Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “buddhist view on the land of india” 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 - A Buddhist view on the land of India

Note: This appendix has been extracted from Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra chapter XL part 1.4:

At all times, Buddhists have distinguished two kinds of territories: the Central Land (madhydeśa) where the religious discipline is carried out in all its rigor, and the Frontier Lands (pratyantajanapada) enjoying ease and indulgences. In the early sources, the Central Land, roughly corresponding to Āryāvarta, was limited in the east by the Puṇḍravardhana (northern Bengal) and the city of Kacaṅgalā (see above, p. 170F note), to the south by the Śarāvatī river, to the west by the villages of the Sthūṇopasthūṇka brāhmins, to the north by the Śīragiri (cf. Vinaya, I, p. 197; Dharmagupta Vin., T 1428, k. 30, p. 846a; Sarvāstivād. Vin., T 1435, k. 25, p. 181c; Mūlasarv. Vin. in Gilgit Manuscripts, III, part IV, p. 190, and Divyāvadāna, p. 21; Yeou-pou-p’i-ko-che, T 1447, k.1, p. 1053a; E. Waldschmidt, Zur Śroṇakoṭikarṇa-Legende, NAWG, 1952, p. 137). Bounded in this way, this Land included fourteen of the sixteen mahājanapada recorded in the 6th century B.C.E. (see Histoire du bouddhisme indien, p. 8–9) and was 500 leagues long, 250 leagues wide with a perimeter of 900 leagues; its inhabitants were virtuous; noble persons, including the Buddhas, gladly chose it as a cradle (cf. Sumaṅgala, I, p. 173; Jātaka, III, p. 115–116; Comm. on Dhammpada, p. 248). It included seven major cities: Śrāvastī, Sāketa, Campā, Vārāṇasī, Vaiśalī, Rājagṛha and Kauśāmbī (Dīgha, II, p. 146; Sanskrit Mahāparinirvānasūtra, p. 304; Tch’ang-a-han, T 1, k. 3, p. 21b; T 5, k. 2, p. 169c; T 6, k. 2, p. 185b; T 7, k. 2, p. 200c).

In my introduction to Vimalakīrti, I [Lamotte] think I was able to show that Kumārajīva and the Kaśmir school, Nāgārjuna, the author of the Madhyamakaśāstra, must have lived in the 3rd century, between 243 and 300 C.E., and everything leads one to believe that, strictly based on these works, the Traité must have been produced during the 4th century. At that time, the religious map of India had been transformed considerably and Buddhist propaganda had reached central Asia and China. Its spokesmen were not only Indians but also the foreign Yue-tshe, Sogdians and Parthians. Under the Han, during the second half of the 2nd century C.E., missionaries and translators who worked at Lo-Yang consisted of a true mosaic of nationalities: it consisted of two Parthians, the bhikṣu Ngan Che-kao and the upāsaka Ngan Hiuan; three Yue-tche, Tche Leou-kia-tch’an (Lokakṣema?), Tche Yuan and Tche Leang, two Sogdians, K’ang Mong-siang and K’ang kiu; and three Indians Tchou Fo-che, Tchou Ta-li (Mahābala?) and T’an-kouo (Dharmaphala?).

Later, at the time of the Three Kingdoms (220–280), the Wou empire, in the Blue River basin, welcomed the Yue-tche Tche K’ien, the Sogdian K’ang Seng-houei and the Indians Wei-k’i-nan (Vighna?) and Tchou Tsiang-yen to Wou-tch’ang and Kie-ye (Nanking). The Wei enmpire in the Yellow River basin did not lag behind and at Lo-yang had the Indian T’an-ko-kia-lo (Dharmakāla), the Sogdian K’ang Seng-k’ai (Dharmavarman) and the two Parthians T’an-wou-ti (Dharmastaya?) and Ngan Fa-hien (Dharmabhadra?).

It is impossible that the disciples of Nāgārjuna, writers of the Traité – and especially Kumārajīva, his official translator-annotator – were unaware of this internationalization of the Buddhist propaganda in the first centuries of our era. If they passed over in silence this passage on the merits of the foreigners with which we are here concerned, it was from an Indian reaction. From their point of view, the Buddhist Madhyadeśa is purely Indian; the frontier regions where Aryan is not spoken are low places of birth (nīcajātisthāna). A list of foreign languages appears in the three versions of the Vibhāṣā which have come down to us: 1) translation by Saṃghabhadra made at Tch’ang-ngan in 383 (T 1547, k. 9, p. 482c18–21); 2) translation by Buddhavarman and his group made at Leang-tcheou in 435 (T 1546, k. 41, p. 306c26–29); 3) translation by Hiuan-tsang made at Tch’ang-ngan (T1545, k. 79, p. 410a19–21). These languages are the tche-na (Chinese), cho-kia (Śaka, Scythian), ye-fa-na (Yavana, Greek), ta-la-t’o (Drāvidian), mo-lo-p’o (Mar-po, perhaps Ladakh: cf. Si-yu-ki, T 2087, k. 4, p. 890a9), k’ie-cha (Kāśgar), tou-houo-lo (Tukhāra), po-ho-lo (Bakhla, Bactrian).

There is some similarity between this list of foreign languages and the list of low places of birth presented by the Traité.

It goes without saying that the ideas developed here lose their value if the passage under discussion is an interpolation attributable to an author unaware of affairs in India and leading a life of luxury in Kucha or in China as was the case for Kuamārajīva. This is the opinion of R. Hikata (Suvikrāntavikrāmin, Introduction, p. LV).