Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of sunetra” 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 13 - The story of Sunetra

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XIV part 7.2.

“Thus the teacher Miao yen (Sunetra) said: ‘I have preached the Dharma to people and they have all been reborn among the Brahmakāyikas; I should not be reborn in the same place as my disciples; I am going to develop a higher loving-kindness’”.

Sunetra’s thought. – Aṅguttara, IV, p. 104: Na kho pan’ etaṃ paṭitūpaṃ … mettaṃ bhāveyyan ti. – Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 8), k. 2, p. 420c9; ibid. k. 30, p. 619c10; P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 82, p. 425a20.

Sunetra is particularly known by two sūtras, the Saptasūryodayasūtra and the Suṇetrasūtra:

1) The story of Sunetra in the Saptasūryodayasūtra:

The story of Sunetra is told by the Buddha at the end of some versions of the Saptasūryodayasūtra:

a. Aṅguttara, IV, p. 103–106;

b. Tchong a han, T 26 (no, 8), k. 2, p. 429b–c;

c. Ta tche tou louen, T 1509, k. 31, p. 290b–c;

d. Sa po to sou li yu nai ye king, T 30, p. 812c;

e. Extract of an anonymous sūtra, probably a version of a Saptasūryodayasūtra in the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 82, p. 424c–425a.

“In times past, there was a teacher named Sunetra, a ferryman (tīrthakara), who had renounced pleasures (kāmeṣu vītarāgaḥ). He had many hundreds of disciples to whom he taught the doctrine of participating in the world of Brahmā (brahmalokasahavyatā). Those who had completely understood his doctrine were reborn after death in the realm of Brahmā (brahmaloka); the others succeeded at least in being reborn among the gods of the kāmadhātu or in noble families.

Not wanting to be reborn in the same world as his students, Sunetra meditated for seven years on the mind of loving-kindness (maitrīcitta); thanks to this practice, for seven cosmic periods he avoided returning here and had a long series of rebirths among the Ābhasvara gods, the Mahābrahmāṇas, then as Śakra and finally as a cakravartin king. Nevertheless, he did not escape from birth, old age and sickness because he had not understood the four noble dharmas, i.e., morality (śīla), samādhi, wisdom (prajñā) and deliverance (vimukti).”

We may note that Sunetra is not mentioned in the Saptasūryodayasūtra of the Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 34, p. 735b–738a, or in the extract which the Śikṣasamuchchaya, p. 247, gives of this sūtra.

Whereas the Aṅguttara and the Tchong a han do not establish any link between Sunetra and the Buddha, the Ta tche tou louen (k. 1, p. 290c) and the Sa po to sou li yu nai ye king, p. 812c18, have the Buddha say: “This tathāgata Sunetra of times gone by was not a pratyekabuddha; he was none other than me.” Similarly the Kośa, IX, p. 271, and the Kośavyākhyā, p. 710, cite a Saptasūryodayasūtra where the Buddha says: “In the past, the teacher Sunetra was myself” (Saptasūryodayasūtre ‘yam eva bhagavān ṛṣiḥ Sunetra nāma babhūveti).

2) The story of Sunetra in the Sunetrasūtra:

The Sunetrasūtra which is in Aṅguttara, III, p. 371–372; ibid., IV, P. 135–136; Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 130), k. 30, p. 619b–c, lists six teachers (satthā), ferrymen, completetly renounced (vītarāga), having several hundreds of disciples to whom they taught the doctrine of participating in the world of Brahmā (brahmalokasahavyatā). To criticize or insult them would be a grave demerit (bahuṃ apuññaṃ). These six teachers are Sunetra, Mugapakkha, Aranemi, Kuddālaka, Hatthipāla Jotipāla.

Buddhaghosa does not comment on this passage, but these six teachers are probably earlier births of the Buddha.

Actually, Sunetra appears among others individuals in the lists of Jātakas of the Buddha: Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā, p. 23, l. 16; Laṅkāvatāra, p. 141; Karmavibhaṅga, p. 36–37, where Sunetra appeara as an incarnation of Sarvauṣadhivaidyarāja who is none other tha the Buddha: Saptasūryopadeṣe Sunetro nāma mānavo bijñeyaḥ ahaṃ sa bhikṣavas tena kālena Sarvauṣadhivaidyarājo ‘bhūt.

Aśvaghoṣa mentions Sunetra is a verse of the Saundarānanda, XI, 57 which M. Johnson considers to be an interpolation: maitrayā saptavārṣikyā … garbhavāsam upeyivān.

Along with Asama, Sunetra was the first disciple of the Buddha Śobhita: cf. Nidānakathā, p. 35; Buddhavaṃsa, VII, v. 21.