Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “how do we know that the buddha is fearless?” 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.

IV. How do we know that the Buddha is fearless?

Question. – How do we know that he was fearless?

Answer. – 1) Had he had fear, he would not have led the great assemblies by welcoming, dismissing, roughly reprimanding or teaching by means of gentle [242c] words.

Thus, one day the Buddha sent Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana away but then, out of compassion (karuṇā) received them back again.[1]

2) There were formidable people, such as these scholars (upadeśācārya) who were absorbed in the height of pride (mānastambha). Intoxicated by their false wisdom, they presented themselves as unique in the world and unrivalled. Knowing their own books deeply, they refuted others’ books and criticized all the systems with wicked words. They were like mad elephants caring for nothing. Among these madmen, we cite: Ngan-po-tcha (Ambaṭṭha), Tch’ang-tchao (Dīrghanakha), Sa-tchö-tche Ni-k’ien (Satyaka Nirgranthīputra), P’i-lou-tch’e (Pilotika), etc.[2]

The Buddha subdued all these scholars. Had he been afraid, this would not have been the case.

The five wandering mendicants (parivrājaka) beginning with Kiao-tch’en-jou (Kauṇḍinya),[3] the thousand Jaṭila ṛṣis beginning with Ngeou-leou-p’in-louo Kia-chö (Uruvilva Kāśyapa),[4] Śāriputra, Maudgalyāyana, Mahākāśyapa, etc., all entered into religion (pravrājita) in the Buddha’s Dharma.

A hundred thousand Che-tseu (Śākya) who all were great kings in Jambudvīpa, king Po-sseu-ni-che (Prasenajit), king P’in-p’o-so-lo (Bimbisāra), king Tchan-t’o Po-chou-t’i (Caṇḍa Pradyota), king Yeou-t’ien (Udayana), king Fou-kia-lo-p’o-li (Pukkusāti), king Fan-mo-to (Brahmadatta), etc., all became his disciples.[5]

Brāhmin householders (gṛhsatha), having gone through all the worldly sciences and respected by great kings such as Fan-mo-yu (Brahmāyus), Fou-kia-lo-p’o-li (Puṣkarasārin), Kieou-lo-t’an-t’o (Kūṭadanta), etc., all became his disciples. Some obtained the first [fruit] of the Path; others the second, third or fourth fruits.[6]

Great yakṣas such as A-lo-p’o-kia (Āṭavaka),[7] Pi-cho-kia (Viśvakarman?),[8] etc., great nāga-kings such as A-po-lo (Apalāla),[9] Yi-lo-po-to-lo (Elapatra), (see Appendix 1) etc., evil men such as Yang-k’iun-li-mo-lo (Aṅgulimāla). etc., submitted and took refuge in him. 

Had the Buddha been afraid, he could not have sat by himself on the lion seat (siṃhāsana) at the foot of a tree.

When he was about to attain supreme complete enlightenment (anuttara samyaksaṃbodhi), king Māra and his army (senā) created heads of lions (siṃha), tigers (vyāghra), wolves, bears (ṛkṣa): some had but a single eye, others had many eyes; some had but a single ear, others, many ears. Carrying mountains and spitting fire, they surrounded the Buddha on all four sides.[10] The Buddha struck the earth with his fingers (mahīṃ parāhanati sma) and in the blink of an eye, everything vanished.[11]

He guided the minds of the great asuras such as Pi-mo-tche-ti-li (Vemacitrin),[12] Che t’i p’o-na-min (Śakra devānām indra), Fan-t’ien-wang (Brahmā devarāja), etc., and all became his disciples.

Had he been afraid, in the middle of the great assemblies he could not have preached the Dharma. Because he had no fear, he was able to preach the Dharma in these great assemblies of devas and yakṣas. This is why he is said to have no fear (viśārada).

