Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “danapati who excluded the shramaneras from his invitation” 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.

The Dānapati who excluded the Śrāmaṇeras from his invitation

Thus a noble wealthy banker (śreṣṭhin) who had faith in the Community (saṃghe prasannaḥ) said to the steward (vaiyāvṛtyakara)[1] of the Saṃgha: “I invite the monks in order [of seniority] to dine with me.” Day after day, he invited them in order; but when the day came for the turn of the novices (śrāmaṇera), the steward did not allow them to accept the invitation. The śrāmaṇeras said: “Why do you not allow us to accept the invitation?” He replied: “ Because the patron [224b] (dānapati) does not like to invite the young monks.” Then he spoke this stanza:

Bearded men with hair white as snow
Whose teeth have fallen out and whose faces are wrinkled,
Who walk bent over with decrepit bodies:
Those are whom the danāpati likes to invite.

Now these śrāmaṇeras were all great arhats. Like lions struck on the head, they leaped up from their seats and spoke these stanzas:

This dānapati is a stupid man:
He sees forms and does not see virtues.
He neglects the young
And receives only decrepit ancient men.

Moreover, the Buddha has uttered these gāthās:

The one who is called Venerable
Is not necessarily old.
There are old men, decrepit, bearded and with white hair,
Who have ‘grown old in vain’ (mohajīrṇa) and inwardly are without virtue.[2]

He who, abandoning the fruits of wrongdoing and of merit,
Energetically pratices continence
And renounces everything,
He is truly called Venerable.[3]

Then the śrāmaṇeras had this thought: “We should not passively look at this dānapati who measures good and evil in the Saṃgha.” And they again spoke these stanzas:

Our hearts remain unchanged
Under praise and blame;
But this man denigrates the Buddha and the Dharma:
We cannot help but instruct him.

Let us go quickly to his dwelling-place
To teach him the Dharma.
It would truly be a great pity
If we did not save him.

Then all the śrāmaṇeras changed their bodies and became transformed into old men. Their beards and hair were white as snow; their heavy eyebrows covered their eyes (bhrūlamabhir avaguṇṭhitākṣa); their skin was wrinkled like waves; their spine was bent like a bow (dhanur iva vakrapṛṣṭha) and they walked leaning on a stick (yaṣṭiviṣaktapāṇi).According to their turn (anukrameṇa), they received their invitation and started out, all faltering with unsteady pace: one would have said they were white poplars shaken by the wind.[4]

Seeing them coming, the dānapati rejoiced, went to meet them, greeted them and made them sit down. When they were seated, they resumed their youthful forms. Startled, the dānapati said to them:

These distinguished old men
Have recovered their youth
As if they had drunk the elixir of youth;[5]
How does such a miracle come about?

The śrāmaṇeras said to him: “Do not feel any fear or doubt; we are not demons (amānuṣa). You wanted to measure (pramāṇīkartum) the Saṃgha, and that is very dangerous. Out of pity for you, we have manifested these transformations. The noble Saṃgha which you claim to know deeply is immeasurable (apramāṇa) for, as it is said:

Then it would be possible to sound the depth of the sea [224c]
With the fine proboscis of a mosquito;
But among gods and men
There is no one who is able to measure the Saṃgha.[6]

The Saṃgha cannot even be singled out
According to its qualities and its nobility,
And you claim to be able
To measure the great virtuous ones according to their age.

Great and small alike produce knowledge:
It is not found [exclusively] among the old or among the young.
If he is wise, brave and energetic
Even a young man is an Elder (sthavira).
If he is lazy and without wisdom
Even the old man is but a child.

In wanting to measure the Saṃgha today, you have committed a great fault. If somebody wanted to sound the depth of the great ocean (mahārṇavam avagāhitum) with his finger-tip (aṅgulyagra), he would be the laughing-stock of the sages.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Vaiyāvṛtyakara, or also vaiyāpṛtyakara, vaiyāpatyakara; in Pāli veyyāvaccakara: see Edgerton, Dictionary, p. 511; Mochizuki, Enc., p. 2254b.

2.

Dhammapada, v. 260; Udānavarga, XI, v. 11, p. 189.

3.

Dhammapada, v. 267; Udānavarga, XI, v. 12, p. 189; Mahāvastu, III, p. 422.

4.

Cf. the fragment of the Kalpanāmaṇḍikā, p. 138: Te sarve palitavidyotitaśirogaṇḍapārśvabhrulomabhir avaguṇṭhitākṣi… dhanurvakkrapṛṣṭīvaṃśā yaṣṭiviṣaktapāṇayaḥ pavanabalapracalitā supuṣpitāḥ sindhuvāritagulmāḥ.

5.

Ibid., p. 139: Rasāyanam iva prāśya punar bālatvam āgatāḥ.

6.

Ibid., p. 139: Apy eva gādhaṃ varuṇālayasya svatuṇḍasūcyā maśako labheta na tv eva lokaḥ sacarācaro ‘yam saṃghā… “ Perhaps a mosquito could reach the bottom of the sea with its proboscis; but the entire universe with its beings, mobile and immobile, [can never sound] the Saṃgha.”