Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “excelled in inviting innumerable 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 27: excelled in inviting innumerable Buddhas

27. aparimitabuddhādhyeṣaṇakuśala:

Sūtra: They excelled in inviting innumerable buddhas (aparimitabuddhādhyeṣaṇakuśalaiḥ).

Śastra: The invitations[1] [which they address to the Buddhas] are of two types:[2]

i) When a Buddha becomes buddha, the bodhisattvas ceremoniously invite him three times during the night and three times during the day: throwing their upper garment over one shoulder (ekāṃsam uttarāsaṅgaṃ kṛtvā), with joined palms (añjaliṃ praṇamya), they say to him: “In the buddha-fields (buddhakṣetra) of the ten directions (daśadiś), countless Buddhas, once they have become buddha, do not turn the wheel of Dharma (dharmacakra). I, so-and-so, invite all the Buddhas to turn the wheel of Dharma for beings to save them all.”[3]

ii) When the Buddhas are about to abandon their life of immense duration (aparimitāyus) and prepare to enter nirvāṇa, the bodhisattvas, three times during the day and three times during the night, throw their upper garment over one shoulder and with joined palms, say: “I, so-and-so, invite the countless Buddhas of the buddha-fields of the ten directions to remain for a long time in this world, for countless kalpas, for the salvation and welfare of all beings.”[4]

This is how the bodhisattvas invite innumerable Buddhas.

Question. – The Buddhas have a pattern according to which they must preach the Dharma and save all beings. Whether they are invited or not, this pattern remains the same. Then why must they be invited? Besides, although it is possible to invite the Buddhas who are close by, how is it possible to invite the Buddhas of the innumerable buddha-fields of the ten directions? They cannot even be seen!

Answer. – i) Although the Buddhas are obliged to preach the Dharma and need no human invitation, the person who invites them gains merit (puṇya) by doing so. In the same way, even though the king finds plenty of delicacies to eat at home, many people still invite him in order to gain his favor and obtain his advice.

ii) Moreover, if one feels friendship (maitricitta) for beings and one wishes them happiness, one gains great merit even though these beings do not get any. It is the same when one invites the Buddhas to preach the Dharma.

iii) Furthermore, there are Buddhas who have not been invited to preach and who have entered directly into nirvāṇa without having preached the Dharma. Thus, in the Fa houa king (Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra), the Bhagavat Yo pao (Prabhūtaratna), whom nobody had invited [to preach], entered nirvāṇa directly but, later, his fictive nirmāṇakāya and his stūpa made of the seven jewels (saptaratna) appeared simultaneously in order to confirm the prediction of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra. (also see Appendix 5) – Similarly also the Buddha Siu chan to fo (Suśāntabuddha): as his disciples had not yet ripened the seeds of good (aparipakvakuśalamūla) [and were consequently unable to grasp his teaching], he entered directly into nirvāṇa, but, to save beings, he left [behind] a fictive Buddha (nirmāṇabuddha) which lasted for a kalpa. – The present Buddha Śākyamuni, having become buddha, waited 57 days before preaching the Dharma. (also see Appendix 6) He said to himself: “My Dharma is profound (gambhīra), difficult to penetrate (durvighāya) and difficult to understand (duranubodha). Beings attached to worldly things (ālayārāma) are unable to understand it.”[5] [109c] Nevertheless, Śākyamuni did not enter into silence in the bliss of nirvāṇa. At that time, the bodhisattvas and the Śakradevendra and Brahmādevarāja gods came to bow down before him with joined palms (añjaliṃ praṇamya) and invited him to turn the wheel of Dharma (dharmacakra) for beings. The Buddha accepted their invitation in silence and then went to Po lo nai (Vārāṇasī) in the Lou lin (Mṛgadāva) where he turned the wheel of Dharma. Under these circumstances, how can you say that it is useless to invite the Buddhas?

iv) Finally, it is customary for the Buddhas to consider beings, not in order to know whether they are noble or lowly, light or heavy, but to know if they invite them. It is as a result of this invitation that they preach the Dharma. Even if beings did not invite the Buddha face-to-face, the Buddha, who always knows their minds, hears their invitation. Supposing even that the Buddhas do not see and do not hear [those who invite them], there would still be the same merit of inviting them; how much more so when they are able to see you and hear you.

Question. – If it is so advantageous to invite the Buddhas, why invite them only on the two occasions indicated above?

Answer. – It is not necessary to invite them in other circumstances, but in those two, it is indispensable to do so.

If the Buddhas preached the Dharma without being invited, the heretics (tīrthika) might say: “Since his Buddha quality definitely has been established, does he not speak so much and act so much out of clinging to his own system (dharmābhiniveśa)?” That is why, in order to teach, the Buddhas should be invited. People might also say: “If he knows the [true] nature of dharmas, he should not covet a long life. By remaining so long in the world, he is in no hurry to enter into nirvāṇa!” This is why prayers [for him to stay here] are needed. If the Buddhas preached without being invited, people would say that the Buddha is attached to his own system and wants to make it known to people. This is why the Buddhas must await people’s invitation to turn the wheel of Dharma.

The heretics (tīrthika) themselves are attached to their own systems; with or without invitation they preach to people. The Buddha has no attachment or fondness for his doctrine; it is out of compassion (karuṇā) for beings that he preaches when he is invited; if he were not invited, he would not turn the wheel of Dharma. Some verses say:

The Buddhas say: “What is true?
What is false?
The true and the false
Are both non-existent.