3) Furthermore, the Buddha is the most venerable and the highest of all beings. He has reached the other shore of all the dharmas (sarvadharmāṇāṃ pāraṃ gataḥ). Having obtained great glory (yaśas), he himself proclaimed his vaiśāradya. [243a]

4) But let us put aside these [supernatural] qualities of the Buddha. In regard to his mundane qualities (laukikaguṇa), no one is able to attain them because he has rooted out dreadful things at their very roots.

These dreadful things are:

  1. being born into a low family (nīcakulajanman);
  2. a low place of birth (nīcajātisthāna);
  3. ugliness (durvarṇatā);
  4. lacking right attitudes (īryāpatha);
  5. coarse speech (pāruṣyavāda).[13]

i). Birth in a low family (nīcakulajanman).

Those of the śūdras for example who take birth in low families of the eaters of dead flesh, night-soil men, chicken or pig farmers, hunters, executioners, tavern-keepers, mercenaries, etc. Such people are very fearful in the great assemblies.

The Buddha himself from the very beginning (ādita eva) has always taken birth in the lineage of noble cakravartin kings. He was born into the families of the lineage of ‘sun kings’: king Ting-cheng (Māndhātṛ or Mūrdhāta), king K’ouai-kien (Sudarśana), king So-kie (Sāgara), king Mo-ho-t’i-p’o (Makhādeva), etc.[14] This is why he has no fear.

ii) Low place of birth (nīcajātisthāna).

For example:

Ngan-t’o-lo (Andhra),[15]

Chö-p’o-lo (Śavara). – [Note by Kumārajīva: The Land of the Naked Ones].

Teou-k’ie’lo (Tukhāra).[16]

Sieou-li (Sòli, Sogdiana).[17]

Ngan-si (Arsak, Persia).[18]

Ta-Ts’in (Mediterranean west).

Those who are born in the border-lands (pratyantajanapada) (see Appendix 2) are very frightened when they are in the middle of the great assemblies.

The Buddha himself, who was born at Kia-p’i-lo-p’o (Kapilavastu), has no fear.

iii) Ugliness (durvarṇatā).

There are people whose physical form is worn-out, ruined, thin, and whom no one wants to look at. In the middle of the great assemblies, they too are afraid.

The Buddha with his golden color (suvarṇavarṇa) and his brilliance (prabhā) is like the fire that illumines the Mountain of Red Gold (kanakagiri). Having such beauty, he is not afraid.

iv) Absence of proper bodily positions.

In their way of entering, of standing, moving, sitting or rising up, there are people who lack etiquette and they too are afraid. The Buddha does not have any of these defects.

v) Coarse speech (pāruṣyavāda).

There are people who pronounce badly, stammer, repeat themselves and lack coherence. As they displease people, they have fear.

The Buddha has no such fear. Why? The voice of the Buddha (buddhavāc)[19] is truthful (satya), gentle (mṛduka), continuous (sahita), easily understood, neither too fast nor too slow, neither too concise nor too prolix, without subsiding (alīna), stainless (vimala), without bantering. It surpasses the (harmonious) sounds of the kia-ling-p’i-k’ie bird (kalaviṅka).[20] Its letter (vyañjana) and its meaning (artha) are clear (vispaṣṭa); it causes no harm. Free of passion (rāga), it is without blemish (anupalipta); having destroyed hatred (dveṣa), it is without conflict (apratigha); having eliminated error (moha), it is easy to penetrate. Since it increases joy in the Dharma (dharmarati), it is pleasant (premaṇīya). Since it opposes wrong-doing (āpatti), it is safety (kṣema). It follows another’s mind (paracitta) and favors liberation (vimukti); its meaning (artha) is profound (gambhīra) and its expression (vyañjana) marvelous. Having its reasonings, it is logical (yukta). Thanks to its examples (upāmā), it is well-expressed. Its work over, it reviews it well. Since it takes into account the various minds of others, it is expressed with variety. Finally, all its words lead to nirvāṇa; this is why they are of one taste (ekarasa).[21]

Adorning his speech in multiple and innumerable ways, the Buddha has no fear when he speaks. And if, thanks to these purely worldly attributes (laukikadharma), the Buddha is without fear, what can be said then about his supramundane attributes (lokottaradharma)? This is why it is said that the Buddha possesses the four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya).

