Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “offering of the future shakyamuni to the buddha dipamkara” 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.

Appendix 2 - The offering of the future Śākyamuni to the Buddha Dīpaṃkara

Note: this appendix is extracted from Chapter VIII part 4.2:

The second asaṃkhyeya (of Buddha Śākyamuni) 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.”

This legend is one of the oldest in Buddhism: A young student (brahmacarin) or novice (māṇava) named Sumedha, Megha or Sumati, according to various sources, bought from a maiden five of the seven blue lotus flowers which she had. He threw them as an offering to the Buddha Dīpaṃkara who was passing by, and the lotuses remained suspended in the air around the Buddha’s head. Converted by this miracle, the young man then laid out on the muddy ground the antelope skin which served as his garment and spread out his long hair as a mat; prostrating thus, he pronounced the solemn vow that he would also become Buddha. Then Dīpaṃkara predicted that he would one day become Buddha under the name Śākyamuni.

This legend is attested by a large number of sources. Here are some of the main ones:

Pāli: Nidānakathā, p. 2–14 (tr. Rh. D., Buddhist Birth Stories, p. 3–31); Dhammapadaṭṭha, I, p. 83–84 (tr. Burlingame, Legends, I, p. 193–194); Buddhavaṃsa, p. 6–18 (tr. Law, p. 8–22); Suttanipāta comm., I, p. 49.

Sanskrit: Mahāvastu, I, p. 232–243; Divyāvadāna, p. 246–252 (tr. H. Zimmer, Karman, ein buddhistischer Legendkranz, München, 1925, p.42–60).

Tibetan: Mar me mdszad kyis luṅ bstan pa = Dīpaṃkaravyākarana, Mdo XV, no. 8 Cf. Csoma-Feer, p. 258: OKC, no.855, p. 330. Translated in Feer, Extraits, p. 305–321.

Chinese: The legend is found in the Āgamas: Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 11, p. 597a–599c. It is also found in most of the Chinese biographies of Śākyamuni, e.g., Lieou tou tsi king, T 152 (no. 86), k. 8, p. 47c–48b (tr. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 316–321). – A very detailed story in the Dharmagupta Vinaya, Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 31, p. 785a (summarized in Chavannes, Contes, IV, p. 134).

Iconography: Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, I, p. 273–279; E. Waldschmidt, Gandhāra, Kutscha, Turfan, Leipzig, 1925, pl. 52; Chavannes, Mission archéologique dans la Chine septentrionale, pl. 284; Ecke-Demiéville, Twin Pagodas of Zayton, Harvard, 1935, pl. 32, no. 2.

The offering of the future Śākyamuni to the Buddha Dīpaṃkara took place in Nagarahāra, a city of the Lampaka, corresponding to the present Jelal-Ābād. The place was visited by Fa hien (tr. Legge, p. 38) and by Hiuan tsang, T 2087, k. 2, p. 878c (tr. Beal, I, p. 92; Watters, I, p. 183).

Naturally, there are some differences among the various versions of the legend. We will note only that the Pāli sources ignore the meeting with the maiden, whereas the Mahāvastu says nothing about the hair which the Bodhisattva stretched out on the mud. On the other hand, the two episodes are told in the Divyāvadāna which, having its exact parallel in the Chinese Ekottarāgama, seems to be one of the oldest sources.