Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “ratnakara approves of samantarashmi’s venture to the saha universe” 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 9.6: Ratnākara approves of Samantaraśmi’s venture to the Sahā universe

Sūtra: The Buddha said to Samantaraśmi: “Go then; know that the right moment has come.” Then the Buddha Ratnākara gave the bodhisattva Samantaraśmi golden lotuses with a thousand petals and said to him: “O son of noble family, scatter these lotuses over the Buddha Śākyamuni. The bodhisattva-mahāsattvas born in the Sahā universe are difficult to vanquish and difficult to attain; be careful when wandering about in this universe (Bhagavān āha. gaccha tvaṃ kulaputra yasyedānīṃ kālaṃ manyase. atha khalu Ratnākaras tagāthagataḥ suvarṇāvabhāsānisahasrapattrāṇi padmāni Samantaraśmaye bodhisattvāya prādāt. etais tvaṃ kulaputra padmais taṃ Śākyamuniṃ tathagātam abhyavakireḥ. durjayā durāsadā ca te bodhisattvā ye tatra Sahāyāṃ lokadhātāv utpannāḥ. saṃprajānakārī ca tvaṃ bhūyās tasmiṃ lokadhātau caran)

Śāstra: Question. – Why does the Buddha say: “Go now; know that the right moment has come”?

1) Because the Buddha has broken all fondness (anunaya) for his disciples and because his heart is free of attachment (saṅga) for his disciples.

2) Furthermore, the bodhisattva [Samantaraśmi] who has not yet acquired omniscience (sarvajñāna) or the Buddha eye (buddhacakṣus) feels some doubts about the qualities (guṇa), the worth and the power of the Buddha Śākyamuni. This is why the Buddha Ratnākara says to him: “Go and see him.”

3) Furthermore, the bodhisattva [Samanataraśmi] perceives from afar that the Buddha Śākyamuni has a small body and he feels some pride (māna) in saying that his Buddha [Ratnākara] is not as small as that. This is why the Buddha [Ratnākara] tells him: “Go and see him without thinking about [the size] of his body or paying attention [to the ugliness] of the Sahā universe. Be satisfied with listening to the Buddha’s sermon.”

4) Furthermore, the [Ratnāvatī] universe where the Buddha Ratnākara and the bodhisattva Samantaraśmi] live is very far away from the Sahā [home of Śākyamuni] for it is located at the eastern borders. The bodhisattva Samantaraśmi heard the Buddha Śākyamuni preaching a Dharma exactly the same as that of Ratnākara and he had to confess that, although the universes were so far apart, the Dharma is the same. This will increase his faith (śraddhā) and his convictions will be confirmed.

5) Furthermore, because [of the actions] of his former lives (pūrvajnma), the bodhisattva Samantaraśmi is forced to go to hear the Dharma [in the Sahā universe] despite his distant birthplace. He is like a bird (pakṣin) tied by its feet: no matter how far it flies, the cord (rajju) restrains it and it must return.

6) Finally, the bodhisattvas of the Sahā universe, seeing Samantaraśmi coming so far to hear the Dharma, will think: If he has come from so far away, how could we not listen to the Dharma, we who are born in this universe?

For all these reasons the Buddha [Ratnākara] says: “Go then, know that the right time has come.”

Question. – The Buddhas have the same power (samabala) and do not seek to [gain] merit (puṇyakāma). If they do not seek [to gain merit], why then does [Ratnākara] send lotuses [to Śākyamuni]?

Answer. – 1) It is to conform to the worldly custom (lokadharmānuvartana). Thus, two kings mutually exchange gifts even though they are of equal power.

2) Moreover, he sends these lotuses instead of a letter (pattra) to express his friendship. According to worldly custom (lokadharma), when a messenger (dūta) comes from afar, he should have a letter. The Buddha, who conforms to worldly custom, sends a letter.

3) Finally, it is in order to honor the Dharma that the Buddhas make offerings to the Dharma for the Dharma is their teacher (ācārya). Why is that? The Buddhas of the three times have as their teacher the true nature of dharmas.

Question. – Why do they honor the Dharma of other Buddhas instead of honoring the Dharma which they themselves embody?

Answer. – It is in order to conform to the usage of the world (lokadharmānuvartana). Just as the [129a] bhikṣus, in order to honor the Jewel of the Dharma (dharmaratna), do not honor the Dharma which they embody in themselves, but honor others. Guardians of the Dharma (dharmadhara), Knowers of the Dharma (dharmajñā) and interpreters of the Dharma (dharmanirmocaka), so the Buddhas, although they have the Dharma in themselves, only honor the Dharma of other Buddhas.

