Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of mrigashiras” 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.

Appendix 6 - The story of Mṛgaśiras

Note: this appendix is extracted from The Parūrasutta:

“Again the Buddha asked the brahmacārin: ‘According to you, did the brahmacārin Lou t’sou (Mṛgaśiras) find the (true) Path?’ Vivādabala replied: ‘Mṛgaśiras is the foremost of all those who have found the Path’”.

Mṛgaśiras, in Chinese Lou t’eou or Mi li ngo che lo, seems to be unknown to the old canonical tradition and appears only in relatively late texts; however his reputation is well established: among the Buddha’s disciples, he excelled in analysis of knowledge and the accuracy of his memory (Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 3, p.558c13); he skillfully explained the omens in human relationships (A lo han kiu tö king, T 126, p. 832b7).

– His story is fully described in Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 20, p. 650c–652b, and in the Cīvaravastu of the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vin (Gilgit Man., III, 2, p. 79–83); from there it undoubtedly passed, with some variations, into the Theragāthā Comm., I, p. 305 seq (tr. Rh. D., Brethren, p. 138–139).

Here is a translation of the text of the Gilgit Man.:

The Buddha Bhagavat was swelling at Rājagṛha in the Bamboo Park at Kalandakanivāpa. At that time there was a hermitage belonging to a hermit endowed with the five superknowledges. The latter, walking near the hermitage, urinated on the muddy ground. A thirsty doe happened to come to that place; tormented by thirst, she drank the hermit’s urine and then sniffed at her own vulva. The retribution for the actions of beings is inconceivable! The doe became pregnant and later came to the same place to give birth, giving birth to a male child. The doe sniffed him and since he was not of her own species, she left him on the ground and went away. However, the recluse, while walking around his hermitage, saw the baby and took it upon himself to find out whose son this was. Finally he recognized himself to have been the father and so he took the baby in, gave it food and drink and raised it.

As the child’s head was like a deer, he was named Mṛgaśiras or ‘Deer’s Head’. The hermit later died; Mṛgaśiras learned the divination that consists of striking the cranium with one’s finger; by doing this, he discovered everything. If the cranium gives out a rough sound, [its owner] is destined to a higher sphere and a rebirth among the gods; if the cranium gives off a somewhat [rough] sound, its owner is destined to a high sphere and rebirth among humans: this is the mark of a fortunate destiny. Now here is the mark of an unfortunate destiny: if the cranium emits a hesitant sound, [its owner] is destined to a lower sphere and a rebirth in hell; if the sound is middling, he is destined to a lower sphere and an animal rebirth; if the sound is weak, he is destined to a lower sphere and a rebirth among the pretas.

However, the Buddha, judging the time had come to convert Mṛgaśiras, said to venerable Ānanda:

“Go to him, Ānanda, with four crania belonging (respectively) to a srotaāpanna, a sakṛdāgamin, an anāgāmin and an arhat.”

– “Certainly, Lord”, answered Ānanda and he obeyed. Taking four skulls, he went to the recluse and asked him to explain them. Striking the srotaāpanna’s skull, Mṛgaśiras announced that he had taken rebirth among the gods; he did the same with the sakṛdāgāmin and the anāgāmin. But striking the cranium of the arhat, he perceived nothing.

He thought:

“What’s this? Am I frustrated by my own knowledge? Was I not born into a noble family; or else, the characteristics (of this skull) are such that I cannot perceive their manifestation?”

Ānanda said to him:

“You are not so adept in all the sciences that you are unaware of a manifestation of this kind; then learn the whole science and then you will teach it to people.”

Mṛgaśiras asked:

“Is there someone learned in all the sciences that you know of?”

Ānanda replied:

“There is; it is the Tathāgata, saint, the completely enlightened one who has attained the other shore of all the sciences”.

Then Mṛgaśiras went to the Bhagavat and said to him:

“I know the destiny of a man among the animals, pretas, humans, gods and the hells; but by lack of science, I do not understand the ultimate destiny of beings. Tell me, O Lord, about the shore stretching (beyond) the great ocean of the threefold world. O conqueror of all arguments, is this ultimate destiny unknown?”

The Bhagavat answered:

“Even by striking it with an iron hammer, we do not know where the brilliant flame goes when it gradually is extinguished. In the same way we have no idea of the fate that falls to those who are completely liberated and who, going beyond the muddy torrent of the desires, have attained endless rest.”

At these words, Mṛgaśiras said to the Bhagavat:

“Lord, I would like to take ordination and become a monk in the well-preached religious discipline; I would like to practice celibacy in the presence of the Bhagavat.”

The Bhagavat then conferred ordination on him. Having done that, the Bhagavat remained in Rājagṛha as he wished and then left to travel to Śrāvastī; wandering by stages, he reached Śrāvastī.

There he stayed in the Eastern Park, in the palace of Mṛgāramātā. Walking about outside, he saw that the stars were mixed up and he asked the venerable Mṛgaśiras:

“See for how long a time it will rain.”

– Mṛgaśiras answered: “The world, O Lord, is lost, it is ruined: the way the stars are arranged, it will rain for twelve years.”

The Bhagavat then directed his magical influence on all the stars and then asked him to examine them again, and Mṛgaśiras saw that it would rain for only six years. Again pressed by the Buddha, he allowed that it would rain for five years, and so on down to only seven days. Then the Bhagavat spoke to the monks:

“Stay under shelter, O monks; this very day it will rain hordes of grasshoppers; but those who bathe will not have blisters (piṭaka) caused by the insects (read utpādaka, insects in place of utpāda). And so, O Mṛgaśiras, the stars are moveable and unstable; life, too, is moveable and unstable.”

Thus addressed, Mṛgaśiras was favorably disposed towards the Bhagavat, thus disposed, he realized arhathood. Then experiencing the joy and happiness of deliverance, he spoke this stanza:

“The refuge of the gazelles is sloping land (pavana, a Prakrit word for pravaṇa);
the refuge of the birds is space;
the refuge of the unperturbed is the Dharma;
the refuge of the arhats is nirvāṇa.”

[For this stanza that has many variations, cf. Parivāra, VIII, 2, 55; Tibetan Udānavarga, XXVI, 10 (ed. Beckh, p. 87); Chinese Dharmapada (T 210, k. 2, p. 573b3–4; T 212, k. 23, p. 733b14–15; T 213, k. 3, p. 790c9–10); Mahāvastu, II, p. 212; III, p. 156; P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 75, p. 388c1 (tr. L. de La Vallée Poussin, Documents d’Abhidharma, BEFEO, XXX, 1930, p. 31)].