Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “shakyamuni gazes upon the immense assembly gathered before him” 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 10.10: Śākyamuni gazes upon the immense assembly gathered before him

Sūtra: Then the Buddha knew that all the universes, with the world of the gods (devaloka), the world of Brahmā (brahmaloka), the śramaṇas and the brāhmaṇas, the gods (deva), the gandharvas, the asuras, etc., and the bodhisattva-mahāsattvas who are to accede to the state of Buddhahood (kumārabhūta) were all gathered together (saṃnipatita).

Śāstra: Question. – The miraculous power (ṛddhibala) of the Buddha is immense (apramāṇa). If the beings of the ten directions all came to the assembly, all the universes would be empty (śūnya); on the other hand, if they did not all come, the immense power of the Buddha would betray its powerlessness.

[134c] Answer. – It is impossible that they all come. Why? Because the Buddha universes are infinite (ananta) and limitless (apramāṇa). If all [their inhabitants] came [to the assembly], they would be limited.

Besides, the ten directions each have their Buddhas who also preach the Prajñāpāramitā. Thus, in the 43rd chapter of the Prajñāpāramitā, a thousand Buddhas appear in each of the ten directions and they each preach the Prajñāpāramitā.[1] This is why it is impossible that all beings come [to Śākyamuni’s assembly.]

Question. – If the Buddhas of the ten directions each preach the Prajñāpāramitā, why do the bodhisattvas of the ten directions [visit Śākyamuni]?

Answer. – As we have already said in the chapter on the coming of bodhisattva Samantaraśmi, these bodhisattvas come on account of Śākyamuni.

Moreover, these bodhisattvas were bound by their previous vow (pūrvapraṇidhāna): “If there is a place where the Prajñāpāramitā is being preached”, [they had said], “we will go there to listen and pay homage”; this is why they come from afar to accumulate the qualities (guṇa) themselves. They also want to give a teaching (deśana) to beings, [saying to them]: “We have come from afar to pay homage (pūjā) to the Dharma; why do you, who live in this universe, not pay homage to it?”

Question. – The Buddha does not cling (sakta) to the Dharma. Why then does he manifest his miraculous power (ṛddhibala) seven times to guide beings to come together as a crowd?

Answer. – The Prajñāpāramitā is very profound (gambhīra), difficult to know (durjñeya), difficult to understand (durvigāhya) and inconceivable (acintya). And so, [when the Buddha wants to preach it], he gathers the great bodhisattvas together around himself. Thus the beginners (navayānasaṃprasthita), [seeing these grave bodhisattvas listening to the Buddha], are led to have faith in his teaching, for if people do not believe the words of ordinary men, they should have faith [in the evidence] of grave important people.

Question. – [When the sūtra describes the assembly surrounding the Buddha], why does it mention the world of gods (devaloka), the world of Māra (māraloka) and the world of Brahmā (brahmaloka)? It should simply say “the world of gods and men”: that would be enough. Among the ten [traditional] epithets [of the Buddha], there is one that calls him ‘Master of Gods and Men’ (śāstā devamanuṣyāṇām); this is why gods and men should be mentioned here.

Answer. – The gods who have the divine eye (divyacakṣus) the divine ear (divyaśrotra), keen faculties (tīkṣnendriya) and wisdom (prajñā) have flocked together voluntarily. This is why the sūtra mentions the world of gods (devaloka) here.

Question. – The ‘world of gods’ already includes the Māras and the Brahmās. Why does the sūtra mention the Māras and the Brahmās separately?

Answer. – There are three great leaders[2] among the gods:

1) Śakra devānām indraḥ is the leader of two classes of gods, [the Cāturmahārājika and the Trāyastriṃśa].

2) King Māra is the leader of six classes of gods of the world of desire or kāmadhātu: [Caturmahārājika, Trayastriṃśa, Yāma, Tuṣita, Nirmāṇarati and Paranirmitavaśavartin].

3) Mahābrahma is the leader of the Brahmaloka.

Question. – The Yāma, Tuṣita and Nirmāṇarati gods also have leaders; why are there only three leaders of the gods?

Answer. – [A special mention is reserved for these three great gods because they are the best known]:

Śakra devāṇām indraḥ resides above ground like the Buddha; he is constantly near the Buddha; he is very famous (yaśas) and people know him well.

