Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “birth and the thirty-two marks (lakshana)” 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.

6. Birth and the thirty-two marks (lakṣaṇa)

At the end of ten months, with correct mind and without loss of mindfulness, the Bodhisattva left his mother’s womb, took seven steps and uttered these words: “This is my last birth” (paścima punarbhava). King Śuddhodana asked the experts in marks (lakṣaṇapratigrāhaka): “Look and see if my son has the thirty-two marks of the Great Man (dvātriṃśad mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇa). If he has these thirty-two marks, he will have two possibilities: if he stays at home (gṛhastha), he will be a cakravartin king; if he goes forth from home (pravrajita), he will be a Buddha.” The experts said: “The crown prince (kumāra) really does have the thirty-two marks of a Great Man; if he stays at home, he will be a cakravartin king; if he leaves home, he will be a Buddha.” The king asked: “What are the thirty-two marks?” The experts replied:

1. Supratiṣṭhapādataḥ. “The soles of his feet are well set down.” The soles of his feet are set down on the ground without a gap, not even a needle, could be inserted.

2. Adhastāt pādatalayoś cakre jāte sahasrāre sanābhike sanemike tryākāraparipūrṇe. “On the soles of his feet are two wheels with a thousand spokes, a hub and a rim and [90b] having three perfections.” He has obtained this mark spontaneously (svataḥ); it was not made by an artisan. The divine artists like Viśvakarman are not able to make such a perfect mark (lakṣaṇa).

Question. – Why could they not make it?

Answer. – Because these divine artisans such as Viśvakarman do not achieve the depth of wisdom (prajñā). This mark of the wheel is the reward for good actions (kuśalakarmavipaka). Although the divine artisans have obtained their knowledge [technique] as a reward of their life, this mark of the wheel comes from the practice of the roots of good (kuśalamūlacaryā) and wisdom (prajñā). The knowledge of a Viśvakarman is the result of one single existence, but this mark of the wheel comes from a wisdom extending over innumerable kalpas. This is why Viśvakarman could not make it and, still less, the other divine artisans.

3. Dīrghāṅguliḥ: “He has long fingers.” His fingers are slender and straight; their arrangement is harmonious and the joints are accentuated.

4. Āyatapādapārṣṇiḥ: “He has a broad heel.”

5. Jālāṅgulihastapādaḥ: “The digits of his hands and feet are webbed.” He is like the king of the swans (haṃsa): when he spreads his fingers, the webs show, when he does not spread his fingers, the webs do not show. (also see Appendix 7)

6. Mṛdutaruṇapāṇipādaḥ: “His hands and feet are soft and delicate.” Like fine cotton cloth (sūkṣmaṃ karpāsakambalam), these members surpass the other parts of his body.

7. Utsaṅgacaraṇaḥ: “He has a prominent instep.” When he treads on the ground, his foot neither widens nor retracts.

The soles of his feet (pādatala) are like a red lotus (padma) in color; between the toes there is a membrane; the ends of his feet are the color of real coral (pravāda); the toenails (nakha) have the color of polished red copper (tāmra); the upper side of his feet are golden in color (suvarṇavarna) and the hairs (roma) covering it are the azure of lapis-lazuli (vaidūrya). These colors are marvelous; one would say an assortment of jewels, a varicolored necklace.

8. Aiṇeyajaṅgaḥ: “He has the limbs of an antelope.” His legs taper gradually (anupūratanuka) as in Aiṇeya, the king of the antelopes (mṛgarāja).

9. Sthitānavanatājānupralambabāhuḥ: “Standing upright without bending over, his arms reach down to his knees.” Without bending or straightening up again, he can touch his knees with the palms [of his hands].

10. Kośagatavastiguhyaḥ: “The secret part of his abdomen is concealed within a sheath” as in an elephant of good birth or a high-bred horse (tadyathā varagotra ājāneya hasty, ājāneyo vāśvaḥ).

Question. – Then why did his disciples see his secret parts when the Bodhisattva attained supreme complete enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi)?

Answer. – He showed them his sexual organs to save beings and dissipate the doubts of the crowd. Besides, according to some, the Buddha manifested (nirmimīte) an elephant or a well-bred horse and said to his disciples: “My sexual organs are like that.” (also see Appendix 8)

11. [Nyagrodha] parimaṇḍalaḥ: Like the nyagrodha tree, the Buddha’s body is rounded and is of the same size on all four sides.

12. Ūrdhvāgraromaḥ: “His hair rises up.” On his body his hair curls upwards (tasya kāye keśaromāṇi ātāny ūrdhvam ākuñcitāni).

13. Ekaikaromaḥ: From each of his pores there arises a single hair (tasyaikaromakūpebhya ekaikāni romāṇi jātāni); his hairs are not disarranged (avikṣiptāni); they are blue-black (nīlāni), of the color of lapis-lazuli (vaidūrya), curved to the right (pradakṣiṇāvartāni) and standing up (ūrdhvāgrāṇi).

14. Suvarṇavarṇaḥ: “He is golden in color.”

Question. – What is this golden color?