Footnotes and references:


Cātumasutta in Majjhima, I, p. 456–457 (Tseng yi a hab, T 125, k. 41, p. 770c; Chö li fou… yeou sseu k’iu king, T 137, p. 860a–b):

One day the Bhagavat was in Cātumā, in the Myrobalan Garden. At that time, five hundred bhikṣus headed by Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana came to Cātumā to see the Bhagavat. The newcomers exchanged greetings with the resident monks, prepared their lodgings, arranged their bowls and robes, uttered loud cries and shouted at the tops of their voices (uccāsaddā mahāsaddā ahesuṃ). Then the Bhagavat asked Ānanda: What are these loud shouts, these loud cries? One would say they were fishermen catching fish (kevaṭṭā maññe macchavilopa). [Chinese transl.: One would say that somebody was cutting wood or stones.]

The Bhagavat summoned the perpetrators and said to them: “Go away, O bhikṣus; I send you away; you cannot stay in my presence (gacchatha bhikkhave paṇāmemi vo, na vi mama santike vatthabbaṃ).”

Below (k. 26, p. 247c), the Traité will return to this event. Yet another time, five hundred monks meeting at Śrāvastī were similarly driven away by the Buddha (cf. Udāna, p. 24–25).


Ambaṭṭha was a young brāhmin of the Ambaṭṭha clan, versed in the three Vedas and auxiliary sciences. He lived at Ukkaṭṭhā in Kosala and had as teacher Pokkharasādi. The Buddha preached the Ambaṭṭhasutta for him (Dīgha, I, p. 87–110), but in contrast to his master, he was not converted.

For Dīrghanakha, also called Mahākauṣṭhila, see above, p. 46–51F and notes, 184F, 633F, 639F.

For Satyaka Nirgranthīputra, see above, p. 46–47F and notes: below, k. 26, p. 251c10; k. 90, p. 699a9.

Pilotika, already mentioned above (p. 221F) was a parivrājaka sage (Majjhima, I, p. 175 seq.).


Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya, the foremost of the group of five (pañcavargīya) who were witnesses of the Buddha’s austerities and were present at the sermon at Benares. They became arhats when the Buddha preached the Anattalakkhaṇasutta to them (Vinaya, I, p. 14; Catuṣpariṣad, p. 170). The Traité has already mentioned them above, p. 102F, 1426F.


See above, p. 1355F, note 2.


According to some sources mentioned above (p. 177F, note) five hundred Śākyas were forced to enter the religious life by an edict of king Śuddhodana.

Prasenajit, king of Kosala, became upāsaka after the preaching of the Daharasutta (Saṃnyutta, I, p. 70; Mūlasarv. Vin, T 1450, k. 9, p. 142b–143a). The Traité has already mentioned this king and will return to him later, k. 27, p. 261a18; k. 33, p. 305a8; k. 58, p. 470b15.

Bimbisāra, king of Magadha, had two well-known meetings with the Buddha. The second took place at the Supatiṭṭhacetiya of the Laṭṭhivanuyyāna; it was then that the king was converted with all his people and became srotaāpanna (references above, p. 30F as note). Further mentions in the Traité at p. 93F, 147F, 175F, 186F 637F, 990–992F and notes.

Caṇḍa Pradyota, king of Avanti, was converted by the disciple Mahākātyāyana specially sent to him. The stanzas that the disciple addressed to him on this occasion are preserved in the Theragāthā, p. 52, v. 496–499.

After having been noted for his great cruelty (cf. above, p. 993F and note), Udayana, king of Kauśāmbhī, during a friendly visit to the disciple Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja, was converted and entered into the brotherhood of the upāsakas (Saṃyutta, IV, p. 110–113).

For Pukkusāti, king of Takṣaśilā before his entrance into the religious life, see above, p. 1531F.