King Māra constantly comes to bother the Buddha and he is leader of the whole world of desire (kāmādhātu); the Yāma, Tuṣita and Nirmāṇarati gods all depend on him. Moreover, the gods of the threefold world (traidhātuka) are included (saṃgṛhita) in ‘the world of gods’, and as Māra is leader of [the first of these worlds], namely, the world of desire (kāmadhātu), the sūtra mentions [135a] him separately (pṛthak). Finally, Māra usually torments the Buddha, but today he has come to listen to the Prajñāpāramitā so that the other people may progress (vṛdh-) in their faith (śraddhā).

Question. [The second world, i.e.,] the form realm (rūpadhātu), involves a large number of heavens; why does the sūtra mention only the brahmā heaven (brahmaloka) here?

Answer. – The gods who surpass [the Brahmaloka] are without awareness and do not like distractions (cittavikṣepa); they are less well-known. On the other hand, the Brahmaloka, which does involve the four kinds of consciousness (vijñāna), is easily known. Besides, the Brahmaloka is closer. Furthermore, Brahmā is synonymous with the purity of renunciation (vairāgyaviśuddhi); by speaking of Brahmaloka here, we include all the gods of the form realm (rūpadhātu) as a whole (sāmānyataḥ).

Furthermore, the other gods have no entourage. At the beginning of the kalpa, when he was born, Brahmā devarāja was dwelling alone in the palace of Brahmā (brahmavimāna) without any companion. Feeling bored, he thought: “Why should I not give birth to some companions?” At this moment, some Ābhāsvara gods whose life had come to an end, were reborn surrounding him as he had wished. King Brahmā then thought: “These gods previously did not exist; they are born according to my wish; I am able to engender these gods.” At the same moment, the Ābhāsvara gods also on their part had this thought: “We are born from king Brahmā; king Brahmā is our father.”[3] – This is why the sūtra limits itself to mentioning the Brahmaloka here.

Finally, the gods of the second, third and fourth dhyānas [i.e., the gods higher than the Brahmaloka who are identified with the first dhyāna], see the Buddha, hear the Dharma or assist the bodhisattvas in the desire realm (kāmadhātu), whereas visual consciousness (cakṣurvijñāna), auditory consciousness (śrotravijñāna) and tactile (kāyavijñāna) exist in the Brahmaloka.[4] This is why the brahmaloka is mentioned separately.

Question. – Why does the sūtra mention only śramaṇas and brāhmaṇas and not speak about kings (rājan), householders (gṛhapati) and other kinds of people?

Answer. – Wise people are of two kinds, śramaṇas and brāhamaṇas. The monastics who have left home (pravrajita) are śramanas; the lay people who remain at home are called brāhmaṇas.[5] Other people give themselves up to worldly pleasures (lokasukha); this is why the sūtra does not speak of them. The brāhmaṇas use wisdom (prajñā) and look for merit (puṇya) those who have left home all seek the Path (mārga); this is why the sūtra limits itself to talking about the śramaṇas and brāhmaṇas. We call those of pure family up to seven generations and who have taken the precepts (śīlasādana) at the age of six years brāhmaṇas. – The qualities of the Path and wisdom are found among the śramaṇas and the brāhmaṇas; this is why they are spoken of here.

Question. – Why does the sūtra, which sometimes speaks of ‘the realm of the gods’ (devaloka), again speak of ‘the gods’ (deva) here?

Answer. – The ‘realm of the gods’ designated the heaven of the Cāturmahārājika and Śakra gods; ‘Māra’ designated the Paranirmitavaśavartin and ‘Brahma’ gods, the form realm (rūpadhātu). Here the words ‘gods’ (deva) means the gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātu) [who have not yet been mentioned], namely, the Yāmas, Tuṣitas, Nirmāṇaratis, the Ngai chen (?), etc. The Ngai chen reside at the top of the six classes of gods; as their shape and color are very fine, they are called Ngai chen “Admirable Form”.[6]

Question. – Why does the sūtra menion only the gandharvas and not the other asuras or the nāgarājas?

