Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the weak, the sick and the crippled are healed” 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 5.8: The weak, the sick and the crippled are healed

Sūtra: Then, amongst the beings of the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu, those who were blind from birth were able to see (jātyandhāḥ paśyanti sma), the deaf began to hear (badhirāḥ śṛṇavanti sma), the mute began to speak (mūkā bhāṣanti sma), the insane became rational (unmattāḥ smṛtiṃ pratilabhante sma), the distracted recovered their attentiveness (vikṣiptacittā ekāgracittā bhavanti sma), those who were naked received clothing (nagnaś cīvarāṇi pratilabhante sma), those who were hungry and thirsty had their bowls filled (jighatsitāḥ pūrṇapātrā bhavanti sma), the sick recovered their health (rogaspṛṣṭā vigatarogā bhavanti sma), the crippled regained their wholeness (hīnendriyāḥ paripūrṇendriyā bhavanti sma).[1]

Śāstra: Beings are subject to hundreds of thousands of sufferings (duḥkha); if the Buddha uses miraculous power (ṛddhibala), why does he not liberate them from all of these sufferings?

Answer. – All sufferings are suppressed, but here only the most serious (sthūla) ones are spoken of in brief. Similarly, in order to designate all the fetters (saṃyojana), they are spoken of, as a whole, as the three poisons (triviṣa).

I. The blind obtained their sight:

Question. – It would suffice to say that ‘the blind’ obtained their sight; why specify ‘those blind from birth’?

Answer. – Because in their previous existences, those born blind (pūrvajanma) were great sinners. If great sinners can thus recover their sight, what about minor sinners?

Question. – What grave sin (sthūlāpatti) have they committed in their previous lives in order to be blind from birth today?

Answer. – They have gouged out or torn out someone’s eyes, or destroyed someone’s correct view (samyagdṛṣṭicakṣus) by saying that sin (āpatti) and merit (puṇya) do not exist. After death, these people fall into hell (niraya), then, [being reborn] in the form of humans, their sins make them blind from birth. – Moreover, stealing lights or lamps (pradīpa) from a stūpa of the Buddha, arhat [118c] arhat or pratyekabuddha, ruining the lamps in other fields of merit (puṇyakṣetra) are also actions of previous lives (pūrvajanmakarman) that cause the loss of sight [in the course of a future lifetime].

But one may lose one’s sight during the present lifetime (ihajanma) as a result of sickness (vyādhi) or because of being beaten (prahāra): those are actual causes.

Only the Buddha is able to restore sight to the 96 eye-sicknesses that king Chö na kia lo (Jñānakara) could not cure; first he gives them back their sight, then he makes them find the wisdom eye (prajñācakṣus). It is the same for the deaf who recover their hearing.

II. Those who are deaf from birth:

Question. – If there are those who are blind from birth, why does the sūtra not speak of those who are deaf from birth?

Answer. – Because those who are blind from birth are more numerous than those who are deaf from birth.

Question. – What are the causes of deafness?

Answer. – 1) Deafness has [the actions] of the previous life as cause. To reject or transgress the instructions of one’s teacher (ācārya) or one’s father (pitṛ) and to rebel against them is a sin (āpatti) which will result in deafness. To cut off or tear out someone’s ear, to ruin a gong (gaṇḍī), a bell (dhaṇtā), a conch (śaṅkha) or a drum (dundubhi) of a stūpa of the Buddha of the saṃgha of good men or of any field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) are also sins (āpatti) which in turn lead to deafness. These various actions of a previous lifetime (pūrvajanmakarman) are the causes of deafness in a future lifetime.

2) In the present lifetime (ihajanma), one can lose one’s hearing as a result of sickness (vyādhi), or being beaten (prahāra), and other similar things: those are the actual causes.

III. The sins committed by the mute:

Question. – The mute (mūka) cannot speak. What sins (āpatti) have they committed in order to be mute?

