Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “ratnakuta-sutra” 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.

In the Pao-ting-king, (Ratnakūṭa-sūtra) it is said:[1] The noble cakravartin king who lacks one son, [viz., the thousandth and last], does not have in full the thousand sons [necessary to constitute his lineage]. Even [267a] though he possesses great power already, his [first 999 sons] are not honored either by the gods or by humans; but the true offshoot of the noble cakravartin king, [viz., his thousandth and last son], although he is still in his mother’s womb (kukṣi) and starting from the first seven days after his conception (saptarātropapanna), is honored by the gods. Why? The first 999 sons do not guarantee the lineage (vaṃśa) of the noble cakravartin king permitting people to enjoy happiness for only two generations; on the other hand the last son, even though he is still in the womb, definitively completes the descent of the noble cakravartin king. This is why he is honored.

Similarly, even though the arhats and pratyekabuddhas have spiritual faculties (indriya), the powers (bala), the factors of enlightenment (saṃbodhyaṅga), the members of the Path (mārgaṅga), the six superknowledges (ṣaḍabhijñā), the power of the trances (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā), even though they realize the highest point of the truth (bhūtakoṭi) and are a field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) for beings, they are not honored by the Buddhas of the ten directions.

Notes on the Ratnakūṭa-sūtra:

The Traité, under the title of Ratnakūṭasūtra, rendered in Chinese by Kumārajīva as Pao-ting king, is referring here to the Kāśyapaparivarta which has come down to us in a somewhat mutilated Indian version (ed. A. von Staël-Holstein, Chang-hai, 1926), one Tibetan translation (Tib. Trip., vol. 24, no. 760, 43) and four Chinese translations made under the Han between 178 and 184, under the Tsin between 265 and 420 (T 351), under the Ts’in between 350 and 431 (T 310, k. 112, p. 631–638) and by Che-hou under the Song, about 982 (T 352). All these sources are reproduced in von Staël-Holstein which I [Lamotte] will designate as KP (Kāśyapaparivarta). F. Weller has dedicated an important series of works to them and has proposed a number of amendments to the Sanskrit text. I will cite here only the following: Zum Kāśyapaparivarta, Verdeutschung des sanskrit-tibetischen Textes, Leipzig, 1965; Kāśyapaparivarta nach des Han-Fassung verdeutscht, Buddhist Yearly, 1986–70, Halle, 1970, p. 57–221; Kāśyapaparivarta nach der Djin-Fassung verdeutscht, Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung, XII, 1966, p. 379–462; Die Sung-Fassung des Kāśyapaparivarta, Monumenta Serica, XXV, 1966, p. 207–362.

At some undetermined date, the Kāśyapaparivarta was incorporated into a vast collection of about fifty Mahāyāna sūtras, a collection known under the name of Ratnakūṭa in Sanskrit, Pao tsi king (less often, Pao ting king) in Chinese, dkon-brtegs in Tibetan. The Chinese Ta pao tsi king (T 310) in 120 kiuan, was compiled at Lo-yang, under the T’ang, between 706 and 713, by Bodhiruci, a brahmin from southern India converted to Buddhism. To this purpose, Bodhiruci resorted to some earlier Chinese translations: “He used as many as 23 sūtras; 15 other sūtras of which translations also existed, were re-translated by him, either because the translations of his predecessors were not satisfactory or because the Sanskrit version that he was using differed from those previously translated; finally, he gave a new translation of 11 sūtras.“ (P. Demiéville, Inde Classique, II, p. 434). In this Ta pao tsi king, the version of the Kāśyapaparivarta is in the 43rd place: this is the version entitled P’ou ming p’ou sa, done at the time of the Ts’in by a translator whose name has been lost. – The Tibetan dkon-brtseg (Tib. Trip., vol. 22–24, no. 760) which includes 49 sūtras was translated at the beginning of the 9th century by Jinamitra, Surendrabodhi and Ye-śes sde (cf. Lalou, La version tibétaine du Ratnakūṭa, JA, Oct.-Dec., 1927, p. 233–259).

The history of the Sanskrit Ratnakūṭa as a collection of sūtras still remains obscure. The Chinese, followed later by the Tibetans, are almost the only ones to affirm its existence. In the K’ai yuan (T 2154, k. 9, p. 570b4–12) we read: “In the past, during the Tcheng-kouan period (627–649), the Dharma teacher Hiuan-tsang traveled to India and returned with Sanskrit texts. In the Hong fou sseu, he translated the Mahābodhisattvapiṭakasūtra, the twelfth ‘assemblage’ of the Ratnakūṭa. Later, when at Yu houa kong sseu he had finished translating the Mahāprajñā (T 220), the monks invited him to translate the Ratnakūṭa immediately. The Dharma teacher Hiuan-tsang said: “The merit in translating the Ratnakūṭa is not inferior to that of translating the Prajñā. The time remaining in my life is brief; I am afraid that I cannot finish the work.” As the requests addressed to him did not stop, he began to translate the text hastily. He was able to make only a few lines, and he said, sighing: “This sūtra does not show favorable signs for the people of this country. My strength is exhausted; I cannot finish it.” This is why he stopped translating. The day that Bodhiruci arrived (about 706?), he again presented a Sanskrit text of this [Ratnakūṭa]. The emperor Ho-ti ordered Bodhiruci to continue the remainder of the work begun by Hiuan-tsang.”