Answer. – The gandharvas are divine artists who accompany the gods;[7] their predispositions are gentle (mañju) but their merits, their qualities and their power are minimal;[8] they are lower than the devas and the asuras.[9] They are classed in the asura destiny (asuragati), wheras the nāgarājas, ‘dragon-kings’, are classed in the animal destiny (tiryaggati).[10] The kiṃnaras also are divine artists who depend [135b] on the gods. The king of the gandharvas is called T’ong long mo (Druma) (also see Appendix 7) [in the Ts’in language, ‘Tree’]. Gandharvas and kiṃnaras habitually reside in two places: their usual residence is on the Ten-Jewel Mountain (daśaratnagiri); but sometimes in the heavens, they play music for the gods. These two types of beings are not subject to the alternations of high and low. [By contrast], the people who inhabit the four continents (caturdvīpaka) have four different lifespans: those who have a very long life (atidīrghāyuṣa) can live an incalculable number of years, those who have a very short life (atyalpāyuṣa) live only ten years.[11] The asuras are malevolent (duṣṭacitta) by nature and quarrelsome, but they do not break the precepts (śīla) and cultivate merit.[12] They are born in dwellings at the edge of the ocean and also have cities and palaces.[13] The asura kings are named P’i mo tche to p’o li (Vemacitra asurinda)[14] and Lo heou lo (Rāhu).[15]

It is said (see Appendix 8) that once Rāhu asurinda wanted to swallow Yue (Candima, god of the moon). The devaputra Candima, frightened, went at once to the Buddha and spoke this stanza:

Endowed with great wisdom, Buddha Bhagavat,
I take refuge in you. Homage to you!
This Rāhu is tormenting me;
I would like to ask the Buddha to grant me his protection out of his compassion.

The Buddha spoke to Rāhu with this stanza:

The moon (candra) is resplendent in illumining the shadows,
In space (ākāśa) it is a great lamp.
Its color is pure white; it has a thousand rays.
Do not swallow the moon; let it go immediately.

Then Rāhu, sweating with fear, let go of the moon at once. Vemacitra asurinda, seeing Rāhu frightened and releasing the moon, spoke this stanza:

O Rāhu, why then
Do you release the moon in your fear?
You are sweating drops of sweat like a sick man.
What is this fear and this anxiety?

Then Rāhu replied with this stanza:

The Bhagavat has given me this command with a verse:
If I do not release the moon, my head would split into seven pieces.
As long as I live, I would have no rest.
This is why I release the moon.

Vemacitra spoke this stanza:

The Buddhas are very difficult to meet,
It is only at distant intervals that they appear in the world.
Since [the Buddha] has spoken this pure stanza
Rāhu has released the moon.

Question, – Why does the sūtra not mention the damned (naraka), the animals (tiryagyoni) and the pretas?

Answer. – The damned (naraka), whose minds are distracted (vikṣepa) by their great suffering, are not able to receive the Dharma; the animals (tiryagyoni), who are stupid (mūḍha) and of closed mind (āvṛcitta), are not able to undergo conversion; as for the pretas who are burned by the fire of hunger (kṣudh) and thirst (pipāsā), they do not succeed in receiving the Dharma.

[135c] Moreover, among the animals and the pretas, a few come to hear the Dharma; they conceive meritorious sentiments but are unable to embrace the Path (mārga). This is why the sūtra does not mention them.

Question. -If that is so, then the sūtra should not speak of the gandharvas or the asuras either. Why? Because these beings have already been included (saṃgṛhita) in the preta destiny. (see Appendix 9 on the number of gatis)

Answer. – The Buddha did not say that; why do you claim that they are included in this destiny? That is an [unwarranted] statement by Kia tchan yen tseu (Kātyāyanīputra), etc. The asuras have a power equal to that of the gods, sometimes in their battles, they even win over the gods.[16] The gandharvas are the divine artists who enjoy happiness equal to that of the gods; they have wisdom (prajñā) and can distinguish the beautiful from the ugly. Why could they not receive the Dharma of the Path? See for example, in the Tsa a han (Saṃyuktāgama), in the chapter about the gods (devasaṃyukta), the story of the mother of the asura Fou na p’o seou (Punarvasu). (see Appendix 10) In the course of his travels, the Buddha spent the night in her home; when the Bhagavat was preaching the ambrosia (amṛta) of the holy Dharma, her two children, daughter and son, began to cry. The mother quieted them with this stanza:

Do not cry, Yu tan lo (Uttarikā),
Do not cry, Fou na p’o seou (Punarvasu),
So that I can hear the Dharma and find the path.
You too should find it like me.

This is why we know that, even among the asuras, there are some who obtain the Path.

Furthermore, in the Mahāyāna, the hero (vīra) Mi tsi kin kang (Guhyaka Vajrapaṇi)[17] prevails over all the bodhisattvas and all the more, over all men.

