Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the physical marks are not ‘planted’ just at the end of the career” 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.

I. The physical marks are not ‘planted’ just at the end of the career

Question. – In the śrāvaka system, it is said that the bodhisattva plants (avaropayati) the causes and conditions for the thirty-two marks (lakṣaṇa) during the hundred kalpas that follow the three incalculable periods (asaṃkyeyekalpa) of his career. Why does the Prajñāpāramitā say here that “from lifetime to lifetime the bodhisattva has a body like that of the Buddha endowed with the thirty two major marks (lakṣaṇa) and the eighty minor marks (anuvyañjana)”?

Answer. – In the Vibḥaṣā in the Kātyāyanīputrābhidharma it talks about [these hundred supplementary kalpas],[1] but this is not in question in the Tripiṭaka. Why? Others [besides the bodhisattva] also have these thirty-two marks. What would suffice to distinguish them?

Nanda’s marks.


Thus in a previous lifetime, Nan-t’o (Nanda) gave a single bath (snāna) to the Community (saṃgha) making the following aspiration (praṇidhāna): “From one lifetime to the next, I would like to be handsome (abhirūpa) and graceful (prāsādika).” In yet another lifetime, he encountered a pratyekabuddha stūpa, adorned it with multicolored designs and brightened up a pratyekabuddha statue (pratimā), formulating the following aspiration: “From lifetime to lifetime, I would like to have a body adorned with fine marks”. For this reason, from lifetime to lifetime, he had a body adorned with marks and in his last lifetime, he went forth from home (pravrajita) and became a śramaṇa. Seeing him from far off, the members of the Community mistook him to be the Buddha and all stood up to go to welcome him.

If Nanda, a practitioner of the Lesser Vehicle (hīnayānika) received such a reward for having planted these few minor merits, what could be said about the Bodhisattva who, during innumerable incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa), has cultivated merit?

Bāvari’s marks.


When the bodhisattva Maitreya was still a lay-man with white robes (avadātavasana), his teacher Po-p’o-li (Bāvari) had three marks: i) the white tuft of hairs between the eyebrows (ūrṇā bhruvor madhye jātā); ii) the tongue able to cover the entire face (jihvā mukhamaṇṣalam avacchādayantī); iii) the secret organs enclosed in a sheath (kośagatabastiguhya).

If those people, who were not bodhisattvas, themselves possessed these marks, how could it be said that the Bodhisattva plants these marks (lakṣaṇa) only after the three incalculable periods?

Besides, according to the Mahāyāna, the bodhisattva who, from the first mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda) until supreme complete enlightenment, [273b] does not produce a bad mind, possesses the five superknowledges (abhijñā) and a body like that of the Buddha from one lifetime to the next.

Footnotes and references:


Mahāvibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 177, p. 890b5–8. See also Saṃyuktābhidharmasāra, T 1552, k. 11, p. 961c9–11. and above, p. 249F, n. 1.


References, p. 286F, n. 1. Add Anavataptagāthā, ed. Bechert, p. 175–176; tr, Hofinger, p. 262–263; Fo wou po ti tseu, T 199, p. 199b12–199c11; Mūlasarv. Vin., Bhaiṣajyavastu, T 1448, p. 87b24–87c25.


References, p. 286F, n. 2.