Answer. – 1) They have cut out someone’s tongue or choked someone; they have made someone unable to speak by means of an evil herb; hearing the instructions of their teacher (ācārya) or the orders of their father, they have cut off their speech and not followed their advice; acting in bad ways, they did not believe in sin or merit and opposed correct speech (samyagvāc). Condemned to hell, when they are reborn in human form, they are mute, unable to speak. Those are the various causes that make someone mute.

IV. The insane become rational:

Question. – [The sūtra says] that the insane become rational (unmattāḥ smṛtiṃ pratilabhante sma); why is one insane?

Answer. – For having committed the following sins in the course of previous lifetimes: molesting someone deep in dhyāna, destroying the monastery of meditators (dhyāyin), deceiving people by means of spells (mantra) in order to inspire them to hatred, anger or sensual desires.

In the present lifetime (ihajanma) [insanity is caused by] the heaviness of the fetters (saṃyojanagurutā). Thus the brahmin, who had lost his rice field (read tao t’ien, sasyakṣetra, instead of fou t’ien) and whose wife had died, had a fit of madness and fled completely naked. – The bhikṣuṇī Tch’e chö k’ie kiao t’an (Kṛśakā gautamī), while she was still a lay-person (avadātavasanā), lost her seven sons; the sadness made her lose her reason and she became insane.[2] Extremely irritable people, unable to contain themselves, become completely insane. Mad people (mūḍha), by a sad mistake, cover their bodies with ashes (bhasman), tear out their hair (keśa), go about naked and eat dung (purīśa) in their madness.[3] After a serious illness, a sickness of wind (vāyuvyādhi) or a sickness of fire (tejovyādhi), people become insane. Others are insane because they are possessed by evil demons or because they have stupidly drunk rain water.[4] This is how one loses one’s reason, and all these individuals are called insane. But when they succeed in seeing the Buddha, these madmen recover their reason.

V. Distracted people regain their attentiveness:

Question. – [The sūtra adds that] distracted people regain their attentiveness [119a] (vikṣipticittā ekāgracittā bhavanti sma) but the insane (unmatta) are also distracted. Why is there this distinction?

Answer. – There are people who, without being insane, are often distracted. Attentiveness is like a monkey (markata);[5] when it is not fixed, there is distraction. Agitated and speedy, mind becomes attached (abhiniviśate) to a crowd of objects; then one loses one’s mental power (cittabala) and is unable to find the Path.

Question. – What are the causes of distraction?

Answer. – The attenuation of the functioning of good thoughts (kuśalacitta pravṛtti), the pursuit of evil (akuśalānugama): these are [the causes] of distraction.

Furthermore, people do not consider (na samanupaśyanti) the transitory nature (anitya) of things, or the signs of death (maraṇanimitta)[6] or universal emptiness (lokaśūnya); they are attached to long life (dīrghāyus), think only of their own business and are scattered in many ways: this is why they are distracted.

Finally, they do not enjoy the inner joy (ādhyātmika sukha) coming from the Buddhadharma; they seek the occasions of pleasure outwardly and pursue the causes of pleasure; this is why they are distracted. But when these distracted people come to see the Buddha, their attentiveness is fixed.

IV. Two kinds of madmen:

Question. – There are two kinds of madmen (unmatta), those who are recognized as such and those who, by a sad mistake, are naked without people considering them to be insane.

It is said that in southern India (dakṣiṇāpatha) there was a Dharma teacher (dharmācārya) Kao tso (also see Appendix 9) who preached the five precepts.

In the crowd there were many heretics (tīrthika) who had come to listen, and the king of the country made some objections:

“If as you say, those who provide liquor (mṛdvīkā) or who drink liquor were punished with madness, among our contemporaries mad people would be more numerous than rational people. Now actually, mad men are rare and those of healthy mind are numerous. How can that be?”

At once the heretics applauded (sādhukāram dadati), saying:

“This is a profound (gambhīra) objection. This Kao tso with the shaven head (muṇḍa) will not be able to answer it for the king’s knowledge is sharp (tīkṣnajñāna).”

