Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “samantarashmi greets the buddha shakyamuni” 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 10.2: Samantaraśmi greets the Buddha Śākyamuni

Sūtra: [Samantaraśmi] said to the Buddha [Śākyamuni]: “The tathāgata Ratnākara asks you if you have but little anguish (alpābādhatā) and but little suffering (alpātaṅkatā), if you are healthy (yatrā) and alert (laghūtthānatā), if you are strong (bala) and if you are enjoying your ease (sukhavihāratā);[1] he offers to the bhagavat these golden thousand-petalled lotuses” (Samanatarśmir bodhisattvo bhagavantaṃ Śākyamunim etad avocat: Ratnākaro bhagavān bhagavantaṃ alpābādadhatāṃ paripṛcchaty alpātaṅkatāṃ yātrāṃ laghūtthānatāṃ bālaṃ sukhavihārarāṃ ca paripṛcchati. imāni ca bhagavatā Ratnākarena tathāgatena suvarṇanirbhāsāni sahasrapattrāṇi padmāni preṣitāni bhagavataḥ).

Śāstra: Question. – The Buddha Ratnākara is omniscient (sarvajñā); why does he ask if the Buddha Śākyamuni has but little anguish and but little suffering, if he is healthy and alert, strong and in a joyful state?

Answer. – 1) It is customary for the Buddhas to ask about what they already know. It is told in the Vinaya[2] that the bhikṣu Ta eul (corr. ni) kia (Dhanika) had built a hut of red brick (lohitakaṭhalla). The Buddha, who had seen it and knew about it, nevertheless asked Ānanda: “Who did that?” Ānanda replied: “It is the son of the potter (ghaṭabhedanaka), the monk (pravrajita) called Dhanika. He had made a hut of leaves which was destroyed over and over again by the cowherders (gopālaka); he built it three times, three times it was destroyed. That is why he made this brick house.” The Buddha said to Ānanda: “Destroy this brick house. Why? Because if the heretics [see it], they would say: When the Buddha, the great teacher, lived here, the Dharma came from a dirty place.”[3] Similarly, in many other places, the Buddha asks about what he already knows.

2) Moreover, although the Buddha is omniscient, he conforms to worldly customs (lokadharmānuvartana). Like men, the Buddha asks questions. Born among men, the Buddha takes on the conditions of human life: like them, he suffers cold (śīta), heat (uṣna), birth (jāti) and death (maraṇa); like them, he has the habit of asking questions.

3) Moreover, in the world, it is not suitable for nobles to have dealings with the peasantry, but [131b] the Buddhas, who are of equal power (samabala), can question one another.

4) Finally, the Ratnāvati universe is a pure fairy-land (viśuddhavyūha); the Buddha [Ratnakara] who governs it has a big body (kāya), his color (varṇa), his aspect (saṃsthāna) and his rays (raśmi) are large. If he did not ask Śākyamuni, people would think that he scorned him. Besides, Ratnākara wants to show that although he surpasses Śākyamuni in various points, in his Buddha universe, the color of his body and his rays, yet he is absolutely identical with him in regard to wisdom (prajñā) and miraculous power (ṛddhibala). That is why he questions him.

Question. – Why does he ask him if he has but little anguish (alpābādhatā) and but little suffering (alpātaṅkatā)?

Answer. – There are two kinds of torments (alpābādatā), those having an external cause (bāhyahetupratyaya) and those having an internal cause (ādhyhātmikahetupratyaya). The external torments are cold (śīta), heat (uṣna), hunger (kṣudh), thirst (pipāsā), armies (caturaṅgabala), swords (asi), knives (śastra), clubs (daṇḍa), catastrophes (patana), ruins (avamardana); all these external accidents of this kind are called torments (ādādha). The inner torments are the 404 illnesses (vyādhi) that come from improper food or irregular sleep; all the sicknesses of this kind are called inner sicknesses. Corporeal beings (dehin) all have to suffer from these two kinds of illnesses. This is why [Ratnakāra] asks Śākyamuni if he has but little torments and suffering.

Question. – Why does he not ask him if he has no torment and suffering instead of asking if he has but little torment and little suffering?

Answer. – The wise (ārya) know very well that the body (kāya) is a source of suffering (duḥkhamūla) and that it is never without sickness.[4] Why? Because the body is an assemblage (saṃghāta) of the four great elements (caturmahābhūta) and the earth (pṛthivī), water (āpas), fire (tejas) and wind (vāyu) that compose it are naturally in disharmony and struggle with one another. Thus an ulcer (gaṇḍa, visphoṭa) is never without pain, but it can be improved, not cured, by a medicinal unguent. It is the same for the human body: always sick, it requires constant care; with care, it can live; deprived of care, it dies. This is why [Ratnakāra] cannot ask [Śākyamuni] if he has no suffering because [he knows that Śākyamuni] is a victim [as everyone is] of these eternal outer torments (bāhyābādha) which are wind (anila), rain (varṣa), cold (śīta), heat (uṣṇa). Moreover, there are the four bodily positions (kāyeryāpatha), sitting (āsana), lying down (śayana), walking (gamana) and standing (sthāna), [which Śākyamuni is obliged to take up like everyone else]. To stay sitting for a long time is a great torment; prolonging the other three positions is also painful. This is why Ratnākara asks him if he has but little torment and suffering.

