Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of hastaka atavika” 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.

Appendix 4 - The story of Hastaka Āṭavika

Note: this appendix belongs to the story from Chapter XV part 9.5:

“Thus, leaving the pure abodes, the vaiṣya Hastaka, came to see the Buddha; he had a subtle body; he was flexible; like a straw, he could not stand upright”.

This is Hastaka Āṭavika (in Pāli Hatthaka Āḷavaka). He was called ‘Hastaka’ because he had been ‘passed from hand to hand’ (hatthato hatthaṃ gatattā); actually, when the yakṣa Ātavika was about to cut him to pieces, the Buddha intervened and the yakṣa surrendered him to the Buddha who gave him back to his family. The detailed story of this legend will be found in Manoratha, I, p. 388–393; on a bas-relief at Gandhara reproduced by Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, I, fig. 252, p. 509, the yakṣa is seen ‘with his hair standing on end and his terrifying eyes, giving the spared infant to the Buddha as a pledge of his recent conversion’. Other sources, such as the Avadānaśataka, II, p. 147–151, and the Siuan tsi po yuan king, T 200, no. 93, k. 19, p. 251, explain this strange name in another way: having been born for five hundred lifetimes without hands for having once refused to wash a vase for his preceptor, Hastaka was finally born “with hands” at the time of the Buddha Śākyamuni. As for the surname Ātavika-Āḷavaka, it refers to the hero’s origin, born in the forest (in Sanskrit aṭavī), or living in the city of the same name, Aḷavī (Newal in the Unao district of U.P., or Aviwa, 27 miles NE of Etwah).

Hastaka is a famous Buddhist lay-person (upāsaka) who appears in several sūtras:

1) Sūtra of Āḷavī (Anguttara, I, p. 136–138; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 20, p. 650) where the Buddha declares that he is one of those who live happily in the world (ye ca pana loke sukhaṃ senti ahaṃ desaṃ aññatro ti).

2) Hatthakasutta no.1 (Aṅguttara, IV, p. 216–218; Tchong a han, T 26, no. 41, k. 9, p. 484c) where the Buddha praises the eight marvelous qualities (āścaryādbhūtadharma) of Hastaka.

3) Hatthakasutta no. 2 (Aṅguttara, IV, p. 218–220; Tchong a han, T 26, no. 40, k. 9, p. 482c–484b) where Hastaka explains that it is thanks to the practice of the four elements of loving-kindness (saṃgrahavastu) that he has succeeded in guiding his five hundred lay disciples.

4) Hatthakasutta no. 3 (Aṅguttara, I, p. 278–279; Tsa a han, T 99, no. 594, k. 22, p. 159a; T 100, no. 188, k. 9, p. 442a–b). It is to this last sūtra that the Mppś refers here.

Here is the translation:

a. Tsa a han, T 99, k. 22, p. 159a: Thus have I heard. Once the Bhagavat was in the vihāra in the jungle (aṭavī, or the city of Āḷavī). At that time, the jungle ayuṣmat (Hastaka) died from a sickness and was reborn among the Avṛha gods [first group of Śuddhāvāsika gods]. Born among these gods, he thought: “I must not stay here long; I do not see the Bhagavat here.” Having thought thus, like a strong man extending his arm (seyyathāpi nāma balavā puriso bāhaṃ pasāreti), he left the heaven of the Avṛhas and reappeared in front of the Buddha. The celestial body of this devaputra bent down to the ground; he was unable to stand upright; like melted butter (sarpis) or oil (taila) creeps into the ground, he was unable to stand upright. It is because the heavenly body of this devaputra was subtle (sūkṣma) that he was unable to stand.

Then the Bhagavat said to the devaputra:

“You must change (pariṇam-) and make a coarse body (audarika ātmabhāva), then you will be able to stand on the earth.”

At once the devaputra changed his shape, made a coarse body for himself and was able to stand upright. Having bowed down to the Buddha’s feet, he sat down to one side.

Then the Bhagavat said to the devaputra Hastaka:

“Do you still think about the texts (dharma) that you once learned (udgṛhīta) here? Have you not forgotten them?”

The devaputra Hastaka answered the Buddha:

“Bhagavat, what I once learned, I have not forgotten today. As for the teachings (śrutadharma) that I did not receive among men, today I recognize them also: they are harmonious with the holy discourse (subhāṣita) of the Bhagavat. The Bhagavat has said: The blissful abodes (sukhavihāra) where one can remember the Dharma are not places of unhappiness. This speech is true. When the Buddha dwells in Jambudvīpa, the four assemblies surround him and he proclaims the Dharma; the four assemblies that hear his words welcome them respectfully. It is the same for me in the heaven of the Avṛhas: when I preach the Dharma to the great assembly of gods, the gods accept my sermon and put it into practice.”

The Buddha then asked the devaputra Hastaka:

“When you were among men, how many dharmas did you never weary of in order to have been reborn among the Avṛha gods?”

The devaputra Hastaka answered the Buddha:

“It is because I never tired of three things that after my death I took rebirth among the Avṛha gods. What are those three things? I never tired of seeing the Buddha, I never tired of hearing the Dharma, I never tired of serving the community. Because of that, after my death, I took rebirth among the Avṛha gods.”

Then the devaputra Hastaka spoke these stanzas:

To see the Buddha
To hear the Dharma
To serve the community
I have never wearied of these things.

I have studied the holy Dharma
I have conquered the stains of avarice (mātsarya).
I am never weary of three things,
This is why I have been reborn among the Avṛha gods.

[It is evidently from this sūtra of the Sanskrit Saṃyuktāgama, of which the Tsa a han is the translation, that the Mppś has borrowed its citation. This sūtra is absent in the Pāli Saṃyuttanikāya; on the other hand, it is present in the Aṅguttaranikāya. The Pāli version shows slight differences; to allow some comparison, here is the text]:

b. Aṅguttara, I, p. 278–279: Ekaṃ samayaṃ Bhagavā Sāvatthhiyaṃ vihārati Anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme … Tiṇṇaṃ dhammānaṃ atitto Hatthako Avihaṃ gato ti.