Late though it is, the Chinese evidence is no less categorical. On the other hand, when the Indian authors and commentators refer to the sūtras contained in the Chinese and Tibetan Ratnakūṭas, they cite them under their specific names as independent works and if they do mention a Ratnakūṭa, it is almost always to refer it it as Kāśyapaparivarta.

To complete the work of my [Lamotte’s] predecessors, here is a list of citations of the texts in question with references, wherever possible, to the corresponding paragraphs of the edition of the Kāśyapaparivarta (KP) by Staël-Holstein.

1. Traité, T 1509 (translated by Kumārajīva): – k. 26, p. 253c17: Kāśyapaparipṛcchā (Kia chö wen) = KP, § 57 or Madh. vṛtti, p. 358.

This is not a reference to the Kātyāyānavāda as I [Lamotte] proposed above, p. 1684F, n. 4. – k. 28, p. 266c28: Ratnakūṭa (Pao ting king) = KP, § 83 (same comparison but applied otherwise), and 84.

2. Daśabhūmikavibhāṣā, T 1521 (translated by Kumārajīva): – k. 16, p. 109c12: Ratnakūṭasūtra (Pao ting king), in the chapter on the combined Buddhas (Houo ho a pa p’in). The quotation that follows portrays the bodhisattva Akṣayamati. – k. 17, p. 118c3: Ratnakūṭasūtra (Pao ting king), in the Kāśyapaparivarta (Kia chö p’in) = KP, § 134. This reference is interesting. It proves that the author of this Vibhāṣā, presumably Nāgārjuna, held the Kāśyapaparivarta to be a section of the Ratnakūṭa.

3. Che mo ho yen louen, T 1668 (author Nāgārjuna; translator Fa-t’i-mo-to in

401). – k. 4, p. 625a16: Ratnakūṭasūtra = ?

4. Ratnagotravibhāga, T 1611 (author Sthiramati, about 250): – k. 3, p. 828c26 (cf. ed. Jofmston, p. 29, lo. 11): In the Ratnakūṭasūtra, the Buddha says to Kāśyapa = KP, § 64.

5. Mahāyānāvatāra, T 1634 (author Sāramati): – k. 2, p.48a6: Ratnakūṭasūtra = KP, § 88.

6. Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra by Asanga, ed. S. Lévi: – p. 165: Ratnakūṭa = KP, 6 24.

7. Mahāyansaṃgraha by Asanga, tr. É. Lamotte: – II, p. 143–145F = KP. § 23–25.

8. Fo sing louen, T 1610 (authir Vasubandhu, translator Paramārtha): – k. 4, p. 809a24: Ratnakūṭasūtra (Pao tong king) = KP, § 66.

9. Prasannapādā by Candrakīrti, ed. L. de La Vallée Poussin: – p. 45: Āryaratnakūṭasūtra = KP, § 102. – p. 47–50: Āryaratnakūṭasūtra = KP, §138–141. – p. 156–157: Āryaratnakūṭasūtra = KP, § 71. – p. 248–249: Āryaratnakūṭasūtra = KP, § 63–65. – p. 336–339: Āryaratnakūṭasūtra = § 139–141. – p. 358: Āryaratnakūṭa = KP, § 57.

10. Śikṣāsamuccaya by Śāntideva, ed. C. Bendall: – p. 52: Ratnakūṭa = KP, § 3. – p. 53: Ratnakūṭa = KP, § 24. – p. 54: Ratnakūṭa = KP, § 11. – p. 54: Ratnakūṭa = KP, § 11. – p. 55: Ratnakūṭa = KP, § 6. – p. 146: Ratnakūṭasūtra = KP, § 15. – p. 148: Ratnakūṭa = KP, § 5. – p. 196” Āryaratnakūṭa = KP, § 128. – p. 233: Āryaratnakūṭa = KP, § 97–102.

11. Bodhicaryāvatārapañjikā by Prajñākaramati, ed. L. de La Vallée Poussin: – p. 147: Ratnakūṭa = KP, § 11. – p. 526–527: Āryaratnakūṭa = KP, § 97–102.

