Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the four ‘vilokanas’ and the entry into the womb” 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.

5. The four ‘vilokanas’ and the entry into the womb

Note: The sources are not in agreement on the number of the Bodhisattva’s vilokanas:

1. Four vilokanas: Examination of time (kāla), continent (dvīpa), country (deśa) and family (kula): Mahāvastu, I, p. 197; II, p. 1; Lalitavistara, p.. 19–20 (tr. Foucaux, p. 20–21).

2. Five vilokanas: examination of mother or parents is added (mātā-, janettīvilokana): Nidānakathā, p. 48–49; Dhammapaddaṭṭha, I, p. 84; Ken pen chouo … p’o seng, T 1450, k. 2, p. 106b–c (cf. Rockhill, Life, p. 15).

3. Eight vilokanas, adding to the previous five the examination of the period of gestation (āyu), the month of birth (māsa) and the date of leaving (nekkhamma): Milinda, p. 193.

When the Bodhisattva had taken birth in Tuṣita heaven, he examined the world of men in four ways: I) examination of time (kālavilokana), ii) examination of place (deśanavikolana), iii) examination of family (kulavilokana), iv) examination of mother (upapattisthāna).

What is the examination of time? There are eight periods in which Buddhas appear: When the human lifespan is 84,000, 70,000, 60,000, 50,000, 40,000, 30,000, 20,000 and 100 years.[1] The Bodhisattva says to himself: “The duration of the human lifespan is one hundred years; the time of appearance of the Buddha has arrived.” This is the examination of time.

What is the examination of place? The Buddhas are always born in Madhyadeśa, for it abounds in gold and silver, precious substances, foods, picturesque places, and its ground is pure.

What is examination of family? The Buddhas are born into two kinds of family, either the kṣatriyas or the brahmins, for the kṣatriyas have great power (prabhāva) whereas the brahmins have great wisdom (prajñā). It is there that the Buddhas are born according to the need of the times.

What is the examination of the mother? The bodhisattva asks himself who is the mother who will be able to bear a bodhisattva as strong as Nārāyaṇa.[2]

When this examination is finished, he determines that only the family of king Śuddhodana, residing in Kapilavastu in Madhyadeśa, is capable of conceiving the Bodhisattva. Having thought thus, he descends from Tuṣita heaven and enters the womb of his mother (mātṛkukṣi) without loss of his full-mindedness. [90a]

Question. – Why do all the Bodhisattvas in their last birth (paścima punarbhava) come from heaven and not from among men)?

Answer. – 1. Because they have climbed up to the supreme destiny (agragati) and, of the six destinies (gati), that of the gods is the highest.

2. Furthermore, coming from heaven, they possess all kinds of beauty (saundarya) and miracles (adbhuta) which they would not have at their disposal if they were to come from a human destiny.

3. Finally, because men venerate (satkurvanti) the gods.

Question. – All people have a disturbed mind (samalacitta) at the moment of reincarnation (pratisaṃdhi) when they enter the womb of their mother (mātṛkukṣi).[3] Why then is it said that the Bodhisattva has an undisturbed mind when he enters his mother’s womb?

Answer. – 1. According to some, at the moment of reincarnation (pratisaṃdhi), all beings have a disturbed mind (viparyastamati); but since the Bodhisattva has no loss of mindfulness (nāsti bodhisattvasya muṣitā smṛtiḥ), it is said that he enters his mother’s womb with an undisturbed mind. When he is in the intermediate existence (antarābhava), he knows that he is in the intermediate existence. – When he is in the stage of the Ko lo lo (kalala), he knows that he is in the kalala stage, i.e., when, seven days after conception, the semen and blood (śuraśoṇita) coagulate (saṃmūrchanti).[4] – When he is in the stage of the Ngo feou t’o (arbuda), he knows that he is in the stage of arbuda, i.e., two weeks after conception, he resembles an ulcer. – When he is in the stage of the K’ie na (ghana), he knows that he is in the ghana stage, i.e., three weeks after conception, he resembles frozen cream. – When he is in the stage of the Wou p’ao (peśin), he knows that he is in the peśin stage. – When he comes into the world, he knows that he comes into the world.[5] And so, as he has no loss of mindfulness (smṛtihāni), it is said that he enters his mother’s womb with correct mind.

2. Let us take another being [than the Bodhisattva] in the intermediate existence (antarābhava). If it is a male (pumān), he experiences a lustful mind (rāgacitta) for his mother (mātṛ) and says to himself: “This woman and I will make love”; on the other hand, he experiences hostility (pratigha) towards his father (pitṛ). If it is a female, she experiences a lustful thought for her father and says to herself: “This man and I will make love” and, on the other hand, she experiences hatred for her mother.[6] The Bodhisattva does not have these thoughts of aversion (pratigha) or of attraction (anunaya); he knows in advance who his mother and father are. He says: “This mother and father will nourish (poṣayati) my body. Being based (āśritya) on them, I will take birth and will attain supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi).” It is with this pure mind (viśuddhacitta) that he thinks of his parents and, at the moment of reincarnation (pratisaṃdhi), he enters into the womb (garbham avakramate). Consequently, it is said that he enters his mother’s womb (matṛkukṣi) with correct mind.

Footnotes and references:


According to the Dīgha, II, p. 2–7, the duration of the human lifespan was 80,000 years under Vipaśyin, 70,000 under Sikhin, 60,000 under Viśvabhū, 40,000 under Krakucchanda, 30,000 under Kanakamuni, 100 under Śākyamuni. See Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, II, p. 6. – These numbers are confirmed by various texts: Tch’an a han, T. 1, k. 1, p. 1; Ts’i fo king, T 2, p. 150; Ts’i fo fou mou sing tseu king, T 4, p. 159; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 45, p. 790 [under Vipaśyin, the human lifespan is 84,000 and not 80,000 years]; Tch’ou yao king, T 212, k. 2, p. 615c. – Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 135, p. 700c ad Kośa, III, p. 193, have established that the Buddhas appear during epochs of decrease of the lifespan, when the duration of life decreases from 84,000 to 100 years.


Nārāyāṇa is the one who has nārāyaṇabala, the strength of the seventh term of a series beginning with the elephant in which each term is ten times the preceding one. See P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 30, p. 155a; Kośa, VII, p. 73–74.


Cf. Saṃgraha, p. 55.


It is thanks to the vijñāna that the semen and blood coagulate to form the embryo. For this saṃmūrchana, see Saṃgraha, p. 13–14.


The Mppś does not enumerate the five embryonic stages in the traditional order: kalala, arbuda, peśin, ghana, praśakhā, which are found, e.g., in Saṃyutta, I, p. 206; Milinda, p. 125; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 4067–4071; Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 1300), k. 49, p. 337c; Kośa, II, p. 255; II, p. 58; IV, p. 119. – Here the Mppś omits the praśakhā stage which is also omitted in Milinda, p. 40 and Visuddhimagga, p. 236. – Some texts have eight embryonic stages; 1–5. kalala … praśakhā, 6. keśalomāvasthā (appearance of hair and nails), 7. indriyāvasthā (appearances of the senses), 8. vyañjanāvasthā (appearance of the organs). Cf. Kośa, III, p. 38, n. 1; Bukkho daijiten, p. 1420c.


These behaviors of the gandharva, the disincarnate being seeking a womb, are described in almost the same words in Kośa, III, p. 50–51.