Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “how shakyamuni realized the thirty-two marks in ninety-one kalpas” 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.

How Śākyamuni realized the thirty-two marks in ninety-one kalpas

Summary: The Bodhisattva Śākyamuni realized the thirty-two marks in ninety-one kalpas [1] .

Thus it is said in a sūtra:

“Once, in times gone by, there was a Buddha named Fou cha (Puṣya); at the same time there were two Bodhisattvas; the first named Śākyamuni and the second Maitreya. The Buddha Puṣya wanted to see if the mind (citta) of the Bodhisattva [87c] Śākyamuni was pure or not. He examined it and saw that his mind was not pure but that the minds of his disciples were pure. As for the Bodhisattva Maitreya, his mind was pure but that the minds of his disciples were not pure.

Then the Buddha Puṣya said to himself:

“It is easy to change quickly the mind of a single man, but it is difficult to change quickly the mind of a crowd.”

Having had this thought, wanting the Bodhisattva Śākyamuni to become Buddha quickly, the Buddha Puṣya climbed the Himavat mountain (himavantaṃ parvatam abhiruhya), found a rock cave filled with jewels (ratnaguhāṃ praviśya)[2] and there entered into the concentration of fire (tejodhātuṃ samāpannaḥ).[3]

At the same time, the Bodhisattva Śākyamuni, who then was a heretical sage (tīrthikarṣi), climbed the mountain gathering herbs. He saw the Buddha Puṣya seated in the jewel-cave in the concentration of fire, emitting a great brilliance. At this sight, he experienced great joy (ānanda); he had faith and paid homage. Standing erect on one leg, his palms joined towards the Buddha, he considered him attentively.

Without blinking his eyes, for seven days and seven nights he praised the Buddha with one single stanza:

Either in heaven or on earth, there is no equal to the Buddha.
In the universes of the ten directions, there is no-one comparable to him.
If one considers all the beings in the universe,
No-one is like the Buddha.

For seven days and seven nights, he contemplated the Buddha thus without blinking his eyes. This is how he freed (pratyuddāvartate) nine kalpas and reached supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi) in ninety-one kalpas.

Notes on this story:

This story is told in the Avadānaśataka, no. 97, II, p. 175–177 (tr. Feer, p. 412–414; Fo pen hing tsi king, T 190, k.4, p. 670a (tr. Beal, Romantic Legend, p. 14); Siuan tsi po yuan king, T 299 (no, 97), k. 10, p. 253c–254a; P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 177, p. 890b; Kośa, IV, p. 229 and Kośavyākhyā, p. 432; Chouen tcheng li louen of Saṃghabhadra, T 1562, k. 44, p. 591c; Fo ti king louen, T 1530, k. 7, p. 327a.

Here are a few extracts from the Avadānaśatakā, II, p.175 sq.:

Bhūtapūrvaṃ bhikṣavo ‘tīte ’dhvani Puṣyo nāma samyaksaṃbuddho loka udapādi… So ’pareṇa … ekāya gāthayā stutvān:
na divi bhuvi vā nāsmiṃi like na vaiśravaṇālaye…
puruṣavṛṣabha tvattulyo ’nyo mahāśramaṇaḥ kutaḥ ||

Atha Puṣya samyakaṃbuddhaḥ … sadāt: Sādhu ṣādhu satpuruṣa
anena balavīryeṇa saannena dvijttama |
nava kalpāḥ parāvṛttāḥ saṃstutyāda tathātagatam. ||

The legend of Buddha Puṣya:

The Buddha in question sometimes appears under the name of Puṣya (Mahāvastu, III, p. 240; Avadānaśatakā, T 190; T 200; Tibetan version of the Kośa where shar rgyal translates Puṣya), sometimes under the name of Tiṣya (T 1530; T 1562; Chinese translations of the Kośa by Paramārtha and Hiuan tsang). Tiṣya is not, however, synonymous with Puṣya. In the Mahāvastu (III, p. 240–243), the Buddha Tiṣya appears 95 kalpas before Śākyamuni and makes the prediction to Puṣya; the latter appears 92 kalpas before Śakyamuni and gives the prophecy to Vipaśyin. These facts are more or less confirmed by T 190 (Beal, Romantic Legends, p. 14) where Tiṣya and Puṣya precede Śākyamuni by 95 and 94 kalpas respectively. Tiṣya (variant Puṣya) is also the name of a lunar mansion (Cancri).

