Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “recollection of the buddha (2): the miracles of his birth” 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.

I. Recollection of the Buddha (2): The miracles of his birth

Furthermore, all the various qualities (guṇa) are found in full in the Buddha:

1) The Buddha is of the lineage of Mo-ho-san-mo-t’o (Mahāsaṃmata), the noble cakravartin king who ruled at the beginning of the kalpa.[1] He was born among the Che tseu (Śākya), a wise and powerful family in Yen-fou-t’i (Jambudvīpa) in the clan (gotra) of the noble Kiao-t’an (Gautama).

2) At the time of his birth, rays (raśmi) illumined the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu. Brahmā Devarāja held a precious parasol (ratnacchattra) and Śakra Devendra received him on celestial precious garments (divyaratnavastra). The nāgarāja A-na-p’o-ta-to (Anavatapta) and the nāgarāja P’o-k’ie-to [read So-k’ie-lo (Sāgara)] bathed him with warm perfumed water.

At the moment of his birth, the earth trembled in six ways (ṣaḍvikāram akampata). The Bodhisattva took seven steps (sapta padāni vikramate) calmly like the king of the elephants and, having regarded the four directions (caturdiśaṃ vilokya), he uttered the lion’s roar (siṃhanādam anadat) and proclaimed: I will have no further rebirths (iyaṃ me paścimā jātiḥ) and I will save all beings.[2]

Notes on the reception by the gods:

According to the old canonical tradition (Dīgha, II, p. 14; Sanskrit Mahāvadāna, p. 88; Majjhima, III, p. 122), it is the custom that the Bodhisattva, issuing forth from his mother’s womb, is first received by the gods and then by men; before he touches the earth, the four devaputras take him and present him to his mother.

– According to the Nidānakathā (Jātaka, I, p. 52–53) the four Mahābrahmās of pure mind received the Bodhisattva on a golden net (suvaṇṇjāla), the four heavenly Maharājas on antelope skins (ajinappaveṇi), and finally humans on a roll of fine linen cloth (dukūlacumbaṭaka).

– According to the Lalitavistara, p. 83, Śakra Devendra and Brahmā Sahāpati covered him with a heavenly garment made of Benares cloth (divyakāśikavastra). This last version, the most common in the literature, is adopted here by the Traité.

The bathing ceremony after the birth of the Buddha:

Although the Bodhisattva came from his mother’s womb completely clean, he underwent the traditional bathing ceremony of the newborn. But as Foucher, La Vie du Buddha, p. 49–50, comments, the tradition of the bath is very variable:

1) Two currents of water (vāridhāra), one cold, the other warm, fell like rain from heaven to batheBodhisattva and his mother: cf. Dīgha, II, p. 15; Majjhima, III, p. 123; Sanskrit Mahāvadāna, p. 91; Nieānakathā in Jātaka, I, p. 53, l. 5–7; Mahāvastu, I, p. 222, l. 12; II, p. 24, l. 20.

2) Two currents of water (vāridhāra), arising from the earth, filled two pools (udapāna) to batheinfant, like a golden statue: cf. Mahāvastu, I, p. 220, l. 19–221, l. 2; II, p. 23, l. 4–7.

3) The nāgarājas Nanda and Upananda, appearing half-way from the sky, created two currents of water (vāridhāra), cold and warm, and bathed the Bodhisattva. Śakra, Brahmā, the Lokapālas and many other devaputras bathed the Bodhisattva with all kinds of scented water: cf.. Lalita, p. 83, l. 21–84, l. 3.

4) Remaining in the sky, Brahmā and Śakra bathed the leader par excellence with pure scented water. Also the nāga kings (uragarāja) remaining in the sky made two currents of water flow, cold and warm. A hundred thousand gods bathed the Leader par excellence with scented water: cf. Lalita, p. 93, l. 1–5.

5) The nāgarājas bathed the Bodhisattva with two kinds of scented water, one cold, the other warm. In front of his mother there arose a large pool for her to wash in: cf. Mūlasarv. Vin, T 1450,k. 2, p. 108a20–23.

Folklore and carved monuments reflect the uncertainties of the literary tradition.

“In the garden of Lumbinī, the place where the two nāgas bathed the divine child is shown side-by-side with the twin springs that no less miraculously appeared to furnish water for his bath.” (A. Foucher): cf. Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 6, p. 902a28–902b5.

The carved monuments may be divided into two groups. In the first, the Bodhisattva is bathed, or more precisely, sprinkled by Brahmā and Śakra: this is the case at Gandhāra (Foucher, Agb., p. 309, fig. 156 = Ingholt, fig. 16 = Marshall, fig. 58) and at Swāt (Tucci, Il trono di diamante, Bari, 1967, fig. 80–81). In the second group, he is escorted by two nāgas or sprinkled by them: this is the case at Mathurā (Vogel, pl. 51a, right; pl 52b) and on the steles at Benares (Foucher, Agb., p. 413, fig. 209a, left).

We may ask why here the Traité replaces the two traditional nāgas, Nanda and Upananda, by two of their fellows, Anavatapta and Sāgara. This may be because at thetime of the birth of the Buddha, the first two were not yet converted and still had to be tamed by Maudgalyāyana (see below, k. 32, p. 300a29 seq.; k. 100, p. 752b12. However, it is doubtful that such a care for verisimilitude bothered the ancient exegetists. Identical in their behavior, the nāgarājas were practically interchangeable and it was permissible to choose freely from the list of the eight most important of them: Nanda, Upananda, Sāgara, Vāsukin, Takṣaka, Manasvin, Anavatapta, Utpalaka (cf. Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 4, l. 11–12).

Footnotes and references:


He was of the solar race and appears in most of the genealogies of the Buddha: cf. Dīpavaṃsa, III, v. 3; Mahāvamsa, II, v. 1; Mahāvastu, I, p. 348,4.


For the seven steps of the Bodhisattva, see above, p. 6F and note.

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