Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “first madhyamika authors (nagarjuna, aryadeva, rahulabhadra)” 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 9 - The first Madhyamika authors (Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva, Rāhulabhadra)

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XXXVI, part 2.II.6 (Dharma of unhindered penetration):

“All dharmas depend on causes and conditions; depending on causes and conditions, they are not autonomous (svatantra); since they are not autonomous, they are not self, and the nature of self is non-existent, as is said in the P’o-wo-p’in (Ātmapratiṣedhaprahraṇa, ‘Chapter on the refutation of the self’): tenth chapter of the Catuḥśataka”.

Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva and Rāhulabhadra represent the first lineage of Madhyamika scholars. Their biographies are legendary and their dates uncertain. Not content with giving us contradictory information on them, the sources confuse them with the siddhas of the same name who were present at Nalandā several centuries later (see above, Vol, I, p, XIF, notes 8 and 9).

In the introduction to Vimalakīrti, p. 70–71, I [Lamotte] have tried to interpret the facts given in the 5th century by Kumārajīva, his disciples Seng-tchao and Seng-juoei and his illustrious friend Houei-yuan. It seems indeed that the eminent individuals place Nāgārjuna between 243 and 300 C.E.

The Indians, Chinese and Tibetans agree in making Āryadeva the pupil of Nāgārjuna. Here it will suffice to refer the reader to the note on Āryadeva published in Ceylon Encyclopedia, vol. II, p. 109–115. At the beginning of his commentary on the Catuḥśataka, Candrakīrti (c. 600–650 C.E.) tells us:

“Āryadeva was born in the island of Siṃhala (Ceylon) and was the son of the king of the land. After having been crown prince, he renounced the world, went to Dakṣina (Dekkan), became a disciple of Nāgārjuna and followed his teachings.”

The Ceylonese chronicles of the Dīpavaṃsa (XXII, v. 41 and 50) and the Mahāvaṃsa (XXXVI, v. 29) make mention of a mahāthera Deva who lived in Ceylon at the time of the heresy of the Vetullavāda, i.e., of the Mahāyāna which spead in the island. Deva attracted the good graces of kings Vohārikatissa (260–282 C.E.) and Saṃghatissa (293–297 C.E.). This detail allows us to place Deva in Ceylon in the second half of the 3rd century.

From Ceylon, Deva, alias Āryadeva, went to southern India and traveled over the entire continent. In the 7th century, Hiuan-tsang found traces of his passage from Śrughna near the sources of the Ganges (Si-yu-ki, T 2087, k. 4, p. 891b) to Prayāga at the junction of the Yamunā and the Ganges (k. 5, p. 897b), at Pāṭaliputra (k. 8, p. 912c), at Dakṣiṇakosala (k. 10, p. 929a–c) and in the land of Cola (k. 10, p. 931b). The meeting between Āryadeva and Nāgārjuna “who was already old and weak” took place at Pāṭaliputra, capital of Magadha. The Ceylonese monk embraced the ideas of the old man and became a convinced Mādhyamikan. His many adventures and his physical traits explain the large number of nicknames that serve to designate him: Kāṇadeva, Nīlanetra, Piṅgalanetra, Piṅgalacakṣus, Karṇatipa, etc. Among his works that he published, apparently after his teacher’s death in the first years of the 4th century C.E, the Madhyamakaśāstra (T 1564), commentary on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikās of Nāgārjuna, and the ‘Hundreds’ (Catuḥśataka and Śatakaśāstra), polemical works discussed above.

Rāhulabhadra was certainly associated with the Madhyamaka propaganda from the beginning, but we do not know where to place him exactly.

In a series of fourteen stanzas the original Sanskrit of which was found by G. Tucci and published in Oriens Extremus, IX, 1962, p. 49–51, Candrakīrti summarizes the activity of the early Mādhyamikans in the following way:

Spaṣṭaṃ Rāhilabhadrapādasahito Nāgārjuno tanmatam
Devedāpy anugamyamānavacanaḥ kālaṃ ciraṃ diṣṭavān |
tacchāstrapravivekamiścitadhiyas tḥirthyās vijityākhilāṃs
tacchisyā api ṣāsanaṃ munivarasyādiṣṭavantaś ciram || 6 ||

“In the presence of the Venerable Rāhulabhadra, Nāgārjuna, whose words were followed also by Deva, has explained clearly and fully the mind of this [Buddha]. The disciples of this [Nāgārjuna] also, having their opinions determined by examination of the treatise by this [Nāgārjuna] and having vanquished all the heretics, have fully explained the doctrine of the best of Munis, [i.e., the Buddha].”