Concluding remarks:

The various versions of this legend agree in essence and often in detail. They all intend to explain how the Bodhisattva Sākyamuni, by praising the Buddha Puṣya with a stanza repeated for seven days and seven nights, succeeded in outstripping his colleague, the Bodhisattva Maitreya; the merit that he acquired by praising the Buddha freed him of nine cosmic periods and he reached Buddhahood in ninety-one periods instead of one hundred.

One source, however, tells the facts in another way and, as a consequence, has a different import: this is the Siuan tsi po yuan king (T 200, k. 10, p. 253c–254a, the Chinese counterpart of the Sanskrit Avadānaśataka). There is no question of any kind of emulation between Śākyamuni and Maitreya. Both address their praise to the Buddha together.

Here is the translation of this passage:

“Once, innumerable generations ago, in the land of Po lo nai (Vārāṇasī), a Buddha appeared in the world: he was called Puṣya. He was seated under a tree crosslegged. I (Śākyamuni) and Maitreya were two bodhisattvas. We went to this Buddha, made all kinds of offerings (nānāpūjā) and, standing on one leg for seven days, we praised him with this stanza: “Either in heaven or on earth, nobody is like the Buddha. In the universes of the ten directions, nobody is comparable to him. If one considers everything in the universe, nothing is like the Buddha.”

The Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra is referring probably to this latter source; attaching it below (p. 92c) to refute the Abhidharma doctrines explained here, it will make the following comment: “You believe that only the Buddha Śākyamuni saw the Buddha Puṣya in his jewel cave and praised him with one single stanza during seven days and seven nights. The Avadānaśātaka is the only one not to speak of it. If you do not know it, that is not a good enough reason.”

Footnotes and references:


In these one hundred kalpas during which normally the Bodhisattva accomplished the actions producing the marks, Śākyamuni, thanks to his effort (vīrya), skipped over nine. Therefore his effort lasted only 91 kalpas instead of 100. Cf. Mahāvastu, III, p. 249: vīryakāyena saṃpanno … nava kalpāni sthāyesi vīryeṇa puruṣottamaḥ. – Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 177, p. 890b; Kośa. IV, p. 225; Saṃghabhadra, T 1562, k. 44, p. 591a; Fu ti king louen, T 1539, k. 7, p. 327a; Kouan fo san mei hai king, T 643, k. 7, p. 679b (tr. Przyluski, Le Nord-Puest de l’Inde, JA, 1914, p. 566). Also, as he himself said several times, his natural memory covered only these 91 kalpas: Saṃyutta, IV, p. 324; Dīgha, II, p. 2; Majjhima, I, p. 483; Dīvyāvadāna, p. 282. For more details, see L. de La Vallée Poussin, Les neuf Kalpa qu’a franchi Śākyamuni pour devancer Maitreya, TP, 1928, no. 1, p. 17–21.


In most sources, the miracle took place in a jewel cave (ratnaguhā); the Vibhāṣā specifies a cave of vaiḍūrya. T 200 locates the scene under a tree.


T 1530 and T 1562 confirm this type of concentration adopted by Puṣya. This tejodhātusamādhi, concentration on the fire element, also called jyotiṣprabhasamādhi, concentration on the brilliance of fire, consists of considering the element fire and, by the power of this examination, making one’s body incandescent and emitting flames and smoke. It is often followed by nirvāṇa. Cf. Mahāvastu, I, p. 556; Divyāvadāna, p. 186; Udāna, 9, p. 93; Przyluski, Aśoka, p. 26; Concile, p. 10, 31, 66, 116 (the nirvāṇa of Gavāmpati).