Question. – But the Buddha no longer seeks to [gain] merit (puṇya); why does he honor the Dharma?

Answer. – The Buddha, who has cultivated the qualities for innumerable incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa), continues to practice the good always. It is not in view of any reward (vipāka), but out of respect for the [buddha] qualities that he venerates (pūjā) the Buddhas.

Thus, in the time of the Buddha, there was a blind (andha) bhikṣu whose eyes no longer could see.[1] One day he was mending his robes and he could not thread his needle (sūcī). He said: “May anyone who wants to gain merit (puṇya) thread my needle for me.” The Buddha came and said to him: “I am a man who wants to gain merit; I am here to thread your needle.” Recognizing the voice of the Buddha, the bhikṣu got up immediately, put away his robes and prostrated at the Buddha’s feet, saying: “The Buddha fulfills all the qualities (paripūrṇapuṇya); why does he say that he wants to gain merit?” The Buddha answered: “Even though my merits are complete, I recognize the deep cause (read yin = hetu), fruit (phala) and power (bala) of these qualities. If I have obtained the foremost place among all beings, it is as a result of these qualities. That is why I love them.” Having praised the qualities, the Buddha then preached the Dharma according to his wishes. The bhikṣu obtained the purity of the Dharma-eye (dharmacakṣurviśuddhi) and his fleshly eyes (māṃsacakṣus) recovered their sight.

Finally, the qualities are perfected in the Buddha; he has no further need of anything; but in order to convert disciples, he says to them: “If I have realized these qualities, why should you not be able to acquire them?” There was an old man of about a hundred years of age dancing in a variety theater. He was asked why he continued to dance at his age. The old man replied: “I have no need myself to dance; if I do it, it is only to teach dancing to my pupils.” In the same way, in the Buddha, the qualities are perfected; it is in order to teach his disciples that he continues to practice these qualities and thus to venerate them.

Question. – If that is so, why does the Buddha [Ratnākara] not go in person to offer his lotuses on the Buddha Śākyamuni, but rather he sends someone in his place to venerate him?

Answer. – So that the bodhisattvas of the [Sahā] universe may receive Samantaraśmi. Moreover, the messengers (dūta) sent by the Buddhas have no fear of water, fire, soldiers, poison or the hundred thousand other dangers.

Question. – Why not use precious jewels (ratna), profound sūtras (gambhīrasūtra), or Buddha or bodhisattva jewels as letter (pattra)? [Note by Kumārajīva: These jewels, invisible to the gods, produce all kinds of precious objects; thus the cūḍāmaṇi is called ‘Buddha Jewel’]. Why is Ratnākara content to use lotuses, objects of little value, as a letter?

Answer. – 1) The Buddha Śākyamuni has no need of anything. He has no need of ‘Buddha jewels’ or divine jewels, or still less, human jewels. Since he has no need of them, [Ratnākara] does not send them. Since the Buddha Śākyamuni already has them, they are not sent to him. And it is the same for the profound sūtras (gambhīrasūtra).

[129b] 2) Furthermore, these sūtras would have nothing profound for the Buddha [Śākyamuni]. The epithet ‘profound’ [applied to sūtras] concerns only ordinary people (bālajana). That which makes ordinary people hesitant is no obstacle for the Buddha; that which is difficult for ordinary people is easy for the Buddha.

3) Finally, by their perfume and their freshness, lotuses are very suitable as offerings (pūjā). It is as with human gifts where variety is desirable.

Question. – Why should lotuses be used and not other things?

Answer. – Worship (pūjā) uses flowers (puṣpa), perfumes (gandha) and banners (dhvaja) exclusively: flowers for a twofold reason, because of their color (varṇa) and their smell (gandha).

Question. – But other flowers also have color and smell; why does [Ratnākara] use only lotuses (padma) as offerings?

Answer. – In the Houa cheou king (Kuśalamūlasaṃparigrahasūtra)[2] it is said: “The Buddhas of the ten directions offer flowers to the Buddha Śākyamuni.”

Moreover, there are three kinds of lotuses (padma), human lotuses, divine lotuses and bodhisattva lotuses. The human lotus is a big lotus with ten petals (pattra), the divine lotus has a hundred and the bodhisattva lotus has a thousand. In [Ratnākara’s] universe, there are many golden lotuses with a thousand petals (suvarṇavabhāsāni sahasrapattrāṇi padmāni). In [Śākyamuni’s] Sahā universe, there are indeed thousand-petalled lotuses, but they are artificial (nirmita) and do not grow in the water. This is why [Ratnākara] sends him thousand-petalled lotuses golden in color.

Question. – Why does the Buddha [Ratnākara] ask Samanataraśmi to scatter (abhyavakṛ) these flowers on the Buddha?

