Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “concentration commemorating the buddhas” 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.

Bodhisattva quality 26: concentration commemorating the Buddhas

26. buddhānusmṛtisamādhi:

Sūtra: They always turn to the concentration commemorating the Buddhas of numberless buddha-fields (apramāṇabuddhakṣetrabuddhānusmṛtisamādhisatatasamitābhimukhībhūtaiḥ)

Śāstra: The countless buddha-fields (apramāṇabuddhakṣetra) are the buddha-fields of the ten directions. – The concentration commemorating the Buddhas (buddhānusmṛtisamādhi) is that which, by means of the mind’s eye (cittacakṣus), perceives all the Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadiś) and the three times (tryadvan) as if they were present.[1]

Question. -Then what is the buddhanusmṛtisamādhi?

Answer. – It is of two types: i) According to the śrāvaka system, it is to see with the eye of the mind one single Buddha filling the ten directions; ii) according to the bodhisattva system, it is to recollect all the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three times [109a] who are present in numberless buddhakṣetras. Also the sūtra says that the bodhisattvas always direct themselves towards the concentrations commemorating the Buddhas of countless buddha-fields.

Question. – The concentrations (samādhi) of the bodhisattvas are of infinite variety; why does the sūtra praise only the bodhisattvas who devote themselves always to the buddhānusmṛtisamādhi?

Answer. – i) Because by commemorating the Buddhas these bodhisattvas reach buddhahood. This is why they devote themselves always to the buddhānusmṛtisamādhi.

ii) Furthermore, the buddhānusmṛtisamādhi is able to drive away the afflictions (kleśa) of all sorts and the sins (āpatti) of former lifetimes (pūrvajanma). Other samādhis can drive away desire (rāga) but not hatred (dveṣa); others can drive away hatred but not desire, still others can drive away delusion (moha) but not desire or hatred; finally, others can drive away the threefold poison (triviṣa) but not the sins of earlier lives. Only the buddhānusmṛtisamādhi is capable of eliminating all the afflictions and all the sins.

iii) Finally, the buddhānusmṛtisamādhi has the great merit of being able to save beings and this is precisely what these bodhisattvas want. The buddhānusmṛtisamādhi is able to destroy sins quickly, better than all the other samādhis. Here is proof of it: (also see Appendix 2: Dharmaruci) Once there were five hundred merchants who had gone to sea to search for precious stuffs. They encountered Mo k’ie lo (Makara), king of the fish (matsyarāja) (also see Appendix 3): the water of the sea rushed into its gaping mouth and the ship was about to be engulfed. The captain (karṇadhāra)[3] asked the man in the look-out: “What do you see?” He answered: “I see three suns (āditya), ranges of white mountains (avadātaparvatarāji) and a waterfall (jalaprapāta) at the entrance to a cave.”[4] The captain shouted: “It is the Makara, the king of the fish; he is holding his mouth agape; the first sun is the real sun, the other two suns are his eyes (akṣi); the white mountains are his teeth (danta): the waterfall is the sea water that is rushing into his mouth.[5] Let each of you call upon the gods for help.” Then each of the men called upon the god whom he worshipped,[6] but with no success.[7] Among them there was an upāsaka who observed the five precepts (pañcaśikṣāpadaparigṛhīta upāsaka)[8] who said to the others: “We should all cry out together Na mo fo (Namo buddhāya); the Buddha is unsurpassable (anuttara); he will know how to help us.” All the passengers unanimously (ekacittena) agreed and with one voice (samaraveṇa) they cried: Namo buddhāya (Homage to the Buddha). Now in an earlier lifetime (pūrvajanma), this fish had been a bad disciple of the Buddha (duḥśīlaśrāvaka);[9] he still had the memory of his former lifetimes (pūrvanivāsānusmṛtijñāna). Hearing the name of the Buddha pronounced, he felt remorse, closed his mouth and the sailors were saved.[10]

If the simple commemoration of the Buddha (buddhanusmṛti) can thus efface grave sins and save from danger, what are not [the benefits] of the concentration commemorating the Buddhas (buddhanusmṛtisamādhi)?

iv) Moreover, the Buddha is king of Dharma (dharmarāja), while the bodhisattvas are but the captains. Worship and respect belong to the Buddha Bhagavat alone; that is why we must always commemorate the Buddhas.