Question. – It would be enough to ask if he has but little torment and suffering; why does he also ask if he is healthy (yātrā) and alert (laghūtthānatā)?

Answer. – Although he is convalescing, the sick person has not yet recovered his health; this is why he asks if he is healthy and alert.

Question. – Why ask him if he is strong (bala) and enjoying his ease (sukhavihārarā)?

Answer. – There are convalescents who can walk, sit and rise, but whose strength is not sufficient to allow them to fulfill their occupations, to work, to carry light (laghu) objects and to lift heavy (guru) things; this is why he asks if he is strong. There are people who, although convalescent and able to lift heavy things and carry light things, do not, however, enjoy their ease (sukhavihāratā); this is why he asks if he is enjoying his ease.

Question. – If one is well and strong, why would one not enjoy one’s ease?

Answer. – There are poor people (daridra), frightened people and sad people who do not enjoy their ease; this is why he asks if he is enjoying his ease.

Moreover, there are two ways of asking: asking about the physical (kāya) and asking about the mind (citta). Asking someone if they have but little suffering or torment, if they are healthy, alert and strong, is asking about the physical; asking if they are enjoying their ease is asking [131c] about the mind. All the inner (ādhyāytmika) and outer (bāhya) sicknesses are called bodily sicknesses (kāyavyādhi); desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa), envy (īrṣyā), avarice (mātsarya), grief (arati), fear (bhaya), etc. as well as the 98 anuśayas, the 500 paryavasthānas and all types of wishes, hopes, etc., are called sicknesses of the mind (cittavyādhi). In order to ask someone about each of these sufferings, we ask them if they have but little torment and little suffering, if they are healthy and alert, if they are strong and if they are enjoying their ease.

Question. – We can ask a man (manuṣya) these questions but not a god (deva), and still less, a Buddha.

Answer. – The body of the Buddha is of two types: 1) the body of emanation (nirmāṇakāya), created by the superknowledges (abhijñā), 2) the body born from father and mother (pitṛmātṛjakāya). Since the body born from father and mother takes on (ādadāti) the conditions of human life, it is not like the gods (deva) and we can question it according to human customs.

Question. – All noble individuals (ārya) have a detached mind (nirāsaṅgacitta); they do not cherish their body and do not hope for a long life, do not fear death and do not hope to be reborn; under these conditions, what use is it to ask about their health?

Answer. – It is in order to conform to worldly customs (lokadharmānuvartana) that [Samantaraśmi] borrows the rules of human etiquette to question [Śākyamuni]. Sending someone to ask, [as Ratnākara] does], also conforms to human etiquette.

Footnotes and references:


Traditional form of greeting which is also found in the Pāli texts (e.g., Dīgha, I, p. 204; II, p.72; III, p. 166; Majjhima, I, p. 437, 473; Aṅguttara, III, p. 65, 103; Milinda, p. 14) as well as in the Sanskrit (e.g., Mahāvastu, I, p. 154; Avadānaśataka, I, p. 168, 325–326; II, p. 90, 93; Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, p. 429; Divyāvadāna, p. 156; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 6284–6288). In Pāli: appābādhaṃ appataṅkam lahuṭṭhānaṃ balaṃ phāsuvihāraṃ pucchati.


The story of Dhanika (in Pāli Dhaniya) is told in all the Vinayas in respect to the second pārājikadharma: Pāli Vinaya, III, p. 40–41 (tr. Horner, I, p. 64–67); Wou fen liu, T 1421, k. 1, p. 5b; Mo ho seng k’i liu, T 1425, k. 2, p. 238a; Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 1, p. 572b; Che song liu, T 2435, k. 1, p. 3b; Ken pen chou… p’i nai yo, T 1442, k. 2, p. 633c. As always, it is the Che song liu or the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya that the Mppś follows here.


The Buddha forbade the construction of brick huts because the baking of the bricks, which involved the death of small insects, made the hut impure. What Buddha reproaches Dhanika for is cruelty: cf. Pāli Vinaya, III, p. 41: na hi nāma tassa moghapurisassa pāṇesu anuddayā anukampā avihesā bhavissati.


See Hôbôgirin, Byô, p. 232: “The body, this illness.”

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