Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “beings that were reborn among humans or the gods of kamadhatu” 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 5.5: Beings that were reborn among humans or the gods of kāmadhātu

Sūtra: In this trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu, [beings] in the hell realms (niraya), in the preta realm, the animal realm (tiryagoni) and the eight difficult (akṣaṇa) conditions were immediately liberated (vimukta) and reborn among the gods dwelling at the Cāturmahārājika stage to the Paranirmitavaṣavartin stage.[1]

Śāstra: Having entered into the Lion’s Play samādhi (siṃhanvikrīḍitasamādhi), if the Buddha causes [117c] the damned, the pretas, the animals and the eight other difficult conditions[2]to be liberated and reborn in the abodes of the Cāturmahārājika gods up to the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods, why is it still necessary to acquire merit (puṇya) and practice the good (kuśala) in order to obtain the fruit of retribution (vipākaphala)?

Answer. – We have said that beings of great merit have seen the Buddha’s rays and have thus found salvation; those of profound faults and stains understand it [only] when the earth trembles. When the rising sun lights up a lotus pool (padmahrada), the ripe lotuses open at once while the young buds do not; similarly, when the Buddha emits his rays (raśmi), beings with ripe merit (paripakvapuṇya) and sharp knowledge (tīkṣnajñāna) attain liberation (vimokṣa) at once, whereas those who do not have ripe merit or keen knowledge do not. The Buddha has great loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā); he saves everyone alike (samam), without feeling aversion (pratigha) or affection (annunaya) for anyone. When a fruit tree is shaken (dhunoti), the ripe fruits (paripakvaphala) fall first. Apply that to the Buddha: the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu is like the fruit tree; it is the Buddha who shakes it; the ripe fruits [that fall] are the beings who are saved; the green fruits [that remain attached to the tree] are the beings who are not saved.

Question. – Why are the beings who have had this good mind (kuśalacitta) reborn [only] among the gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātu) and not in the form realm (rūpadhātu) or the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu)?

Answer. – In order to save beings, the Buddha leads them to realize the Path (mārgasākṣātkāra). But in the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu) where [beings] have no bodies (kāya), it is not possible to preach the Dharma to them; in the form realm (rūpadhātu) where all feelings of displeasure (nirvedacitta) are absent, it is difficult to find the Path because where the pleasure of dhyāna is plentiful, the mind is dulled (mṛdu).

Furthermore, when the Buddha makes the ground of the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu soft and pliable by shaking the universe by means of his [ṛddhy]-abhijñā, beings full of faith (prasādita) are joyful (pramuditā) and consequently are reborn among the gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātu). Since they are not practicing the four dhyānas [of the form realm] or the four empty attainments (śūnyasamāpatti) [of the formless realm], they cannot be reborn in the form realm (rūpadhātu) or the formless realms (ārūpyadhātu).

Question. – The five aggregates (skandha) [making up the individual] are transitory (anitya), empty (śūnya) and non-substantial (anātmaka); then how can one be reborn among the gods or men? Who is reborn?

Answer. – This point has already been fully discussed in the chapter on the bodhisattva. We shall limit ourselves here to a brief answer. You say that the five skandhas are transitory, empty and non-substantial, but according to the Prajñāpāramitā, the five skandhas are neither eternal nor transitory, neither empty nor non-empty, neither substantial nor non-substantial. Like the heretics (tīrthika), you are looking for a real ātman, but that is non-existent (anupalabdha); it is only a designation (prajñaptipat). It exists as a result of diverse causes and conditions (nānāhetupratyayasāmagrī), but only nominally and conventionally (nāmasaṃketa). Thus when a magician (māyākāra) kills himself, the spectators see him dead, and when a trick resuscitates him, the spectators see him alive; but his life and his death have only nominal existence (prajñaptisat) and are not real (dravyasat). According to ordinary systems (lokadharma), saṃsāra really does exist; but according to the system of the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇadharma) there is no saṃsāra, transmigration.

Furthermore, if there were a transmigrating being (saṃsārin), there would be transmigration, saṃsāra; without a saṃsārin, there is no saṃsāra. Why? Because the Asaṃsārin has destroyed birth by means of his great wisdom. Thus some stanzas say:

Although the Buddha dharmas are empty (śūnya)
They are not, however, reduced to nothingness (ucchinna).
[118a] Existent, but non-eternal
Actions are not lost.

Dharmas are like the trunk of a banana tree (kadalī):
All are the result of mind.
If one knows the non-reality of the dharmas
This mind, in its turn, is empty.

The person who thinks about emptiness
Is not a practitioner of the Path.
Dharmas do not arise and they do not perish:
Being momentary (kṣaṇika), they lose their nature.

The person who thinks falls into Māra’s net,
The person who does not think finds escape (niḥsaraṇa).
Mental discursiveness is not the Path,
Non-discursiveness is the seal of the Dharma (dharmamudrā).

Footnotes and references:


Here Kumārajīva abridges the text of the Pañcaviṃśati and leaps over an important phrase. In reality, it is not only among the gods of the kāmadhātu (from the Cāturmahārājikas to the Parinirmitavaśavartins) that these beings take rebirth, but also especially among humans. This is expressed by the continuation of the sūtra given below, p. 118a, where it is said that these gods and these men, remembering their former existence, go to the Buddha. Here is the text of the Pañcaviṃśati, p. 8, where rebirth among humans is explicitly mentioned:

Atha khalu kṣanalavamuhūrtena ye ’smiṃs trisāhasramahāsāhasra lokadhātau nirayā vā tiragyonayo … devānāṃ sabhāgatāyām uppannaś cābhūvan.

“Then at that very moment, at that minute, at that hour, the hells, the animal destinies and the realms of the dead who were in this trichiliomegacosm were broken open and emptied and all the difficult conditions (akṣaṇa) disappeared and the beings who had fallen into the hells, the animal realm and the realm of Yama, all experienced such great joy that they were reborn among humans or among the Cāturmahārājika, Trāyastriṃśa, Yama, Tuṣita, Nirmāṇarati or Paranirmitavaśavartin gods.”

Aside from a few unimportant differences, the corresponding text of the Śatasāhasrikā, p. 13–14, is the same.


The hell, animal and preta destinies constitute the three bad destinies (durgati); these are well known and it is not necessary to define them here. By contrast, the akṣaṇa, which the Chinese translation renders as ‘difficult conditions’ asks for some explanation. There are eight (occasionally nine) akṣaṇa: belonging to one of the bad destinies, i.e., damned (naraka), animal (tiryagoni) or preta; being a human, one is lacking an organ (indriyavaikalya), is plunged into wrong views (mithyadarśana), is living before or after the Buddha (tathāgatānām anutpādaḥ), or living in a border region (pratyanatajanapada); if one is a god, belonging to the class of the long-lived gods (dīrghāyuṣo devaḥ).

These eight akṣaṇa (in Pāli, akkhaṇa) are listed and defined in Digha, III, p. 263, 265, 287; Aṅguttara, IV, p. 225–227; Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 124), k. 29, p. 613; Tseng yi a han, Y 125, k. 36, p. 747; Mahāvyutpatti, np. 2299–2306; Dharmasaṃgraha, chap. 134. – Allusion is made to them in Mahāvastu, I, p. 416 (note), II, p. 338, 363; Lalitavistara, p. 412 (aṣṭākhaṇavarjinā); Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, p. 96, 163, 434, 451; Avadānaśataka, I, p. 291, 332.

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