Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “nigrodhamiga-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.

It is told that, in the kingdom of Po lo nai (Vārāṇasī), the king Fan mo ta (Brahmadatta), while hunting in the jungle (araṇya), saw two herds of deer (mṛgayūtha): each herd had its leader; the one had five hundred deer and his body was the color of the seven jewels (saptaratna): this was the Bodhisattva Śākyamuni; the other leader was Devadatta.

The Bodhisattva, king of the deer, on seeing king Brahmadatta killing his herd, felt great compassion (mahākaruṇacitta) and went to Brahmadatta. The king’s people drew their bows and let fly a rain of arrows. But Brahmadatta, seeing this deer approaching him, commanded his retinue to put away their bows and arrows so he could learn the motive for the deer’s coming.

Approaching the human king, the deer-king knelt and said:

“Sire, it is for a useless motive, namely, the pleasures of an outing and diversion that our deer are suffering all the pains of death. If you wish, we will furnish you with food; we will establish a sequence and send you every day one deer for the royal kitchen.”

The king approved this proposition and gave in to the deer-king’s wish. Then the two herd leaders, in a great meeting, set up a sequence; and each in turn, sent the deer from his herd whose turn it was [to be killed].

One day, a pregnant doe in Devadatta’s herd said to him:

“Today is my day to go to my death; but I am pregnant and it is not my baby’s turn. Therefore I beg you to condescend to an agreement so that I, who must die, will undergo my lot, but that my baby should not suffer it.”

The deer king, Devadatta, became angry with her and said:

“Who is there who would not take care for his life? The deer go [to their death] when their turn comes; why would they accept your terms?”

The mother deer then said:

“My king is inhumane and has no pity; he has not considered my proposition and has become angry without valid reason. There is no way to talk to him.” Then she went to the bodhisattva-king and told her story.

The bodhisattva-king asked the doe: “What did your leader say?”

– She replied:

“My leader is inhumane; he did not come to an arrangement but got angry. Great king! Your humanity extends to all; that is why I come to you for refuge. As vast as the world is, today for me there is no place to appeal to a higher court.”

The Bodhisattva thought:

“This doe [178c] is very sad. If I do not intervene, her baby will be savagely killed; it is not the baby’s turn. But how can I send in her place [a deer] whose turn has not yet come? Only I myself can replace her.”

Having thought thus, he made his decision: he delegated himself and sent away the mother doe: “I will replace you today, do not worry”, he said.

Then the deer-king went to the palace of king Brahmadatta; the servants were astonished to see him come and reported the thing to the king.

The king also was astounded and, having him brought before him, he asked:

“Is your herd exhausted? Why have you come?”

The deer-king replied:

“Great king, since your protection extends to the deer, nobody hurts us and we have increased; why would the herd come to an end? But, in my neighbor’s herd, there is a pregnant doe ready to give birth; she is to be killed and butchered and her baby put to death. She came to me and I had pity on her. It is impossible to replace her by someone who is not involved in this business. If I send her away and do not save her, I am no different than a piece of wood or a stone. My body will not last long; it will surely not escape death. To save the unfortunate compassionately is of immense merit. Those who have no loving-kindness (maitrī) are like tigers and wolves.”

Hearing these words, the king rose from his seat and spoke these stanzas:

Truly I am an animal
A ‘beast in human form’,
You, despite your body of an animal
Are a ‘man in the form of a beast.’

It is correct to say
That external form does not make a man.
Although he is an animal, whoever knows how to express loving-kindness
Is a man.

For my own part, starting from today,
I will not eat any meat whatsoever.
I make you the gift of absence of fear (abhayadāna),
You may reassure your mind.

The deer rejoiced in peace and the king found loving-kindness and faith.

Notes on the Nigrodhamiga-jātaka:

This well-known Jātaka, undoubtedly invented to explain the name of Mṛgadāva, “Deer Park”, or Mṛgadāya, “Gift to the deer”, is told in the following sources:

Pāli sources: Jātaka no. 12, I, p. 149–152; Dhammapadaṭṭha, III, p. 148 (Bulingame, Legends, II, p. 359).

Sanskrit source: Mahāvastu, I, p. 359–366.

Chinese sources: Lieou tou tsi king, T, 152 (no. 18), k. 3, p. 12b–13a (tr. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 68–71); Ta tchouang yen louen king, T 201, (no, 69), k. 14, p. 338a–339a (tr. Huber, Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 411–418); Tsa p’i yu king,T 212, k. 14, p. 685b–c; Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 7, p. 906a–b (tr. Beal, II, p. 50–51; Watters, II, p. 54–55); King liu yi siang, T 2121, k. 11, p. 58c–59b.

Iconography: Cunningham, Barhut, pl. XLIII, 2; Griffiths, Ajaṇṭā, p. 139; Ecke-Demiéville, Twin Pagodas, p;. 39, 4.

The Mppś follows the version of Ta tchouang yen louen king, from which it borrows a stanza.

In the Mahāvastu and the Pāli Jātaka, the two deer-kings are called Nyagrodha (Nigrodha) and Viśākha (Sākha). In the samodhāna pf the Pāli jātaka, the Bodhisattva is identified with Nigrodha, Devadatta with Sākha, Kunāra Kassapa with the little deer, his mother with the doe, and Ānanda with king Brahmadatta.