Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “buddha’s sermon to the trayastrimsha gods” 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 3 - Buddha’s sermon to the Trāyastriṃśa gods

Note: This appendix was extracted from Chapter XLII part 8.4 (the traces of passion are destroyed in the Buddha):

“During the summer retreat (varṣa) when he was staying in the Trāyastriṃśa heaven in the Houan-hi-yuan (Nandanavana), he was seated on the Kien-p’o-che (Kambalaśilā), soft and pure like the gods’ silk ribbons, but he felt no pleasant sensation (sukhavedanā). And when the great Devarājas, on their knees, offered him celestial foods, he did not consider them to be exquisite”.

In the seventh year of his public ministry, the Buddha, who has just carried out the great miracle at Śrāvastī, following the example of his predecessors, went to preach the Dharma (some texts specify the Abhidharma) in the Trāyastriṃśa heaven where his mother Māyā had taken rebirth. In the shadow of a Pārikāta kovidāra tree (Erythrina indica), seated on Śakra’s throne, the Pāṇḍukambalaśilā (Stone of white wool), he prolonged his teaching for the three months of the summer season (varṣa). Seven days afterwards, escorted by Brahmā on his right and Śakra on his left, he descended from the heavens of the Trāyastriṃśas by way of a wondrous triple staircase and set foot on earth at Sāṃkāsya, in the Āpajjura forest, at the foot of the Udumbara tree (Ficus glomerata).

All these details are summarized in the Avadānaśataka, II, p. 89, l. 4–6; 94, l. 15–16.

The second part of this miracle designated in the texts by the name Devāvatara “Descent from the gods” or Saṃkassanagare orohaṇaṃ “Descent into the city of Sāṃkāśya” has already been studied above (p. 634–636F and n.), but we must return to the first part, the Sermon to the Trāyastriṃśa gods.

All these details are summarized in the Avadānaśataka, II, p. 89, l. 4–6; 94, l. 15–16: Buddho bhagavān… deveṣu trayastriṃśeṣu varṣā upagataḥ pāndukambalaśilāyāṃ …nagare Āpajjure dāve Ūdumbaramūle.

The second part of this miracle designated in the texts under the name of Devāvatāra ‘Descent from the gods’ has already been studied above (p. 634–636F and n.), but we should return to the first part, the Sermon to the Trāyastriṃśa gods.

The suttas of the Pāli Vinaya do not mention it. The Saṃyutta, V, p. 367, mentions an appearance of the Buddha in the Trāyastriṃśa heaven but without giving the circumstances. On the other hand, the Ekottarāgama (T125, k. 29, p. 346a14–347b26) dedicates lengthy pages to this miracle of which the Saṃyuktāgama also was aware. The Arthapadasūtra (T 198, k. 2, p. 184c24–186c26), which is part of the Basket of the Kṣudrakas, has the nun Utpalavarṇa welcoming the Buddha on his descent from the heaven, and cites a few stanzas which have their correspondents in verses 955 to 964 of the Pāli Suttanipāta.

The postcanonical literature gives a prominent place to the occasion with which we are concerned. Among the Sanskrit-Chinese sources may be mentioned the Légends d’Aśoka (Divyāvadāna, p. 394, l. 3–5; T 99, k. 23, p. 169c22–24; T 2042, k. 2, p. 104a23–24; T 2043, k. 2, p. 138a9–10) and especially the Avadānaśataka, II, p. 89–97 and its abridged Chinese translation in T 200, k. 9, p. 247a–b. Among the Pāli sources may be mentioned the Mahāniddesa, II, p. 447–448; the commentaries of the Suttanipāta, p. 570, the Jātakas, IV, p. 265 and especially the Dhammapada, III, p. 216–223 (tr. Burlingame, III, p. 47–52).

Most of these sources insist on the enormous dimensions of the Pāṇḍukambakaśīla, Śakra’s throne, on which the Buddha was sitting. The Commentary of the Dhammapada (III, p. 217) attributes sixty leagues in length and fifty leagues in width, but when the Buddha occupied it, it was reduced to the size of a drum (nīcapīṭhaka). The unusual shape of this throne has permitted A. Foucher (Art gréco-bouddhique du Gandhāra, I, p. 483–486) to recognize, on a bas-relief of the Sikri stūpa, a representation of the Sermon to the Trāyastriṃśa gods: the Buddha, seated in padmāsana, his right hand raised in abhayamudrā, is sitting in the shade of the Pārijāta on the Kambalaśilā. He is surrounded by six individuals who may be recognized, from bottom to top, as two orants, Vajrapāṇi and Māyā, Brahmā and Śakra. Much more numerous are the representations of the Descent into Sāṃkāśya. A few have been noted above (p. 634F, n.): a scuplture at Butkara may be added (D. Facenna, II, 2, pl. CCXXXIII) reproducing the three staircases, the gods Brahmā and Śakra, the nun Utpalavarṇā and three leafy trees on three superimposed levels: the Pārijata nd the Kovidāda adorning the Trāyastriṃḷsa heaven, and the Udumbara growing at Sāṃkāśya.

– During the t’ai-che period (265–274), Dharmarakṣa translated a long sūtra of clearly Mahāyānist tendency entitled in Chinese Fo cheng t’ao li t’ien wei mou chouo ha king ‘The Buddha went up to the Trāyastriṃśa gods and preached the Dharma to his mother’ (T 815). Later (k. 32, p. 3012b16–c5), the Traité refers to it under the name of San-che-san-t’ien-p’in king ‘Sūtra on the section of the gods of the Thirty-three’, and will cite a long extract.