Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “prediction of asita (horoscope of the bodhisattva)” 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.

The prediction of Asita (horoscope of the Bodhisattva)

The horoscope of the Bodhisattva:

On the seventh day after the birth of the Bodhisattva, he was wrapped in white woolen blankets and the experts in signs (lakṣaṇavaipañcaka) were summoned. The latter, having consulted an old [274b] venerable book of signs, made a prediction and said to the king: “According to our diagrams, if the person who is endowed with the thirty-two marks stays at home, he will become a noble cakravartin king; if he leaves home, he will become a buddha. There are only these two possibilities, there is no third.”{GL_NOTE::} When the experts in signs went away, the Bodhisattva fell asleep.

Notes: This version is very close to that of the Mahāvastu, II, p. 27, l. 1–39, l. 6. – On the nature of this horoscope, the simple prediction about the future of a child, see A. Foucher, La Vie du Bouddha, p. 57–60. – Comparative study of early sources, in A. Bareau, La Jeunesse du Buddha dans les Sūtrapiṭaka et les Vinayapiṭaka anciens, BEGEO, LXI, 1974, p. 209–213. –Illustrations in A. Foucher, AgbG, I, p. 296–300; G. Tucci, Il trono di diamante, p. 71, 72–73.

The prediction of Asita:

Again, there was a ṛṣi named A-sseu-t’o (Asita) who said to King Tsing-fan (Śuddhodana): “By means of my divine ear (divyaśrotra), I heard the devas and yakṣas announcing that king Śuddhodana had just had a son endowed with the bodily marks of a buddha. That is why I have come to visit him.”

The king was very happy and said: “This man is a noble ṛṣi, come from afar to see my son.” He ordered his servants to go and get the crown prince (kumāra), but they said to the king: “The crown prince is sleeping.”

Then Asita said: “Let the noble king invite everybody. Those who are satisfied with ambrosia (amṛta) cannot sleep.”[1] Saying this, he rose from his seat and went to get the crown prince. He took him in his arms, examined him from head to toe and, having examined him, burst into tears uncontrollably.

Greatly moved, the king asked the expert in signs: “Is there something unfortunate that makes you weep like that?” The ṛṣi answered: “If even the sky could rain down a mountain of diamonds (vajra), it would be unable to move a single hair of this child: how then could any misfortune menace this child? The crown prince will definitely become a Buddha. As for myself, in the evening of this present year, I will be reborn in the formless heavens (ārūpyasvarga) so that I will be unable either to see the Buddha or hear his teachings: that is why I am so sad.”

The king said: “The experts in signs (lakṣaṇavaipañcaka) did not come to one single solution: they said that if my son remained at home, he would become a noble cakravartin king and if he went forth from home he would become a Buddha.” Asita replied: “The experts in signs base themselves on worldly convention (saṃvṛti) and deductive knowledge (anvayajñāna), and not on the divine eye (divyackaṣus). They know the holy books of prognosis but they do not know the future fully and completely. They consider the marks in general but are unable to interpret them clearly. That is why they say that if the crown prince remains at home he will become a noble cakravartin king but if he goes forth from home he will become a Buddha. Now the thirty-two marks are indeed complete in the crown prince, clearly imprinted, very deep, pure and complete. He will certainly become a Buddha and not a cakravartin king.”

By this, we know that the Buddha, by means of his thirty-two marks, is far superior to all beings. If we speak of the absence of marks, it is in order to destroy [the purely imaginary marks] such as the marks of eternity (nitya), purity (śuci) and happiness (sukha), the marks of self (ātman), the marks of man (puruṣa) or woman (strī), of birth (jāti) or death (maraṇa), etc. Thus, although the attributes of the Buddha have, as their mark, being without marks (alakṣaṇalakṣaṇa), by manifesting his thirty-two marks, the Buddha leads beings to recognize the primacy (paramatā) and to experience pure faith (prasāda) toward him. Speaking of the thirty-two marks is not a fault (doṣa).

