Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “shaddanta-jataka” 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.

The Buddha Śākyamuni was once a white elephant with six tusks (ṣaḍdantapāṇḍragajapota); a hunter (ludhaka) who was on the lookout for him shot him with a poisoned arrow (viṣaśara); the other elephants ran up with the intention of killing the hunter by trampling him under their feet, but the white elephant pushed them away with his body; he protected this man and had compassion for him as for his own son; after having sent away the herd [146c] of elephants by his exhortations, he quietly asked the hunter: “Why did you shoot me with an arrow?” The hunter answered: “I need your tusks.” At once the white elephant wedged his tusks into a hole in a rock [and broke them off] so that the blood and the flesh ran out at the same time; then he took the tusks in his trunk and gave them to the hunter.

Although here it is a matter of an elephant, a thought imposes itself: we should know that this elephant is not an ordinary animal (tiryak) [the existence of which is due] to retribution for actions (saṃskāravipāka); and as the same greatness of spirit is not found among the arhats, we should know that this elephant is a Dharmakāya bodhisattva.

Notes on the Ṣaḍdanta-jātaka:

For this well-known jātaka, see the following sources: Pāli sources: Jātaka, no. 514, vol. V, p. 36–37.

Sanskrit sources: Kalpadrumāvadānamalā, no. 22 (cf. Mitra, Nep. Buddh. Lit., p. 301–302); Avadānakalpalatā, no. 49, but this avadāna is absent from the Paris MS (J. Filliosat, Catalogue du Fonds Sanskrit, p. 4, no. 8) and in the edition of the Avadānakalpalatā in the Bobliotheca Indica by S. C. Das and H. M. Vidhyabhusana, 1888 and 1918; It may be found in the Cambridge MS, Add. 1306 and 913 (cf. Foucher, Beginnings of B. Art, p. 204, n. 1).

Chinese sources: Lieou tou tsi king, T 152, no. 28, k. 4, p. 17a–c (tr. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 101–104); Ta tchouang yen louen king, T 201, no. 68, k. 14, p. 336b–338a (tr. Huber, Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 403–411); tsa pao tsang king, T 203, no. 10, k. 2, p. 453c–454b (tr. Chavannes, Contes, IV, p. 100–102); Mo ho seng k’i liu, T 1425, k. 2, p. 240b–241a (tr. Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 289–293); Ken pen chouo… yao che, T 1448, k. 15, p. 71a–72a; Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 7, p. 906a (tr. Beal, II, p. 49; Watters, II, p. 53).

Iconography: Cunningham, Barhut, pl. 26 (6); cf. also Lüders, Bharhut und die buddh. Literature, p. 155–159; Marshall-Foucher, Mon. of Sanchi, I, p. 224; II, pl. 15, 29, 55: Coomaraswamy, Bodhgayā, p. 27–28, pl. 48 (1); Sivaramamurti, Amarāvatī, pl. 26 (2), but see note p. 218; Ramadhandram, Sculptures from Golī, pl. I (c, d); Foucher. Art Gréco-bouddhique, p. 272, fig. 138; Griffiths, Ajantā, cave X, col. I, pl. 41 and fig, 21; cave XVII, vol. I, pl. 63 and p. 37, fig. 73.

Works: L. Feer, Le Chaddantajātaka, JA, 1895, p. 31–85; 1895, p. 189–223; J. Speer, Über den Bodhisattva als Elefant mit sechs Hauzähnen, ZDMG, LVII, p. 305–316; A. Foucher, Mélanges S. Lévi, 1911, p. 231, or The Six-Tusked Elephant, in Beginnings of Buddhist Art, 1917, p. 185–204. In this work, Foucher shows how this jātaka has evolved in a parallel way in the literary texts and the archeological documents.

1) The hunter cuts the elephant’s tusks with a knife: Stanzas from the Pāli jātaka.

2) The hunter cuts the elephant’s tusks with a saw: Bhārhut medallion (2nd century B.C.), Amarāvati medallion, fresco from grotto X at Ajantā and Gandhāran bas-relief (2nd century A.D.), Golī frieze (3rd century A.D.). Lieou tou tsi king (translated into Chjnese in 280).

3) The elephant himself saws off his tusks: Pāli prose commentary 5th century).

4) The elephant himself breaks his tusks against a rock (Kalpadrumābadāna, Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra (translated into Chinese between 402 and 405).

5) The elephant himself breaks his tusks against a tree: Tsa pao tsang king (translated into Chinese in 472).

6) The elephant himself tears out his tusks with his trunk: Sūtrālaṃkāra (translated into Chinese about 410), fresco in cave XVII at Ajantā (6th century). For the Bhārhut medallion, see also Lüders, Bhārhut und buddh. Lit., p. 155–159.