Then the Dharma teacher, pointing his finger at the heretics, spoke about something else.

The king understood but the heretics said to him:

“The king’s objection was profound; he has not answered. Ashamed of his ignorance, he just raises his finger and talks about something else.”

The king said to the heretics:

“The Dharma teacher Kao tso has answered with his finger and that is all; he said nothing in order to spare you. By showing you his finger, he meant that you are the madmen and that madmen are not rare. You coat your bodies with ashes (bhasman) and you have no shame in going about naked; you fill human skulls (kapāla) with excrement (purīṣa) and you eat it; you tear out your hair (keśa); you sleep on thorns (kaṇṭaka); you hang yourselves upside-down and you asphyxiate yourselves; you go into the water in winter; you roast yourselves in the fire in summer. All these practices are not the Path (mārga), but signs of madness. According to your rules, selling meat (māmṣavikraya) or selling salt (lavaṇavikraya) are transgressions of the brahmin law; but in your temples, you accept oxen as gifts, you resell them and you claim to observe your law. But the ox is meat! Is it not wrong to deceive people thus? You claim that by going into the sacred rivers (nadī), all the stains of sins (āpattimala) are wiped out, but there is no reason [119b] why such a bath constitutes a sin or a merit. What wrong is there in selling meat or salt? You claim that a bath in holy rivers can wipe out sins, but if it wipes out sins, it would also wipe out merits; what is there that is holy in these rivers? These practices have no basis; attempting to justify them is madness. All these signs of madness are yours and it is to spare you that the Dharma teacher has shown you his finger and said nothing.”

That is what is called the madness of nudity.

Moreover, some poor people (daridra) go about without clothes or their clothes are in tatters (read lan liu, 120 nd 21, 120 and 11). It is by the power of the Buddha that they acquire clothing.

VII. The hungry will be satisfied and the thirsty quenched:

[The sūtra says] that the hungry will be satisfied and the thirsty quenched. Why are they hungry and thirsty?

Answer. – As a result of scarcity of merits (puṇya). In previous existences (pūrvajanma) there was no cause (hetu) and in the present existence (ihajanma) there is no condition (pratyaya) for hunger and thirst

Furthermore, people who, in their previous lifetimes, have stolen food from the Buddhas, the arhats, the pratyekabuddhas, their relatives or their families, will be hungry and thirsty because of the gravity of this fault even if they are living during the [golden] age of a Buddha.

Question. – The cause of it is retribution of actions (karmavipāka) which varies for each case. Some people fulfill the causes and conditions required to see a Buddha but do not fulfill the causes and conditions required to eat and drink. Others fulfill the causes and conditions required to eat and drink but do not fulfill the causes and conditions required to see a Buddha. It is like the black snake (kālasarpa) that sleeps while clasping the jewel at the top of its head (cūḍāmaṇi). There are arhats who beg for their food and get nothing.

Thus, at the time of the Buddha Kāśyapa, two brothers left home (pravrajita) in order to seek the Path (mārga).[7] The first observed the precepts (śīladhara), recited the sūtras (sūtrapāṭhaka) and practiced dhyāna; the second solicited patrons (dānapati) and cultivated meritorious actions (puṇyakarman). When Buddha Śākyamuni appeared in the world, the first was born into a merchant’s (śreṣṭhin) household and the second became a great white elephant (pāṇḍaragaja) whose strength conquered the enemies. The merchant’s son left home (pravrajita) to practice the Path. He became an arhat endowed with the six abhijñās but, as a result of his restricted merits, he obtained his food with difficulty when he begged. One day he entered into a city, bowl in hand, to beg his food, but he could not obtain anything. Coming to the stable of the white elephant, he saw that the king furnished the latter with everything in abundance.[8]

He said to the elephant:

“You and I together have committed sins (doṣa, kilbiṣa).”

