Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,909 words

This page describes “manjushri-avadana” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This is part of the serie known as ‘Unhindered Mind’. Writtin in five volumes, this book represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

The Mañjuśrī-avadāna

Mañjuśrī said to the Buddha:

Bhagavat, once in times gone by, (bhūtapūrvam atīte ’dhvani) – [107b] innumerable incalculable periods ago – there was a Buddha called Che tseu yin wang (Siṃhanādarāja). The lifetime of the Buddha and of beings was a hundred thousand koṭinayuta years; the Buddha saved beings by the three Vehicles (yānatraya); the country was called Ts’ien kouang ming (Sahasrāloka). In this land, the trees (vṛkṣa) were made of the seven jewels (saptaratna) and emitted immense and pure sounds of the Dharma (apramāṇaviśuddhadharmasvara): the sounds of emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (animitta), wishlessness (apraṇihita), non-arising (anutpāda), non-cessation (anirodha) and nothingness (ākiṃcanya). The beings who heard these sounds found their minds opening up and discovered the Path.

When the Buddha Siṃhanādarāja preached the Dharma to the first assembly, 99 koṭis of human beings attained the state of arhat. It was the same for the bodhisattva assembly: all these bodhisattvas had acquiescence of the teaching of non-arising (anutpattikadharmakṣānti), they penetrated all sorts of religious texts (dharmaparyāya), they saw innumerable Buddhas whom they served (arcana) and honored (pūjā), they were able to save innumerable and incalculable beings, they possessed innumerable dhāraṇīmukhas, they used innumerable samādhis of all kinds; from the first production of mind (prathamacittotpāda), they had crossed through the gate of the Path. It would be impossible to cite and list all these bodhisattvas and describe the beauties (alaṃkāra) of this buddha-field (buddhakṣetra). Finally, when the Buddha had converted them all, he entered into nirvāṇa-without-remainder (nirupadhiśeṣanirvāṇa); his Dharma lasted 60,000 more years and then the trees stopped emitting the sounds of the Dharma (dharmasvara).

There were, at that time, two bodhisattva bhikṣus named Hi ken (Prasannendriya) and Cheng yi (Agramati). The Dharma teacher Prasannendriya, of frank and simple manner, had not renounced the things of the world (lokadharma) and did not distinguish good from evil. His disciples were intelligent (medhāvin), loved the Dharma and understood admirably the profound meaning (gambhīrārtha). Their teacher did not recommend moderation in desires (alpecchāsaṃtuṣṭi) to them or the observance of the precepts (śīlacaryā) or the practice of the dhūtas. He spoke to them only of the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) of the dharmas which is pure (viṣuddha).

He said to them:

‘The dharmas are characterized by desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa) and delusion (moha), but all these characteristics (lakṣaṇa) may be reduced to the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) of the dharmas which is without hindrance (apratihata).’

It was by these soteriological means (upāya) that he instructed his disciples and introduced them into the knowledge of the unique nature (ekalakṣaṇajñāna). Thus his disciples felt no hostility (pratigha) or affection (anunaya) for people and, as their minds were unperturbed, they had obtained the patience towards beings (sattvakṣānti); provided with the patience towards beings, they acquired the patience relating to the dharmas (dharmakṣānti). In the presence of the true doctrine, they remained motionless (acala) like a mountain.

By contrast, the Dharma teacher Agramati, clinging to the purity of the precepts (śīlaviśuddhi), practiced the twelve dhūtas, had acquired the four dhyānas and the formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti). His disciples were of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya) and clung to distinguishing the pure (śuddha) [practices] from the impure (aśuddha) ones; their minds were always disturbed [by qualms].

On various occasions, Agramati went to the village (grāma) among the disciples of Prasannendriya, and seated there, he praised the precepts (śīla), moderation in desires (alpecchāsaṃtuṣṭi), the practice of solitude (araṇya) and the dhyānas.

He criticized their teacher Agramati, saying:

“This man, who preaches the Dharma and teaches people, introduces them into wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi). He says that desire (rāga), anger (dveṣa) and delusion (moha) are not an obstacle (pratigha), that people of mixed practices (miśracaryā) are not really pure.”

The disciples of Prasannendriya, who had keen faculties (tīkṣṇendriya) and the patience relating to [107c] dharmas, asked Agramati:

– O Venerable One, what are the characteristics of desire?

– Desire has affliction as its nature.

– Is this affliction of desire internal (ādhyātmam) or external (bahirdhā)?

– This affliction of desire is neither internal nor external. If it were internal, it would not depend on causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) to take birth; if it were external, it would not have anything to do with the self and would be unable to torment it.

