Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “examination of the plurality of 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.

Act 9.2: Examination of the plurality of Buddha

Objections to the plurality of Buddha

Objector. – Only the Buddha Śākyamuni exists; the Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadigbuddha) do not exist. Why?

Argument number 1. – The Buddha Śākyamuni with his immense power (apramāṇabala) and his immense superknowledges (apramāṇābhijñā) is capable of saving all beings [by himself]; there is no need of other Buddhas. It is said (see Appendix 1: The Great Miracle at Śrāvastī) that Ānanda, absorbed with one-pointed mind (ekacittena manasikurva), said to himself: “The Buddhas of the past, Ratnapuṣpa, Dīpaṃkara, etc., were all born in marvelous times; their life was very long and they saved all beings. Then how could the present Buddha, born at a bad time and of short life, save all beings?” These were the questions he asked himself. At dawn (sūryodaya), the Buddha, who knew Ānanda’s thoughts, entered into the Daybreak samādhi (sūryodayasamādhi); then he emitted rays (raśmi) from all the pores of his skin (romakūpa). Like the sun, he emitted rays the brilliance of which spread successively over Jambudvīpa, the four continents (caturdvīpaka), the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu and finally over all the innumerable universes of the ten directions (daśadiglokadhātu). Then the Bhagavat sent forth from his navel (nābhi) a precious lotus (ratnapuṣpa) described by the following stanzas:

The stem (daṇḍa) is of green jade (vaiḍūrya),
The petals (pattra), a thousand in number, are of yellow gold.
The corolla (vedikā) is of diamond (vajra)
The trimming is of coral (musāragalva).

The stem is flexible, without the usual curves,
Its height is ten armspans (vyāma);
[124c] Having the color of green jade,
It is planted in the Buddha’s navel.

Its leaves are broad and long,
White in color, striped with marvelous colors.
Infinitely precious ornament,
The thousand petalled lotus.

This marvelous lotus of such beautiful colors
Emerges from the Buddha’s navel.
On the four petals of its corolla
Precious seats shine with divine light.

On each of these seats sits a Buddha;
One would call them four golden mountain summits.
Their light is equal as if one.

From the navels of these four Buddhas
Comes a magnificent precious lotus.
On each lotus there is a seat,
On each seat there is a Buddha.

From the navels of all these Buddhas,
Come in turn precious lotuses.
On each lotus there is a seat;
On each seat there is a Buddha.

These successive creations
Rise up to the Śuddhāvāsa heaven;
Whoever would like to know how far
Will have to resort to the following comparison:

An enormous rock
Having the size of a high mountain,
Thrown from the height of the Śuddhāvāsa
And falling straight down without meeting any obstacle

Would take eighteen thousand three hundred
And eighty-three years
To land on the earth;[1]
That is the number of years it would take.

In the intermediate space,
Emanated Buddhas, placed in the center,
Spread out a brilliant light
That surpasses the fires of the sun and moon.

Some Buddhas have bodies streaming with water,
Others have bodies emitting fire;[2]
Sometimes they appear to walk,
Sometimes they are seated in silence.

Some Buddhas go to beg their food
To make a gift of it to beings.
Sometimes they preach the Dharma,
Sometimes they shoot out rays.

Sometimes they go to visit the three bad destinies
And the hells of water, the shadows and fire.[3]
Their warm breath warms up the cold water,
Their rays illumine the shadows,

In the fiery places, they breathe out a cooling breeze,
Skillfully they calm the torments [of the damned].
By pacifying them and calming them
They save them by the bliss of the Dharma (dharmasukha).

By all of these skillful means (upāya) [these apparitional Buddhas], all at the same time, wanted to save the innumerable beings of the ten directions. When they had saved them, they returned to their starting point and re-entered the navel of the Buddha.

[125a] Then the Bhagavat, coming out of the Sūryodhayasamādhi, asked Ānanda: “Did you see the power of my abhijñā during this samādhi?” Ānanda relied: “Yes, I saw it”, and added: “If it is sufficient for the Buddha to appear for just one day in order that the disciples converted by him (vineyaśrāvaka) fill space (ākāśa), what would not the number of those converted amount to if he remained in the world for eighty years?”

This is why we say that one single Buddha, whose qualities (guṇa) and miraculous power (ṛddhibala) are immense, suffices to convert the ten directions without the need for other Buddhas.

Argument number 2. – Furthermore, the Buddha said: “A woman cannot be a cakravartin king, Śakradevendra, or Māradevarāja, or Brahmādevarāja. Two cakravartin kings cannot reign together at the same place. Similarly, with regard to the Bhagavat with ten powers, there cannot be two Buddhas existing in the same world.”

