Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of how dharmarakta sacrifices himself for a stanza” 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.

Story of how Dharmarakta sacrifices himself for a stanza

The brahmacārin Ngai fa (Dharmarakta) traveled about in Jambudvīpa for twelve years in search of the holy Dharma (āryadharma), but was unable to find it. At that time there was no Buddha and the Buddhadharma also had disappeared.

There was a brāhmin[1] who said to him:

“I possess a stanza of the holy Dharma; if you truly love the Dharma, I will give it to you.”

Dharmarakta answered: “I do love the Dharma truly.”

The brāhmin replied:

“If you truly love the Dharma, you will take your skin as paper, one of your bones as pen and you will write the stanza with your blood; then I will give it to you.”

Dharmarakta agreed to these orders: he broke a bone, flayed his skin and wrote the following stanza with his blood:

Practice the Dharma,
Do not adopt adharma!
In this world and in the other
The Dharmacārin dwells in peace.[2]

Notes on this story:

This story is told in several sources, but the texts do not agree in the name of the bodhisattva:

In the P’ou sa pen hing king, T 155, k. 2, p. 119b, the king Yeou to li (9 and 15; 36 and 3; 75 and 7), in order to obtain a stanza, flays his skin to use as paper, breaks a bone to use as a pen, and uses his blood as ink.- In the Hien yu king (Chinese version, T 202, k. 1, p. 351b; Tibetan version edited by Foucaux, Grammaire ds la langue tibétain, 1858, p. 195–197), the ṛṣi Yu to lo (75 and 22; 36 and 3; 122 and 14), i.e., Utpala, “flays his skin for paper, breaks a bone for a pen and uses his blood as ink.”

– The Mppś attributes the same deed here to a brahmacārin Ngai fa (61 and 9; 85 and 5 = Dharmarakta) and later, at k. 49, p. 412a, to the bodhisattva Lo fa (75 and 11, 85 and 5 = Dharmarata) who has already been discussed, P. 690 as note.

In none of these stories is there a question of marrow, whereas marrow plays an important part in the version told by the Chinese pilgrims Song Yun, T 2092, k. 5, p. 1020b11–14 (tr, Chavannes, BEFEO, III, p. 412) and Hiuan tsang, T 2087, k. 3, p. 883a12–13 (tr. Beal, I, p. 124; Watters, I, p. 233–234). Both locate the scene in the ‘monastery of the lentils’ (Masūrasaṃghārāma) at Gumbatai, near Tursak, in Bunêr. According to Song Yun, where the bone was broken, the marrow that ran out fell onto the rock; the color of the fat is as creamy as if it were quite fresh. Hiuan tsang also saw this rock; he says it is yellowish-white and always covered with a rich moistness.

The present jātaka should not be confused with that of prince Candraprabha (alias Utpala) who broke one of his bones and used the marrow to cure a sick man; this other deed has been told above, p. 715F.

For the value attached to the stanzas, see above, p. 689, note.

Footnotes and references:


According to the Mppś, k. 49, p. 412a, this was king Māra, disguised as a brāhmin.


This is verse no. 169 in the Dhammapada:
Dhammaṃ care sucaritaṃ na saṃ duccaritaṃ care,
dhammacārī sukhaṃ seti asmiṃ loke paramhi ca.

The Sanskrit recension occurs in the Avadānaśataka, I, p. 220:
Dharmaṃ caret sucaritaṃ nainaṃ duścaritaṃ caret,
dharmacārī sukhaṃ śete asmimī loke paratra ca.

The two stanzas given by the Hien yu king, T 202, p. 351b–c, are different; they recommend avoiding the ten evil actions.

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