Thus the truth consists
Of not being discursive about the dharmas.”
It is out of compassion for beings
That they turn the wheel of Dharma.

Moreover, if the Buddha preached the doctrine without being invited, he would have preached his own discoveries (pratibhā), his own beliefs (grāha) and would certainly have answered the fourteen difficult questions. But when the gods invited him to preach, where it was a matter only of cutting through old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa), he did not engage in controversial questions (nigrahasthāna); this is why he did not answer the fourteen difficult questions and avoided any criticism. For this reason he must be invited to turn the wheel of Dharma.

Furthermore, although born among humans, the Buddha nevertheless acts as a Mahāpuruṣa: despite his great compassion (karuṇā), he does not preach without being invited. If he preached without an invitation, he would be criticized by the heretics (tīrthika); therefore first he must be invited. [110a] Again, the heretics belong to the sect of the god Brahmā and, if Brahmā himself invites the Buddha, the heretics give in.

Finally, the bodhisattvas regularly accomplish a threefold practice (triskandha) three times during the day and three times during the night: 1) In the morning, throwing the upper garment over one shoulder (ekāṃsam uttarāsaṅgaṃ kṛtvā) and with joined palms (kṛtāñjali), they pay homage to the Buddhas of the ten directions, saying: “I, so-and-so, in the presence of the Buddhas of the ten directions, confess the faults and sins of body, speech and mind that I have committed for countless kalpas, in my present lifetime and in past lifetimes. I vow to wipe them out and not to commit them again.”[6] During the night, they repeat this formula three times. 2) They commemorate the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three times, their activities (carita), their qualities (guṇa) and those of their disciples. They praise them (anumodante) and exhort them (samādāpayanti). 3) They supplicate the Buddhas of the ten directions to turn the wheel of Dharma and invite them to remain in the world for countless kalpas to save all beings. By accomplishing this threefold practice, the bodhisattvas gain immense merit and approach buddhahood. This is why they must invite the Buddhas.

Footnotes and references:


It is understood that, before and after he has entered into the bhūmis, the bodhisattva must cultivate the awakened mind by the practice of the six or ten pāramitās. In order to reach the culmination of his career, he must then impose upon himself painful efforts that will be prolonged over three, seven, or even thirty-three asaṃkhyeyakalpas (cf. Saṃgraha, p.209–211; Siddhi, p.731–733).

In actual fact, however, it seems that the cultivation of the awakened mind is less complicated than it seems at first sight. In order to progress in his career, it will suffice that the bodhisattva faithfully accomplish certain rituals, to which the Mahāyāna theoreticians will attach increasing importance.

Also see Appendix 4: Triskandha.


Namely, adhyeṣaṇā, invitation, and yācanā, prayer.


Formula of the adhyeṣaṇā in Bhadracarīpraṇidhāna, v. 10: Ye ca daśaddiśi lokapradīpa … cakru anuttara vartanatāyai.

“And these lamps of the world, in the ten directions, who have attained enlightenment and overcome detachment, I invite all these protectors to turn the unsurpassable wheel [of Dharma].

In the Bodhicaryāvatāra, III, v. 4: Sarvāsu dikṣu saṃbuddhān prārthayāmi … mohād duḥkhaprapātinām. “With joined palms I request the perfect Buddhas of all the directions to light the lamp of Dharma for those whom delusion has caused them to fall into misfortune.”


Formula of yācanā in the Bhadracarīpraṇidhāna, v. 11: Ye ’pi ca nirvṛti darśitukāmās … sarvajagasya hitāya sukhāya.

“And so with joined palms, I beg these Buddhas who wish to manifest their nirvāṇa, that they wait for a number of kalpas as large as the number of grains of sand in a [buddha]-field for the good and welfare of the entire world.”

In the Bodhicharyāvatara, III, v. 5: Nirvātukāmāṃś ca jinān yācayāmi … andham idaṃ jagat. “And I also entreat those Victorious Ones who wish to enter nirvāṇa that they wait for endless kalpas lest this world become blind.”


Cf. Vinaya, I, p. 4: ayaṃ dhammo gambhīro duddaso duranubdho … ālayārāmayāṃ ca prajāyāṃ durdṛiśam imaṃ sthānam; Wou fen liu, T 1321, k. 15, p. 103c; Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 31, p. 786c.

On the enigmatic formula ālayārāma, ālarata, ālayasaṃmudita, see also Majjhima, I, p. 167; Saṃyutta, I, p. 136; Aṅguttara, II, p. 131. – We know that the Vijñānavādin school resorted to these texts to prove the existence of the store-consciousness (ālayavijñāna) by means of scripture. See Saṃgraha, p. 26; Siddhi, p. 180; S. Lévi, Autour d’Aśvaghoṣa, JA, Oct.-Dec., 1929, p. 281–283.


Formula of pāpadeśana in Bhadracarīpraṇidhāna, v. 8: yac ha kṛtaṃ mayi pāpa bhaveyyā … taṃ pratideśayamī ahu sarvaṃ. “And the sins committed by me, under the impulse of attachment, hatred or delusion, of speech or of mind, I confess them all.” See also a more developed formula in Bodhicaryāvatāra, I, p. 154; II, p. 240; III. p. 130; Kośa, V, p. 17. IX, p. 265.

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