v) Moreover, by always commemorating the Buddhas, we acquire all kinds of qualities (guṇa) and benefits (artha). In the same way that a great minister (mahāmātya) who has received special favors always commemorates his master, so the bodhisattvas, who owe qualities of all kinds and immense wisdom to he Buddha, feel gratitude and ceaselessly commemorate the Buddha. [109b]

You may ask why the bodhisattvas always commemorate the Buddhas instead of practicing the other samādhis as well. But to say that they always commemorate the Buddhas does not mean that they neglect the other samādhis; what it does mean is that they practice the buddhanusmrtisamādhi more often.

vi) Finally, the sūtra has already mentioned the samādhis of emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (ānimitta) and wishlessness (apraṇihita), but did not say anything about the buddhānusmṛtisamādhi. That is why it is spoken of here.

Footnotes and references:


Commemoration in general, and especially commemoration of the Buddhas, was practiced already in the Lesser Vehicle. It was applied sometimes to six objects (Dīgha,III, p. 250, 280; Aṅguttara, III, p. 284, 312 seq., 452; V, p. 329 seq.; Patisambhidḥa, I, p. 28), sometimes to ten (Aṅguttara, I, p. 30, 42; Lalitavistara, p. 31).

Commemoration of the Buddhas was greatly expanded in the Greater Vehicle; the seven-fold recollection of the dharmakāya in Saṃgraha, p. 314–316, and the ten-fold recollection of the qualities of the Tathāgata in Bodh. bhūmi, p. 91, should be noted.


The story that follows is taken from the legend of Dharmaruci, told in detail in Divyāvadana, chap. XVIII, p. 228–262 (tr. H. Zimmer, Karman, ein buddhistischer Legendenkranz, München, 1925, p. 1–79). It is essential to know the major outlines of this legend in order to understand the allusions that abound in the story of the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra.


The captain (karnadhāra) or chief of the merchants (sārthavāha) is called Sthapakarṇika (variants: Thapakarṇi, Thapakarṇika, Sthāpakarṇika) in the Mahāvastu. Cf. the Stavakarṇika of the Avadānaśatakā and the Buddhacarita.


In the Divyāvadāna, p. 231, the captain gives the following explanation Yat tad bhavantaḥ śruyate timitimiṅgila iti timitimiṇgilabhayam … sūryavad avalokyete etāv akṣitārakau.


In the Tsa p’i yu king, the look-out says: “I see two suns that appear above; below is a white mountain; in the middle is a black mountain.”


In the Divyāvadāna, p. 232, the merchants invoked Śiva, Varuṇa, Kuvera, Mahendra, Upendra; in the Mahāvastu, p. 245, Śiva, Vaiśravaṇa, Skandha, Varuṇa, Yama, Dhṛtarāṣtra, Virūdhaka, Virūpākṣa, Indra, Brahma, Samudradevatā; in the Hien yu king, some invoke the Buddha, the Dharma and the Saṃgha, others call upon the deities of the mountains and rivers, their parents, their wives and children, their brothers [as in the legend of Pūrṇa] and their servants.


The Tsa p’i yu king says: “The stronger their prayers, the faster the boat went.”


The Divyāvadāna and the Hien yu king simply say ‘an upāsaka’. The Mppś mentions specifically that he held the five precepts; not to kill, not to steal, to abstain from forbidden sexual relations, not to lie and not to partake of alcohol. Scholars discuss the question of knowing if these obligations are essential to the quality of upāsaka. Cf. L. de La Vallée Poussin, Notes sur le chemin du Nirvāṇa, BCLS, session 5 Jan, 1925, no. 1, p. 20, n. 2. – In the Tsa p’i yu king, it is the ship’s captain the sārthavāha, who advises them to call upon the Buddha. – In the Mahāvastu, p. 245, it is the ayuṣmat Pūrṇaka: hearing the merchants invoking their deities, he arose from the mountain Tuṇḍaturika into the air and stood above the ship. The merchants wished to take refuge in him by calling him Bhagavat. Pūṛṇaka told them that he is not the Bhagavat, but a simple śrāvaka; he advised them to cry out as with a single voice Namo buddhasya.


In the Divyāvadāna, p. 232, the merchants’ cry first reached the ears of the Buddha who was at Śrāsvastī in the Jetavana, and the Buddha then transmitted it to the giant fish.


We have seen above that the fish died of hunger and was reborn at Śrāvastī; this was Dharmaruci’s last life; he was converted and attained arhathood.

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