Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “legend of nitha” 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.

Note: This appendix is extracted from Chapter XLI part 1.2 (detailed commentary on the list of the eighteen special attributes):

“(4. The Buddha has no notion of variety) ...See for example this stranger, the dung-sweeper called Ni-t’o (Nītha): the Buddha converted him and he became a great Arhat”.

Nītha (?) was a refuse-sweeper. His long hair hung down in disorder; he was filthy and his clothes were in tatters. When he found a rag on his way, he used it to mend his garments. On his back he carried a jar full of refuse. One day when the Buddha was visiting Rājagṛha, Nītha, lowly and impure, did not dare to come near him for fear of increasing his misdeeds further. He took flight across the city, but at each corner the Buddha appeared before him. The Teacher said to him: “Although your body is impure, your heart possesses the excellent and wonderful perfume of the Dharma. You must not think of yourself as lowly.” Having received the Buddha’s teaching, Nītha entered the religious life and became an arhat.

The name of the dung-sweeper is poorly established: Nītha or Nīthi in the fragments of the Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā, Sunīta in Pāli, Ni-t’o and Ni-t’i in the Chinese transcriptions. His story is told in the following sources:

Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā, p. 158–160 (very mutilated fragments) and Sutrālaṃkāra said to be by Aśvaghoṣa, T 201, no. 43, k. 7, p. 203c–297a (transl. Huber, p. 192–210): Theragāthā, p. 63–64, v. 620–631, and its commentary (tr. Rhys Davids, Psalms of the Brethren, p. 271–274); Hien yu king, T 202, k. 6, no. 35, p. 397a–390a; Tch’ou yao king, T 212, k. 19, p. 710a1–c1.

Nītha is also mentioned in passing in the Hien yu king, T 202, k. 4, p. 377a12, and the Sarvāstivādavinayavibhaṅga, T 1442, k. 42, p. 858a28–29.