Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “22 main bodhisattvas” 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.

The 22 main Bodhisattvas

Note: These principal bodhisattvas constitute merely a stereotypical list and their number is not fixed at 22, even in the versions of the Pañcaviṃśati. Mokṣala’s list has 23 (T 221, k. 1, p. 1a–b); the Sanskrit text ed. by N. Dutt (p. 5) and Dharmarakṣa’s translation (T 222, k. 1, p. 147a–b) have 24; Hiuan tsang’s translation (T 220, k. 401, p. 1c) has 26. The Śatasāsrikā, p. 6–7) has even more. On the other hand, the first 16 bodhisattvas on the list, all living in the world, make up the homogeneous group of ṣoḍaśa satpuruṣāḥ, which appears a number of times in the Greater Vehicle: Wou leang cheou king, T 360, K. 1, p. 265c16; Viśeṣacintābrahmaparipṛcchā, T 585, k. 1, p. 1a14; T 586, k. 1, p. 33b9; T 587, k. 1, p. 62b12; Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, p. 3, l. 10. These are the 16 bodhisattvas of the exoteric tradition (Hien kiao), distinct from the 16 bodhisattvas of the esoteric tradition (Mi kiao).

Sūtra: These were the bodhisattvas:

1. P’o t’o p’o lo or Chan cheou (Bhadrapāla)

2. La na kie lo or Pai tsi (Ratnākara)

3. Tao che (Sārthavāha)

4. Sing tö (Śubhagupta, according to the Pañcaviṃśati; Guhagupta, according to the Śatasāhasrikā)

5. Na lo ta (Naradatta)

6. Chouei t’ien (Varuṇadatta)

7. Tchou t’ien (Indradatta)

8. Ta yi (Uttaramati)

9. Yi yi (Viśeṣanati)

10. Tseng yi (Vardhamānamati)

11. Pou hiu kien (Amoghadarśin)

12. Chan tsin (Susaṃprasthita)

13. Che cheng (Suvikrāntavikramin)

14. Tch’ang k’in (Nityodyukta)

15. Pou chö tsing tsin (Anikṣiptadhura)

16. Je tsang (Sūryagarbha)

17. Pou k’iue yi (Anupamacintin)

18. Kouan che yin (Avalokiteśvara)

19. Wen chou che li or Miao tö (Mañjuśrī)

20. Tche pao yin (Ratnamudrāhasta)

21. Tch’ang kiu cheou (Nityotkṣiptahasta)

22 Mi lö or Ts’eu che (Maitreya)

They were at the head of countless thousands of koṭinayuta of bodhisattva-mahāsattvas who were all still awaiting succession (ekajātipratibaddha)[1] and will still accede to Buddhahood (bhūyastvena kumārabhūta).[2]

[111a] Śāstra: All these bodhisattvas accompanying the Buddha were at Rājagṛha on the Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata.

Question. – These bodhisattvas are very numerous; why does the sūtra give the names of only twenty-two?

Answer. – If it were to cite the countless koṭinayuta of bodhisattvas by name, there would be no end to it; the person who wants to cite them all would not have enough letters (akṣara) at their disposal.

Moreover, there are two categories among these bodhisattvas: the lay (gṛhastha) and the monastic (pravrajita):

1) These are the lay bodhisattvas, the first 16 on the list, beginning with Bhadrapāla.

– Bhadrapāla, of the vaiśya caste, is an old man from Wang chö (Rājagṛha).[3]

– Ratnākara, a young prince (kumāra), lives in Vaiśālī.

– Śubhagupta, a merchant’s son (śreṣṭhiputra), lives in Tchan po (Campā).

– Sārthavāha, of the vaiśya caste, lives in Chö p’o t’i (Śravāstī).

– Naradatta, of the brahmin caste, lives in Mi t’i lo (Mithilā).

– Varuṇadatta is an upāsaka bodhisattva.

2) There are the monastic (pravrajita) bodhisattvas, Maitreya, Mañjuśrī, etc.

3) The bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, etc., all come from a buddha-field (buddhakṣetra) in a foreign region (deśantara).

By citing a few lay people (gṛhasta), the sūtra includes all the lay bodhisattvas; it is the same for the monastic bodhisattvas and the foreign (deśantarin) bodhisattvas.

Question. – What are the special (viśeṣa) qualities of the bodhisattva Bhadrapāla who is at the top of the list? – If the greatest ones were to be put first, you would have to cite first of all the bodhisattvas Pien ki (Vairocana), Kouan che yin (Avalokiteśvara), Tö ta che (Mahāsthāmaprāpta), etc. If the least were to be placed on top, you would have to cite first the bodhisattvas of fleshly body (māṃsakāyabodhisattva) and those who were about to produce the mind of enlightenment (prathamacittottpādikabodhisattva) for the first time.

Answer. – If the bodhisattva Bhadrapāla is placed first, it is not because he is the greatest or the least, but because he is an old man from Rājagṛha, the greatest of the lay bodhisattvas (avadātavasanabodhisattva), and because the Buddha went specifically to Rājagṛha to preach the Prajñāpāramitā.

Furthermore, the bodhisattva Bhadrapāla has immense qualities (guṇa) of every kind and, in the Pan tcheou san mei (Pratyutpannasamādhi)[4] the Buddha praised his qualities.

Question. – If the bodhisattva Maitreya can be said to be ‘awaiting succession’ (ekajātipratibaddha),[5] why are the other bodhisattvas also called ‘waiting for succession to Buddhahood’?

Answer. – Divided up among the [various] buddha-fields (buddhakṣetra) of the ten directions, these bodhisattvas are all awaiting succession (ekajātipratibaddha).

Footnotes and references:


The Chinese expression pou tch’ou or ‘still awaiting succession’ imperfectly renders the Sanskrit ekajātipratibaddha (Tibetan, skye ba gcig thogs pa), which means ‘separated from Buddhahood by only one rebirth’.


The Chinese expression chao tsouen wei rchö ‘who will accede to the noble place’ imperfectly renders the Sanskrit bhūyastvena kumāranhūta (Tibetan phal cher gzhon nur gyur pa) which means ‘always prince’ [i.e., associated with royal power]. This expression will occur again at k. 10, p. 128a16 where it again is translated as bhūyastvena kumārabhūtva.


See Bhadrapālasūtra, T 416, k. 1, p. 872a–b.


This is the Bhadrapālasūtra known by a Tibetan translation entitled Da ltar hyi saṅs rgyas mṅon sum du bzhugs paḥi tiṅ ṅe ḥdzin = Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhi, Mdo X, 1 (Csoma-Feer, p. 250; OKC, no. 281, p. 299) and four Chinese translations due respectively to Jñānagupta (t 416), Tche tch’an (T 417 and T 418) and an anonymous translator (T 419).


In the Lesser Vehicle, it is claimed that the bodhisattva Maitreya, presently in Tuṣita heaven, will immediately succeed Buddha Śākyamuni in the course of a kalpa when the human lifespan will be 80,000 years (cf. Dīgha, III, p. 75; Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 6, p. 41c; Tchong a han, T 46, k. 13, p. 511a). Maitreya therefore merits the adjective pou tch’ou ‘awaiting succession’. But how would these innumerable other bodhisattvas also be awaiting succession?

The objection does not stop the Mahāyāna scholars who claim that at the same time there can be several Buddhas, provided that they are in different trichiliocosms.

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