The elephant was at once remorseful and spent three days without eating. Worried, its keepers set out to look for the monk and, having found him, asked:

“What spell (mantra) have you placed on the king’s white elephant that it is sick and does not eat?”

He answered:

“In a previous lifetime, this elephant was my younger brother; under the Buddha Kaśyapa we left home (pravrajita) together to practice the Path. I was satisfied to keep the precepts, recite sūtras and practice dhyāna, but I did not practice generosity (dāna); on the other hand, my brother limited himself to soliciting patrons (dānapati) and making gifts; he did not observe the precepts and did not educate himself. Having thus renounced observing the precepts, reciting sūtras and practicing dhyāna, today he is this elephant; but because he was very generous, food (āhāra) and amenities [119c] (pariṣkāra) come to him in abundance. As for myself, I was content to practice the Path but I was not generous in making gifts; thus today, even though I have attained [the fruit] of arhathood, I am unsuccessful in getting any food when I beg.”[9]

This explains why causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) vary [for each individual] and why, although being born in [the golden] age of a Buddha, one may still be hungry and thirsty.

Question. – How did these beings see their bowls filled (pūrṇapātrā bhavanti sma)?

Answer. – Some say that the Buddha, by his miraculous power (ṛddhibala), created (nirmitīte) food that satisfied them. According to others, the Buddha’s rays, on touching their bodies, suppressed their hunger and thirst. This is like the wish-fulfilling jewel (cintāmaṇi): those who think of it have neither hunger nor thirst. What then could be said of those who meet the Buddha?

VIII. The sick are cured:

[The sūtra says that] the sick are cured (rogaspṛṣṭā vigatarogā bhavanto sma). There are two kinds of sickness (roga, vyādhi):[10]

1) All kinds of illnesses are contracted as punishment (vipāka) of actions carried out in previous lifetimes (pūrvajanmakarman).

2) In the present lifetime, all kinds of illnesses are also contracted following sudden cold (śīta), heat (uṣṇa) or wind (vāyu). In the present lifetime, sicknesses are of two types: i) internal sicknesses (ādhyātmikaroga): disturbances of the five internal organs, coagulation, sickness due to the stars, etc.; ii) external sicknesses (bāhyaroga): being crushed by a chariot, falling from a horse, being injured by weapons and other accidents of this kind.

Question. – What are the causes of sickness?

Answer. – For having devoted oneself in past lifetimes to all kinds of violence, e.g., beatings, pillage, imprisonment, etc., sicknesses are contracted in the course of the present lifetime. In the present lifetime, again all kinds of sickness are contracted due to lack of hygiene, wrong nourishment, irregularity of sleeping and rising. There are 404 different illnesses. These illnesses are cured by the Buddha’s miraculous powers (ṛddhibala). What is said is as follows: (also see Appendix 10)

The Buddha was in the country of Chö p’o t’i (Śrāvastī). A vaiśya invited him and the saṃgha to take a meal at his house. There are five reasons (hetupratyaya) why the Buddha, staying in a vihāra, would go for a meal: 1) He wishes to enter into samādhi; 2) He wishes to preach the Dharma to the devas; 3) He wishes to visit the monks’ cells in the course of his walk; 4) He wishes to care for the sick monks (glānopasthāna); 5) He wants the monks who have not yet taken the precepts to take the precepts (śīlasādāna). Then raising up the door-latch with his hand, the Buddha entered the bhikṣus’ cells; he saw a bhikṣu who was sick and had no care-giver (glānopasthāyika): unable to rise up from his bed, he carried out all his needs in his bed.

The Buddha asked him:

“Why, O unfortunate man, are you alone and without a care-giver?”

The bhikṣu answered:

Bhagavat, I am lazy by nature (svabhāvākāraka) and, when the others were sick, I did not care for them; thus, now that I am sick, the others are not caring for me.”

The Buddha said to him:

“My child, it is I who am going to take care of you.”