Sources regarding Asita:

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XXXVI, part 2.I (Physical marks and superhuman power of the Buddha): “The recluse A-sseu-t’o (Asita) examined him and said to king Tsing-fan (Śuddhodana)...”

According to the Pāli sources, Asita, the old teacher and titular chaplain to king Śuddhodana, became a recluse and was living in retreat close to the royal palace, which did not prevent him from going to the Himalayan peaks and even to the Caturmahārājikadeva heaven. In the Sanskrit sources, he was a native of Dakṣināpatha, the son of the Brahmin Ujjayinī and spent his leisure time between Mount Vindhya and Mount Kailāsa, a chain of the Himalayas. However it may be, the hermit enjoyed extensive powers that allowed him to foretell the future. Hearing from the Trāyastriṃṣa gods that Śuddhodana had just had a son, he hastened to the royal palace to examine the newborn. Earlier, the experts in signs had already discovered that two paths only were open to the little Siddhārtha: he would be a cakravartin king or a full Buddha. Having carefully studied the 32 physical marks and the 80 minor marks of the child, Asita declared that without a doubt Siddhārtha would become Buddha some day. However, Asita was not present at this fortunate event for his death was near and he was destined to be reborn in ārūpyadhātu. And so, having rejoiced, Asita burst into tears. He was, however, consoled at the thought that his nephew, Nālaka or Naradatta, according to the sources, would one day benefit from the presence and teachings of the Buddha.

Later, the Traité (k. 29, p. 274b4; k. 40, p. 350a12–13) will return to this recluse, famed in Buddhist literature and art:

Pāli sources: Suttanipāta, p. 131–139: Commentary on the Suttanipāta, II, p. 483–501; Nidānakathā in Jātaka, I, p. 54–55.

Sanskrit sources: Mahāvastu, II, p. 30–45; Buddhacarita, I, verses 49–81; Lalitavistara, p. 101–112.

Chinese sources: Sieou hing pen k’i king, T 184, k. 1, p. 464a28; Ying pen k’i king, T 185, k.1, p. 474a4–5; Lalitavistara, T 186, k. 2, p. 495b6; Abhiniṣkramaṇasūtra, T 188, p. 618a27; Yin kouo king, T 189, k. 2, p. 636a18–19; Fo pen hing tasi king, T 190. k. 9, p. 693b23; k. 10, p. 697a6, p. 700a25; k. 12, p. 707b17–18; k. 14, p. 720c19; k. 15, p. 722c14, 723c14; k. 17, p. 734c17; Fo pen hing king, T 103, k. 1, p.60b19; Tchong pen k’i king, T 196, k. 1, p. 155c16; Mahīśāsakavinaya, T 1421, k. 15, p. 106a6; Mūlasarv. Vin., T 1442, k. 17, p. 716a26; T 1443, k. 8, p. 947c12; T 1450, k. 2, p. 108a26; 109b4; 19 and 21; k. 3, p. 109c4; 110a7; T 1451, k. 20, p. 298a19 and 21; 298c24; 299b9; 299c4; Chan ken liu, T 1462, k. 17, p. 791a9.

Illustrations: Gandhāra (Foucher, Agb., p. 313, fig. 160d; p. 315, fig. 161; p. 316, fig. 162; p. 323, fig, 165a); Swāt (Facenna, II, 2, pl. 63, no. 4276; II, 3, pl. 467, no. 922); Nāgārjunakoṇḍa (Longhurst, pl. 20a; pl. 21a on right); Ājaṇtā (Griffiths,pl. 45); Barabuḍur (Krom, pl. 31).

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Lalitavistara, p. 103: Evam ukte ‘sito maharṣī rājānaṃ śuddhodanam etad avocat | putras te Mahārāj jātas tam ahaṃ draṣṭukāma ihāgata iti || rājā āha | svapitimaharṣe kumāro muhūrtam āgamaya yāvas utthāsyatīti || ṛṣir avocat | na mahārāja tādṛśā mahāpuruṣāśa ciraṃ svapanti jāgasaśīlās tādṛśāḥ satpuruṣā bhavanti |

This detail is passed over in silence in the Mahāvastu and the Nidānakathā.