Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “great rivers in jambudvipa” 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 great rivers in Jambudvīpa

Note: this appendix is extracted from in chapter XI (tenth upamāna):

“... Thus the four great rivers of Jambudvīpa, each of which has five hundred tributaries, have their waters polluted in various ways; but when they flow into the great ocean, they are perfectly clear.”

The canonical and post-canonical scriptures list five great rivers (pañca mahānadiyo) in Jambudvīpa: Gaṅgā, Yamunā (Jamna), Sarabhū (Sarju), Aciravatī (Rapti), Mahī (Gayā district). Cf. Vinaya, II, p. 237, 239; Saṃyutta, II, p. 135; V, p. 401; Aṅguttara, IV, p. 101; V, p. 22; Milinda, p. 70. 87. 380; Tchong a han, T 26, k. 2, p. 428c; Tsa a han, T 99, k. 30, p. 215a; Jñānaprasthāna, T 1543, k. 1, p. 772b; T 1544, k. 1, p. 918c.

Although the Mppś is aware of these pañca mahānadiyo which it enumerates at k. 28, p. 266a, here it means the four great rivers which flow out of Lake Anavatapta: Gaṅgā, Sindhu (Indus), Vakṣu (Oxus) and Sītā (Tarim). It will describe these fully below (k. 7, p. 114a). The perspective of the Mppś is vaster than that of the canonical scriptures whose horizon was limited to Gangetic India. At least this is the reason given by the Vibhāṣā, T 1543, k. 5, p. 21c–22a: “When the Bhadanta (Kātyāyanīputra) composed this Jñānaprasthāna, he was in the East [i.e., in eastern India]; this is why he cites as example the five rivers commonly seen in the East. But actually there are four great rivers in this Jambudvīpa, each of which gives rise to four secondary rivers: the Gaṅgā, the Sindhu, the Vakṣu and the Sītā.” These four great rivers are known and cited in southern Indian Buddhism in preference to the pañca mahānadiyo: cf. Dīrghāgama Cosmography (T 1, k. 18, p. 116c; T 23, k. 1, p. 289a; T 24, k. k. 1, p. 313a; T 25, k. 1, p. 368a); the Vibhāṣā (l.c.), the Kośa, III, p. 147; the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna (in S. Lévi, Pour l’histoire du Rāmāyana, JA, Jan.-Feb., 1918, p. 150); Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 1, p. 809b (tr. Watters, Travels, I, p. 32–34).

As in the present passage of the Mppś, the Cosmography of the Dīrghāgama (l.c.) and the Sin ti kouan king,T 159, k. 4, p. 307b, attributes 500 tributaries to each of the four great rivers. In contrast, the Vibhāṣā (k. 5, p. 22a) enumerates four tributaries to each of them (cf. Lévi, l. c., p. 151).

Eastern and northern traditions are contrasted in a passage from Milinda: while the Pāli version enumerates (p. 70) the pañca mahānadiyo (Gaṅga, Yamunā. Aciravatī, Mahī), the corresponding passage in the Chinese translation cites the four great rivers flowing out of Anavatapta (Gaṅgā, Sindhu, Sitā, Vakṣu) plus a fifth river, still unidentified, the Che p’i yi, and attributes 500 tributaries to each of these rivers (Cf. Demiéville, Les versions chinoises du Milindapañha, BEFEO, XXIV, 1924, p. 152–153; 230–231).

This is not the only example where the two traditions do not agree about the same text. Thus the Saptasūryodayasūtra tells us that at the time of the third [variant; fourth] sun, the ‘great rivers’ dry up and disappear. In some versions of this sūtra (Pāli Aṅguttara, IV, p. 101; Chinese Madhyamāgama, T 26, k. 2, p. 428c), these rivers are the Gaṅgā, the Yamunā, the Sarabhū, the Aciravatī and the Mahī. On the other hand, in other versions of the same sūtra (Sa po to sou li yu nai ye king, T 30, p. 812a; Chinese Ekottarāgama, T 125, k. 34, p. 736b; Mppś, T 1509, k. 31, p. 290b), the rivers in question are the Gaṅgā, the Sindhu, the Sītā and the Vakṣu.

It is to this latter tradition, the northern tradition, that the Mppś belongs.