Argument number 3. – Finally, the Buddha said – and his words are not frivolous – that two Buddhas do not exist at the same time: “One thing that is difficult to find is a Buddha Bhagavat. It takes innumerable koṭi of kalpas to find one. In 91 kalpas, there have been only three Buddhas. Before the good kalpa (bhadrakalpa), during the 91st kalpa, there was a Buddha called Vipaśyin, ‘Views of All Kinds’; during the 31st kalpa, there were two Buddhas; the first was called Śikhin, ‘Fire’, and the second Viśvabhū, ‘Victorious Over All’. During the good kalpa, there were four Buddhas, Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni “Golden Sage’, Kaśyapa and Śākyamuni. Except for these kalpas, all the others were empty (śūnya), lacking Buddhas and miserable.”[4]

If the Buddhas of the ten directions existed, how could [the Buddha] say that the other kalpas lacked buddhas and were miserable?

Answer to the objections:

1. Refutation of argument number 1. – Although the Buddha Śākyamuni, endowed with immense miraculous power (apramaṇaṛddhibala), is able to create the apparitional Buddhas (nirmāṇabuddha) established in the ten directions, preaching the Dharma, emitting rays and saving beings, he is, however, not able to save beings without exception. [To claim the opposite] would be to fall [into the heresy] that assigns a limit to existences (bhavānta) and to deny the existence of the Buddhas of the past. Since the number of beings is inexhaustible (akṣaya), there must be other Buddhas [than Śākyamuni to work for their salvation].

2. Refutation of argument number 2. – You also object: “The Buddha has said that a female cannot be five things, that two cakravartin kings cannot appear in the world simultaneously and, likewise, that two Buddhas cannot exist in the same world at the same time.” You do not understand the meaning of this text. The Buddhist sūtras have two meanings: Some have a meaning that is easy to undestand (sulabha), others have a profound (gambhīra) meaning, remote (vipakṛṣṭa) and difficult to grasp (durvigāhya). Thus, at the moment of entering Nirvāṇa, the Buddha said to the bhikṣus:[5] “Henceforth, you must rely on the truth in itself and not on any authority, whatever it may be (dharmapratisaraṇena bhavutayaṃ na pudgalaprati-saraṇena); you must rely on the meaning (spirit) and not on the letter (arthapratisaraṇena bhavitavyaṃ na vyañjanaprtisataṇena); you must rely on gnosis and not on discursive knowledge (jñānapratisaraṇena bhavitavyaṃ na vijñānaprtisaraṇena); you must rely on the sūtras of explicit meaning and not on the sūtras of indeterminate meaning (nītārthasūtra-pratisaraṇena bhavitavyaṃ na neyārthasūtrapratisaraṇena).”

a) Relying on the truth in itself (dharmapratisaraṇena) is keeping to the twelve categories of texts (dvādaśāṅgadharma)[6] and not keeping to the authority of a person.

b) Relying on the meaning (arthapratisaraṇa), since goodwill or malice, defect or merit, falsity or truth, cannot be attributed [125b] to meaning. It is the letter (vyañjana) that indicates the meaning (artha), but the meaning is not the letter. Suppose a man points his finger at the moon to people who doubt the moon’s presence; if these doubters fixate on the finger but do not look at the moon, this man tells them: “I am pointing to the moon with my finger so that you may notice the moon. Why do you fixate on my finger instead of looking at the moon?”[7] It is the same here: the letter (vyañjana) is the finger pointing to the meaning (artha), but the letter is not the meaning. This is why one should not rely on the letter.

c) Relying on gnosis (jñānapratisaraṇa). – Gnosis (jñāna) allows one to appreciate and distinguish between good and evil; discursive knowledge (vijñāna) is always seeking pleasure (sukha) and does not penetrate the essence.[8] This is why one should not rely on discursive knowledge.

d) Relying on sūtras of explicit meaning (nītārthasūtrapratisaraṇa). – Those sūtras are of explicit meaning that say: “Of all the omniscient ones (sarvajñā), the Buddha is foremost; among all the texts, the Buddhist texts are foremost; among all beings (sattva), the bhikṣus are foremost.”[9] “Through generosity one acquires great merit (puṇya).”[10] “Discipline (śīla) allows one to be reborn among the gods”,[11] etc. – On the other hand, that sūtra is of indeterminate meaning which says: “By preaching the Dharma, the Dharma teacher (dharmācārya) is assured of five benefits: great merit, people’s love, beauty, renown, final attainment of nirvāṇa.”[12]

Why is this sūtra of indeterminate meaning? It is evident and easy to understand that generosity (dāna) involves great merit (mahāpunya), [but it is not so clear] that preaching the Dharma (dharmadeśana), which is not a material gift (āmiṣadāna), is meritorious, as this sūtra would have it. Nevertheless, it is meritorious; for the preacher, by praising generosity in every way, destroys the greed (mātsarya) of others and combats his own greed: this is why his preaching is meritorious. [But the sūtra’s allegation being itself unclear], is called ‘of indeterminate meaning (anītārtha)’. Many sūtras, out of skillful means (upāya), say things that [seem] to be inexact [at first sight and which require explanation].

