Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “shrenika-parivrajaka-sutra (the wandering mendicant shrenika)” 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 Śreṇika-parivrājaka-sūtra (the wandering mendicant Śreṇika)

Summary: Thus the brahmacārin Sien-ni (Śreṇika) [who had faith in the Buddha’s words], denied that the five aggregates (skandha) were a reality (tattva) and denied that there was a reality outside of the five aggregates.

Notes on the Śreṇika-parivrājaka-sūtra:

Śreṇikaparivrājakasūtra of the Saṃyukta, T 99, no. 105, k. 5, p. 31c15–32c1, related in some places to several suttas of the Saṃyutta: Kutūhalasutta, IV, p. 398–400; Yamaka, III, p. 111–112, Anurādha, IV, p. 383–384. Later, the Traité (k. 42, p. 368b20–c25) will give a free version of this sūtra in the following words:–

Śreṇika, uncle [of the brāhmaṇa Sañjaya], old, wise and possessing great fame, went forth from home and studied vastly all the texts. He cultivated his mind, sat in meditation and practiced the Path. One day, in search of wisdom, he went to the Kutūhalaśāla. There the brahmacārins said to him: Six teachers claim omniscience (sarvajña). Pūraṇa Kāśyapa has great renown (yaśasvin) and commands a large group (gaṇacārya). When one of his disciples dies, great or small, Pūraṇa does not reveal the place where he will take rebirth. The other five teachers, when one of their disciples dies, great or small, do reveal the place where he has taken rebirth. The Buddha also is a great teacher and possesses great renown. When one of his disciples dies, if this disciple is minor, the Buddha reveals the place where he has taken rebirth; but if this disciple is great, the Buddha does not reveal the place where he has been reborn.

Another time, Śreṇika went to the Buddha and, having exchanged pleasantries, sat down at one side and asked the Buddha: Will the Buddha allow me to ask a question? The Buddha gave him permission, and Śreṇika said to him: Once I went to the Kutūhalaśālā where I talked to people. And Śreṇika reported to the Buddha what he had then heard. Then he continued: At this moment I had the following thought: It is a rule for the Buddha to affirm that if his disciple is minor, he will take rebirth, but if he is great, he does not take rebirth. Is that correct?

The Buddha said to Śreṇika: My Dharma is very profound, subtle and difficult to understand. During the long night, you have shared other views (dṛṣṭi), other desires (rāga), other systems (dharma). By yourself you cannot see my Dharma. The brahmacārin Śreṇika said to the Buddha: As for myself, I sincerely honor the Buddha and I would like him to teach me the Holy Dharma out of his great pity, so that right here I would find the ‘Eye’ (cakṣus).

The Buddha said to the brahmacārin: What do you think (tat kiṃ manyase)? Do you consider the rūpa to be tathāgata (rupaṃ tathāgatha iti samanupaśyasi)? – No! [Note that Kumārajīva here renders tathāgata by jou k’iu instead of the usual jou lai.]

Do you consider vedanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra and vijñāna to be tathāgata? – No!

Do you consider that the tathāgata is in the rūpa (rūpe tathāgata iti samanupśyasi)? – No!

Do you consider that the tathāgata is in the vedanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra or vijñāna? – No!

Do you consider that the tathāgata is elsewhere than in the rūpa (anyatra rūpā)? – No!

Do you consider that the tathāgata is elsewhere than in the vednanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra and vijñāna? – No!

Do you consider the tathāgata as free of rūpa, vedanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra and vijñāna? – No!

Since you do not consider the tathāgata in any way, should you feel any doubt and ask yourself exactly what is the Buddha’s Dharma about? – No!

The Buddha said to Śreṇika: To my disciples who have not understood my Dharma well, I say that there is a rebirth (punarbhava) for they retain traces (avaśeṣa) of the original egotism (asmimāna); to my disciples who have understood the meaning well, I deny that there is a place where they take rebirth, for they have eliminated the original egotism without a trace.

At these words, Śreṇika found the Way and, having found the Way, he arose from his seat and said to the Buddha: I would like to obtain the going-forth (pravrajyā) to follow the Path. At once, his beard and his hair fell off by themselves and he became a śramaṇa. Shortly afterwards, he obtained the fruit of arhat, for he had received from the Buddha the Dharma eye which is undeceived.

This sūtra master, Śreṇika, was [at first] one convinced by faith (adhimukta): he was convinced that the Buddha could make him find the Way, but that was only a beginner’s faith. Later when he had heard the Buddha, he destroyed egotism (ahaṃkāra) and understood that, from the beginning (ādita eva) there never was an ātman. The ātman being non-existent, there are no dharmas that depend on it: they are like a magic show (māyā), a dream (svapna), deceivers, false and non-existent. From then on, in possession of the power of faith (śraddhābāla), Śreṇika entered into the true nature of dharmas (dharmatā) and no longer grasped the rūpa as tathāgata, etc., nor the vijñāna as tathāgata.

– From the earliest Prajñāpāramitāsūtras, the wandering mendicant Śreṇika appears as the prototype of the Mahāyānist saint. By letting himself be guided by faith and by taking as criterion the nature of things as it appeared in the knowledge of the Omniscient One, he no longer kept any dharma. He no longer seized any dharma that might be taken or let go, including nirvāṇa.

Cf. Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 51:

So ‘tra sarvatra śraddhānusārī sarvajñajñāne dharmatāṃ pramāṇīkṛtyaivam adhimukta iti tena na kaścid dharmaḥ parigṛhīto nāpi sa kaścid dharmo ya upalabdho yaṃ sa gṛhṇīyād muñced vā sa nirvānam api na manyate.

– For more details, see also Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, p. 134–135 (T 223, K. 3, p. 236a; T 220, vol. VII, k. 409, p. 48b); Aṣṭādaśasāhasrikā, T 220, vol. VII, k. 485, p. 460b; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 633 (T 220, vol. V, k. 37, p. 209b).

In the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 1, p. 3a8, Śreṇika is transcribed as Si-ni-kia.