Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “utpalavarna-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 Yeou po lo houa pi k’ieou ni pen cheng king (Utpalavarṇābhikṣuṇījātakasūtra) says:

When the Buddha was living in this world, this bhikṣuṇī had become an arhatī possessing the six superknowledges (ṣaḍabhijñā). She was dwelling in the house of a [161b] nobleman and endlessly praised the monastic life (pravrajyā). She said to the women of this nobleman: “Sisters, you should become nuns.”

The women of this nobleman said to her: “We are young and our faces are beautiful; it would be difficult for us to observe the precepts (śīla); we would violate them sometimes.”

The bhikṣuṇī answered: “Just become nuns and, as for violating the precepts, violate them!”

They said: “But if we break the precepts, we will fall into hell. Why could we violate them?”

“As for falling into hell, fall into hell!”

The nobleman’s women made fun of Utpalavarṇa and said to her: “In hell one suffers punishment; why should we fall into hell?”

The bhikṣuṇī replied:

“I remember my previous lives (pūrvamivāsānusmṛṭi). Once I was an actress (krīḍanikā) and I told old stories in all kinds of costumes. One day as a joke, I put on the robes of a novice nun, and because of that, at the time of the Buddha Kāśyapa, I myself became a bhikṣuṇī. Proud of my noble lineage and my beauty, I developed pride (abhimāna) and violated the precepts. As punishment for this, I fell into hell and there I suffered all kinds of punishment. Once the expiation was over, I met the Buddha Śākyamuni; I became a nun and now I possess the six superknowledges (abhijñā). Know then that by becoming a monastic and taking the precepts – even if one breaks them subsequently – one will attain arhathood thanks to them. But if one is content to commit sins without having taken the precepts, one will never attain the Path.[1] And so, from very early times, from one lifetime to the next, I fell into hell; when I came out of hell, I was an evil man and, when this evil man died, he fell into hell again, and all that without the least benefit. Know then that the monastic who has taken the precepts, even if he breaks them subsequently, will nevertheless obtain the fruit of the Path (mārgaphala) thanks to them.”

Note on this Jātaka:

This is about the nun Utpalavarṇa who has already been considered above, p. 636F, and about whom there is a lot of information; cf. Malalasekera, I, p. 418–421; Akanuma, p. 715–716; Chavannes, Contes, IV, p. 155; Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels, I, p. 334, 337. Nevertheless, to my [Lamotte] knowledge, the present jātaka does not occur elsewhere.

Footnotes and references:


In order to ensure his final salvation, a criminal had better become a monastic than remain in the world. On this subject see Dhammpadaṭṭha, I, p. 147:

“Having seen his [criminal] state, the Tathāgata ordained Devadatta. Actually he said to himself: If Devadatta does not leave the world and remains a layman, since he has committed such serious crimes, he will be unable to see his future lifetimes with confidence; but if he enters into religion, no matter how grave the actions he has committed, he will be able to look upon his future lifetimes with confidence. This is why the teacher ordained Devadatta. Actually, after a hundred thousand kalpas, the latter will become a pratyekabuddha with the name Aṭṭhissara.”

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