Answer. – These objects of worship (pūjādharma) are flowers (puṣpa), perfumes (gandha) and banners (dhvaja). Banners must be erected; powdered perfumes (cūrṇa) burned; wet perfumes (vilepana) spread on the ground; and flowers, thrown.

Question. – Why not present them instead of throwing them?

Answer. – Offering with the hand is a bodily action (kāyakarman); speaking in a gentle voice (snigdhavāc) is a vocal action (vākkarman). The action that gives rise to gesture and voice (kāyavāksamutthāpakakarman) is called mental action (manaskarman). These three actions produce the solid qualities that give rise to Buddhahood.

Question. – Why does [Ratnākara] say: “Be careful; the bodhisattvas in the Sahā universe are difficult to reach (durāsada) and difficult to vanquish”?

Answer. – 1) The Buddhas, pratyekabuddhas, arhats and all the āryas are all very mindful (saṃprajānakārin), for Māra, Māra’s army (mārajana), the inner fetters (ādhyātmikasaṃyojana) and the multiform retribution of the sins of previous lifetimes (nānāvidhapūrvajanmakarmavipāka) are like many brigands (caura) of whom one must be careful when they are approached. Thus, when one goes among the brigands and one is not careful, one is captured by them. This is why [Ratnākara] advises Samantaraśi to be very careful while going about in this universe.

2) Moreover, the human mind (citta) is often distracted (vikṣipta): it is like a madman or a drunkard. Resolute mindfulness (saṃprajānakāra) is the entry way to all the qualities (guṇa). By concentrating the mind, one successively obtains dhyāna, real wisdom (bhūtaprajñā), deliverance (vimokṣa) and finally the destruction of suffering (duḥkhakṣaya): those are the advantages of mindfulness (ekacitta).

Thus, five hundred years after the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, there was a bhikṣu called Yeou po [129c] kiu (Upagupta); he was an arhat with the six abhijñās; at that time he was the great teacher of Jambudvīpa. (also see Appendix on the legend of Upagupta) At that time, there was a one hundred and twenty year-old bhikṣuṇī who had seen the Buddha when she was young.[3] One day Upagupta went to her cell to ask her about the behavior of the Buddha when he was visiting. He had previously sent a pupil to the bhikṣuṇī and this pupil had announced to the bhikṣuṇī: “My great teacher Upagupta is coming to see you to ask about the behavior of the Buddha when he was visiting.” Then the bhikṣuṇī filled a begging bowl (pātra) with oil (taila) and set it under the fan at her door; she wanted to test the behavior of Upagupta and his mindfulness. When Upagupta entered, he pushed the fan at the door and a little bit of oil spilled. Upagupta sat down and asked: “You knew the Buddha. Tell me: what was his manner when he was visiting.” The bhikṣuṇī replied: “When I was young, I saw the Buddha entering a village (grāma) one day; the crowd shouted “There is the Buddha!” I followed the crowd outside and saw the Buddha’s rays (raśmi). As I bowed before him, a gold pin (suvarṇasūci) that I had on my head fell to the ground into a thick bush. Immediately the Buddha illumined it with his rays and, as all the dark corners were visible, I found my pin. As a result of that I became a nun.” Upagupta questioned her further: “And, at the time of the Buddha, what were the manners (īryāpatha) and courtesy of the bhikṣus?” She replied: “At the time of the Buddha, there was a group of six impudent, shameless, wicked monks (ṣaḍvargīya bhikṣu). But, in regard to their manners, they were better than you; I have noticed that today. When they passed through my door, at least they did not spill my oil. Depraved though they were, they knew the rules of monastic courtesy. Walking, standing, sitting or lying down, they missed nothing. Although you are an arhat endowed with the six abhijñās, you do not measure up to them on this point.” Hearing these words, Upagupta was very ashamed.

This is why [Ratnākara] advises [Samantaraṣmi]: “Be careful.” Mindfulness is the mark of an honest man.

Why does he advise him to be mindful? The bodhisattvas [of the Sahā] universe are difficult to vanquish, to attain, to destroy and to meet. Like the great king of the lions (mahāsiṃharāja), they are difficult to vanquish and destroy; like the king of the elephants (pāṇḍaragajarāja) or the king of the nāgas (nāgarāja) or like a great fire, they are difficult to approach. These bodhisattvas actually have the great power of merit (puṇya) and (prajñā) wisdom. Those who wish to conquer them and destroy them will not succeed and will risk perishing themselves. This is why they are ‘difficult to approach’.