Brahmadatta is the dynastic name of the kings of Benares: many jātakas in which they make an appearance concern early times. At the time of the Buddha, Kāśī (Benares) was incorporated into the kingdom of Kosala, and Prasenajit reigned over both countries.


Brahmāyus was a brāhmin from Mitilā in Videha. He was versed in the three Vedas and the auxiliary sciences. At the age of 108 years, he sent his disciple Uttara to the Buddha to learn if the latter indeed possessed all the physical marks of the Mahāpuruṣa. The disciple was able to reassure him not only on the physical integrity of Śākyamuni but also on his perfect deportment. Shortly afterwards, the Buddha came to Mithila and settled at Makhādevambavana. Brahmāyus went to visit him and confirmed de visu the secret signs of the Buddha. Prostrating at his feet, he begged the Teacher to come to his home with the monks and he entertained them for a week. After the departure of the Community, Brahmāyus died and the Buddha declared that the old brāhmin had found the fruit of anāgāmin. – This is told in the Brahmāyusutta of the Majjhima, II, p. 133–146 (Tchong a han, T 26, k. 41, p. 685a–690a; Lao p’o lo men king, T 75). See also Vibhāṣā, T 1546, k. 1, p. 3a4; Mahāvastu, II, p. 76–82.

Puṣkarasārin according to the Divyāvadāna, p. 620, Pokkharasāti or Pokkharasādi according to the Pāli sources, was a brāhmin of high lineage, famed for his science, his wealth and his beauty. He lived at Ukkaṭṭhā in Kosala on some property that he had been given by king Prasenajit. He presided over the brāhmin assemblies and had many disciples, Ambaṭṭha, Vaseṭṭha, Dubha Todeyya, etc. Wanting to find out the real merit of the Buddha, he sent his disciple Ambaṭṭha to him, but as the latter had presented himself in a boorish manner to the Teacher, Puṣkarasārin came himself to apologize and invited the Buddha to a meal. Impressed by the teachings of the Teacher, he declared himself his follower and obtained the fruit of srotaāpanna (Dīgha, I, p. 110). – Puṣkarasārin appears in various sūtras: Ambaṭṭha (Dīgha, I, p. 87–110), Subha (Majjhima, II, p. 200–201), Vāseṭtha (Suttanipāta, p. 115), Tevijja (Dīgha, I, p. 235); he is mentioned in Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 16,, p. 77b26–27.

Kūṭadanta, another learned brāhmin dwelling at Khānumata in Magadha, was a feudatory of king Bimbisāra. The Buddha, passing through that area, was interrogated by the brāhmin on the way of correctly carrying out “the sacrifice with its threefold methods and its sixteen accessory instruments” (tividhayaññasaṃpadaṃ soḷasaparikkhāraṃ). The Teacher preached the Kūṭadantasutta (Dīgha, I, p.127–149) for him and, at the end of the sermon, Kūṭadanta obtained the fruit of srotaāpanna.


Dwelling in the Āṭavī forest, between Śrāvastī and Rājagṛha, the yakṣa Āṭavaka ate the humans beings whom the king of the country had pledged to provide for him. The population was rapidly decimated and the time came when the only prey to be offered to the yakṣa was the king’s own son, prince Ātavika. The Buddha wanted to save him and appeared at the yakṣa’s dwelling without having been invited. Āṭavaka used his magical power to try to drive him away. The Buddha resisted all his attacks victoriously, but agreed to solve eight puzzles that intrigued the yakṣa (Saṃyutta, I, p. 213–215; Suttanipāta, p. 31–33). Satisfied with this solution, Āṭavaka was converted and attained the fruit of srotaāpanna. Also, when the young prince was brought to him as food, he took him and offered him to the Buddha who, in turn, gave him back to his parents (Comm. on the Suttanipāta, I, p.230). As the young Āṭavika had thus been passed from hand to hand, he was surnamed Hastaka Āṭavika (see above, p. 562–565F and note).


If this transcription is correct, this would be Viśvakarman, in Pāli Vissakamma, the architect apponted by the Devas: cf. Akanuma, p. 774.