Answer. – Placed beside gold (suvarṇa), iron (ayas) has no brilliance. The gold of today compared to the gold of the time of a Buddha has no brilliance. The gold of the time of a Buddha compared to the gold of the river Jambū (jambūnadasuvarṇa) has no brilliance. The gold of the river Jambū compared with the golden sand of the great ocean (mahāsamudra), on the path of a cakravartin king has no [90c] brilliance. The golden sand compared with the golden mountain has no brilliance. The golden mountain compared with Sumeru has no brilliance.

The gold of Mount Sumeru compared with the gold of the Trāyastrimśa gods’ necklaces (keyūra) has no brilliance. The gold of the Trayastriṃśa gods’ necklaces compared with the gold of the Yāma gods has no brilliance. The gold of the Yāma gods compared with the gold of the Tuṣita gods has no brilliance. The gold of the Tuṣita gods compared with the gold of the Nirmāṇarati gods has no brilliance. The gold of the Nirmāṇarati gods compared with the gold of the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods has no brilliance. The gold of the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods compared with the gold of the Bodhisattva’s body has no brilliance. Such is this mark of the golden color.

15. Vyāmaprabhaḥ: “He has an aura the breadth of an armspan.” He has an aura the breath of an armspan (vyāma) on all four sides. In the center of this aura the Buddha has supreme beauty; his splendor is equal to that of the king of the gods (devarāja).[1]

16. Sūkṣmacchaviḥ: “He has fine skin.” Dust does not adhere to his body (rajo ’sya kāye nāvatiṣṭhati); he is like the lotus leaf (utpala) that holds neither dust nor water. When the Bodhisattva climbs a mountain of dry earth, the earth does not stick to his feet. When the wind blows up a storm to destroy the mountain which becomes dispersed as dust, not a single dust grain sticks to the Buddha’s body.

17. Saptotsadaḥ: “The seven parts of his body are well-developed.” Seven parts of the body: the two hands (hasta), the two feet (pāda), the two shoulders (aṃsa) and the nape of his neck (grīvā) are rounded, of fine color and surpass all other bodies.

18. Citāntarāṃsaḥ: “The bottom of his armpits are well-developed.” They are without bumps or hollows.

19. Siṃhapūrvārdhakāyaḥ: The front part of his body is like that of a lion.”

20. Bṛhadṛjukāyaḥ: “His body is broad and straight.” Of all men, his body is the broadest and the straightest.

21. Susaṃvṛttasaskandaḥ: “His shoulders are completely rounded.” He has no peer amongst those who straighten their shoulders.

22. Catvāriṃśaddantaḥ: “He has forty teeth”, neither more nor less. Other men have thirty-two teeth; their body consists of more than three hundred bones (asthi) and the bones of their skull (śīrṣakāsthi) are nine in number.[2] The Bodhisattva has forty teeth and his skull is a single bone. In him, the teeth are numerous but the bones of the skull are few; among other men, the teeth are few but the skull bones are numerous. This is how the Bodhisattva differs from other men.

23. Aviraladantaḥ: “His teeth are closely spaced.” No coarse (sthūla) or fine (sūkṣma) material can get in between his teeth. People who do not know the secret mark of his teeth say that he has but one single tooth. One could not introduce a single hair (roman) between them.

24. Śukladantaḥ: “His teeth are white”; they surpass the brightness of king Himavat.

25. Siṃhahanuḥ: “He has the jaw of a lion.” Like a lion, king of the beasts, his jaw is straight (sama) and broad (vipula). [91a]

26. Rasarasāgraprāptaḥ: “He has the best of all tastes.” Some say: When the Buddha puts food into his mouth (mukha), all foods take on an exquisite flavor (rasāgra). Why? Because in all these foods there is the essence of exquisite flavor. People who do not possess this [26th] mark cannot give off this essence and as a consequence do not have this exquisite taste. – Others say: When the Buddha takes food and puts it in his mouth, the ends of his throat (gala) secrete ambrosia (amṛta) which concentrates all flavors (rasa).[3] As this food is pure, we say that he possesses the best of all tastes (rasānāṃ rasāgraḥ).

27. Prabhūtajihvaḥ. “He has a broad tongue”. When the Buddha sticks his great tongue out of his mouth, it covers all the parts of his face up to the top of his hair (sarvaṃ mukhamaṇḍalam avacchādayati keśaparyantam). But when he puts it back in, his mouth is not filled up.

28. Brahmasvaraḥ. “He has the voice of Brahmā.”[4] Five kinds of sounds come from the mouth of Brahmā, king of the gods: i) deep as thunder; ii) pure and clear, able to heard from afar and delighting the listeners; iii) penetrating and inspiring respect; iv) truthful and easy to understand; v) never tiring the listeners. These are also the five intonations from the mouth of the Bodhisattva. – [Other marks] “He has the voice of a sparrow (kalaviṅkabhāṇin)”: his voice is pleasant (manojña) like the song of the kalaviṅka bird.

“He has the voice of a drum (dundubhisvara)”: his voice is deep and powerful like that of a great drum.