Thus, a sūtra has said that “two Buddhas cannot appear together in the same world”, but by ‘the same world’ the sūtra does not mean to designate all the universes of the ten directions. The sūtra also says that “two cakravartin kings are not found in the world together”; it does not mean to say that two cakravartin kings cannot coexist in the same trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu; it says only that two cakravartin kings cannot coexist in the same cāturdvīpaka (universe of four continents). It is necessary to aquire very pure merit (punyaviśuddhi) in order to reign over the entire world without encountering a rival [as is the case for the cakravartins]. If there were two kings [in the same world]. that would mean that their merit was not pure. Similarly, although the Buddhas have no feeling of jealousy (īrṣyā) one against the other, over lifetimes they have accomplished such pure actions that they cannot both appear in the same world (lokadhātu), namely, in the same trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu consisting of a a million Mount Sumerus, a million suns and moons. In the ten directions, these trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātus are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges and each of them constitutes the universe of a Buddha (ekabuddhalokadhātu); only one Buddha is found there, never two. In one of these Buddha universes, the single buddha Śākyamuni incessantly creates emanated Buddhas (nirmāṇabuddha) who resort to preaching (dharmaparyāya), to apparitional bodies (kāya), to causes and skillful means (upāya) of all kinds in order to save beings. It is in this sense that it is said in many sūtras that two Buddhas cannot exist simultaneously in the same world. That does not mean that there are not [many] Buddhas in the ten directions [at the same time].

Refutation of argument number 3. – You also made the objection: “The Buddha has said that it is hard to find a Buddha Bhagavat” and you said that in 91 kalpas, only three kalpas had a [125c] Buddha and that the other kalpas were empty, lacking a Buddha, and were miserable.

The Buddha has in mind those guilty men who have not planted the roots of good needed to see a Buddha (anavaropitakuśalamūlā buddhadarśanāya) when he said: “The appearance of a Buddha is a rare thing, as rare as the appearance of a flower on the udumbara tree (Ficus glomerata)”. Indeed, these sinners cycle through the three bad destinies (durgati), sometimes even being reborn among humans or among the gods; but when a Buddha appears in the world, they are unable to see him. It is said that among the 900,000 householders in the city of Śrāvastī, 300,000 saw the Buddha, 300,000 heard him speak but did not see him, 300,000 did not even hear him speak. Now the Buddha lived at Śrāvastī for 25 years and, if some citizens did not see him and some did not hear him speak, what can be said of people living far away?

One day, accompanied by Ānanda, the Buddha went to Śrāvastī on his alms-round. A poor old woman was standing at the roadside. Ānanda said to the Buddha: “This woman is worthy of compassion; the Buddha should save her.” The Buddha replied: “This woman does not have the conditions required [to be saved].” Ānanda continued: “May the Buddha approach her. When she sees the Buddha with his major marks (lakṣaṇa) and minor marks (anuvyañjana) and his rays (raśmi), she will experience a joyful mind (muditācitta) and will thus fulfill the required conditions.” Then the Buddha came near the woman, but she turned away and showed her back to him. The Buddha tried to approach her from four different sides; each time she turned her back to him in the same way. She looked up in the air, but when the Buddha came down to her, she lowered her head at once. The Buddha rose up from the earth [to make her see him], but she lowered her face with her hands and did not want to look at the Buddha.[13] Then the Buddha said to Ānanda: “What more can I do? Everything is useless; there are people who do not fulfill the conditions necessary for being saved and who do not succeed in seeing the Buddha.” That is why the Buddha has said that it is as difficult to meet a Buddha as a flower on the udumbara tree. With the Buddha, it is like rain-water (varṣajala), easy to receive in folded hands, but which the pretas, ever thirsty, never get.[14]

You say that in 91 kalpas, only three times has there been a Buddha. This holds for one Buddha universe taken alone but does not hold for all the Buddha universes taken together. Similarly, the other affirmation which says that “the other kalpas were empty, without Buddhas, and miserable”, applies only to one Buddha universe alone and not to all the others taken together. This is why we affirm the existence of the Buddhas of the ten directions.

Arguments in favor of the plurality of Buddhas:

Furthermore, the Buddhas of the ten directions do appear in the śrāvaka texts, but you do not understand these texts.