The Traité has already twice mentioned the nāga Apalāla whom it places sometimes in Magadha (p. 187–188F) and sometimes in the north-west of India, in the kingdom of the Yue-tche (p. 547F). To tame him, the Buddha called upon the yakṣa Vajrapāṇi. For details, see my [Lamotte’s] article Varapāṇi en Inde, in Mélanges de Sinoligie offerts à Paul Demiéville, I, 1966, p. 130–132.


See the descrption of Māra’s armies in Lalitavistara, p. 305–307.


Mahāvastu, II, p. 342, l. 1–2; Lalitavistara, p. 318, l. 16; Nidānakathā, p. 74, l. 23–24. The earth-touching gesture (bhūmisparśamudrā) is often reproduced in Buddhist iconography.


Vemacitra asurinda: see above, p. 610–612F and notes.


Variation on a canonical theme (Saṃyutta, I, p. 93; Anguttara, I, p. 107; II, p. 85; III, p. 385): Idha ekacco nīce kule paccājāto hoti caṇḍalakula vā nesādakule vā veṇakule vā rathakārakule vā pukkusakule vā dalidde appannapānabhojane kasiravuttike, yattha kasirena ghāsacchādo labbhati; so ca hoti dubbaṇṇo… “Here one may be reborn in a low family, a family of outcasts, of hunters, of basket-makers, cartwrights or road-sweepers, in a poor family where the food and drink is scarce, where life is difficult and where food and clothes are hard to get; one is ugly…”


All these names appear in the genealogy of king Mahāsaṃmata listed, among other sources, by the Dīpavaṃsa, III, v. 1–50, and the Mahāvaṃsa, II, v. 1–33. On Māndhātṛ or Mūrdhāta, see above, p. 930–931F; later, k. 73, p. 576b21.


The territory included between the Godāvari basin and the Kistna basin, occupied by people of Dravidian race and of Telugu language and called Andhradeśa nowadays. The Śavara are probably represented by the Saravalu or Saura of the Vizagapatam mountains and the Savari of the Gwalior territory. On the Andhra whose territory has been incessantly modified, see L. de La Vallée Poussin, L’Inde aux temps des mauryas, p. 203–219 and Lamotte, Histoire du bouddhisme indien, p. 373–384.

According to the sources mentioned above (Preface to vol. I, p. xii seq.), Nāgārjuna, the presumed author of the Traité, lived part of his life in Andhra at Śrīparvata, and had friendly relations with the Śatavāhana or even the Ikṣvākus who reigned over the region in the 2nd and 3rd century C.E. In that case, it is hard to see why the writer of the Traité shows so much scorn for Andhradeśa by putting it at the top of the list of bad places to be born.


The Tukhāras were designated by Hiuan-tsang (T 2087, k. 1, p. 872a6) under the name Tou-houo-lo (formerly T’ou-houo-lo) according to Kumārajīva’s note, the land of the Lesser Yue-tche: an important piece of information in S. Lévi, Les Tokharien, JA, 1933, p. 1–30 and commented upon by P Pelliot, Tokharien et koutchéen, JA, 1934, p. 23–106.

At the beginning of the 2nd century B.C.E., the Yue-tche were living between Touen-houang and the K’i lien-chan, in western Kan-sou. Towards 176 C.E., driven out of eastern Mongolia by the Hiong-nou, most of them turned westward and ended up reaching Ta-hia, i.e., Bactriana. Nevertheless, as Sseu-m Ts’ien tells us (Che-ki, chap. 123), “their other small tribes, who did not leave, settled among the K’iang of the Nan-chan and they are called the Lesser Yue-tche.”

But P. Pelliot has commented rightly: “These are the Lesser Yue-tche of north-western India and not those remaining in the region south of Touen-houang, who should, in my eyes, be the ‘Lesser Yue-tche’ whom Kumārajīva says are identical with the Tukhāras”. I [Lamotte] would like to add a comment: Kumārajīva here does not mean the Tukhāras speaking a language foreign to and unaffected by Buddhism, not these Tukhāras of “northern India in the kingdom of the Yue-tche” to which the Traité alludes above (p. 547F) and which it evidently considers as the second sacred land of Buddhism.

