Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “anavolokitamurdhata (invisible cranial summit)” 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.

Appendix 2 - The Anavolokitamūrdhatā (invisible cranial summit)

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XXXVI, part 2.I (Physical marks and superhuman power of the Buddha):

“Mark 4) On his head there is the mark of the cranium, the height of which cannot be seen (anavalokitamūrdhatā); among gods and men, nobody will be able to surpass him”.

Anavolokitamūrdhatā ‘Invisible cranial summit’, in Chinese wou kien ting siang, in Tibetan, spyi gtsug bltar mi mthoṅ ba. This anuvyañjana does not appear in the lists of marks given by the canonical scriptures or the early biographies of the Buddha mentioned above (p. 271 and 272 as note) and seems to be an invention of the Mahāyāna.

The Sanskrit word anavalokitamūrdhatā is attested in the Suvikrāntavikrāmin, p. 114, l. 11 and the Bodh. bhūmi, p. 381, l. 2–3. In the editions of the Gaṇdavyūha, p. 65, l. 18, the reading avalokitamūrdhitā, reproduced in Edgerton, Dictionary, p. 74, is faulty.

In the Pañcaviṃśati, T 223, k. 24, p. 395c28, anavalokitamūrdhatā is the first anuvyañjana; in the Śatasāhasrikā, T 220 (vol. VI), k. 381, p. 968c18–19, it is the 66th anuvyañjana. This minor mark appears again in numerous Mahāyāna sūtras and śāstras: Bimbisārarāja, T 41, p. 825b7; Brahmāyus, T 76, p. 884a18; Karuṇāpuṇḍarīka, T 157, k. 2, p. 177c4–5; Avataṃsaka, T 278, k. 6, p. 432c5; k. 17, p. 508a13; k. 46, p. 691b5–6; T 279, k. 27, p. 146a7 and 16; k. 62, p. 335c21; Śraddhābalādhānāvarāra, T 305, k. 5, p. 955a25–955b25; Che tchou touan kie, T 309, k. 4, p.997b29–997c1; Ratnakūṭa, T 310, k. 10, p.54b9; Tathāgataguhya, T 312, k. 8, p. 724a16; Bodhisattvapiṭaka, T 316, k. 27, p. 851b11; Amitāyurbuddhānusmṛti, T 365, p. 344a9; Wou chang yi king, T 669, k. 2, P. 474c24; Upāsakaśīla, T 1488, k. 1, p. 10293–6; Upadeśa, T 1509, k. 26, 256a9 and 17; king kang sien louen, T 1512, k. 5, p. 831b29; k. 9, p. 863a4–5; Yogācaryābhūmi, T 1579, k. 49; p. 567a2–3: 568a17–19; Mahāyānasaṃgraha and its commentaries, T 1594, k. 3, p. 149c1; T 1597, k. 9, p. 371c29; T 1598, k. 9, p. 437c27–28; Comm. on the Houan wou leang cheou by Tche li, T 1751, k. 6, p. 227a7–8.

We know that the 80 anuvyañjanas are supplementary to the 32 lakṣaṇas. In fact, the anavalokitamūrdhitā is a property of the 32nd lakṣaṇa of the Buddha, the cranial protuberance (uṣṇīṣa).

This is what the Bodh. bhūmi says, p. 381:

Tatroṣṇīṣaśiraskatānavalokitamūrdhatā caikamahāpuruṣalakṣaṇaṃ veditavayaṃ tadvyatirekeṇānupalaṃbhāt:

“The two make up a single mark of the Great Man; there is no difference between them.”

When the Traité says here that nobody can see the top of the Buddha’s cranium and that nobody among gods and men can surpass him, it should be taken literally: the uṣṇīṣa of the Buddha is invisible and nobody can go above it This explains several mysterious episodes in the Buddha’s life:

When the recluse Asita wanted to examine the new-born Buddha, the baby’s feet turned upside-down and placed themselves on the chignon of the recluse (bodhisattvassa pādā parivattitvā tāpasassa jaṭāsu patiṭṭhajiṃsu): cf. Nidānakathā in Jātaka, I, p. 54, l. 25–26.

“When Gautama travels, heavenly gifts, precious parasols and flowers rain down like snow. The devas, nāgas and flying birds do not dare to fly above him for, among beings of the threefold world, none can see the summit [of his cranium]”; (cf. Brahmāyuḥsūtra, T 76, p. 884a16–18.)

Sātāgira and Hemavata who were flying to an assembly of yakṣas were stopped in full flight and forced to land because, if they had continued on their route, they would have passed above the Buddha: cf. Comm. on the Suttanipāta, I, p. 221–223; Comm. on the Udāna, p. 64.

Near Rājagṛha, at Yaṣṭivana ‘Perch Forest’:

“Once a Brahmin, having heard that the Buddha’s body was sixteen feet high, persisted in doubting and did not believe it. He wanted to measure the Buddha with a bamboo rod sixteen feet long, but the Buddha’s body constantly rose above the top of the rod and surpassed sixteen feet. He continued growing so that the Brahmin, quite unable to reach the true height, threw away his stick and went away. As a result of this event, the bamboo stick remained planted in the ground and took root there.”

This anecdote is told by Hiuan-tsang in the Si-yu-ki, T 2087, k. 9, p. 920a7–12, and is represented on the bas-reliefs at Gandhāra (Foucher, Agb. p. 505, pl. 251b; p. 522, pl. 256c) but has left no trace in the texts. However, a canonical passage should be noted where the Teacher forbade everyone except himself to measure a pudgala:

Mā puggalesu pamāṇikā ahuvatthu … yo vā pan’assa madiso.

“Do not be one of those who measure men, for the person who takes the measure of men wounds himself. It is I who am able to take the measure of men, or someone like me.” (Anguttara, III, p. 350, 351; V, p. 140, 143; Tsa a han, T 99, k. 35, p. 258a23–25; 258c7–8; Śūraṃgamasamādhi, p. 208; Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 92).

Like all the lakṣaṇas and anuvyañjanas, the anavalokitamūrdhatā is the fruit of immense merit accumulated over innumerable kalpas:

“When he was Bodhisattva, the Buddha venerated the teachers, the ancient ones, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, for innumerable lifetimes; he prostrated [at their feet] with the top of his head, destroying all pride in himself: this is why he has obtained the mark of the invisible top of the cranium” (Upāsakaśīla, T 1488, k. 1, p.1039b3–6).

Same explanation in King kang sien louen, T 1512, k. 5, p. 831b29; k. 9, p. 863a4–5.

For other comments, see H. Durt, Note sur l’origine de l’Anavalokitamūrdhatā, Indian and Buddhist Studies, XVI, p. 1967, p. 443–450.