Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “conversion of shariputra and maudgalyayana” 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.

Part 3 - Conversion of Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana

Note: Cf. the parallel sources noted above, p. 623F, n.2  (also see Appendix on the legend of Sañjaya.)

At that time the Buddha, having converted the Kaśyapa brothers and their thousand disciples, was traveling about in various countries and came to the city of Rājagṛha where he stayed at the Veṇuvana. The two brahmacarin masters (Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana), hearing that a Buddha had appeared in the world, went to Rājagṛha together to welcome the news. At this time, a bhikṣu named A chouo che (Aśvajit),[1] [one of the first five disciples], wearing his robes (cīvara) and carrying his begging bowl (pātra), entered the city to beg for his food. Śāriputra, noting his fine manner and his meditative faculties, came to him and asked: “Whose disciple are you? Who is your teacher?” Aśvajit answered: “The crown prince (kumāra) of the Śākya clan, disgusted by the sufferings of old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa), has left the world (pravrajita), exerted himself on the Path and has attained complete perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi). He is my teacher.” Śāriputra said: “Tell me what is your teacher’s doctrine?” He replied with this stanza:

I am still young,
My instruction in it is still at its beginning
[136c] How could I speak truthfully
And explain the mind of the Tathāgata?

Śāriputra said to him: “Tell me its essence in summary (saṃkṣiptena).”

Then the bhikṣu Aśvajit spoke this stanza:

All dharmas arise from causes;
He has taught the cause of these dharmas.
Dharmas cease due to causes;
The great teacher has taught the truth of them.[2]

When Śāriputra heard this stanza, he attained the first fruit of the Path [the state of srotaāpanna]. He went back to Maudgalyāyana who, noticing the color of his complexion and his cheerfulness, asked him: “Have you found the taste of the Immortal (amṛtarasa)? Share it with me.” Śāriputra communicated to him the stanza he had just heard. Maudgalyāyana said to him: “Repeat it again”, and when he had heard it again he also attained the first fruit of the Path.

The two teachers, [each] accompanied by 250 disciples went together to the Buddha. Seeing these two men coming with their disciples, the Buddha said to the bhikṣus: “Do you see these two men at the head of these brahmacārins?” The bhikṣus answered that they saw them. The Buddha continued: “These two men will be foremost among my disciples by their wisdom (prajñā) and by the bases of miraculous powers (ṛddhipāda).”[3] Arriving in the crowd, the disciples approached the Buddha, bowed their head and stood to one side. Together they asked the Buddha: “We wish to receive, in the Buddhadharma, the leaving of the world (tchou kia = pravrajyā) and higher ordination (cheou kiai = upsampadā).”[4] The Buddha said to them: “Come, O bhikṣu (eta, bhikṣavah).”[5] At once their beards and hair fell off, they were clothed in monks’ robes, furnished with the robe (cīvara) and begging bowl (pātra), and they received ordination.[6] A fortnight later, when the Buddha had preached the Dharma to the brahmacārin Tch’ang tchao (Dīrghanakha), Śāriputra attained arhathood.[7] Now he who finds the Path at the end of a fortnight should, following the Buddha, turn the wheel of the Dharma (dharmacakra),[8] and in the stage of aspirant (śaikṣabhūmi), penetrate directly (abhimukham) all dharmas and cognize them in all their various aspects (nānākāraṃ). This is why Śāriputra attained arhathood at the end of a fortnight. His qualities (guṇa) of all kinds were very numerous. And so, although Śāriputra was an arhat [and not a bodhisattva], it is to him that that the Buddha preached the profound doctrine (gambhīradharma) of the Prajñāpāramitā.

Question. – If that is so, why does the Buddha preach a little to Śāriputra and then a lot to Siu p’ou t’i (Subhūti)?[9] If Śāriputra is foremost in wisdom, it is to him he should have mainly preached. Why does he also address himself to Subhūti?

Answer. – 1) Among the Buddha’s disciples, Śāriputra is the first of the sages (aggo mahapaññānaṃ), and Subhūti is the first of those who have attained the concentration of tranquility (aggo araṇasamādhivihārīnaṃ).[10] By this practice of tranquility, he ceaselessly considers (samanupaśyati) beings in order to prevent them from experiencing any passion whatsoever [for him], and he always practices great compassion (karuṇā). This compassion is like that of the bodhisattvas who take the great vow (mahāpraṇidhāna) to save beings. This is why the Buddha directs him to teach.

