Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “shakyamuni throws the lotuses to the buddhas of the east” 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 10.3: Śākyamuni throws the lotuses to the Buddhas of the East

Sūtra: Having taken these golden thousand-petalled lotuses, the Buddha Śākyamuni then threw them to the Buddhas of universes of the east as numerous as the sands of the Ganges (Atha khalu bhagavāñ Śākyamunis tathāgatas tāni sahasrapattrāṇi suvarṇanirbhāsāni padmāni gṛhītvā yena te pūrvasyāṃ diśi gaṅagānadīvālukopameṣu lokadhātuṣu buddhā bhagavantas tena prākṣipat)

Śāstra: Question. – The Buddha is unsurpassable; why does he throw flowers as offering to the Buddhas of the east? When the Buddha had found the Path, he said to himself: “Men are not worthy of reverence; their capacities are imperfect (asiddha). Indeed, who has the right to veneration in heaven and on earth in the ten directions? I, who would like a teacher (śāstṛ), will follow him.” Then Brahmā devarāja and the other gods said to the Buddha: “The Buddha has no superior (anuttara), no-one surpasses the Buddha.” The Buddha himself also saw with his divine eye (divyacakṣus) that in the three times (tryadhvan), in the ten directions (daśasiś), whether in heaven or on earth, that no-one surpassed the Buddha; and he said to himself: “I shall practice the Mahāprajñāpāramitā; now that I have become Buddha that is what I will venerate, that is what will be my teacher. I must respect, honor and serve its Dharma.” – There was a tree called Hao kien (Sudṛḍha ?); this tree was at the center of the earth and had hundreds of branches and leaves; in one day it grew a hundred cubits (vyāma). When this tree was fully grown, it sought out [another] big tree to take shelter under it. There was, at that time in the forest, a deity (devatā) who said to the Hao kien tree: “There is no tree in the world bigger than you; all the trees should take shelter in your shadow.” It is the same for the Buddha; for innumerable incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa), he dwelled in the bodhisattva levels (bodhisattvabhūmi); one day when he was seated under the tree of enlightenment (bodhivṛkṣa) on the diamond throne (vajrāsana), he discovered the true nature of all dharmas (sarvadharmalakṣaṇa) and attained the state of Buddha. Then he said: “Who is the venerable individual who can serve [132a] me as teacher? I wish to honor him, respect him and serve him.” Then Brahmā devarāja and the other devas said to the Buddha: “The Buddha has no superior (anuttara); nothing surpasses the Buddha.”

Question: [If Śākyamuni is truly the greatest of beings], why does he want to worship (pūjā) the Buddhas of the east?

Answer. – 1) The Buddha is without superior (anuttara); in the three times (tryadvan), the ten directions (daśadiś), in heaven and on earth, no-one surpasses him; nevertheless, the Buddha can pay worship (pūjā) [to what he considers good]. Pūja is higher (agra), medium (madhya) and lower (avara). Lower pūjā consists of honoring someone who is beneath oneself; higher pūjā consists of honoring someone who is above oneself; medium pūjā consists of honoring someone who is one’s equal. The pūjā performed by Śākyamuni with regard to the other Buddhas is medium pūjā. [But Śākyamuni has also practiced the lower pūjā in the following circumstance]:

When the bhikṣuṇī Ta ngai tao (Mahāprajāpatī) and her five hundred arhatī-bhikṣuṇīs entered nirvāṇa all at the same time,[1] the upasakas in possession of the threefold Paths set up five hundred beds (khaṭvā) for the bhikṣuṇīs and the Cāturmahārājikas set up a bed for Mahāprajāpatī, Buddha’s step-mother and nurse (dhātrī). The Buddha himself placed before her body an incense-burner to burn perfumes in her honor. He said to the bhikṣus: “Help me to pay homage to the body of my nurse.” Immediately, these arhat-bhikṣus, each by virtue of his bases of miraculous power (ṛddhipāda), went to Mount Mo li (Malaya) to gather ‘cows’-head’(?) sandalwood (gośīrṣacandana) and other aromatics and helped the Buddha build the funeral pyre. [For the Buddha,] this was a lower pūjā; in this way, without looking for any reward, the Buddha practices the pūjās.

