Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of jambuka” 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.

Thus the arhat Yen-fou (Jambuka) said the following when he acquired bodhi:

Formerly I was a heretic
For fifty-five years;
I ate only dried cow-dung
And I slept on thorns.

Having endured such cruel tortures, I gained nothing from them, not like today when, having seen the Buddha and having heard the Dharma, I have left home (pravrajita) and, in three days, having done what had to be done (kṛtakṛtya), I have become arhat.

This is why we know that the Dharma of the Buddha ‘obtains its fruit in the present lifetime’.

Notes to the story of Jambuka:

Theragāthā, p. 34, v. 283–286:

Pañcapaññāsa vassāni rajojallaṃ adhārayim | … tisso vijjā anuppattā, kataṃ buddhassa sāsanan ti ||


“For fifty-five years I covered myself with dust and dirt, eating only one meal per month, and I tore out my hair and beard.

I stood on one foot and refused to sit down; I ate dry dung and accepted no invitations.

Having followed this path that leads to the bad destinies for so long, borne along by the stream, I took refuge in the Buddha.

Wonder at this refuge! Admire the excellence of the Dharma! I have obtained the three knowledges and have carried out the Buddha’s command.”

For more details, see Comm. on the Theragāthā, I, p. 386 seq. (tr. Rhys Davids, Brethren, p. 179–180) and Comm. on the Dhammapada, II, p. 52–63 (tr. Burlingame, II, p. 130–137):

At the time of the Buddha Kāśyapa, Jambuka as an elder lived with a lay devotee. A wandering monk, in the course of his alms-round, came to the layman and was welcomed there. In a fit of jealousy, Jambuka insulted the visitor and declared that for his part he would never accept anything from lay people and rather preferred to eat dung, tear out his hair, go naked and sleep on the ground.

At the time of Buddha Śākyamuni, Jambuka took birth in a wealthy family of Rājagṛha, As a child, he refused all normal food and ate his own excrement; when he was grown, he went quite naked and slept on the ground. His parents put him in the hands of the Ājivikas, naked ascetics, who accepted him into their order. But Jambuka refused to follow his colleagues on their alms-rounds. When they were far away, he went into the public latrines to eat excrement. When he felt someone watching him, he stood on one foot and turned his open mouth into the wind. Among those who questioned him, he passed as a great ascetic, an eater of wind, refusing all food. Once a month, however, he accepted putting on his tongue a bit of butter and honey on the end of a piece of kuśa grass: such condescension, he said, would assure the spectators eternal salvation. He lived thus for fifty-five years. One day the Buddha came to stay in a near-by cave and Jambuka noticed that, during the night, the four kings of the gods, Śakra and Brahmā came to serve the Teacher. To his astonishment, the Buddha explained that he was superior to these great deities. Jambuka converted and attained arhathood.

This story should be compared to the Jāmbālāvadāna contained in the Avadānaśatsks, I, p. 279–288 (transl. Feer, p. 190–194) and translated into Chinese as the Siuan tso po yuan king, T 200, k. 5, p. 227a–228a.