Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “origin of the six fasting days” 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 2.4 - The origin of the six fasting days

Question. – Why do the evil demons choose these six days to trouble people?

Answer. – The T’ien ti pen k’i kingSūtra on Cosmogony”, says: During the first phase of the cosmic period (kalpa), there was a son of a Fan t’ien wang [160b] (Brahmādevarāja) who was father of the demons and who practiced the asceticism (duṣkaracaryā) of the brahmacārin. For twelve heavenly years, he spent the six days in carving up meat, drawing blood and offering them to the fire (agni); this is why the evil demons had a sudden renewal of power (sthāma) during these six days.

Question. – Why did the father of the demons busy himself during the six days with cutting up meat, drawing blood and putting them in the fire?

Answer. – Mo hi cheou lo (Maheśvara)[1] is the foremost and greatest of the gods. Each of the gods has his share of days: i) Maheśvara, as his share, has four days per month, the 8th, the 23rd, the 14th and the 29th day; ii) the other gods have two days per month, the first day, the 16th, and the second day, the 17th; iii) the 15th and the 30th day are dedicated (apekṣante) to all the gods together. Maheśvara is the chief (pati) of the gods; since he has the largest number of days, the four days that belong to him are counted as days of fasting (upavāsadivasa); also counted as fasting days are the two days belonging to all the gods together: [this is how there come to be six fasting days per month, the 8th, 14th, 15th, 23rd, 29th and 30th]. This is why the demons gain sudden strength during these six days.

So the demon-father was busy during these six days cutting up meat, drawing blood and offering them up in the fire. After twelve years, [Brahmā], king of the gods, came down from heaven and said to his son: ‘What do you want to get?” He answered: “I would like to have a son.” The king of the gods said to him: “Among recluses (ṛṣi), the rule about worship (pūjā) is to offer incense (gandha), sweet fruits and other pure things. Then why do you put meat and blood into the fire? That is a faulty practice. Because you have infringed on the holy ritual and are involved in bad practices, you will father a bad son who eats meat and drinks blood.” Hardly had he said this when eight big demons who were in the fire arose, their bodies black as ink, their hair yellow and their eyes red; they glowed brightly. All demons have come from these eight. And so, if during these six days, meat is cut up, blood is drawn and they are put in the fire, they regain strength.

In the Buddhadharma there are no good or bad days; but in order to conform (anuvartana) to what [is thought to be] bad days, it is advisable to keep the fast and to take the eight precepts [during these six days].

Footnotes and references:

1.

On Maheśvara or Śiva, see references in Traité, I, p. 137–139F.