Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the buddha lights up the trichiliocosm” 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.

Act 1.5: The Buddha lights up the trichiliocosm

Sūtra: From these rays (raśmi) came a great light (avabhāsa) that illuminated (parisphoṭati) the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu. From the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu, it went to illuminate universes in the east (pūrvasyāṃ diśi) as numerous as the sands of the Ganges (gaṅgānudīvālukopamā lokadhātavaḥ). And it was the same in the south (dakṣiṇasyaṃ diśi), in the west (paścimāyāṃ diśi) and in the north (uttarasyāṃ diśi), in the four intermediate directions (vidikṣu), at the zenith (upariṣṭhād diśi) and at the nadir (adhastād diśi). (see notes on the Ten Directions) And all the beings touched by this light were settled into supreme perfect enlightenment (ye ca sattvās tena mahatā raśmyavabhāsena sphutā avabhāsitās te sarve niyatā abhūvan anuttarāyāṃ samyaksaṃbodhau). [113c]

Question. – The nature of fire (tejas) is flame which rises upward (ūrdhvajvāla), that of water (āpas) is moisture which tends to go downward (adhaḥsnigdhatā), that of wind (vāyu) is sinuous movement (tiryaggamana). Therefore the vapor ignited by the rays [of the Buddha] will necessarily go upwards. Why does the sūtra say that that it illuminates everywhere (parisphoṭati) the trisāhasramahāsāsralokadhātu and the universes of the ten directions?

Answer. – The rays are twofold: vapor of fire and vapor of water; such are the vapor of fire of the sun-stone (sūryakānta) and the vapor of water of the moon-stone (candrakānta).[1] Although the nature of fire (tejolakṣaṇa) is to blaze upward, the fire in the human body rises, descends and penetrates everywhere. It is the same for the solar fire and it is in this way that the waters of the earth dry up in the summer months. Thus we know that fire does not always rise upward.

Furthermore, by the power of the Buddha, these rays penetrate the ten directions like an arrow (iṣu) shot by a bow (dhaṇus) goes straight to the target.

Question. – Why do these rays first light up the east and only after that the south, the west and the north?

Answer. – Since the sun rises in the east, the east is first; the Buddha, who is in harmony with people’s ideas (sattvacittānuvartanāt), lights up the east first. Furthermore, we will always come up with the same difficulty: if he first illuminated the south, we would wonder why he did not first illuminate the east, the west and the north; if he illuminated first the west or the north, the difficulty would be the same.

Question. – When do the rays disappear?

Answer. – The Buddha uses his miraculous power (ṛddhibala); as long as he maintains it, the rays persist; when he lets it go, the rays disappear. The Buddha’s rays are like a lamp (dīpa) and his miraculous power is like the oil (meda); as long as the Buddha does not abandon his miraculous power, the rays do not disappear.

Footnotes and references:


Sūryakānta and candrakānta: cf. Milinda, p. 118; Saṃdhinirmochana, p. 268. – The sūryakānta, cold to the touch, emits fire when it is exposed to the sun’s rays. Cf. Kālidāsa in Śākuntala, II 7: śamapradhāneṣu tapodhaneṣu gūḍhaṃ hi … ‘bhibhavād vamanti. “In ascetics among whom tranquility predominates, a burning energy is hidden; they are like the sūryakānta, cold to the touch, but which burst into flames when provoked by other fires.”

On the other hand, the candrakānta streams with water when exposed to the moon’s rays. Cf. Bhavabhūti in Uttarāmacarita, VI, p. 12: vikasati hi pataṅgasyodaye puṇdarīkaṃ … candrakāntaḥ “The lotus blossoms at sunrise, but the moon-stone streams with water when the star with cold rays appears.” (tr. N. Stchoupak, p. 117).