Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “legend of dharmaruci” 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 legend of Dharmaruci

Note: this appendix is extracted from the second note of Chapter XIII (quality 26).

The legend of Dharmaruci is told in detail in Divyāvadana, chapter 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.

In the course of his earlier lifetimes, Dharmaruci had met the future Buddha Śākyamuni:

i) Under the Buddha Ksemaṃkara, Dharmaruci was a captain in command of a thousand men (sahasrayodhin), while Śākyamuni was a merchant who decorated a stūpa in honor of the Buddha Ksemaṃkara (Divyāvadāna, p. 242–246).

ii) Under the Buddha Dīpaṃkara, Dharmaruci was Mati, friend of Sumati, the future Śākyamuni, who offered lotuses to the Buddha Dīpaṃkara and made his hair into a mat for him. Mati was angry at seeing Dīpaṃkara walking on the hair of a brahmin; nevertheless, he entered the Order of the Buddha along with his friend, but, as punishment for his anger, he fell into the hells (Divyāvadāna, p. 246–254). We have already come across this famous incident, of which a certain number of references have been collected; in the sources indicated, Dharmaruci does not appear always under the name Mati but also under the name Meghadatta (mainly in the Mahāvastu), while Śākyamuni is called Sumati, Megha or Sumedha.

iii) Under the Buddha Krakucchanda, Dharmaruci was a merchant’s son (vaṇigdāraka) and became guilty of various crimes: he lived in carnal sin with his mother, poisoned his father, stabbed an arhat, killed his mother and burned monasteries before being welcomed into the Order by a bhikṣu tripiṭa ‘monk learned in the Tripitaka’, who was none other than the future Buddha Śākyamuni (Divyāvadāna, p. 254–262; the same story differing in details in Mahāvastu, I, p. 243–244). – 4)

Under the Buddha Śākyamuni, Dharmaruci lived two lives:

a) Whereas his former friend became Buddha, Dharmaruci, as punishment for his crimes, had taken birth as a monstrous fish that swallowed everything that it came across. One day when the fish had opened its mouth about to swallow a ship, the passengers called upon the Buddha for help. On hearing this cry that recalled to him his past existences and crimes, the fish Dharmaruci had remorse and closed its mouth. This is the episode told here.

b) Deprived of food, the fish died of hunger and Dharmaruci was reborn into a family of brahmins in Śrāvastī. While bearing him in her womb, his mother was tormented by ravenous hunger (Divyāvadāna, p. 234). During his youth, he could never get enough to eat (ibid., p. 235); he was on the point of committing suicide when, at the advice of an upāsaka, he became a monk (ibid., p. 236). There again his appetite proved to be ravenous; in order to pacify him a little, a householder (gṛhapati) had him swallow the contents of a wagon loaded with provisions for 500 people (ibid., p.237–239). Finally, the Buddha Śākyamuni took Dharmaruci to the sea-shore near the carcass of a giant fish and told him, to his great amazement, that these fragments of bone (asthiśakala) had once belonged to him. Then the Buddha disappeared miraculously and returned to Śrāvastī, to the Jetavana, leaving Dharmaruci in contemplation before his own skeleton (ibid., p. 239–240). In the course of his meditation, Dharmaruci traveled over all the stages of the Path and reached arhathood. Going back over the course of his lives and aware of the favors his old friend had rendered him, he miraculously returned to the Jetavana. When Śākyamuni saw him, he made only a discrete allusion to the former lifetimes they had had together and welcomed him with these simple words: Cirasya Dharmaruce …, Sucirasya Dharmaruce …, Sucirascirasya Dharmaruce (It has been a long time, Dharmaruci! It has been a very long time, Dharmaruci! It has indeed been a very long time, Dharmaruci!) And Dharmaruci agreed: Cirasya Bhagavan, Sucirasya Bhagavan, Suciracirasya Bhagavan (Chinese Ekottara, T 125, k. 11, p. 507b; Mahāvastu, I, p. 246; Divyāvadāna, p. 241; Apadāna, II,p. 430, v. 20).

Archeological sources: Archeologists became interested in the giant fish because of a Bhārhut medallion depicting a ship with three people about to be engulfed by a marine monster (cf. Cunningham, Bhārhut, pl. XXXIV, 2; A. Foucher, Mémoires concernant l’Asie Orientale, III, p. 8; B. Barua and K.C. Sinha, Bhārhut Inscriptions, Calcutta, 1926, p. 61; Lüders, Bhārhut und die buddhistische Literatur, p. 73–79: Die Geschichte von Timitimigila). The sources dealing with it are more numerous than is generally thought:

Sanskrit sources: Divyāvadāna, p. 231–232. – Mahāvastu, I, p. 244–246. – Avadānakalpalatā, II, p. 777–778, v. 16–25.

Pāli sources, hitherto neglected or forgotten: Pāli Apadāna, II, p. 430, v. 13–20, of which the following is the text:

13. Akarim anantariyañ ca ghātayiṃ duṭṭhamānasa
tato cuto mahāvīciṃ upapanno sudāruṇaṃ
. …….
20. Disvā disvā muni āha ciraṃ Dhammarucīti maṃ.

It is Dharmaruci who is speaking: “I committed a heinous sin of immediate retribution and committed murder with an evil mind; I died and was reborn in the cruel great hell. Plunged into the hells, for a long time I wandered unhappily and never met the hero Sumedha, the bull among men. For a kalpa, I was the fish Timiṅgala in the ocean: seeing a ship nearby in the ocean, I approached it. Seeing me, the frightened merchants called upon the excellent Buddha. Gotama, they cried. Hearing the great cry which they uttered, I remembered my former propensities. Then I died and was reborn at Sāvatthi in a great brahmin family. I was Dhammaruci, filled with horror for any sin; having seen the Lamp of the World, I went, at the age of seven years, to Jetavana and embraced the monastic life. Three times during the day and three times during the night I went to the Buddha and each time he saw me, the Muni said: “It has been a long time, O Dhammaruci.”

Chinese sources: Hien yu king, T 202 (no. 23), k. 4, p. 379b (abridged). – Tsa p’i yu king, T 207 (no, 30), p. 529a–b (tr. Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 51–53): this version is very similar to that of the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra. – King liu siang, T 2121, k. 43, p. 226b.

The story of the Mahāvastu has been influenced by an episode in the legend of Pūrṇa who also rescued his brother and five hundred merchants from Śūrpāraka from a storm. He rejoined them miraculously and, seated cross-legged on the edge of the boat, he calmed the storm raised by the yakṣa Maheśvara. The episode is told in Divyāvadāna, p. 41–42 (tr. Burnouf, Introduction, p. 228–230) and in the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya, T 1448, k. 3, p. 13a. In other sources, the merchant from Śūrpāraka miraculously saved is called, not Dhārukarṇin, but Stavakarṇika (Avadānaśataka, II, p. 166; Buddhacarita, XXI, v. 22, in E. H. Johnston, The Buddha’s Mission and last Journey, Extract of Acta Or., XV, 1937,p. 53, where Rna stod translates the Sanskrit Stavakarṇika).