Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preta destiny” 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 Preta destiny

Then the bodhisattva considers the pretas. As a result of the hunger (kṣudh-) and thirst (pipāsā) that torment them, their two eyes are sunken, their hair is long. They run about from east to west [to find drink], but when they approach some water, the demon guardians of the water chase them away with blows from iron rods or, if there are no guardians,[1] the water dries up by itself; when it rains, the rain changes into coals.

– There are pretas who always suffer from fire like at the end of the kalpa, when fire comes out of the mountains.

– There are emaciated pretas who run around like madmen; their bodies are covered with long disheveled hair.

– There are pretas who feed endlessly on excrement (gūtha), spit (niṣṭhīvana), vomit (vānta) or the left-over water from laundry; sometimes they go to latrines and stand on guard there waiting for impure (aśuci) liquid.

– There are pretas who are always looking for the blood of a woman in child-birth and who drink it; their aspect is like a flaming tree; their throat is like a needle (sūcicchidra); if they are given water, a thousand years would not be enough for them [to swallow it].

– There are pretas who break their own head, take the brains and lick it.

– For some pretas, it is as if they had the iron chains of the black mountain (kālagiri) around their neck; hitting their head on the ground, they ask for pity and take refuge near their guardians (bandhanapālaka).

– There are pretas who, in their previous existences, spoke harmful words (pāruṣyavāda) and made coarse comments to people; beings hate them and look upon them as enemies. For all these faults they fall into the preta destiny and suffer all kinds of punishments there.

Notes:

For the torments of the pretas, see Saṃyutta, II, p. 255 (tr. Woodward, Kindred Sayings, II, p. 270). The Milinda, p. 294, distinguishes four kinds of pretas:

  1. those who eat vomit (vantāsikā);
  2. those who are hungry and thirsty (khuppipāsino);
  3. those who are consumed by thirst (nijjhāmataṇhikā);
  4. those who live on alms (paradatt’ āpajīvino).

Footnotes and references:

1.

The existence of the demon guardians is the subject of debate; see Kośa, III, p.152–153.