2) Moreover, the Buddha alone can pay [suitable] pūjā to the Buddhas, for other people do not know the qualities (guṇa) of the Buddhas. A stanza says:

[Only] the wise can esteem the sciences,
The books of the sciences and the joy of the sciences.
[Only] the wise know the sciences
Like the snake [alone] knows the snake’s feet.

This is why the Buddhas, who are omniscient (sarvajñā), can render [suitable] pūjā to the omniscience [of the other Buddhas].

3) Finally, the Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadigbuddha) from age to age have aided (upakaroti) the Buddha Śākyamuni:

a. When Śākyamuni was a bodhisattva of the seventh bhūmi (saptamabhūmi),[2] he saw that all dharmas are empty (śūnya), nonexistent (asat) without birth and cessation (anutpannāniruddha); seeing this, his mind became detached from all the universes (lokadhātu), he wanted to abandon the practice of the six virtues (ṣaṭpāramitā) and enter into nirvāṇa. He was like a man who, in a dream (svapna), builds a raft (kola) to cross over a big river and who feels sick because his arms are tired; in the middle of the stream, he wakes up out of his dream and says to himself: “Why do I imagine there is a river and that I must cross it?”, and at once his worries have disappeared. In the same way, the Bodhisattva, having reached the seventh bhūmi, acquired acceptance of the teaching of nonarising (anupattikadharmakṣānti), the course of his mind (cittapravṛtti) stopped and he wanted to enter into nirvāṇa, [When Śākyamuni was at this stage], the Buddhas of the ten directions emitted rays (raśmi) that illumined the Bodhisattva’s body, and with their hands caressing his head, they said to him: “O son of good family (kulaputra), do not make that decision; remember your previous vow (pūrvanidhāna) which was to save beings. Without any doubt, you know emptiness (śūnya), but beings are not liberated (vimukta) nevertheless. You must again gather the qualities (guṇa) necessary ro convert them. [132b] Do not enter (read mo jou) into nirvāṇa. You have not yet acquired the golden-colored body (suvarṇavarṇakāya) or the thirty-two major marks (lakṣaṇa) or the eighty minor marks (anuvyañjana) or the immense rays (apramāṇaraśmi) or the thirty-two acts [producing the marks]. You have just attained the Dharma relating to non-production (anutpādadharmaparyāya). Do not rejoice too much.” Then, hearing the encouragement of the Buddhas, the Bodhisattva returned to his first decision, practiced the six virtues and set himself to save beings. Such was the help (upakara) that he received from the Buddhas when he reached Buddhahood.

b. Moreover, when the Buddha had attained enlightenment, he had this thought: “This Dharma is very profound (gambhīra); beings are stupid (mūḍha) and of little merit. What can I do, I who have also been born into the world of the five poisons (kaṣāya)?” Having had this thought, [he said to himself]: “Within this single Dharma, I will make three parts (bhāga), and these parts will be the three Vehicles (yāna) by means of which I will save beings.”[3] When he had thought thus, the Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadigbuddha) caused rays to appear and they congratulated him, saying: “Good, good! When we were in the world of the five poisons, we too divided the single Dharma into three parts to save beings.” Then hearing the voices of the Buddhas of the ten directions, the Buddha felt great joy (ānanda) and cried: “Homage to the Buddhas (namo buddhānaÎ).” This is how the Buddhas of the ten directions rendered him great services by encouraging him and helping him several times, and [now], out of gratitude for all these benefits, [Śākyamuni] offers flowers to the Buddhas of the ten directions.

The highest [Buddha] qualities do not exceed those of these lotuses. Why? Because these precious lotus bouquets (padmaratnasaṃcaya) are the result of the same Buddha qualities; these are not ordinary lotuses born on the water. Samantaraśmi, a dharmakāya bodhisattva dwelling on the tenth bhūmi, had brought these lotuses and scattered them on the Buddha Śākyamuni. The latter, knowing that the Buddhas of the ten directions are a supreme field of merit (paramapuṇyakṣetra), in turn offers [these same lotuses] whose value is thus doubled. Why? Because it is a Buddha who is offering them to the Buddhas.