[137a]    2) [Subhuti and Utpalavarṇā at Sāṃkāśya]. – Furthermore, Subhūti excels in practicing the concentration of emptiness (śūnyatāsamādhi). Having spent the summer retreat (varṣa) among the Tao li (Trāyastriṇśa) gods, the Buddha came down into Jambudvīpa. (see Appendix 3) Subhūti, who was then in a rock cave (śailaguhā),[11] said to himself: “The Buddha is descending from the Trāyastriṃśa heaven; should I or should I not go to him?” Again he said to himself: “The Buddha has always said: ‘If someone contemplates the dharmakāya of the Buddha with the eye of wisdom (prajñācakṣus), that is the best way of seeing the Buddha.’” Then when the Buddha descended from the Trāyastriṃśa heaven, the four assemblies of Jambudvīpa had gathered; the gods saw the people and the people saw the gods; on the platform were the Buddha, a noble cakravartin king and the great assembly of the gods: the gathering (samāja) was more embellished (alaṃkṛta) than ever before. But Subhūti said to himself: “Even though today’s great assembly is quite special (viśiṣta), its power (prabhāva) will not last for a long time. Perishable dharmas (nirodhadharma) all return to impermanence (anityatā).” Thanks to this consideration of impermanence (anityatāparīkṣā), he understood that all dharmas are empty (śūnya) and without reality (asadbhūta). Having made this consideration, he at once obtained the realization of the Path (mārgasākṣātkāra). At that moment, everyone wanted to be the first to see the Buddha and to pay their respect (satkāra) and homage (pūjā) to him.

In order to disguise her disreputable sex, the bhikṣuṇī Houa sö (Utpalavarṇa) transformed herself into a noble cakravartin king with his seven jewels and his thousand sons. When people saw him, they left their seats and moved away [to give him place]. When this fictive king came near the Buddha, he resumed his former shape and became the bhikṣuṇī again. She was the first to greet the Buddha. However, the Buddha said to the bhikṣuṇī: “It is not you who has greeted me first; it is Subhūti. How is that? By contemplating the emptiness of all dharmas, Subhūti has seen the dharmakāya of the Buddha; he has paid the true homage (pūjā), the excellent homage. To come to salute my birth-body (janmakāya) is not to pay homage to me.”[12]

This is why we said that Subhūti, who ceaselessly practices the concentration on emptiness, is associated (saṃprayukta) with the Prajñāpāramitā, empty by nature. For this reason, the Buddha entrusted Subhūti to preach the Prajñāpāramitā.

3) Finally, the Buddha entrusted him to preach it because beings have faith in the arhats who have destroyed the impurities (kṣīṇāsrava): [thanks to them], they obtain pure faith (prasāda). The bodhisattvas have not destroyed the impurities and if they were taken as evidence (sākṣin), people would not believe them. This is why the Buddha conversed about the Prajñāpāramitā with Śāriputra and Subhūti.

Footnotes and references:


This bhikṣu is named Aśvajit (in Pāli, Assaji) in most of the Chinese and Pāli sources, whereas the Mahāvastu (III, p. 60) calls him Upasena. He was one of the five Pañcavargīyabhikṣu, who were the first to embrace the Buddhadharma (Vinaya, I, p. 13).


Free translation of the famous stanza of Pratītyasamutpāda, the original Pāli of which is in Vinaya, I, p. 40:

ye dhammā hetuppabhavā tesaṃ hetuṃ tathāgato āha
tesañ ca yo nirodho evaṃvādī mahāsamaṇo.

The Sanskrit is in Mahāvastu, III, p. 62:

ye dharmā hetuprabhāvā hetun teṣāṃ tathāgato āha
teṣāṃ ca yo nirodho evaṃvādī mahāśramaṇaḥ.

In this form, which goes against the meter, the stanza means: The Tathāgata, the truly great ascetic, has proclaimed the cause as well as the cessation of dharmas that arise from a cause. – For the interpretation, see Kern, Histoire, I, p. 299–300.