1) In the Tsa a han king (Saṃyuktāgamasūtra),[15] it is said: “When it is pouring rain, the rain drops (bindu) are so close together that they cannot be counted. It is the same for the universes (lokadhātu). In the east (pūrvasyāṃ diś), I see innumerable beings born, subsisting and perishing. Their number is very great, defying calculation. It is the same in the ten directions. In these universes of the ten directions, innumerable beings undergo the threefold physical suffering (kāyaduḥkha), old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa); the threefold mental suffering, desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa) and ignorance (moha); and the threefold suffering of rebirth (punarbhavaduḥkha), rebirth among the damned (naraka), the pretas and animals (tiryagyoni). All of these universes have three types of men, inferior (avara), middling (madhya) or [126a] superior (agra). Inferior men are attached (sakta) to present happiness, middling men to future happiness, superior men seek the Path; they are filled with loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) and have pity for beings.” When the causes and conditions [necessary for the coming of a Buddha] are present, why would the effect, [namely, the coming of a Buddha] not be produced? The Buddha has said: “If there were no sickness, old age and death, Buddhas would not appear.”[16] That is because when one sees people tormented by old age, sickness and death, one makes the resolution (praṇidhāna) to become Buddha in order to save all beings, cure their mental illnesses and take them out of the pain of rebirths. Now, precisely these universes of the ten directions show all the causes and conditions required for the coming of a Buddha (buddhaprādurbhāva). How can you say that our universe is the only one to have a Buddha and the others do not? You merit as little credence as the person who says: “Here there is wood, but there is no fire; the ground is wet, but there is no water.” It is the same for the Buddha. These beings suffer the pains of old age, sickness and death in their bodies; their minds are subject to the sicknesses of desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa) and ignorance (moha); the Buddha appears in the world to destroy this threefold suffering and introduce beings into the triple vehicle (yānaytraya). How could the Buddha not appear in all the universes where this suffering exists? It would be wrong to say that s single remedy (agada) is enough to cure numberless blind people (andhapuruṣa) [and consequently, a single Buddha to cure numberless beings]. Therefore the Buddhas of the ten directions must necessarily exist.

2) Furthermore, a sūtra[17] in the Tch’ang a han (Dīrghāgama) says: “There was a king of the asuras, guardian of the north; during the last watch of the night, he went to the Buddha with many hundreds of koṭi of asuras, and having bowed down to the Buddha’s feet, he stood to one side; emitting a pure light, he illumined the Jetavana with a great light. Joining his hands together, he praised the Buddha with the following stanzas:

Great hero, I take refuge in you!
Buddha, the greatest of those who walk on two feet.       
What you know with the wisdom-eye
The gods cannot understand.

Whether they be past, future, or present
I bow before all the Buddhas.
Taking refuge today in the Buddha
I also pay homage equally to the Buddhas of the three times.”

In these stanzas, it is a question of the Buddhas of the ten directions; the asura king bows before the Buddhas of the three times; then, in particular, he takes refuge in the Buddha Śākyamuni. If the actual Buddhas of the ten directions did not exist, he would take refuge only in the Buddha Śākyamuni and he would not say anything about the other past (atīta), future (anāgata) or present (pratyutpanna) Buddhas. This is why we affirm the existence of the Buddhas of the ten directions.

3) Furthermore, if there were, in the past, innumerable Buddhas, if there will be, in the future, innumerable Buddhas, there must also be, in the present, innumerable Buddhas.

4) Furthermore, if, in the śrāvaka texts, the Buddha had spoken of incalculable (asaṃkhyeya) and innumerable (apramāṇa) Buddhas of the ten directions, beings would have said: “Since Buddhas are so easy to find, it is not necessary to seek deliverance (vimokṣa) zealously. If we won’t meet this particular Buddha, we’ll meet another one later.” Out of laziness (kausīdya) they would not diligently seek their salvation. A gazelle that has not been shot at by [126b] an arrow (sara) does not know fear; but once it has been shot at, it bounds away [at the approach of the hunter]. In the same way, people who know the sufferings of old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa) and who have heard that there is but one Buddha who is very hard to find, feel fear, make energetic efforts and quickly come to escape from suffering. This is why, in the śrāvaka texts, the Buddha has not spoken about the existence of the Buddhas of the ten directions but neither did he say they do not exist.

5) If the Buddhas of the ten directions exist and if you deny their existence, you are committing a sin of immediate retribution (ānantaryāpatti). On the other hand, if the Buddhas of the ten directions do not exist and, nevertheless, I affirm their existence merely to produce the notion of Buddhas infinite in number (apramāṇabuddhasaṃjñā), I gain the merit of paying homage to them (satkārapunya). Why is that? Because it is good intention (kuśalacitta) that makes great merit. Thus, in the samādhi of loving-kindness (maitrīcittasamādhi), one considers all beings and sees them all happy; even though there is no real benefit for the beings [to be considered as happy], the person who considers them in this way with loving-kindness gains immense merit. It is the same for [the person who sets out] the idea of the Buddhas of the ten directions.

