Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “resemblance of a city with the body (kaya)” 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 1 - Resemblance of a city with the body (kāya)

Note: the comparison between a body (kāya) and a city is drawn in chapter XI (sixth upamāna):

“In the śrāvaka texts, the body (kāya) is compared to a city...”

For example, Saṃyutta, IV, p.195–195 ( = Tsa a han, T 99, no. 1175, k.43, p. 315b–316a): Seyyathāpi bhikkhu rañño paccantimaṃ nagaram daḷhuddāpam … sammādiṭṭhiyā pe sammāsamādhissā ti.

[Imagine, O monk, a border city of some king, with solid foundations, with walls and solid towers, having six gates. There is a wise gate-keeper, careful and intelligent, who turns away certain visitors and allows others to enter. Having come from the east, a pair of express messengers speak to the gate-keeper: “Hey, man! Where is the lord of this city?” And the gate-keeper answers: “Gentlemen, he is in the square [within the city].” Then the pair of express messengers give the lord of the city a true message and then go back by the same road they came. Two other pairs of express messengers, coming from the west and the north, do the same.

I have given you, O monk, a parable and here is the meaning of it:

The city, O monk, signifies the body composed of the four great elements, resulting from a father and a mother, nourished by rice and whey, undergoing eternal wear and tear, erosion, dissolving and disintegrating.

The six gates, O monk, signify the six inner bases of consciousness (the eye organs, the ear organ, etc.).

The gate-keeper, O monk, signifies attentiveness.

The pair of express messengers, O monk, signify calmness and concentration,

The lord of the city, O monk, signifies consciousness.

The square in the inner city, O monk, signifies the four great elements, earth, water, fire and wind.

The true message, O monk, signifies nirvāṇa.

The road on which to depart, O monk, signifies the noble eight-fold Path, namely, right view and the rest, and right concentration.

The Buddha did not say any more about the lord of the city, but we know from Buddhaghosa (Sārattha, III, P. 60 sq.) that it is about a dissolute young prince whom the two messengers lead back to the right path.

- In the Tsa a han, p. 315, the parable is slightly different and the Pāli version has contaminated the interpretation, which follows: “Imagine there is a city in a border land, having well-constructed walls, solid gates and smooth roads. At the four gates of the city there are four guards; they are intelligent, wise, and know those who enter and those who depart. In this city there is a courtyard where the lord of the city is seated. When the messenger from the east arrives, he asks the guard where the lord of the city is, and the guard answers: “The lord is inside the city sitting in the courtyard.” Then this messenger goes to the lord of the city, gets his orders and returns by the same road. The messengers from the south, west and north do the same and each returns to their place of departure.

The Buddha says to the monk: I have told you a parable, now I will explain its meaning: The city is the person’s body, coarse matter… the well-constructed walls are the right views (samyagdṛṣṭi). The smooth roads are the six inner bases of consciousness (ādhyātmika ṣaḍāyatana). The four gates are the four abodes of consciousness (vijñānasthiti). The four guards are the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna). The lord of the city is consciousness (vijñāna) and [the other] aggregates of attachment (upādānaskandha). The messengers are calmness and contemplation (read tche kouan = śamathavipaśyanā in place of tcheng kouan). The true message is the four absolute truths (paramārthasatya, which probably should be corrected to āryasatya). The path of departure is the eight-fold noble Path.

We may notice that the true message, symbolic of the four truths does not appear in the Chinese version, but rather appears in the interpretation which follows, directly borrowed from the Pāli text, where the messengers communicate to the lord of the city the yathābhūta vacana. The text of the Tsa a han has thus been contaminated by the Pāli version.

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