Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “usual light (prakritiprabha) of the buddha” 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.

Appendix 3 - The usual light (prakṛtiprabhā) of the Buddha

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XIV part 3.

“Question. – What is the usual light (prakṛtiprabhā) of the Buddha? Answer. – It is a light one armspan in width (vyāmaprabhā) surrounding the body of the Buddha on all sides; the Bodhisattva possessed it since his birth and it is one of the thirty-two marks (lakṣaṇa) called vyāmaprabhālakṣaṇa.”

A number of references to the thirty-two marks have been collected above. In the lists presumed to be the oldest, those of the Nikāyas and the Āgamas, the vyāmaprabha mark is missing or is put among the eighty secondary marks (anuvyañjana), but it does appear in the later lists: Tchong hiu mo ho ti king, 21st mark (T 191, k. 3, p. 940b); Pañcaviṃśati: 15th mark (T 223, k. 24, p. 395c); Daśasāhasrikā (ed. Sten Konow, p. 110); Bodh. bhūmi, 12th mark (p. 375; Vibhāṣā, 15th mark, (T 1543, k. 177, p. 888b).

The latter adds the following definition:

“The mark which consists of having a usual light (prakṛtiprabhā) the width of one armspan (siun = vyāma). Surrounding the body of the Buddha there is always a light, one armspan in width in all directions which shines constantly day and night.”

In the Āvadanas, on almost every page, there is a completely stereotyped physical description of the Buddha where this characteristic is always mentioned: cf. Avadānaśataka in 32 different places (e.g., p. 3, 18, 37, etc.); Divyāvadana (e.g., p. 45–47, 75, etc.):

Atha N. Bhagavantaṃ dadarśa dvātriṃśatā … samantato bhadrakam.

“Then N. saw the Bhagavat adorned with the thirty-two marks of the Great Man, his body resplendent with the eighty minor marks, having a light of one armspan surpassing the light of a thousand suns, like a moving mountain of jewels, excellent in every way.”

The austerities which Śākyamuni had undergone had dulled his thirty-two marks, but according to the Lalitavistara, p. 270, they reappeared along with the vyāmaprabhatā when the future Buddha ate the milk gruel offered to him by Sujātā. Some texts state that this light, one armspan in width, has a circular shape (cf. Divyāvadana, p. 361: vyāmaprabhāmaṇḍalamaṇḍitaṃ Bhagavato rūpam).

A. Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, II, p. 366–370, has studied representations of this usual light of the Buddha on Greco-Buddhist monuments. It is a flaming aureole surrounding the Buddha’s body on all sides.

“Naturally circular around a seated person, it has a tendency to become oval around a standing person.”

The author refers to the following monuments: a bas-relief in the Lahore Museum representing the great miracle at Śrāvastī where, above and to the right of the Buddha, there is a bodhisattva dressed like a Buddha, seated and surrounded by a luminous halo (Art Gréco-bouddhique, II, p. 331, fig. 459; Beginnings of Buddhist Art, p. XXVII); a statue in the Calcutta Museum showing the Buddha seated with a circular aureole into which are inserted episodes of the Buddha’s life (ibid., II, p. 351, fig. 463); a bas-relief in the British Museum dedicated to the legend of Dīpaṃkara, where the future Buddha to whom the prediction is about to be given is represented with a radiating aurole (ibid., I, p. 277, fig. 140); a coin from Kaniṣka representing a Buddha with nimbus and aureole (ibid., II, pl. V, 9).The aureole or halo which surrounds the entire body is to be distinguished from the nimbus (mukhamaṇḍala) which surrounds only the head. Sometimes both are represented at the same time on the bas-reliefs of Gandhāra (ibid., I, p. 192, fig. 76; II, p. 205, fig. 405), and especially on the monuments of central Asia; see A. von Le Coq, Bilderatlas zur Kunst Kulturgeschichte Mittel Asiens, Berlin, 1925, fig. 178); fig. 243 (mural painting in cave 103 at Touen-houang); fig. 245 (cave 111); fig. 246 (frieze at Qyzil); fig. 248–249 (statues of seated Buddha at Qyzil).