Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “first attack by the daughters of mara” 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 first attack by the daughters of Māra

While the Buddha was under the Bodhi tree, king Māra, out of spite (daurmanasya) sent him the three princesses, Lo kien (Ragā), Yue pei (Arati) and K’o ngai (Tṛṣṇā). They came showing off their bodies and using all sorts of charms to try to corrupt the Bodhisattva, but the latter did not let himself become disturbed and did not look at them.

The three maidens said to themselves:

“The hearts of men are all different and tastes vary: some like little girls (kumārika), others women of a ripe age (madhyastrī); some like them big, others small; some like them black, others blonde; each of these types has its lovers.”[1]

Then the three maidens each changed into five beautiful women and each of these five women underwent innumerable metamorphoses (pariṇāma).[2] They came out of the forest and appeared suddenly, like lightning [165c] from a dark cloud; they raised their eyebrows, lowered their eyelashes and, watched carefully like young married women; they made music and used all the tricks. Coming close to the Bodhisattva, they pressed their splendid bodies up against his body.

Then the hero Mi tsi Kin kang (Guhyaka Vajrapāṇi), looking at them angrily, scolded them:

“Who is this man you magicians dare to come and touch?”

And Guhyaka reprimanded them with these stanzas:

Do you not know that the god Indra (read t’ien ti)
Loses his beauty and that his beard has faded?
The clear limpid water of the ocean
Is drying up today out of bitterness.

Do you not know that the sun is becoming dim,
That the P’o seou (Vasudevatā)[3] gods are falling?
The fire from his divine mouth
Will devour you today!

No, you don’t know that, you who dare to treat this holy man so lightly!

Then the daughters widened their circle, withdrew a little and said to the Bodhisattva: “These women are of incomparable beauty and able to please. Why do you keep this seat?” The Bodhisattva responded: “You are impure, dirty and evil-doers. Begone and do not speak any more lies!” And the Bodhisattva spoke this stanza:[4]

This body is a swamp of excrement
A foul mass of impurities
How can one take any delight
In these walking latrines?

Hearing this stanza, the daughters said to themselves:

“In speaking this stanza, this man does not know our pure goddess bodies (viśuddhadevakāya).”

At once they transformed themselves and resumed their earlier form. Their brightness and splendor lit up the entire forest.

Playing musical instruments, they said to the Bodhisattva: “These are our bodies; who can find blame in them?”

–The Bodhisattva answered: “The day will come when you will understand.”

– “Tell us”, they replied.

– The Bodhisattva replied with these stanzas:

In the heavenly arbors,
Near lotus pools made of the seven jewels
Gods and men are happy to remain.
Wait and you will see.

One day you will discover impermanence
[You will see that] divine and human pleasures are suffering,
You will experience distaste for sensory joys
You will delight in the right Path.

Hearing these stanzas, the daughters said to themselves:

“This man has immense wisdom; he understands the malevolence of the purest celestial enjoyments and cannot abide them.”

At that moment they disappeared.

Thus the bodhisattva, in the presence of sexual attractions, can control his mind and endure them without being disturbed.

Notes on this story:

[also see The second attack of Māra’s daughters]

The intervention of the three daughters in Māra’s first attack against the Bodhisattva should be noted. These three girls were called Taṇhā, Arati and Ragā (Saṃyutta, I, p. 124); Tantrī, Arati and Ratī (Mahāvastu, III, p. 286); Rati, Arati and Tṛṣṇā (Lalitavistara, p. 378); Arati, Priti and Tṛṣ (Buddhacarita, XIII, v. 3).

Māra launched three main assaults against the Buddha:

– 1) Immediately before the enlightenment, when the Bodhisattva was sitting under the pipala tree of Bodhi, Māra launched hi armies against him to make him leave the Bodhi seat and thus prevent him from attaining enlightenment; the Bodhisattva victoriously resisted this attack and, touching the earth with his right hand (bhūmisparśamudrā), he took it as witness to his right to occupy the Bodhi seat.

– 2) Four weeks after the enlightenment, when the Buddha was meditating under the ajapālanyagrodha tree, Māra and his daughters came to tempt the Buddha and induce him to enter into nirvāṇa before having preached his doctrine.