If the Buddhas of the ten directions really exist and if one denies their existence, one commits the extremely grave sin of attacking the Buddhas of the ten directions. Why? Because one is attacking something true. The person does not see these Buddhas with his fleshly eye (māṃsacakṣus); but if he affirms their existence out of faith (cittaprasāda), his merit (puṇya) is immense. On the contrary, if he mentally denies their existence, since these Buddhas actually exist, his sin (āpatti) is very grave. If, then, the person should believe in the existence [of the Buddhas of the ten directions] from their own lights, why should he not then believe in them when the Buddha in person has proclaimed the existence of these Buddhas in the Mahāyāna?

Question. – In the ten directions, if there is an immense number of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, why do they not come [to the aid] of the beings who, at the present time, are falling into the three bad destinies (durgati)?

Answer. – 1) Because the sins (āpatti) of these beings are too serious.[18] Even if the Buddhas and bodhisattvas come [to their aid], these beings would not see them.

2) Moreover, the dharmakāya Buddhas ceaselessly emit rays (raśmi) and ceaselessly preach the Dharma but, because of their sins, these beings neither see nor hear them. Thus, when the sun (sūrya) rises, blind people (andha) do not see it; when thunder (vajra) shakes the earth, deaf people (badhira) do not hear it; similarly, the dharmakāya emits rays ceaselessly and preaches the Dharma ceaselessly, but the beings who have accumulated sins (āpatti) and stains (mala) in the course of innumerable kalpas do not see it and do not hear it. If the mirror (ādarśa) is clear or if the water (jala) is limpid, one can see one’s image in it; but if the mirror is dirty or the water disturbed, one sees nothing; in the same way, beings of pure mind see the Buddha, while those of impure mind do not see him. Although even today, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions come to save beings, they cannot see them.

3) Moreover, the Buddha Śākyamuni, born in Jambudvīpa, lived in Kapilavastu, but often traveled to the six great cities of eastern India.[19] One day he flew to southern India to the home of the vaiśya Yi eul (Koṭikarṇa), whose veneration he received. (also see Appendix 2) Another day, he went to northern India to the kingdom of the Yue tche; there he subdued the nāga-king A po lo (Apalāla); then, going to the west of the Yue tche kingdom, he subdued the rākṣasī, stayed in her cave (guhā) and, even until today, the Buddha’s shadow has remained there: those who go [126c] inside the cave see nothing, but when they come outside, they see the rays at a distance. Finally, the Buddha flew to Ki pin (Kapiśa?) on the mountain of the ṛṣi Li po t’o (Revata); remaining in space, he subdued this ṛṣi, who said to him: “I would like to stay here; would the Buddha please leave me one of his hairs (keśa) and one of his fingernails (nakha)?” The ṛṣi then built a stūpa to venerate them which still exists today; at the foot of this mountain is the monastery (vihāra) of Li yue, to be pronounced Li po t’o (Revata). (also see Appendix 3)

If people who were born in the same country as the Buddha were unable to see him, then what can be said of strangers? Therefore, it is not because the Buddhas of the ten directions are unseen that one can say that they do not exist.

4) Furthermore, the bodhisattva Mi lö (Maitreya), despite his great loving-kindness (maitrī), stays in his celestial palace and does not come here. But, because he does not come, can it be said that he does not exist? If we find it strange that Maitreya, who is so close [to us], does not come, why should we be surprised that the Buddhas of the ten directions who are so far away do not come [to us]?

5) Furthermore, if the Buddhas of the ten directions do not come here, it is because beings are laden with very heavy wrong-doings (āpatti) and stains (mala), and do not fulfill the qualities (guṇa) needed to see the Buddhas.

6) Moreover, the Buddhas, [before coming], first must know it the roots of good (kuśalamūla) of beings are ripe (pakva) and their fetters (saṃyojana) light. It is only after that that they come here. It is said:

By a preliminary examination, the Buddhas recognize beings
Whom no skillful means (upāya) can save,
Those who are difficult to save or easy to convert,
Those whose conversion will be slow or fast.

By means of the rays, by the bases of miraculous power (ṛddhibāla),
By all kinds of means, the Buddhas save beings.
There are rebels whom the Buddha avoids,
There are rebels whom the Buddha does not protect.

He has hard words for the violent who are difficult to convert;
He has soft words for the gentle who are easy to save.
Despite his loving-kindness, his compassion and his equanimity,
He knows the favorable time and, in his wisdom, he uses skillful means.