Question. – Given their great qualities, their wisdom and their sharp faculties (tīkṣnendriya), all the great bodhisattvas are difficult to approach. Why does the sūtra attribute this difficulty of access to the bodhisattvas of just the Sahā universe?

Answer. – 1) Because this comment refers only to a bodhisattva of the Ratnāvati universe, [namely, Samantaraśmi]. Coming from afar, he will notice that the Sahā universe, different from his own, is full of stones, sand and rubbish; that the bodhisattva is small; in short, that everything there is different; and he will necessarily have suspicions (avamāna). This is why his Buddha [Ratnākara] tells him: “Be very careful, for the bodhisattvas of the Sahā universe are difficult to approach.”

[130a] 2) Furthermore, people born in the blissful abodes (sukhasthānaja) often lack exertion (vīrya), intelligence (medhā) and wisdom (prajñā). This is why people of Yu yan lo wei (Uttarakuru) are so happy that among them there are no monks (pravrajita) or followers of the precepts (śīlamādana). It is the same among the gods.

In the Sahā universe, the causes for happiness (sukhahetupratyaya) are rare; there are the three unfortunate destinies (durgati), old age, sickness, death (jarāvyādhimaraṇa), and the exploitation of the soil is arduous. This is why [its inhabitants] easily feel disgust (nirveda) for this universe; at the sight of old age, sickness and death, their minds are filled with distaste; at the sight of poor people (daridra), they know that their poverty is a result due to previous existences (pūrvajanma) and their minds feel great distaste. Their wisdom (prajñā) and thier keen faculties (tīkṣṇendriya) come from this [disgust].

By contrast, the [Ratnāvati] universe is made out of seven jewels (saptaratna) and full of all kinds of precious trees (ratnavṛkṣa); the bodhisattvas have whatever food (āhāra) they desire at will. Under these conditions, it is hard for them to feel disgust (nirvedacitta); this is why their wisdom is not very sharp (tīkṣṇa). If a sharp knife (tīkṣṇaśastra) is left in good food, the knife becomes rusty because although these foods are good, they are not suitable for the knife; but if the knife is rubbed with a stone and scoured with grease and ashes, the rust disappears. It is the same for the bodhisattvas. Those born in a mixed (miśra) universe [like the Sahā universe] have sharp knowledge and are hard to approach (durāsada); on the other hand, for those who spare their efforts (alpayatna), suffering has too much power and too much effect. To feed a horse and not to ride it is to make it useless.

3) Finally, in the Sahā universe, the bodhisattvas abound in skillful means (upāya); this is why they are difficult to approach. This is not the case in other universes. Thus the Buddha said: “I remember that in the course of my previous existences (pūrvajanma) I offered a thousand human existences in order to save beings, but although I was endowed with qualities (guṇa), the six perfections (ṣatpāramitā) and all the Buddha attributes (buddhadharma), I was unable to do the work of a Buddha. Indeed, it was only by skillful means (upāya) that beings are saved.” This is why the bodhisattvas in the Sahā universe are difficult to approach (durāsada).

Footnotes and references:


This anecdote, which the Mppś will repeat at k. 26, p. 249b, is taken from the Śibijātaka as it is told in the Avadānaśataka, I, p. 182–183 (tr. Feer, p. 124–125):

Buddha Bhagavan Śrāvastyāṃ vihārati jetavane ’nāthapiṇḍadasyārāme. tena khalu samayena … puṇyair labdharamo ‘ham bhikṣo puṇyair ato me tṛptir nāstḥiti.

In the Siuan tsi po yuan king, T 200, no. 33, k. 4, p. 218a, where the anecdote is also told, the blind bhikṣu is called Che p’o (44; 38 and 8), i.e., Śiva.


Cf. T 657, k. 1, p. 130c. This sūtra is called Kuśalamūlasaṃparigrahasūta in Sanskrit. It was translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva; this version bears different titles: Houa cheou king (Puṣpapāṇisūtra) as here, but also Cheou chen ken king, or Cheou tchou fou tö king (cf. Bagchi, I, p. 187). A Tibetan translation also exists, entitled Dge baḥi rtsa ba yoṅs su ḥdzin pa, Mdo IV, 1 (cf. Csoma-Feer, p. 234; OKC, no. 769, p. 275).


The A yu wang tchouan, T 2043, k. 5, p. 121b (tr. Przyluski, Aśoka, p. 371–372) and the A yu wang king, T 2043, k. 9, p. 163a, have an arhatī-bhikṣuṇī who constantly bothers Upagupta’s disciples with her reprimands and who reproaches them for their wrong behavior. This is probably the bhikṣuṇī in question here. Nevertheless, I [Lamotte] have not found the source from which the Mppś has taken this story, surely taken from life.

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