Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “those reborn turn to the buddha to pay homage to him” 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 5.6: Those reborn turn to the Buddha to pay homage to him

Sūtra: Then remembering their former existences (pūrvajanmāny anusmṛtya), these gods and men (devamanuṣya) experienced great joy (prāmodya). They went to the Buddha and, having bowed down to the Buddha’s feet (bhagavataḥ pādan śirobhir abhivandya), they stood to one side.

Śāstra.- Question. – When the gods are reborn, they know three things: they know where they have come from (kutaś cyutāḥ), they know where they are born (kutropapannāḥ) and they know by virtue of what previous merit (kena pūrvakṛtapuṇyena).[1] But when men are reborn, they are unaware of these three things. [How can it be said here] that they rememeber their previous existences?

Answer. – 1) It is not a fixed rule (niyama) for men (manuṣyagati): some remeber, some do not remember.[2]

2) Furthermore, it is thanks to the miraculous power (ṛddhibala) of the Buddha that [those in question here] remember their previous existences.

Question. – The gods, who possess the five superknowledges (abhijñā) and remember their previous lives, are able to go to the Buddha; but supposing that they received [the gift] of the miraculous power of the Buddha and remembered their previous lives, how could men go to the Buddha?

Answer. – Some of them, by birth (janman) or by retribution (vipāka), possess the superknowledges (abhijñā),[3] as for example, the noble cakravartin kings; the others borrow the Buddha’s miraculous power [in order to go to him].

Question. – Humans are carried in the womb for ten months, suckled for three years and fed for ten years; only after that can they support themselves. It is said, by the power (anubhāva) of the Buddha, beings in the three bad destinies (durgati) and the eight difficult conditions (akṣana), all obtain deliverance (vimukti), are reborn among gods or humans, and go to the Buddha. It may be so for the gods but it is impossible for humans; indeed, how could they walk [as soon as they are born]?

Answer. – In the five destinies (gati), living conditions differ:

1) Gods and hell beings (naraka) are all apparitional beings (upapāduka).

2) Pretas are of two kinds, born from a placenta (jarāyuja) or apparitional (upapāduka).

3) Men (manuṣya) and animals (tiryagyoni) are of four kinds: born from an egg (aṇḍaja), born from exudation (saṃsvedaja), apparitional (upapāduka) or born from a placenta (jarāyuja).[4]

a) Born from an egg, e.g., the thirty-two sons of P’i chö k’ia mi k’ie lo mou (Viśakhā Mṛgāramātā): Viśākhā, their mother, gave birth to thirty-two eggs which on breaking open, released thirty-two boys who all were strong men;[5] the oldest of them was Mṛgāra. Viśākhā obtained the fruit of the threefold Path.

b) Born of exudation, for example, Yen lo p’o li (Āmrapālī), chief courtesan (veśyāgra) who gave birth to a cakravartin king, etc.[6]

c) Apparitional beings: thus, when the Buddha was traveling with the four assemblies, in the group of nuns there was a bhikṣuṇī named A lo p’o (Ārāmavāsā) who appeared miraculously on this earth.[7] Moreover, the people born at the beginning of the cosmic peiod (prāthamakalpika) were all apparitional beings.

d) Born from a placenta: this is the usual birth for humans.

[118b] People of apparitional birth (upapāduka, as an emanation), being full-grown at birth, are able to go to the Buddha. There are people who have obtained the abhijñās as reward (vipāka) and who are able to go to the Buddha [by themselves]; others also are able to go to the Buddha because the latter lends them his power of abhijñā.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Avadānaśataka, I, p. 292: dharmatā khalu devaputrasya vā devakany āy … cyutaḥ kutropapannaḥ kena karmaṇeti. – Kośavyākhyā, p. 413: aciropapannasya devaputrayasya trīni cittāni … kutropapannaḥ kena karmaṇā.


It is not rare that Indian newspapers report the case of young children who remember their immediately preceding lifetime.


Notably the ṛddhyabala of moving rapidly from one place to another.


These are the four “wombs’ or yoni which are listed in Dīgha, III, p. 230; Majjhima, I, p. 73; Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 8, p. 50c; Milinda, p. 146; Visuddhimagga, p. 552, 557; Mahāvyutpatti, np.2279–2282. To illustrate these four types of birth, the Kāraṇaprajñapti in Tibetan (LAV., Cosmologie, p. 345–346), Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 120, p. 626c–627a) and Kośa (III, p. 28) have gathered a long series of examples. The Mppś mentions the cases of Viśākhā, Āmrapāli and Ārāmavāsā.


The thirty-two eggs of Viśākhā: Dulva, III, p. 126– 131 (Csoma-Feer, p. 173–174); Rockhill, Life, p. 71; Schiefner-Ralston, Tibetan Tales, p. 125.


Āmrapālī was born from the stem of a banana tree as is told at length in the Nai nin k’i yu yin yuan king, T 553 (tr. Chavannes, Contes, III, p. 325–329); Schiefner-Ralston, Tibetan Tales, p. 85. – But Āmrapālī is the mother of Jīvaka, not of a cakravartin king.


As her name indicates, this nun ‘dweller in a hermitage’ was born in a hermitage, her head shaven and clothed in ochre robes

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