This is why, although the Buddhas of the ten directions do not come here, it cannot be said that they do not exist.

7) Moreover, if the great arhats such as Śāriputra, etc., and the great bodhisattvas such as Maitreya, etc., cannot know the wisdom (prajñā), power (bāla), skillful means (upāya) and superknowledges (abhijñā) of the Buddha, how could worldlings (pṛthaqgjana) know them?

8) Finally, when, menaced by imminent danger, a being wholeheartedly invokes the Buddhas or great bodhisattvas, it sometimes happens that they do come to his aid.

a. Thus in the west of Ta yue tche, near the monastery (vihāra) of Buddhoṣṇīṣa,[20] there was a man suffering leprosy (pāman, kuṣṭa), a wind sickness (vāyuvyādhi). He went to the statue (pratimā) of the bodhisattva Pien ki (Samantabhadra); one-pointedly (ekacittena) he took refuge in him (śaraṇaṃ gataḥ) and, thinking of the qualities of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, he asked him to remove his sickness. Immediately the statue of the bodhisattva rubbed the leper’s body with the precious rays [that came] from his stoney hand and the sickness disappeared.

b. In a certain land, there was a forest bhikṣu (araṇyabhikṣu) who often recited the Mahayāna [sūtras]. The king of the land always gave him his hair (keśa) to trample under his [127a] feet. A bhikṣu said to the king: “This man, O mahārāja, has not often recited the sūtras; why do you pay him so much homage?” The king replied: “Once in the middle of the night, I went to see this bhikṣu whom I found in a cave (guhā) reciting the Fa houa king (Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra). I saw another man with golden colored rays (suvarṇavarṇaraśmi) mounted on a white elephant who, with joined palms (kṛtāñjali), paid homage to the bhikṣu. When I approached, he disappeared. I then asked the venerable one (bhadanta) why the man with the rays had disappeared at my arrival. The bhikṣu answered: “That is the bodhisattva Pien ki (Samantabhadra); this bodhisattva has made the following vow: ‘Each time someone recites the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, I will come on a white elephant to teach him (avavāda).’[21] As I was reciting the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, the bodhisattva Samantabhadra came in person.” [Note by Kumārajīva: Pien ki in the Fa houa king is called P’ou hien, Samantabhadra].

c. Finally, in a certain country, there was a bhikṣu who recited the A mi t’o fo king (Amitābhabuddhasūtra) and the Mo ho pan jo po lo mi (Mahāprajñāpāramitā). When he was about to die, he said to his students: “Here comes the Buddha Amitābha with his great saṃgha”; his body shook, he took refuge and died at once. After his death, his students built a funeral-pyre and burned him. The next day, among the ashes (bhasman) they discovered the bhikṣu’s tongue (jihvā) which had not burned up. Because he had recited the Amitābhabuddhasūtra, this bhikṣu had seen the buddha Amitābha come to him; because he had recited the Prajñāpāramitā, his tongue could not be burned.[22]

These are facts of the present day, and the sūtras tell of many cases of Buddhas and bodhisattvas appearing. Thus in many places there are people whose sins (āpatti), stains (mala) and bonds (bandhana) are light; they wholeheartedly (ekacittena) invoke the Buddha; their faith (śraddhā) is pure and free of doubt; they will necessarily succeed in seeing the Buddha and their efforts will not be in vain.

For all these reasons, we know that the Buddhas of the ten directions really exist.

Footnotes and references:


This is the number given by the Jñānaprasthāna, cf. Beal, Catena, p. 83.


In other words, they are accomplishing the yamakaprātihārya.


For these Buddhist hells, see Kirfel, Kosmographie des Inder, p. 199–206.


Mahāpadānasuttanta in Dīgha, II, p. 2; Tch’ong a han, T 1, k. 1, p. 1c; Ts’i fo king, T 2, P. 150a; Ts’i fo fou mou sing tseu king, T 4, p. 159b: Ito so bhikkhave ekanavuto kappo yaṃ Vipassī bhagavā …ahaṃ etarahi arahaṃ sammāsambuddha loke uppanno.

Other references about the seven Buddhas in Hôbôgirin, Butsu, p. 193–96.


This is the sūtra of ‘the four reliances’ (catvāri pratisaraṇāni) attested to only recently:

Kośa, IX, p. 246 and Kośavyākhyā, p. 704: catvārīmāni bhikṣavaḥ pratisaraṇāni. Katamānī … jñānaṃ pratisaraṇaṃ na vijñānam.

Dharmasaṃgraha, ch. LIII: catvāri pratisaraṇāni. tadyathā arthapratisaraṇatā na … pudgalaprati-saraṇatā.

