Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “why is the buddha adorned with non-existent marks?” 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.

VII. Why is the Buddha adorned with non-existent marks?

Question. – The Buddha cut through the mark of existence (sattvalakṣaṇa), the mark of substantial self (ātmalakṣaṇa) absolutely (atyantam) and was satisfied with the mark of empty (śūnya) dharmas. Why then does he adorn his body in the manner of those who seize characteristics (nimittāny udgurhṇanti)?

Answer. – If the Buddha adorned just his mind (citta) with wonderful attributes,[1] and if his body were lacking the major and minor marks, some beings capable of being converted (vaineyasattva) would mistake him under the pretext that the Buddha is without bodily marks. They would not welcome the Buddhadharma with open hearts. Thus, if one filled a dirty bowl (aśucibhājana) with choice food, the latter would not be appreciated by people; and if one filled a stinking goatskin (durgandhājina) with precious things, those who received them would be miserable. This is why the Buddha adorns his body with the thirty-two marks.

Moreover, often the Buddha utters the lion’s roar in the great assembly (mahāparṣadi siṃhanādam nadati)[2] and states that, among men, all his qualities are superior. If the Buddha did not adorn his body of birth (janmakāya) with the major and minor marks, some would say: “His body is ugly (durvarṇa); why believe him?” When the Buddha adorns his body with the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks, there are still people who do not believe him. What would it be like if he did not adorn his body with the major and minor marks?

Finally, the attributes of the Buddha are very profound (gambhīra) for they are eternally destroyed (nityaniruddhatvāt). Fanatical madmen, beings do not believe in them and do not accept them; they say that in this destruction of the body (kāyanirodha), nothing is to be had. That is why the Buddha uses his broad tongue (prabhūtajihvā) and his brahmic voice (brahmasvara) emits great rays of light from his body (mahāraśmin niścārayati) and, by means of all sorts of nidānas and avadānas, teaches his marvelous attributes.[3] Seeing the majesty of the physical marks of the Buddha and hearing his [brahmic] voice, beings rejoice in them and believe.

Moreover, the ornaments are internal (ādhyātmika) or external (bāhya). The meditations (dhyāna), absorptions (samāpatti), wisdom (prajñā) and other qualities (guṇa) are internal ornaments. The majesty of the physical marks and the perfections of morality (śīlasaṃpad) are external ornaments. Inwardly and outwardly the Buddha is perfect.

Finally, out of compassion for all beings, the Buddha appeared (prādurbhavati) in the world. By means of his qualities of wisdom, etc., he benefits beings of sharp faculties (tīkṣnendriya); by utilizing his physical marks, he benefits beings of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya). By the adornment of his mind (citta), he [275a] opens the door to nirvāṇa; by the adornment of his body, he opens the door to godly and human happiness. By the adornment of his body he establishes beings in all the three meritorious activities (puṇyakriyāvastu);[4] by the adornment of his mind, he establishes beings in the three gates of deliverance (vimokṣamukha). By the adornment of his body, he pulls beings out of the three bad destinies (durgati); by the adornment of his mind, he pulls beings out of the prison of the threefold world (traidhātuka).

It is in view of these immense benefits that the Buddha adorns his body of birth with the major and minor marks (janmakāya)

Footnotes and references:


The punctuation of the Traité is defective: the period should be placed between sin and chen. The attributes with which the Buddha adorns his mind go from the ten powers (bala) to great loving-kindness (mahāmatrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā); they have been discussed in chapters XXXIX to XLII (at the beginning).


Cf. p. 1594–1598F.


See above, p. 456F, the manifestations that precede the preaching of the Prajñāpāramitasūtra.


See Dīgha, III, p. 218; Anguttara, IV, p. 241; Kośa, IV, p. 321.

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