With regard to the intervention of the daughters of Māra in these two assaults, it is convenient to distinguish three groups of sources:

First group:

Some sources, distinguishing carefully between the two assaults, do not have Māra’s daughters appear in the first assault, but tell only of the repeated attacks of Māra’s armies against the Bodhisattva: Suttanipāta, III, 2 (v. 425–449; Jātaka,I,p. 71–75; Mahāvastu, II, p. 404–414; Buddhacarita, ch. XIII; Fo so hing tsan, T 192, k. 3, p. 25a.

There are also representations where Māra’s daughters do not appear:

– the bas-reliefs of Gandhāra (cf. Foucher, Art Greco-bouddhique, I, p. 401 (fig. 201); I, p. 405 (fig. 202–204); II, p. 15 (fig. 306–307); II, p. 197 (fig. 402); II, p. 201, (fig. 403);

– a stele at Sārnāth (ibid., p. 539, fig. 498);

– a stele at Jagdispur, Patna district (ibid., p. 545, fig. 500);

– a picture from Qyzyl in central Asia (ibid., p.605, fig. 523);

– a fresco at Yun-Kang (Chavannes, Mission, fig. 228 and p. 311).

– On the other hand, the same sources or related sources attribute a major rôle to the Daughters of Māra outside of the second assault against the Buddha: Saṃyutta, I, p. 124; Tsa a han, T 99, no. 1092, k. 39, p. 286b–287c; T 100, no. 31, k. 2, p. 383a–384a; Jataka, I, p. 78; Dhammapadaṭṭha, III,p. 195–197; Mahāvastu, III, p. 281–286; Fang kouang ta tchouang yen king, T 187, k. 10, p. 601a–b.

Second group:

A second group of sources, unaware of or ignoring the second assault, make Māra’s daughters appear in the first assault where they dance and speak: Sieou hing pen k’i king, T 184, k. 2, p. 470c; T’aitseu jouei pen k’i king, T 185, k. 1, p. 477a; P’ou yao king, T 186, k. 6, p. 519a; Kouo k’in hien tsai yin kouo king. T 189, k. 3, p. 640a; Fo pen hing king, T 190, k. 28, p. 782c–783 (tr. Beal, Romantic Legend, p. 214 seq.); Fo pen hing king, T 193, k. 3, p. 76a; Ken pen chouo… p’o seng che, T 1450, k. 5, p. 123b (cf. Rockhill, Life, p. 31); Also some representations of the first assault, easily identifiable thanks to the presence of the Bodhi tree where the bhūmisparśamudrā of the Bodhisatva appear as well as the daughters of Māra; cf. Marshall-Foucher, Mon. of Sanchi, II, pl. 29 (center); Vogel, Maturā, pl. 51a (above t right); three sculptures at Amarāvati (in Foucher, Art Gréco-Bouddhique, I, p. 179, fig. 68, above center; II, p. 563, fig. 506b; II, p. 565, fig. 508); two steles at Sārnāth (Foucher, ibid., I, p. 413, fig. 209b; II, p. 563, fig. 507b); Longhurst, Nāgārunakoṇḍa, pl. 22b, pl. 29a; Goloubev, Ajaṇṭā, pl. 23; a Ambodian stele (in Foucher, ibid., p. 407, fig. 205); Krom, Life of B on Barabuḍur, pl. 95.

Third group:

In a few sources, Māra’s daughters play an active part in the course of both assaults. This is the case for the Lalitavistara: 1st assault, p. 320–331 (tr. Foucaux, p. 273–279); 2nd assault, p. 378–379 (tr. Foucaux, p. 315–3160, and for the Mppś: 1st assault (here, k. 14, p. 165b–c); 2nd assault (below, k. 17, p. 180c–181a).

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Jātaka, I, p. 79: uccāvacā kho purisānaṃ adhippāyā, kesañcikumārikāsu pemaṃ hoti kesañci paṭhamavaye ṭhitāsu kesañci majjhimavaye ṭhitāsu, yan mayaṃ nānappakmarehi palobheyyāma. – Lalitavistara, p. 321: kāscit mumārīrūpāṇy aprasūtirūpāṇi madhyastrīrūpāṇi copadarśayanti sma.


The thirty-two tricks of female magic (dvātriṃśadākārā strīmāyā) that these maidens used are described in Lalitavistara, p. 320–321.


The Vasū are a class of gods of whom Śakra (whose surname is Vāsava) is the head: cf. Dīgha, II, p. 260.


For the beginning of his stanza, cf. Lalitavistara, p. 328:

Paśyāmi kāyamedhyam aśuciṃ kurimikulabharitam,
jarjaramitvaraṃ ca bhiduram asukhaparigatam.

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