Then Che t’i p’o na min (Śakro devānām indraḥ) brought water (udaka) and the Buddha, with his own hands, washed the sick man’s body. When the washing was finished. all the sick man’s sufferings had disappeared, his body and his mind were at peace (yogakṣema). Then the Bhagavat helped the sick bhikṣu rise and go out of his cell, gave him clean garments, then he made him go back in, refresh his mattress (mañcaka) and sit down. Then he said to the sick bhikṣu:

“For a long time you have sought [120a] indolently to attain that which you have not yet attained, to understand that which you have not yet understood. This is why you have had to undergo these sufferings and you will still have more to suffer.”

Hearing these words, the bhikṣu said to himself:

“The Buddha’s loving-kindness is immense (apramāṇa), his miraculous power incalculable (asaṃkhyeya). When he washed me with his hand, my sorrows immediately disappeared; my body and my mind rejoiced.”

This is how the sick are healed by the miraculous power of the Buddha.

IX. The crippled recover their wholeness:

[The sūtra says that] the crippled recover their wholeness (hīnendritāḥ paripūrṇendriyā bhavanti sma). Why are they crippled?

1) In the course of their previous existences (pūrvajanma), these people had mutilated bodies (kāya), cut off heads (śiras), hands and feet (pāṇipāda) and broken limbs (kāyabhāga). Or they had broken a statue of the Buddha (buddhapratimā) and torn off its nose (ghrāna); they had damaged a picture of a saint or broken the grindstone of their parents. For these sins they are often crippled (aparipūrṇakāya) when they take on a body. Furthermore, as punishment for their bad dharmas (akuśaladharmavipāka), they are ugly (virūpa) from birth.

2) In the present existence (ihajanma), they are victims of robbers (caura) or butchers (ghātaka) and they are crippled because of all this. Or the sicknesses (vyādhi) of wind (vāyu), cold (śīta) or heat (uṣṇa) causes them physical discomfort and parts of their bodies become infected; this is why they are crippled. But thanks to the Buddha’s loving-kindness they recover their wholeness.

Thus, for example, the servant of the Jetavana (jetavanārāmika) called Kien ti (Gaṇḍaka) (also see Appendix 11) [Gaṇḍaka in the Ts’in language means ‘cut up’]. He was the brother of king Po sseu ni (Prasenajit); he was handsome (abhirūpa), kind (bhadra) and endowed with an excellent heart (kalyāṇāśaya). A high court lady fell in love with him, called him secretly and asked him to follow her, but Gaṇḍaka refused. The lady became very angry and slandered him to the king, placing the blame on him.[11] On hearing this, the king had him cut into pieces (gaṇḍagaṇḍam) and thrown into a cemetery (śmaśana). As he was not yet dead, a rākṣas tiger-wolf came during the night to feed him.[12] Then the Buddha came to him and shone his rays on him; his limbs reunited at once and his heart felt great joy.[13] The Buddha preached the Dharma to him and he attained the threefold Path (mārgatraya). Taking him by the hand, the Buddha led him to the Jetavana.

Then Gaṇḍaka said:

“My body was broken and abandoned; the Buddha has rejoined my limbs; I must dedicate my life to him. I give my body to the Buddha and to the saṃgha of bhikṣus.”

The next day, on hearing of this event, king Prasenajit went to the Jetavana and said to Gaṇḍaka:

“I am sorry for the mistake [I have committed] against you; indeed, you are not guilty, I have wrongly punished you; therefore I am going to give you half of my kingdom as compensation.”

Gaṇḍaka answered:

“I am satisfied, O king, you are not guilty either: it must be that way as punishment (vipāka) for faults [that I have committed] during my previous existences (pūrvanivāsa). But today I have given my body to the Buddha and the saṃgha; I will not return with you.”[14]

This is how the crippled who have lost their wholeness recover it when they receive the Buddha’s rays. This is why [the sūtra] says that the crippled recover their wholeness (hīnendriyāḥ paripūrṇendriyā bhavanti). They are reestablished as soon as they receive the Buddha’s rays.