Mahāvyutpatti, no. 1546–1549: catvāri pratisaraṇāni. arthapratisaraṇana bhavitavyaṃ na … neyārthasūtrapratisaranena.

Sūtrālaṃkāra, ed. Lévi, p. 138: prathame pratisaraṇe ārṣadharmapartikṣeptuḥ … caturthe sābhlāṣasaya jñānasya pratyātmavedanīyasya.

The Madh. vṛtti alludes to the four pratisaranas: p. 43. – uktaṃ cāryakṣayamatisūtre. katame sūtrāntā neyārthāḥ katame nītārthāḥ … na neyārthasūtrāntapratisaraṇatā iti.- p. 533: sa kiṃ vijñānena paricchinatti uta jñānena.

The Bodh. bhūmi, p. 256, gives detailed explanations: kathaṃ bodhisattaś caturṣu pratisaraṇeṣu prayujyate. 1. iha bodhisattvaḥ arthārthī parato … 2. punar bodhisattvaḥ kālmapadeśaṃ bhavati mahāpadeśaṃ … 3. punar bodhisattvas tathāgate niviṣṭaśraddho … 4. punar bodhisattvaḥ adhigamajñāne sāradarśī bhavati … na pratikṣipati nāpavadati.

evaṃ ca punaḥ suporayukto bhavati tatraiṣu chaturṣu pratisaraṇeṣu … cādigamajñānasasya.

Although to my [Lamotte’s] knowledge the sūtra of the four reliances is later than the canonical literature, the theory of the pratisaraṇa is already hinted at in the Nikāyas. They make the distinctions between dharma, ‘doctrine’, and pudgala, ‘authority’ (cf. Majjhima, I, p. 265, where the Buddha advises his monks not to adopt the Dharma out of respect for the teacher (satthugārvena) but because they themselves have understood, seen and grasped the distinction between artha, spirit [or meaning], and vyañjana, letter (cf. Vinaya, I, p. 40, where Śāriputra says to Assaji: appaṃ vā bahuṃ vā bhāsassu, atthaṃ yeva me brūhi, atthen’ eva me attho, kiṃ kāhasi vyañjanaṃ bahun ti; Majjhima, II, p. 240: āyasmantānaṃ me attho, kiṃ kāhasi vyañjanaṃ bahun ti; Majjhima, II, p. 240: āyamantānaṃ kho atthato c’eva sameti byañjanato ca sameti; between suttaṃ nītatthaṃ and suttaṃ neyyatthaṃ (Nettipakaraṇa, p. 21).


The twelve categories of texts are sūtra, geya, vyākaraṇa, etc., which will be defined later, k. 33, p. 306c.


Cf. Laṅkāvatārasūtra, p. 106 (quoted in Subhāṣitasaṃgraha, Muséon, 1903, p. 399): Na cāñguliprekṣakena bhavitavyam tadyathā Mahāmate añgulyā kaścit … hitvā paramārtha, āgamiṣyati. – In order to understand this text more precisely, imperfectly rendered by D.T. Suzuki in his translation of the Laṅkāvatāra, London, 1932, p. 169, it is useful to look at the Tibetan text of the Laṅ kar gśegs paḥi mdo, Tib coll. of the Bibliothèque Nationale, No. 66, folio 146b6–8: Sor mo la lta ba lta bur mu byaḥo [hdis lta ste] blo gros chen po … du chud par bya ba ni mi byed do |

“One must not do as the person who looks at the finger. Mahāmati, it is as if one were pointing out something with one’s finger to somebody who persisted in looking only at the end of the finger. Similarly, O Mahāmati, stupid people, ordinary worldlings, like children, remain fixated on the end of the finger, which is called the literal interpretation, and they will die still attached to the end of the finger which is called ‘the letter’. Because they have ignored the meaning designated by the end of the finger which they call the literal interpretation, they will never penetrate into the Absolute.”

Cf. the Chinese versions of the Laṅkāvatāra, T 670, k. 4, p. 507a; Y 671, k. 6, p. 551c; T 672, k. 5, p. 616a.


According to the extract from the Bodh. bhūmi cited above, adhigamajñāna is the wisdom coming from meditation (bhāvanamaya) while vijñāna is the wisdom coming from hearing and reflecting (śrutacintāmaya). – See in Kośa, IX, p. 248, the references gathered by de La Vallée Poussin that refer to the Bhagavadgītā, among other texts.


This concerns the three agraprajñapti proclaiming the superiority of the Triratna. See the original Pāli in Itivuttaka, p. 87; Aṅguttara, II, p. 34; III, p. 35: Yavatā bhikkhave sattā apadā vā dvipadā … tathāgatasāvakasaṃgho tesaṃ akkhāyati.