During the first five centuries of our era, the dynasties of Yue-tche origin played an important role in the history of India and Iran. The Kuṣāṇa built a powerful empire extending from the Oxus to the Ganges with Bactriana and Kabul as center and extensions into Sogdiana and Central Asia. They respected and even favored the beliefs of their subjects and some of them, such as Kaniṣka and Vāsudeva, became benefactors of Buddhism in the Indian portion of their territories. They were no strangers to it and the Buddhist texts compare the Sons of Heaven of China, the Mediterranean west and the Yue-tche, to the ‘devaputras of India’ (Che eul yeou king, T 195, p. 147b; P.Pelliot, La Théorie des Quatre Fils du Ciel, T’ouan Pao, 1923, p. 97–199;S. Lévi, Devaputra, JA, 1934, p. 1–21). A Buddhist prediction often repeated attributes the future disappearance of the Holy Dharma to foreign kings of western origin, Scythian, Parthian, Greek and Tuṣāsa, variaint of Tukhāra (Prediction to Kātyāyana, T 2029, p. 11b12; T 2028, p. 8c24; Aśokāvadāna, T 2042, k. 6, p. 126c; Saṃyuktāgama, T 99, k. 25, p. 177c; Candragarbhasūtra, T 397, k. 56, p. 377b; sources translated in Histoire du bouddhisme indien, p. 217–222).


The Sieou-li of the Traité, of the north of the Tukhāra domain, are the Sogdians, the Sou-li of Hiuan-tsang (T 2087, k. 1, p. 871a11), possessing a special scripture and a definite literature.


Ngan-si (Arsak) designates Parthia proper, or Arsadian Persia, since the year 224 C.E. under the Sassanid dynasty. Buddhists have not hidden their scorn for the Persians (Pārasīka) and their seers (the Mou-kia) who advised the killing of aged father and mother, the sick, and authorized sexual intercourse with mother, sister or a woman of one’s own gotra (cf. Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 116, p. 605c17–22; 606a17–22; Kośabhāṣya, p. 240, l. 23; 241, l. 8; Kośavyākhyā, p. 394, l. 6; T 1558, k. 16, p. 85b23–24; T 1559, k. 12, p. 241a25–27; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 41, p. 576c20–22; 577a11; Kārikāvibhāṣā, T 1563, k. 22, p. 879b28–29). Besides, as the Traité will note later (k. 91, p. 705a22–23), all those born in the border-lands such as the Ngan-si are by nature fools and unable to be converted.

Despite its wealth and military power, the Ta-Ts’in, the Mediterranean west, did not enjoy a good reputation.


In the list that follows, the Traité is inspired in part by a topic related to “The Speech of the Tathāgata endowed with sixty aspects” (tathāgatasya ṣaṣtyākāropetā vāk), a subject appearing in the Tathāgatacintyaguhyanirdeśa (T 310, k. 10, p. 55c20–56a5; T 312, k. 7, p. 719c7–720a29) of which the original text is preserved in the Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 79–81 and the Mahāvyut, no. 445–504.

For other qualities of the Buddha’s voice, see Hôbôgirin, s.v., Bonnon (p. 133–135); Butsugo, p. 207–208; Button, p. 215–217.


A bird with melodious song, not to be confused with the kācilindika famed for the softness of its down (cf. Śūraṃgamasamādhi, p. 261 note).


Cf. Vinaya, II, p. 239; Anguttara, IV, p. 203; Udāna, p. 56; Tchong a han, T 26, k. 8, p. 476c11; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 37, p. 753b1): Seyyathā pi mahāsamuddo ekaraso loṇaraso evam eva ayaṃ dhammavinayo ekaraso vimttiraso: “Just as the ocean has but one taste, the taste of salt, so this Dharma and this discipline have but one taste, the taste of deliverance.”

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