Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of bimbisara at amrapali’s home” 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 Bimbisāra at Āmrapāli’s home

Thus king P’in p’o so lo (Bimbisāra), for the beauty of a woman, entered an enemy kingdom and stayed alone in the chamber of the courtesan (veśya) A fan p’o lo (Āmrapālī). <992–993>

Notes on this story:

A fan p’o lo is a rare and defective transcription for Āmrapāli; see Fan fan yu, T 2130, k. 5, p. 1017c. Āmrapāli (in Pāli, Ambapāli) was the rich courtesan of Vaiśāli who, shortly before the Buddha’s death, went to visit him in great pomp, provided a princely reception for him and gave the Saṅgha the Ambapālivana; this event is told in the sūtras (Dīgha, II, p. 95–98; Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 2, p. 13b–14c; T 5, k. 1, p. 163b–164b; T 6, k. 1, p. 178c–179b), in the Vinaya (Pāli Vin, I, p. 231–233; Wou fen liu, T 1421, k. 20, p. 135b–136a; Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 40, p. 856a; Ken pen chouo … tsa che, T 1451, k. 36, p. 385c–387c), and also elsewhere (e.g., Tchong pen k’i king T 196, k. 2, p. 161b).

– Āmrapāli was born miraculously in the flower of a mango-tree belonging to a brāhman in Vaiśālī. The brāhman adopted Āmrapāli and made her a courtesan. Seven kings disputed over the favors of the young lady; Bimbasāra, king of Magadha, even though he was at war with the Licchavi of Vaiśālī, surreptitiously entered the city, penetrated into the tower where Āmrapāli was shut up and amused himself with her for a week. Āmrapālī bore him a son who later became the famous physician Jīvaka: cf. Nai niu k’i yu yin yuan king, T 553, p. 896–902 (tr. Chavannes, Contes, III, p. 325–361; Nai niu k’i p’o king, T 554, p. 902–906; Wen che si yu tchong seng king, T 701, p. 802c–803c.

According to the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya, the son of Bimbisāra and Āmrapālī was called Abhaya (Gilgit Manuscripts, III, 2, p. 22), while Jīvaka was the son of Bimbisāra and the wife of a merchant whose name is not given (ibid., p. 23–25).

In the Pāli sources, Vimala-Kondañña is given as the son of Bimbisāra and Āmrapālī (Theragāthā Comm., I, p. 146): Jīvaka’s father was Abhaya-Rājakumāra – one of Bimbisāra’s sons – and his mother, a courtesan of Rājagṛha called Sālavati (Manoratha, I, p. 399). The meeting between Bimbisāra and Āmrapālī, to which the Mppś alludes here, is told at length in T 553 and 554 (l.c.): The king enters the garden by way of an aqueduct, climbs into the tower, seduces Āmrapālī and, before leaving her, gives her his ring saying that if she has a daughter she can keep her, but if she has a son, she must bring him to the palace along with the ring as a sign of recognition.

A detailed recitation of the meeting is also given in the Cīvaravastu of the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya (cf. Dulwa in Rockhill, Life, p. 64, and Schiefner-Ralston, Tibetan Tales, p. 88–89).

The original text, found at Gilgit, has been published in Gilgit Manuscripts, III, p, 19–21:

One day, the king of Magadha, Śreniya Bimbisāra, surrounded by his ministers on the palace terrace, said:

“Sirs, do you know of a beautiful courtesan?”

[The minister] Gopa replied:

“Majesty, put aside the others. In Vaiśālī there is a courtesan named Āmrapālī, wonderfully endowed with beauty and youth, learned in the sixty-four arts, worthy of being loved by Your Majesty alone.”

Bimbisāra said: “Gopa, if that is so, let us go to Vaiśālī and pay court to her.”

Gopa replied:

“For a long time the Licchavi of Vaiśālī have been the adversaries and enemy of Your Majesty. May they do you no harm!”

The king answered: “To men it is befitting to do men’s deeds. Let’s go!”

Gopa said: “If that is Your Majesty’s unshakeable wish, let’s go.”

The king mounted his chariot and went to Vaiśalī with Gopa where they arrived at the right time. Gopa stayed in the park and Bimbisāra went into Āmrapāli’s house.

Just then, a bell began to ring; the inhabitants of Vaiśālī were astonished: “What enemy has entered our city and made the bell ring?” they asked.

The shouting grew louder; [hearing it], the king asked Āmrapālī: “My dear, what is that?”

– She said: “Your Majesty, they are going to search the houses.”

– “Why?”

– “Because of Your Majesty.”

– “Well, should I flee?”

– “Don’t worry, they search my house only every seven days. During these seven days, amuse yourself here, make love, pay court; at the end of seven days I will know that the time has come [to send you away].”

The king amused himself with her, made love to her and paid court to her, so much so that Āmrapālī became pregnant.

Then she announced to Bimbisāra: “Your Majesty, I am pregnant!”

Bimbisāra gave her a robe and a ring marked with his seal, saying:

“If it is a girl, she will belong to you only; if it is a boy, you will clothe him in this robe, fasten this ring around his neck and send him to me.”

The king went out, mounted his chariot with Gopa and returned. At once the bell was silent; the inhabitants of Vaiśālī said:

“The enemy has gone. Let us chase after him!”

Five hundred Licchavi armed with a strap protecting their left arm (godhā) and finger-guards (aṅgulitrāṇa) set out to chase Bimbisāra.

Gopa saw them and said:

“Your Majesty, the Licchavi of Vaiśālī are coming. Will Your Majesty do combat with them or drive the chariot?”

The king answered:

“I am a little tired, I will drive the chariot and you can fight with them.”

Gopa engaged in battle with them. The Vaiśālī inhabitants recognized him and said:

“That is a demon-man. Let’s go away!”

They turned around, went back to Vaiśālī and made the following decision:

“Sirs, we must take vengeance on these sons of Bimbisāra.”