Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “description of the six tremblings of the earth (bhumicala)” 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 5.3: Description of the six tremblings of the earth (bhūmicala)

Sūtra: 1) The east rises up and the west sinks (pūrvā dig unnamati paścimā dig avanamati); 2) the west rises up and the east subsides (paśimā dig unnamati pūrvā dig avanamati); 3) the south rises up and the north sinks down (dakṣiṇā dig unnamati uttarā dig avanamati); 4) the north rises up and the south subsides (uttarā dig unnamati dakṣiṇā dig avanamati); 5) the edges rise up and the center sinks (anta unnamati madhye ‘vanamati); 6) the center rises and the edges sink (madhya unnamati ante ‘vanamati).[1]

Śāstra: What are these six tremblings of the earth (bhūmicala)?

Answer. – The trembling of the earth is lesser (avara), medium (madhya) and greater (agra). In the lesser trembling of the earth, there are two movements: the east rises and the west sinks; or else the south rises and the north sinks; or else the edges [rise] and the center [sinks]. In the medium trembling, there are four movements: in the east, in the west, in the south and in the north; or again in the east, the west, the edges and the center; or again in the south, the north, the edges and the center. In the greater trembling, all six movements appear.

There are all kinds of causes for a greater trembling of the earth. Thus the Buddha said to Ānanda: “There are eight causes and eight conditions for a great trembling of the earth (aṣṭāv ime Ānanda ketavo ‘ṣṭau pratyayā mahataḥ pṛthivīcalasya)”, etc. (also see Appendix 7)

Moreover, some talk about four kinds of trembling of the earth: trembling of fire (agnicala), trembling of the dragon (nāgacala), trembling of the golden garuḍa (garuḍacala), trembling of the king of the gods (devendracala).

The moon revolves [around the earth] in 28 days.

I. If the moon enters one of the six following constellations (nakṣatra):[2]
1. Mao (Kṛtikā, Smin-drug): Tauri (Pleiades),
2. Tchang (Pūrvaphālgūnī, Gre): Leonis
3. Ti (Viśākhā, Sa-ga): Librae,
4. Leou (Aśvinī, Tha-skar): Arietis,
5. Che (Pūrvabhadrapadā, Khrums-stod): Pegasi,
6. Wei (Bharṇī, Bra-ñe): Arietos,

then at that moment, the earth trembles as if it would collapse, this shaking extends up to the god of fire (Agni). Then there is no more rain, the rivers dry up, the year is bad for grain, the emperor (T’ien tseu) is cruel and the great ministers are evil.

II. If the moon enters one of the following six constellations:
1. Lieou (Āśleṣā, Skag): Hydrae
2. Wei (Mūla, Snrubs): Scorpionis
3. Ki (Pūrvāṣāḍhā, Chu-stod): Sagittarii,
4. Pi (Uttarabhadrapadā, Khrums-smad), Pegsi, Andromedae,
5. K’ouei (Revati, Nam-gru): Piscium.
6. Wei (Dhaniṣṭhā, Mon-gru): Delphini,

then at that moment the earth trembles as if it would collapse and this trembling extends as far as the Nāgas. Then there is no more rain, the rivers dry up, the year is bad for grain, the emperor is cruel and the great ministers are unjust.

III. If the moon enters one of the following six constellations,
1. Chen (Ārdrā, Lag): Orionis,
2. Kouei (Puṣya, Rgyal): Cancri,
3. Sing (Maghā, Mchu): Leonis,
4. Tchen (Hasta, Me-bzhi): Corvi
5. K’ang (Svāti, Sa-ri): Bootis,
6. Yi (Uttaraphālgunī, Dbo): Leonis,

then at that moment the earth trembles as if it would collapse, this trembling extends as far as the Garuda. Then there is no more rain, the rivers dry up, the year is bad for grain, the emperor is cruel and the great ministers are unjust.

