Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “recollection of the gods-by-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.

VI.1. Recollection of the gods-by-birth

In this recollection of the gods (devatānusmṛti), it is a question [of the six classes of gods of kāmadhātu], from the Cāturmahārājakāyikas up to the Paranirmitavaśavartidevas.

Question. – The disciples (śrāvaka) of the Buddha should recollect the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddha exclusively; why [still] recollect the gods?

Aswer. – As a reward for their actions, people receive the happiness of the heavens (svargasukha); this is why the deities [who live there] are recollected.

Furthermore, the Buddha himself gave the reasons for practicing the eight recollections and declared:

“The noble disciple who recollects the deities should have the following thought: ‘The Cāturmahārājikadevas are born in their paradise as a result of five good qualities (kuśaladharma), namely, faith (śraddhā) in [the retribution] of sin (āpatti) and merit (puṇya), the observance of morality (śīla), hearing the holy Dharma (saddharma), the practice of generosity (tyāga) and the practice of wisdom (prajñā). I too possess these five qualities and I rejoice, for it is said that the deities, as a result of these five qualities, have taken birth in the blessed abodes. I too who possess these qualities could be reborn there if that is what I wanted. But as the happiness of the paradises is transitory, I will not do so.’ And the disciple will reason in the same way [for the other five groups of deities] up to and including the Paranirmitavaśavartindevas.”[1]

Question. – In the threefold world (traidhātuka), there are many pure deities [occupying rūpadhātu and ārūpyādhātu]. Why recollect only the gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātu)?

Answer. – It is in the śrāvaka system that it is a matter of just recollecting [only the deities of kāmadhātu; but in the Māhayāna it is forbidden to recollect the deities of the threefold world.

The yogin who has not yet attained the Path very often is still attached in mind to the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa) belonging to the world of men. This is why the Buddha recommends recollecting the deities. If the yogin has been able to cut through lust (rāga), he will be reborn among the gods of the two higher realms [rūpadhātu and ārūpyadhātu]. If he has not been able to cut through lust, he will be reborn among the six classes of gods of the desire realm [kāmadhātu] where the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa) are excellent (praṇīta), subtle (sūkṣma) and pure (viśuddha).

The Buddha does not want people to be reborn again and enjoy the five objects of enjoyment; but there are beings who are unable to enter into nirvāṇa, and it is these beings that the Buddha tells to recollect the deities.

Thus, one day the son of a king (rājaputra) was standing in a high and dangerous place: it was impossible to get him down and he was about to fall to the ground, The king sent someone to spread a thick mattress on the ground so that when the prince fell he would not be killed by being crushed on the ground.

Footnotes and references:


According to the Sanskrit Āgamas faithfully quoted here, recollection of the deities brings a rebirth solely among the six classes of gods of kāmadhātu. According to the Pāli Nikāyas, it can bring a rebirth, not only among the six classes of gods of kāmadhātu, but also among the Brahmakāyika gods of rūpadhātu and the gods higher than the latter. See the citations and references in the initial note to the present chapter, p. 1333F.