Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “padumapuppha-sutta” 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.

There was a bhikṣu living in the forest. Walking along the banks of the lotus pool, he smelled the perfume (gandha) of the lotuses; his mind rejoiced and, passing by, he experienced feelings of fondness.

The goddess of the pool said to him:

“Why have you abandoned the foot of your tree, the place where you were sitting in meditation, and have come to steal my perfume? Because of your attachment to perfumes, the fetters (saṃyojana) that were asleep in you are awakened.”

At the same time, a man came, went into the pool, gathered a mass of the lotuses and went away with his load. The goddess of the pool was silent and said not a word.

The bhikṣu then said to her:

“That man destroys your pool, takes your lotuses and you say nothing. I just walked along the pool and as soon as you saw me, you insulted me and blamed me for stealing your perfume!”

The goddess of the pool answered:

“That [182a] common evil man is always wallowing in the stench of sins and stains up to his head in impurity; I do not talk to him. But you are an honest man practicing meditation; however, by being attached to perfumes, you destroy the good that is in you; that is why I reproach you. If there is a black spot or some dirt on white immaculate cloth, everybody notices it. But this bad man is like a black spot on black cloth which nobody notices. Why question him?”

Notes on the Padumapuppha-sutta:

Padumapuppha or Puṇḍarīkasutta in Saṃyutta, I, p. 204:

A certain bhikṣu who was living among the Kośalas was in the forest. Having returned from his alms-round after his meal, he washed in a pool and smelled a lotus.

The goddess of the forest had compassion for the bhikṣu and, wanting to benefit him, came to him and, with the idea of making him feel ashamed, she said:

“This water flower which was not given to you and which you are smelling, this is one of the things that can be stolen; you are a robber of perfume!”

The bhikṣu said:

“I am not taking it, I am not breaking it, I am only breathing the perfume of this flower from afar. By what right am I being treated as a perfume thief? The person who tears up the roots and eats the flowers of the lotus and acts in such a disorderly way, why is he not called a thief?”

The goddess said:

“The person [you are speaking of] is full of cruelty and stained like a nurse’s robe; my speech is not directed to him; however, I dare to say this: For a stainless man who always seeks purity, a sin as tiny as the tip of a hair appears to be as big as a cloud.”

The bhikṣu replied:

“Truthfully, O yakṣa, you recognize me and you have compassion for me. Tell me again if you see anything like that, O yakṣa.”

She answered:

“I see nothing to your detriment and you have nobody to act for you. You alone, O bhikṣu, must know how you will attain a good destiny.”

Inspired by this goddess, the bhikṣu was overcome with emotion.

The correspondoing version in the Saṃyuktāgama is known by the Chinese tradition of the Tsa a han, T 99, no. 1338, k. 50, p. 369a–b (see also T 100, no. 358, k. 16, p. 490c). Like the Mppś, besides the bhikṣu and the goddess, it deals with a third individual who goes down into the water and “tears up the roots of the lotus and goes away heavily loaded.”

It is he and not the bhikṣu who is satisfied with smelling the flowers who, it would seem, deserves the title of thief. Hence the comment of the bhikṣu:

“He who tears up the roots and eats the flowers, is he not called a thief?”

– The version of the Tsa a han also differs from the Pāli in the introduction and the conclusion:

“One day, she said, the Buddha was dwelling in Śrāvastī in the garden of Anāthapiṇḍada. A certain bhikṣu, living among the Kośalas and staying in the forest had sore eyes. His teacher told him to smell a lotus flower. Having received this advice, he went to the bank of a river of lotuses. He settled himself on the river-bank facing the wind, smelling the perfume brought by the wind, etc.”

– The story ends as follows:

“The bhikṣu, having listened to the goddess’ words, rejoiced, left his seat and went away. Retiring in solitude, he meditated zealously, cut his kleśas and became an arhat.”

The Padumapupphasutta, transformed into a jātaka by a well-known literary process (cf. Winternitz, Literature, II, p. 115, n. 2), is repeated in the Bhisapupphajātaka, Pāli Jātaka no. 392, III, p. 308–310. Like the Tsa a han and the Mppś, the Pāli jātaka introduces, besides the bodhisattva and the devatā, a third individual whom the Pāli sutta does not mention.