The corresponding Sanskrit phrase is in the Divyāvadāna, p. 155, and Avadānaśataka, I, p. 49–50; 329–330. Ye kecit sattvā apadā vā dvipadā …. Tathāgataśrāvakasaṃghas teṣam agra ākhyātaḥ.

See development of the phrase in Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 12, p. 602a.


See these five advantages in Aṅguttara, III, p. 41.


ibid., III, p. 253: Sīlavā sīlasampanno kāyassa bhedā parammaranā sugatiṃ saggaṃ lokaṃ upapajjati.


This sūtra attributes the same benefits to preaching as to generosity; the latter are listed in Aṅguttara, III, p. 41: Pañc ‘ime bhikkhave dāne ānisaṃsā … sugatiṃ saggaṃ likaṃ upapajjati.

But if it is clear that these benefits result from generosity, it is less clear that they should also be attributed to preaching. Hence the necessity for an explanation that will lead the exegetists to place the sermon on the five advantages of preaching into the neyārthasūtra category.


We should note that there is no ill will on the part of the woman. The text does not say that she does not want to see the Buddha, but simply that she is incapable of seeing him because her merits are insufficient.


On the Tantalus-like torment of the pretas, see, e.g., Sūtrālaṃkāra, tr. Huber, p. 99–100.


I [Lamotte] have not found this sūtra in T 99 where it should appear. Excepting error, it is lacking in the Pāli Saṃyutta.


Aṅguttara, V, p. 144: Tayo bhikkhave dhammā loke na saṃvijjeyyuṃ. na Tathāgato loke uppajjeyya arahaṃ sammāsambuddho… Katame tayo? Jāti ca jarā ca maraṇañ ca.


This is the start of the Āṭānāṭikasūtra in Sanskrit, the text of which has already been given above.


Cf. Saṃdhinirmocana, IX, st. 25: If the bodhisattvas have at their disposal inexhaustible wealth, if they are compassionate, how is it that there are still miseries in the world? This is solely the fault of the sins of beings. If there were not sins standing in opposition to their happiness, how would there be wretched people in the world since the bodhisattvas think only of helping others and have inexhaustible wealth? It is like the pretas tortured by thirst; they see the water of the ocean dry up in front of them. This torture cannot be imputed to the ocean; it is due to the retribution of the sins committed by the pretas. Similarly here, the suffering of wretched people cannot be imputed to this ocean which is the generosity of the bodhisattvas, but solely to the demoniacal actions that are the sins of beings.


The frequent visits of the Buddha to the six large cities of eastern India and especially to Rājagṛha and Śrāvastī has already been noted.


This is the precious relic of the Uṣṇīṣa, a bone formation on the skull of the Buddha; it was at Hi lo (Haḍḍa), about five miles south of Nagarahāra (Jelāl-Abād). The Chinese pilgrims never failed to visit it and they describe in detail the festivals that took place there: Fa hien tchouan, T 2085, p. 858c (tr. Legge, p. 36–38); Lo yang k’ie lan ki, T 2092, k. 5, p. 1021c (tr. Chavannes, BEFEO, III, 1903, p. 427–428); Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 2, p. 879a (tr. Beal, I, p. 96; Watters, I, p. 195–198); Yi tsing, Religieux éminents, tr. Chavannes, p. 24, 79, 105.


This promise was made by Samantabhadra when, leaving the buddhafield of the buddha Ratnatejobhyudgatarāja, he went to the Sahā universe to visit Śākyamuni on the Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata. It is recorded in the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, p. 475–476: ye ca bhagavan paścime kāle paścime samaye paścimāyāṃ pañcaśatyāṃ … daṇḍaparihāraṃ kariṣyami viṣadūṣaṇaṃ kariṣyāmi.

“If, at the end of time, in that last era during the last five hundred years [of the kalpa], O Bhagavat, monks or nuns or the faithful of both sexes, possessing, writing, researching, chanting this explanation of the Dharma, I will show my own body to them, the sight of which is pleasing to all beings. Mounted on a six-tusked white elephant, surrounded by a crowd of bodhisattvas, on the twenty-first day, I will go to the place where the Dharma teachers walk, and when I get there, I will teach these interpreters of the Dharma, I will make them accept the teaching, I will encourage them, I will fill them with joy and give them magical spells so that these interpreters of the Dharma will not be oppressed by anyone; so that not a single being, whether human or non-human, will have a chance to surprise them and so that women will be unable to seduce them. I will watch over them, I will ensure their safety, I will protect them from being beaten or being poisoned.” (tr. Burnouf).

For the white elephant, the mount of Samantabhadra, cf. Kouan p’ou hien p’ou sa hing fa king, T 277, p. 390a.


Cf. Hôbôgirin, Amida, p. 25.

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