Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “description of the ratnavati universe and the buddha ratnakara” 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 9.1: Description of the Ratnāvatī universe and the Buddha Ratnākara

Sūtra: Then in the east, beyond universes as numerous as the sands of the Ganges and at the limit of these universes, there is a universe called To pao (Ratnāvatī) where there is a Buddha called Pao tse (Ratnākara) who is now teaching the Prajñāpāramitā to the bodhisattva-mahāsattvas (Atha khalu pūrvasyāṃ diśi gaṅgānadīvālukopamān lokadhātūn atikramya tebhyo yaḥ sarvāvasāniko lokadhātū Ratnāvatī nāma tatra Ratnākaro nāma tathāgatas tiṣṭhati. sa imām eva prajñāpāramitāṃ bodhisattvānāṃ mahāsattvānāṃ dharmam deśayati).

Śāstra: Question. – It has been said by the Buddha that the universes are innumerable (apramāṇa) and infinite (ananta); how can you speak of a universe situated at the limits of the universe (sarvāvasāniko lokadhātuḥ)? To talk in this way is to fall into the [heretical theory] of a finite world (anatavān lokaḥ). If the universes were limited [in number], the total number of beings would [at length] be exhausted. Actually, each one of the innumerable Buddhas saves an immense (aprameya) and incalculable (asaṃkhyeya) number of beings and introduces them into nirvāṇa without residue (nirupadhiśeṣanirodha); if there were not always new beings, their number would finally be exhausted.

Answer. – The Buddhist sūtras do indeed say that the universes are infinite in number, but this is a statement of a practical order (upāyokti) and not a true doctrine. In the same way, although the saint (chen here translates ‘tathāgata’) does not exist [after death], in practice (upāyena) we say that the saint exists [after death]. All of this is in the fourteen difficult questions [on which the Buddha refused to comment]. To say that the world is finite (antavān lokaḥ) or to say that the world is infinite (anantavān lokaḥ) are both wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi). If the universes were infinite [in number], the Buddha would not possess omniscience (sarvajñāna), for omniscience is a universal wisdom from which nothing can escape; if the universes were infinite, some things would escape him. On the other hand, if the universes were finite in number, you would run up against the difficulty you raised above [in your question]. Therefore both solutions are wrong. Why? Because by being based on the infinite, one destroys the finite. The Ratnāvatī universe is not the limit of all the universes, but the Buddha Śākyamuni abides in the extreme limit so that beings may be saved. Similarly, when one abides at the boundary of a country, one does not claim to be abiding at the boundary of Jambudvīpa. If the universes were infinite, the Buddha would not be omniscient; his wisdom being immense, he must know everything, for ‘if the letter is big, the envelope also must be big.’

Question. – This universe is called Ratnāvatī ‘Rich in Jewels’. There are two kinds of jewels: the [124b] substantial jewel (dhanaratna) and the dharma jewel (dharmaratna). What are these jewels the abundance of which merits the name Ratnāvatī for this universe?

Answer. – Both kinds of jewels occur in this universe. Furthermore, the many bodhisattvas [who inhabit it] are also jewels who illumine the nature of things (dharmatā). [Note by Kumārajīva: These jewels, namely the great bodhisattvas, serve as a diadem (ratnamukuṭa); in the center of this diadem we see the Buddha and we penetrate the nature of all dharmas]. As these jewels are numerous, the universe in question is called ‘Rich in Jewels’ (ratnāvatī).

There is a Buddha there called Ratnākara ‘Jewel Mine’. He is so called because he includes the pure faculties (anāsaravendriya), the powers (bala), the Path of bodhi and the other jewels of the Dharma (dharmaratna).

Question. – If that is so, all the Buddhas should be called Ratnākara. Why reserve the name Ratnākara for this Buddha alone?

Answer. – All the Buddhas have these jewels, but this Buddha is the only one to take his name from them. In the same way, Mi lö (Maitreya) is called ‘Loving-kindness’ (maitreya) although all the Buddhas have the same loving-kindness (maitrī), but Maitreya is the only one to have this as his name.

Furthermore, the Buddha Ratnapuṣpa was named Ratnapuṣpakumāra ‘Prince of Precious Flowers’ because at his birth, all the extremities of his body were adorned with various flowers of brilliant colors. The Buddha Dīpaṃkara was called Dīpaṃkarakumāra, ‘Prince, Lighter of Lamps’ because when he was born, all the extremities of his body were like lamps. When he became Buddha, he was still called Dīpaṃkara. It is the same for the Buddha Ratnākara: he was called ‘Jewel Mine’ because, when he was born, many precious substances appeared, whether produced from the earth or whether the gods rained down a whole collection of them.