realized.


There are several opinions on the extent or measure of each merit of the Bodhisattva: here the Mppś will mention seven: the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 177, p.889c sq.) mentions eleven; the Kośa (IV, p. 227) mentions only three; Saṃghabhadra (T 1562, k. 44, p. 591a) limits it to five.


Śakra commands two lower classes of gods of kāmadhātu: the Caturmahārājikas and the Trāyastriṃṣas (cf. Beal, Catena, p. 93).


The Paranirmitavaśavartins are the higher gods of kāmadhādtu; their leader, called Vaśavartin in Dīgha, I, p. 210; Mahāvastu, I, p. 263; II, p. 360, is none other than Māra (see below, k. 10, p. 134c; Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 123; Huber, Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 110).