Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “descent of buddha from the trayastrimsha heaven” 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 3 - Descent of Buddha from the Trāyastriṃśa heaven

Note: this appendix is extracted from Chapter XVI part 3.

“... Having spent the summer retreat (varṣa) among the Trāyastriṃśa gods, the Buddha came down into Jambudvīpa...”

After having preached the Abhidharma for three months to his mother, the Buddha “came down from the Trāyastriṃśa heaven to Jambudvīpa in the city of Sāṃkāśya, into the Āpajjura enclosure at the foot of the Udumbara” (avatīrṇo bhagavān devebhyas trayastriṃśebhyaḥ sāṃkāśye nagare āpajjure dāve udumbaramūle).

The Devāvatāra is often represented on the monuments: Cunningham, Barhut, p; 17; Marshall-Foucher, Mon. of Sanchi, II, pl. 34c); Majumdar, G. to Sarnath, pl. 13e; Vogel, Mathurā, pl. 51a; Longhurst, Nāgārjunakoṇḍa, pl. II, d; Griffiths, Ajaṇṭā, pl. 54.

According to one version, welcomed on his descent from the heaven by a great assembly, the Buddha was first greeted by Śāriputra (Dhammapadaṭṭha, III, p. 226), immediately followed by the nun Utpalavarṇa (Suttanipāta Comm. II, p. 570). According to the Tibetische Lebensbeschreibung, tr. Schiefner, p. 272, Udayana, king of Kauśambī, received him ceremonially. An apparitional (upapāduka) bhikṣu invited the Buddha along with the assembly of bhikṣus and devas to a splendid repast (Tsa a han, T 99, k. 19, p. 134c; Avadānaśataka, II, p. 94–95; Po yuan king, T 200, k. 9, p. 247a–b).

According to some sources, the nun Utpalavarṇā, in order to be the first to greet the Buddha, magically transformed herself into a cakravartin king surrounded by his thousand sons: Cf. Divyāvadāna, p. 401: yadāpi, mahārāja, Bhagavatā deveṣu trayastriṃśeṣu varṣā uṣitvā mātur janayitryā dharmaṃ deśayitvā devagaṇaparivṛtaḥ Sāṃkāśye nagare ‘vatīrṇo ‘haṃ tatkālaṃ tatraivāsan mayā sā devamanuṣyasaṃpadā dṛṣṭā Utpalavarṇayā ca nirmitā cakravartisaṃpadā iti. See also the Legend of Aśoka (Tsa a han, T 99, k. 23, p. 169c;T 2042, k. 2, p. 105b; T 2043, k. 3, p. 140b), the Dulwa (Rockhill, Life, p. 81) and the comment of Fa hien (tr. Legge, p. 49). A panel of the Loriyan-Tangai reproducing the Devāvatāra shows a cakravartin king mounted on an elephant, “a disguise assumed by the nun Utpalavarṇā for the occasion” (Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, I, p. 539, fig. 265).

– The commentary of the Karmavibhaṅga, p. 159–160, adds that the Buddha reproached her for her excessive zeal, for, said he, “It is not by means of homage rendered to my body that was born from my parents that I am truly honored”:

Utpalavarṇābhikṣuṇyā cakravartirūpaṃ nirmāya Bhagavān devalokāvatīṛnaḥ prathamaṃ vanditaḥ, sā tuṣṭā mayā Bhagavān prathamaṃ vanditaḥ, tasyāś ca taṃ jñātvā srotaāpattiphalaṃ prāptam. etad darśayati. na mātāpitṛsaṃbhavena śarīreṇa varṇitena vandito bhavāmi. yena phalaṃ prāptaṃ tenāhaṃ vanditaḥ. etadartham eva ca tatra gāthoktā:

manuṣyapratilābhena svargāṇāṃ gamanena ca
pṛthivyām ekarājyaṃ ca srotāpattiphalaṃ param.
anenāpi kārṇena dharma eva Bhagavataḥ śarīram
.

Yet other texts – and the Mppś is among them – establish a parallel between Utpalavarṇā and Subhuti. This bhikṣu, instead of going to greet the Buddha on his descent from the heaven, remained quietly in his retreat at Rājagṛha where he was meditating on impermanence and the futility of things. He was thus paying homage to the dharmakāya. As this meditation greatly overshadowed the salutations addressed by Utpalavarṇa to the Buddha’s birth-body (janmakāya), it was said that Subhūti and not Utpalavarṇā had been the first to greet him. Cf. Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 28, p. 707c15–708a20; Yi tsou king, T 198, k. 2, p. 185c; T tch’eng tsao siang kong tö king, T 694, k. 1, p. 792c–793a; Fen pie kong tö louen, T 1507, k. 3, p. 37c–38a; Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 4, p. 893b (tr. Beal, I, p. 205; Watters, I, p. 334).