Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “question of the bodhisattva samantarashmi” 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 9.3: Question of the bodhisattva Samantaraśmi

Sūtra: At that time. in that universe there was a bodhisattva called P’ou ming (Samantaraśmi) – (Atha tatra lokadhātau Samantaraśmir nāma bodhisattvaḥ).

Sāstra: For the meaning of the word ‘bodhisattva’ see Chapter VIII.

Why is this bodhisattva called Samantaraśmi? Because his rays (raśmi) illumine all the universes ceaselessly.

Sūtra: Seeing this great brilliance, this great trembling of the earth and the [ordinary] body of the Buddha, he went to the Buddha Ratnākara and said: “Bhagavat, what are the causes and conditions for this great brilliance that lights up the universe, for this great trembling of the earth and the appearance of the body of the Buddha?” (mahāntum avabhāsaṃ dṛṣṭvā taṃ ca mahāntaṃ pṛthivīcālaṃ taṃ ca mahāntaṃ pṛthivīcālaṃ taṃ ca bhagavataḥ prākṛtam ātmabhāvaṃ dṛṣṭvā yena bhagavān Ratnākaras tenopasaṃkrāmad upasaṃkramya taṃ tathāgatam etad avocat. ko bhagavan hetuḥ pratyayo ’sya mahato ‘vabhāsasya loke prādurbhāvāya, bhāvasya ca mahataḥ pṛthivīcālasya, asya ca tathāgatasya prākṛtātmabhāvasya saṃdarśanāya).

Śāstra: For the trembling of the earth, the body of the Buddha and his brilliance, see Act V, above.

Question. – The bodhisattva Samantaraśmi, the most venerable and the foremost of the bodhisattvas, should himself know all that. Why does he question the Buddha on this subject?

Answer. – 1) Great as he is, the bodhisattva Samantaraśmi is incapable of knowing the wisdom (prajñā) and the miraculous power (ṛddhibala) of the Buddha; it is like the moon (candra) whose light, great though it is, disappears at day-break (sūryodaya). This is why he asks the Buddha.

2) Moreover, the bodhisattvas always want to see the Buddha and their hearts are insatiable [127b] (asaṃtuṣṭa). Even without any reason, they wish to see the Buddha; what then can be said when they have good reasons?

3) Moreover, Samantaraśmi’s motivation [for asking Ratnākara] in unquestionable. It is not astonishing that the calf (vatsa) follows its mother; it is normal for kinglets to come to greet the great king. Similarly, the great bodhisattvas who have derived such great benefits from the Buddha always wish to follow the Buddha. Thus, when the bodhisattva SamantaraÔmi sees these things, his attention is awakened; [he says]: “This must be something very important.” Seeing that the incalculable (asaṃkhyeya) innumerable (aprameya) universes become visible one to another, he questions the Buddha.

4) Finally, some say: The bodhisattva Samantaraśmi [knows the reasons for these miracles] because he himself has miraculous power (ṛddhibala) or because the Buddha Śākyamuni makes them known to him. If he asks the Buddha, it is intended only for the lesser bodhisattvas who do not know. These lesser bodhisattvas, out of fear of objections, do not dare to question the Buddha; this is why Samantaraśmi asks for them. The bodhisattva Samantaraśmi guides the [Ratnāvatī] universe with its youths (dāraka) and maidens (dārikā); therefore he knows that they cannot ask the Buddha. Just as when a big elephant (mahāgaja) uproots a big tree (mahāvṛkṣa) to allow the little elephants (gajapota) to eat its leaves, thus Samantaraśmi questions the Buddha [for the lesser bodhisattvas] and asks him: “Bhadanta, what are the causes and conditions for this great brilliance, for this great trembling of the earth, and for the appearance of the body of the Buddha?”