12. Ta tch’eng pao yao yi louen, T 1635, Chinese translation of the Sūtrasamuccaya, made in the first half of the 11th century by Dharmarakṣa of the Song, assisted by Wei-tsing. According to the Tibetan version (Tib. Trip., vol. 102, no. 5330), this would be the work of Nāgārjuna, and Śāntideva, in his Bodhicaryāvatāra, V, stanza 105–106, attributes it to Nāgārjuna (cf. J. Filliozat, Śikṣāsamuccaya et Sūtrasamuccaya, JA, 1964, p. 473–478).

The work cites five passages from a Ratnakūṭasūtra (K. 2, p. 52b19; 53a18; k. 5, p. 61b19; 62b6; k. 6, p. 63a22) but these do not seem to be in the Kāśyapaparivarta.

13. Tsi tchou fa pao tsouei yi louen, T 1638 (author: an Indian whose name is given in Chinese as Chan-tsi; translator: Che-hou, under the Song, about 982). – k. 1, p. 150b24 = KP, § 60.

– In summary, it is likely that at the time of the Traité, at the beginning of the 4th century (cf. vol. III, p. ixF), already there existed a Sanskrit collection of Mahāyāna texts of varying dates and provenances. Until then, these texts had had a separate existence. We know little about the Sanskrit collection except that it included at least two questionnaires: one from the disciple Kāśyapa (Kāśyapapaipṛcchā) and on from the bodhisattva Akṣayamati (Akṣayamatiparipṛcchā). The first, judging from the botanical information that it furnishes, came from eastern India (cf. H. Nakamura, A critical survey of Mahāyāna and Esoteric Buddhism, Acta Asiatica, 7, 1964, p. 48). It enjoyed exceptional prestige and was named Ratnakūṭa ‘Summit of Jewels’ translated correctly by Pao-ting in Kumārajīva’s versions. This explains why the Traité designates it equally as Kāśyapaparipṛcchā and Ratnakūṭasūtra. Incorporated into the Sankrit collection, it also takes the name of ‘Chapter of Kāśyapa’ (Kāśyapaparivarta).

The Sankrit collection grew in the course of time and, towards the end of the 5th century it included about fifty sūtras, some of which had already been translated into Chinese. This collection also took the name of Ratnakūṭa, not as ‘Summit of Jewels’ (Pao ting) but as ‘Heap of Jewels’ (Pao tsi). Brought to China by Hiuan-tsang in 649, it was completely translated between 706 and 713 by Bodhiruci who, for a good part of it, used the earlier Chinese translations. The Tibetan version occurred only after Tibet’s conversion to Buddhism. A first verion is already mentioned in the Index of the translations of the Āgamas and Śāstras existing in the palace of Ldan-kar, in the Stod-thaṅ, an index prepared by Dpal-brtsegs and Nam-mkaḥi-sñin-po: it appears under the category no. III of this index, and this category is entitled “Sūtra of the Greater Vehicle arranged in chapters (leḥu) of the eleven hundred dharmaprayāyas of the Mahāratnakūṭa, up to forty-nine chapters” (cf. M. Lalou, Les textes bouddhiques au temps du roi Khri-sroṅ-bde-btsan, JA, 1953, p. 320–321). The second version was made by Jinamitra, as has been said above: it is preserved in the Tib. Trip., vol. 22–24, no. 760.

Apart from the author of the Daśabhūmikavibhāṣā, the Indian scholars and commentators make no mention of a Sanskrit Ratnakūṭa as a collection of texts and everything leads one to think that they were unaware of its existence. In any case, when Sāramati, Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Candrakīrti, Śāntideva and Prajñākaramati cite the Ratnakūṭasūtra, it is always to refer to it only as Kāśyapaparivarta.

Footnotes and references:


Citation to be compared with the Kāśyapaparivarta, ed.von Staël-Holstein,

§ 83, where the theme is presented in a different way: If he is endowed with the marks of a cakravartin (cakravartilakṣaṇasamanvāgata), the prince, even though he exists only in the embryonic state in his mother’s womb, is more greatly honored by the gods than his already grown-up brothers who are without the marks of a cakravartin. Here, it is a matter for the Traité of the thousandth and last son of a cakravartin king preferentially honored over all his brothers because he has the full number necessary to form the lineage (vaṃśa) of a universal king. The latter, in order to fulfill his role, must not only possess the seven jewels (saptaratna) of a cakravartin, but must also have “a full thousand heroic sons, virile, with excellent bodies, destroyers of the enemies’ armies”. This is expressed in a frequently repeated stock phrase (Dīgha, I, p. 88–89; Catuṣpariṣatsūtra, p. 235; Vivyāvadāna, p. 548–549): Pūrṇaṃ cāsya bhaviṣyati aharaṃ putrāṇāṃ ḷsūrāṇāṃ virāṇāṃ varāṅgarūpiṇāṃ parasainyapramardakānām.