Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “do the buddhas and bodhisattvas fulfill wishes without exception?” 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.

II. Do the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas fulfill wishes without exception?

Question. When the Buddha was present in the world,[1] beings were still hungry and thirsty (kṣutpipāsā), the sky did not always pour down rain (vṛṣṭi), and beings were distressed. If the Buddha himself could not fulfill the wishes of all beings, how then could the bodhisattva fulfill them?

Answer. – The Bodhisattva abiding on the tenth bhūmi and in the concentration of the progress of the Hero (Śūraṃgamamsamādhi) is in the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu, and sometimes he manifests there the first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda) and practices the six perfections (pāramitā); sometimes he manifests as non-regressing (avaivartika); sometimes he manifests as being separated from Buddhahood by one single lifetime (ekajātipratibaddha) and, in the Tuṣita heaven, he preaches the Dharma to the devas; sometimes he comes down from the Tuṣita heaven and is born in the palace of king Śuddhodana; sometimes he leaves home (pravrajati) and becomes Buddha; sometimes he appears in the midst of the great assembly, turns the Wheel of the Dharma (dharmacakraṃ pravartayati) and saves innumerable beings; sometimes he manifests his entry into nirvāṇa and seven precious stūpas are erected for him so that beings can honor his relics (śarīra) everywhere in all the kingdoms; sometimes finally his Dharma becomes extinct.[2] If the Bodhisattva helps in those ways, what can be said about the Buddha?

The body of the Buddha is of two kinds: i) the true body (bhūtakāya); ii) the emanated body (nirmāṇakāya). In beings who see the true body of the Buddha, there is no wish that is not fulfilled. The true body of the Buddha fills space; his rays illumine the ten directions; the sounds of his sermons fill innumerable universes in the ten directions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges (gaṅganadīvālukopama lokadhātu) equally; all the members of the great assembly hear the Dharma simultaneously and he preaches the Dharma uninterruptedly; in the space of one moment, the listener obtains the understanding of what he has heard.

When the kalpa is finished and by virtue of actions [collectively] accomplished, the great rain (mahāvarṣa) comes down without interruption, it cannot be governed by the other three great elements (mahābhūta); only the winds (vāyu) that come from the ten directions at the end of the kalpa and come up against one another can withstand this water (ap). (see Appendix 2) In the same way, the Dharma preached by the Buddha [of the true body] or the body of the fundamental element (dharmadhātukāya), cannot be accepted by the practitioners of the three Vehicles with the exception of fthe Bodhisattvas of the tenth bhūmi,; only the Bodhisattvas of the tenth bhūmi whose skillful means (upāya) and power of knowledge (jñānabala) are inconceivable can hear and accept this Dharma.

Beings who see the Buddha of the body of the Dharma (dharmakāya) are [278b] liberated from the threefold poison (triviṣa), the afflictive emotions (kleśa), the sufferings of cold and heat (śītoṣṇa), and all of their wishes are fulfilled. If the cintāmaṇi brings all that one desires, what can be said of the Buddha? The cintāmaṇi satisfies all worldly wishes (laukika manoratha); the Buddha, on the other hand, satisfies all supraworldly wishes (lokottara manoratha). Claiming that the Buddha does not fulfill the wishes of beings completely is a false statement.

Moreover, the Buddha Śākyamuni who took birth in the palace of the king seemingly took on human qualities; he endured cold and heat (śītoṣṇa), hunger and thirst (kṣutpipāsā), sleep (nidrā); he underwent criticism (paṃsana), old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi), death (maraṇaṇa), etc., but in his mentality, wisdom (prajñā) and divine qualities, he was no different from a fully and completely enlightened buddha (samyaksaṃbuddha). Had he wished to fulfill the desires of beings, he would have fulfilled them all. Actually he did not fulfill them because already for numberless lifetimes he had satisfied the desires of beings in regard to garments and food, but without their escaping from suffering. Presently,[3] he wanted only to bring them the unconditional and eternal bliss of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasyāsaṃskṛtanityasukha). When one has compassion for one’s relatives (bandhu), one does not give them good food mixed with poison. Now worldly (laukika) favors produce fetters (saṃyojana) and, furthermore, if they are untimely, they give rise to great suffering. This is why Śākyamuni does not consider them to be necessary.

Finally, some say that Śākyamuni did indeed fulfill the wishes of beings but that the latter did not profit from them.[4]

[Vimalakīrtinirdeśa].[5] – Thus it is said in the P’i-mo-lo-kie king (Vimalakīrtisūtra): “The Buddha tapped the earth with his toe and at once his field (kṣetra) was adorned with the seven jewels. [And the Buddha said to Śāriputra]: My Buddha-field is always like that, but because there are many bad people, it appears to be different from a Buddha-field.”

Also when the nāgarāja impartially (samacittena) makes it rain, the rain is water for humans, but for the pretas, it is burning embers. (see Appendix 1)

Question. – If the bodhisattva fulfilled the wishes of all beings, since the latter are finite (antavat) in number,[6] nobody would suffer from thirst and cold any longer. Why? Because [according to this hypothesis], all beings realized their wishes and all wanted to escape from suffering and find happiness.

