Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “identification of the dharma teacher ‘kao tso’” 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 9 - Identification of the Dharma teacher ‘Kao Tso’

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XIV part 5.8:

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

Kao tso may not be a proper name; these characters mean ‘he who sits on a high seat’ and probably translate the Sanskrit uccāsane niṣaṇṇaḥ, which occurs in the Pāli Pāṭimokkha, 69th sekhiya (Vinaya, IV, p. 204): na nīce āsane nisīditvā ucce āsane nissinnassa agilānassa dhammaṃ desessāmi: “I will not preach the Dharma while sitting on a seat lower than a man who is sitting on a higher chair, unless he is sick” and in the Sanskrit Sarvāstivādin Prātimokṣa, 92nd śaikṣa (L. Finot, Le Prātimokṣasūtra des Sarvāstivādin, Extracts of JA, Nov.-Dec., 1913, p. 75; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 8603; Che song pi k’ieou po lo y’i mou tch’a kiai pen, T 1436, p. 478a4: na niccāsane niṣaṇṇā uccāsane niṣaṇṇasyāglānasya dharmaṃ deśaayiṣyāmaḥ.

Therefore a kao-tso teacher is a teacher seated on a throne to teach.

We know that the famous translator Dharmarakṣa who came from a family of Scythian origin established at Touen Houang and who lived in the 3rd century, was the student of the Hindu Kao tso (Tchou Kao tso) whom he accompanied into the Western countries. Here again kao tso is an honorific title rather than a proper name.

We should note that the Kao tso presented to us here by the Mppś is a native of southern India, that he converted the king and ensured his protection in an original way – by his actions rather than by words – and that he finally triumphed over the heretics. These three points constitute the outline of Nāgārjuna’s biography and, if indications were not so slight, I [Lamotte] could easily believe that Kao tso is none other than Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna was also a native of southern India (Andhra) and was a friend of king Śatavahana.

Many sources, more or less dependent on one another, tell us how he was converted; it was indeed in the manner of Kao tso:

“When Nāgārjuna came back from the nāgas, the king of southern India, full of wrong views, favored the tīrthikas and disputed the holy Dharma. In order to convert him, Nāgārjuna appeared before him with a red flag for seven consecutive years. The king was astonished and asked who was this man before him. Nāgārjuna replied: ‘I am omniscient (sarvajñā).’ The king was startled at these words and said: ‘An omniscient one is very rare; how can you prove that?’ Nāgārjuna answered: ‘If the king wishes to test my science, he must pay attention to my words…’ The king then asked him what the devas were doing at that moment; Nāgārjuna told him that the devas were fighting against the asuras. At that moment the king heard a sound as if someone were being choked. Not belieiving that this sound was coming from the devas, he said that that was no proof… Then at once a mass of shields, spears and weapons fell from the sky. The king then said: ‘Although these are certainly weapons, how do you know [that they come] from the devas fighting with the asuras?’… Immediately, severed hands, feet, ears and noses of the asuras fell from the sky… The king bowed his head and was converted. Some brahmins who were on the palace terrace cut their hair and took on the precepts (śīla). From that time on Nāgārjuna spread Buddhism widely in southern India, vanquished the tīrthikas and developed the Mahāyāna.”

This story is drawn from a biography of Nāgārjuna attributed, wrongly, without a doubt, to Kumārajīva: the Long chou p’ou sa rchouan, T 2047, p. 186a–b; it is repeated by later biographies (Fou fa tsang yin yuan tchouan, T 2058, k. 5, p. 318a–b; Fo tsou t’ong ki, T 2035, k. 5, p. 174c; Fo tsou li t’ong tsai, T 2036, k. 4, p. 503a–b) but its great antiquity is attested by a note of Kumārajīva inserted in the Tchou wei mo kie king, T 1775, k. 2, p.330, where the episode is summarized.

The same sources tell also about a brahmin who, in discussion with Nāgārjuna, produced a magic pool in the middle of which was a lotus with a thousand petals, and how Nāgārjuna astounded him by creating a white elephant with six tusks that upset the pool.

In the victory of Kao tso over the tīrthikas as it is told here in the Mppś, we see perfect agreement with the biographies of Nāgārjuna written in the same spirit and with the same concerns. It would be rather tempting to identify Kao tso with Nāgārjuna. If the latter is really the author of the Mppś, he was thus transmitting to us an anecdote in his own life designating himself not by his name Long chou or Nāgārjuna, but by his title: Fa che kao tso ‘the Dharma teacher on the throne’, in Sanskrit uccāsana dharmācārya. But this hypothesis is so risky that it hardly merits attention.