Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “acquiring precedence over the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas” 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.

I. Acquiring precedence over the Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas

Question. – How can the bodhisattva who has not yet acquired the cessation of the impurities (āsravakṣaya) take precedence over the holy individuals (āryapudgala) whose impurities are destroyed (kṣināsarava)?

Answer. – From his first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda), the bodhisattva already takes precedence over all beings; what more can be said (kaḥ punarvādaḥ) when he has practiced (caryā) for many kalpas?

The merits (puṇya) and knowledge (jñāna) of this bodhisattva are great; from lifetime to lifetime he has always been of great benefit to the śrāvakas and [303b] pratyekabuddhas. Out of recognition of the benefits (kṛtajñatā) of the bodhisattva, beings venerate him, esteem him and respect him even in his [earlier] animal existences.[1]

[Rurujātaka].[2] – Thus, at one time the Bodhisattva was a deer (mṛga), his body golden in color (suvarṇvarṇa), his antlers (viṣāṇa) made of the seven jewels (saptaratnamaya), and five hundred deer followed him as his servants.

When the Bodhisattva lived [as a lay person] among men, he was, during the fortunate periods, a noble cakravārtin king; but in periods of corruption (kaṣāyakāla), he was a great king protecting the Buddhadharma and benefiting beings.[3]

When the Bodhisattva left home (pravrajita) [to embrace the religious life], if the Dharma of a Buddha existed at that time, he was a great savior-teacher for the world; but if, [at that time], the Dharma of a Buddha did not exist, he was a great heretic teacher (tīrthika mahācārya) practicing the four immeasurables (apramāṇa).[4]

Although they are without impurities (anāsrava), the arhats and pratyekabuddhas render only mediocre service: they are like a bushel of melted butter (ghṛta) which, although shiny, is only the foam (pheṇa) of the great ocean. The bodhisattva himself, despite his impure wisdom (sāsravaprajñā) and his maturations (paripāka) renders immense service (apramāṇānugraha).

Finally, in regard to the four kinds of purifications (caturvidhapariṣkāra) that are the auxiliaries to enlightenment (bodhipakṣya),[5] the arhats and pratyekabuddhas have received a great deal from the bodhisattva.

[Śūraṃgamasamādhisūtra].[6] – Thus it is said in the Cheou-leng-king (Śūraṃgamasūtra), Mañjuśrī was a pratyekabuddjha 7,200,000 times and by converting people to the pratyekabuddha Vehicle, he helped them realize bodhi.

This is why the bodhisattva has precedence over the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas.

Footnotes and references:


According to the Pāli sources, the bodhisattva, in his earlier lifetimes, was an antelope, buffalo, bull, cock, crow, elephant, dog, lizard, duck, frog, garuḍa, goose, hare, horse, iguana, jackal, lion, lizard, monkey, parrot, partridge, peacock, pigeon, quail, rat, deer, snake, vulture, wood-pecker, many times over (see General Index of Jātaka Stories, ed. E. B. Cowell, vol. V-VI, s.v. Bodhisattva). Many animal existences are also noted in Cinq cents Contes et Apologues extraits du Tripiṭaka chinois by E. Chavannes; they are noted in Hōbōgirin, IV, p. 317, s.v. Chikushō


Pāli Jātaka, no. 482, p. 255–263 (transl. Jātaka Stories, IV, p. 161–166); Lieou tou tsi king, T 152, no. 58, k. 6, p. 33a6–b23 (transl. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 220–224); Kieou sö lou king, T 181, p. 452b–454a; Mūlasarv. Vin., T 1450, k. 15, p. 175a27–176b6 (transl. Chavannes, Contes, IV, p. 122–128); Jātakamālā, no. 26, p. 167–175 (transl. Speyer, p. 234–244). – Illustrations: medallion from Bharhut with the inscription: Migajātakam: A. K. Coomaraswamy, La sculpture de Bharhut, 1956, p. 72 and pl. XXIX, fig. 73; Ajantā, cave II; Boro-Budur (Leemans, pl. CLXIX).


Human existences of the Bodhisattva as a lay-person: during the fortunate periods (bhadrakalpa) characterized by the appearance of Buddhas, he was a cakravartin king; during the periods of corruption (kaṣāyakala), he was a king. The Pāli Jātaka mentions no less than forty-eight lifetimes during which the Bodhisattva was a king ruling by the Dharma; see, e.g., the Vātamigajātaka, I, p. 159, l. 11–12, the Mahāsīlavajātaka, I, p. 268; the Ucchaṅgajātaka, I, p. 308, l. 22.

The five corruptions (kaṣāya) affect lifespan (āyus), beings (sattva), the afflictive emotions (kleśa), wrong views (dṛṣṭi) and the period (kalpa). See the notes of L. de La Vallée Poussin in Kośa, III, p. 193, 207.


Human existences of the Bodhisattva as a monk: if the Holy Dharma exists in the world, he is a model monk; if the Holy Dharma is not present, he is a great heretic teacher of high moral standards. Here the Traité has in mind the heretic Sunetra who practiced the four brahmavihāras, loving-kindness, etc., splendidly, and with whom Śākyamuni is identified in some versions of the Saptasūryopamasūtra: see above, p. 520F, 2091–2092F and notes; also the Mahākarma-vibhaṅga, p. 37.


The arhats and pratyekabuddhas are indebted to the bodhisattva for material benefits – clothing, food, furniture and medicines – and above all for spiritual benefits, teaching the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment which were the subject of chapter XXXI.

The material benefits are known under the name of Caturvidha pūjāpariṣkāra detailed in the formula: cīvara-piṇḍapāta-śayanāsana-glānapratyayabhaiṣajya-pariṣkāra: cf. Vinaya, III, P. 132, l. 8–9; Dīgha, III, p. 268, l. 1; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 288, l. 12: 291, l. 5; Mahāvastu, I, p. 49, l. 10; Avadānaśataka, I, p. 1, l. 7; Divya, p. 143, l. 6,, etc.


Passage from the Śūraṃgamasamādhi, French transl., p. 245, §147, already cited above, p. 602F and 1907F. Later, the Traité (k. 75, p. 586a28) will explain that Mañjuśrī often simulated the nirvāṇa of the pratyekabuddhas because at his time beings could be converted only by pratyekabuddhas.