The term Rāhulabhadrapādasahita, in Tibetan, Sgra gcan ḥdzin ni bzan poḥi zhal sna daṅ bcas, literally means ‘endowed with the feet of Rāhulabhadra’, but after a proper name, pāda is a title of respect; this is why I [Lamotte] have translated it as in the presence of the ‘Venerable’ Rāhulabhadra. Nevertheless, pāda has other meanings than that of ‘feet’, mainly that of ‘verse, line with a 4–strophe’. Candrakīrti, by a play of words of which the Indians are so fond, perhaps chose the expression to suggest to the minds of his readers the famous ‘strophes’ of which Rāhulabhadra was the author, namely the twenty strophes of the Prajñāpāramitāstotra appearing as the heading to the Sanskrit manuscripts of the Prajñāpāramita (Aṣṭasāhasrikā, ed. R. Mitra; Pañcaviṃśatisāh., ed. N. Dutt; Suvikrātavikrāmin, ed. R. Hikata) and cited fully by the Traité (p. 1969–1965F).

In any hypothesis, it seems that to Candrakīrti’s eyes Rāhulabhadra was Nāgārjuna’s inspiration and preceded him in time.

But the problem is not that simple. Information equally as old in date but coming, it is true, from the Chinese, make Rāhulabhadra a contemporary of Nāgārjuna and a commentator of his works.

Ki tsang (549–623) of the San louen sect says:

“The dharmācārya Rāhula was a contemporary of Nāgārjuna and explained the eight negations” (Tchong kouan louan chou, T 1824, k. 3, p. 40c16–17.

Tchan jan (711–782) of the T’ien t’ai sect, mentions four basic works in regard to Nāgārjuna:

“There is the commentary of Piṅgalanetra called Madhyamakaśāstra which was translated by Kumārajīva of the Heou Ts’in (T 1564). Secondly, the commentary of Asaṅga called Chouen tchong louen which was translated by Bodhiruci of the Heou Wei (T 1565): there are only two rolls of it. The others have not been published. Thirdly, the commentary of the dharmācārya Rāhula, also called Madhyamakaśāstra; Paramārtha of the Leang translated it but we have only one chapter on the hetupratyaya. Fourthly, the commentary of the bodhisattva Bhāviveka, called Prajñāpraīpaśāstra; the Tripiṭaka master Po p’o (Prabhāmitra) of the T’ang translated it (T 1566); it is in sixteen rolls” (Tche kouan fou hing tchouan hong kiue, T 1912, k. 1, p. 140c1–5).

Rāhulabhadra appears here in appropriate place but it is especially his stotras that made him famous. In the words of Mochizuki, Encyclopaedia, p. 1953, E. Kawaguchi has brought from Tibet a manuscript of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka with twenty stanzas of homage written by Rāhulabhadra in honor of this text. Other stanzas attributed to Rāhula or Rāhulabhadra are also cited by Sāramati in his Mahāyānāvatāraśāstra (T 1634, k. 2, p. 48a15 and 48c12) and by Asaṅga in the Chouen tchong louen (T 1565, k. 1, p. 40b18).

Like the other famous Mādhyamikas, Rāhulabhadra was drawn by the Chinese into the cycle of the patriarchs where he occupies the 15th or 16th place, after Nāgārjuna and Kāṇadeva: cf. Fou fa tsang yin yuan tchouan, T 2058, k. 6, p. 319c14–329a1; Fou tsou t’ong ki, T 2035, k. 5, p. 175b2–17; Fou tsou tai t’ong tsi, T 2036, k. 4, p. 504c8–505b2). He appears again in the lists of siddhas (cf. G. Tucci, A Sanskrit Biography of the Siddhas and some questions connected with Nāgārjuna, Jour. and Proc. of the Asiatic Soc. of Bengal, XXVI, 1930, p. 138–155). In turn, the Tibetan historians introduce him into the Nālandā cycle: Bu-ston (II, p. 123, 135) and make him the teacher of Nāgārjuna, whereas Tāranātha (p. 85–86) gives him as student of and successor to Āryadeva.

It is not impossible that Nāgārjuna would have cited him, but death prevented him from referring to the works of his close or distant successors such as Āryadeva or Rāhulabhadra. The first was certainly his disciple and the Śātakas of which he was the author, while remaining in the lineage of the teacher, show a style and concerns that are quite different.

The Traité, which loosely quotes Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakārikās, Āryadeva’s Śataka, and Rāhulabhadra’s Stotra, is not therefore the work of Nāgārjuna but, as has already been suspected by P. Demiéville, “the work of Sarvāstivādin adepts of the Lesser Vehicle converted to the Greater Vehicle of the Mādhyamika school” (JA, 1951, p. 282).

Otherwise, if the chronology presented here is correct, if the activity of Nāgāruna is placed in the middle of the 3rd century and that of Āryadeva between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th centuries, the compilation of the Traité should cover the first decades of the 4th century of our era