Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “ashoka and the bhikshu with the pleasant breath” 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 2 - Aśoka and the bhikṣu with the pleasant breath

It is said: King A chou k’ie (Aśoka) built eighty-four thousand Buddhist stūpas one day.[1] Although he had not yet seen the Path, he had faith (prasāda) in the Dharma. Each day, he invited the bhikṣus to his palace and paid homage (pūjā) to them; each day he had beside him, in turn, a Dharma teacher (dharmācārya) who preached the Dharma to him. There was a young tripiṭakadharmācārya, intelligent (medhāvin) and handsome (abhirūpa); when his turn came to preach the Dharma, he was seated beside the king and his mouth exhaled a thousand perfumes (gandha). Astonished, the king said to himself: “This is not good. With this perfume, he will trouble my palace people.” And speaking to the bhikṣu, h said: “What do you have in your mouth? Open your mouth so I can see.” The bhikṣu opened his mouth and the king saw that there was nothing there. He made him rinse his mouth with water, but the perfume remained as before. The king asked: “Bhadante, have you always had this perfume?” The bhikṣu replied: “I have had it for a long time.” The king asked: “Since when?” The bhikṣu answered with this stanza:

Since the time of the Buddha Kaśyapa
I have had this perfume;
It has lasted since then
And seems always to be renewed.

The king said: “Bhadante, you speak [too] briefly (samāsataḥ), I do not understand; explain more fully (vistaraḥ).” The bhikṣu replied: “O king, listen carefully (ekacittena) to my words. Once, at the time of the Buddha Kāśyapa, I was a bhikṣu preacher (dharmadeśaka). In the great assembly (mahāparṣad), I always had great pleasure in describing the immense qualities (apramāṇaguṇa) of the bhagavat Kāśyapa as well as the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas; in innumerable sermons (dharmaparyāya) I took care to celebrate [the Buddha] and teach all beings. Since then I have always possessed the wonderful fragrance that [144b] comes from my mouth; from lifetime to lifetime, without interruption, it has been as it is today.” And the bhikṣu spoke this stanza:

This fragrance surpasses and eclipses
The perfume of all the flowers of the vegetable kingdom;
It can make all hearts rejoice;
From lifetime to lifetime, it continues ceaselessly.

Then the king, with mixed shame (apatrāpa) and joy (prīti), said to the bhikṣu: “It is wonderful (adbhuta) that the virtue of preaching (dharmadeśanāguṇa) can bear such great fruit!” The bhikṣu answered: “That is its flower (puṣpa) but not its fruit (phala).” The king said: “What are its fruits? Please explain to me.” The bhikṣu answered: “In brief (samāsataḥ), its fruits are ten in number: listen well, O king.” And the bhikṣu spoke these stanzas:

1) Great reknown (mahāyaśas),
2) beauty (prasāda),
3) The conquest of happiness (sukhalābha),
4) the signs of respect (satkāra),
5) A majestic light like the sun and the moon,
6) The love of all people,
7) The art of speech (pratibhāna),
8) possession of great knowledge (mahājñāna),
9) Disappearance of all the bonds (sarvabandhakṣaya),
10) Destruction of suffering (duḥkhanirodha) and acquisition of nirvāṇa:

These are the ten fruits [of preaching].”

The king asked: “Bhadanta, by celebrating the qualities of the Buddha, how did you obtain the ten fruits as reward?”

Then the bhikṣu answered with these stanzas:

In celebrating the qualities of the Buddha,
I did it so that everyone heard everywhere.
As reward for this merit
I obtained great fame.

In celebrating the true qualities of the Buddha
I did it so that everyone rejoiced.
Because of this merit
I have always, from one lifetime to the next, been handsome.

In speaking to people about sins (āpatti) and merit (puṇya),
I made them obtain the place of happiness (sukhāvatī).
As a result of this merit,
I enjoy happiness and am always content.

In celebrating the power of the Buddha’s qualities,
I overcame all their hearts.
Because of this merit,
I ceaselessly gather the signs of respect.

By lighting the lamp of preaching,
I illumined all beings.
Because of this merit,
My majestic light shines like the sun.

In celebrating the Buddha’s qualities in all ways,
I satisfied all beings.
As a result of this merit,
I am always loved by people.

In celebrating the Buddha’s qualities with skillful speech
I have set neither bounds nor limits.
As a result of this merit,
My eloquence (pratibhāna) is inexhaustible.

In celebrating the wondrous attributes of the Buddha
I commit no errors.
As a result of this merit,
[I have acquired] great purity of knowledge.

[144c] In celebrating the Buddha’s qualities
I have decreased people’s afflictions (kleśa).
As a result of this merit,
My bonds are broken and my stains destroyed.

By the breaking of the two types of bonds
I have realized Nirvāṇa.
Thus, when the rain pours down
The fire is extinguished, there is no more heat.

He spoke again to the king: “If there is something you have not understood, this is the time to overcome the army of your doubts (saṃśayasenā) with the arrows of knowledge (jñānaśara).”

The king said to the Dharma master: “I have understood well; I have no more doubt. The Bhadanta is a virtuous man, skilled in celebrating the Buddha.”

Preaching the Dharma by means of all kinds of Nidānas of this kind is to save people and this is what is called generosity of the Dharma.

Notes on this story:

This anecdote is borrowed from the Ta tchouang yen louen king, T 201, no. 55, k. 10, p. 309c–310b (tr, Huber, Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 273–278), which in turn is derived from the A yu wang tchouan, T 2042, k. 7, p. 128b–c (tr. Przyluski, Aśoka, p. 411–412). In the latter source, the bhikṣu is named Utpala.

– A slightly different version is in the Tchong king aiuan tsa p’i yu king, T 208, no. 41, k. 2, p. 541c–542a (tr. Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 130–133): King Aśoka had taken away from Kaśmir the wife of an upasaka; having become queen, she burst into tears on smelling a beautiful flower that reminded her of the perfume of her former husband who, in the meantime, had become a śramaṇa and had attained arhathood. The king had him come into his presence and determined that the body of this monk was more perfumed than the lotus. In a previous lifetime, this monk had paid homage to a bodhisattva who was reciting sacred texts and had burned incense in his honor; the pleasant smell that he exhaled was the reward of this offering.

– It is not impossible that Aśoka had a Kaśmirian woman among his queens: the Rājataraṅgiṇī, I, v. 108 sq., knows of a Jalauka, son of Aśoka, who reigned in Kaśmir.

– Besides, it is a well-known theme of Buddhist hagiography that a pleasant smell came from the bodies of saintly individuals; this was the case of the Sugandhas or Sugandhins mentioned in the Avadānaśataka, I, p. 350–353; Kalpadrumāv., chap. 16; Theragathā, v. 24 (tr. Rh. D., Brethren, p. 28–29); Apadāna, II, p. 459–463.

Footnotes and references:


On these 84,000 stūpas of Aśoka, cf. Divya, p. 381; Tsa a han, T 99, k. 23,, p. 165a; A yu wang tchouan, T 2042, k. 1, p. 102a (tr. Przyluski, Aśoka, p. 243–244); A yu wang king, T 2043, k. 1, p. 135a; Dīpavaṃsa, VI, v. 96; Mahāvaṃsa, V, v, 175–176.