Here the Mppś follows the version of the Mahāvastu, III, p. 63, which has the Buddha saying: Prajñapetha bhikṣavaḥ āsanāni ete Śāriputramaudgalyāyanā parivrājakā paṃcaśataparivārā āgacchanti tathāgatasyāntike brahmacaryaṃ carituṃ yo me bhaviṣyati śrāvaāṇām agrayugo bhadrayugo eko agro mahāprajñānāṃ aparo agro maharddhikānām. Tr. – “Set out seats, O monks. Here come the anchorites Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana surrounded by five hundred disciples who are coming to the Tathāgata to practice brāhmic conduct. For me they will be an excellent pair of disciples. The first will be the foremost of the great sages; the second will be the foremost of those who have great miraculous powers.” This last detail which the Mppś has taken care to note, is absent in the canonical version (Vinaya, I, p. 42), which simply says: ete bhikkhave dve sahāyakā āgacchanti Kolito Upatisso ca, etaṃ me sāvakayagaṃ bhavissati aggaṃ bhaddayugan ti.


As did all the first disciples, Ś. and M. asked for lower ordination (pravrajyā) and higher ordination (upasampadā) at the same time. Later, a period of four months generally separated these two ordinations (cf. Kern, Manual, p. 77; Oldenberg, Bouddha, p. 387–391). The request for ordination is formulated differently in the texts. In Pāli: Labheyyāhaṃ bhante bhagavato santike pabbajjaṃ, labheyyaṃ upasampadan ti (cf. Pāli Vin., I, p. 12, 13, 17, 19, 43, etc.); – in Sanskrit: Labheyāhaṃ bhadanta svākhyāte dharmavinaye pravrajyām upasampadaṃ bhikṣubhāvaṃ careyam ahaṃ bhagavato ’ntike brahmacaryam (cf. Divya, p. 48, 281, 341; Gilgit Man., III, 2, p. 82).


The Buddha ordained the two candidates by ehibhikṣukayā upasampadā or ordination by summoning: “Come, O bhikṣu” (cf. Kośa, IV, p. 60). But here again the formula varies; in Pāli, there is Ehi bhikkhū ‘ti, svākkhato dhammo, cara brahmacariyaṃ sammā dukkhasssa anatakiriyāyā ‘ti (cf. Pāli Vin., I, p. 12, 13, 17, 19, 43, etc.); in Sanskrit, there is Ehi bhikṣo, cara brahmacaryam.


Ordination by “Ehi bhikṣu” is usually accompanied by the putting on of miraculous robes, of which the Pāli Vinaya says nothing, but which is described in stereotyped terms in all the Sanskrit texts: “The Buddha had no sooner uttered these words than the candidate found himself shaved (muṇḍa), clothed in the upper robe (saṃghātiprāvṛta), holding the bowl and vase (pātrakaravyahasta) in his hand, etc.” (cf. Dīvya, p. 48, 281, 341). Here the Mppś is in agreement with the Mahāvastu, III, p. 65, and the Mūlasarv. Vin. (T 1444, k. 2, p. 1028a) in mentioning such a miracle; it also reveals its dependence on the Sanskrit sources. However, although the Pāli Vin. says nothing about this taking of the miraculous robes, it is noted in the Dhammapadaṭṭha, I, p. 95; but recent research has established that the Ceylonese commentaries are also themselves largely derivative from the Sanskrit sources.


Śāriputra had become srotaāpanna at the time of his meeting with Aśvajit; he became arhat fifteen days after his ordination (ardhamāsopasaṃpanna), at the same time as his uncle Dīrghanakha entered the Holy Dharma: cf. Avadānaśataka, II, p. 104, Treatise, I, p. 51.


Śāriputra, the second master after the Buddha, the great leader of the Dharma, turned the wheel of the Dharma for the second time; cf. Dīvyāvadāna, p. 394: sa hi dvitīyaśāstā dharmasenādhipatir dharmacakrapravartanaḥ prajñāvatām agro nirdiṣṭo Bhagavatā; see also Sūtrālaṃkāra, tr. Hiber, p. 190.


In the Prajñā literature, Śāriputra is the first to question the Buddha, but Subhūti is the main interlocutor.


For Subhūti, the foremost of the araṇavihārin, see above, Treatise, I, p. 4F, n. 1


This rock cave, adorned with jewels, is on the Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata, near Rājagṛha: cf. Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 6, p. 575b1–2; k. 29, p. 707c12.


This is also what the Buddha said to Vakkali (Saṃyutta, III, p. 120): “What is the use of seeing this body of rottenness (pūtikāya)? He who sees the Dharma sees me…”