People then retorted:

– If desire is neither internal (adhymatmam) nor external (bahirdhā) nor in the [four] directions; in the east (pūrvasyāṃ diśi), in the south (dakṣiṇasyāṃ diśi), in the west (paścimāyāṃ diśi) or in the north (uttarasyāṃ diśi), nor in the four intermediate directions (vidikṣu), nor at the zenith (upariṣṭād diśi) nor at the nadir (adhastād diśi), one might look everywhere for its true nature and one would never find it. This dharma does not arise (notpadyate) and does not cease (na nirudhyate) and, since it lacks the characteristics of birth and cessation (utpādanirodhalakṣaṇa), it is empty (śūnya) and non-existent (akiṃcana). How could it torment [the ātman]?

Deeply displeased on hearing these words, Agramati could not reply.

He rose from his seat, saying:

“[Your teacher] Prasannendriya deceives many beings and clings to wrong ways (mithyāmārga).”

This bodhisattva Agramati did not know the ghoṣapraveśadhāraṇī; he was happy when he heard the speech of the Buddha and grieved when he heard a heretical (tīrthika) word; he was sad when he heard speak of the three evil (akuśala) things and rejoiced when he heard speak of the three good things (kuśala); he hated speaking about saṃsāra and loved to speak about nirvāṇa. Leaving the dwellings of the vaiśya, he went back to the forest and returned to his monastery (vihāra).

He said to his bhikṣus:

“You should know that the bodhisattva Prasannendriya is an impostor who leads people to evil. Why? He claims that the nature of desire, hatred and delusion (rāgadveṣamohalakṣaṇa) as well as all the other dharmas is not an obstacle.”

Then the bodhisattva Prasannendriya had this thought:

“This Agramati who is so fierce is covered with faults and will fall into great sins (mahāpatti). I am going to teach him the profound Dharma (gambhīradharma). Even if he cannot grasp it today, this teaching will earn him buddhahood later.”

Then gathering the saṃgha together, Prasannendriya spoke these stanzas:

Rāga is the Path,
Dveṣa and moha are also the Path.
In these three things are included
Innumerable states of buddhahood.

Whoever makes a distinction
Between rāga-dveṣa-moha and the Path
Departs as far from the Buddha
As the sky is far from the earth.

The Path and rāga-dveṣa-moha
Are one and the same thing.
The person who listens to his fears
Wanders far from buddhahood.

Rāga is not born, it does not perish,
It is incapable of calling forth anxiety;
But if the person believes in the ātman
Rāga will lead him to bad destinies.

To distinguish existence (bhava) from non-existence (abhava)
Is not freeing oneself from them.
Recognizing their fundamental identity [108a]
Is to win the victory and realize buddhahood.

Prasannendriya spoke seventy more stanzas of this kind and at that moment, 30,000 devaputras found acquiescence in the doctrine of non-production (anutpattikadharmakṣānti); 18,000 śrāvakas, detached from all dharmas, found deliverance (vimokṣa). The bodhisattva Agramati fell into hell (niraya) where he suffered torments for 10,000,000 years; then he was reborn among humans where he was exposed to ridicule for 740,000 lifetimes. For innumerable kalpas he never heard the name of the Buddha pronounced, but, as his sin was becoming lighter, he heard the Buddhist doctrine preached. Becoming a monk (pravrajita) in search of the Path, he gave up the precepts (śīla) and so, for 603,000 lifetimes, he completely neglected the precepts. Finally, for innumerable lifetimes, he was a śrāmaṇa, but although he no longer neglected the precepts, his faculties remained closed (āvṛta).

– As for the bodhisattva Prasannendriya, he is the Buddha in the eastern region (pūrvasyāṃ diśi) beyond 100,000 koṭis of buddha-fields (buddhakṣetra): his land is called Pao yen (Ratnavyūha) and he himself is named Kouang yu je ming wang (Sūryālokasamatikramantarāja).

Mañjuśrī [continued this story], saying to the Buddha:

“At that time, I was the bhikṣu Agramati; I knew that I had to endure these immense sufferings.”

Mañjuśrī said again:

“Those who seek the Path of the three vehicles (yānatrayamārga) and do not want to undergo such suffering should not reject the [true] nature of dharmas or give themselves up to hatred (dveṣa).”

The Buddha then asked him:

“When you heard these stanzas [of Prasannendriya], what benefit did you get from them?”

Mañjuśrī replied:

“When I heard these stanzas, I came to the end of my suffering. From lifetime to lifetime I had sharp faculties (tīkṣṇendriya) and wisdom (prajñā), I was able to find the profound Dharma (gambhīradharma) and I excelled in preaching the profound meaning (gambhīrārtha); I was foremost among all the bodhisattvas.”

Thus ‘to be skillful in preaching the [true] nature of the dharmas’ is ‘to excel in saving appropriately (yāthātmyāvatāraṇakuśala).’