Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “maranasmriti-sutra” 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.

One day when the Buddha was speaking to the bhikṣus on the meaning of death (saraṇasaṃjñārtha), a certain bhikṣu, having arranged his upper robe over his left shoulder (ekāṃsam uttarāsaṅgaṃ kṛtvā), said to the Buddha: “I can meditate on the meaning of death.”

The Buddha asked him: “How do you meditate?”

The bhikṣu said: “I do not hope to live longer than seven years.”

The Buddha said: “That is an unmindful way to meditate on the meaning of death.”

Another bhikṣu said: “ I do not hope to live longer than seven months.” Another bhikṣu said seven days, and yet others said six, five, four, three, two or one day. The Buddha said to them: “All of you are meditating unmindfully on the meaning of death (maraṇasaṃjñā).”

One bhikṣu said [that he did not hope to live longer than one morning], fom morning until mealtime. Yet another, that he did not hope to live longer than a single meal (eka piṇḍapāta). The Buddha declared: “You also are meditating unmindfully on the meaning of death.”

Finally a bhikṣu, having arranged his upper robe over is left shoulder, said to the Buddha: “[I hope to live only as long as the time needed] for an outbreath (yāvat prāśvasāmi) without waiting for the next inbreath, or the time required for an inbreath (yāvad āśvasāmi) without waiting for the next outbreath.” The Buddha declared: “That is true meditation on the meaning of death, without unmindfulness. O bhikṣus, all conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma) arise and perish from moment to moment. Their time of duration (sthitikāla) is very brief. They are like a magic show (māyopama), deceiving the ignorant yogins.”[1]

It is for these many reasons that one recollects death.

Notes on the Maraṇasmṛti-sūtra:

A slightly different version of the Maraṇasutta I of the Anguttara, III, p. 303–306, or IV, p. 316–319, partially quoted in the Visuddimagga, ed. Warren, p. 196 which has its correspondent in the Ekottarāgama (Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 35, p. 741c27–742b2). The Pāli sources place this sūtra at Nāndika in Giñjakāvasatha; the Sanskrit sources place it at Śrāvastī in the Jetavana in the garden of Anāthapiṇdada.

Here are translations of a few extracts from the Maraṇasatisutta: Maraṇasati bhikkhave bhāvitā bahukulīkatā mahapphalā … ahaṃ bhante bhāvemi maraṇasatin ti.

This first monk who wished or hoped to live for one night and one day in order to meditate on the Buddha’s teaching on death was followed by three others who wished to live for one day (divasam), for the time of one meal (ekaṃ piṇḍapātam), or for the time of eating and swallowing four or five morsels (cattāro pañca ālope), respectively.

The Buddha declared that these four monks live unmindfully (pamattā viharanti) and practice a lazy ‘recollection of death’ for destroying impurities (dandhaṃ maraṇasatiṃ bhāventi āsavānaṃ khayāya).

Finally, two other monks came who wished to live the time of eating and swallowing a single morsel (ekaṃ ālopam) or even the time between an inbreath and an outbreath, or the time of a single inhalation (yadantaraṃ assasitvā vā passasāmi passasitvā vā assasāmī) in order to meditate on the Buddha’s teaching on death.

The Buddha declared that these two monks lived without unmindfulness (appamattā viharanti) and practiced a ‘recollection of death’ effective in destroying the impurities (tikkhaṃ maraṇasatiṃ bhāventi khayāya).

According to the Ekottarāgama (l.c., p. 742a23), the monk who was certain of living only the time of one inbreath or outbreath was Vakkhali, well known by his suicide (Saṃyutta, III, p. 119–124).

Footnotes and references:

1.

Ekottarāgama (l.c., p. 742a27–29): “All formations (saṃskāra) are empty (śūnya) and calm (praśānta). That which is born and that which dies is a magical creation, without true reality.”