Actually, in the Buddhadharma, there are four types of gifts (dakṣiṇā); 1) The donor (dāyaka) is pure and the recipient (pratigrāhaka) impure; 2) The donor is impure and the recipient is pure; 3) Both the donor and the recipient are pure; 4) Both the donor and the recipient are impure.[4] Here the gift is made to the Buddhas of the east; it is doubly pure, both [in its donor and its recipient]; its merit (puṇya) is very great. This is why Śākyamuni offers flowers to the Buddhas of the ten directions.

Question. – But the noble individuals [who make such meritorious gifts] will receive no reward because they will not be reborn; why do you say that the merit of this gift is very great?

Answer. – Although there is no-one to enjoy this merit, it is great in itself; if anyone enjoyed it, the reward (vipāka) would be infinite (apramāna). But the noble individuals (ārya) who renounce entering into nirvāṇa because they know that conditioned dharmas are transitory (anitya) and empty (śūnya), also renounce this merit. It is like a glowing bubble of molten gold (hemapiṇḍa) the beauty of which the eye perceives but which cannot be touched because it would burn the hand.

Those who have an ulcer (gaṇḍa, visphota) need an unguent (vilepana); those who do not have an ulcer do not need a remedy. Similarly, corporeal beings (dehin), ever tormented like an ulcer by hunger (kṣudh), thirst (pipāsā), cold (śīta) and heat (uṣṇa), use clothing, coverlets, food and [132c] a temperate climate, which are like the unguent spread on an ulcer. If, out of love for the remedy, they do not use it to get rid of their ulcer, they would be stupid (mūḍha), for when one does not have an ulcer, the remedy is useless. The Buddhas think of the body as an ulcer and, because they have rejected this body-ulcer, they do not rejoice over the reward [for their merits]. This is why, although they have great merits, they do not receive the reward (vipāka).

Footnotes and references:


Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī, the Buddha’s aunt, hearing the Buddha sneeze, wished him a long life. The Buddha remarked that wishing harmony in the saṃgha would be preferable. Then Gautamī made the resolution to enter nirvāṇa before anyone could leave the saṃgha. Five hundred nuns entered nirvāṇa along with her. Gautamī’s nirvāṇa is told in the Pāli Apadāna, II, p. 529–543; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 50, p. 822b–823b; Ta ngai tao pan ni yuan king, T 144, p. 867a–869b; Fo mou pan ni yuan king, T 145, p. 869b–870c; Ken pen chou… tsa che, T 1451, k. 10, p. 248a–249a (tr. S. Lévi, Aśvaghoṣa, le Sūtrālaṃkāra et ses sources, JA, Jul.-Aug. 1908, p. 161–163); Ta tchouang yen louen king, T 201 (no. 68), k. 14, p. 333a–338a (tr. Huber, Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 386–402). – The scene is located either at Kapilavastu in the Nyagrodhārāma (T 1451) or at Vaiśalī in the Kūṭāgāraśalā (T 125, T 144, T 145, and Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 7, p. 908b28.


The story of the Bodhisattva in the seventh bhūmi is told in the Mahāvastu, I, p. 127–136.


It is the rule that the Buddhas preach the three Vehicles if they appear when the human life-span is decreasing from one hundred to ten years, i.e., when the five poisons are very strong (cf. Kośa, III, p. 193).


Here the Mppś is reproducing a well-known canonical formula, without any reference, which may be found with some variations in Dīgha, III, p. 231–232; Majjhima, III, p. 256; Aṅguttara, II, p. 80; Ta tsi fa men king, T 12, k. 1, p. 228c27: Tchong a han, T 26, (no. 180), k. 47, p. 722b28. – Here, acc. to Dīgha (l.c.) is the Pāli formula: Catasso dakkhiṇāvisuddhiyo. Atth’ āvuso dakkhiṇā dmayakato visujjhati … visujjhati paṭiggāhakato ca. – The Majjima and Aṅguttara explain that, in order to be pure, the donor and the recipient must be moral and of good quality (sīlavā kalyāṇadhammo).