When T’ouen louen mo (Druma), king of the kiṃnaras and gandharvas, came to the Buddha to play the lute and praise the Buddha, three thousand universes were shaken; even Mahākāśyapa was uncomfortable on his seat.[18] How could such individuals be unable to obtain the Path?

When the asurarājas and the nāgarājas come to the Buddha to question him about the profound Dharma (gambhīradharma), the Buddha is flexible to their questions and answers their queries on the profound meaning (gambhīrārtha). How can you say that they are unable to obtain the Path?

Question. – Of the five destinies (pañcagati), the Buddha, teacher of gods and men (śāstā devamanuṣyāṇāṃ), does not include the three bad destinies (durgati). As they have no merit and do not participate in the Path, the nāgas all fall into the bad destinies.

Answer. – The Buddha never spoke explicitly about the five destinies. The five destinies are an invention of the school of the Chou yi ts’ie yeou[19] (Sarvāstivāda), but the school of the P’o ts’o fou tou lou (Vātsiputrīya) accepts the existence of six destinies.

Moreover, there must be six destinies. Why? Because the three bad destinies are exclusively (ekāntena) places of punishment (pāpasthāna). But if the merits are many and the sins (āpatti) are rare, as is the case for the asuras, gandharvas, etc., the place of birth (upapattisthāna) should be different. This is why six destinies must be posited.

Finally, even in the three bad destinies, there are beings who obtain the Path; but, as their merits are rare, [in general] we say that they do not possess the Path.

As for the expression ‘bodhisattva before acceding to the state of Buddhahood’, see what has previously been said.

Footnotes and references:


This concerns the 43rd chapter of the Pañcaviṃásati by Kumārajīva, T 223, k. 12, p. 310a: “By his miraculous power, the Buddha saw in the east a thousand Buddhas who were preaching the Dharma. Having such and such characteristics and such and such names, they were preaching this chapter of the Prajñāpāramitā…. In the south, the west, and the north, in the four intermediate directions and at the zenith and the nadir, there were groups of a thousand Buddhas of this kind in each of the directions.


In order to understand the following discussion, the division of the gods into the six heavens of kāmadhātu and the seventeen heavens of rūpadhātu should be remembered. See, e.g., Kośa, III, p. 1–2; Kirfel, Kosmographie des Inder, p. 190–198.


This episode which illustrates the naive pride of Brahmā is drawn from the Brahmajālasutta: Dīgha, I, p. 17–18, retold in Dirgha, III, p. 28–29); Tch’ang a han, T 1, no. 21, k. 14, p. 90b–c; ibid. no. 30, k. 22, p. 143a; Fan wang lieou ch eul kien king, T 21, p. 266b. Here are some extracts from the Pāli text:

Hoti kho so, bhikkhave, samayo yaṃ kadmaci karahaci dīghassa addhuno … mayaṃ pana amhā pacchā upapannā ti.

The corresponding Sanskrit text is cited in full in the Kośavyākhyā, p. 448; here are some extracts:

Bhavati, bhikṣavaḥ, sa samayo yad ayaṃ lokaḥ saṃvartate. Saṃvartamāna loke … nirmitāḥ. Eṣo ’smākaṃ asya sattva Èśvaro yāvat pitṛbhūto bhāvanām.”

For a discussion of this sūtra, see P’i p’o cha, t 1545, k. 98, p. 508 seq.


The six gods of kāmadhātu and the gods of the first dhyāna (the world of Brahmā) who are “different in body and concept” (nānātvakāyasaṃjñin) are directly in contact with the desire realm by means of their faculties. This is not the case for the higher gods who must change their level in order to communicate with material beings. See the theory of vijñānasthiti in Kośa, III, p. 16. In agreement with these ideas, it should be recalled that, according to the Vijñaptimātratā school, Sanskrit, the language of the gods, is spoken only among the gods of the first dhyāna; from the second dhyāna on, there is no longer any reasoning, therefore no language either (cf. Hôbôgirin, Bon, p. 119).