IV. If the moon enters one of the following nine constellations:
1. Sin (Jyeṣṭhā, Snron): Scorpionis
2. Kio (Citrā, Nag-pa): Virginis,
3. Fang (Anurādhā, Lha-mtshams): Scorpionis
4. Niu (Abhijit, Byi-bzhin): Lyrae,
5. Hiu (Śatabhiṣa, Mon-gre): Aquarii.
6. Tsing (Punarvasu, Nabs-so): Geminorum,
7. Pi (Rohinī, Sanr-ma): Tauri,
8. Tsouei (Mṛgaśiras, Mgo): Orionis,
9. Teou (Uttarāṣāḍhā, Chu-smad): Sagittarii,[3]

then at that moment the earth trembles as if it would collapse and this trembling extends as far as Devendra. Then peace (yogakṣema) is plentiful, rain favors the growth of the five grains, the emperor is kind (śiva), the great ministers are virtuous and everyone is peaceful.

Moreover, among the causes of the trembling of the earth, some are small and others are great. There are some that shake one Jambudvīpa, others one cāturdvīpaka, one sāhasralokadhātu, one dvisāhasralokadhātu or one trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu,

The small trembling is due to a small cause: when an individual of quality is born or dies, there is a trembling of the local earth; this is the small trembling. The [117b] great trembling is due to a great cause: when the Buddha is born, reaches Buddhahood and is about to enter nirvāṇa, the entire trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu shakes completely; this is the great trembling. Here the Buddha, who wants to gather together all beings, causes the earth to tremble in six ways.

Moreover, in the Prajñmapāramitā, the Buddha prophecies to the bodhisattvas that they will be Buddhas. The Buddha is the great leader (mahādhipati) of heaven and earth. [On learning of the accession of the future Buddhas], the goddess of the earth (pṛthivīdevatā) is filled with joy (muditā) [and says to herself]: “I have found a leader.” This is why the earth trembles. In the same way, when the leader of a country sets up a minister (amātya), the people congratulate him; everyone shouts “Hurray!” and they sing and dance.

Finally, as a result of the merits (puṇya) of the beings of the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu, there are rivers, trees and all kinds of things on this earth, but beings are ignorant of their transitory nature (anityatā). This is why the Buddha, by the power of his merit and his wisdom, shakes this universe so that the beings know the futility of it: everything will be destroyed (nirvṛta) and will return to nothingness (anityatā).

Footnotes and references:

1.

Cf. Mahāvyutpatti no. 3019–3030; Lalitavistara, p. 52, 411.

2.

The Mppś lists 27 constellations or lunar mansions of the zodiac, divided here into three groups of six and one group of nine. Next to the Chinese term are the Sanskrit and Tibetan translations (according to the Mahāvyutpatti, no. 3187–3214) and the modern equivalent.

The series of 27 or 28 nakṣatra has already appeared in the Vedic literature and has passed from there into the Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain texts.

Ancient Brahmanical sources: Atharvav., XIX, 7, 1 seq; 8,2 seq; Kāṭhaka-Saṃh., XXXIX, 13; Maitrāyaṇī-Saṃh. II, 13, 20; Taittitīya-Saṃh. IV, 4, 10, seq; Taittitīyabr. I, 5,1; Tattirīyabr. III, 4, 1 seq. – Synoptic table in Kirfel, Kosmographie der Inder, p. 36.

Recent Brahmanical sources: Nakṣatrakalpa, etc., in Kirfel, o.c., p. 138–139.

Buddhist sources, in Sanskrit: Mahāvastu, III, p. 305, l. 20–21; p. 306, l. 21; p. 308, l. 2–3, p. 309, l. 2–3; Lalitavistara, p. 389; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 3187–3214; – in Pāli: Abhidhānappadīpikā, ed. W. Subhuti, Colombo, 1883, p. 58–69 (list in Rhys Davids-Stede, s.v. nakkhatta); – in Chinese, in a whole series of texts yet poorly explored.

3.

[Translator’s note: Due to the lack of the Greek alphabet on my computer, I was unable to reproduce the Greek letters delineating the individual constellations in each of the above three lists.]

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