Answer. – When the sūtra says: “Fulfilling the wishes of all beings”, the word ‘all’ is taken in a broad sense and not in a narrow sense. It is like the stanza in Fa-kiu (Dharmapada) where it says:

All fear death,
There is no one who does not fear the suffering of being beaten.
By being inspired by the leniency one feels for oneself
One avoids killing, one avoids inflicting a beating.[7]

Although this stanza claims that everybody fears the suffering of being beaten, the formless beings (arūpisattva) who have no body escape the suffering of the stick, the beings of the subtle form realm (rūpadhātu), while having a body, also escape the suffering of the stick; and among the beings of the desire realm (kāmadhātu), there also are some who do not undergo the suffering of the stick. Here, when the stanza says ‘everybody’, it means ‘all those who are susceptible to being beaten’ and not really everybody. Thus, when the bodhisattva fulfills the wishes of all beings, it means ‘all beings capable of being satisfied’. [278c]

But the good intentions of the bodhisattva are limitless and the fruits of retribution of merit [that he has acquired] are likewise limitless. Nevertheless, hindered by the sins (āpatti) they have committed during innumerable incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa), beings are unable to receive the benefits of them.

[Story of Losaka-tiṣya] (also see Chapter XXVI appendix 3) Thus, a disciple of Śāriputra, the monk Lo-p’in-tcheou (Losaka-tiṣya?) observed discipline (śīlavat) zealously (vīryavat). When he begged for alms, he was unable to get anything for six days. When the seventh day came, there was only a short time for him to live. A colleague begged for food and gave it to him but a bird carried it away. Then Śāriputra said to Maudgalyāyana: “With your great magical power (ṛddhibala), watch over his food so that he can eat it.” Then Maudgalyāyana took some food and went to offer it to Losaka-tiṣya; but as soon as the latter tried to bring it to his mouth, it changed into mud. Śāriputra in turn begged for food and presented it to him, but Losaka-tiṣya’s mouth closed up by itself. Finally, the Buddha came with some food and offered it to him; by means of the Buddha’s immense merit (puṇya), Losaka-tiṣya was finally able to eat it. After having eaten, the monk developed joy and increased faith and veneration. The Buddha said to the bhikṣu: “All conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma) have suffering as their nature”, and he preached the four noble truths to him. At that very moment, the bhikṣu’s impurities (āsrava) disappeared and his mind opened: he became an arhat.

However, there are beings whose merits are so small and whose sins are so heavy that even the Buddha himself cannot save them.[8] Also, knowing that beings do not exist (nopalabhyante) and deeply penetrating the fundamental element (dharmadhātu), the Buddhas are without any memories (anusmarana) and thought-constructions (vikalpa) that say: “This one can be saved, that one cannot be saved”: their thoughts (citta) are always calm (śānta) and their minds neither increase nor decrease (anūnānadhika).

This is why the bodhisattva wants to fulfill the wishes of all beings, but as a result of their sins (āpatti), the latter cannot receive their favors. It is not the fault of the bodhisattva.

Footnotes and references:


Adopting the variant tsai che.


Having entered into the concentration of the progress of the Hero, the bodhisattva of the tenth bhūmi can carry out all the deeds of the career of a Buddha. See the Śūraṃgamasamādhisūtra, transl., p. 123, 140, 223–224, 263.


‘Presently’, i.e., in the course of his last existence and after his enlightenment.


Subject to the law of karma, they do not fulfill the conditions necessary to profit from the teachings and favors of Śākyamuni. See above, p. 541–542F, the misadventure of the old woman of Śrāvastī whom the Buddha was unable to save.


Wei-mo-kie-king, T 475, k. 1, p. 538c20–29; transl. p. 122–123.


The responsibility for this statement must be placed on the objector. The Buddha placed among the questions that he declined to answer that of knowing if the loka (not only the receptacle-world, but the world of beings) is finite or infinite (see above, p. 155F). However, the current opinion among scholars is that the number of beings is infinite: sattakāyo ananto (Atthasālinī, p. 160), that the beings of the innumerable universes will never be exhausted, as is the case for space: nāsti sattvānāṃ parikṣaya ākāśavat (Kośabhāṣya, p. 113, l. 21).


As it has already done above (p. 1513F), the Traité here cites, under the title of Dharmapada, a stanza appearing in the Udānavarga, V, v. 19, p. 144:

Sarve daṇḍasya bibyanti, sarveṣāṃ jīvitaṃ priyam |
ātmānam upamāṃ kurtvā, naiva hanyān na ghātayet ||

In Pāli, Dhammapada, v. 130:

Sabbe tasanti daṇdassa, sabbedaṃ jīvitaṃ piyaṃ |
attānaṃ upamaṃ katvā, na haneyya na ghātaye ||

“All have fear of the stick; life is dear to all. By taking this as comparison, one avoids killing or making someone else kill.”


This was the case for the old woman of Śrāvastī (above, p. 541–542F).