29. Abhinīlanetraḥ: “His eyes are deep blue” like a beautiful blue lotus (nīlotpala).

30. Gopakṣmanetraḥ: “His eyelashes are like those of an ox.” Like the king of the oxen, his eyelashes are long (dīrgha), beautiful (abhirūpa) and well-arranged (avikṣipta).

31. Uṣṇīṣaśīrṣaḥ: “His head is crowned with a protuberance.” The Bodhisattva has a bony chignon like a fist on his head.[5]

32. Ūrṇā: “He has a tuft of white hairs.” A tuft of white hair grows between his eyebrows (ūrṇā cāsya bhruvor madhye jātā), neither too high nor too low. It is white (śvetā), whorled to the right (pradakṣiṇāvartā), growing easily and at the height of five feet.[6]

The experts in marks added: “In earth and heaven, the youg prince (kumāra) possesses the thirty-two marks of the Great Man (mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇa) which all Bodhisattvas possess.”

Question. – The cakravartin king also possesses these thirty-two marks. In what way are those of the Bodhisattva different?

Answer. – The marks of the Bodhisattva prevail over those of the cakravartin king in seven ways: they are i) very pure, ii) very distinct (vibhakta), iii) ineffaceable, iv) perfect, v) deeply marked, vi) conforming with the practice of wisdom (prajñācaryānusārin) and not conforming to the world (lokānusārin); vii) lasting (deśastha). The marks of a cakravartin king do not have these qualities.

Question. – Why are they called marks (lakṣaṇa)?

Answer. – Because they are easy to recognize. Thus water, which is different from fire, is recognized by its marks.

Why does the Bodhisattva have thirty-two marks, neither more nor less?[7]

Some say: The Buddha whose body is adorned (alaṃkṛta) with the thirty-two marks is beautiful (abhirūpa) and well-arranged (avikṣipta). If he had less than thirty-two marks his body would be ugly; if he had more than thirty-two marks he would be untidy. Thanks to the thirty-two marks, he is beautiful and well-arranged. Their number cannot be increased or decreased. The bodily marks [91b] are like the other attributes of the Buddha (buddhadharma) which cannot be increased or decreased.

Question. – Why does the Bodhisattva adorn his body with marks?

Answer. – 1. Some people have attained purity of faith (śraddhāviśuddhi) by seeing the bodily marks of the Buddha.[8] This is why he adorns his body with marks.

2. Furthermore, the Buddhas triumph (abhibhavanti) in every way: they triumph by means of their physical beauty (kāyarūpa), power (prabhāva), clan (gotra), family (jāti), wisdom (prajñā), dhyāna, deliverance (vimukti), etc. But if the Buddhas did not adorn themselves with marks, these superiorities would not be as numerous.

3. Finally, some say that supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi) resides in the body of the Buddhas but that if the corporeal marks did not adorn their body anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi would not reside in them. Thus when a man wishes to marry a noble maiden, the latter sends a messenger to him to say: “If you wish to marry me, you must first decorate your house, remove the filth and the bad smells. You must place in it beds, covers, linen, curtains, drapes, wall-coverings and perfumes so as to decorate it. Only after that will I enter your house.” In the same way, anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi sends wisdom (prajñā) to the Bodhisattva to say to him: “If you want to attain me, first cultivate the marvelous marks and adorn your body with them. Only after that will I reside in you. If they do not adorn your body, I will not reside in you.” (also see Appendix 9: mother of the Buddhas) This is why the Bodhisattva cultivates the thirty-two marks and adorns his body with them, to attain anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi.

Footnotes and references:


This mark constitutes the usual brilliance (prakṛtiprabhā) of the Buddha. In the phantasmagoria of the Prajñās, the Buddha first emits rays from all parts of his body, then from all the pores of his skin; then only finally does he manifest his usual brilliance, an armspan in width, to make himself known to the spectators; see below, k. 8, p. 114c.


The Mppś departs here from the facts of the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 177, p. 888c: Other men have only 32 teeth and their body contains 103 bones; the Buddha has 40 teeth; how can it be said that his body contains only 103 bones and not more? Among other men, the bones of the skull are nine in number, whereas in the Bhagavat the skull is only one piece. This is why the Buddha also has 103 bones.

The Buddha’s teeth are relics highly sought after: cf. Hôbôgirin, Butsuge, p. 204.


According to T 261, k. 4, p. 883, everything that the Tathāgata consumes, drinks, solid food, fish, is transformed into ambrosia in contact with his four canine teeth.


For these five, eight ten and sixteen qualities of the voice of Brahmā, cf. Hôbôgirin, Bonnon, p. 133–134.


For this mark. see Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, II, p. 289–300; A. K. Coomaraswamy, The Buddha’s cūdā, hair, uṣṇiṣā and crown, JRAS, 1928, p. 815–840; J. N. Banerjea, Uṣṇīṣaśiraskatā in the early Buddhist images of India, IHQ, VII, 1931, p. 499–514.


For the ūrṇā, see Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, II, p. 288–289.


See the reply of Pārśva to this question in the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 177, p. 889a.


This was the case notably for Ambaṭṭha, Brahmāyu and Sela. See above.