Footnotes and references:


Similar exposition in Pañcaviṃśati, p. 9–10; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 18–19; Lalitavistara, p.278–279; Suvarṇaprabhāsa, ed. Nobel, p. 8–9; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 6036–6309.


The story of ‘Thin Gautamī’, in Pāli, Kisāgotamī, is especially well-known in the Pāli sources: Therīgathā Comm., p. 174 seq (tr. Rh. D., Sisters, p. 106–108); Apadāna, II, p. 564–567; Dhammapadaṭṭha, II, p. 270–275; III, p. 432 (tr. Burlingame, Legends, II, p. 257–260: III, p. 165–166); Manoratha, I,p.378–381; Ralston-Schiefner, Tibetan Tales, p. 216–226. See J. H. Thiessen, Die Legende von Kisāgotamī, Breslau, 1880. Kisāgotamī fled in despair with her dead child in her arms. She came to the Buddha who promised to bring her child back to life if she brought him a mustard seed from a house where nobody had died. She sought in vain for such a house until she realized that ‘the living are few and the dead are many’ and that the Buddha had wanted to teach her the universality of death. Comforted, she entered the monastic order where she attained arhathood.

This nun is different from Kisāgotamī, a young girl of Kapilavastu, known also under the name of Mṛgī who praised the future Buddha when he returned to his palace, addressing to him the famous stanza: Nibuttā nūna sā mātā … “Blessed truly the mother; blessed truly the father, blessed truly the wife who has such a husband as that.” Cf. Nidānakathā, p. 60; Mahāvastu, II, p. 157; Fo pen hing tsi king, T 190, k. 15, p. 724b; Tchong hiu mo ho ti king, T 191, k. 4, p. 944c; Ken pen chouo… p’o seng che, T 1450, k. 3, p. 114b.


An allusion to the religious practices of the Nirgranthas.


The Tsa p’i yu king, T 207 (no. 17), p. 526b, (tr. Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 31) tells that in a foreign kingdom evil rains having fallen, all those who drank that water became mad after seven days.


Canonical reference: Saṃyutta, II, p. 95 (Tsa a han, T 99, k. 12, p. 81c15): ‘In the same way that a monkey (makkata) playing about in the forest, seizes one branch, then lets it go and seizes another (sākhaṃ gaṇhati taṃ muñcitvā aññaṃ gaṃhati), so what is called ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’, appears and disappears in the perpetual alternation of day and night.”


See Kośa, III, p. 134–136.


The story of the two brothers here is taken from Tsa p’i yu king, T 207 (no. 3), p. 523a (tr. Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 4–6).


According to Tsa p’i yu king, the king maintained this elephant in luxury and had assigned the revenue of a city of many hundreds of households to the elephant’s maintenance.


In Tsa p’i yu king, it was to the king that the monk made this explanation; the king’s understanding was awakened and he released the monk.


See Hôbôgirin, Byô, p. 155.


In the Divyāvadāna and the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya (l.c.), the palace lady threw a garland of flowers (sragdāma) from the high terrace that fell onto Gaṇḍaka; the evil-meaning people went to tell the king that Gaṇḍaka had seduced one of his ladies.


There is no mention of a tiger-wolf in the other sources.


Here Gaṇḍaka is healed by the Buddha’s light and this confirms the thesis to be established, that on contact with the Buddha’s rays, the crippled recover their wholeness. But in the Dīvya and the Mūlasarvāstvādin Vinaya (l.c.) the Buddha does not intervene directly in Gaṇḍaka’s healing. He sends Ānanda to restore the young man’s hands and feet by pronouncing the phrase “Among all beings … the Tathāgata is foremost; among all dharmas … detachment (virāga) is foremost; among all assemblies … the assembly of the Hearers of the Tathāgata is foremost.” Hardly had these words been pronounced than the body of the young man resumed its former condition and he attained the state of anāgamin.


The Dīvyāvadāna adds that he will retire into the Buddha’s hermitage and that he will be the Buddha’s servant (upasthāyaka).