Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “saddharmapundarika-sutra” 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 Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra

Thus it is said in the Fa-houa king (Dharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra):

[Addressing the bhikṣus, the Buddha said to them:] “It is as if a man reduced to dust (cūrṇikuryāt) the earth and mountains of the present trisāhasramahāsāhasralokdhātu, then, [taking a pinch of this dust], he crossed over a thousand universes of the eastern direction and there set down this dust; next, [taking a second pinch of dust] he crossed over a thousand universes [beyond the first thousand] and there set down [the second pinch of dust]; finally in the same way, he used up all the dust of the present trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu.”

Then the Buddha asked the bhikṣus: “Is it possible to know by calculation (gaṇanā) the number of pinches of dust and the universes?”

The bhikṣus answered: “It is impossible.”

The Buddha replied: “On the contrary, it is possible to attain [by calculation] the total number (śakyaṃ gaṇanayā paryanto ’dhigantum) of these universes, as well as those in which the dust was not put. As for the number of kalpas that have elapsed since the buddha Ta-t’ong-houei (Mahābhijñājñānābhibhū) appeared in the world, it is like the fine dust contained in universes as numerous as the sands of innumerable Ganges (apramāṇagaṅgānadīvālukopama).”

And the Buddhas and the great bodhisattvas, however, know it all; all the more reason when it is only a matter of universes as numerous as the sands of one single Ganges.

Furthermore, speaking of ‘immense’ (apramāṇa) things is to conform to the human point of view. Thus it is said that the waters of the great ocean are immense when they have the depth of eighty thousand yojanas,[1] and Lo heou (Rāhu), king of the Asuras, has no problem in measuring it.[2]

Notes on the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra:

Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, VII, Pūrvayogaparivarta, p. 156, l. 5–157, l. 8 (compare Kashgar version, p. 26, l. 7–25; Gilgit version, p. 74, l. 7–21). –Tcheng fa houa king, transl. Dharmarakṣa, T 263, k. 4, p. 88b24–c10; Miao fa lien houa king, transl. Kumārajīva, T 262, k. 3, p. 22a23–b3.

Tadyathāpi nāma bhikṣavo yāvān iha trisāhasramahāsāhasre lokadhātau pṛthivīdhātus taṃ kaścid eva puruṣaḥ sarvaṃ cūrnikuryān maṣiṃkuryāt | atha khalu sa puruṣas tasmāl lokadhātor ekaṃ paramāṇurajo gṛhītvā pūrvasyāṃ diśi lokadhātusāhasram atikramya tadekam paramāṇuraja upanikṣipet | atha sa dvitīyaṃ ca paramaṇurajo grḥīvā tataḥ pareṇa parataraṃ lokadhātusāhasram atikramya dvitīyaṃ paramāṇuraja upanikṣipet | anena paryāyeṇa sa puruṣaḥ sarvāvantam pṛthivīdhātum upanikṣipet pūrvasyāṃ diśi |

tat kiṃ manyadhve bhikṣavaḥ śakyaṃ teṣaṃ lokadhātūnām anto vā paryanto vā gananayādhigantum |

ta āhuḥ | no hīdam bhagavan no hīdaṃ sugata |

bhagavān āha | śakyaṃ punar bhikṣavas teṣaṃ lokadhātūnāṃ kenacid gaṇakena gaṇakamahāmātreṇa vā gaṇananayā paryanto ’dhigantuṃ yeṣu vopanikṣitāni tāni paramāṇurajāṃsi yeṣu vā nopanikṣiptāni | na tv eva teṣāṃ kalpakoṭinayutaśatasāhasrāṇām śakyaṃ gaṇanāyogena paryanto ’dhigantum | yāvantaḥ kalpās tasya bhagavato mahābhijñajñānābhibhuvas tathāgatasya parinirvṛtasyaitāvān sa kālo ‘bhūd evam acintya evam apramāṇaḥ | taṃ cāhaṃ bhikṣavas tathāgataṃ tāvacciram parinirvṛtam anena tathāgatajñānadarśanabalādhānena yathādya śvo vā parinirvṛtam anusmarāmi |


– It is, O monks, as if a man reduced the earth element of this trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu to powder or dust. Then, let him take a pinch of extremely fine dust in this universe, let him go to a thousand universes in the eastern direction and scatter this extremely fine dust there. Next let this man take a second pinch of extremely fine dust, go to a thousand universes beyond the first and scatter this second pinch of dust there; let him dispose in this way the entirety of this earth element in the eastern direction.

What do you think, O monks? Is it possible to calculate the total number of universes [thus reached]?

The monks said: That is not possible, O Bhagavat; that is not possible, O Sugata.

The Bhagavat continued: On the contrary, O monks, it is possible that a great mathematician, a great master of arithmetic, could calculate the total number of these universes, as many as those where the extremely fine dust was disposed, as many as those where it was not disposed. On the contrary, it is not possible, by calculation, to reach the total number of hundreds of thousands of koṭinayutas of kalpas that have elapsed since the Bhagavat Mahābhijñājñānābhibhū entered into complete nirvāṇa, so great, so inconceivable, so immense is the time [separating us from it]. And moreover, O monks, I myself, by using the power of knowledge and vision of a tathāgata, remember this tathāgata Mahābhijñājñānābhibhū, who entered complete nirvāna so long ago, as though his parinirvāṇa had taken place yesterday or today.

– This passage of the Lotus has been translated twice by Kumārajīva, once in his Chinese version of the Traité (T 1509, k. 32, p. 299b17–24) finished at Siao-yao-yuan at Tch’ang-ngan on the 27th day of the 7th year of the hong-che period, i.e., February 1, 406 (see above, Vol. III, Introduction, p. XLV); a second time in his Chinese version of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka T 262, k. 3, p. 22a23–b3) finished a few months later at Ta-sseu at Tch’ang-ngan during the summer of the 8th year of the hong-che period, also 406 (cf. Tch’ou,T 2145, k. 2, p. 10c19; K’ai-yuan, T 2154, k. 4, p. 512b23–24). The second translation is more literal than the first and, for this passage at least, it does not seem that Kumārajīva was inspired by the translation of the Lotus (T 263, k. 4, p. 88b24–c10) made previously by Dharmarakṣa who had begun the 10th day of the 8th month of the 7th year of the t’ai-k’ang period, i.e., September 15, 286 (cf. K’ai-yuan, T 2145, k. 2, p. 494a15).

According to Japanese research, the Lotus sūtra cited in the Traité seems to have been a version in the middle of Kumārajīva’s original and Dharmarakṣa’s original: see H. Nakamura, A Survey of Mahāyāna Buddhism with bibliographical notes, Part I, Jour. of Intercultural Studies, 3 (1976), p. 97. It would be interesting to know which Sanskrit version – the version from Nepal, Kashgar or Gilgit – it most closely resembles.

Footnotes and references:


Kośa, III, p. 143.


See p. 2091F.