The expression ‘śramaṇa-brāhmaṇa’ is often used in Buddhist texts; sometimes the śramanas are contrasted with the brāhmaṇas, sometimes the two words are used together to designate, in a general way, the ‘leaders in religious life’. On this subject, consult the note by T.W. Rhys-Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, II, p. 165, the study of R.O. Franke, Dīghanikāya in Auwahl, p. 305 seq., the information collected in Hôbôgirin, Baramon, p. 52–54, and the bibliography on this subject in LAV., Dogme et Philosophie, p. 165–166. Nowadays we have a tendency to think of the śramaṇas as dissidents and heretics and the brāhmaṇas as orthodox. Actually, – and the present passage of the Mppś nears this out, – what distinguishes them are less the opinions which they profess than the style of life they adopt. The śramaṇas are the wandering mendicants (pravrajita) while the brāhmāṇas are the pious lay people residing at home (gṛhasta); both groups come into the category of wise people (prajñāvat).


To my [Lamotte’s] knowledge, these Ngai chen are not mentioned elsewhere. It must be remembered that originally Buddhism knew only six levels of heavens, occupied by the Cāturmahārājika, Trāyastriṃśa, Yāma, Tuṣita, Nirmaṇarati and Paranirmitavaśavartin gods respectively. In order to reach the auspicious number of seven, the Brahmakāyika gods of the Brahmaloka were added, sometimes followed by the Taduttarideva “the gods who are superior to them” (cf. Kirfel, Kosmographie der Inder, p. 190–191). No doubt the addition of the Ngai chen responds to a concern of this kind. It was only later that the seven celestial stahges were mulriplied by three and even by four.


They include in their ranks the heavenly musicians, Pañcasikha and Sūriyavaccasā, the daughter of Timbarū (Dīgha, II, p. 264).


In order to be reborn among the gandharvas, it is enough to have practiced a lower form of śīla (Dīgha, II, p. 212, 271).


The gandharvas form the lower group (sabbanihīna kāya) of gods (Dīgha, II, p. 212); they are the subjects of Dhṛtrarāṣtra, one of the four Cāturmahārājikadevas (Dīgha, III,p. 197)


The Aṅguttara, IV, p. 200, 294, 207, places them together in the great ocean: Puna ca paraṃ bhante mahāsamuddo … asurā nāgā gandhabbā.


In Uttarakuru, the human life is a thousand years; in Godānīya, five hundred years; in Pūrvavideha, two hundred and fifty years; in Jambudvīpa, it is incalculable at the beginning of the cosmic age, but diminishes progressively down to ten years at the end of the kalpa. Cf. Kośa, III, p. 172.


On the rôle of the asuras in Buddhism, see Hôbôgirin, Ashura, p. 172.


Their dwellings are described in Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 20, p. 129b–130a.


Asurinda is a common name designating a chief or a king of the asuras; it is sometimes applied to Vemacitra, sometimes to Rāhu.


The last character, lo, is superfluous and should be removed.


The battles between the asuras and the gods are a banal theme told in steretypical fromulas: Dīgha, II, p. 285; Majjhima, I, p. 253; Saṃyutta, I, p. 216, 223; IV, p. 201; V, p. 447; Aṅguttara, IV, p. 432. – References to Chinese sources in Hôbôgirin, Ashura, p. 43.


Vajrapaṇi, of the yakṣa clan, thunder (vajra)-bearer and tutelary spirit of the Buddha (cf. Lalitavistara, p. 66, 219). He has already appeared in the canonical sources (Dīgha, I, p. 95; Majjhima, I, p. 231) and his importance increases with time. See Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, II, p. 48–64.


The Mppś will return twice to this episode: k. 11, p. 139b, and k. 17, p. 188b: “When Druma, king of the kiṃnaras, along with 84,000 kiṃnaras, came to the Buddha to play the lute, sing verses and pay homage to the Buddha, Sumeru, king of mountains, all the trees on the mountain, the people and animals, all began to dance. The assembly surrounding the Buddha, including Mahākaśyapa, could not sit still on their seats. Then the bodhisattva T’ien siu asked the ayuṣmat Mahākaśyapa: Old man, previously you were foremost among those who observed the twelve dhutas: why do you not sit still on your seat? – Mahākaśyapa answerd: “The five desires of the threefold world do not shake me, but the abhijñā of the bodhisattva [Druma], by virtue of the fruit of retribution of the qualities (guṇavipākabalāt), put me in such a state that I can no longer stay quiet.” – This episode is taken from the Drumakiṃnararāja-paripṛicchā, T 624, k. 1, p. 351c; T 625, k. 1, p. 371a.


The order of the words should be corrected; I [Lamotte] read: wou tao tchö che chou yi ts’ie yeou pou seng so chou.